Church History Series 1, Post 7: The Acts of Saint Lawrence

Type 3: The Acts of St. Lawrence

This piece represents the third category of martyriological writings I had mentioned.  St. Lawrence was a deacon in Rome who had been martyred in 258 along with Pope (St.) Sixtus II and six other deacons in 258, under the emperor, Valerian.

Marcus Aurelius Prudentius, a Spanish poet who lived from about 348 until around 413, wrote poems about martyrs of the Church (among other things).  In his writings, he included a poetic rendition of the legend of St. Lawrence.[1]

First of the seven ministers
Who nearest to the altar stand,
Levite in holy orders high
And eminent above the rest.He guarded well the sacred rites
And kept in trust with faithful keys
The precious treasure of the Church,
Dispensing riches vowed to God.…The Pontiff Sixtus, from the cross
On, which he hung, saw at its foot
His deacon Lawrence weeping sore,
And these prophetic words he spoke:

‘Let tears of sorrow cease to flow
At my departure from this life;
My brother, I but lead the way,
And you will follow in three days.’

…[In response to the prefect’s questions concering

the Church’s wealth:]

‘Our church is very rich,’ he said.
‘I must confess that it has wealth;
Our treasuries are filled with gold
Not found elsewhere in all the world.

He hastens through the city streets,
And in three days he gathers up
The poor and sick, a mighty throng
Of all in need of kindly alms.

He sought in every public square
The needy who were wont to be
Fed from the stores of Mother Church,
And he as steward knew them well.

… The prefect deigns to follow him;
The sacred portal soon they reach,
Where stands a ghastly multitude
Of poor drawn up in grim array.

The air is rent with cries for alms;
The prefect shudders in dismay,
And turns on Lawrence glaring eyes,
With threats of dreadful punishment.…’These humble paupers you despise
And look upon as vile outcasts,
Their ulcerous limbs will lay aside
And put on bodies incorrupt,

‘When freed at last from tainted flesh
Their souls, from chains of earth released,
Will shine resplendent with new life
In their celestial fatherland.

‘Not foul and shabby, or infirm,
As now they seem to scornful eyes,
But fair, in radiant vesture clad,
With crowns of gold upon their heads.

… When slow, consuming heat had seared
The flesh of Lawrence for a space,
He calmly from his gridiron made
This terse proposal to the judge:

‘Pray turn my body, on one side
Already broiled sufficiently,
And see how well your Vulcan’s fire
Has wrought its cruel punishment.’

The prefect bade him to be turned.
Then Lawrence spoke: ‘I am well baked,
And whether better cooked or raw,
Make trial by a taste of me.’

He said these words in way of jest;
Then rising shining eyes to heaven
And sighing deeply, thus he prayed
With pity for unholy Rome.


[1] Translation obtained from: http://www.deacons.net/Deacons_before_us/lawrence.html.

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