13 Jul Saint Eugenius, Bishop, Confessor
Today is the feast day of Saint Eugenius, Bishop of Carthage. Ora pro nobis.
It is unknown when Saint Eugenius was born.
In 428 Genseric, the King of the Vandals, invaded and took over North Africa. The Vandals, who were Arians, had the practice of persecuting the Catholics, especially the Bishops. They plundered and destroyed Carthage's churches and monasteries. They banished to the desert St. Quodvultdeus, the city's Bishop, along with other Prelates and clergy as well as 5,000 lay people. As they left, mothers followed the ecclesiastics, weeping and crying: “Who will take care of us after you leave? Who will baptize our children, hear our confessions and reconcile us with God? Who will bury us when we die? Who will offer the Divine Sacrifice? Let us go with you.”
In the year 481, the episcopal see of Carthage had been vacant for twenty-four years. Huneric, who succeeded Genseric, decided to allow the Catholics to fill it, provided certain conditions be met. The people chose Eugenius, a citizen of Carthage, eminent for his learning, zeal, piety and prudence. His charities to the distressed had already been very abundant, and in his new office he refused himself the slightest convenience, in order to be able to give all he had to the poor.
His virtue gained him the respect and esteem even of the Arians; but at length, moved by envy and blind zeal, the king sent him an order never to sit in the episcopal throne, preach to the people, or admit into his chapel any Vandals, among whom several had been converted. The saint boldly answered the messenger that the laws of God commanded him not to shut the door of his church to any that desired to serve Him in it.
Huneric, enraged at this answer, persecuted the Catholics in many ways, especially the Vandals who had embraced the true Faith. He commanded guards to be placed at the doors of the Catholic churches, who when they saw any man or woman going in clothed in the habit of the Vandals, struck them on the head with short jagged staves, which being twisted into their hair and drawn back with great violence, tore off hair and skin together. Some lost their eyes by this means, and others died with the extreme pain; but many lived a long time after. Women, with their heads flayed in this manner, were publicly led through the streets, with a crier going before them to show them to the people.
The streets of Carthage were filled with spectacles of cruelty; continually there could be seen some without hands, others without eyes, nose or ears, others whose heads appeared sunk in between their shoulders from having been hung up by the hands on the tops of houses. Many nuns were so cruelly tortured that several died on the rack. Nearly 5,000 men, women and children were banished into a desert filled with scorpions and poisonous snakes; but these servants of God suffered much more from the want of the necessities of life.
There were episodes in the many martyrdoms that took place when St. Eugenius was Bishop. A woman, for example, was brought to watch her son cruelly tortured for being a Catholic. Seeing him tremble in face of the torment, without hesitation she addressed him thus: “My son, remember that we were baptized in the name of the Trinity in the bosom of the Holy Church, our Mother.” Hearing this, the youth courageously faced martyrdom.
Many of the Catholics who apostatized from fear of martyrdom became cruel persecutors of their faithful brothers. This is the famous case of Elpidophorus who was appointed judge at Carthage. One day Deacon Muritta, who had baptized Elpidophorus when he was a child, was brought before him. With him Muritta brought the chrismale, or white garment, with which he had clothed the child after he was baptized. Showing it to the whole assembly, he said to the apostate judge: “This garment will accuse you when God the Judge shall appear in majesty on the last day. It will bear testimony against you to your condemnation. This garment that covered you when, pure and unspotted, you left the waters of Baptism, will increase your torment when you will be engulfed by the eternal flames.” St. Muritta is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on July 13.
Eugenius was banished under Huneric. Gunthamund, who succeeded Huneric allowed Eugenius to return to Carthage and permitted him to reopen the churches. After eight years of peace Thrasamund succeeded to the throne. He revived the persecution, arrested Eugenius, and condemned him to death. Thrasamund commuted the sentence into exile at Vienne, near Albi (Languedoc), where the Arian Alaric was king. Eugenius built a monastery over the tomb of St. Amaranthus, the martyr, and led a penitential life till his death in 505. He is said to have miraculously cured a man who was blind.
Image: A statue portraying Saint Eugenius, in the church museum in Sant'Eustorgio (Milan, Italy). Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto, March 1 2007. (4)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff