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Saint Asterius, Bishop of Amasea
Died c. 400-410. Bishop Asterius of Amasea in Pontus, Asia Minor,
was renowned as a preacher: 21 of his sermons are still extant.
From his writings we know that he studied rhetoric and law in his
youth. Although he practised as a barrister for a time, he could
not long ignore his calling to the priesthood, which eventually led
to his elevation to the see of Amasea. Saint Gregory the Great
(f.d. September 3) describes this good pastor as overflowing with
the Holy Spirit.
His sermons highly recommend charity to the poor, revealing his own
favourite virtue. His place in time is known because of the
references he makes in his sermons to Julian the Apostate and the
Consul Eutropius. They also show that the Church already kept the
feasts of Christmas, Easter, Epiphany, and martyrs. His
reflections are just and solid; the expression natural, elegant,
and animated. They abound with lively images and descriptions both
of persons and things.
In his homily on Saints Peter and Paul (f.d. June 29), Saint
Asterius repeatedly teaches the pre-eminent jurisdiction Saint
Peter received over all Christians. His panegyric to Saint Phocas
(f.d. September 22) encourages the invocation of saints, the
veneration of their relics, and pilgrimages to pray before them.
The following passage is from his sermon, "On the Holy Martyrs":
"We keep through every age their bodies decently
enshrined, as most precious pledges; vessels of
benediction, the organs of their blessed souls, the
tabernacles of their holy minds. We put ourselves under
their protection. The martyrs defend the church, as
soldiers guard a citadel. The people flock in crowds from
all quarters, and keep great festivals to honour their
"All who labour under the heavy load of afflictions fly to
them for refuge. We employ them as intercessors in our
prayers and suffrages. In these refuges the hardships of
poverty are eased, diseases cured, the threats of princes
appeased. A parent, taking a sick child in his arms,
postpones physicians, and runs to one of the martyrs,
offering by him his prayer to the Lord, and addressing
him whom he employs for his mediator in such word as
"'You who have suffered for Christ, intercede
for one who suffers by sickness. By that great
power and confidence you have, offer a prayer
on behalf of fellow-servants. Though you are
now removed from us, you know what men on
earth feel in their sufferings and diseases.
You formerly prayed to martyrs, before you
were yourself a martyr. You then obtained your
request by asking; now you are possessed of
what you asked, in your turn assist me. By
your crown ask what may be our advancement.
If another is going to be married, he begins
his undertaking by soliciting the prayers of
the martyrs. Who, putting to sea, weighs
anchor before he has invoked the Lord of the
sea by the martyrs?'"
The saint describes with what magnificence and concourse of people
the feasts of martyrs were celebrated over the whole world. He
says, the Gentiles and the Eunomian heretics, whom he calls New
Jews, condemned the honours paid to martyrs, and their relics; to
whom he answers:
"We by no means adore the martyrs, but we honour them as
the true adorers of God. We lay their bodies in rich
shrines and sepulchres, and erect stately tabernacles of
their repose, that we may be stirred up to an emulation
of their honours. Nor is our devotion to them without its
recompense; for we enjoy their patronage with God."
He says the New Jews, or Eunomians, do not honour the martyrs,
because they blaspheme the King of martyrs, making Christ unequal
to his Father. He tells them that they ought at least to respect
the voice of the devils, who are forced to confess the power of the
"Those whom we have seen bark like dogs, and who were
seized with frenzy, and are now come to their senses,
prove by their cure how effectual the intercession of
He closes this sermon with a devout and confident address to the
Attwater, D. (1983). The penguin dictionary of saints, NY:
Benedictine Monks of Saint Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate. (1947). The
book of saints: A dictionary of servants of God canonized by
the Catholic Church extracted from the Roman and other
martyrologies. NY: Macmillan.
Husenbeth, Rev. F. C., DD, VG (ed.). (1928). Butler's
lives of the fathers, martyrs, and other principal saints.
London: Virtue & Co.