Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Acacius, or Achates, Bishop of Antioch, in Asia Minor, Confessor
ST. ACACIUS was bishop of Antioch, probably the town of that name in Phrygia, where the Marcionites were numerous. He was surnamed Agath-angel, or Good-angel, and extremely respected by the people for his sanctity. It was owing to his zeal that not one of his flock renounced Christ, by sacrificing to idols during the persecution of Decius, a weakness which several of the Marcionite heretics had betrayed. Our saint himself made a glorious confession of his faith; of which the following relation, transcribed from the public register, is a voucher:
Martian, a man of consular dignity, arriving at Antioch, a small town of his government, ordered the bishop to be brought before him. His name was Acacius, and he was styled the buckler and refuge of that country for his universal charity and episcopal zeal. Martian said to him: As you have the happiness to live under the Roman laws, you are bound to love and honour our princes, who are our protectors. Acacius answered: Of all the subjects of the empire, none love and honour the emperor more than the Christians. We pray without intermission for his person, and that it may please God to grant him long life, prosperity, success, and all benedictions; that he may be endowed by him with the spirit of justice and wisdom to govern his people, that his reign be auspicious, and prosperous, blessed with joy, peace, and plenty throughout all the provinces that obey him. MARTIAN. All this I commend; but that the emperor may be the better convinced of your submission and fidelity, come now and offer him a sacrifice with me. ACACIUS. I have already told you, that I pray to the great and true God for the emperor; but he ought not to require a sacrifice from us, nor is there any due to him or to any man whatsoever. MARTIAN. Tell us what God you adore, that we may also pay him our offerings and homages? ACACIUS. I wish from my heart you did but know him to your advantage. MARTIAN. Tell me his name. ACACIUS. He is called the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. MARTIAN. Are these the names of gods? ACACIUS. By no means, but of men to whom the true God spoke; he is the only God, and he alone is to be adored, feared, and loved. MARTIAN. What is this God? ACACIUS. He is the most high Adonia, who is seated above the cherubim and seraphim. MARTIAN. What is a seraph? ACACIUS. A ministering spirit of the most high God, and one of the principal lords of the heavenly court. MARTIAN. What chimeras are these? Lay aside these whims of invisible beings, and adore such gods as you can see. ACACIUS. Tell me who are those gods to whom you would have me sacrifice? MARTIAN. Apollo, the saviour of men, who preserves us from pestilence and famine, who enlightens, preserves, and governs the universe. ACACIUS. Do you mean that wretch that could not preserve his own life: who, being in love with a young woman, (Daphne,) ran about distracted in pursuit of her, not knowing that he was never to possess the object of his desires. It is therefore evident that he could not foresee things to come, since he was in the dark as to his own fate: and as clear that he could be no god, who was thus cheated by a creature. All know likewise that he had a base passion for Hyacinth, a beautiful boy, and was so awkward as to break the head of that minion, the fond object of his criminal passion, with a quoit. Is not he also that god who, with Neptune, turned mason, hired himself to a king, (Laomedon of Troy,) and built the walls of a city? Would you oblige me to sacrifice to such a divinity, or to Esculapius, thunderstruck by Jupiter? or to Venus, whose life was infamous, and to a hundred such monsters to whom you offer sacrifice? No, though my life itself depended on it, ought I to pay divine honours to those whom I should blush to imitate, and of whom I can entertain no other sentiments than those of contempt and execration? You adore Gods, the imitators of whom you yourselves would punish. MARTIAN. It is usual for you Christians to raise several calumnies against our gods; for which reason I command you to come now with me to a banquet in honour of Jupiter and Juno, and acknowledge and perform what is due to their majesty. ACACIUS. How can I sacrifice to a man whose sepulchre is unquestionably in Crete? What! is he risen again? MARTIAN. You must either sacrifice or die. ACACIUS. This is the custom of the Dalmatian robbers; when they have taken a passenger in a narrow way, they leave him no other choice but to surrender his money or his life. But, for my part, I declare to you that I fear nothing that you can do to me. The laws punish adulterers, thieves, and murderers. Were I guilty of any of those things, I should be the first man to condemn myself. But if my whole crime be the adoring of the true God, and I am on this account to be put to death, it is no longer a law but an injustice. MARTIAN. I have no order to judge but to counsel you to obey. If you refuse, I know how to force you to a compliance. ACACIUS. I have a law which I will obey: this commands me not to renounce my God. If you think yourself bound to execute the orders of a man who in a little time hence must leave the world, and his body become the food of worms, much more strictly am I bound to obey the omnipotent God, who is infinite and eternal, and who hath declared, Whoever shall deny me before men, him will I deny before my Father, MARTIAN. You now mention the error of your sect which I have long desired to be informed of: you say then that God hath a son? ACACIUS. Doubtless he hath one. MARTIAN. Who is this son of God? ACACIUS. The Word of truth and grace. MARTIAN. Is that his name? ACACIUS. You did not ask me his name but what he is. MARTIAN. What then is his name? ACACIUS. Jesus Christ. Martian having inquired of the saint by what woman God had his son, he replied, that the divine generation of the Word is of a different nature from human generation, and proved it from the language the royal prophet makes use of in the forty-fourth psalm. MARTIAN. Is God then corporeal? ACACIUS. He is known only to himself. We cannot describe him; he is invisible to us in this mortal state, but we are sufficiently acquainted with his perfections to confess and adore him. MARTIAN. If God had no body, how can he have a heart or mind? ACACIUS. Wisdom hath no dependence or necessary connexion with an organized body. What hath body to do with understanding? He then pressed him to sacrifice from the example of the Cataphrygians, or Montanists, and engage all under his care to do the same. Acacius replied: It is not me these people obey but God. Let them hear me when I advise them to what is right; but let them despise me, if I offer them the contrary and endeavour to pervert them. MARTIAN. Give me all their names. ACACIUS. They are written in heaven, in Gods invisible registers. MARTIAN. Where are the magicians, your companions, and the teachers of this cunningly devised error? by which he probably meant the priests. ACACIUS. No one in the world abhors magic more than we Christians. MARTIAN. Magic is the new religion which you introduce. ACACIUS. We destroy those gods whom you fear though you made them yourselves. We, on the contrary, fear not him whom we have made with our hands, but him who created us, and who is the Lord and Master of all nature; who loved us as our good father, and redeemed us from death and hell as the careful and affectionate shepherd of our souls. MARTIAN. Give the names I require, if you would avoid the torture. ACACIUS. I am before the tribunal, and do you ask me my name, and, not satisfied with that, you must also know those of the other ministers? Do you hope to conquer many; you, whom I alone am able thus to confound. If you desire to know our names, mine is Acacius. If you would know more, they call me Agathangelus, and my two companions are Piso, bishop of the Trojans, and Menander, a priest. Do now what you please. MARTIAN. You shall remain in prison, till the emperor is acquainted with what has passed on this subject, and sends his orders concerning you.
The emperor Decius having read the interrogatory, recompensed Martian by making him governor of Pamphilia, but admired so much the prudence and constancy of Acacius, that he ordered him to be discharged, and suffered him to profess the Christian religion.
This his glorious confession is dated on the 29th of March, and happened under Decius in 250, or 251. How long Saint Acacius survived does not appear. The Greeks, Egyptians, and other oriental Churches, honour his name on the 31st of March; though his name occurs not in the Roman Martyrology. See his authentic acts in Ruinart, p. 152. Tillemont. t. 2. p. 357. Fleury, t. 2. Ceillier, t. 3. p. 560.