Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Beheading of St. John the Baptist

From The Golden Legend:

Here followeth the Decollation of Saint John Baptist. It is read that the decollation of Saint John Baptist was established for four causes, like as it is found in the Book of Office. First, for his decollation; secondly, for the burning and gathering together of his bones; thirdly, for the invention and finding of his head; and fourthly, for the translation of his finger and dedication of the Church. And after some people this feast is named diversely, that is to say, decollation, collection, invention, and dedication. First, this feast is hallowed for his decollation which was made in this manner. For, as it is had in Historia Scholastica, Herod Antipas, son of the great Herod, went to Rome and passed by the house of Philip his brother, and began to love the wife of his brother, which was named Herodias, wife of the same Philip, his brother. After that Josephus saith, she was sister of Herod Agrippa. And when he returned, he refused and repudiated his own wife, and secretly wedded her to his wife, the which thing his wife knew well, that he had wedded his brother's wife. And this first wife of Herod was daughter of Areth, king of Damascus, and therefore she abode not the coming home of her husband, but went to her father as soon as she might. And when Herod returned, he took away the wife of Philip his brother, and wedded her, and left his own. And there moved against him therefore Herod Agrippa, and the king Areth and Philip became his enemies. And Saint John said to him that he had not done well to do so, because after the law it appertained not to him to have and hold the wife of his brother living. And Herod saw that John reproved him of this thing so cruelly, as Josephus saith, because he reproved him of blame. He assembled great people for to please his wife, and did do bind and put Saint John in prison, but he would not slay him for doubt of the people, which much loved John, and followed him for his predication. And Herod and Herodias, coveting occasion against Saint John how they might make him die, ordained between them secretly that, when Herod should make the feast of his nativity the daughter of Herodias should demand a gift of Herod for dancing and springing at the feast tofore the principal princes of his realm, and he should swear to her by his oath that he shall grant it her. And she should ask the head of Saint John, and he would give it to her for keeping of his oath, but he should feign as he were angry because of making of the oath. And it is read in the History Scholastic that he had this treachery and great fantasy in him where it is said thus: It is to be believed that Herod treated first secretly with his wife of the death of Saint John. And under this occasion saith Jerome in the gloss: And therefore he sware for to find occasion to slay him, for if she had required the death of his father or mother, he had not given it to her ne consented it. And when the feast was assembled, the maid was there springing and dancing tofore them all, in such wise that it pleased much to all. And then sware the king that he would give to her whatsomever she required, though she demanded half his kingdom. And then she, warned by her mother, demanded the head of Saint John Baptist. Nevertheless, Herod by evil courage feigned that he was angry because of his oath, and as Rabanus saith: That he had sworn follily, that he must needs do. But he made no sign of sorrow save in the visage, for he was joyous in his heart; he excused the felony of his oath, showing that he did it under the occasion of pity. Then the hangman came and smote off his head and delivered it to the maid, the which she laid in a platter and presented it at the dinner to her mischievous mother. And then Herod was much abashed when he saw it. And Saint Austin rehearseth in a sermon that he made on the occasion of the decollation, by way of example, that there was an innocent man and a true which had lent certain money to another man which denied it him when he asked it. And the good man was moved, and constrained him by his oath to swear whether he owed him or no, and he sware that he owed him nought, and so the creditor lost that he had lent. And then he saith that, in the next day following the creditor was ravished and brought tofore the judgment, and it was asked him: Why calledst thou that man for to be believed by his oath? And he said: Because he denied my debt. And the judge said: It had been better to thee to lose thy debt than he should lose his soul by making of a false oath as he did. And then this man was taken and grievously beaten, so that when he awoke the tokens of his wounds appeared on his back, but he was pardoned and forgiven. And after this Austin saith that Saint John was not beheaded on this day when the feast of his decollation is hallowed, but the year tofore, about the feast of Easter, and because of the passion of Jesu Christ and of the sacrament of our Lord it is deferred unto this day, for the less ought to give place to the more and greater. And of that, Saint John Chrysostom saith: John the Baptist beheaded is become master of the school of virtues and of life, the form of holiness, the rule of justice, the mirror of virginity, the ensample of chastity, the way of penance, pardon of sin, and discipline of faith. John is greater than man, peer unto the angels, sovereign holiness of the law of the gospel, the voice of the apostles, the silence of the prophets, the lantern of the world, the foregoer of the Judge, and moyen of all the Trinity. And this so great a man was put to martyrdom, and gave his head to the adulterer, and was delivered to the springing maid. Herod then went not away all unpunished, but he was damned into exile. For as it is contained in the History Scholastic, Herod Agrippa was a noble man but he was poor, and for his overmuch poverty he was in despair, and entered into a certain tower for to suffer death there by famine and hunger. But when Herodias, his sister, heard thereof, she prayed Herod Tetrarch that he would bring him thence and minister to him. And when he had done so they dined together, and Herod Tetrarch began to chauffe him by the wine which he had drunk, and began to reprove Herod Agrippa of the benefits that he had done to him. And that other sorrowed sore, and went to Rome and was received into the grace of Gaius the emperor, and he gave to him two lordships, that is to say of Lisania and Abilina, and crowned him, and sent him king into the Jewry. And when Herodias saw her brother have the name of a king, she prayed her husband with great weepings that he should go to Rome and buy him the name of a king. He abounded greatly in riches, and entended not to her desire, for he had liefer be idle in rest than to have honour laborious. But at the last he was overcome by her busy prayers, Baptist and went to Rome with her. And when Herod Agrippa knew it, he sent letters to the C├Žsar, that Herod Antipas, or the Tetrarch, had made friendship with the king of Persia and alliance, and that he would rebel against the empire of Rome. And in token of this thing he signified to him that he had in his garrisons armours enough for to garnish with seven thousand men. And when the emperor had read these letters he was much glad, and began to speak of other things first, afar from his purpose, and among other things he demanded him if he had in his cities great abundance of armours as he heard say, and he denied it not to him. Then the emperor believed well that which Herod had sent him in writing, and was angry toward him, and sent him into exile. And because his wife was sister to Herod Agrippa, whom he much loved, he gave to her leave to return to her country, but she would go with her husband into exile, and said that he that had been in great prosperity, she should not leave him in his adversity. And then were they brought to Lyons, and there ended their lives miserably. This is in the History Scholastic.

Read the rest here.

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