Comments to: David Woods
Last Updated: May 1999

The Passion of St. Florian (BHL 3058)

1. Florian, a Teuton by race, was the commander of the imperial army in eastern Bavaria. For it is recorded in the Chronica that when the whole world was subject to the Romans, they had an army in every region assigned to their service for an annual pay and that if any region or province ever dared to rebel against Roman power, the army of of the various regions immediately put check to the boldness of the rebels. So when eastern Bavaria (which was once called Nova Ripensis, but is now called Austria. Its borders extend from the river Aenus all the way to neighbouring Pannonia) was subject to Roman government in this way by means of governors who were sent to the city of Lauriacum by these same [Romans], it is patently obvious that they had a large army in the same province. And because St. Florian surpassed [all] others in respect of character and family, he was deemed worthy to obtain the command of this army. He resided in a town called Cecia then, but Zeizelmaur now, which, by divine decree, has passed into the possession of the Church, together with its territories, so that just as it [the Church] is adorned by the treasure of his relics, so also is it enriched by possession of his estates, and that which he had used in person while living, he also enjoys through his servants when dead.

2. At that time pagan fury sent forth two most savage boars, Diocletian and Maximian, to wreak destruction upon the vineyard of the Lord with their tusks. For when control of the state fell to these men, they soon swelled up with pride at their imperial power, and eagerly desired to remove from their midst that chosen race which glorious Mother Church had produced in union with her heavenly spouse. For this reason, nations raged, peoples contrived worthless plots, and the kings came together against Christ. Then the emperors sent an edict to all the provinces and kingdoms, [ordering] that whoever subscribed to the divinity of Christ should suffer the penalty of death by various means. Accordingly, the executioner of this command was an unrestrained man, a savage beast, one who lusted for human blood, Aquilinus by name, who, when he entered the territory of Noricum while performing the office of praeses, began to search everywhere for the dwellings of the faithful, just like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Finally, filled with cruelty, he came to the noble town of Lauriacum (which so surpasses all other towns in the abundance of its wealth, the valour of its arms, the size of its population, the girth of its walls, and the renown of its name, that it scarcely suffers the citadel of Rome to be preferred to itself), and began to seek out and bind all those who confessed that they were Christians. In this way, a great crowd of faithful was captured. When these had been brought before a judge's tribunal, they were ready to render account to all those examining them on behalf of their Christian faith, since they did not fear those who had the power to destroy the mass of the corruptible body, but rather He who was able to send the soul also in addition to the body to hell. And because no type of torture was able to sway their unmoving hearts, they mocked the pointless efforts of the praeses, reckoning his threats and promises very similar to a light wind. For this reason, he ordered some to be killed and others to be thrown back into prison until he should figure out with what tortures to deprive them of the comfort of the present life if they refused to obey his commands. So news of the martyrs' glorious struggle spread through the whole circuit of the region.

3. Meanwhile, Florian, the distinguished soldier of Christ, flourishing like a palm-tree raised on high, or like a cedar sprouting on Mount Lebanon, cleaved with light root to earthly affairs, since he was ready, should the opportunity arise, to sell everything and purchase the costly pearl of the heavenly kingdom, and destitute to follow the footsteps of Christ. For the adornments of earthly military service covered his dedication to the Christian religion in the same way that grain lies hidden beneath the chaff. When he was held in high honour at the town of Cecia, as has been said, he heard how the praeses Aquilinus was, with rash daring, eradicating those who confessed the name of Christ by means of terrible beatings and, taking pity upon their innocence in his mind, he soon burned with a desire for this suffering so that he might excel in lasting achievement just as he excelled in passing achievement. For the sympathetic love in his heart brought it about that he wished to be deprived of the present life rather than to endure hearing the sorrowful story of the terrible murder of the faithful. So burning with such desires, he faithfully encouraged the rest of his companions that a similar ardour might inflame their hearts. Bidding farwell to his [slaves] and releasing them likewise, he took to the road in a hurry, together with forty soldiers, leaving behind his native land just like Abraham. As he drew near to the walls of Lauriacum, where the saints, treading the press of martyrdom, had spattered their clothes with red blood, he saw messengers of the aforesaid king approaching from a distance, readied, in the manner of little foxes, to tear down the vineyard of the Lord with wicked snapping. When, in his fearlessness, he met them on the bridge over the Anesus, he asked them the reason for their swift journey. They immediately answered him as he kept a calm face, seeing that he was a man to be respected, "Do you not know that the Roman emperors have issued decrees and bound the whole world to honour everywhere with sacrifices the majesty of the gods as a result of whom Roman power thrives and the state expands ? Accordingly, they order certain madmen who shamefully worship the crucified Christ and, despising our most unconquerable gods, declare that their temples ought to be destroyed, to be seized: and [they declare] that unless they desist from their sacrilegious superstition and worship our gods, they will perish by various means. Therefore, the praeses has directed us to seek out the sacrilegious followers of this sect and present them bound to his gaze." Because he desired to be killed and to be with Christ, the fearless martyr immediately said to the deputies, "Brothers and fellow soldiers, if you seek servants of the Lord Jesus Christ who, coming down to earth from heaven, overcame the power of death by his death and, like a trusty shepherd, united the human race to the assembly of angels, return to the praeses and tell him that I am a Christian and I am here. Furthermore, let your praeses know that I serve God alone and long to suffer every hardship for my love of Him."

4. When the soldiers who had been sent heard this, they were seized by anger and made themselves deaf by stopping their ears just like the snake which blocks its ears so that it cannot hear the voice of the snake-charmer. And when they had seized him, they presented the aforesaid martyr to the judge, saying, "What else do we need ? Behold, Florian, the head of our office, has been deceived by an evil prompting and confesses that he is a disciple of He Who is called Christ." Then the praeses, like a sterile fig-tree which produces no fruit, but occupies the land to no purpose, and even envies the fruitfulness of another, raged against him with excessive fury: yet making allowances for his nobility, he attacked him first with soft talk, to see if he could perhaps recall him from his decision in this way. But he persisted unchangingly in his religious duty, and the [governor] tried hard to turn his heart towards sacrifices for the gods by means of the most severe and terrible threats. When these terrible threats had been made against him in vain, Aquilinus ordered him to worship Jupiter the Great quickly in accordance with imperial commands otherwise he would be severely punished by imperial authority as a rebel. But he, because he had given himself to God as a living and pleasing sacrifice, spurned the statue of Jupiter, saying to the praeses, "I will not worship your rocks empty of the glory of divinity, But you who are like a rock and lack reason like the rocks, you ought to pay honour to your gods of rock." Then the praeses was filled with anger and ordered him to be dragged unwillingly to offer sacrifice, to see if he could perhaps be overcome in this way. But blessed Florian raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, hope and highest salvation of all who call upon you, I have placed my hope in You and cannot deny You: on the contrary, I serve you and offer the sacrifice of praise. Protect me with your right hand, and give me in this way the courage to endure. Raise me among your holy athletes who have repented and confessed your name before me. Clothe me, Lord, with the shining robe of your virtue: strengthen your Holy Spirit in me; and do not allow me to be swayed by the devil, since the plotting of ill-doers surrounds me and fattened bulls desire to tear me to pieces. But You, pious Shepherd, take up your shield of protection, and come to the assistance of your recruit: because you are blessed forever and ever. Amen."

5. A fierce passion then fired the judge's heart, filled with the tinder of his anger, because he saw no respect being offered to his commands. Therefore, he ordered his sides and back to be heavily beaten with blows from clubs. And when he was being beaten for a long time, he continued to present a happy face as if he were enjoying consolation. And wanting to provide an example of his steadfastness for the faithful, he said to the praeses, "You have power over my body, but not over my soul. So do whatever harm you can, since no way will I submit to your commands. In order that you may learn that I do not fear your tortures, order a strong fire to be lit, and, in the name of my God, I will walk upon it without harm." Amidst the terrible tortures of the blows, the praeses then tried afresh to persuade him to offer sacrifices to the gods, and said to him, "My very good friend Florian, obey my commands and I will honour you with immense rewards." Blessed Florian replied, "I obey your command so far as befits a soldier. But it would be inappropriate for me to sacrifice to demons or to worship their phantasms. Furthermore, I reject your words as full of wantonness: but I worship Christ the True God, He whom I worshipped even when I was still exercising my earthly military service."

6. After these things, the tyrant ordered him to be beaten more severely, in order that, like that highly polished precious stone, he might better fit into the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem. But he could not be overcome, since the inner man had tasted the sweetness of such great contemplation that the outer man barely felt the blows inflicted [upon him]. Then the most wicked Aquilinus, raging more fiercely, ordered the holy man's shoulder-blades to be torn out completely with iron hooks. But God himself overshadowed his shoulder-blades in such a way that he valued all kinds of punishments at nought: on the contrary, he fought strenuously for the name of Christ with the spear of faith, and completely defeated his wicked torturers.

7. The praeses, seeing that he could not be overcome, sharpened his tongue like a sword, roared and said: "Behold, this magician is stronger than us, and unless he is stopped by the dread death-penalty, he will corrupt the whole people with his magic: and what is worse, the superstitious belief of the Christians will be so strengthened that the temples of our gods will be destroyed, and the last state of superstition will be worse than the earlier: so it is better for one man to die than for the whole people to be led into superstition." He immediately passed sentence upon him, saying, "Let a mass of stone be suspended about his neck, and let him hurled from the bridge into the river Anesus in order that his followers, terrified by this punishment, may come to their senses from this foolishness." In this manner stony Aquilinus, on account of his love for gods made of stone, punished the most brave athlete of Christ with a stone, since he refused to offer a sacrifice to stones. So blessed Florian, when the death sentenced had been passed upon him, went rejoicing and exulting to the place of his punishment since he believed that he was proceeding to eternal life. When he had reached the middle of the bridge from where he had been ordered to be hurled, [the soldiers] hung a very heavy rock about his neck: yet the instruments of this unspeakable crime were overcome by the martyr's entreaty, and allowed him time to pray. And standing facing towards the East, he stretched out his hands to God and offered the sacrifices of pure prayer upon the altar of his heart, because a burning love of God had already inflamed his heart with the living flame. Moreover, the Lord granted such great strength to the prayers flowing within him that his cruel executioners were afraid to set their hands upon him. And when he had already finished one hour of prayer almost, a young man ran up, impelled by an evil spirit, and accused those standing by, saying, "Why do you spend the whole day in idleness in this way ? Why do you neglect the commands of the unconquered praeses ? Have you also been corrupted by this sacrilegious doctrine ?" And furious, he rushed against the very brave athlete of Christ who was standing in prayer with a mass of rock about his neck, and hurled him into the river. In accordance with the just judgement of God, he immediately received the penalty he deserved for daring so great a crime: for his eyes became blind in order for his inner blindness of heart to be made manifest by his exterior blindness. Although the martyr fell to the bottom, an amazing wave seized his venerable corpse as he fell, and raising itself up, it deposited him at the peak of a certain rock. And in this way, it so happened as a result of divine providence that a place of repose on a prominent rock was granted to a holy martyr who had suffered for the rock of Christ by means of the suspension of a heavy rock [about his neck]. And then the hard rock, in accordance with divine will, reshaped itself to match the martyr's length, and provided a place of rest for the holy corpse, as it seems at present. When this had happened, Christ, in accordance with his most constant watch over his beloved, sent an eagle from heaven as his guardian, in order to check the irrational acts of a mad praeses by means of a bird lacking in reason. Like a most faithful guard, this did not feed upon, but preserved the lifeless corpse, and by stretching out its wings, it made the saving sign of the cross over it in order to ward off a rational creature which strove to destroy the faith of Christ and abhorred the mystery of the cross.

8. Then a certain religious widow by the name of Valeria who was very richly gifted in every virtue was advised in a vision by blessed Florian, and carried away his most sacred body in order to bury it secretly. And because she feared the madness of the pagans, so that she was still like the lamp hidden beneath the basin, she wrapped the venerable body and treasure in cuttings and greenery and placed it in a cart as if she were erecting fences in order to protect her garden. And although that brightest star suffered a physical eclipse as it lay hidden among the branches, it radiated miracles nevertheless. For when that faithful woman was striving to conceal her journey because of her fear of the pagans, the animals which were pulling the sacred corpse, worn out by heat and thirst, were so exhausted that, when they had almost reached the place where the martyr had shown that he was to be buried, they were unable to proceed any further. But the wise woman placed her hands on the brave animals and humbly sought divine help and mercy, speaking in the following manner: "Lord Jesus Christ, you who furnish your gifts to all who ask your help with a pure heart, help me your servant and allow me to finish the journey which I have begun. Then the kindness of Christ, which exalts his saints and wanted also to honour the venerable remains of the aforesaid martyr with glory, ordered a most abundant spring to shoot forth from the earth. Surviving with unfailing waters, this bears witness to this memorable deed even today. This happened for this reason, in order for the holiness of the glorious martyr to be demonstrated by all the elements. For water rose and carefully set the sacred corpse on a peak of rock: the hardness of the rock, which results from the element of fire being turned in upon itself, provided a place of rest: the air guided the guardian-eagle: the earth produced a spring from its depth, and when they had been sufficiently refreshed by this spring, the animals carrying their precious burden completed the course of the journey which they had begun without the obstacle of tiredness.

9. When the aforementioned widow reached the place designated by heaven, she entrusted the corpse to a church-burial with due devotion, but with haste because of her fear of imminent and bitter persecution. And in order that the body buried in the earth might be treated with further reverence, the Lord has revealed very many miracles at its burial-mound, showing how honoured the martyr is in the palace of his heavenly fatherland. For howsoever many sick have gathered there, they have received the gift of health. These events occurred about the three-hundreth year of the Lord in the time of the emperors Diocletian and Maximian.

10. In a certain monastery dedicated to him, the feastday of the aforesaid martyr was being celebrated. When a very great crowd of men from different regions had gathered, there also arrived for the sake of devotion a certain soldier in the midst of a feud. This man, when he had been seized by force and had had the most severe injuries inflicted upon him by his enemies in the cemetery, fled to the monastery and fell half-dead before the altar. To the astonishment of all, when he had rested there for a short while, he rose unharmed with all his wounds healed.

11. When a certain retainer had, with violent arm, smashed a certain chapel dedicated in honour of the aforesaid martyr and, adding evil upon evil, had completely destroyed it with fire after the theft, he returned to obedience to his Lord once more. And when he was standing in His presence as if he were safe, holding a cup in his hand, as a result of divine judgement he suddenly collapsed and breathed forth his spirit. When this chapel had survived for a long time without benefit of restoration, it happened that a certain abbot of the Cistercian order whose monastery adjoined the same chapel was suffering such persecution by his brothers that he was even forced to give up his position as abbot. At that time a certain monk of the same order who was especially devoted to blessed Florian arrived by chance and heard about the destruction of the chapel and the dismissal of the abbot. And summoning him who had been deposed, he advised him to promise God and blessed Florian that he would restore the ruined chapel and he would undoubtedly receive back the position of his former dignity. This man, when he had made a promise of this kind and had also fulfilled it a little later, deserved to be raised to his former honour in a short space of time.

12. When three thieves were planning to rob a certain chapel of St. Florian and could not gain entrance through the door, one of them slipped through the broken roof and sought a tool with which to break the bolt in order to provide access for the rest of his companions. Wherever the thief turned, a painting of the aforesaid martyr also turned in the same direction. While the thief was reflecting upon this and stood amazed, he was asked by his companions standing outside why he was delaying in opening the door. He reported the picture's gaze to them and they ordered him to cover the face of the picture with the altar-cloth so that it would not be able to watch what he was doing. So he took their advice and provided entrance to his companions who then carried away whatever they wished. And when they had gone only a short distance from the church, one of them, the man who had ordered the face of the picture to be covered, became mad, and died horribly. A second who was sitting upon a horse hurled himself headlong into the Danube, and so ended his lfe. Seeing God's vengeance, the third man, the one who had been inside, hastened heart-stricken to a priest and confessed the whole seqence of events to him.

13. A certain religious woman had been ill for so long that, deprived of all bodily strength, she had even lost the use of her legs. And when she was lying back in this way, she had a dream that a multitude of sick were resting at St. Florian's spring and waiting for a cure from heaven. These delayed there for a short while until one of the sick cried out saying, "We will not accept the benefit of a cure before this woman - he called her by name - arrives." Waking, the woman reported her vision to a priest and strenuously begged him to order her to be brought to the spring and to conduct a mass on her behalf for the aforesaid martyr. So the priest granted her request and ordered her to be carried to the spring and set down there. He himself began the office of the mass. Wondrous to say ! About the middle of the mass the woman rose to her knees and, after a short time, prostrated herself [in thanks] for these mercies. And so it happened that she who had entered supported by the hands of bearers returned to the door without a helper, when the mass had been completed, through the merits of the aforesaid martyr.

14. When a certain workman there where the saint was buried had fallen from the wall of the monastery, he lived in the monastery burdened with the most extreme pain because of his crushed genitals. While others went out, he himself was not able to pass outdoors. Therefore, he betook himself to the altar set in the middle of the monastery, and when he had rested there for a short while, he arose cured, suffering no pain thereafter as a result of his rupture.

15. These and other benefits, which it would take too long to count, the Lord works daily through the merits of blessed Florian. So, most blessed Florian, flower of shining innocence, assist us now and forever with your faith, hope, and charity, as we slowly run to the evening of this mortal life, to the end of the present race when one receives the victory-palm of a merciful God, in order that we may reach the heavenly kingdom. May the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit deign to grant us this. Amen.

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Copyright © 1999, David Woods. This file may be copied for the purpose of private research only.