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ST. VICTOR OF MARSEILLES, M.
THE emperor Maximian, reeking with the blood of the Thebæan legion, and many other martyrs whom he had massacred in different parts of Gaul, arrived at Marseilles, the most numerous and flourishing church in those provinces. The tyrant breathed here nothing but slaughter and fury, and his coming filled the Christians with fear and alarms. In this general consternation, Victor, a Christian officer in the troops, went about in the night time from house to house visiting the faithful, and inspiring them with contempt of a temporal death and the love of eternal life. He was surprised in this action, so worthy a soldier of Jesus Christ, and brought before the prefects Asterius and Eutychius, who exhorted him not to lose the fruit of all his services and the favor of his prince for the worship of a dead man; so they called Jesus Christ. He answered, that he renounced those recompenses if he could not enjoy them without being unfaithful to Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who vouchsafed to become man for our salvation, but who raised himself from the dead, and reigns with the Father, being God equally with him. The whole court heard him with tumultuous shouts of indignation and rage. However, the prisoner being a person of distinction, the prefects sent him to Maximian himself. The incensed countenance of an emperor did not daunt the champion of Christ; and the tyrant seeing his threats to have no effect upon him, commanded him to be bound hands and feet and dragged through all the streets of the city, exposed to the blows and insults of the populace. Every one of the heathens seemed to think it a crime not to testify their false zeal, by offering some indignity or other to the martyr. Their design was to intimidate the Christians, but the example of the martyr’s resolution served to encourage them.
Victor was brought back bruised and bloody to the tribunal of the prefects, who thinking his resolution must have been weakened by his sufferings, began to blaspheme our holy religion, and pressed him again to adore their gods. But the martyr filled with the Holy Ghost, and encouraged by his presence in his soul, expressed his respect for the emperor and his contempt of their gods, adding, “I despise your deities, and confess Jesus Christ: inflict upon me what torments you please.” The two prefects only disagreed about the choice of the tortures. After a warm contest Eutychius withdrew, and left the prisoner to Asterius, who commanded him to be hoisted on the rack, and most cruelly tortured a long time. The martyr, lifting up his eyes to heaven, asked patience and constancy of God, whose gift he knew it to be. Jesus Christ appeared to him on the rack, holding a cross in his hands, gave him his peace, and told him that he suffered in his servants, and crowned them after their victory. These words dispelled both his pains and his grief; and the tormentors being at last weary, the prefect ordered him to be taken down, and thrown into a dark dungeon. At midnight God visited him by his angels; the prison was filled with a light brighter than that of the sun, and the martyr sung with the angels the praises of God. Three soldiers who guarded the prison, seeing this light, were surprised at the miracle, and casting themselves at the martyr’s feet asked his pardon, and desired baptism. Their names were Alexander, Longinus, and Felician. The martyr instructed them as well as time would permit, sent for priests the same night, and going with them to the sea-side he led them out of the water, that is, was their godfather, and returned with them again to his prison.
The next morning Maximian was informed of the conversion of the guards, and, in a transport of rage, sent officers to bring them all four before him in the middle of the market-place. The mob loaded Victor with injuries, and would fain have compelled him to bring back his converts to the worship of their gods; but he said, “I cannot undo what is well done.” And turning to them he encouraged them saying, “You are still soldiers; behave with courage, God will give you victory. You belong to Jesus Christ, be faithful. An immortal crown is prepared for you.” The three soldiers persevered in the confession of Jesus Christ, and by the emperor’s orders were forthwith beheaded. Victor prayed in the mean time with tears that he might, by being united with them in their happy death, be presented in their glorious company before God; but after having been exposed to the insults of the whole city as an immovable rock lashed with the waves, and been beaten with clubs and scourged with leather thongs, he was carried back to prison, where he continued three days, recommending to God his martyrdom with many tears. After that term the emperor called him again before his tribunal, and having caused a statue of Jupiter, with an altar and incense, to be placed by him, he commanded the martyr to offer incense to the idol. Victor went up to the profane altar, and by a stroke of his foot threw it down. The emperor ordered the foot to be forthwith chopped off; which the saint suffered with great joy, offering to God these first fruits of his body. A few moments after, the emperor condemned him to be put under the grindstone of a handmill, and crushed to death. The executioners turned the wheel, and when part of his body was bruised and crushed, the mill broke down. The saint still breathed a little; but his head was immediately ordered to be cut off. His and the other three bodies were thrown into the sea, but being cast ashore were buried by the Christians in a grotto hewn out of a rock. The author of the acts adds, “They are honored to this day with many miracles, and many benefits are conferred by God and our Lord Jesus Christ on those who ask them through their merits.”
In the fifth century Cassian* built a great monastery near the tomb of this saint, which afterward received the rule of St. Bennet, but was afterward secularized by Benedict XIV. The relics of St. Victor remain in that church, the most ancient in all France, full of illustrious monuments of primitive saints. Some part of the relics of St. Victor was conveyed to Paris and laid in a chapel built in his honor, which soon after, in the reign of Louis VI., was enlarged, and the royal monastery of regular canons founded there, which bears the name of this saint, its glorious patron.* This institute and abbey were commenced by William of Champeaux, archdeacon of Paris, a man of eminent piety and learning, who having taught for many years rhetoric and theology, with extraordinary reputation, in the cloister of the cathedral, retired to this little chapel of St. Victor, then in the skirts of the town. There with certain fervent clergymen he lived in close solitude, assiduous prayer, and great austerity, allowing no other food to be served in his community but herbs, pulse, and roots, with bread and salt. By the pressing importunities of the bishop of Paris and other persons of distinction, he was obliged to resume his theological lectures, which he seems to have continued at St. Victor’s as F. Gourdan shows Whence Rollin calls this monastery the cradle of the university of Paris. In favor of this holy institute king Louis VI. founded and built there a magnificent abbey, which still subsists in a most flourishing condition. Gilduin, a most holy man, was appointed first abbot, whilst William of Champeaux taught there, who in 1113 was consecrated bishop of Chalons on the Saone. Dying in 1121, according to his desire he was buried at Clairvaux, by St. Bernard, who had received at his hands the abbatial benediction.* See St. Victor’s genuine acts, which are not unworthy the pen of Cassian, to whom some ascribe them; but without grounds. They are published and much commended by Bosquet in the fourth tome of his History of the Church of France, p. 202. See also Tillemont, t. 4, Ceillier, t. 3, p. 366. Fleury,1. 8, n. 20. Rivet, Hist. Littér. t. 2, p. 231, and Cuper the Bollandist, t. 5, Jul. p. 135. F. Gourdan has compiled at length the life of St. Victor, with an account of many miracles wrought through his intercession, and a collection of many devout hymns and prayers in his honor, and other various memorials relating to this saint, in the seventh tome of his MS. history of the eminent men of the royal abbey of S. Victor at Paris. See also Oudin, t. 2. De Script. Eccl., p. 1138.