Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tales From the Papal Crypt: Pope Martin, Enemy of the State

Pope Martin I

"The police would not allow the holy man to land, though he was suffering severe pain.  Instead they went ashore themselves and rested in comfort.  However, the priests of the locality and all the faithful sent gifts in no small quantity of things that might be useful to him.  But the police brutally tore these gifts from the people's hands in the presence of the Pope himself, cursing and swearing the while.  Anyone who brought the Pope small gifts was chased away after being insulted and beaten, with the warning:
'Whoever wishes well to this man is an enemy of the state.'"

-eyewitness account by a companion of Pope Martin I

To begin our tale, let us first proceed to its ending.  In AD 655, somewhere in a little, isolated town on the edge of the Crimean Sea, Pope Martin died.  The exact cause of his death is not known; based on the available evidence, he was suffering at the least from chronic malnutrition, physical and psychological abuse, conditions of extreme cold and privation, and many untreated medical ailments.  Most likely, his death did not cause much of a stir for either the Imperial officials set to watch him or the local townspeople; after all, his death had been the general idea of sending him into exile there in the first place.  The town of Cherson was well used to hosting political prisoners, and the Imperial police well used to hastening their deaths.

Yet there is a good reason to begin at the end with Pope Martin; for his death is, at least statistically, the most notable thing about him.  Pope Martin is the last Pope to this day to be venerated as a martyr by the Catholic Church.  Popes since then have died in office, and some have even been murdered; but Martin is the last who is considered to have been killed in odium fidei--that is, in hatred of the Catholic Faith, the Church, and Christ himself.  This is no small accolade.

The first Pope to be martyred, was, of course, St. Peter himself--and the last is St. Martin.  No small accomplishment, that.