Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Narcissus of Jerusalem; Didron of Paris, c.1875; Church of Saint-Barthélémy in Bénévent-l'Abbaye, Creuse, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France; photographed on 13 April 2018 by GFreihalter; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

It would be a difficult task to find a bishop, who governed the flock entrusted to his care so many years, and who reached so high an age as Saint Narcissus; for, he administered the church of Jerusalem with apostolic zeal, during 80 years, and reached the 106th year of his age. He was born at Jerusalem, in the first century of the Christian Era. From his youth he manifested a great desire to obtain the knowledge of divine truth, and was unwearied in acquiring it. As soon as he was ordained priest, he was so zealous in instructing the Christians, in proclaiming the word of Christ, in visiting the sick and in the spiritual labors required by his position as a minister of the Lord, that on the death of the Bishop of Jerusalem, he was chosen to succeed him. Invested with this dignity, he redoubled his zeal, and his daily labor consisted in preaching, instructing and exhorting, by which he endeavored to strengthen those under him in the true faith, to keep them from evil and incite them to all good. He was an enemy to vain and empty pastimes, and would never hear of amusements or bodily comforts. In his speech, he observed a wonderful care and prudence; he detested all empty conversations as a loss of precious time. No one was allowed to utter sinful words in his presence; and as a watchful shepherd, he was constantly guarding his flock from the raging wolves, the heretics. As much as he was hated by the latter, so much was he beloved by the former. His learning, virtue and holiness made him esteemed and venerated by all, and his fame was augmented still more by the many miracles which the Almighty wrought through him. Among other things, it is said that once, at Easter, he changed water into oil, some of which was kept over a hundred years, as by the use of it many sick were immediately restored to health. Notwithstanding this, some wicked inhabitants of Jerusalem dared to accuse the holy bishop of some great crime, to revenge themselves for having been punished by him for their misdeeds. They even had the audacity to confirm their malicious calumny with oaths and imprecations; one wishing that he might be burned alive if he did not speak the truth; the second, that God might punish him with leprosy, or some other terrible disease; the third, that he might lose his sight. The holy man, seeing himself so grossly calumniated, forgave his enemies from the depth of his heart, but refused to remain in the city. Secretly going away, he went into a far distant wilderness, where he lived in solitude, his only occupation being prayer, meditation, and devout reading. God, however, made the innocence of His faithful servant known by the punishment of his calumniators. The house of the first suddenly took fire, and both he and His family were burned in it; the second was seized with so dreadful a leprosy, that until the end of his life, he could not appear among men; the third, seeing his two companions so terribly punished, repented of his crime, and confessed the wrong done to the bishop; openly declaring that the accusation against the holy man had been a malicious slander. His contrition was so great, that from the continual tears he shed, he at last lost his sight.

Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were much grieved at the flight of their bishop, and took the greatest pains to find him. At last, however, they desisted from their fruitless search, and elected another bishop, who governed them for a few years and then died piously. On the very day on which this bishop expired, Saint Narcissus came to Jerusalem, as God had admonished him to return to his see and to labor again earnestly for the salvation of souls. The joy with which the holy man was received cannot be described. He then resumed his episcopal functions and administered them many years with his former zeal. At length, enfeebled by great age, ceaseless labors and austerity, he prayed to the Almighty, either to relieve him of his mortal body or to send him some one who could assist him in his work. God heard and graciously answered his prayer. Saint Alexander was travelling at that same time from Cappadocia to Jerusalem, to visit the holy places; and in the night before his arrival, God revealed to Saint Narcissus that, on the following day, a strange bishop would come to the church, who would be his assistant, and in course of time, his successor. Saint Narcissus imparted this revelation, at break of day, to the clergy, and going with them to meet the bishop, he received him with great kindness, and informed him of the divine decree. Alexander, although at first greatly amazed at Saint Narcissus’ words, obeyed the command of God, received the charge which the Almighty laid upon him, and assisting Saint Narcissus to the best of his ability, furthered with great zeal, all that this holy man undertook for the welfare of his fold. Saint Narcissus, greatly comforted that the Almighty had granted his prayer and sent him so zealous a coadjutor and successor, continued untiringly, as long as his strength permitted, in the fulfillment of his apostolic labors, until at last, at the advanced age of 106 years, he was called by a happy death into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Roman Martyrology says that this saintly bishop was remarkable for his holiness, patience and strong faith.

Practical Considerations

• What you have read of Saint Narcissus is another proof that the most innocent and holy men are not secure against the calumnies of the wicked. It is also another reason for never believing calumniators, especially when they attack a priest, or a man who is known to have always led a devout life. Who would not have thought true, what three men affirmed with an oath? And yet it was false. Hence you do very wrong, when you heedlessly believe the false reports which a calumniator disseminates about your neighbor. How you have to act when some one assails your honor, I told you on the twentieth of this month; and you can again learn it from Saint Narcissus. Contemplate here also the punishment of the three calumniators, and let it teach you that God does not always allow such wickedness to pass unpunished even on earth. Secondly, observe how horrible a false oath is in the eyes of the Almighty; and thirdly, that God sometimes lets the evil come to pass which men wish themselves. To take an oath is, in itself, no sin. When there is a necessity, or good and sufficient cause, we can take an oath without sin. A false oath taken deliberately is always a great sin, be the cause to which we testify with an oath ever so little; since it is an insult to the Almighty, making Him a liar, or witness to a lie. The three calumniators of Saint Narcissus made themselves guilty of great sin by their oath, because they knowingly swore falsely. They, at the same time, cursed themselves, and God allowed their curses to be fulfilled. Hence, hold in abhorrence cursing, lying and slandering; because through them we become guilty of great sin. “Let not thy mouth be accustomed to swearing,” says the Wise Man; “for in it there are many falls. Everyone that swears and names God, shall not be wholly pure from sin. A man that swears much shall be filled with iniquity, and a scourge shall not depart from his house. And if he swears falsely, his sin shall be upon him, and if he dissemble it, he offends doubly; and if he swears in vain, he shall not be justified; for his house shall be filled with his punishment.” (Eccl. 23)

• Saint Narcissus abhorred all idle talk as an irretrievable loss of time. Numberless persons do not regard such frivolous discourses as wrong, either because they do not think of the account they have to render of their words, according to the words of Christ (Matthew 12), or because they do not consider the consequences that frequently follow. “Whoever wishes to be free from sinful discourses, must avoid frivolous discourses,” says Saint Chrysostom. For idle words lead to sinful words. And even if they do not, at times, go so far, yet the time employed in them is lost. This loss ought to be well considered by us, as it is a great loss. Saint Bernard writes: “No one ought to esteem lightly the time spent in frivolous conversation; for it is valuable time, it is the time in which to work out our salvation. The irrevocable speech passes, and so passes the irretrievable time, without our being aware of what we lose. They say: Let us talk a little while, until the hour has passed. Oh! until the hour, the time has gone by! the hour, which the merciful Creator gives us to do penance, to obtain pardon for our sins, to gain everlasting glory; the time which you ought to have used to appease the Divine Majesty, to hasten to the company of the angels, to sigh after the lost heritage, to animate your cold devotion and to weep over your past sins! May you not be one of these silly persons! Do not misuse your time in frivolous conversations. Employ it to that end and aim for which it was given by the Most High.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 21 May 2018. Web. 21 September 2018. <>