Saints of the Day – Asterius of Amasea

Article

Died c.400. Bishop Asterius of Amasea in Pontus, Asia Minor, was renowned as a preacher: 21 of his sermons are still extant. From his writings we know that he studied rhetoric and law in his youth. Although he practiced as a barrister for a time, he could not long ignore his calling to the priesthood, which eventually led to his elevation to the see of Amasea. Saint Gregory the Great describes this good pastor as overflowing with the Holy Spirit.

His sermons highly recommend charity to the poor, revealing his own favorite virtue. His place in time is known because of the references he makes in his sermons to Julian the Apostate and the Consul Eutropius. They also show that the Church already kept the feasts of Christmas, Easter, Epiphany, and martyrs. His reflections are just and solid; the expression natural, elegant, and animated. They abound with lively images and descriptions both of persons and things.

In his homily on Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Asterius repeatedly teaches the pre-eminent jurisdiction Saint Peter received over all Christians. His panegyric to Saint Phocas encourages the invocation of saints, the veneration of their relics, and pilgrimages to pray before them.

The following passage is from his sermon, On the Holy Martyrs:

“We keep through every age their bodies decently enshrined, as most precious pledges; vessels of benediction, the organs of their blessed souls, the tabernacles of their holy minds. We put ourselves under their protection. The martyrs defend the church, as soldiers guard a citadel. The people flock in crowds from all quarters, and keep great festivals to honor their tombs. “All who labor under the heavy load of afflictions fly to them for refuge. We employ them as intercessors in our prayers and suffrages. In these refuges the hardships of poverty are eased, diseases cured, the threats of princes appeased. A parent, taking a sick child in his arms, postpones physicians, and runs to one of the martyrs, offering by him his prayer to the Lord, and addressing him whom he employs for his mediator in such word as these.

“‘You who have suffered for Christ, intercede for one who suffers by sickness. By that great power and confidence you have, offer a prayer on behalf of fellow-servants. Though you are now removed from us, you know what men on earth feel in their sufferings and diseases. You formerly prayed to martyrs, before you were yourself a martyr. You then obtained your request by asking; now you are possessed of what you asked, in your turn assist me. By your crown ask what may be our advancement. If another is going to be married, he begins his undertaking by soliciting the prayers of the martyrs. Who, putting to sea, weighs anchor before he has invoked the Lord of the sea by the martyrs?'”

The saint describes with what magnificence and concourse of people the feasts of martyrs were celebrated over the whole world. He says, the Gentiles and the Eunomian heretics, whom he calls New Jews, condemned the honors paid to martyrs, and their relics; to whom he answers:

“We by no means adore the martyrs, but we honor them as the true adorers of God. We lay their bodies in rich shrines and sepulchers, and erect stately tabernacles of their repose, that we may be stirred up to an emulation of their honors. Nor is our devotion to them without its recompense; for we enjoy their patronage with God.”

He says the New Jews, or Eunomians, do not honor the martyrs, because they blaspheme the King of martyrs, making Christ unequal to his Father. He tells them that they ought at least to respect the voice of the devils, who are forced to confess the power of the martyrs:

“Those whom we have seen bark like dogs, and who were seized with frenzy, and are now come to their senses, prove by their cure how effectual the intercession of martyrs is.”

He closes this sermon with a devout and confident address to the martyrs (Benedictines, Husenbeth).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 7 August 2020. Web. 29 November 2020. <>