St. Helena in "On the Death of Theodosius"

Now, Theodosius of august memory knows that he reigns, since he is in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and contemplates his temple. Now, indeed, he is conscious of his kingship when he receives Gratian and Pulcheria, his sweetest children, whom he had lost here; when his Flacilla, a soul faithful to God, embraces him; when he rejoices that his father has been restored to him; and when he embraces Constantine. Although Constantine was in his last hours when he was freed by the grace of baptism from all sins, yet, since he was the first of the emperors to believe and left after him a heritage of faith to princes, he has found a place of great merit. Of his times the following prophecy. has been fulfilled., 'In that day that which is upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy, to the Lord Almighty.' This was revealed by the' great Helena of holy memory, who was inspired by the Spirit of God.

Blessed was Constantine with such a mother! At her son's command she sought the aid of divine favor in order that he might take part safely even in battles and not fear danger. Noble woman, who found much more to confer upon an emperor than she might receive from an emperor! The mother, solicitous for her son to whom the sovereignty of the Roman world had fallen, hastened to Jerusalem and explored the scene of the Lord's Passion.

It is claimed that she originally was hostess of an inn, and thus became acquainted with the elder Constantine, who afterwards obtained the imperial office. Good hostesses who so diligently searched for the manger of the Lord! Good hostess, who did not ignore that host who cared for the wounds of the man wounded by robbers! Good hostess, who preferred to be considered dung, to gain Christ! For that reason Christ raised her from dung to a kingdom, for it is written that 'He raised up the needy from the earth, and lifted up the poor out of the dunghill.'

Helena, then, came and began to visit the holy places. The Spirit inspired her to search for the wood of the Cross. She drew near to Golgotha and said: 'Behold the place of combat: where is thy victory? I seek the banner of salvation and I do not find it. Shall I,' she said, 'be among kings, and the cross of the Lord lie in the dust? Shall I be covered by golden ornaments, and the triumph of Christ by ruins? Is this still hidden, and is the palm of eternal life, hidden? How can I believe that I have been redeemed if the redemption itself is not seen?'

'I see what you did, O Devil, that the sword by which you were destroyed might be obstructed. But Isaac cleared out the wells stopped up by foreigners, and did not permit the water to lie concealed. So let the ruins be removed that life may appear; let the sword by which the head of the real Goliath was cut off be drawn forth; let the earth be opened that salvation may shine out: Why did you labor to hide the wood, O Devil, except to be vanquished a second time? You were vanquished by Mary, who gave the Conqueror birth. Without any impairment of her virginity, she brought Him forth to conquer you by His crucifixion and to subjugate you by His death. Today, also, you shall be vanquished when a woman discovers your snares. That holy woman bore the Lord; I shall search for His cross. She gave proof that He was born; I shall give proof that He rose from the dead. She caused God to be seen among men; I shall raise from ruins the divine banner which shall be a remedy for our sins.'

And so she opened the ground and cleared away the dust. She found three fork-shaped gibbets thrown together, covered by debris and hidden by the Enemy. But the triumph of Christ could not be wiped out. She hesitated in her uncertainty. She hesitated, as a woman, but the Holy Spirit inspired her to investigate carefully, because two robbers had been crucified with the Lord. Therefore, she sought the middlebeam, but it could have happened that the debris had mixed the crosses one with another and that chance had interchanged them. She went back to the text of the Gospel and found that on the middle gibbet a title had been displayed, 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.' Hence, a sequence of sound reasoning was established and the Cross of salvation was revealed by its title. This is what Pilate answered to the Jews who petitioned him: 'What I have written, I have written,' that is: 'I have not written these things to please you, but that future ages may know them. I have not written for you, but for posterity,' saying, as it were: 'Let Helena have something to read whereby she may recognize the cross of the Lord.'

She discovered, then, the title. She adored the King, not the wood, indeed, because this is an error of the Gentiles and a vanity of the wicked. But she adored Him who hung on the tree, whose name was inscribed in the title; Him, I say, who, as a scarabaeus, cried out to His Father to forgive the sins of his persecutors. The woman eagerly hastened to touch the remedy of immortality, but she feared to trample under foot the mystery of salvation. Joyful at heart, yet with anxious step she knew not what she should do. She proceeded, however, to the resting place of Truth. The wood shone and grace flashed forth. And, as before, Christ had visited a woman in Mary, so the Spirit visited a woman in Helena. He taught her what as a woman she did not know, and led her upon a way which no mortal could know.

She sought the nails with which the Lord was crucified, and found them. From one nail she ordered a bridle to be made, from the other she wove a diadem. She turned the one to an ornamental, the other to a devotional, use. Mary was visited to liberate Eve; Helena was visited that emperors might be redeemed. So she sent to her son Constantine a diadem adorned with jewels which were interwoven with the iron of the Cross and enclosed the more precious jewel of divine redemption. She sent the bridle, also. Constantine used both, and transmitted his faith to later kings. And so the beginning of the faith of the emperors is the holy relic which is upon the bridle. From that came the faith whereby persecution ended and devotion to God took its place.

Wisely did Helena act who placed the cross on the head of sovereigns, that the Cross of Christ might be adored among kings. That was not presumption but piety, since honor was given to our holy redemption. Good, therefore, is the nail of the Roman Empire. It rules the whole world and adorns the brow of princes, that they may be preachers who were accustomed to be persecutors. Rightly is the nail on the head, so that where the intelligence is, there may be protection, also. On the head, a crown; in the hands, reins. A crown made from the Cross, that faith might shine forth; reins likewise from the Cross, that authority might govern, and that there might be just rule, not unjust legislation. May the princes also consider that this has been granted to them by Christ's generosity, that in imitation of the Lord it may be said of the Roman emperor: 'Thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones.'

On that account the Church manifests joy, the Jew blushes. Not only does he blush, but he is tormented also, because he himself is the author of his own confusion. While he insulted Christ, he confessed that He was King; when he called Him king of the Jews, he who did not believe confessed his sacrilege. 'Behold,' they say, 'we have crucified Jesus, that Christians after death may rise again, and, having died, may reign!. We have crucified Him whom kings adore; Him whom we do not adore they do adore! Behold, even the nail is held in honor, and He whom we crucified to death is the remedy of salvation, and by an invisible power torments demons! We thought that we had conquered, but we confess that we ourselves are conquered! Christ has risen again, and princes acknowledge that He has risen. He who is not seen, lives again.' Now we have a greater struggle; now the battle against Him becomes more furious. We have despised Him whom kingdoms attend, whom power serves. How shall we resist kings? Kings are bowed under the iron of His feet! Kings adore Him, and Photinians deny His divinity! Emperors prefer the nail of His Cross to their own diadem, and Arians violate His power!

But I ask: Why was the holy relic upon the bridle if not to curb the insolence of emperors, to check the wantonness of tyrants, who as horses neigh after lust that they may be allowed to commit adultery unpunished? What infamies do we not find in the Neros, the Caligulas, and the rest, for whom there was nothing holy upon the bridle?

What else, then, did Helena accomplish by her desire to guide the reins than to seem to say to all emperors through the Holy Spirit: 'Do not become like the horse and mule,' and with the bridle and bit to restrain the jaws of those who did not realize that they were kings to rule those subject to them? For power easily led them into vice, and like cattle they defiled themselves in promiscuous lust. They knew not God. The Cross of the Lord restrained them and recalled them from their fall into wickedness. It raised their eyes that they might look toward heaven and seek Christ. They threw off the bit of unbelief. They took the bridle of devotion and faith, following Him who said: 'Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden light.' Thereafter, the succeeding emperors were Christians, except Julian alone, who abandoned the Author of his salvation when he gave himself over to philosophic error. After him came Gratian and Theodosius.
from: Leo P. McCauley, S. J. et al, Funeral Orations by Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Ambrose (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953), pp.325-330.



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