Feast Day: January 23
At the turn of the fourth century, Vincent, a young deacon, served under Valerius, his mentor and bishop of Saragossa in Spain. The two men gave courageous witness to the Christian faith during the general persecution by the emperor Diocletian.
In order to prevent Christian subversion of the state, in 303 the emperor forbade priests to offer Christian worship and he required all to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Dacian, the governor of Spain, enforced the decree in Saragossa. In 304, he arrested Valerius and Vincent and imprisoned them at Valencia. Dacian exiled the elderly Valerius. But he decided to break Vincent with torture.
First Vincent was imprisoned and weakened by semi-starvation. Then he was commanded to sacrifice, but he refused. He was then racked, roasted on a gridiron, rubbed down with salt, thrown into prison, and set in stocks. All to no avail, as Vincent stood firm in his faith. He was then thrown into a dungeon whose floor was covered with broken pottery that opened his wounds. Reportedly the jailer saw a divine light hovering around Vincent and was converted on the spot. At last Dacian seems to have relented. He allowed Christians to visit and comfort Vincent before he died from his terrible agony. The “Acts of the Martyrs” described his torments and recorded Vincent’s speech to Dacian: “The more I witness your fury, Dacian, the greater is my pleasure. Do not lessen in any way the sufferings you prepare me for so that I can make my victory shine more resplendently.”
In the face of the indomitable courage of the martyr the governor had to admit his defeat: “It is useless to struggle any longer; take him to a bed so that he can be revived and cured.” But Vincent refused to accept this concession. As a soldier fighting for the glory of God, he had no reason to live if he could not continue to give witness to Christ. After enduring tortures that went beyond all human expectations, Vincent died as a result of his sufferings.
To him the martyr answer made:
“Come then, put forth your utmost strength,
Use every force at your command,
And I will still defy your laws.
Hear you the creed that we profess:
Christ and the Father are one God,
Him we confess, and him we serve;
Destroy this faith, if you have power.
Your tortures are to Christians sweet,
The iron hooks and prison chains,
The hissing flames and red-hot grates,
And even death, the final doom.
How senseless are your false beliefs,
How stupid Caesar’s stern decree!
You order us to worship gods
That match your own intelligence…
Well do they know and understand
That Christ still lives and reigns on high,
And that his kingdom soon to come
Shall to the wicked terror strike.
They loudly cry as they confess
That by the power and name of Christ
They are cast out of men possessed,
These demons foul, who are your gods.”
– Prudentius, poet
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.