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Just as in St Agatha’s day, the persecutors of the Church want us to abandon our principles

The Roman martyr refused to worship the gods of the state

By on Monday, 4 February 2013

St Agatha

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr, which is an obligatory memorial here in England.

In Sicily the feast will be kept with great solemnity, and the city of Catania in particular will see the culmination of a month’s festivities. For those who read Italian, you can see a pdf of the programme for Sant Agata 2013 here. When in Catania last month I was told by several people, as I toured the sites associated with the saint, that the feast was the single biggest popular festival in the world (I wonder if this is true) and that I should make a point of being in Catania on 5th February. Sadly, that is not possible.

The website of Catania’s local government has more information about the festival here, again for those who read Italian. This is, please note, the website of the city of Catania; and the feast’s programme is a joint project of the city authorities and those of the archdiocese. No wall of separation between Church and State here!

Saint Agatha’s story is similar to that of many other Roman martyrs. She refused marriage to a noble Roman and refused to sacrifice to idols; despite her extreme youth, she was steadfast in the face of tortures, which included the severing of her breasts. All this happened around the year 251. Her name is related to the Greek word agathos, which means good, and this play on words is made much of in the sermon of St Methodius of Sicily, an extract from which forms the reading for her feast in the Office of Readings. Her cult spread widely in the early church, and she is a popular subject in art. She has been alive in heaven for almost two thousand years, and her name is still shouted in the streets of Catania every year, hundreds of churches and children are named out of her, and the words Viva Sant Agata are in lights above the city gate. As for the Roman Empire that persecuted her to death, that is history.

You would have thought that in the contest between a fragile girl and the mighty Roman Empire, that the might of Rome would have triumphed. In fact the steadfastness and courage of the young Christian must have infuriated her persecutors. One almost feels sorry for them. But Agatha remained true, and she remains so to this day. As for the Roman nobleman Quintianus who tormented her –

“The wicked man sees and is angry,
grinds his teeth and fades away;
the desire of the wicked leads to doom”
as Psalm 112 has it.

Saint Agatha, pray for us! And as for you current persecutors of the Church, who want to make us abandon our principles and sacrifice to your modern idols – beware!

  • Jeannine

    There’s something about young martyrs. Their witness intensifies the evil of their persecutors.

  • Jonathan

    Who do you think is persecuting the Church?  Did you mean those archbishops, bishops, priests and others who have been besmirching its reputation – from within – for decades?  They are the ones who have truly held the power to persecute the Church.

    I suspect you are alluding to some imagined “persecution” by the state… the state that allows us our religious freedoms, but which will not allow us to deny others their freedoms – religious and otherwise.

    There is much in your story to reassure many young people that their integrity shall triumph over the weight of Rome.

  • JabbaPapa

    Persecution is external — the corruption of these or those individuals is internal.

  • Just Sayin’

    And a lot of the ‘persecutors’ are also pro-druggies.  Not a coincidence.  ‘Beware!’

  • Jonathan

    You’re right JabbaPappa: I’ve ignored the meaning of “persecution”.

    Perhaps better expressed thus: what does great damage to the Church: real corruption within it or imagined persecution from without?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Imagined persecution from without? Nigeria? Kenya? North Korea? Sudan? Egypt? The list goes on and on….

  • Jonathan

    Oh good, so long as you were referring to *genuine* persecution… I had a horrible feeling you were imagining that the Church in the UK was being persecuted.  I apologise.

  • majorcalamity

    I am always puzzled when anyone seems to claim that the Church is being persecuted. It just isn’t, not by anyone. All that might be happening is a movement to try to achieve some balance. This involves giving others more rights. It does not involve removing any from the Church. Why shouldn’t the non religious have lesser rights than the religious? Secularism is not a threat to any religion, it is actually it’s greatest protector.

    I get a strong whiff of a persecution complex in play whenever this type of argument gets aired. I think it does you no credit and no favours.

  • OldMeena

    The story of Saint Agatha told here is very sad.

    Forgive me for looking at it from another perspective, which does not lessen the sadness but which describes, in my view, what was really going on.
    Is this not a situation where two sets of religious believers, Pagan Roman and Christian, the former strong in civic power and the latter weak, came into conflict because their beliefs were different?

    Even within religions, including Christianity, there have been dreadful acts of inhumanity carried out as a result of differences in religious belief. The Catholic Church has its own dark record of such atrocities. And the RC Church itself has suffered similar cruel acts inflicted on its members. Living in west greater London some years ago I recall often passing “Richard Reynolds’ House” (in Old Isleworth). He was a Catholic monk who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy to King Henry 8th (he didn’t actually live in this house, since it only dates from around 1700, but is said to have lived near, or on its site.  “Interestingly” it is very near the London Apprentice where Henry kept or met his girl-friends). Reynolds was cruelly killed. 
    Both the house and the pub are only a hundred yards or so from the steps where Catherine Howard (and later) Lady Jane Grey descended to the boat for their trip to the Tower and the axe – they were only girls still in their teens.

    Isn’t the wider story here that strongly held beliefs that have no basis in fact or reason can, when incorporated into large and powerful movements, have very bad results?

  • Cestius

    The persecution from outside is real (no matter how much the persecutors deny it), in Britain this time it may be in its subtle early stages, but it’s there nonetheless. And of course Old Nick has a 5th column inside the church as well and always has ever since the beginning.  But as with the parable of the wheat and the tares, at the end of the age the tares will be sorted out and thrown into the furnace.

  • Jonathan

    Gosh, Cestius.  What are the indicators of the “subtle early stages” of the persecution of the Church in Britain?

    And who (or what) are the persecutors? 

  • Isidorus

    The Church is being actively persecuted all over the world. In Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Northern Nigeria, Sudan … a Christian risks his or her life just by being a Christian and attending church services. Closer to home, in the United Kingdom Catholic adoption agencies can no longer operate, while anyone with Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) convictions on family values and the sanctity of unborn children risks dismissal from an increasingly long list of jobs where, until now, religious people have been able to work. Persecution is a fact of life for 21st-century Christians, and vindictive secularism is one of its persecutors.  

  • scary goat

     Give it a rest…..come on.

  • majorcalamity

    The article was about the UK. That the persecution of minorities, including Christians, exists around the world is doubtless true. We should all condemn all of them, and not just those affecting Christians. Shame then that you join in by seeking to persecute other minorities here!

    The old argument about adoption agencies is raised again. This was nothing whatsoever to do with persecution. It was a very unfortunate result of the Catholic adoption agencies being unable to find a compromise, or workaround, of a contractual requirement placed upon them by law. This applied to ALL agencies, so there was NO persecution. The agencies, by their refusal to compromise, made it impossible for them to carry on. It was their own fault.

    There are lots of opt outs, and special arrangements, made for those with conscientious objections on religious grounds. These though have to be done in a balanced way, so that the rights of others are also respected. 

    If you expect to have it all your own way, well you cannot any longer. This is not vindictive secularism, or anything remotely like it. It is just common sense and fairness.  

  • JabbaPapa

    Isn’t the wider story here that strongly held beliefs that have no basis
    in fact or reason can, when incorporated into large and powerful
    movements, have very bad results?

    The examples of Henry VIII, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Chairman Mao all lead credence to this statement.

  • JabbaPapa

    The article was about the UK

    The degree of persecution against Catholics in the UK, while it reached its lowest level in centuries during the latter half of the 20th century, is once again on the rise.

    Catholic adoption agencies ARE a case of persecution, because UK Catholics are now unable to ensure that any of their own orphaned children will be cared for in Catholic households.

    The fact that this “gay marriage” law will inevitably force some Catholics out of certain professions where their Catholic teaching will become criminalised is a case where the opinions of secularist atheism are to be forced upon Catholics.

    Religious freedoms are public freedoms — not just private “freedoms” of congregation, worship, and private belief.

  • JabbaPapa


  • Just Sayin’

    Didn’t you know that Lucie is a pro-druggie priest?

  • Agent Provocateur21

     The Church in England is not persecuted…YET. However it is absolutely clear the Church in England is being harassed.

  • majorcalamity

    As does the inquisition and the persecution of the Protestant martyrs. No side is innocent. Which is the point being made, but you choose to ignore.

  • majorcalamity

    What total nonsense! Unfortunately though it seems to be believed by some Catholics who have this idea that the rest of us are “out to get them”. They are confused between persecution and fairness. There is NO persecution going on. All there is is a levelling of the playing field so that previously disadvantaged groups are treated better. If, as a consequence, this means some who have enjoyed special privileges lose them it is NOT persecution. As champions of the poor and disadvantaged I would expect to see you heralding this with great joy, instead of carping about “persecution”. It just makes you look rather stupid and even more irrelevant than you have already become. 

    Turning to the specifics, ANY adoption agency has the interest of the child as it’s sole purpose. That’s not my, your,s or anyone else’s interest. That also means they cannot consider the parent’s, or the Catholic Church’s interests. In most circumstances it would likely mean that a child brought up in a Catholic home would be best placed in another and I am quite sure that any agency would bear this in mind. Parents can appoint legal guardians to act in the event of their death whose task would be to ensure that all the procedures are correctly followed. 

    To describe UK Catholics as having “THEIR” children unable to be placed is very illuminating, as it highlights a fundamental and serious misjudgement. Those children are not the property of the Catholic Church, of of parents who belong. They are independent people, whose interests are the responsibility of us all. An adoption agency will do what is right by the child, and not by anyone else. 

    This though has NOTHING at all to do with the position of the Catholic agencies, who put themselves into a position where closure was inevitable. It is sad that this lesson seems not to have been learnt and “persecution” is still being raised as the reason.

    Great efforts are made to accommodate genuine religious based conscientious objections in many areas of public life, and will continue to be made once gay marriage passes into law. However this cannot, and must not, be at the expense of the rights of others. Judgements have to be made as to where lines are drawn and balance achieved. Public officials have contracted duties. Their loyalty when performing them is to their employer, which in most cases is the state. If their beliefs mean that they can no longer carry out those duties, then they are in the wrong job. That is NOT persecution and to project it as such is a total misunderstanding.

  • Peter

    The hard persecution of Christianity in the developing world is by religions threatened by and opposed to it, such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

    The soft persecution of Christianity in the developed world is because of the widespread secular belief that science has refuted God, and the confident expectation that it will do so completely as scientific discovery advances.

    While it is true that science has made remarkable inroads against the claims of creationists and intelligent designers, the opposite is true with regard to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  

    In this respect, far from undermining the doctrines of the Church, scientific discoveries and hypotheses are in fact strengthening them, whether it be evolution by natural selection as a thomist secondary cause of creation, or the hypothesis that creation emerged from the augustinian nothingness which preceded space and time.

    In this climate of soft persecution, Catholics ought to stand firm in their convictions because, slowly and surely, those convictions are being vindicated by scientific discovery.

    In 1951 Pope Pius XII addressed the Pontifical Academy of Science in response to the discovery that the universe had a beginning, a doctrine long held by the Church:

    “In fact, according to the measure of its progress, and contrary to affirmations advanced in the past, true science discovers God in an ever-increasing degree – as though God were waiting behind every door opened by science”

    How right he was!

  • Jonathan

    I didn’t follow – and don’t understand – the closure of the Catholic adoption agencies.  

    It does strike me though as a really poor outcome.  As we enact new laws, we should test their effect on religions and people of faith very carefully and make reasonable provision.

    I bet that with some willingness, flexibility and a proper understanding of Catholic concerns, law-makers could have found an accommodation in law that would have enabled the Catholic adoption agencies to continue in their work.

    I’m finding myself wondering – agreeing with JabbaPap (agh!) – if actually that counts as a kind of persecution.  

    I suppose, I imagined that persecution has to be active, and motivated by ill-will.  There can also be a kind of passive persecution, one that simply sets aside the real differences that exist between people and imposes a single set of regulation.

    I also agree (agh! again) that religious freedoms are public freedoms – not just private ones.

  • Jonathan

    “However this cannot, and must not, be at the expense of the rights of others.”

    I disagree with this: I think that true religious freedom sometimes will mean that the rights of others have to be curtailed; equally, I think that the opposite is true: on occasion religious freedoms have to be curtailed in order to ensure certain other higher-ranking rights of others.

    This is really the nub of the problem.  It’s situations where different, competing rights, of different people, bump into each other.  Both cannot win, and one cannot consistently and automatically win over the other.

    Generally, we seem to be giving a great deal of attention both in law and in the courts to accommodating this reality.

  • Jonathan

    Helpfully, JabbaPapa has pointed out what the “subtle early stages” of the persecution of the Church in Britain might mean.

    To be honest, it’s caused me to shift my thinking about this somewhat, and acknowledge a class of action/inaction which might count as “passive persecution” (possibly oxymoronic!).

    Elsewhere, I’ve pointed out that we should be especially sensitive in Europe to any possible anti-Semitism.

    By extenstion, I ought also to remind myself that we should be especially sensitive in the UK – England in particular – to any possible anti-Catholicism.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your quibble would be acceptable if Meeny had provided anything other than one of her typically biased writings.

    No— the point she was *actually* trying to make is her delusion that Catholicism is to be singled out as being particularly dreadful.

    But then this is unsurprising — when I make a valid counterpoint, you then choose to accuse *me* of the very bias that I was myself pointing out as a negative.

  • JabbaPapa

    Thank you !!! :-)

  • JabbaPapa

    I couldn’t have responded any better, but would undoubtedly have responded less politely. Thanks.

  • Jonathan

    Cannot disagree with that.

  • kittydeer

    Secularism is taking the rap mainly because one religion in particular is consistently putting itself in the limelight with its cruelty, honour killings, grooming of the young, constant urge to take offence, the list goes on. In the mindset of people who are not particularly religious, this religion, constantly in the headlines represents for them, what religion really is. It is up to Christianity to reassert itself in the image of its founder.

  • scary goat

    “To describe UK Catholics as having “THEIR” children unable to be placed
    is very illuminating, as it highlights a fundamental and serious
    misjudgement. Those children are not the property of the Catholic
    Church, or of parents who belong. They are independent people, whose
    interests are the responsibility of us all. An adoption agency will do
    what is right by the child, and not by anyone else.”

    So you think the child belongs to the state? And you think it is in a child’s best interests to be removed from the environment he/she was raised in?  So, if you had a child and something happened to you, you would be quite happy for your child to be placed with, say, muslim or catholic adoptive parents?  Or will such families be excluded from adopting in your new world order because they don’t agree with your prejudices?

  • majorcalamity

    It isn’t me who is prejudiced!  It is anyone who prejudges what is best for anyone else, in this case a child needing adoptive parents. As I said any adoption agency is very likely to seek Catholic adoptive parents for any child brought up in a loving Catholic environment. However, they will ALWAYS act in the best interests of the child, and it is entirely possible to imagine circumstances when the determination might be otherwise. 

    The child does not belong to the state, but it also does not belong to it’s parents. It is a person in it’s own right who needs to be allowed the freedom to investigate things for themselves, and come to their own conclusions. It really disturbs me when I hear Catholics welcoming “another little Catholic to the world”. When I hear that, it confirms my certainty that we need to close every religious school to ensure that every child is able to access a wide range of views.  

  • scary goat

     Closing religious schools will mean children have less access to information, not more.  They can then be indoctrinated with secular/state/atheist stuff. 

  • Jonathan

    I find this viewpoint, Peter, intriguing.

    I don’t much understand the notion that science has crowded out (my clumsy term, not yours) religion – mainly because science seems to be revealing more and more the sheer wonder, brilliance and breathtaking magnificence of the world. If anything – as you argue – science affirms the downright miraculous nature of the created world.

    I thought though that that particular kind of crowding out started during the Enlightenment and its “work” has kind of been done by now.If there is a “soft persecution” (better term than my oxymoron: “passive persecution”) then I think it’s in a tendency in law and public policy to seek uniformity.  Elsewhere, I’ve seen posts arguing against the clamour for “equality” when understood as “uniformity” rather than “fairness”.  Quite so.We seem to be losing, and in some quarters hardly noticing its loss, a gift for paying attention to difference, listening hard to those with whom we disagree and those we need to make special provision for, thereby ensuring that our public policy and laws have fair outcomes, not necessarily uniform outcomes. 

  • majorcalamity

    Not at all. Ensuring equality of education would ensure that every child received a basic grounding in society’s generally accepted standards. Some children are currently denied this opportunity through unhealthy opt outs. The last thing we want is for any child to receive an education made narrow by the religious conviction of it’s parents. We don’t want Muslim schools training would be indoctrinated terrorists. We also don’t want Catholic schools training uninformed bigots, with no balanced information about the benefits of contraception, abortion or same sex marriage. They need to gain this information at school, receive the contra view at home, and in church, and then come to their own conclusions. What is so wrong with that? 

  • kinkysox

    Don’t talk wet!

  • scary goat

     I don’t want my children indoctrinated into the “benefits” of contraception, abortion etc.  In Catholic schools they are taught about these things and also given the counter-arguments.  They can make up their own minds….unlike state schools where they are force-fed harmful ideas. My 2 older children went to state schools (and they were a state) my 2 younger ones are in Catholic schools and their general level of education and well-being is far better.

  • JabbaPapa

    We don’t want Muslim schools training would be indoctrinated terrorists.
    We also don’t want Catholic schools training uninformed bigots

    These caricatures of the nature of religious teaching are offensive, bigoted, ignorant, and hateful.

  • Llen

    I think it is materialism that block us from keeping these principles and creating our own instead?

  • JabbaPapa

    The World, the Flesh, and the Devil — as always.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

  • Peter

    Believe me, scientism is stronger now than it ever was during the Enlightenment.  Its relentless drive to refute religion in general and the Church in particular is a form of persecution which Christianity in the West must endure.

    It is the growing success of scientism in refuting the claims of creationists which gives secular society the boldness to challenge religion head on. In other words, Christianity is ridiculed among rational men and women because of the literal beliefs of some of its members.  

    St. Augustine warned against this no less than 1600 years ago in his Literal Meaning of Genesis:

    “Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics;and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.” 

  • majorcalamity

    That it is a caricature is true, but a deliberate one, so as to point out the dangers.  Most of these schools do a fine job with their teaching. Their discipline is good and their educational standards are high. That’s why they are so popular. Nevertheless you will know as well as I that many Catholic parents don’t think that Catholic schools are Catholic enough and battle the authorities and heads. I don’t think that ANY school should prefer any one religious point of view and simply teach religion from a historical and cultural perspective. I want to retain their good points and indeed use many as models for other schools. I just want to see the separation of religion, as I do in all aspects of life. There is no hatred involved. I care about the children and want them not to be excluded from obtaining a full education.

  • majorcalamity

    Not so in every religious school! In state schools they are taught the national curriculum, which is determined on our behalf by true professionals. Who are you to regard these as “harmful ideas”? We need to protect all children from being indoctrinated with extreme ideas. I am not suggesting that you hold such ideas, but we must make sure that there is no possibility that they can creep into our education system. It’s in all our interests, and the only way to do that is to level the playing field and ensure each child gets the same information at school. 

  • majorcalamity

    That’s rich coming, I assume, from a Catholic source. I suggest you take off the rose coloured glasses and look hard at the potential damage which can be done under our present arrangements. No-one wants to limit the opportunity of religious instruction, either at home or in church. It is simply inappropriate to have anything other than a neutral environment at school.

  • scary goat

     Sorry, I misunderstood your previous comment.  I thought by “another” you meant “different”. My mistake.  I still stand by the rest of my views though, and I am pretty sure your definition of prejudiced applies more strongly to those who hold your views before anyone else.  See Jabba’s comment below.

  • Jonathan

    Oh, indeed, Llen.  How weak we are.

  • Jonathan

    It’s such a pity.  So many people seem to be entirely blind to, entirely uninterested in, the great questions.  Many of the few that do start to wonder are then so easily thrown off course by their perceptions of religion – and what they believe to be the claims of religion – before even they’ve grappled with it or experienced it.

  • JabbaPapa

    Most of these schools do a fine job with their teaching

    Then why post that idiotic strawman ???

    It simply causes one to dismiss the entirety of your argument, on the basis of its blatant dishonesty.

  • Clivecopus

    Science has made no ‘inroads’ into the claims of Intelligent Design (ID) – indeed, just the opposite. The recent revelations from the Encode Project that huge swathes of DNA are ‘functional’ rather than ‘junk’ was an extraordinary victory for ID, whose proponents had predicted precisely that, and a humiliating reverse for the Darwinian materialists who had previously cited ‘junk DNA’ as evidence of the lack of design in nature. It must have been even more embarrassing for the latter to see Richard Dawkins performing a complete volte face and subsequently trying to claim that the findings of functionality were, in fact, precisely what you would expect from a Darwinian perspective!  

    It is these findings that are strengthening the doctrines of the Church – principally, of course, that we were deliberately and intentionally created by God in His image and likeness, and that we can know God from His creation. 

    As a staunch supporter of the argument from design, Thomas Aquinas could also justifiably claim to have been vindicated by these remarkable developments.   

  • majorcalamity

    Ah, another favourite diversionary Catholic tactic surfaces. The “Strawman” defence. Accuse your opponent of raising issues unconnected with the debate. That way you can avoid answering the questions and facing the issues.