The edifying story of St. Stephen the Protomartyr is told in Chapters Six and Seven of the Acts of the Apostles. One of the first seven deacons, St. Stephen is a model of evangelical zeal, who sealed this virtue in his own blood, being stoned to death for Our Lord by a mob of angry Jews. Thus he became our first martyr (or protomartyr). Scripture ends its account of the deacon by telling us that “devout men took order for Stephen’s funeral, and made great mourning over him” (Acts 8:2). But who were those “devout men”? And where did they bury the precious remains? The answers to these questions were revealed to the world almost 400 years after the event.
In the year 410, the city of Rome was sacked and plundered by Genseric and his ferocious Goths. It was the first time the proud Empire had been so humiliated, and this in its very heart. The effects of this catastrophe cannot be overstated. For one thing, it was a prelude to the fall of the Western Empire (A.D. 453). More to our point though is the immediate reaction of pagans: They claimed that this misfortune was the fault of the Christians. Since the Roman gods had been so insulted by the Christians refusing them divine honor, they turned their backs on the Empire and allowed the sacking. In order to defend the Church against this calumny, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote his great work, The City of God. Such a defense must have been a great consolation to the faithful, but greater still was the heavenly consolation that came in the form of miracles. For at this time began a series of supernatural prodigies which included miraculous findings of the relics of the saints. One of these miraculous findings (or “inventions,” as they are called) was of the relics of St. Stephen.
The Burial of Saint Stephen
In 415, a priest by the name of Lucian brought to Bishop John of Jerusalem strange news of a message he had been given for the bishop. “Make haste to open our sepulchre, that by our means God may open to the world the door of His clemency, and may take pity on His people in the universal tribulation.” The message was from St. Stephen and his sepulchral companions: St. Gamaliel, St. Nicodemus, and St. Abibo.
The relics of the four saints were found according to the directions given to Fr. Lucian by St. Gamaliel, who revealed that they had been buried on his own estate in Capergamela, about twenty miles outside of Jerusalem. The Church’s liturgical lesson for August third relates that “at the rumor of what had occurred, a great crowd came together, and many of them who were sick and weak from various ailments went away perfectly cured. The sacred body of St. Stephen was then carried with great honour to the holy church of Sion.”
The miraculous cures continued and the whole prodigy expanded when portions of the relics were sent all over the Catholic world, including North Africa, where St. Augustine built a shrine in honor of St. Stephen. The beloved doctor writes at length in The City of God about the miracles wrought at St. Stephen’s intercession. He apologizes for not writing more, because of “the necessity of finishing the work I have undertaken.”
He continues: “For were I to be silent of all others, and to record exclusively the miracles of healing which were wrought in the district of Calama and of Hippo by means of this martyr — I mean the most glorious Stephen — they would fill many volumes. For when I saw, in our own times, frequent signs of the presence of divine powers similar to those which had been given of old, I desired that narratives might be written, judging that the multitude should not remain ignorant of these things. It is not yet two years since these relics were first brought to Hippo-regius, and though many of the miracles which have been wrought by it have not, as I have the most certain means of knowing, been recorded, those which have been published amount to almost seventy at the hour at which I write.”
Abbot Guéranger tells us that the “severe critic,” Tillemont, calls the invention of St. Stephen “one of the most celebrated events of the fifth century.” Tillemont concluded this after reviewing the accounts contained in the writings of St. Augustine, Sozomen, and other writers contemporary with the event.
The other saints discovered with St. Stephen are deserving of further comment. St. Gamaliel is none other than the famous Pharisee mentioned in Acts, Chapter Five, who counseled the Sanhedrin not to put St. Peter and his companions to death. (“I say to you, refrain from these men — if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it” Acts 5:38-39.) It is said that, with St. Paul, Gamaliel witnessed the martyrdom of St. Stephen. This would explain in part why the Protomartyr was buried on Gamaliel’s estate. The sanhedrenist was the grandson of the famous Hillel and the Jews regard him, with Hillel, as a great light of the Talmud. The first to merit from them the honorable title Rabban , “our Master,” Gamaliel is still spoken of with great veneration by the Jews. While these latter deny his conversion to Christianity, the scholarly (though heretical) Photius relates that the Apostles St. Peter and St. John baptized Gamaliel together with his son and Nicodemus. Perhaps more reliable is St. John Chrysostom’s reference to an ancient tradition that Gamaliel converted even before St. Paul did.
Sometime after the invention, St. Gamaliel’s relics were translated to Pisa, Italy.
St. Abibo (or Abibas) was the second son of Gamaliel, and is most likely the one mentioned by Photius as having been baptized with his father and Nicodemus. There is a tradition that he escaped the destruction of Jerusalem and lived to the age of eighty.
St. Nicodemus is the sanhedrenist mentioned in John Three, who came to Jesus “by night,” and to whom Our Lord gave the new evangelical teaching on being born again of water and the Holy Ghost. In Chapter Seven of the same Gospel, he defended Our Lord before the Pharisees and chief priests, showing that, without a hearing, He could not be convicted of a crime. Finally, in Chapter 19, he, together with St. Joseph of Arimathea, had the privilege of wrapping Jesus’ precious Body in the Shroud and burying It in the Sepulchre.
In a passage from Lucian’s own account of the discovery in 415, we get a touching picture of the ardent charity of these early Catholics: “The Jews, knowing that Nicodemus was a Christian, removed him from his office and cursed him, and drove him out of the city. Then I, Gamaliel, inasmuch as he had suffered persecution for Christ’s sake, took him to my estate, and fed and clothed him to the end of his life; and when he died I buried him honourably beside the loved Stephen.”
In the Roman Calendar, August third is the “feast of the finding of the body of blessed Stephen, first martyr, and of the Saints Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and Abibo.”
“Western Civilization is not, for me, a curriculum of democracy and reason and greatness; it is a history of inequality and oppression,” writes Scott Ross, a teacher. Mr. Ross is by no means a rare ideological outlier among his peers. The view he holds has been taught and propagated at universities across the United States and Western Europe for decades. The situation has become so dire that Yale University has recently cancelled its formerly excellent course called “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present,” because it was allegedly too Eurocentric. Some among the shrinking number of universities that still offer such courses use them merely as a platform to attack the very culture whose achievements they are supposed to teach. The alleged oppressiveness of the West is the leitmotif that dominates their critiques. This view has boiled over into the larger society and is commonly held today by those on the political Left. We have seen a disturbing display of this mindset during the recent riots when “protesters” kept methodically attacking and destroying symbols of Western culture.
Although it is true that various forms of oppression have been practiced in the West over time, oppression is by no means unique to the West. Oppression has been, in fact, a feature of every civilization that has appeared on the face of this earth. We could say that human history is – in one way – a history of oppression: It has common for those with power to exploit, trample upon and take advantage of their fellow human beings. There is nothing particularly surprising about this, since selfishness and rapaciousness are prominent aspects of human nature.
What makes the West unique, however, is that it is the only civilization to reject oppression and deem it both wrong and immoral. Western civilization stands as the only culture that has had the compassion and humanness to make a deliberate and systematic effort to eliminate oppression and tyranny not only from within its own territories but also in other parts of the world. Central to this enterprise has been the concept of human rights. It was Western thinkers who came up with the unprecedented and novel idea that all men (and women) are entitled to certain fundamental inalienable rights which they possess simply by virtue of being human.
This is how Encyclopedia Wikipedia sums up the evolution of this revolutionary concept:
“Ancient peoples did not have the same modern-day conception of universal human rights. The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval natural law tradition that became prominent during the European Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson and Jean-Jacques Burlamaquiand which featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the 20th century possibly as a reaction to slavery, torture, genocide and war crimes, as a realisation of inherent human vulnerability and as being a precondition for the possibility of a just society.”
Please note carefully: The concept of universal human rights was developed wholly and exclusively within the Western Tradition. Some of the landmark public declarations where this singularly western principle has been annunciated include the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No other civilization has had the inclination and generosity to extend such rights to the common man. Most of them have, in fact, strongly resisted such efforts in the past, and they still do so today.
Universal human rights are a quintessentially western project. The idea that the king and the pauper, the great and the small, the rich and the poor have the same intrinsic worth and as such are entitled to the same considerations and privileges is not only uniquely western but also inimical to the mindset of every other civilizational streams. Thankfully, Western civilization did not stay with theory only. Over the centuries it has managed – with fits and starts – to evolve a system of governance which translated its lofty ideals into social reality. This achievement has been effected through a form of government which is today known as Western democracy.
According to Encyclopedia Wikipedia, the characteristic feature of Western democracy is “equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people.” This is a reasonably fair and accurate description of this distinctly Western form of government. Notice especially the phrase “all people,” which means every person regardless of their social standing, gender, race, creed or sexual orientation.
Thanks to its highly evolved institutions based on respect for the inherent dignity of every individual, Western democracies today treat all people equally before the law and protect the rights of every person regardless of their status or accidents of birth. To ensure maximum fairness, western societies take special care to protect the civil rights of those who belong to groups that have historically found themselves at increased risk of oppression. By instituting the rule of law and guaranteeing the equality of rights, Western democracy has for the first time in history relieved the common man from his long-standing legacy of oppression. Having suffered millennia of domination and tyranny, ordinary people fortunate enough to live in Western style democracies can be free at last.
Not only has the West succeeded in eliminating oppression and extending equal rights to all, it is the only civilization that has seriously attempted to embark on such an enterprise. In all other civilizations, human rights and privileges were the domain of only the privileged few. And those privileged few were invariably black, brown and yellow males, depending on the geographic location of the civilization in question. It apparently rarely occurred to these men that other classes of people in their societies may also be entitled to the same rights and considerations they themselves enjoyed. Instead they treated the rest of the population as objects to be used and exploited for their own benefit and pleasure. And more often than not, those powerful black, brown and yellow males exercised their power over their fellow men (and women) with considerable selfishness and ruthlessness. That’s why tyranny, systemic oppression, exploitation, abuse, and discrimination have always been part and parcel of every civilization save for the sole bright exception of the West. It seems that among all privileged male classes across racial groups, it was only white men who possessed the sufficient empathy and compassion to consider their fellow citizens worthy of the same human rights they themselves felt entitled to.
Perhaps the best way to quickly illustrate the immense difference between the West and other civilizational streams is to contrast the situation of some classes of people in Western democracies with their counterparts who live in societies based on nonwestern values.
Islamic civilization: Women in hijab, 21st century
In some Islamic countries, for example, women are still forced to wear hijabs and burqas and are known to be raped as punishment for refusing to cover themselves. These women cannot walk by themselves in the street, open a bank account or own property. In Saudi Arabia women were only recently allowed to drive a car. In certain Muslim countries women are not allowed to get proper education.
Oppressed? Young western females partying
In contrast consider this telling statistic from the United States:
Women, as a percentage of college degrees: 56% Women, as a percentage of medical school students: 50.5% Women, as a percentage of law school students
In a number of African countries where the influence of indigenous African civilization is still strong women are subjected to female circumcision. There are no known health benefits to this practice which in many cases results in severe complications and side effects. The primary purpose behind this procedure is apparently to deprive women of the possibility of experiencing sexual pleasure. Thus, these unfortunate African women are reduced to being sexual objects for the pleasure of men and receptacles for their sperm as child bearers.
African civilization: Young women forced to undergo circumcision, 21st century
This, sadly, is only one of the cruel habits of traditional African culture which has been decidedly male-dominated and misogynic. From the accounts we have, it is quite obvious that African civilization has for the most part treated women as chattel with females seen merely as objects to be bartered and used for the benefit and pleasure of men. An account by a sympathetic 19th century explorer provides a painful insight into the degrading manner in which women were treated in traditional African civilization:
“The females, and especially the young ones are kept principally among the old men, who barter away their daughters, sisters or nieces, in exchange for wives for themselves or their sons. Wives are considered the absolute property of the husband, and can be given away, or exchanged, or lent, according to his caprice … Female children are betrothed usually from early infancy … little real affection consequently exists between husbands and wives, a young man values a wife principally for her services as a slave.”
The slave-like status of women in African culture contrasts sharply with the view of women held in the West. Even as African women were being treated in the most degrading manner described in the account above, Madame de Stael was one of the most admired intellectual voices in Europe, writing books and and hosting literary salons in Paris. Keep in mind the picture of the tyrannized African women as you read this description of Madame de Stael: “Known as a witty and brilliant conversationalist, often dressed in daring outfits, she stimulated the political and intellectual life of her times. Her works, whether novels, travel literature or polemics, emphasized individuality and passion made a lasting mark on European thought.” One cannot but feel a profound admiration for a civilization that would allow a woman to rise to this level of intellectual and social preeminence at the time when nearly all other cultures would view women as intrinsically useless save for their function as household vassals and sex objects.
More than fifteen hundred years before Madame de Stael, European women in ancient Rome were already allowed to inherit property, own assets, initiate a divorce and leave a will. In contrast, many African societies to this day continue to treat their women in their characteristic misogynic fashion despite the West’s decades-long attempts to improve the situation. Islamic and African civilizations, however, are not alone in their degrading and oppressive treatment of women. Unfortunately, more often than not this has been the norm in almost every non-western culture. It is as sad as it is revealing that no non-western culture would of its accord extend full human, civil and political rights to their women. The improvements that they have made on this front are almost wholly due to western pressure and influence.
Turning to another group, gay people face the most severe forms of persecution and oppression in non-western societies. In Islamic Iran, for instance, homosexuals are routinely hanged.
Islamic culture: Gays hanging in Iran, 21st century
In South Africa homosexual women are regularly subjected to “corrective” rape and often killed by men who justify their actions by appealing to the values of indigenous African culture.
Oppressed? Public gay parade, Boston
Racism and ethnic hatred are to this day the common features of non-western frame of mind. Not only that but most of them lack the moral framework to see that there is something fundamentally wrong with their intolerant attitudes toward people who do not look like them. We see harrowing manifestations of this in African countries which still suffer from the unfortunate influence of the indigenous mindset. The Rwandan genocide, for example, in which some eight hundred thousand people were slaughtered in 100 days was driven by ethnic hatred of one group of black people against another. Tellingly, the genocide was accompanied by gender violence. According to a UN report, “Rape was the rule and its absence was the exception… Rape was systematic and was used as a weapon.” Experts estimate that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide. This kind of cruelty has apparently been a common feature of African past. The situation began to improve with the arrival of western values, but the deep-rooted tendencies of African cultures are slow to change.
We could go on, but these examples suffice. Nearly all societies based on non-western values exhibit multiple forms of oppression often to a brutal degree. Racist, intolerant, rights-denying, gay-hanging and misogynist though they may be, these cultures would treat its citizens even more oppressively had it not been for the beneficial influence and efforts of the West, which has gone to great lengths in its effort to extend the rights and dignity of people world over.
One of the steps in this effort has been the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Seen by many as one of the loftiest expressions of the human spirit, it seeks to ensure that all societies and cultures fully respect the rights and dignity of their people. Would you like to guess the name of the only civilization whose values and ideas could give rise to this kind of document? The opening clause gives the game away: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”
Where have we heard language like this before? “The equal and inalienable rights,” “the inherent dignity,” these are, of course, unmistakeably western concepts. And so is the idea of freedom and justice for all. Unfortunately, many non-western cultures still resist the spirit embodied in the Declaration. Unlike Western democracies, their social systems are designed to protect the rights and privileges of the powerful few so that they can continue in their oppression, chicanery and exploitation.
It is truly paradoxical that those who charge the West with being oppressive often in the same breath express admiration for non-western cultures, almost all of which grossly violate human rights of their people and often subject them to procedures that can only be rightfully described as barbaric. This glaring contradiction betrays the critics’ true motives and shows that their attack on the West – which is the only civilization willing and capable of producing free and non-oppressive societies – is completely disingenuous. Rather than seeking justice for all people, their criticism is motivated by ideological reasons that has little to do with the reality of the situation on the ground.
The charge that Western culture is inherently oppressive is one of the most patently ludicrous and self-refuting absurdities of this woke era. Contrary to what the leftist critics contend, the West is the only civilization that has managed to develop a system of laws, rules, customs and institutions that have made the elimination of oppression possible. The consideration and respect that the West has shown for the dignity and autonomy of ordinary human beings has no precedent or equal in world history. While the histories of other civilizations are for the most part unashamed and unquestioned catalogues of chicanery and tyranny, the West is the only culture that bucked and reversed that trend. Western civilization towers alone as the great rights-endowing liberator of humanity. For that, the common man (and the common woman) owe the West an eternal debt of gratitude
A highly anticipated clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine managed in part by the American drug company Moderna has resulted in some adverse effects in more than half of the trial’s participants, with one test group reporting “severe” symptoms.
The trial, which is also being sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, administered the vaccine “as a 0.5-ml injection in the deltoid muscle” in two shots spaced about one month apart. Two separate groups received 25-microgram and 100-microgram doses, respectively. A third group with a 250-microgram dose was subsequently added. Recommended Videos
The vaccine “induced anti–SARS-CoV-2 immune responses in all participants,” the research team reported Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers said that “no trial-limiting safety concerns were identified.” Yet a majority of participants still reported at least one side effect.
“Solicited adverse events that occurred in more than half the participants included fatigue, chills, headache, myalgia, and pain at the injection site,” the report states. Fever, joint pain and nausea were also reported.
Side effects grew more common with more (and larger) injections, the scientists write:
“Systemic adverse events were more common after the second vaccination, particularly with the highest dose, and three participants (21%) in the 250-μg dose group reported one or more severe adverse events.”
Notably, every participant in the two larger-dose groups reported adverse reactions after their second injections. One study participant in the smallest-dose group, meanwhile, was removed due to having developed hives after the first round of injections.
The scientists said that due to the ongoing status of the project, they are not yet “able to assess the durability of the immune responses” generated by the vaccine, but that they intend to follow participants “for 1 year after the second vaccination” and examine regular blood samples to monitor the vaccine’s effects.
A large trial “expected to evaluate a 100-μg dose” is “anticipated to begin during the summer of 2020,” the report states.
Pope Francis in his August 2, 2020, Angelus commentary before the faithful in St. Peter’s Square – and broadcast around the world – recalled the famous gospel for the day, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes from the 14th’ chapter of Matthew.
“He takes the food in His hands, raises His eyes heavenward, recites the blessing, and begins to break it and give the pieces to the disciples to hand out,” the Pope recounted. “And those loaves and fish did not run out; there was enough, and plenty left over for thousands of people.
“With this gesture, Jesus demonstrates His power; not in a spectacular way but as a sign of charity, of God the Father’s generosity toward His weary and needy children. He is immersed in the life of His people, He understands their fatigue and their limitations, but He does not allow anyone to be lost, or to lose out: He nourishes them with His word and provides food in plenty for sustenance.”
Following is the Holy Father’s full commentary, provided by the Vatican:
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
This Sunday’s Gospel presents to us the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves (see Mt 14,13-21). The scene takes place in a deserted place, where Jesus had retired with His disciples. But the people found Him so as to listen to Him and to be healed: indeed, His words and His gestures restore and bring hope. At sundown, the crowd was still present and the disciples, practical men, invited Jesus to send them away so that they could go and find something to eat. But He answered: “You give them something to eat” (v. 16). We can imagine the disciples’ faces! Jesus was well aware of what He was about to do, but He wanted to change their attitude: not to say, “send them away,” “let them fend for themselves”, “let them find something to eat”, but rather, “what does Providence offer us to share?” These are two opposite ways of behaving. And Jesus wants to bring them to the second way of behaving because the first proposal is that of the practical person, but is not generous: “send them away so they can go and find, let them fend for themselves.” Jesus thinks another way. Jesus wants to use this situation to educate His friends, both then and now, about God’s logic. And what is God’s logic that we see here? The logic of taking responsibility for others. The logic of not washing one’s hands, the logic of not looking the other way. No. The logic of taking responsibility for others. That “let them fend for themselves” should not enter into the Christian vocabulary.
As soon as one of the Twelve says, realistically, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”, Jesus answers, “Bring them here to me” (vv. 17-18). He takes the food in His hands, raises His eyes heavenward, recites the blessing, and begins to break it and give the pieces to the disciples to hand out. And those loaves and fish did not run out; there was enough, and plenty left over for thousands of people.
With this gesture, Jesus demonstrates His power; not in a spectacular way but as a sign of charity, of God the Father’s generosity toward His weary and needy children. He is immersed in the life of His people, He understands their fatigue and their limitations, but He does not allow anyone to be lost, or to lose out: He nourishes them with His word and provides food in plenty for sustenance.
In this Gospel passage, we can perceive a reference to the Eucharist, especially in the description of the blessing, the breaking of the bread, delivery to the disciples, and distribution to the people (v. 19). It is noteworthy how close the link is between the Eucharistic bread, nourishment for eternal life, and daily bread, necessary for earthly life. Before offering Himself to the Father as the Bread of salvation, Jesus ensures there is food for those who follow Him and who, in order to be with Him, forgot to make provisions. At times the spiritual and the material are in opposition, but in reality spiritualism, like materialism, is alien to the Bible. It is not biblical language.
The compassion and tenderness that Jesus showed towards the crowds is not sentimentality, but rather the concrete manifestation of the love that cares for the people’s needs. And we are called to approach the Eucharistic table with these same attitudes of Jesus: compassion for the needs of others, this word that is repeated in the Gospel when Jesus sees a problem, an illness or these people without food… “He had compassion.” “He had compassion”. Compassion is not a purely material feeling; true compassion is patire con [to suffer with], to take others’ sorrows on ourselves. Perhaps it would do us good today to ask ourselves: Do I feel compassion when I read news about war, about hunger, about the pandemic? So many things… Do I feel compassion toward those people? Do I feel compassion toward the people who are near to me? Am I capable of suffering with them, or do I look the other way, or “they can fend for themselves”? Let us not forget this word “compassion,” which is trust in the provident love of the Father, and means courageous sharing.
May Mary Most Holy help us to walk the path that the Lord shows us in today’s Gospel. It is the journey of fraternity, which is essential in order to face the poverty and suffering of this world, especially in this tragic moment, and which projects us beyond the world itself because it is a journey that begins with God and returns to God.
After the Angelus the Holy Father continued:
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am thinking of the people of Nicaragua who are suffering because of the attack in the Cathedral of Managua, where an image of Christ that is highly venerated, that has accompanied and sustained the life of the faithful people for centuries, was greatly damaged – almost destroyed. Dear brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, I am near you and am praying for you.
The “Pardon of Assisi” began yesterday and continues until midnight today, the spiritual gift that Saint Francis obtained from God through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. It is a plenary indulgence that may be received by partaking of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist and visiting a parish or Franciscan church, reciting the Creed, the Lord’s prayer and praying for the Pope and his intentions.
The indulgence can also be obtained for a deceased person. How important it is to always put God’s forgiveness, which ‘generates heaven’ in us and around us, back at the center, this pardon that comes from God’s heart who is merciful!
I greet with affection all of you present here today, those of you from Rome – how many – and pilgrims: I see the Alpine people from Palosco there, I greet them! And there are many Brazilians there with their flags. I greet everyone, those devoted to Immaculate Mary who is always present.
And, extending my thoughts to all those who are connected with us, I hope that during this time many will be able to have a few days of rest and contact with nature, in which the spiritual dimension may also be recharged. At the same time I hope that, with the converging commitment of all political and economic leaders, work might resume: families and society cannot continue without work. Let us pray for this. It is and will be a problem in the aftermath of the pandemic: poverty and lack of work. A lot of solidarity and creativity will be needed to resolve this problem.