(Died 308 A.D.)
We honor the martyrs as truly heroes; but the harrowing circumstances in which they die do not often enable us to read their minds at the moment of death.
Luckily, in some cases the trial records have been preserved – even from ancient Roman days. Thus, the records of the trial of St. Quirinus, Martyr, permit us to size up this outstanding hero of the last great Roman persecution.
Diocletian was emperor of Rome in the first decade of the fourth century. Many of his predecessors had struck at the Christians, but not systematically. Diocletian was a bureaucrat, so he launched a full-fledged war on the followers of Christ, intending it to be a “final solution”. To this end he issued several edicts, beginning in 303 A.D. The second edict ordered that all Christian clergy be jailed until they consented to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods.
Quirinus, an old man, was bishop of the present Sisak in northern Yugoslavia. When he heard that orders had been issued for his arrest, he tried to escape. The constabulary caught up with him, however, and haled him before Maximus, the local magistrate.
The first thing that Maximus asked was why the bishop had taken flight. Quirinus replied that he was simply obeying Jesus, the true God, who had instructed his followers not to seek martyrdom: “When they persecute you in one town, fly to the next.” (Matt. 10:23)
Well, said the magistrate, the emperor would have caught you anyhow; and now that you are a captive, your God cannot help you.
Quirinus disagreed. “God is always with us and can help us. He was with me when I was taken and He is with me now. He it is who strengthens me and speaks through my lips.”
“You talk a great deal,” Maximus grunted. “Let’s get to the point,” he said. “The emperor has ordered you to sacrifice to the gods. Do so!”
“I cannot,” said the bishop: “It would be a sacrilege. The gods whom you serve are nothing. My God, whom I serve, is in heaven and earth, and in the seas and everywhere; but He is higher than all because He contains all things in Himself; all things were created by Him, and by Him alone do they subsist.”
“You must be in your second childhood to believe such fables,” said the judge to the old prelate. “Sacrifice and you shall be rewarded; refuse and you will be tortured and put to a horrible death.”
Quirinus rejoined that torture would be to him more a glory than a grief. So Maximus had him beaten. Even as the torturers were plying their whips, they kept promising him a position as a priest of Jupiter if he complied.
Quirinus countered: “I am exercising my priesthood here and now by offering myself up to God.” He would gladly bear even more torture, he said, so as to encourage other Christians to take this “short road to eternal life.”
Maximus did not have the authority to impose the death sentence, so he sent his aged prisoner on a long journey to Governor Amantius, who lived in what is now Hungary.
When the bishop was brought before the governor, Amantius had the clerks send the record of the earlier trial. “Is this account correct?” he asked Quirinus. The prisoner said that it was: “I have confessed the true God at Siscia, I have never worshipped any other. Him I carry in my heart and no man shall succeed in separating me from Him.”
Because of the bishop’s age, Amantius, not an unkindly man, was unwilling to torture him further. He simply ordered death by drowning. St. Quirinus was thrown into the river Raab with a stone around his neck. The bishop did not sink at once; but those who watched him swept downstream heard him still praying and crying encouragement to his followers.
Like other martyrs, Quirinus had not sought martyrdom. Once condemned, however, he had depended on Christ’s promise that “the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment all that should be said.” (Lk. 12:11-12).
The Holy Spirit did not fail the old bishop. Nor will He ever fail us, if we trust in Him.
–Father Robert F. McNamara