October 16 – Longinus; Bertrand of Comminges

Longinus (I cent.) was the Roman centurion who pierced our Lord’s side as he hung on the cross. Tradition says he is the same centurion (admirably portrayed by John Wayne) who exclaimed, “Surely this is the Son of God!” The name “Longinus” is not in the Gospels; it is derived from the Greek word for “spear” (λόγχη) (longche). The earliest account of Longinus is the wishful-thinkingly-named fifth-century “Letter of Herod to Pilate.” In it, Longinus is mauled every day by a lion, then healed overnight, a pattern which will continue until the end of time, placing him firmly in the company of Sisyphus and Prometheus.

A somewhat later account (VIII cent.) tells that Longinus, having seen the earthquake, eclipse, water-and-blood, and such-like, presented himself to the Apostles seeking forgiveness and instruction. The Apostles forgave and instructed him, and baptized him at no extra charge (any extra charge would be simony). He moved to Caesarea of Cappadocia, where he lived a monkly life, preaching the gospel to any who would listen. After about 38 years of this he was apprehended by the authorities and brought before the provost Octavian. “Go on, sacrifice to the gods,” Octavian suggested. “Your god will forgive you. Tell him I made you do it.” “Your gods are filthy rotten corrupters,” said Longinus unecumenically. “But if you become a Christian, my God will forgive you.”

Octavian grew wroth (you have to plant it at just the right time and water it well), and ordered Longinus’ teeth pulled, and his mouth cut. Our saint found an axe and split open the idols, and demons came out of them and entered into the bodies of the provost and his cohort, whereupon they fell down on all fours and made animal noises. Longinus asked the demons what they were doing there, and they said they were hiding from the name of Jesus and the sign of the cross, which were never heard nor seen in that place. Longinus drove them out of the people, who all rejoiced and believed in Jesus. Except Octavian.

At Longinus’ next session before Octavian, one Aphrodisius spoke up in the saint’s favor. Otto ordered Aphorodisius’ tongue removed, whereupon he (Otto) was struck blind and “lost his members” (ouch). Aphro said, “The Lord God is just in all his judgments.” To Octavian he said, “What did I tell you? And by the way, look at me, I’m speaking without a tongue!” Octavian cried that he was in great pain in his heart and body, to which Longinus replied, “Go ahead and kill me, and I’ll pray for God to forgive you.” So Octavian had our saint beheaded, then fell upon his body, weeping, and saying, “I have sinned.” Immediately his sight (and “members”) returned, and he went on to join the Christians in that place.

Bertrand of Comminges (1050–1123 or 1126) was born in a noble family and slated for knighthood, but things took a different turn (things can be frustrating that way). He joined the canons* in Toulouse, and in time rose to archdeacon. From there he went on to the Bishopric of Comminges, which one can no longer do, since the diocese was dissolved into Toulouse after the Revolution. As bishop he reformed the clergy and placed them under Augustinian rule. In 1100 he took part in the Synod of Poitiers, which excommunicated King Philip I (who dumped his wife (claiming she was too fat) without ecclesial permission) (to take up with a floozie). Many or most of the Synod’s participants were stoned by the public (who also thought the queen was fat), but Bertrand managed to escape that fate and remain alive for some years (do the math). He was sainted in 1220 or 1222, and again in 1309 for good measure (they had lost the paperwork). He is the patron saint of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, France, and the cathedral he commissioned there is a UNESCO world heritage site.