November 18 – Romanus; Barulus of Caesarea

Romanus and Barulus of Caesarea (d. 303) (or Antioch) were a deacon and a little kid, respectively. In February of 303, Galerius, soldier and future Emperor, set fire to the imperial palace and blamed it on the Christians, in hopes that Diocletian would kill a bunch of them, burn their churches, and so on. It worked.

In Caesarea of Palestine, Romanus was shocked to learn that there were Christians sacrificing to idols for fear of deathification. One source even suggests (in the footnotes, but still) they weren’t even commanded to; they just wanted to be seen doing it. Romanus crisscrossed the city, exhorting the Christians to accept martyrdom rather than fall into idolatry. The Christians found their spines (they were in the sacristy, under the rubble). Romanus was arrested, politely holding his hands behind his back for the soldiers to tie them up. At his trial, Governor Asclepiades accused Romanus of causing bloodshed by exhorting the Christians to remain Christians. (Typical blame-the-victim steer manure.) Romanus, sentenced to death, merely said, “Bring it.” They were about to tear into him with rakes when somebody remembered that he was of noble blood, so they whipped him instead. Romanus burst into song, explaining to all parties that it wasn’t his parents’ blood that made him noble, but the crown of martyrdom. “So don’t deprive me of my nobility, if nobility is your thing,” he sang. “Kill me and I’ll really be noble.” He went on for dozens of quatrains about the unworthiness of the so-called gods to be worshipped, and the worthiness of the one true God. “My God is red-hot; your gods ain’t doodly-squat” captures the general idea.

Finally Asclepiades had had enough, and launched into a tirade about how the world had worsened since the good old days. He ordered Romanus to be really really tortured (no need to sully these saintly pages with gory details). After a bit of this, Romanus got an idea. “Tell you what,” he said, “to judge between my God and your gods, let’s ask some random seven-year-old kid which of us is right.” Asclepiades had the soldiers nab a boy from the audience—Barulus of course. Romanus asked him, “Hey kid, which one of us is right? Is there one God, as I believe, or a bunch of bickering little gods, as Asclepiades here asserts?” (Actually he was both wordier and insultinger, but time presses.)

“Duh,” answered Barulus, “Christ is the true God, since he is one with the one only which belongs to the one[1]. Heck, even kids know that.” “Who told you that?” Asclepiades cried. “My Mom,” said Barulus. Asclepiades had Barulus’ mom summoned. “Watch what I do to your kid,” he said. Barulus was tormented nastily, until even the tormenters were weeping. After a good bit of this, Barulus asked, “Not to be a bother, but can I get a glass of water?” “Hang in there, son,” his mother said. “You’ll have the water of Paradise soon.”

Meanwhile Romanus excoriated the soldiers for their lack of manliness in torturing a mere child. “You shut up, or I’ll have your tongue cut out,” Asclepiades said. Romanus helpfully stuck out his tongue, to make it easier for the, um, surgeons. Even tongueless, he continued praising God and excoriating the governor, to the astonishment of all. Eventually Barulus received the martyr’s crown. Romanus was taken away to be burned, but a freak storm came up and put the fire out, so in the end he was strangled. This is the short version; Prudentius wrote 1,140 lines in unrhymed Latin quintains of about 25 words each.

Terribilis Deus de sanctuario. God is wonderful in his saints.

[1]I quote my source directly here. I couldn’t possibly do it justice with a paraphrase, largely because I’m far from sure what it means.