"The mouth of the Huns, formerly spewing foam and rage, now distils the honey of charity. Such, O Christ, are Thy miracles; such are Thy works, O our God!" Thus does Baronius, on reaching in his history the year of Christ 1000, hail the arrival of the Hungarian deputies, who came to offer to the Roman Church the suzerainty of their land, and beseech the Vicar of Christ to confer the title of King upon their Duke Stephen.
We are carried back in thought a century earlier, when, led by Arpadus, the son of Almutz, under the banner of the hawk, the Magyars came down from the mountains of Transylvania into the plains watered by the rivers Theiss and Danube. Attila seemed to live again in those sons of his race, who poured like a torrent over Germany, Gaul, and Italy. But the empire of the Huns over reconquered Pannonia was to be lasting only on condition of its ceasing to be the scourge of God, and becoming the rempart of His Church. In this world, while it is not yet time for eternal justice, the instruments of God's anger are soon broken unless they are amenable to love. Five centuries earlier, Attila in person was rushing like an overflowing river upon the capital of the world, when he was met by the Sovereign Pontiff. The Hungarian chronicles record the following message as having been then received from Heaven by the universal devastator: "Hearken to the command of the Lord God Jesus Christ. Thy pride shall not be suffered to enter into the Holy City where lie the bodies of My Apostles. Return. Later on a descendant of thine will come to Rome with humility; and I will cause him there to receive a crown that shall last forever." Attila thereupon recrossed the Alps, and had only just time to reach the Danube before he died. In the days of St. Stephen the heavenly promise was fulfilled. Let the reader not be astonished that we do not discuss its authenticity. There is nothing in this divine engagement which the historians should reject; it is in accordance with the rules of God's Providence, which governs history. God never forgets a service; nor does apostolic gratitude wear out with years: the debt of gratitude which St. Leo the Great contracted, Pope Sylvester II paid at the appointed time. From the tomb respected by the plunderer, a virtue came forth, changing the avenger into an apostle. The crown, placed on the brow of Attila's successor by St. Peter's Successor, was destined to be his as long as he should be preceded by the Cross, that other mark of honor conferred upon him. Like the Holy Empire, to which Hungary was to be later on united without however being absorbed by it, the Hungarian monarchy was founded upon St. Peter; for his sake it subsisted, and he alone, under God, was the safeguard of its future.
Let not the sad forebodings of the present hour make us forget the marvellous power shown on this Feast by the Lamb, the Ruler of the earth (Is. 16: 1). Scarcely had the blood shed by the sons of Arpadus disappeared from the streets of the cities; scarcely had the smoke of burning ruins and the dust of crumbling walls been scattered; when their fierce energy, tempered like a choice blade in the waters of the Sacred Font, became the defence of Christianity in the East. A new sort of invasion began; the holiness sprung from St. Stephen put forth numerous branches, which, shedding their beatiful blossoms over the whole earth, filled all lands with perfumes of the Spouse.
Let us read the history of the apostolic King, as given in the Roman Breviary:
St. Stephen introduced into Hungary both the Faith of Christ and the regal dignity. He obtained his royal crown from the Roman Pontiff; and having been, by his command, anointed King, he offered his kingdom to the Apostolic See. He built several houses of charity at Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople; and with a wonderfully munificent spirit of religion, he founded the Archiepiscopal See of Gran and ten other bishoprics. His love for the poor was equalled only by his generosity towards them; for, seeing in them Christ Himself, he never sent anyone away sad or empty-handed. So great indeed was his charity, that, to relieve their necessities, after expending large sums of money, he often bestowed upon them his household goods. It was his custom to wash the feet of the poor with his own hands, and to visit the hospitals at night, alone and unknown, serving the sick and showing them every charity. As a reward for these good deeds his right hand remained incorrupt after death, when the rest of his body had returned to dust.
He was very devoted to prayer: and would spend almost entire nights without sleep, rapt in heavenly contemplation; at times he was seen ravished out of his senses, and raised in the air. By the help of prayer, he more than once escaped in a wonderful manner from treasonous conspiracies and from the attacks of powerful enemies. Having married Ghisella of Bavaria, sister of the Emperor St. Heinrich, he had by her a son, Emeric, whom he brought up in such regularity and piety as to form him into a saint. He summoned wise and holy men from all parts to aid him in the government of his kingdom, and undertook nothing without their advice. In sackcloth and ashes, he besought God with most humble prayer, that he might not depart this life without seeing the whole kingdom of Hungary Catholic. So great indeed was his zeal for the propagation of the Faith, that he was called the Apostle of his nation, and he received from the Roman Pontiff, both for himself and for his successors, the privilege of having the cross borne before them.
He had the most ardent devotion towards the Mother of God, in whose honor he built a magnificent church, solemnly declaring Her Patroness of Hungary. In return the Blessed Virgin received him into Heaven on the very day of Her Assumption, which the Hungarians, by the appointment of their Holy King, call "the day of the Great Lady." His sacred body, exhaling a most fragrant odor and distilling a heavenly liquid, was translated, by order of the Roman Pontiff, amidst many and divers miracles, to a more worthy resting-place, and buried with greater honor. Pope Innocent XI commanded his feast to be celebrated on September 2; on which day, Leopold I, Emperor elect of the Romans and King of Hungary, had, by Divine assistance, gained a remarkable victory over the Turks at the siege of Buda.
At the close of the 10th century, when anarchy had penetrated even into the sanctuary, hope sprang up once more on the day whereon the Holy Ghost chose the race of St. Stephen to renew the youth of the world. Satan, who thought that the Papacy was humiliated once for all, trembled with rage when he saw new laborers coming to St. Peter, as to the only foundation on which it is possible to build. The proudest family that had ever caused Rome to shake, asked of Her the right to be counted among the nations of the West. How true it is that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against the Rock, against the Church founded thereon.
Therefore we will hope, even against hope, in the future of the noble nation established by St. Stephen upon the Apostolic strength. The Sovereign of Hungary, the august Queen of Heaven, will not allow Her loyal subjects to continue to listen to the proposals of the infernal spirit. Apostle and King, St. Stephen, protect thy people, assist the Church, help us all.
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