In the past few days members have be affirming their Christian vow in the Order as did the soldiers of the legions in the Roman army on 3 January each year.
Yesterday too we looked at the story of the martyr Theagenes, a soldier who refused to take the pagan vow of loyalty to a deified emporer against God.... here is that story and a reflection on its meaning for us today.
"Theagenes, the son of a bishop,was conscripted in Phrygia and sent to the legion entitled the SecondTrajan under the tribune Zelicinthius and the praepositus Posidonius.This legion was stationed in Parium in the Hellespontus, which city issuperior to Cyzicus. Brought before the tribune and the praepositus,blessed Theagenes was being forced to serve as a soldier. But beingfaithful and accomplished in the eyes of God, filled with the HolySpirit, he declared in the middle of the legion, "I am a Christian, andI serve the Immortal King who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.His soldier and servant am I, and I cannot serve another king.
See the rest here: http://www.ucc.ie/milmart/BHG2416.htmlIHSV
In reflection on the story of Theagenes, it came to my mind that the pagan vow that Theagenes had to take was a critical part of this story.
Theagenes refused to serve under the pagan Emperor Lucinius. The men had to swear a vow to the Emperor as a deity. They were forced to make sacrifices to him and his chosen deities. Theagenes felt he would have had to break his vow to God to accept the military service and the pagan vow.
After Constantine's victory at Milvan Bridge, he made an agreement with Co-emperor Lucinius in the Edict of Milan under which Christianity was tolerated. However, soon afterwards, Lucinius renewed persecutions of the Christians. Constantine conquered Lucinius and united the empire in 324 and then held the historic first Ecumenical council at Nicea which supported Christianity across the Empire.
The Army was given a new vow - a Sacramentum for Christians. It began: "I swear by God, by Christ and by the Holy Spirit; and by the majesty of the emperor, which, next to God, should be loved ... "
The new vow placed God first, and the state second. Christians could now serve in a tolerant if not supportive army atmosphere.
It is good to reflect on this story as we consider events of today. In the US a debate rages over the use of God in the pledge of allegiance. The inclusion of this phrase essentially subordinates loyalty to country to loyalty to God -- it says "one nation under God". The alternative is frightening. I for one pray that the US retains God in their pledge.
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