Pope St. Dionysius and St. Jarlath

News: Commentary
by Church Militant  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 26, 2023   

Forgotten Saints of Christmas — Dec. 26

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Editor's Note: This is an edited excerpt from Rev. Alban Butler's 1866 edition of The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, Vol. XII.  

Pope St. Dionysius

Dionysius was a presbyter (senior priest) in the Church of Rome during the time of Popes Stephen (A.D. 254–57) and Sixtus II (257–58). During Pope Stephen's term (254–57), Dionysius was involved in debates about whether baptisms performed by heretics were valid.

After Sixtus II was martyred on Aug. 6, 258, during Valerian's persecution, the Roman See was vacant for almost a year due to intense persecution, making it impossible to elect a new pope. Dionysius was then elected pope on July 2, 259. A few months later, Emperor Gallienus issued an edict of toleration, ending the persecution and legally recognizing the Church. This allowed the Roman Church to regain its properties and organize itself again under Dionysius' leadership.

Saint Dionysius of Alexandria described him as an admirable and highly learned man. Saint Basil praised his charity, which reached even the farthest provinces of the empire. When the Goths raided Caesarea, the capital of Cappadocia, and took many of its people captive, Dionysius sent a comforting letter and money to help free the captives.

Dionysius condemned the teachings of Sabellius and others at a council in Rome and later refuted the heresies of Paul of Samosata:

For to make and to create are different from one another. "Is not He Himself your Father, that has possessed you and created you?" says Moses in the great song of Deuteronomy. And thus might any one reasonably convict these men. Oh reckless and rash men! Was then "the first-born of every creature" something made? "He who was begotten from the womb before the morning star"? He who in the person of Wisdom says, "Before all the hills, He begot me"? Finally, anyone may read in many parts of the divine utterances that the Son is said to have been begotten, but never that He was made. From which considerations, they who dare to say that His divine and inexplicable generation was a creation, are openly convicted of thinking that which is false concerning the generation of the Lord.

Saint Athanasius and St. Basil used his writings to defend the divinity of the Son and, in Basil's case, also that of the Holy Spirit. Saint Athanasius noted that the 300 fathers at the Council of Nicaea used established terms from previous Church leaders, especially those of Dionysius of Rome, to defend the Christian faith. Dionysius died on Dec. 26, 269, and was buried in the papal crypt in the Catacomb of Callistus.

Saint Jarlath

Saint Jarlath lived around the early 6th century. He should not be confused with Jarlath, the archbishop of Armagh, who was a disciple of St. Patrick, from Ulster, and the son of Trien. Our St. Jarlath was from Connacht, part of the Cormac family. He was educated from a young age by Benignus, the archbishop of Armagh, who later ordained him.

After leaving his mentor, St. Jarlath went to Cluainfois, a secluded area in Conmacne, now in County Galway near Tuam. There, he established a monastery, which later became a chapel in the parish of Tuam. He also started a renowned school at this monastery, attracting many students, including the notable St. Brendan, abbot of Clonfort, and St. Colman, the first bishop of Cloyne. They developed their significant virtues under St. Jarlath's guidance. Saint Jarlath was later appointed the first bishop of Tuam. The church there was dedicated to him and named Jarlath's Church. He passed away on Dec. 26, around 540. His remains were later placed in a silver shrine in a church in Tuam. His main feast day is celebrated in Tuam on June 6, the day his relics were moved.

Some bishops of this region were known as metropolitans and archbishops of Connacht. Eventually, the area was officially made an archbishopric in 1153. Two other dioceses were later merged with Tuam: first, Enaghdune, which became a parish under Tuam in the 14th century; and second, Mayo, established by St. Gerald, an Anglo-Saxon, who followed St. Colman from Lindisfarne to Ireland. Saint Colman built a monastery in Mayo for his Anglo-Saxon followers, known as Mayo of the Saxons. Saint Gerald, celebrated on March 13, expanded this monastery and turned it into a bishopric around 685. The diocese of Mayo was merged with Tuam in 1560.

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