Many Christians are inspired by patron saints. It’s a common phenomenon among Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and other Christians. These holy patrons have been around a long time. For a Christian there can be no greater examplar than Christ himself, but the steadfast example of subsequent believers can also be useful if their particular experience touches us in some way. It can’t be denied that the practice of honoring a patron saint closely resembles the widespread ancient belief of honoring the patron deities believed to be responsible for a city or empire’s safety. To my mind, however, that only makes the practice more respectable because it says something about what it means to be human. And whatever similarities or differences come to mind with regard to the world’s many differing religious traditions, the one thing that all religious people share is our common humanity.
Accountants have Matthew (the Apostle and tax collector), lawyers have Thomas More (English chancellor beheaded by King Henry VIII), and musicians have Cecilia (an early Roman martyr). There is even a patron saint for exterminators, Magnus of Fussen (a monk of the early medieval period whose lore reports his specialized skill as that of being able to disperse snakes and drive away dragons). It’s time for political bloggers to have a patron as well.
Therefore, I am happy to announce that this blog has employed the services of St. Sebastian as protector and exemplar (shown in the inset in a 16th-century work by the Venetian artist Carlo Crivelli). The legend of Sebastian reports that he was a Roman soldier who secretly embraced Christianity during the 3rd century. To the Romans, the great crime of the Christians was their general refusal to honor the patron deities that defended and protected the empire; keeping the gods and goddesses satisfied was the primary reason for the existence of Roman religion. Upon discovering the “treachery” of Sebastian, the emperor Diocletian ordered his execution. He was taken outside the city of Rome, reportedly to a spot near the Via Appia, tied to a tree, and used for target practice by the imperial archers.
Though left for dead, a noblewoman named Irene found him still alive and subsequently nursed him back to health. My favorite story of Sebastian reports that he taunted the powerful emperor when he next saw him. Perhaps this was an ancient example of “speaking truth to power.” In any event, Diocletian didn’t take it well and had him beaten to death. As a final insult his body was thrown into a latrine, but the story still doesn’t end there. He reportedly appeared in an apparition to a local widow to explain to her where his body could be found. It was then moved to a catacomb that now bears his name, joining the bodies of other martyrs. The Church of St. Sebastian Fuori le Mure (“outside the walls” of Rome) sits above that catacomb. Because he survived the first attempt on his life yet died a martyr’s death later, he is sometimes known as “the saint who was martyred twice.”
Why Sebastian? Well, because it’s one thing to have strong political opinions. It’s another thing altogether to make a habit of putting those opinions into writing. Doing so can turn those words into a target for all sorts of unsavory comments by those who find them unreasonable and even the cause of their indigestion.
Shot with arrows, beaten to death, then thrown into a latrine … all these seem to be great metaphors for life as a political blogger. St. Sebastian is an appropriate patron for such a venture, don’t you agree?