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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Gervasius (1) , June 19 (Us.); Oct. 14 (Bas. Menol. ). Martyr with Protasius at Milan, under Nero. These two brothers were sons of Vitalis, whose martyrdom at Ravenna and mythical acts are recorded in Mart. Adon. Apr. 28. After 300 years, and when their memory had entirely faded, God is said to have revealed their place of burial to St. Ambrose in a dream. [See AMBROSIUS.] The empress Justina was striving to obtain one of the churches of Milan for Arian worship, and help was needed to sustain the orthodox in their opposition to the imperial authority, Just at this time a new and splendid basilica was awaiting consecration. The people, as a kind of orthodox demonstration, wished it consecrated with the same pomp and ceremonial as had been used for another new church near the Roman Gate. Ambrose consented, if he should have some new relics to place therein. He therefore ordered excavations to be made in the church of St. Nabor and St. Felix, near the rails which enclosed their tomb. The search was rewarded by the discovery of the bodies of "two men of wondrous size, such as ancient times produced" (Amb. Ep. xxii. Â§ 2), with all their bones entire and very much blood. They were removed to the church of St. Fausta, and the next day to the new Ambrosian church, where they were duly enshrined. At each different stage St. Ambrose delivered impassioned and fanciful harangues. In that on their enshrinement he claims that they had already expelled demons, and restored to sight a blind butcher, one Severus, who was cured by touching the pall that covered the relics. The Arians ridiculed the matter, asserting that Ambrose had hired persons to feign themselves demoniacs. The whole story has afforded copious matter for criticism. Mosheim (cent. iv. pt. ii. c. 3, Â§ 8), Gibbon (c. xxvii.), Isaac Taylor ( Ancient Christianity , Vol. ii. 242â€“272), consider the thing a trick got up by the contrivance and at the expense of St. Ambrose himself. Two distinct points demand attention: 1st, the finding of the bodies; 2nd, the reputed miracles. The discovery of the bodies may have been neither a miracle nor a trick. Churches were frequently built in cemeteries, and excavation might easily chance upon bodies. Some, moreover, have fixed Diocletian's persecution as the time of their martyrdom, and St. Ambrose, as the official custodian of the church records, might therefore have some knowledge of their resting-place, and in times of intense theological excitement men have often imputed to dreams or supernatural assistance that for which, under calmer circumstances, they would account in a more commonplace way. It is hardly possible to read through the epistle of St. Ambrose to his sister Marcellina (Ep. xxii.), in which he gives an account of the discovery, and still imagine that such genuine enthusiasm could go hand in hand with conscious knavery and deceit. There remains the question of the miracles to which St. Ambrose and St. Augustine testify ( de Civit. Dei xxii. 8; Confess. ix. 7; Ser. 286 and 318). These were of two kinds: the restoration of demoniacs and the healing of a blind man. As to the demoniacs, we cannot decide. At times of religious excitement such cases have occurred, and can be accounted for on purely natural grounds. They belong to an obscure region of psychological phenomena. The case of the blind man, whose cure is reported by St. Augustine, then resident at Milan, as well as by St. Ambrose, stands on a different footing, and is the one really important point of the narrative with which Taylor fails effectively to grapple. We must observe, also, in favour of the miracle that St. Ambrose called immediate attention to it, and that no one seems to have challenged the fact of the blindness or the reality of restoration to sight; and further Severus devoted himself in consequence as a servant of the church wherein the relics were placed, and continued such for more than 20 years. On the other hand, we have no means of judging as to the nature of the disease in the man's eyes. He was not born blind, but had contracted the disease, being a butcher by trade. He might therefore have only been affected in some such way as powerful nervous excitement might cure, but for which he and St. Ambrose would naturally account by the miraculous power of the martyrs. In the Criterion of Miracles , by bp. Douglas (pp. 130â€“160, ed. 1803), there are many acute observations on similar reputed miracles in the 18th cent. Mart. Rom. Vet. , Adon., Bedae, Usuard.; Kal. Carthag.; Kal. Front.; Tillem. MÃ©m. ii. 78, 498; Fleury, H. E. viii. 49, xviii. 47; Ceill. v. 386, 490, ix. 340.
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Gervasius'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/g/gervasius.html. 1911.
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