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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

St. Peter of Verona

Fr. Scott Haynes


Once there was a young boy named Peter whose parents were fallen away Catholics. Peter’s parents had traded their Catholic faith for fad beliefs that were more convenient and fit in better with their family and friends. Catharism was a form of dualism, also called Manichaeism, and rejected the authority of the Pope and many Christian teachings. The heresies of Catharism (Cathars), Albigensians, and Manicheaism held all material reality was created by an evil god, and all spiritual reality, which was the work of a good god (Dualism). However, like many fallen away Catholics, Peter’s parents, who followed this popular heresy, did not take their new beliefs very seriously either.


In fact, they reasoned that all these little details really did not matter—one religion was just as good as another. They subscribed to Indifferentism, the belief that no one religion or philosophy is superior to another. Because they felt this way, they decided to send Peter to a Catholic school as it was regarded as the best school in the area, even though they did not follow the Catholic faith anymore. However, Peter’s uncle, who had also left the Catholic faith, took his rejection of the Faith much more seriously. One day he asked Peter what he was learning in school, and Peter responding by reciting the Apostle’s Creed. Peter’s uncle was outraged and did not want his nephew learning any of this Catholic “nonsense.”



He tried to convince Peter’s parents to take him out of that school. Yet, despite his protests, Peter’s parents failed to see any problem. To them it was an unimportant argument about words—prayers that children memorized. In the end they figured it was all the same and did not really matter, so they let Peter stay in that school. Every means was used to persuade Peter, and even to oblige him to say, that all material things are the work of the devil, or the evil principle. “No,” replied the youthful disciple of Christ; “there is but one first principle, the supreme God, omnipotent, and the sole Creator of heaven and earth – Credo in unum Deum. Whoever does not believe this truth can not be saved.


The heretical uncle, confused by his defeat, and foreseeing what might come to pass, spoke sharply to his brother, and told him that the best thing he could do would be to take the boy out of the hands of Catholics as soon as possible. “For,” he added, “I fear lest, when he becomes older and better instructed, he may destroy our religion, should he pass over to the ‘prostitute’” -– the wicked name by which he designated the Catholic Church.


Peter’s uncle was correct about one important thing: words do matter. The words of the Creed have always been precious to us Christians. The early Christians called them the Symbol of Faith. It was a symbol or mark that outwardly showed what was invisibly believed. Of course, the ultimate object of our faith is God Himself. Our faith is in the Word, not in mere words no matter how true or precious that might be. Yet, the words do matter.



The words of the Creed are called secondary objects of faith because they connect us with God, the primary object of faith, Whom we cannot see. If the details of the secondary objects are wrong, we are not able to be as connected to God. Ultimately, if our secondary objects are wrong enough they will connect us not with God, Who created us and loves us, but with an imaginary god that is not real and loves us no more than an ancient pagan idol.


The Creed tells us who God is. When you love someone, you want to know about them. You cannot have a relationship without this knowledge, for these little details matter. Imagine forgetting a spouse’s birthday or anniversary and saying, “Oh, we’ll celebrate it next week. It does not matter.” Knowing these details is crucial for maintaining an close and loving relationship with someone.


The precise details of the Creed have led countless Christians to God, including the young boy named Peter whom I mentioned in the beginning. Although Peter’s story sounds very modern, it actually took place back in the 1200’s in the city of Verona, Italy. The truths of the Faith that Peter learned in the Apostles’ Creed became so important to him that he became a Dominican in order to preach that truth.


He was received into the Order of Friars Preachers by St. Dominic himself in those very first days of the Order. He spent the rest of his life preaching about the truth of God to people who had fallen away from Faith like his own family and guiding many of them back to the Church. His efforts were met with great success.


In fact, he was so successful that the leaders of those who opposed him conspired to assassinate him on a lonely road outside of Milan. The Milanese Cathars, who conspired to kill him, hired an assassin, one Carino of Balsamo. Carino’s accomplice was Manfredo Clitoro of Giussano. On April 6, 1252, when Peter was returning from Como to Milan, the two assassins followed Peter to a lonely spot near Barlassina, and there killed him and mortally wounded his companion, a fellow friar named Dominic.

 

Carino struck Peter’s head with an axe and then attacked Domenico. Peter rose to his knees, and recited the first article of the Symbol of the Apostles (the Apostle’s Creed). Offering his blood as a sacrifice to God, he dipped his fingers in it and wrote on the ground: Credo in Unum Deum. The blow that killed him cut off the top of his head, but the testimony given at the inquest into his death confirms that he began reciting the Creed when he was attacked.


Before his martyrdom, from the 1230s on, Peter preached against heresy, and especially Catharism, which had many adherents in thirteenth-century Northern Italy. Deeply devoted to the Mother of God, he established the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Gregory IX appointed him General Inquisitor for northern Italy in 1234, and Peter evangelized nearly the whole of Italy, preaching in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Genoa, and Como.


In 1251, Pope Innocent IV recognized Peter’s virtues, and appointed him Inquisitor in Lombardy. He spent about six months in that office and it is unclear whether he was ever involved in any trials. His one recorded act was a declaration of clemency for heretics who repented. In his sermons he denounced heresy and also those Catholics who professed the Faith by words, but acted contrary to it in deeds. Crowds came to meet him and followed him; conversions were numerous, including many Cathars who returned to the unity of the Church.


Carino, the assassin, later repented and confessed his crime. He converted and eventually became a lay brother in the Dominican convent of Forlì. By the intercession of St. Peter of Verona and Blessed Carino of Balsamo, may we all turn from sin and follow the narrow road to heaven to be forever with Jesus Christ our Savior.


Here silent is Christ’s Herald;

Here quenched, the People’s Light;

Here lies the martyred Champion

Who fought Faith’s holy fight.


The Voice the sheep heard gladly,

The light they loved to see

He fell beneath the weapons

Of graceless Cathari.


The Saviour crowns His Soldier;

His praise the people psalm.

The Faith he kept adorns him

With martyr’s fadeless palm.


His praise new marvels utter,

New light he spreads abroad

And now the whole wide city

Knows well the path to God.


– Saint Thomas Aquinas, OP, in eulogy of Saint Peter of Verona, OP

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