St. Laurence and the Church’s Treasures
LAURENCE WAS ONE OF SEVEN DEACONS in Rome in 257–258. Emperor Valerian was carrying on the persectuion begun by Decius, his predecessor—the harshest trials the church had yet seen. Yet the church in Rome was still active. One report from the third century said that 1,500 widows and orphans were cared for by the roman Church.
According to an ancient tradition, the prefect—the official head of the empire’s pagan religion—ordered that Laurence hand over all the Church’s treasure. As told by Ambrose: “For when the treasures of the church were demanded from him, he promised that he would show them. On the following day he brought the poor together . . . [and distributed the riches to them.] When asked where the treasures were which he had promised, he pointed to the poor, saying, ‘These are the treasure of the Church.’ And truly they were treasures, in whom Christ lives, in whom there is faith in him. . . . These treastues Laurence pointed out, and prevailed, for the persecutors could not take them away.”
Ambrose relates, “Laurence, who preferred to spend the gold of the Church on the poor, rather than keep it in hand for the persecutor, received the sacred ccrown of martyrdom for his unique and deep—sighted vigor. . . . ” Ancient tradition says Laurence was roasted to death; historians believe he was beheaded.
By the Editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #19 in 1988]
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