Genesius of Rome
Genesius was a gifted actor, comedian, playwright and the leader of a troupe of actors in Rome. When Diocletian initiated his great persecution, Genesius, who was a pagan, hatched a grand scheme to construct a play parodying the Christian Sacraments, to expose them to the ridicule of the audience.
Thus he resolved one day to represent Baptism, with all its ceremonies, as ludicrously as possible. To this effect he became well acquainted with all that takes place at holy Baptism, he appointed the parts for the play, and instructed the actors as to what they were to do.
On the day of the performance Emperor Diocletian and his court were present. The comedy began, with Genesius acting the principal part. Feigning to be sick, he lay down, calling to his friends to bring him something to relieve his suffering. When they had done this, he said that he felt that he was soon to die, and wanted to become a Christian, and that they should "baptize" him. Everything was brought upon the stage that was used at Baptism, and an actor playing a priest came on stage in order to "baptize" the ailing catechumen. All the questions were put to him which are made to those who are to be baptized. The ceremony was performed in so ludicrous a manner, that the Emperor and all the people shouted with laughter.
At the moment when the pagan actors scoffed and blasphemed the Holy Sacrament of the true Church, as the actor poured the water over his head, the Almighty touched the heart of Genesius and illumined it with a ray of His divine Grace. Seeing the truth of Christianity, suddenly an entire change took place in the actor, and he loudly and earnestly proclaimed his faith in Jesus Christ.
His companions, not knowing what had happened, continued the blasphemous mockery. When the whole ceremony was performed, they threw a white robe over Genesius in derision of the garment usually given to the newly-converted and baptized; thus clothed, they presented him to the people amidst great hilarity. But Genesius, already a true believer in Christ, turned to the Emperor and other spectators and confessed to them with great dignity what had taken place within him. He declared solemnly that until that day, blinded by idolatry, he had scoffed and derided Christianity, and therefore had proposed to represent baptism on the stage, for the amusement of the people. But during the sacrilegious performance, his heart had suddenly changed, and he desired to become a Christian. He said that he had seen the heavens open, and perceived a hand that touched him, when the baptismal water was poured over him. He further stated that before they had baptized him, he had seen an angel, with a book in which all his past iniquities had been recorded, who assured him that they would all be washed away by holy baptism, and that he had in fact seen that all his vices had been obliterated from its pages. After relating this, he added that he renounced idolatry, and believing that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and the Redeemer of the world, he would henceforth live and die a Christian. In conclusion, he exhorted the Emperor and all present to follow his example and worship the only true God.
It soon became clear to the Emperor and the audience that he was no longer acting. The Emperor then became enraged at his noble and frank confession, and gave immediate orders that his garments should be torn from him, and that he should he whipped with scourges and clubs before all the people, and then be cast into prison. Plautian, the prefect, received orders to renew this punishment daily until Genesius would abandon his new faith and sacrifice to the pagan gods. The holy confessor was stretched upon the rack, torn with iron hooks, and burned with torches. As the prefect urged him to submit to the imperial command and sacrifice to the pagan gods, the holy martyr replied:
- "Your Emperor is but a mortal man; whoever desires the favor of such, may seek it of him. I pray to the immortal King of heaven and earth, and will never forsake Him. I know that He, who received me in Holy Baptism, is the true King, and I repent for having so often derided and offended Him. I will not obey Diocletian, whose reign will soon be over, and who will one day become as naught. You may torture me, therefore, as much as you like; I will remain faithful to my God. If you had the power to kill me a hundred times, you would not be able to take Him out of my heart or my mouth."
Plautian, provoked at his fearlessness, reported his words to the Emperor, who ordered him beheaded, which sentence was executed in year of our Lord 303. Thus St. Genesius, who from an idolater became a Christian, and from a scoffer of Christianity a fearless confessor of the Saviour, received the crown of martyrdom.
Hearing of his death, the Christians realized that Genesius had been converted and put to death for the faith. They managed to secure his body and buried him in the Cemetery of St Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina with other Christian martyrs. When the persecution ended and following the Christianisation of Rome, his remains were exhumed and later solemnly enshrined in the Church of San Giovanni della Pigna near the Pantheon in Rome.
In 1591 his relics were transferred to a tomb in the Church of Santa Susanna where they lie to this day.
Since early times Genesius has been considered the patron saint of actors, actresses, comedians and those who work in the theatrical arts; with the advent of cinema, he is also regarded as its patron. He has also been adopted as a patron of converts, dancers, and epileptics.
Veracity of the Saints' Existence
In recent years some historians have cast doubt over the very existence of St Genisius.[note 2] It has been suggested that he is a Roman version of St Genesius of Arles, a notary who also died in the persecution of Diocletian.[note 3] Although both martyrs bear the same name and died during the same persecution, one cannot immediately assume that they are the same person.
There is evidence of devotion to St Genesius the actor-martyr in Rome from as early as the fourth century, just decades after his death and in the lifetime of people who would have either known him or known of him. Both the existence of his tomb and a tradition of his burial in Rome argue in favour of the authenticity of the tradition. The renowned historian, Louis-Sébastien Tillemont, known for his accuracy, detail and conscientiousness, accepted the authenticity of the Acts[note 4] in his work Mémoires pour servir á l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles.
- Baronius fixes the date of his martyrdom at 303, and Tillemont (Mem. iv. 695) at 285 or 286.
- Butler's Lives of the Saints states that the Martyr St. Genesius of Arles "has no connection with the wholly fictitious Genesius the Comedian, formerly commemorated as a separate martyr on the same day."
- This St Genesius (or St Genès) was a catechumen who worked for the Roman governor. When asked to record the decrees of Emperors Maximian and Diocletian initiating the persecution of Christians in Gaul (France) he refused. He fled and went into hiding but was later captured and put to death on the banks of the Rhône river.
- A seventh century document claiming to be the Acts of his martyrdom, relates that Genesius lived in Rome at the turn of the 3rd/4th centuries, and died in the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian around the year 303 AD.
- Anastasius Bibliothec. iv. 199.
- cf. Mémoires IV s. v. Genesius.
- Rev. Francis Xavier Weninger (S.J.). "St. Genesius, Martyr". In: Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year. Volume 2. New York: P. O'Shea, Publisher, 1876. pp.254-257.
- Rev. G.T. Stokes (M.A.). "Genesius (1) - Aug. 25." In: William Smith and Henry Wace (Eds.). A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects, and Doctrines. Volume II: Eaba-Hermocrates. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1880. Page 627.
- St Genesius of Rome: Actor and Martyr. The Fraternity of St Genesius.
- Mershman, F. (1909). "Genesius". In: The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 24, 2011, New Advent.
- St. Genesius. Catholic Online.
- Alban Butler, Paul Burns. "St. Genesius of Arles, Martyr (c.303)." In: Butler's Lives of the Saints. August, Volume 8. Revised Ed.. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1998. Page 248.