St. Justina’s faith rebuffs the advances of a magician and the devil

Pocket Bard’s notes: This long story hits a lot of Golden Legend tropes and is reminiscent of many other stories, most notably of St. Christopher and St. Basil. I like the gradual buildup and the various inventive ways the Devil has of trying to tempt St. Justina, including posing as St. Justina to the man who’s trying to seduce her. I left out a paragraph at the end in which both Justina and Cyprian (the magician-turned-saint) are martyred, because I felt it didn’t really add much to what otherwise is a lovely ending.

The one thing I found disturbing in this story is the idea that the devil sends illness and death, not just to Justina, but to her entire community… for seven years! While I’m all for guarding virtue and remaining pure as good Christian virtues, you’ve gotta figure that letting innocent men, women, children, and even animals die would eventually trump the need for one woman to remain chaste. But perhaps that’s just my modern, free-love perspective talking.

St. Justina’s faith rebuffs the advances of a magician and the devil
The Golden Legend, Volume II, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.192-195

This virgin Justina had long been pursued by a certain Cyprian…. Cyprian had been a magician from childhood: when he was seven years old, his parents consecrated him to the devil. He practiced the arts of magic, often being seen to change women into beasts of burden and performing many other marvels. He became enamored of Justina, and put his magic to work in order to have her for himself or for a man named Acladius, who also lusted after her. He therefore invoked the demon to come to him and enable him to win the virgin. The demon came and asked him: “Why did you call me?” Cyprian answered: “I love a maiden who is of the Galilean sect. Can you make it possible for me to have her and work my will with her?” The demon: “I was able to throw man out of paradise; I induced Cain to kill his brother; I caused the Jews to put Christ to death; I have brought every kind of disorder among men! How could I not be able to let you have one mere girl and do what you please with her? Take this lotion and sprinkle it around the outside of her house, and I will come and set her heart afire with love for you, and compel her to consent to you.”

The following night the demon came to Justina and tried to awaken an illicit love in her heart. Sensing what was happening, she devoutly commended herself to the Lord and covered her whole body with the sign of the cross. Seeing that sign, the devil fled in terror and went and stood before Cyprian. “Why haven’t you brought that maiden to me?” Cyprian asked. “I saw a certain sign on her,” the demon answered, “and I weakened and all power left me.” Cyprian dismissed that demon and called for a stronger one. This one told Cyprian: “I heard your orders and I saw why that other could do nothing, but I will do better and will carry out your will. I will go to her and wound her heart with lustful love, and you will enjoy her as you wish to.” So the devil went to Justina and did his best to win her over and inflame her soul with sinful desire. But Justina again devoutly commended herself to God and drove him away. The spirit departed in confusion and fled to Cyprian. Cyprian: “Where is the virgin I sent you after?” The demon: “I admit I’m beaten, and I’m afraid to say how! I saw a certain terrible sign on her and at once lost all my strength!”

Cyprian scoffed at him and sent him away. Then he summoned the price of demons and, when he came, said to him: “What is this power of yours that’s so low that a mere girl can overcome it?” Said the devil: “I will visit her and disturb her with various fevers. I will inflame her spirit with hotter passion and spread hot spasms throughout her body. I’ll get her in a frenzy and put fearful phantasms before her eyes. And in the middle of the night I will bring her to you!”

Then the devil gave himself the appearance of a young woman and went to Justina, saying: “I come to you because I want to live in chastity with you; but tell me, I beg you, what will be the reward of our effort?” The holy virgin answered: “The reward is great, the labor light.” “Then,” said the devil, “what about God’s command to increase and multiply and fill the earth? I fear, my good friend, that if we persist in virginity, we shall nullify God’s word. By being disdainful and disobedient we shall bring grievous judgment upon ourselves, and while we expected a reward, we will incur torment!” The virgin began to have serious doubts, induced by the devil, and she felt more strongly stirred by the heat of concupiscence, so much so that she rose and was on the verge of going out. But then she came to herself and recognized who it was that was speaking to her, so she shielded herself with the sign of the cross, then blew on the devil, causing him to melt like a candle. Thereupon she felt herself freed of all temptation.

Next the devil transfigured himself into a handsome young man and came into the room where Justina was lying in bed. Shamelessly he leapt into her bed and tried to envelop her in his embrace. This made Justina recognize the presence of a malignant spirit, so she quickly made the sign of the cross, and again the devil melted away. Then, God permitting, the demon sapped her strength with fevers, and killed many people along with their herds and flocks. He also made possessed persons predict a great wave of death would sweep through Antioch unless Justina consented to marry. For that reason the entire citizenry, beset as they were with disease, gathered at her parents’ door and demanded that Justina be given in marriage so that the city could be delivered of this great peril. But Justina absolutely refused, and all were under the threat of death, but in the seventh year of the plague she prayed for them and drove out the pestilence.

Now the devil, seeing that he was making no headway, changed himself to look like Justina in order to besmirch her good name, and deceived Cyprian, boasting that he would bring Justina to him. Then, but this time looking like the virgin, he came running to Cyprian as if languishing with love for him and wanting to kiss him. Cyprian, thinking of course that it was Justina, was overwhelmed with joy and said: “Welcome, Justina, loveliest of women!” But the minute he pronounced the name of Justina, the devil could not bear it and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Cyprian, aggrieved at having been fooled, yearned the more ardently for Justina and took to watching at her door. Sometimes he changed himself by magic into a woman, sometimes into a bird, but when he came close to that door, he no longer looked like a woman or a bird: he was Cyprian. Acladius, too, was changed by diabolic art into a sparrow and flew to the virgin’s window-sill, but as soon as she looked at him, he was no longer a sparrow but Acladius, and he felt trapped and frightened because he could neither fly nor jump from such a height. Justina feared that he might fall and break to pieces, so she had him brought down by a ladder, and warned him to give up his mad adventure or be punished for breaking the law against trespass.

All these apparitions, of course, were nothing but devilish artifices, and none of them served the devil’s purpose; so, defeated and confused, he went back and stood before Cyprian. Cyprian said to him: “So you too are beaten! What kind of power do you have, you wretch, that you can’t overcome a simple girl or have any control over her? To the contrary, she defeats all of you and lays you low! But tell me one thing, I beg of you: where does her greatest strength come from” The demon answered: “If you will swear never to desert me, I will reveal to you the power behind her victory.” Cyprian: “What shall I swear by?” The demon: “Swear to me by my great powers that you will never desert me!” Cyprian: “By your great powers I swear to you that I will never desert you.”

Now the devil, being reassured, told Cyprian: “That young woman made the sign of the cross, and at once all my strength ebbed away. I could do nothing, and like wax melting at a fire I melted away.” Cyprian: “Therefore the Crucified is greater than you?” The demon: “Greater than all! And all of us and all those we deceive he turns over to be tormented in the fire that never dies out!” Cyprian: “Therefore I too should become a friend of the Crucified, so as not to incur so awful a punishment!” The devil: “You swore to me by the power of my army, by which no one can swear falsely, that you would never desert me!” Cyprian answered: “I despise you and all your devils, and I arm myself with the saving sign of the Crucified!” Instantly the devil fled in confusion.

Then Cyprian went to the bishop. When the bishop saw him, he supposed that he had come to lead Christians into error, and said to him: “Be satisfied, Cyprian, with misleading those who are not of the faith! You can do nothing against the Church of God, for the power of Christ is unconquerable.” Cyprian: “I am sure that Christ’s power cannot be conquered.” And he told the bishop all that had happened to him, and had the bishop baptize him. Thereafter Cyprian made great progress both in knowledge and in holiness of life, and when the bishop died, Cyprian was ordained to take his place. He established the holy virgin Justina in a monastery and made her the abbess over many holy virgins. Saint Cyprian often sent letters to the martyrs and strengthened them in their struggles.


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