By Deacon Keith Fournier
In Saint John Paul’s “Letter to Artists” he referred to artists as “Images of the Creator.” He wrote, “to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.”
The late Pope explained, “Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God, which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!” (John Paul II)
He called Christian artists to create “epiphanies of beauty” and encouraged the flourishing of all the arts in a great renewal of humanity for our age. His letter began with these words from the Book of Genesis: “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31).” It still is. Included among artists are actors and playwrights.
That is the reason why the story of the actor and martyr named St. Genesius is so timely. As our culture moves away from God, it is losing an understanding of the dignity of the human person. When a culture rejects God, it rejects beauty.
We Christian artists to create “epiphanies of beauty” for a new missionary age. The story of St. Genesius needs to told in this hour.
What we know about St. Genesius comes from a seventh century document called the Acts of the Martyrs.
During the brutal persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian in the third and fourth centuries, a pagan man named Genesius wrote a play mocking Christianity. Yes, the one who would later become a saint and martyr.
Diocletian traveled to Rome in the year 303. Genesius knew of the emperor’s hatred of Christianity and thought he could advance himself by writing and performing in a play which mocked the Christian faith Diocletian was hell bent on destroying.
Genesius decided the best way to write such a satirical play was to deceive members of the Christian community into believing that he wanted to prepare for Baptism. They accepted him into the catechumenate.
It was during those months of instruction that he decided to make the claims that Baptism washed away sin and brought the baptized into a new life in Jesus Christ the subject of his mocking play.
He planned to mock the claims on stage, in front of Diocletian! However, during the period of instruction in the Christian Way, he found himself increasingly drawn to the Savior and became conflicted.
He finally left the catechumenate and rejected the claims of Christianity.
He wrote that blasphemous parody of Christianity and performed it in front of the Emperor, to curry favor and enhance his standing in the empire. God had a different plan.
Genesius appeared on stage, playing a bedridden sick man who cried out to be Baptized. An actor playing a Christian priest came to baptize the sick man. As the priest poured water over the head of Genesius, he encountered the Risen Jesus Christ and saw the truth of the Christian faith.
Genesius gave testimony to Jesus Christ in front of all who were watching and called on Diocletian to give his life to Jesus Christ in these words:
“I came here today to please an earthly Emperor but what I have done is to please a heavenly King. I came here to give you laughter, but what I have done is to give joy to God and his angels. From this moment on, believe me, I will never mock these great mysteries again. I now know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the true God, the Light, the Truth and the Mercy of all who have received his gift of baptism. O great Emperor, believe in these mysteries! I will teach you, and you will know the Lord Jesus Christ is the true God.”
Diocletian was enraged. He had this holy new Christian, tortured and beheaded when he refused to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. He died in beauty for the Lord who is the source of beauty. The witness of his martyrdom, along with his intercession, can help inspire new Christian artists. Genesius is the Patron Saint of Actors.