Recently, I read about a certain African female saint in the ancient Roman Martyrology:  “At Cyrene, in Lybia, St. Cyrilla, a martyr, in the persecution of Diocletian. For a long while she held on her hand burning coals with incense, lest by shaking off the coals she should seem to offer incense to the idols. She was afterwards cruelly scourged, and went to her spouse adorned with her own blood.”

Notice that St. Cyrilla not only refrained from putting incense on idols (which certainly would have been enough to win her martyrdom under Diocletian) but many Catholics today might even add that she didn’t “know her theology enough” to know that she wouldn’t be culpable before God for an involuntary-reaction of dropping a hot-coal out of her burning-hand before an idol, leading up to her horrible scourging and execution.

Obviously, St. Cyrilla did this because she loved God so much that she not only wanted to refrain from the sin of idolatry, but she even wanted to live beyond reproach to the point that she didn’t even want it to mildly appear that she had any hint of cooperation with idolatry.  To live so far beyond reproach is why she probably let that hot-coal burn its way through her hand.  Her love of God was so tremendous and so impressive that I obviously added that she “didn’t know her theology” in quotes in the above paragraph to mock the modern approach to ancient saints.

Even I admit St. Cyrilla could have gone to her martyrdom unsullied after dropping a hot-coal burning a hole through her hand through involuntary pain-reactions.  But where I differ from the modernist-Catholic here is that I at least admit my calling is to put love of God before all legalism.  The modernist looks at moral theology only through the eyes of legalism (eg “What’s the most I can get away with, with the least amount of chance of hell?”) whereas ancient Catholics look at all of history through the eyes of the Gospel (“What’s the most I can do for love of God?”)

The modernist Catholic asks all the questions of Pharisaical minimalism:  “What is an act I can do with reduced culpability?” or “Who can be saved without Jesus due to invincible ignorance?”  But the early-Church African martyr, St. Cyrilla, is the perfect example of maximalism:  Even on the very day of her martyrdom, she essentially asked herself :  “What is the maximum I can do for God?”  That is what saints always did.  That is what Catholicism (not Jansenism) has always been about.