ELIAS ROBERTO, PATRIARCH
This worthy man, Ughelli tells us, was appointed bishop of Brescia, as successor to Blessed Guala, in 1239. It is both sad and unfortunate that the historians and airmalists, whether of the Order of Preachers or others, have so overlooked the distinguished prelate, or neglected to give the history of his life, that we know practically nothing about him. Besides the fact given above, the sum of our information on him is that he was born in Reggio, Italy; that he entered the Order of Saint Dominic in the days of the founder himself, probably receiving the habit from his hands; and that, within a twelvemonth after his appointment to the See of Brescia, he was transferred to Antioch, Syria, as patriarch of that city. This position he held until 1247, which was most likely the date of his death.(1)
Although we have no record of Roberto's life, the dignities conferred on him are an attestation of his character and ability, as well as of the confidence reposed in him and the high esteem in which he was held by the Holy See. That his government of the Patriarchate of Antioch gave full satisfaction to the highest authorities in the Church is evidenced by the fact that another member of his Order was chosen to succeed him in the Syrian capital.
All this serves to show the kind of men Saint Dominic drew to his standard. It deepens our regret for the lack of records in regard to Roberto; for he was one of the few members of the Order, and perhaps the only one of the immediate disciples of Saint Dominic, to attain to that exalted position. Naturally, one would like to give a somewhat extended sketch of a person who must have been exceptionally distinguished in the Church of his day. However, little as we know about Patriarch Roberto, his name deserves honorable mention among the early confr6res of Saint Dominic. It is also worthy of notice, in this connection, that Roberto's successor at Antioch, Father Cristiano, or Christian, was the last Latin patriarch to exercise jurisdiction over that see. Since then it has been a titular patriarchal bishopric. In 1268, when the Tartars took the city, he and four of his Friar-Preacher confrères clothed themselves in ecclesiastical vestments, and waited at the foot of the main altar of the cathedral where they were martyred(2)
Father Touron closes his remarks on Patriarch Roberto at this place. But it should be noted that all the annalists of the Order speak of a Father Christian in the days of Saint Dominic, who was distinguished for his piety and learning; and that, while we nowhere find it so stated, it seems quite probable that he might have been the man who became patriarch of Antioch. Although these historians, doubtless for want of records, say but little about him, they commonly call him blessed, possibly because of his heroic martyrdom. He had many Friars Preacher serving under him, more than one hundred of whom sealed their faith with their blood in Syria at this time, when the Turks devastated the entire country.(3) In the words of de Sponde:Nor did Christian, of the Order of Preachers and the Latin Patriarch of the same city, meet the Saracens less bravely, while they were engaged in their bloody carnage. Clothed in full pontificals, and prostrate before the altar of his Cathedral, together with four members of his Order, he was put to death there.(4)
1. COLETI, Nicholas; FAYNO; SPONDE, Henry de, Annales Ecclesiastici, Anno 1239, No. 17; UGHELLI, Ferdinand, Italia Sacra, Book 4, column 547.
2. DE SPONDE, op. cit., Anno 1268, No. 19. In his Oriens Christianus (III, column 1161, Nos. 9 and 10), which is considered a most thorough work, Father Michael Le Quien, O. P., speaks of Roberto and Cristiano, but places their appointment to the Patriarchate of Antioch a few years later than Father Touron. Father Boniface Gams, O. S. B., does the same in his Series Episcoporum, p. 433. The Rev. Conrad Eubel (Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, 1, p. 93) overlooks Elias Roberto, and gives the other the full name of Christian Opizo.
3. See Father Abraham Bzovius' (Bzowski) Annales Ecclesiastici, Anno 1268, column 782, No. 12; Father Vincent Fontana's Monumenta Dominicana, p. 25, and Sacrum Theatrum Dominicanum, p. 44; Father D. A. Mortier's Histoire des Maîtres Généreaux de L'Ordre des Frères Prêcheurs, I, 95, H, 72.
4. As in note 2. Nec minus fortiter Christianus ejusdem urbis Patriarcha Latinus, Ordinis Praedicatorum, qui Saracenos caedibus occupatos accipiens, Pontificalia indutus, ad altare Ecclesiae procumbens, una cum quatuor sui Ordinis Fratribus confectus occubuit.