1 August: Seven Holy Maccabees (1962 MR)

Here is an oldie post for today’s feast of the Seven Holy Maccabees.  Some of you newcomers to WDTPRS may not have seen it.

I am sure you already know that today, in the new calendar, is the feast of St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori, the bishop and doctor of the Church so famous for his contributions to moral theology.

However, today is also the feast of the Seven Maccabee brothers.  They are listed in the Martyrologium Romanum . Here is their entry:

2. Commemoratio passionis sanctorum septem fratrum martyrum, qui Antiochiae in Syria, sub Antiocho Epiphane rege, propter legem Domini invicta fide servatam, morti crudeliter traditi sunt cum matre sua, in singulis quidem filiis passa, sed in omnibus coronata, sicut in secundo libro Maccabaeorum narratur. Item commemoratur sanctus Eleazarus, unus de primoribus scribarum, vir aetate provectus, qui in eadem persecutione, illicitam carnem manducare propter vitae amorem respuens, gloriosissimam mortem magis quam odiosam vitam complectens, voluntarie praeivit ad supplicium, magnum virtutis relinquens exemplum.

Maybe some of you good readers can produce your flawless English versions for those whose Latin is less smooth.

Who were the Maccabee brothers? 

The Maccabees were Jews who rebelled against the Hellenic Seleucid dynasty in the time of Antiochus V Eupator. The Maccabees founded the Hasmonean dynasty and fought for Jewish independence in Israel from 165-63 BC.

In 167 BC, Mattathias revolted against the Greek occupiers by refusing to worship the Greek gods. He killed a Hellenizing Jew who was willing to offer a sacrifice to the Greek gods. Mattathias and his five sons fled to the wilderness of Judea. Later Mattathias’s son Judas Maccabaeus led an army against the Seleucids and won. He entered Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and reestablished Jewish worship. Hanukkah commemorates this victory.

In the period 167-164 BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163) killed and sold thousands of Jews into slavery. He violated the Jewish holy sites and set up an altar to Zeus in the Holy of Holies (1 Maccabees 1:54; Daniel 11:31). The people revolted and Antiochus responded with slaughter. He required under penalty of death that Jews sacrifice to the gods and abandon kosher laws. "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment" (Hebrews 11:35-36). A chief of the scribes, Eleazar, an old man, did not flee. Pork was forced on him, into his mouth, he spat it out and was then condemned to death.

St. Ambrose, in his work On Jacob and the blessed life recounts Eleazar’s death along with the deaths of seven sons of a mother. The work is filled with Neo-platonic and Stoic themes, especially about virtue theory. Ambrose goes through all their deaths in detail, making commentary on them for what they meant.

The mother is venerated by the Greeks as St. Solomnis.

St. Ambrose, in his work On Jacob and the blessed life recounts Eleazar’s death along with the deaths of seven sons of a mother. The work is filled with Neo-platonic and Stoic themes, especially about virtue theory. Ambrose goes through all their deaths in detail, making commentary on them for what they meant.

In these scenes recounted by Ambrose from IV Maccabees, the mother is being tried by being forced to watch each of here sons executed in different ways, eldest to youngest. She urges them not to give in. Ambrose thus explores the theme of how God chooses the weak and makes them strong. The ancient "priest" Eleazar should be weak and infirm due to age, but he is a tower of strength. The mother of the seven boys should be weak by nature but is unshakable.  The sons are not to be moved to infidelity, even the youngest.

Here is a taste of Ambrose in De Iacob et vita beata II, 12:

The words of the holy woman return to our minds, who said to her sons: "I gave birth to you, and poured out my milk for you: do not lose your nobility." Other mothers are accustomed to pull their children away from martyrdom, not to exhort them to martyrdom. But she thought that maternal love consisted in this, in persuading her sons to gain for themselves an eternal life rather than an earthly life. And thus the pius mother watched the torment of her sons … But her sons were not inferior to such a mother: they urged each other on, speaking with one single desire and, I would say, like an unfurling of their souls in a battle line.

The texts from Ambrose are really interesting.

From the comments in the original thread comes these great tidbits:

The tongues of the Maccabees are venerated in the Dominican Church of St Andrew (Sankt Andreas Kirche) in Cologne (Köln) in Germany. The same church has the body of St Albert the Great in the crypt, and the chasuble in which I believe his body was clothed at burial (removed when he was moved to the present location, I think.)

Details are here: http://www.sankt-andreas.de/kirche/machabaerschrein.php/1

Very cool.

And seeing today is the anniversary of the dedication of the beautiful Roman church S. Pietro in vincoli,…

“The Maccabee relics were later brought to Constantinople and Rome where they are honored even today at San Pietro in Vincoli. According to a legend, the Maccabee relics should have been received by Archbishop Reinald of Dassel at the same time when he (Reinald) should have received those of the holy Three Kings at Milan from the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa; in 1164 (the relics) were transported to Cologne.”

In fact, there is an ancient Roman sarcophagus in the crypt.  This sarcophagus is supposed to contain the relics of the Holy Maccabees, translated to S. Pietro in vincoli by Pope Pelagius (+561). 

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Classic Posts, Saints: Stories & Symbols. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 1 August: Seven Holy Maccabees (1962 MR)

  1. THREEHEARTS says:

    If this is the right Dominkaner. It is between Koln and Bonn. The royal air force in the late 50′s ans early 60′s used it for retreats called I think Moral Rearmnanent. There is a miraculous Stations of the Cross there. They were painted before Hitler arrived on the scene every villain was one of Hitlers’s ruling cohorts. Mot amazing. One of St Thomas’s personal writings a dictionary is on display there in a glass case.

  2. carl b says:

    My Latin is less smooth, but I offer my humble translation in the hope that someone will show me where I’ve gone wrong:

    Commemoration of the passion of the seven holy martyred brothers, who in Antioch in Syria, under king Antiochus Epiphanes, unconquerably, faithfully served the Lord’s law, died cruelly traditionally with their mother, one son at a time, but all of them crowned, as narrated in the second book of the Maccabees. In like manner is commemorated holy Eleazar, one of the chief scribes, a very old man, who in the same persecution, for the love of life strongly refused to chew illicit meat, who embraced most glorious death more than hateful life, willinging affirmed by supplication, and gave the example of great courageous virtue.

  3. irishgirl says:

    I like that icon! Where is it located?

  4. Rob F. says:

    Commemoration of the suffering of the seven brother martyrs, who in Antioch in Syria under king Antiochus Epiphanes, in order to keep the law with unconquered faith, were cruelly handed over to death, along with their mother, who had suffered in each of her sons, but was crowned in them all, as is told in the second book of Maccabees. Also commemorated is St Eleazar, one of the first of the scribes, a man of advanced age, who in the same persecution, refusing to eat illicit meat for love of life, embracing a most glorious death rather than an odious life, willingly went forth to punishment, leaving a great example of virtue.