1 August: Seven Holy Maccabees & St. Peter in Chains. Wherein there is very cool Catholic stuff.

I am sure you already know that today, in the new, Ordinary Form, 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 Holy 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?

They may be models for our own day, given what is coming.

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.

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.

Very cool image.

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

And, to bring this to completion, today is the Anniversary of the Dedication of the beautiful Roman Basilica 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).

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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8 Responses to 1 August: Seven Holy Maccabees & St. Peter in Chains. Wherein there is very cool Catholic stuff.

  1. Tom in NY says:

    “The commemoration of the passion of the seven martyr brothers, who were cruelly handed over to death with their mother, because they were following the Lord in unconquered faith, when Antiochus Epiphanes was king, at Antiochia in Syria. She suffered with each of her sons, but was crowned by all, as was told in II Maccabees. Likewise, St. Eleazar is remembered. Advanced in years, he was one of the leading scribes. In the same persecution, he refused to eat unlawful meat because of his love of life. He preferred a glorious death more than a hateful life, and went to torture by his own will, leaving a great example of courage.”
    Had the rebellion failed, would later Hasmonean rulers have started the Second Temple? How strong would have been the faith of the Israelites? Solus Deus cognoscit.
    Saluationes omnibus.

  2. asperges says:

    “The commemoration of the suffering of the seven martyr brothers, who at Antioch in Syria, under King Antiochus Epiphanes were handed over and cruelly put to death with their mother on account of their faithful submission to the invincible law of the Lord. Although each son suffered, yet all received the crown of martyrdom as related in the second book of Maccabees.

    Also commemorated is St Eusebius, one of the first scribes, a man of advanced years who in the same persecution, spitting out the forbidden meat which could have saved him, went to a most glorious death rather than embracing a hateful life, and voluntarily went to his execution, leaving a great example of virtue.”

  3. kiloran says:

    I have read that this commemoration was supressed in 1969. Is it true? Has it been reestablished? Thanks

  4. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Thank you, Reverend Father, for saying something about the wonderful Basilica of San Pietro in vincoli without mentioning the Moses. There are other fine things to see here than just that. This church in Rome, like San Luigi, is the victim of tour groups who flood in and rush to see only one thing, ignoring everything else. And at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the one thing the crowd wants to see isn’t in this church at all but at the church’s portico, and so they never go into one of Late Antiquities most precious churches.

    There is actually a fine small mosaic at S. Pietro in vincoli, among other worthy sights.


  6. uptoncp says:

    Something I have been wondering for a while: Given that the scriptural event commemorated in S Peter ad Vincula follows immediately from the martyrdom of S James, is it a coincidence that the two feasts are a week apart? That is to say, if S James were to be kept with an octave, the octave day would be today.

    (The same query applies, given the tradition of identifying Mary of Bethany with S Mary Magdalene, to S Martha.)

  7. Supertradmum says:

    great minds think alike….well, as I have a thing on the Maccabees posted for tomorrow because of today. And to have St. Peter in Chains on the same day is so cool. Sadly, this is one of the rare days I missed Mass because of traveling. Let us pray for more Maccabees and we need them.

  8. carl b says:


    The promulgation of the ordinary form in 1969 brought with it a new liturgical calendar, and the 7 Maccabees, and many other saints commemorated in the extraordinary form were omitted from the General Roman Calendar of 1969. But, since B16 has told us that the EF was never abrogated, and they are on the General Roman Calendar of 1962, this commemoration was never suppressed and didn’t need to be reestablished.