1 August – Holy Maccabees! “like an unfurling of their souls in a battle line”

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, in the traditional roman calendar today is 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 probably 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.

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, Solomnis, is 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.  I wonder if that will unsettle a certain writer at the Fishwrap because it is so “militaristic”.  HERE

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).

I am reminded of the story last year about members of the Religion of Peace busily killing Christian children. From the Orthodox Christian Network:

Before Being Killed, Children Told ISIS: ‘No, We Love Jesus’

Andrew White, an Anglican priest known as the “Vicar of Baghdad,” has seen violence and persecution against Christians unprecedented in recent decades.
In the video embedded below, he recounts the story of Iraqi Christian children who were told by ISIS militants to convert to Islam or be killed. Their response? “No, We Love Yeshua (Jesus).”


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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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6 Responses to 1 August – Holy Maccabees! “like an unfurling of their souls in a battle line”

  1. JustaSinner says:

    But Father, with all the martial imagery, isn’t MSW going to get worked up into a blather again? Can his frail psyche and weak feeling take it?

  2. Lisieux says:

    The memorial of the martyrdom of the seven holy brothers, who, under King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Antioch in Syria, were handed over to a cruel death because they obeyed God’s law with indomitable faith. Their mother was with them; she shared the torments of each son, but through each of them, won her crown, as is related in the second book of Maccabees.

    Also commemorated is St Eleazar, a man of advanced years and one of the foremost teachers of the Law, who in that same persecution, refused to eat non-kosher meat in order to save his life, embracing a glorious death rather than a shameful existence; he gladly pressed on to his execution, leaving a great example of virtue and courage.

  3. acardnal says:

    Interestingly, the Jewish feast of Hanukkah – which Fr. Z mentions above – was instituted to remember the event (cleansing of the Temple and reestablishment of true Jewish worship). It is ONLY recorded in the book of Maccabees . . . a book that neither the Protestants include in their bible nor the Hebrews in their bible (TaNaKh) ! Go figure.

  4. acardnal says:

    To clarify, when I said “only recorded” above I am referring to holy scripture not secular writings, e.g., Josephus who wrote a couple hundred yrs later.

  5. Tom in NY says:

    “In Antioch of Syria, the commemoration of the passion of the seven martyr brothers, who were cruelly handed over to death with their mother, under king Antiochus Epiphanes. . The mother suffered with each of her sons, but was crowned in all things (in all the deaths?), as is told in the second book of Maccabees.
    “Likewise St. Eleazar is commemorated, one from the leading scribes, who was advanced in age. In the same persecution, refusing to eat ritually impure meat because of his love of life, desiring a most glorious death than a hateful life, went voluntarily to torture, setting a great example of courage.”
    Ut dicitur, lingua Latina una sententia, anglica tres loquitur.
    Obiter dicta: In the first book Mattathias was successful in the political battle as well as the cultural battle against the Greek way of life. You mayalso think the Maccabees saved rabbinical Judaism for important events later.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  6. Andrew says:

    Tom in NY:

    in omnibus – subintellegitur “filiis” ergo:

    … in singulis quidem filiis passa, sed in omnibus (filiis) coronata …