1 August – Seven Holy Maccabees: A mother urges her children to their deaths

In the new-fangled, Ordinary Form calendar today is the feast of St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori, the Bishop and Doctor of the Church so famous for his contributions to moral theology.   One of the great thrills of my adult life was to be able to hold in my hands his manuscript of his work on moral theology, one of those books that changed the world.  Please say a prayer to St. Alphonsus to intercede with God the Holy Spirit for light and insight to dispel the confusion in the brains of some very highly placed theologians and prelates who are making absurd claims about who can receive sacraments.  Ask Alphonsus also, along with St. Peter Favre, whose feast is today, to help Jesuits who are spreading confusion.

That said, in the traditional Roman calendar today is the Feast of the Seven Holy Maccabee brothers.  These figures from the Old Testament 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 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).”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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5 Responses to 1 August – Seven Holy Maccabees: A mother urges her children to their deaths

  1. MrsMacD says:

    The mother of the Maccabees threw herself into the fire so that they could not touch her body. Can we do that? I would think that was suicide but I don’t know. It would be good to know.

  2. WmHesch says:

    If the Invention of St. Stephen (August 3rd feast) is kind of a liturgical “Christmas in July”… I guess the Maccabees’ commemoration is a summer Chanakuh? :)

  3. anthtan says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the new calendar seems to have eliminated all the Old Testament figures. Not just the Seven Holy Maccabees. No David. No prophets. No Adam and Eve. Was any explanation given for the change? Why are they considered no longer worthy of veneration? Is the current day Church no longer sure of their existence?
    One wonders: Doesn’t this exclusion suggest that the Old Testament stories could not be entirely trusted, and doesn’t this seriously change the way all Catholics approach reading the Scriptures?

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    When I was a child, I went upstairs to my older sister’s bedroom, for reasons I no longer recall. I remember seeing a small magazine titled “The Liguorian”, which I had not seen before. She probably got it at her Catholic school. I opened a page at random, and read some of the text. It was the harshest thing I had ever read about a moral issue, some sexual issue.

    After reading the text, I took a deep breath, and realized that life was going to be even more difficult and complicated than I had suspected. And then I thought to myself, with my background being mostly the Baltimore Catechism, that St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori was right. I had mixed feelings about this conclusion as a child, but as the years have gone by, I have come to admire him more and more.

  5. acardnal says:

    I recently learned and found it interesting that the Jewish Holy day of Hanukkah does not have a scriptural reference in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). [Nor is it in the Protestant bibles, but it is found in the Catholic bible (1 Macc 4:59).] It is one of the few – if not the only – Jewish festival day that does not have a scriptural injunction requiring the Hebrews to commemorate it.