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After praising Judas’ and Jonathan’s loftiness of mind, the constancy of the martyrs in their endurance of tortures, which is no small part of fortitude, is next brought before us.
209. But as fortitude is proved not only by prosperity but also in adversity, let us now consider the death of Judas Maccabæus. For he, after Nicanor, the general of King Demetrius, was defeated, boldly engaged 20,000 of the king’s army with 900 men who were anxious to retire for fear of being overcome by so great a multitude, but whom he persuaded to endure a glorious death rather than to retire in disgraceful flight. “Let us not leave,” he says, “any stain upon our glory.” Thus, then, engaging in battle after having fought from sunrise till evening, he attacks and quickly drives back the right wing, where he sees the strongest troop of the enemy to be. But whilst pursuing the fugitives from the rear he gave a chance for a wound to be inflicted.306306 1 Macc. ix. 8. Thus he found the spot of death more full of glory for himself than any triumph.
210. Why need I further mention his brother Jonathan, who fought against the king’s force, with but a small troop.307307 1 Macc. xi. 68. Though forsaken by his men, and left with only two, he retrieved the battle, drove back the enemy, and recalled his own men, who were flying in every direction, to share in his triumph.
211. Here, then, is fortitude in war, which bears no light impress of what is virtuous and seemly upon it, for it prefers death to slavery and disgrace. But what am I to say of the sufferings of the martyrs? Not to go too far abroad, did not the children of Maccabæus gain triumphs over the proud King Antiochus, as great as those of their fathers? The latter in truth were armed, but they conquered without arms. The company of the seven brothers stood unconquered,308308 2 Macc. vii. 1 ff. though surrounded by the legions of the king—tortures failed, tormentors ceased; but the martyrs failed not. One, having had the skin of his head pulled off, though changed in appearance, grew in courage. Another, bidden to put forth his tongue, so that it might be cut off, answered: “The Lord hears not only those who speak, for He heard Moses when silent. He hears better the silent thoughts of His own than the voice of all others. Dost thou fear the scourge of my tongue—and dost thou not fear the scourge of blood spilt upon the ground? Blood, too, has a voice whereby it cries aloud to God—as it did in the case of Abel.”
212. What shall I say of the mother309309 2 Macc. vii. 20. who with joy looked on the corpses of her children as so many trophies, and found delight in the voices of her dying sons, as though in the songs of singers, noting in her children the tones of the glorious harp of her own heart, and a sweeter harmony of love than any strain of the lute could give?
213. What shall I say of those two-year-old children of Bethlehem,310310 S. Matt. ii. 16. who received the palm of victory before they felt their natural life within them? What of St. Agnes, who when in danger as regards two great matters, that is, chastity and life, protected her chastity and exchanged life for immortality?
214. And let us not pass by St. Lawrence, who, seeing Xystus his bishop led to martyrdom, began to weep, not at his sufferings but at the fact that he himself was to remain behind. With these words he began to address him: “Whither, father, goest thou without thy son? Whither, holy priest, art thou hastening without thy deacon? Never wast thou wont to offer sacrifice without an attendant. What are thou displeased at in me, my father? Hast thou found me unworthy? Prove, then, whether thou hast chosen a fitting servant. To him to whom thou hast entrusted the consecration311311 “Consecrationem.” So all mss. Ed. Rom. alone has “dispensationem.” of the Saviour’s blood,312312 Consecration seems a strange expression in the mouth of a deacon, but it may be explained either by the intimate connection between the celebrant and his deacon, as at the present day in the Liturgy of the Eastern Church; or it may refer to the hallowing of the faithful in the partaking of the Sacrament. The word consecratio is not always restrained to the consecration properly so called, as may be seen by the prayer in the Roman missal said by the priest when he drops a consecrated particle into the chalice which has also been already consecrated;—“Hæc commixtio et consecratio Corporis et Sansguinis…fiat nobis in vitam æternam.” to whom thou hast granted fellowship in partaking of the Sacraments, to him dost thou refuse a part in thy death? Beware lest thy good judgment be endangered, whilst thy fortitude receives its praise. The rejection of a pupil is the loss of the teacher; or how is it that noble and illustrious men gain the victory in the contests of their scholars rather than in their own? Abraham offered his son, Peter sent Stephen on before him! Do thou, father, show forth thy courage in thy son. Offer me whom thou hast trained, that thou, confident in thy choice of me, mayest reach the crown in worthy company.”
215. Then Xystus said: “I leave thee not nor forsake thee. Greater struggles yet await thee. We as old men have to undergo an easier fight; a more glorious triumph over the tyrant awaits thee, a young man. Soon shalt thou come. Cease weeping; after three days thou shalt follow me. This interval must come between the priest and his levite. It was not for thee to conquer under the eye of thy master, as though thou neededst a helper. Why dost thou seek to share in my death? I leave to thee its full inheritance. Why dost thou need my presence? Let the weak disciples go before their master, let the brave follow him, that they may conquer without him. For they no longer need his guidance. So Elijah left Elisha. To thee I entrust the full succession to my own courage.”
216. Such was their contention, and surely a worthy one, wherein priest and attendant strove as to who should be the first to suffer for the name of Christ. When that tragic piece is played, it is said there is great applause in the theatre as Pylades says he is Orestes, whilst Orestes declares that he is really himself. The former acted as he did, that he might die for Orestes, and Orestes, that he might not allow Pylades to be slain instead of himself. But it was not right that they should live, for each of them was guilty of parricide, the one because he had committed the crime, the other because he had helped in its commission. But here there was nothing to call holy Lawrence to act thus but his love and devotion. However, after three days he was placed upon the gridiron by the tyrant whom he mocked, and was burnt. He said: “The flesh is roasted, turn it and eat.” So by the courage of his mind he overcame the power of fire.
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