July 18, 2019: ST. SYMPHOROSA AND HER SEVEN SONS
July 18, 2019: COMMEMORATION OF ST. SYMPHOROSA AND HER SEVEN SONS, MARTYRS
“But the souls
of the just are, in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace. And though
in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality.”
(Wisdom, iii. 1-4)
O God, by whose favour we celebrate the festival of thy hoy Martyrs, St. Symphorosa and her seven sons, grant we may enjoy their fellowship in eternal bliss. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
For the second time in July a constellation of seven stars shines in the heavens. More fortunate than Felicitas, Symphorosa preceded in the arena the Seven Sons she was offering to God. From the throne where he was already reigning crowned with the martyr's diadem, Getulius, the tribune, father of this illustrious family, applauded the combat where by his race earned a far greater nobility than that of patrician blood, and gave to Rome a grander glory than was ever dreamed of by her heroes and poets. The Emperor Adrian, corrupt yet brilliant, sceptical yet superstitious like the society around him, presided in person at the defeat of his gods. Threatening to burn the valiant woman in sacrifice to the idols, he received this courageous answer: “Thy gods cannot receive me in sacrifice; but if thou burn me and my sons for the name of Christ, my God, I shall cause thy demons to burn with more cruel flames!” The execution of the mother and her sons was, indeed, the signal for a period of peace, during which the Kingdom of our Lord was considerably extended. Jerusalem, having under the leadership of a last false Messias revolted against Rome, was punished by being deprived of her very name; but the Church received the glory which the Synagogue once possessed, when she produced the mother of the Machabees.
Another glory was reserved for this 18th day of July, in the year 1870: the Œcumenical Council of the Vatican, presided over by the immortal Pius IX, defined in its Constitution, Pastor Æternus, the full, supreme, and immediate power of the Roman Pontiff over all the Churches, and pronounced anathema against all who should refuse to recognise the personal infallibility of the same Roman Pontiff, speaking ex cathedra, i.e., defining, as universal Pastor, any doctrine concerning faith or morals. We may also remark that during these same days, viz., on Sunday in the middle of July, the Greeks make a commemoration of the first six general councils, Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and second and third of Constantinople. Thus, during these midsummer days, we are in the midst of feasts of heavenly light; and let us not forget that it is martyrdom, the supreme act of faith, that merits and produces light. Doubtless, Divine Wisdom, who plays in the world with number, weight, and measure, planned the beautiful coincidence which unites together these two days, the 18th July, 136, and that of the year of 1870. If in these latter days the word of God has been set free, it is owing to the blood shed by our fathers in its defence.
The Liturgy gives but a very short account of the immortal combat which glorifies this day.
Symphorosa, a native of Tivoli, was the wife of the martyr Getulius. She bore seven sons, Crescentius, Julian, Nemesius, Primitivus, Justin, Stacteus, and Eugenius. Under the Emperor Adrian, they were all arrested, together with her, on account of their profession of the Christian faith. Their piety was tried by many different tortures, and, on their remaining constant, the mother, who had taught her sons, led the way to martyrdom. She was thrown into the river, with a huge stone tied round her neck. Her brother Eugenius searched for her body and gave it burial. The next day, which was the 15th of the Calends of August, the Seven Brothers were tied to stakes and put to death in different ways. Crescentius had his throat transfixed; Julian was wounded in the breast; Nemesius was pierced in the heart, and Primitivus in the stomach; Justin was cut to pieces, limb by limb; Stacteus was pierced with darts, and Eugenius was cut in two from the breast. Thus eight victims most pleasing to God were immolated. Their bodies were thrown into a deep pit on the Tiburtian Way, nine miles from Rome; but they were afterwards translated into the city and buried in the Church of “the holy Angel in the fish-market.”
Another account of St. Symphorosa and her seven sons
Trajan's persecution, in some degree, continued during the first year of Adrian's reign, whence Sulpicius Severus places the fourth general persecution under this emperor. However, he put a stop to it about the year 124, moved, probably, both by the apologies of Quadratus and Aristides, and by a letter which Serenius Granianus, proconsul of Asia, had writ to him in favour of the Christians. Nay, he had Christ in veneration, not as the Saviour of the world, but as a wonder or novelty, and kept his image, together with that of Apollonius Tyanӕus. This God was pleased to permit, that his afflicted church might enjoy some respite. It was, however, again involved in the disgrace which the Jews (with whom the pagans at these times in some degree confounded the Christians) drew upon themselves by their rebellion, which gave occasion to the last entire destruction of Jerusalem, in 134. Then, as St. Paulinus informs us, Adrian caused a statue of Jupiter to be erected on the place where Christ rose from the dead, and a marble Venus on the place of his crucifixion; and at Bethlehem, a grotto, consecrated in honour of Adonis, or Thammuz, to whom he also dedicated the cave where Christ was born. This prince, towards the end of his reign, abandoned himself more than ever to acts of cruelty; and, being awaked by a fit of superstition, he again drew his sword against the innocent flock of Christ. He built a magnificent country palace at Tibur, now Tivoli, sixteen miles from Rome, upon the most agreeable banks of the river Anio, now called Teverone. Here he placed whatever could be procured most curious out of all the provinces. Having finished the building, he intended to dedicate it by heathenish ceremonies, which he began by offering sacrifices, in order to induce the idols to deliver their oracles. The demons answered, “The widow, Simphorosa, and her seven sons, daily torment us by invoking their God; if they sacrifice, we promise to be favourable to your vows.”
This lady lived, with her seven sons, upon a plentiful estate which they enjoyed at Tivoli, and she liberally expended her treasures in assisting the poor, especially in relieving the Christians that suffered for the faith. She was widow of St. Getulius, or Zoticus, who had been crowned with martyrdom with his brother, Amantius. They were both tribunes of legions or colonels in the army, and are honoured among the martyrs on the 10th of June. Symphorosa had buried their bodies in her own farm, and, sighing to see her sons and herself united with them in immortal bliss, she prepared herself to follow them by the most fervent exercise of all good works.
Adrian, whose superstition was alarmed at this answer of his gods, or their priests, ordered her and her sons to be seized and brought before him. She came with joy in her countenance, praying all the way for herself and her children, that God would grant them the grace to confess his holy name with constancy. The emperor exhorted them at first in mild terms to sacrifice. Symphorosa answered, “My husband, Getulius, and his brother, Amantius, being your tribunes, have suffered divers torments for the name of Jesus Christ rather than sacrifice to idols, and they have vanquished your demons by their death, choosing to be beheaded rather than to be overcome. The death they suffered drew upon them ignominy among men, but glory among the angels; and they now enjoy eternal life in heaven.” The emperor, changing his voice, said to her in an angry tone, “Either sacrifice to the most powerful gods, with thy sons, or thou thyself shalt be offered up as a sacrifice together with them.” Symphorosa answered, “Your gods cannot receive me as a sacrifice; but if I am burnt for the name of Jesus Christ, my death will increase the torment which your devils endure in their flames. But can I hope for so great a happiness as to be offered, with my children, a sacrifice to the true and living God?” Adrian said, “Either sacrifice to my gods, or you shall all miserably perish.” Symphorosa said, “Do not imagine that fear will make me change; I am desirous to be at rest with my husband, whom you put to death for the name of Jesus Christ.” The emperor then ordered her to be carried to the temple of Hercules, where she was first buffeted on the cheeks, and afterwards hung up by the hair of her head. When no torments were able to shake her invincible soul, the emperor gave orders that she should be thrown into the river with a great stone fastened about her neck. Her brother, Eugenius, who was one of the chief of the council of Tibur, took up her body, and buried it on the road near that town.
The next day, the emperor sent for her seven sons all together, and exhorted them to sacrifice, and not imitate the obstinacy of their mother. He added the severest threats; but finding all to be in vain, he ordered seven stakes, with engines and pullies, to be planted round the temple of Hercules, and the pious youths to be bound upon them. Their limbs were, in this posture, tortured and stretched in such manner, that the bones were disjointed in all parts of their bodies. The young noblemen, far from yielding under the violence of their tortures, were encouraged by each other's example, and seemed more eager to suffer than the executioners were to torment. At length, the emperor commanded them to be put to death, in the same place where they were, different ways. The eldest, called Crescens, had his throat cut; the second, called Julian, was stabbed in the breast; Nemesius, the third, was pierced with a lance in his heart; Primativus received his wound in the belly, Justin in the back, Stacteus on his sides, and Eugenius, the youngest, died by his body being cleft asunder into two parts across his breast from the head downwards. The emperor came the next day to the temple of Hercules, and gave orders for a deep hole to be dug, and all the bodies of these martyrs to be thrown into it. The place was called by the heathen priest, The seven Biothanati; which word signifieth, in Greek, and in the style of art magic, such as die by a violent death, particularly such as were put to the torture. After this, a stop was put to the persecution for about eighteen months; during which interval of peace, the Christians took up the remains of these martyrs, and interred them with honour on the Tiburtin road, in the midway between Tivoli, and Rome, where still are seen some remains of a church erected in memory of them, in a place called, to this day, The seven Brothers. Their bodies were translated, by a pope called Stephen, into the Church of the Holy Angel, in the fish-market, in Rome, where they were found in the pontificate of Pius IV, with an inscription on a plate, which mentioned this translation.
St. Symphorosa set not before the eyes of her children the advantages of their riches and birth, or of their father's honourable employments and great exploits, but those of his piety, and the triumph of his martyrdom. She continually entertained them on the glory of heaven, and the happiness of treading in the steps of our Divine Redeemer, by the practice of humility, patience, resignation, and charity, which virtues are best learned in the path of humiliations and sufferings. In these a Christian finds this solid treasure, and his unalterable peace and joy both in life and death. The honours, riches, applause, and pleasures with which the worldly sinner is sometimes surrounded, can never satiate his desires; often they do not even reach his heart, which, under this gorgeous show, bleeds, as it were, inwardly, while silent grief, like a worm at the core, preys upon his vitals. Death, at least, always draws aside the curtain, and shows them to have been no better than mere dreams and shadows which passed in a moment, but have left a cruel sting behind them, which fills the mind with horror, dread, remorse, and despair, and racks the whole soul with confusion, perplexities, and alarms.
A prayerful address to St. Symphorosa and her seven sons.
O Symphorosa, thou wife, sister, and mother of martyrs, thy desires are amply fulfilled; followed by thy seven children, thou rejoinest in the court of the Eternal King; thy husband Getulius and his brother Amantius, brave combatants in the imperial army, but far more valiant soldiers of Christ. The words of our Lord: A man's enemies shall be they of his own household, (St. Matth, x. 36) are abrogated in heaven; nor can this other sentence be there applied: He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me; he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. (St. Matth, x. 37) There, the love of Christ our King predominates over all other loves; yet, far from extinguishing them, it makes them ten times stronger by putting its own energy into them; and, far from having to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, (St. Matth, x. 35) it sets a divine seal upon the family and rivets its bonds for all eternity.
What nobility, O heroes, have ye conferred upon the world! Men may look up with more confidence towards heaven, for the Angels will not despise a race that can produce such valiant combatants. The perfume of your holocaust accompanied your souls to the throne of God, and an effusion of grace was poured down in return. From the luminous track left by your martyrdom, have sprung forth new splendours in our own days. With joyful gratitude we hail the providential reappearance, immediately after the Vatican Council, of the tomb which first received your sacred relics on the morrow of your triumph. Soldiers of Christ! preserve in us the gifts ye have bestowed on us; convince the many Christians who have forgotten it, that faith is the most precious possession of the just.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Symphorosa and her seven sons, pray for us.