September 22, 2020: SS. MAURICE AND COMPANIONS
September 22, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF SS. MAURICE AND COMPANIONS, MARTYRS
“We are your soldiers, but are servants of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience; but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours, even whilst you reject him. In all things which are not against his law, we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We readily oppose all your enemies, whoever they are; but we cannot dip our hands in the blood of innocent persons. We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you; you can place no confidence in our second oath, should we violate the first. You command us to punish the Christians: behold, we are all such. We confess God the Father, author of all things, and his Son, Jesus Christ. We have seen our companions slain without lamenting them, and we rejoice at their honour... We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist, because we had rather die innocent than live by any sin.”
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that the festival of thy holy Martyrs Mauritius and Companions may bring joy to our souls, that having a confidence in their prayers, we may rejoice on their feast. 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.
At Sion in Valais, at a place called Agaunum, the birthday of the holy martyrs Maurice, Exuperius, Candidus, Victor, Innocent, and Vitalis, with their companions of the Theban legion, who were massacred under Maximian for the name of Christ, and fitted the whole world with the renown of their martyrdom. Let us unite with Rome in paying honour to these valiant soldiers, the glorious patrons of Christian armies as well as of numerous churches. ‘Emperor,’ said they, ‘we are thy soldiers, but we are also the servants of God. To Him we took our first oaths; if we break them, how canst thou trust us to keep our oaths to thee?” No command, no discipline can overrule our baptismal engagements. Every soldier is bound, in honour and in conscience, to obey the Lord of hosts rather than all human commanders, who are but His subalterns.
An account of Ss. Maurice and Companions.
Dioclesian, in the beginning of his reign, was no enemy to the Christian religion, and employed many who openly professed it near his own person, and in posts of trust and importance, as Eusebius assures us. Yet even private governors, and the giddy populace were at liberty to indulge the blindest passion and fury against the servants of Christ; and Maximian, on certain extraordinary occasions, stained his progresses with the blood of many martyrs. The Thebean legion was one of those which were sent by Dioclesian out of the East to compose his army for his expedition into Gaul. Maximian, in crossing the Alps, made a halt with his army some days, that the soldiers might repose themselves in their tedious march, while some detachments filed off towards Triers. They were then arrived at Octodurum, at that time a considerable city on the Rhone, above the lake of Geneva, now a village called Martignac, or Martigni in the Valais. Its episcopal see seems to have been transferred to Sion in the sixth century. Here Maximian issued out an order that the whole army should join in offering sacrifice to the gods for the success of their expedition. The Thebean legion hereupon withdrew itself, and encamped near Agaunum, now called St. Maurice, three leagues from Octodurum. The emperor sent them repeated orders to return to the camp, and join in the sacrifices; and, upon their constant and unanimous refusal, he commanded them to be decimated. Thus every tenth man was put to death, according as the lot fell; the rest exhorting one another all the while to perseverance. After the first decimation a second was commanded, unless the soldiers obeyed the orders given; but they cried out over their whole camp, that they would rather suffer all extremities than do any thing contrary to their holy religion. They were principally encouraged by three of their general officers, Maurice or Mauricius, Exuperius, and Candidus. St. Eucherius does not style St. Mauricius the tribune, but Primicerius, which was the dignity of the first captain, next to that of the tribune or colonel. He calls Exuperius Campiductor or Major, and Candidus the senator of the troops.
The emperor sent fresh threats that it was in vain they confided in their multitude; and that if they persisted in their disobedience, not a man among them should escape death. The legion, by the advice of their generous leaders, answered him by a dutiful remonstrance, the substance of which was as follows: “We are your soldiers, but are servants of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience; but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours, even whilst you reject him. In all things which are not against his law, we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We readily oppose all your enemies, whoever they are; but we cannot dip our hands in the blood of innocent persons. We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you; you can place no confidence in our second oath, should we violate the first. You command us to punish the Christians: behold, we are all such. We confess God the Father, author of all things, and his Son, Jesus Christ. We have seen our companions slain without lamenting them, and we rejoice at their honour. Neither this extremity to which we are reduced, nor any provocation, hath tempted us to revolt. We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist, because we had rather die innocent than live by any sin.”
This legion consisted of about six thousand six hundred men, who were all well armed, and might have sold their lives very dear; but they had learned to give to God what is God's, and to Cӕsar what is Cӕsar's, and they showed their courage more in dying than they had ever done in the most hazardous enterprises. Maximian having no hopes of overcoming their constancy, commanded his whole army to surround them, and cut them to pieces. They made no resistance, but dropping their arms, suffered themselves to be butchered like innocent sheep, without opening their mouths, except mutually to encourage one another; and not one out of so great a number failed in courage to the last. The ground was covered with their dead bodies, and streams of blood flowed on every side. Maximian gave the spoils of the slain to his army for their booty, and the soldiers were making merry over them, when Victor, a veteran soldier, who belonged not to that troop, happened to pass by. They invited him to eat with them, but he, detesting their feast, offered to retire. At this the soldiers inquired if he was also a Christian. He answered that he was, and would always continue one: upon which they instantly fell upon him and slew him. Ursus and Victor, two straggling soldiers of this legion, were found at Solodora, now Soleure, and massacred upon the spot. Their relics are still preserved at Soleure. There suffered at Turin, about the same time, Ss. Octavius, Adventitius, and Solutor, who are celebrated by St. Maximus, in his sermons, and by Ennodius of Pavia, in his poems. These martyrs were styled by Fortunatus, “The happy legion.” Their festival is mentioned on this day in the Martyrologies of St. Jerom, Bede, and others.
In the martyrs we learn the character of true fortitude, of which virtue many may form a very false idea. Real valour differs infinitely from that fury, rashness, and inconsiderate contempt of dangers which the basest passions often inspire. It is founded in motives of duty and virtue; it doth brave and great things, and it beareth injuries and torments; nor this for hope or reward, the desire of honour, or the fear of punishment; but out of a conscience of duty, and to preserve virtue entire. So infinitely more precious is the least part of integrity than all the possessions of this world, and so much does it overbalance all torments, that rather than to suffer it to be lost or impaired in the least point, the good man is ready to venture upon all perils, and behaves amidst them without terror. The Christian hero obeys the precepts of loving his enemies, doing good to those that persecute him, bearing wrong, and being ready to give his coat, without repining, to him that would take away his cloak.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
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.
Ss. Maurice and Companions, pray for us.