Exhortation to Martyrdom, To Fortunatus
EXHORTATION TO MARTYRDOM, TO FORTUNATUS by St. Cyprian
You have desired, my very dear Fortunatus, that since the weight of afflictions and persecutions lies heavy upon us, and at the end and at the consummation of the world the hostile time of antichrist has already begun to draw near, I bring together from the sacred Scripture exhortations for the preparation and strengthening of the minds of the brethren, with which I might animate the soldiers of Christ for the spiritual and heavenly struggle. I have felt obliged to obey your so compelling wish, so that, in so far as our mediocrity is able, prepared with the aid of divine inspiration, certain arms, as it were, and defenses might be brought forth from the Lord's precepts for the brethren who are about to fight. For it is a minor matter that we arouse the people of God with the trumpet call of our voice, unless we confirm by divine reading the faith of believers and their courage dedicated and devoted to God.
For what more fitly or more fully befits our care and solicitude than to prepare the people divinely committed to us and the army established in the heavenly camp with constant exhortations against the weapons and darts of the devil? For he cannot be a soldier fit for war who has not first been trained in the field, nor will he who seeks to obtain the contestant s crown be crowned in the stadium, unless he first gives thought to the practice and skill of his powers. He is an old adversary and an ancient enemy with whom we wage battle. Almost six thousand years are now being fulfilled since the devil first attacked man. All kinds of tempting and arts and plots for his overthrow has he learned by the very practice of a long time. If he finds a soldier of Christ unprepared, if untrained, if he does not find him vigilant with a solicitous and whole heart, he besets him in ignorance, he deceives him incautious, he entraps him inexperienced. But if anyone guards the precepts of the Lord, and bravely adhering to Christ stands against the devil, he must be conquered, since Christ whom we confess is invincible.
And not to extend my talk at length, dearest brother, and not to fatigue my listener or reader by the abundance of a rather diffuse style, I have made a summary, so that, after setting forth the headings first, which each one ought to know and retain, I might add passages of the Lord, and might establish what I had set forth by the authority of the divine words, thus seeming not so much to have sent you a treatise of mine as to have furnished material for those who make treatises. This plan is of greater utility to individuals in practice. For if I gave away a garment already finished and prepared, it would be my garment which another would use and perhaps the thing having been made according to the contour of the stature and the body of another would he held little fitting. But now I have sent the very wool and purple of the lamb through whom we have been redeemed and quickened, and when you receive it, you will make a tunic according to your wish, and you will rejoice the more in it as in your own private and personal garment, and you will also show others what we have sent, that they too may be able to make garments according to their judgment; thus covering that old nakedness, they may all bear the garments of Christ, dressed in the sanctification of heavenly grace.
Furthermore also, most beloved brother, I have viewed the plan as useful and salutary in so necessary an exhortation as to make martyrs, that all delays and tardiness of our words must be cut out, and that the meanderings of human speech must be put aside, that those words alone must be set down which God speaks, by which Christ exhorts His servants to martyrdom. The divine precepts themselves must be supplied as arms for those who fight. Let those be the incitements of the military trumpet; let those be the clarion call for those who fight. By those let the ears be made erect; by these let the minds be made ready; by these also let the powers of mind and body be strengthened for the endurance of every suffering. Let us only, who with the Lord's permission gave the first baptism to believers, prepare each one for another baptism also, urging and teaching that this baptism is greater in grace, more sublime in power, more precious in honor, a baptism in which the angels baptize, a baptism in which God and His Christ exult, a baptism after which no one sins again, a baptism which brings to completion the increases of our faith, a baptism which immediately joins us with God as we withdraw from the world. In the baptism of water is received the remission of sins; in that of blood the crown of virtues. This thing is to be embraced and longed for and sought after with all entreaties of our prayers, so that we who were servants of God may also be His friends.
Thus exhorting and preparing our brethren, and in arming them with the strength of virtue and faith for the proclaiming of their confession of the Lord and for the battle of persecution and suffering, it must be said in the first place:
I. That the idols which man makes for himself are not gods--for neither are the things which are made greater than their maker and fashioner, nor can they protect and save anyone, who themselves perish from their temples, unless they are saved by man--but that neither are the elements to be worshipped, which serve man according to the disposition and precepts of God.
II. That, after the idols have been destroyed and the plan of the elements has been demonstrated, it must be shown that God alone is to be worshipped.
III. That then there must be added what the threat of God is against those who sacrifice to idols.
IV. That besides it must be taught that God does not easily pardon idolaters.
V. And that God is so angry with idolatry that He has even ordered those to be killed who have persuaded to sacrifice to and serve idols.
VI. That after this there must be added that we, redeemed and quickened by the blood of Christ, should place nothing before Christ, because neither did He place anything before us and He on account of us preferred evil things to good things, poverty to riches, servitude to domination, death to immortality, and that we, on the other hand, in our sufferings prefer the riches and joys of paradise to the poverty of the world, eternal sovereignty and rule to the slavery of time, immortality to death, God and Christ to the devil and antichrist.
VII. That it must also be insisted upon that, after being snatched from the jaws of the devil and freed from the snares of the world, if they begin to be in straitened circumstances and troubles, they do not wish to return anew to the world and lose the benefit of having escaped.
VIII. That it must be urged too that they persevere in faith and virtue and in the consummation of heavenly and spiritual grace, in order that they may arrive at the palm and the crown.
IX. That difficulties and persecutions take place that we may be proved.
X. That the injuries and punishments of persecutions are not to be feared, because the Lord is greater at protecting than the devil at attacking.
XI. And lest anyone become frightened and disturbed at the difficulties and persecutions which we suffer in this world, it must be proved that it was formerly predicted that the world would hold us in hatred and would stir up persecutions against us, so that from the very fact that these things happen the faith of the divine promise is manifest in the benefits and the rewards to follow afterwards, and that whatever happens to Christians is nothing new, since from the beginning of the world the good have labored and the just have been oppressed and slain by the unjust.
XII. That in the last part there must be laid down what hope and what benefit await the just and the martyrs after the conflicts and sufferings of this time.
XIII. And that we are to receive more in the reward for our suffering than what we endure here in the suffering itself.
I. That idols are not gods and that the elements are not to be worshipped in place of gods.
In Psalm 134: 'The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of man's hands. They have a mouth but speak not; they have eyes but see not; they have ears, but hear not; for there is no breath in their mouths. Like unto them become all who make them.' Likewise in the Wisdom of Solomon: 'For they have esteemed all the idols of the heathens as gods, which have neither the use of eyes to see, nor noses to draw breath, nor ears to hear, nor fingers on the hands to handle, and as for their feet they are slow to walk. For man made them, and he that borroweth his own breath, fashioned them. For no man can make a god like himself. For, being a mortal himself, he formeth a dead thing with his wicked hands. For he is better than they whom he worshippeth, because he indeed hath lived, but they never.' Likewise in Exodus: 'Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything.' Likewise in Solomon (concerning the elements): 'Neither by attending to the works have they acknowledged who was the workman, but have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun, or the moon to be gods. And if on account of their beauty they have thought this, let them know how much the Lord is more beautiful than they. Or, if they admire their power and their effects, let them understand by them that He that made them mighty is mightier than they.'
II. That God alone is to be worshipped.
As it is written: 'Thou shalt worship the Lord Thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.' Likewise in Exodus: 'Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.' Also in Deuteronomy: 'See, see that I am, and there is no God beside me. I will kill and I will make to live. I will strike and I will heal, and there is none who can deliver out of my hands.' Likewise in the Apocalypse: 'And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven having an eternal gospel to preach upon the earth to every nation and tribe and people, saying with a loud voice: "Fear rather God, and give him honor, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all things that are in them." Thus also the Lord in the Gospel makes mention of the first and second commandments, saying: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord' and 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets.' And again: 'Now this is life everlasting, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ.'
III. What is God's threat against those who sacrifice to idols?
In Exodus: 'He that sacrificeth to gods shall be put to death, save only to the Lord.' Likewise in Deuteronomy: 'They sacrifice to devils and not to God.' Again in Isaias: "they have adored what their hands have made. And man hath bowed himself down, and man hath been debased, and I shall not forgive them.' And again: 'Thou hast poured out libations to them and thou hast offered sacrifices to them. Shall I not be angry at these things? says the Lord.' Likewise in Jeremias: 'And go not after strange gods to serve them, nor to adore them, nor to provoke me by the works of your hands to afflict you.' Also in the Apocalypse: 'If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark upon his forehead and in his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is mixed in the cup of his wrath; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torments goes up forever and ever. And they have rest neither day nor night, whoever worship the beast and its image.'
IV. It is not easy for God to pardon idolaters.
Moses in Exodus prays for the people and does not obtain his prayer. 'I beseech thee, O Lord,' he says, 'this people hath sinned a heinous sin, and they have made to themselves gods of gold and silver; either forgive them this trespass, or, if thou do not, strike me out of the book that thou hast written. And the Lord said to Moses: "If anyone sin against me, I shall destroy him out of my book.'' Likewise when Jeremias was interceding for the people, the Lord spoke to him saying: Do not thou pray for this people, and do not make demands for them in praise and prayer, for I shall not hear in the time when they cry unto me, in the time of their affliction.' Ezechiel also denounces this same wrath of God upon those who sin against God. He says: 'And the word of the Lord came to me saying: 'Son of man, when a land shall sin against me so as to transgress grievously, I will stretch forth my hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof; and I will send famine upon it, and destroy man and beast out of it. And if these three men, Noe, Daniel, and Job, shall be in it, they will not deliver sons nor daughters; themselves alone shall be saved." Likewise, in the first Book of Kings: 'If a man by sinning, sin against a man, they will pray for him to the Lord; but if a man shall sin against God, who will pray for him?'
V. That God is so angry at idolatry that He has ordered those also to be killed, who have persuaded others to sacrifice and be subservient to idols.
In Deuteronomy: 'But if thy brother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or thy wife that is in thy bosom, or thy friend who is as thy own soul, should ask thee secretly saying: "let us go and serve strange gods, the gods of the heathen," thou shalt not consent to him, nor hear him, neither shall thine eye spare him, nor shalt thou conceal him, but thou shalt make public announcement concerning him. Thy hand shall be upon him first to kill him, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And they shall stone him, and he shall die, because he sought to turn thee from the Lord thy God.' And the Lord again speaks and says that neither must a city be spared, even if it entirely consents to idolatry: 'Or if in one of the cities which the Lord thy God shall give thee to dwell in, thou hear some saying: "Let us go and serve strange gods which you know not," thou shalt forthwith kill all who are in the city with the edge of the sword, and shall burn the city with fire, and it shall be without habitation forever. It shall be rebuilt no more, that the Lord may turn from the wrath of his fury, and he will show thee mercy and will have pity on thee and will multiply thee, if thou shalt hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and observe his precepts.' And Mathathias, mindful of this precept and its force, killed him who had approached the altar to sacrifice. But if before the coming of Christ these precepts were kept with regard to the worship of God and the spurning of idols, how much more should they be kept after Christ's coming; since He came and exhorted us not with words but with deeds, suffering also and being crucified after all injuries and insults, that by His example He might teach us to suffer and to die, that man might have no excuse for not suffering for Him, since He suffered for us; and that, since He suffered for the sins of others, much more ought each one to suffer for his own sins. And so He threatens in the Gospel, and says: 'Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I in turn will disown before my Father who is in heaven.' Likewise the Apostle Paul says: 'For if we die with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us.' Also John: "He who disowns the Son does not have the Father, he who confesses the Son has both the Father and the Son.' Therefore, the Lord urges us to contempt of death, and strengthens us by saying: 'Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. But rather be afraid of him who is able to destroy both the soul and body in hell.' And again: 'He who loves this life shall lose; and he who hates his life in this world, shall keep it unto life everlasting.'
VI. That we who have been redeemed and quickened by the blood of Christ should place nothing before Christ.
The Lord speaks in the Gospel and says: 'He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not my disciple.' As it is written in Deuteronomy: 'Who say to their father and to their mother: "I know you not," and have not known their own sons, these have guarded thy precepts and kept thy covenant.' Likewise the Apostle Paul says: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword? Even as it is written: 'For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are regarded as sheep for the slaughter. But in all these things we overcome because of Him who loved us.' And again: 'You are not your own; for you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God and bear him in your body.' And again: 'Christ died for all, so that they who are alive may live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again.'
VII. That those who have been snatched from the jaws of the devil and freed from the snares of the world should not return anew to the world lest they lose the benefit of having escaped.
In Exodus the Jewish people prefigured in our shadow and image, when, with God as their guardian and avenger, they escaped the very severe slavery of Pharaoh and Egypt, that is, of the devil and the world, faithless and ungrateful with regard to God, looking back upon the troubles of the desert and of their labor, murmured also against Moses; and, not understanding the divine benefits of freedom and salvation, they sought even to return to the slavery of Egypt, that is, to the slavery of the world, from which they had been withdrawn, when they should rather have had faith and belief in God, since He who liberates His people from the devil and the world protects them when liberated. 'Why have you done this to us," they say, by throwing us out of Egypt? It was better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in this desert. And Moses said to the people: "Trust and stand and see the salvation which is from the Lord, which he will do today for us. The Lord will fight for you and you will hold your peace.'' The Lord warning us of this in His Gospel, lest we return to the devil again and to the world, which we have renounced, and from which we have escaped, says: 'No one having put this hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.' And again: 'And let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife.' And lest anyone, either because of some desire for wealth or by the charm of his own be regarded from following Christ, He added saying: 'He who does not renounce all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple.'
VIII. We must press on and persevere in the faith and virtue, and in the consummation of heavenly and spiritual grace, that we may be able to arrive at the palm and the crown.
In Paralipomenon: 'The Lord is with you, as long as you are with him. But if you forsake him, he will forsake you.' Likewise in Ezechiel: 'The justice of the just shall not deliver him, in what day soever he shall sin.' Again in the Gospel the Lord speaks and says: 'He who has persevered to the end, will De saved.' And again: 'If you abide in my word, you shall be my disciple indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.' Forewarning also that we should always be prepared and stand firmly equipped for battle, He added, saying: 'Let your loins be girt about and your lamps burning, and you yourselves like to men waiting for their master's return from the wedding, so that when he comes and knocks, they may open to him. Blessed are those servants whom the master of his return, shall find watching.' Likewise the blessed Apostle Paul, that our faith may prosper and increase and attain the highest, exhorts and says: 'Do you know that those who run in a race, all indeed run, but one receives the prize? So run as to obtain it. And they indeed to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable?' And again: 'No one serving as God's soldier entangles himself in worldly affairs, that he may please Him whose approval he has secured. And again one who enters a contest is not crowned unless he has competed lawfully.' And again: 'I exhort you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed in the newness of your mind, that you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.' And again: 'We are sons of God. But if sons, then we are heirs also, joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with him.' And in Apocalypse the same exhortation of the divine preaching speaks and says: 'Hold fast what thou hast, that no one receive thy crown.' This example of perseverance and persistence is pointed out in Exodus, where Moses, to overcome Amalech, who bore the figure of the devil, raised his outspread hands in the sign and sacrament of the cross, and he was unable to overcome his adversary except after he had persevered steadfastly in the sign with hands raised continuously. 'And it came to pass,' it says, 'when Moses lifted up his hands, Israel prevailed, but when he let them down Amalec overcame. So they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it. And Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands on both sides. And the hands of Moses were made firm even to sunset. And Josue put Amalec and all his people to flight. And the Lord said to Moses: "Write this that it may be a memorial in a book, and deliver it to the ears of Josue, for I shall destroy utterly the memory of Amalec from under the sun.
IX. That troubles and persecutions take place for this purpose, that we may be proved.
In Deuteronomy: 'The Lord your God trieth you, that He may know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.' And again in Solomon: 'The furnace trieth the potter's vessels, and trial of affliction just men.' Paul also gives like testimony, and speaks saying: 'We glory in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we glory also in tribulations knowing that tribulation works out endurance, and endurance tries virtue, and virtue hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.' And Peter in his Epistle lays it down, saying: 'Beloved, do not be startled at the trial by fire that is happening among you which is happening for your trial, and fail not, as though a strange thing were taking place for you. But rejoice in all things as often as you partake in the sufferings of Christ, that you may rejoice with exultation in the revelation of his glory. If you are upbraided for the name of Christ, blessed are you, because the name of the glory and power of God rests upon you, which indeed according to them is blasphemy, but according to us is an honor.'
X. That the injuries and punishments of persecutions are not to be feared, because the Lord is greater in protecting than the devil in assaulting.
John in his Epistle approves, saying: 'Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.' Likewise in Psalm 117: 'I shall not fear what man does to me; the Lord is my helper.' And again: 'Those are strong in chariots, these in horses, but we, in the name of our God. They with their feet bound have fallen, but we are risen up and stand erect.' And still more strongly the Holy Spirit, teaching and showing that the army of the devil is not to be feared, and, if the enemy should declare war on us, our hope consists rather in that war itself, and that this conflict of the just arrives at the reward of the divine abode and of eternal salvation, lays down in Psalm 26, saying: 'If a camp be pitched against me; my heart shall not fear; if a war shall arise against me, in this do I hope. One thing I have sought of the Lord, this I shall seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.' Likewise in Exodus holy Scripture declares that we are rather multiplied and increased, saying: 'The more they oppressed them, the more they were multiplied and increased.' And in the Apocalypse divine protection is promised in our sufferings. 'Fear none of these things,' it says, 'that thou art about to suffer.' Nor does any other promise us security and protection than He who speaks through Isaias the prophet saying: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, and called thee by thy name. Thou art mine. When thou shalt pass through the waters, I am with thee, and the rivers shall not cover thee. When thou shalt walk through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt; the flame shall not burn thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel who shall save thee.' And He also in the Gospel promises that divine aid will not be lacking to God's servants in persecutions, saying: 'But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious how or what you shall speak; for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour. For it is not you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks through you.' And again: 'Resolve in your hearts not to mediate beforehand to make excuse. For I shall give to you utterance and wisdom which your adversaries shall not be able to resist.' Just as in Exodus God speaks to Moses, when he delays and fears to go to the people, saying: 'Who gave a mouth to man and who made the dumb and the deaf, the seeing and the blind? Did not I the Lord God? Go now, and I shall open thy mouth and I will teach thee what thou shalt speak.' It is not difficult for God to open the mouth of a man devoted to Him, and to inspire constancy and confidence in speaking in one who confesses Him, who in the book of Numbers made even a female ass speak against Balaam, the prophet. Therefore, let no one consider in persecutions what danger the devil brings, but rather let him bear in mind what assistance God affords; and let not the disturbances of men weaken the mind, but let divine protection strengthen the faith, since each one according to the Lord's promises and the merits of his faith, receives so much of God's help as he thinks he receives, and since there is nothing which the Almighty cannot grant, except if the frail faith of the recipient be deficient.
IX. That it was formerly predicted that the world hold us in hatred, and that it would stir up persecutions against us, and that nothing new happens to the Christians, since from the beginning of the world the good have labored and been oppressed, and the just have been slain by the unjust.
The Lord in the Gospel forewarns and predicts, saying: 'If the world hate you, know that it hates me first. If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own; but since you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I have spoken to you: "the servant is not greater than this master." If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.' And again: 'The hour will come for anyone who slays you to think that he does God a service. And this they will do because they do not know the Father nor me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when the time comes for them you may remember that I told you.' And again: 'Amen, amen, I say to you that you shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.' And again: 'These things I have spoken to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have affliction. But take courage, for I have overcome the world.' But when He was asked by His disciples about a sign of His coming and of the consummation of the world, He answered and said: 'Take care that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying: "I am the Christ" and they will lead many astray. Moreover, you shall begin to hear of wars and rumors of wars. Take care that you do not be alarmed; for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes and pestilence in various places. But all these things are the beginnings of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and will arise and will lead many astray. And because iniquity will abound, the charity of many will grow cold. But whoever perseveres to the end, he shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a witness to all nations, and then will come the end. Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place--let him who reads understand--then, let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything from his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. But woe to those who are with child, or have infants at the breast in those days. But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on the sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor will be. And unless those days had been shortened, no living creature would be freed. But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Then if anyone say to you: "Behold, here is the Christ," or, "There he is," do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. But do yet take care. Behold I have told all things to you beforehand. If, therefore, they say to you: "Behold, he is in the desert," do not go forth; "Behold, he is in the inner chamber," do not believe it. For just as the lighting which goes forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of man be. Wherever the body is, there will be gathered together the eagles. But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then will all the tribes of the earth mourn and they will see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty. And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.'
And these are not new or sudden things which are now happening to Christians, since the good and the just, who are always devoted to God by the law of innocence and by the fear of the true religion, always walk through afflictions, and injuries, and the severe and manifold punishments of attackers in the difficulty of a narrow road. Thus at the very beginning of the world, the just Abel is the first to be killed by his brother, and Jacob is sent into exile, and Joseph is sold, and King Saul persecutes merciful David, and King Achab tries to oppress Elias who constantly and courageously declares the majesty of God. The priest Zacharias is killed between the temple and the altar, that he himself may become a sacrifice there where he was accustomed to offer sacrifices to God. Finally so many martyrdoms of the just have often been celebrated; so many examples of faith and of virtue have been set forth for posterity. The three youths, Ananias, Azarias, Misahel, equal in age, harmonious in love, stable in faith, constant in virtue, stronger than the flames and punishments that oppressed them, proclaim that they serve God alone, know Him alone, and worship Him alone, saying: 'King Nabuchodonosor, we have no occasion to answer thee concerning this matter. For our God whom we worship, is able to save us from the furnace of the burning fire, and to deliver us out of your hands, O King. But if he will not, be it known to thee, that we will not serve thy gods and shall not adore the gods and the golden image that you have set up.' And Daniel, devoted to God and full of the Holy Spirit, exclaims saying: 'Nothing do I worship except the Lord my God who made heaven and earth.' Tobias, although under a royal and tyrannical slavery, yet in feeling and spirit free, preserves his confession to God, and sublimely proclaims the divine power and majesty saying: 'In the land of my captivity I praise him and show forth His power in a sinful nation.'
Now what as to the seven brothers in Machabees, alike in their lot of birth and virtues, fulfilling the number seven in the sacrament of a perfect fulfillment? Thus the seven brothers, united in martyrdom, just as the first seven days in the divine plan containing seven thousand years; as the seven spirits and the seven angels who stand and go in and out before the face of God, and the seven-branched lamp in the tabernacle of witness, and the seven golden candlesticks in the Apocalypse, and the seven columns in Solomon, upon which Wisdom builds her house, thus also here the number of seven brothers embracing in the quantity of its number seven churches, according as we read in the first book of Kings that the barren woman bore seven. And in Isaias seven women lay hold of one man, whose name they demand be invoked upon them. And the Apostle Paul, who is mindful of this lawful and certain number, writes to seven churches. And in the Apocalypse the Lord directs His divine mandates and heavenly precepts to seven churches and their angels. This number is now found here in the brothers, that a lawful consummation may be fulfilled. With the seven children is clearly joined the mother also, their origin and root, who later bore seven churches, herself the first and only one founded by the Lord's voice upon a rock. Nor it is without significance that the mother alone is with her children in their sufferings. For the martyrs, who in their suffering bear witness to themselves as sons of God, are not considered as of any father other than God, just as the Lord teaches in the Gospel saying: 'And you shall call no one your father on earth. One is your Father who is in heaven.'
What proclaimings of confessions have they given forth! How glorious and how great proofs of faith have they furnished! Hostile King Antiochus, rather, antichrist represented in Antiochus, sought to contaminate the mouths of the martyrs, glorious and invincible in the spirit of confession, with the contagion of swine's flesh, and when he had beaten them severely with rods and had been able to move them not at all, he ordered irons to be heated. When these had been heated and made to glow, he ordered him who had been the first to speak and had provoked the king the more by the constancy of his virtues and faith to be brought up and to be roasted, after having pulled out and cut off the tongue which had confessed God. And this happened the more gloriously for the martyrs. For the tongue which confessed the name of God ought itself to have proceeded first to God. Then in the second case, when more severe punishments were devised, before he tortured the other members, he tore away the skin of the head with the hair, out of hatred, namely of a certainty on this account: for, since the head of man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God, he who tore the head on a martyr persecuted God and Christ in the head. But trusting in his martyrdom and promising himself the reward of resurrection from God's recompense he exclaimed and said: 'Thou indeed, impotent one, destroyest us out of this present life; but the King of the world will raise up into the resurrection of eternal life us who have died for His laws.' The third, on being ordered, put forth his tongue. For he had now learned from his brother to despise the punishment of having his tongue cut out. He also steadily extended his hands to be cut off, happy with this kind of punishment, whose lot it was to imitate the manner of the Lord's passion. The fourth also with like virtue, despising the torments and replying with the heavenly voice to restrain the king, exclaimed saying: 'It is better, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God, to be raised up again by Him. For, to thee there shall be no resurrection unto life.' The fifth, besides trampling under foot with the vigor of faith the torments of the king and the severe and various tortures, inspired by the Spirit of divinity to prescience also and a knowledge of the future, prophesied to the king that God's wrath and vengeance would follow swiftly. He said: 'Whereas thou hast power among men and though you are corruptible, thou dost what thou wilt, but think not that our nation is forsaken by God. But stay and see in what manner his great power will torment thee and thy seed.' What a consolation that was for the martyr! How grand a solace it was not to consider his own torments in his sufferings but to predict the punishments of his tormentors! But in the sixth not virtue alone but also humility is to be proclaimed; that the martyr claimed nothing for himself and ;lid not bring forward the honor of his confession with proud words; rather he ascribed his suffering persecution at the hands of the king to his own sins, but that he would later be avenged he attributed to God. He taught that martyrs are modest, have confidence in their being avenged, and boasted not at all in their passion. He said: 'Be not deceived without cause, for we suffer these things for ourselves in that we sin against our God. But we do not think that thou shalt go unpunished to fight against God.' Admirable also was the mother who, neither broken by the weakness of her sex nor moved by her manifold bereavement, gazed upon her dying children cheerfully and did not compute the punishments of her children but the glories, furnishing as grand a martyrdom to God by virtue of her eyes as her sons had furnished by the torments and sufferings of their limbs. When, after six had been punished and killed, one of the brothers survived, to whom he promised riches and power and many things that his cruelty and fierceness might be favored by the solace of at least one being subdued, and when he asked that the mother also entreat the son to cast himself down with herself, she entreated, but as befitted the mother of martyrs, as befitted one mindful of the law and of God, as befitted one who loved her sons not lightly but strongly. For she entreated, but that he confess God. She entreated that the brother be not separated from his brothers in the communion of praise and glory, then accounting herself the mother of seven sons, if it should happen that she had borne seven sons rather to God, not to the world. So arming him and strengthening and bearing her son then by a happier birth, she said: 'Son, have pity on me who bore you in my womb ten months and gave you suck three years, and nourished you and brought you up unto this age. I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth and when you have looked upon all things that are in them you may know that from nothing God made them and so the race of men came to be. And do not fear that tormentor, but may you become worthy of your brothers and receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee with thy brethren.' Great was the praise of the mother in her exhortation to virtue, but greater in her fear of the Lord and in the truth of faith, because she claimed nothing for herself or her son from the honor of six martyrs, nor did she believe that the prayer of the brothers would avail for the salvation of a denier; rather she persuaded him to become a sharer in their suffering, so that on the day of judgment he could be found with his brothers. After this the mother also died with her children; for now nothing else was fitting than that she, who had both borne and made martyrs, should be joined in the companionship of their glory, and that she herself should also follow those whom she had sent on ahead to God.
And lest anyone, when the occasion has been presented to him of a certificate or something else, whereby he may deceive, embrace the evil role of deceivers, Eleazar must not be passed over in silence. This man, when the opportunity was given him by the servants of the king to take flesh which it was lawful for him to eat and, to circumvent the king, to pretend that he was eating what was handed him from the sacrifices and the forbidden foods, refused to consent to this deception, saying that to do this was becoming neither to his age nor his dignity, for others would be scandalized thereby and led into error, thinking that Eleazar, who was ninety years old, had gone over to the custom of strangers after abandoning and betraying the law of God; that it was not worthwhile so to barter the brief torments of life as to offend God and incur eternal punishments. And, after he had been tormented for a long time and was now at the end of his life, as he died in the midst of lashes and torments, he groaned and said: 'O Lord, who hast the holy knowledge, it is manifest that, although I might be freed from death, I endure most severe pains of the body as I am beaten with stripes, yet I endure these things freely in soul because of fear of thee.' Certainly it was a sincere faith and a sound and quite pure virtue not to have considered King Antiochus but God the judge, and to have realized that it could not profit him for salvation, if he derided and deceived man, when God, who is the judge of our conscience and is alone to be feared, can neither be derided in any way at all or be deceived.
If then we too live dedicated and devoted to God, if we make our way over the very tracks, ancient and holy, of the just, let us proceed though the same evidences of punishments, through the same testimonies of sufferings, considering the glory of our time greater by this: that, although your examples are numbered, as the abundance of virtue and faith later comes forth, the Christian martyrs cannot be numbered, as the Apocalypse bears witness, saying: 'After this I saw a great multitude which no man could number out of every nation and out of every tribe and tongue standing in the sight of the throne and of the Lamb; and they were clothed in white robes, and there were palms in their hands, and they were saying with a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb." And one of the elders spoke and said to me: "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they and whence have they come?" And I said to him: "My Lord, you know." And He said to me: "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are in the sight of the throne of God, and serve him in his temple." But if the assembly of the Christian martyrs is shown and proved to be so great, no one should think that it is difficult or hard to become a martyr, when he sees that the people of the martyrs cannot be numbered.
XII. What hope and reward awaits the just and the martyrs after the conflicts and sufferings of this time.
The Holy Spirit shows and predicts through Solomon, saying: 'And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in few things in many they shall be well rewarded because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he has proved them and as victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them. They shall judge nations, and rule over peoples, and their Lord shall reign forever.' Likewise in the same our vindication is described, and the repentance of those who persecute and harass us is declared. He says: 'Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those who have afflicted them and taken away their labors. These seeing it shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation, saying within themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit. These are they whom we had some time in derision, and for a parable of reproach. We fools esteemed their life madness, and their life without honor. How are they numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints? Wherefore, we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice has not shined on us, and the sun has not risen upon us. We have wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known. What has pride profited us? Or, what advantage has the boasting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow.' The price and reward of suffering is likewise indicated in Psalm 115. It says: 'Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints.' Likewise in Psalm 125 the sadness of conflict and the joy of retribution is expressed. It says: 'They who sow in tears shall reap in joy. Going they went and wept sowing the seed; but coming they shall come, with exultation carrying their sheaves.' And again in Psalm 118: 'Blessed are they whose way of life is spotless, who walk in the light of the Lord. Blessed are they who search His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart.' Likewise the Lord in the Gospel, Himself the avenger of our persecution and the rewarder of suffering, says: 'Blessed are they who have suffered persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' And again: 'Blessed shall you be, when man shall hate you and when they shall shut you out and reproach you and shall rewrite your name as evil because of the Son of man. Rejoice in that day, and exult, for behold your reward is great in heaven.' And again: 'He who loses his soul on account of me shall save it.' Nor do the rewards of divine promise await only the persecuted and the slain, but, if the passion be wanting to the faithful, yet if the faith has remained sound and unconquered, and, after forsaking and continuing all his possessions, shows that he follows Christ, he also is honored among the martyrs by Christ, as He Himself promises and says. There is no one who leaves house, or land, or parents, or brothers, or wife or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive much more in the present time, and in the age to come life everlasting.' Likewise in the Apocalypse He says this same thing: 'And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the name of Jesus and the Word of God.' And when he had put those beheaded in the first place, he added saying: 'And who did not worship the image of the beast, and did not accept his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands.' And all these he joins together as seen by him in the same place and says: 'And they came to life and reigned with Christ.' He says that all live and reign with Christ, not only those who have been slain, but whoever standing in the firmness of their faith and in the fear of God have not adored the image of a beast and have not consented to his deadly sacrilegious edicts.
XIII. That we receive more as reward of suffering than that which we endure in this world in the suffering itself.
The blessed Apostle Paul proves this, who, on being caught up by the divine esteem, even into the third heaven and into paradise, testifies that he heard unspeakable words, who boasts that with a visible faith that he saw Jesus Christ, who professes that which he both learned and saw with the truth of a greater conscience. He says: 'The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.' Who then does not labor in every way to arrive at such a glory as to become a friend of God, as to rejoice at once with Christ, as to receive the divine rewards after earthly torments and punishments? If it is glorious for the soldiers of the world to return to their fatherland triumphant after vanquishing the enemy, how much better and greater is the glory for one, after overcoming the devil, to return to heaven triumphant, and, after laying him low who had formerly deceived us, to bring back the trophies of victory there whence Adam the sinner had been ejected, to offer the Lord the most acceptable gift an incorrupted faith, an unshaken virtue of the mind an illustrious praise of devotion, to accompany Him when He begins to come to receive vengeance on the enemies, to stand at His side when He sits to judge, to become co-heir of Christ, to be made equal to the angels, to rejoice with the patriarchs, with the apostles, with the prophets in the possession of the heavenly kingdom? What persecution can conquer these thoughts, what torments can overcome them? The brave and stable mind founded on religious meditations endures, and the spirit persists unmoved against all the terrors of the devil and the threats of the world, which a certain and strong faith in the future makes strong. The lands are shut off in persecutions, heaven is open; Antichrist threatens, but Christ protects; death is brought on, but immortality follows; the world is snatched from him who has been killed, but paradise is displayed to him who has been restored; temporal life is extinguished, but eternity is exhibited. How great a dignity and, how great a security it is to go forth hence happy, to go forth glorious in the midst of difficulties and affliction, in a moment to shut the eyes with which men and the world were seen, to open them immediately that God and Christ may be seen. How great is the swiftness of so happy a departure! You will be withdrawn suddenly from earth, that you may be replaced in the heavenly kingdom. These things should be grasped by your mind and thinking; these should be meditated upon day and night. If persecution should come upon such a soldier of God, virtue made ready for battle will not be able to be overcome. Or if the summons should come beforehand, the faith which was prepared for martyrdom will not be without its reward; without loss of time with God as judge reward is rendered; in persecution loyal military service, in peace purity of conscience is crowned.