The Seven Brothers, Martyrs, and St. Felicitas Their Mother
In the Second Century.
THE ILLUSTRIOUS martyrdom of these saints has been justly celebrated by the holy fathers. It happened at Rome under the emperor Antoninus, that is, according to several ancient copies of the acts, Antoninus Pius. 1 The seven brothers were the sons of St. Felicitas, a noble pious Christian widow in Rome, who brought them up in the most perfect sentiments and practice of heroic virtue. After the death of her husband she served God in a state of continency 2 and employed herself wholly in prayer, fasting, and works of charity. By the public and edifying example of this lady and her whole family, many idolaters were moved to renounce the worship of their false gods, and to embrace the faith of Christ, which Christians were likewise encouraged by so illustrious a pattern only to profess. This raised the spleen of the heathenish priests, who complained to the emperor Antoninus that the boldness with which Felicitas publicly practised the Christian religion, drew many from the worship of the immortal gods who were the guardians and protectors of the empire, and that it was a continual insult on them; who, on that account, were extremely offended and angry with the city and whole state. They added, that in order to appease them, it was necessary to compel this lady and her children to sacrifice to them. Antoninus being himself superstitious was prevailed upon by this remonstrance to send an order to Publius the prefect of Rome, to take care that the priests should be satisfied, and the gods appeased in this matter. Publius caused the mother and her sons to be apprehended and brought before him. When this was done he took Felicitas aside, and used the strongest inducements to bring her freely to sacrifice to the gods, that he might not be obliged to proceed with severity against her and her sons; but she returned him this answer: “Do not think to frighten me by threats, or to win me by fair speeches. The spirit of God within me will not suffer me to be overcome by Satan, and will make me victorious over all your assaults.” Publius said in a great rage: “Unhappy woman, is it possible you should think death so desirable as not to permit even your children to live, but force me to destroy them by the most cruel torments?” “My children,” said she, “will live eternally with Christ if they are faithful to him; but must expect eternal death if they sacrifice to idols.” The next day the prefect, sitting in the square of Mars before his temple, sent for Felicitas and her sons, and addressing his speech to her said: “Take pity on your children, Felicitas; they are in the bloom of youth, and may aspire to the greatest honours and preferments.” The holy mother answered: “Your pity is really impiety, and the compassion to which you exhort me would make me the most cruel of mothers.” Then turning herself towards her children, she said to them: “My sons, look up to heaven where Jesus Christ with his saints expects you. Be faithful in his love, and fight courageously for your souls.” Publius being exasperated at this behaviour, commanded her to be cruelly buffeted, saying: “You are insolent indeed, to give them such advice as this in my presence, in contempt of the orders of our princes.” 1 Continue reading