Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Maurice and His Companions, Martyrs

New Catholic Dictionary illustration of Saint MauriceArticle

The history of the church presents no more glorious or more memorable martyrdom to us, than that of a whole legion, that is of 6666 soldiers, which is commemorated today. This was called the Theban Legion, because it was composed entirely of the inhabitants of the Thebais, in Egypt. It had always stood high in the esteem of the Emperors on account of the valor of the soldiers and officers. In the reign of Dioclesian and Maximian, the station of these soldiers was in Syria and Palestine, while Maurice, their chief officer at that period, resided in Jerusalem. He and all under him were pagans; but having become acquainted with the bishop of Jerusalem, Maurice held many conferences with him on the subject of religion, and was led to recognize the truth so effectually, that he determined to become a Christian. Two officers, friends of his, Exuperius and Candidus, persuaded by him, followed his example, and were baptized with him. No sooner had this taken place, than he informed his soldiers of it, and spoke so emphatically of the blindness of Paganism and the light of the true faith, that they unanimously declared that they would embrace Christianity as he had done. The bishop, aided by his priests, immediately began to instruct them, and when they were sufficiently prepared, received them, by holy baptism, into the Church of Christ The new Christian soldiers led so blameless a life, that even those born in the faith, were edified by their piety.

Meanwhile, a revolution broke out in Gaul, which the emperor Maximian at once prepared to suppress. To this end he called the Theban legion to Italy that they should join his army Maurice came with the legion to Rome, and went to Pope Marcellinus, who received him with great joy and administered to him and his soldiers the holy sacrament of confirmation. The campaign began; they marched through Milan, and crossed the Alps. When they had reached the country of Valais, the soldiers encamped in a large valley, and the emperor appointed a day on which, by a great public sacrifice, they should invoke the gods to aid them in the approaching battle. The whole army was to be present and all were to renew the oath of allegiance. Saint Maurice deliberated with his legion whether they should assist at the sacrifice or not. At last he said: “If we withdraw from the others, the emperor will be offended; but if we are present at the sacrifice, we insult God. I think that it is better to be in disfavor with the emperor than with God.” All the soldiers assented to his words, and withdrawing from the heathen soldiers, they encamped near a hamlet, between the Alps and the Rhone, about twelve or thirteen miles from Geneva. The emperor, informed of it, sent to Maurice, and desired to know the reason of their absence from the sacrifice. Maurice sent the following answer: “We are Christians, and as our faith does not allow us to worship false gods, we cannot assist at the sacrifice. As far, however, as our duty as soldiers is concerned, we are ready to march against any enemy, whoever he may be, and rather to lose our lives than become faithless to the emperor.” The emperor, enraged, commanded them to return to the camp and assist at the sacrifice, otherwise he would give orders that every tenth man should be put to death. The order was scarcely issued when all manifested the most intense desire to die for Christ’s sake. They exclaimed that not only the tenth man of them, but all, were ready to die rather than by assisting at the sacrifice to deny their faith. While this answer was brought to the emperor, Saint Maurice exhorted his soldiers to remain intrepid and undaunted, as a most glorious and important victory was at stake, a victory that could not be won by arms but by patience in suffering and in death. But they needed no exhortations; there was not one among them who did not desire to be the tenth man, so as to give his life for his faith. When the soldiers who were commanded to execute the emperor’s order to decimate the legion arrived, an unprecedented example of love to Christ was displayed. Every one of the legion desired to be the tenth man, and blessed those who were put to death. After they had been decimated the emperor sent to ask whether the rest would obey his command; but they all maintained the resolution that they would obey in all things not against the laws of the Almighty; but as the emperor’s command was against these laws, they could not and would not obey. Immediately after having received this decision, the emperor again gave orders to put every tenth man to death. When this order had been executed, and the emperor was told, that not a single man in the legion wavered in his resolution, he became so enraged that he commanded his whole army to march against them, and to kill every one of them. The Thebans could easily have defended themselves or sought safety in flight; but their desire to give their blood for Christ’s sake was too great to allow them to endeavor to escape death. Praising God, they laid down their arms, and like patient sheep, allowed themselves to be cut to pieces, just as it pleased the blood-thirsty heathens. Saint Maurice encouraged all with inspiring words, so long as life was left him. After the massacre, a soldier named Victor came to the spot, and seeing the terrible spectacle, and having heard the cause of it, sighed and said: “Oh! if I had been here earlier, I should now be happy as they are!” Victor was asked if he was a Christian, and upon his fearlessly affirming it, was instantly killed, and thus made a partaker of the joys for which he had longed. This glorious martyrdom happened on the 22d day of September, in the year 286. In the valley where the massacre took place now stands a magnificent church, built in honor of Saint Maurice and his companions.

Practical Considerations

Read once more the excellent reply which Saint Maurice gave to the imperial messengers, when he said that he and his soldiers could not assist at the heathen sacrifice, because the Christian faith would not permit it; as far, however, as their duties as soldiers were concerned, they were ready to fulfill them at the cost of their lives. This should teach all Christians, and especially all domestics, an important lesson. “No one can serve two masters,” says Christ, (Matthew 6) if these masters give contradictory orders. It is indeed very certain, that a soldier or a domestic, must serve not only the Lord, his God. but also his officers, his master or mistress, so long as nothing is demanded which is against the laws of the Almighty. If, however, an officer, a master, a mistress, a superior, commands anything that is wrong, and, therefore, forbidden by God, as the Emperor did to Saint Maurice and Landbert to his servants, in such cases, we must obey God and not men, be they lords, princes, kings or emperors. God is a greater Lord than any upon earth, and Him all must obey. No servant can command anything that his master has emphatically forbidden, and should he do so, our reason would teach us to obey the master and not the servant. All the people of this earth are subjects, servants of God, even kings and emperors. Hence, should they command anything that God has forbidden, we must obey God, not them. Therefore the servants of Landbert did the same wrong that those of Absalom had done; those, by his command, killed the innocent Saint Emmeran; these took the life of Ammon, although the Almighty has forbidden to take the life of the innocent. Learn from this how you have to act, if your master, your mistress, or any one else, commands you to do wrong. You must obey God, and as Saint Maurice and his companions did, disobey the command. And not even the fear of falling under the displeasure of those who command you to do wrong, nor any temporal loss that may follow, must have the power of persuading you to act differently. Think and say as Saint Maurice did: “It is better to fall into disgrace with a mortal man, than to arouse the wrath of the immortal King of heaven and earth.” The displeasure of God is more to be feared than that of men. The injury you do to yourself by being disobedient to God, is immeasurably greater than what you have to fear when you rightfully disobey man. The displeasure of men and the loss you may sustain, will end; because man is mortal and the loss temporal. But the loss which you will sustain for being disobedient to the Lord, and the displeasure of the Almighty, will never end; because God is eternally your Lord. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10)

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Maurice and His Companions, Martyrs”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 9 May 2018. Web. 19 February 2019. <>