Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Theodore, Soldier and Martyr

19th century engraving of Saint Theodore Stratelates by R Stang; swiped from WellCome ImagesArticle

Saint Theodore was born a heathen. When grown up, he went into the army, and though still young in years, gave many signal proofs of his valor. By associating with Christian soldiers, he came to the knowledge of the true faith, and no sooner was he convinced of its life-giving truth, than he embraced it, but without making his conversion known, following in this the example of many others at that period. When his heathen comrades used to sacrifice to their gods, he stole away to the Christian assemblies and assisted at them with great devotion, but had not the courage to confess Christ openly. When, however, the cruel command came from the Imperial Court, that all Christians should either leave Christ, or prepare themselves for the most terrible martyrdom. Theodore neither could nor would any longer hide his Christianity, but cried publicly and fearlessly: “I am a Christian, and ready to shed the last drop of my blood in defense of the Christian faith.” Some heathens, hearing this confession, seized him and brought him before the judge, who had pity on him as he was young and of fine appearance. He gave him a few days to consider whether he would renounce Christianity and thus make himself a partaker of the imperial grace, or end his life in the most horrid torments. Theodore desired no time for considering, but said: “It is not necessary that I consider long. I have long since determined rather to bear all possible pain, than to forsake the true faith.” But he received the time offered him, to prepare himself better for the approaching trial. At the expiration of the appointed time, he desired to show by works what his determination was; hence he went during the night to a celebrated idolatrous temple and setting fire to it, burned it to the ground. At break of day, the people, filled with rage, sought everywhere for the perpetrator of the deed. Theodore voluntarily surrendered himself, saying: “What need is there for this seeking? I am he, who set fire to that temple of abominations, in which sacrifice was offered to Satan, and not to the true God.” The heathens, wild with rage, dragged the fearless youth before the judge, who asked him whether it was true that he had burned the temple, and whether he repented of this sacrilege and would forsake the Christian faith. “As far as the first part of your question is concerned,” said Theodore firmly, “I confess freely that I did, but I cannot add that I repent of it; on the contrary, I am ready to do the same at any moment. In regard to the Christian faith, I am so far from forsaking it, that I would rather die a thousand deaths.” The judge foaming with wrath, commanded him to be cruelly beaten, and then cast into a dungeon, the air of which was damp and foul, with the threat that he should there die of hunger, if he changed not his mind. The Christian hero, however, was not terrified, but, turning to his God, called on Him for aid. In the middle of the night, Christ appeared to him in his sleep, and said: “Be of good courage; for I am with thee: fear not!” Theodore awoke, and began cheerfully to sing psalms, and to give thanks to the Lord for so gracious a promise.

After the expiration of some days, he was again brought before the judge, who, seeing him as firm as before, ordered him to be tied to a column, and torn with iron combs and burnt with torches. This torture was more than cruel; for the executioners did not cease until the ribs were almost bare. But the greater the cruelty of these barbarians, the more Theodore rejoiced, repeating the words of the Psalmist: “I will praise and exalt the Lord at all times. His praise shall be ever on my lips.” As the tyrant saw that he effected nothing by this inhuman torment, he ordered Theodore to be burnt at the stake, as an enemy of the gods. On the way to the place of execution, Theodore saw one of his friends, who, pitying him most sincerely, shed bitter tears. “Cleonicus,” cried Theodore; “follow me soon, I shall wait for thee!” As soon as the Christian hero had arrived at the stake, he crossed himself, approached it cheerfully, and with a beaming countenance began to sing the praises of God, which he continued to do until he expired in the flames and smoke. This glorious martyrdom happened in 304. Saint Gregory preached a magnificent sermon in honor of this holy martyr, in which he extolled his heroic constancy, and asked for his intercession as a glorious Saint reigning with Christ in heaven.

Practical Considerations

Saint Theodore was offered time to consider if he would renounce the true faith or suffer the most cruel torments. But he desired no time for consideration as he had long before determined rather to endure anything than abandon his faith. Oh, how valuable a lesson this is for those who are tempted to sin either by Satan or by men. Many vacillate for some time as if not knowing what to do. They would like to consent on account of temporal gain; but are restrained on the other hand by the fear of hell. Sometimes they seem unwilling to consent, and at other moments they laugh and jest with those who entice them to do evil; they calculate the chances of the temptations and play with them. How horrible a way of acting! Does it then require time to consider whether we ought to obey God or the devil? whether we shall prefer a momentary pleasure to the eternal joys of Heaven? Oh shame! A true Christian will not long vacillate, or require time to consider. This itself is wrong and leads to greater evil. Armed with strength and heroism, we ought to determine immediately, like Saint Theodore not to offend the Almighty. We should say without any hesitation to the evil spirit or to any one sent by him to tempt us: “Depart Satan; I will not offend the Lord!” If we negotiate with Satan, and lend him our ear, we are near falling. If Eve, our unhappy mother, had repulsed the serpent and not held with him a long conversation, she would not have fallen. Saint Theodore acted wisely and followed Eleazar, of whom Holy Writ relates that, menaced with death if he would not eat what was forbidden by the divine law, he did not consider long, but immediately replied, that he would rather die, (2nd Maccabees 6) Therefore we must, without any hesitation, rather die than sin and offend God.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Theodore, Soldier and Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 May 2018. Web. 19 January 2019. <>