Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Tiburtius and Saint Susanna, Martyrs

detail of a statue of Saint Susanna of Rome, Church of Saint-Suzanne, Mayenne, France; sculptor unknown, date unknownArticle

Tiburtius, a son of the Roman prefect Chromatius, received holy baptism at the same time as his father, and not only endeavored to lead a Christian life, but also to bring others to the knowledge of the true faith. One day, while he was walking through the street, a boy fell from the roof of a house to the pavement, and was so injured that it was thought that every moment would be his last. Tiburtius going towards him, made the sign of the cross over him, and commanded him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to rise, and to abandon heathenism. The boy immediately arose, became a Christian, and persuaded many who had witnessed the miracle to do likewise. At another time Tiburtius went to a youth named Torquatus, who, although baptized and calling himself a Christian, did not conduct himself according to the dictates of the church. His dress was too luxurious; he spent too much time in idleness, gaming, dancing, and other amusements; he was unrestrained and licentious in his conversation and conduct. He was seldom at prayer, but frequently in dangerous company. Tiburtius exhorted hjm most earnestly to change his unchristian behavior. Torquatus feigned a determination to follow his advice, but secretly went to the judge Fabian, and revealed to him that Tiburtius was a Christian. This he did in revenge for the reproofs which Tiburtius had given him. But, that he might not be known as the accuser, he requested to be arraigned with Tiburtius. When this had taken place, the judge asked Torquatus who he was.

“I am a Christian,” was his reply, “and this man Tiburtius has converted me to the true faith.”

But Tiburtius said: “I have never recognized you as a Christian; for, your life has not been that of a Christian. To dress luxuriously, not to observe the fast days, to be indifferent to your prayers, to pass the day in idleness, to associate with the other sex, to be licentious in your words, are not the characteristics of a Christian. Christ does not recognize such as His followers.”

Fabian would not listen to these reproofs, but, having the ground strewn with hot coals, he said to the saint: “You have your choice either to throw incense over these coals, and thus offer to the gods, or to walk barefoot over them.”

Tiburtius, without a moment’s hesitation, took off his shoes, and courageously stepping upon the coals, walked up and down over them, without a sign of pain. Addressing the judge, he said: “See and know, that the God of the Christians is the only God, whom all creatures obey. Your live coals seem to me but lovely flowers.”

The judge, highly incensed, exclaimed: “I knew long since that your Christ instructed his followers in magic. I shall, however, pay no attention to it.” The holy martyr rebuked this blasphemy, and as Fabian saw that the heathens began to admire the God of the Christians, he ordered him to be beheaded, thus bestowing upon him the crown of martyrdom.

Saint Susanna, one of the most noble virgins of Rome, and a near relative of the emperor Dioclesian, was educated by her father, Gabinus, and Pope Cajus in the Christian faith from her earliest infancy. As soon as she was old enough to understand the value of chastity, she vowed never to choose another bride-groom than Jesus Christ. It was not unknown to Dioclesian that Gabinus and his brother Cajus were Christians, but being so nearly related to them, he feigned ignorance of the fact. After having chosen’ Maximian Galerius as his colleague and heir to the imperial throne, he intended to give him Susanna in marriage, and thus make her empress. To inform Gabinus of this intention, he sent his sister’s son, Claudius, to him. Gabinus begged for time to consider the proposal, and repaired immediately to Pope Cajus to consult with him. Both informed the chaste Susanna of the emperor’s intention, and asked her how she wished to act in this important affair. “The Christian faith,” replied she, without hesitation, “and virginal chastity possess a higher value for me than a crown. I will not become the spouse of one who is not a Christian; besides, I have promised myself to God, and neither honor, riches, nor any other earthly advantage shall induce me to break my vow.” Cajus and Gabinus were rejoiced at this answer, and encouraged her to constancy, and advised her to prepare herself, by prayer, fasting, and other good works, for a hard struggle, as there was reason to believe that it would cost her life, if she dared to resist the emperor’s will. “And what could be a greater honor to me,” she said, “than to obtain, instead of the crown of the empire, the glorious crown of martyrdom?” Three days later, Claudius returned to Gabinus for the answer. On entering the house, he saw Susanna herself, and approaching her, offered, as a mark of respect, to kiss her hand. But the virgin, filled with holy indignation, withdrew her hand, saying severely: “I have never, from my childhood, allowed any man such a liberty, still less shall I permit you to take it; for, you are an idolater, and your lips are soiled from the sacrifice of which you have partaken.” She then spoke to him so earnestly of her faith, that Claudius, unable to say a word, for some moments stood silently before her; but at last, impressed by her words and manner, and persuaded by an inner voice, he resolved, with his wife and children, to embrace the Christian faith. Another courtier, Maximus, who had followed Claudius to receive Gabinus’ answer, acted in the same manner. The emperor, hearing of it, was enraged, and ordering Claudius, his wife and children, and Maximus, with his family, to be seized, he caused them to be burned alive, while Susanna and her father were cast into a dungeon. A few days later, he released Susanna, and placed her in the charge of Serena, his wife, who was to endeavor to persuade her to become the wife of Maximian. Serena, however, who was secretly a Christian, strengthened Susanna in her resolution, and exhorted her to spurn riches, honors, and the imperial crown, rather than break her promise to God.

At last, Serena imparted Susanna’s unchangeable resolution to the emperor, who, contrary to all expectations, sent her back to her father’s house, leaving it to Maximian to plead his own cause. He stormed her father’s house at night, determined by force to rob her of her most precious treasure. But when he opened the door, he saw her absorbed in prayer, and surrounded by a heavenly light Awed by the sight, he drew back and Went to Dioclesian and related all he had seen. The emperor then commanded Macedonius, an apostate from the faith, either to force her to worship the gods or to kill her. Macedonius, who could prevail upon her neither with promises nor menaces, had Susanna cruelly scourged and then beheaded in her own house. During her martyrdom, she gave thanks to God that He had thought her worthy to suffer and die for His sake.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Tiburtius did not count Torquatus among the Christians, because he did not lead a Christian life. To dress indecently or too luxuriously, not to observe the fasts, to be indifferent to prayer, to idle away time, to associate too freely with the other sex, to hold loose conversations, are not the characteristics of a Christian. Thus did the holy martyr judge. Consider your life, and see that you may be counted among the true Christians, and not among those whom Christ does not recognize as His disciples, and to whom He will one day say: “I know you not.” (Matthew 25) If you find that you resemble Torquatus, reform, or no longer call yourself a Christian. If you are called a Christian and are not one; if you are regarded as a Christian and lead not a Christian life, what does it profit you? “A holy name without holy conduct, avails nothing,” says Saint Salvianus. The holy faith and the holy doctrines of Christianity do not profit you, if you do not regulate your life by them. The very fact of calling yourself a Christian, makes your responsibilities before God so much the greater, and your punishment the heavier if you do not lead a Christian life, but precipitate yourself into sin and vice; for then you belong to those of whom the Apostle writes: “For the name of God is blasphemed through you among the Gentiles.” (Romans 2) Origen explains this as follows: “Not only does he who speaks against God, blaspheme God and cause others to do so, but he who, under the name of Christian, lives a wicked life and causes others to sin, blasphemes the Almighty.” It is unanimously taught by all the Fathers of the church that the iniquities of Christians are much greater, and therefore, far more deserving of punishment than those of the infidels. If we, as Catholic Christians, lead a life of iniquity like the heathen, the sin we commit is much greater than theirs,” says Saint Salvianus. The pious Carthusian, Dionysius, says: “The condemnation of the faithful is much more dreadful than that of the infidel; as our sins are greater in proportion to the graces we receive to avoid them.”

• What examples of virtue are contained in the life of Saint Susanna! She esteemed the true faith so highly, that she refused an imperial crown, fearing to endanger her soul by accepting the hand of a heathen emperor. How wrong those Catholics are who, in the hope of bettering their circumstances, or moved by senseless love, unite themselves with those who are not Catholics, and thus place themselves in danger of losing the true faith for themselves and for their children. Susanna chose to retain her chastity rather than by forfeiting it, to become empress. How unwise are they who exchange this priceless treasure for money or for a short sensual pleasure! Susanna assured Claudius that she had never allowed a man even to kiss her hand. Happy they who can truthfully say the same! Thousands would not now be suffering in hell, if they could have made the same assertion. But as in the beginning, perhaps only through thoughtlessness, they did not refuse a kiss, they were gradually carried so far as to commit the most heinous sins. If you would preserve your chastity, you must not only avoid everything that would disgrace you in the eyes of the world, but everything which may lead you to sin, however slight it may appear to you. Consider this well and take it to heart. Do not believe those who tell you the contrary, for the father of lies speaks through their lips. “If we neglect small faults,” writes Saint Gregory, “we slowly but surely prepare the way to great crimes.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Tiburtius and Saint Susanna, Martyrs”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 1 April 2018. Web. 17 February 2019. <>