Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – The Seven Brothers, Martyrs, Sons of Saint Felicitas

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Martyrdom of Saint Felicitas of Rome and the Seven Holy Brothers, by Jan Luyken, 17th century; swiped from WikipediaThe names of the seven brothers whose martyrdom is commemorated today, are: Januarius, Felix, Philip, Sylvan, Alexander, Vitalis and Martialis. Their mother was Saint Felicitas, a matron greatly renowned in Rome, not only on account of her noble birth, but still more for her edifying life. After her husbands death, she laid aside all worldly magnificence and vowed to live in perfect chastity for the remainder of her life. The education of her sons was her greatest care, and as at that period, the Christians were most cruelly persecuted, she directed all her exhortations and instructions in such a manner, that she might impress deeply into their hearts constancy to the true Faith, contempt of temporal happiness, and even of life itself, and, at the same time, a high estimation of eternal happiness and a great desire to obtain it. She frequently spoke to them of the torments of the Christian martyrs in and out of Rome, and the great glories which therefore had been prepared for them in heaven; of the happiness of suffering or dying for Christ’s sake. “How happy should I be,” said she, “if I should, one day, see you give your blood and life willingly out of love for Christ! How happy would you yourselves be for all eternity!” By these and similar words she awakened in the hearts of her sons a fervent desire to suffer and die for the faith of Christ. They spoke of nothing more frequently than of martyrdom, and declared to each other how they would despise all flatteries and caresses’ all honors and riches of the world, and how gladly they would suffer pains and tortures. The pious mother listened with great inward joy to these words, and prayed daily to the Almighty to receive her children as an agreeable sacrifice.

God accepted her prayer. The idolatrous priests had observed that many were converted to the Christian faith by the edifying example of Saint Felicitas and her sons. Hence they went to the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, representing that the wrath of the gods rested on Rome because Felicitas, one of the most noble matrons, dared to alienate the inhabitants of the city from their worship; hence she ought to be compelled to offer a public sacrifice to the gods in order to appease them. The Emperor forthwith ordered Publius, the Prefect of the city, to attend to the request of the priests, and see that what they desired should be done. Publius, who greatly esteemed the Saint on account of her high birth and many noble qualities, sent for her, and, informing her of the Imperial command, entreated her to comply. He endeavored to persuade her by flatteries and promises, and at last, finding them of no avail, he proceeded to the most frightful menaces. But the Christian heroine said, fearlessly: “Thy menaces have no more power over me than thy flatteries. Neither I nor my sons will ever forsake the true Faith.” “In that case,” replied Publius, “you prepare your own ruin. But if you do not care for your own life, why should you become the murderess of your children? Consider, at least, their welfare and lives.” “My children,” said Felicitas, “will live in eternal happiness if they die for Christ’s sake: should they, however, sacrifice to your gods, who are only devils, everlasting death will be their lot.” Publius would say nothing further on that day, but dismissed her with the injunction to consider the matter well. The pious mother told her sons what had happened and spent the night with them in prayer, as she was convinced that they would suffer martyrdom.

On the following day, Publius repaired to the Place of Mars, and taking his seat as Judge, had Felicitas and her seven sons brought before him. All appeared cheerful, encouraging each other to bear bravely the approaching tortures. Publius, addressing the mother, said: “I presume that you have already changed your mind; bat if not, look upon your children and take pity on them. In your power lies all their future happiness.” After this he turned to the children and said: “Come, my dear children, I will procure you the happiest lot upon earth, if you are obedient to the emperor; but I am compelled to treat you most cruelly, should you oppose his commands.” “Say rather,” exclaimed Felicitas, solemnly addressing the Prefect, “that thou wilt be the cause of their eternal ruin with thy treacherous happiness.” Then, turning towards her children, she encouraged them to constancy, like the heroic mother of the Maccabees, and said: “My beloved sons, look not upon the tyrant, but raise your eyes to heaven, and behold your God and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He expects you, to place on your heads the crown of glory. As He has given His blood for your salvation, may you likewise give yours to His honor. Do not regard the torments with which you are menaced here below, but consider the joys which God promises you in heaven. Fight bravely, be not faint-hearted, but continue faithful in your love to Christ.” Publius, furious that Felicitas dared in his presence to incite her children to disobey the imperial command, ordered her to be buffeted most barbarously. Then, calling the children to him one after another, he endeavored to win them with alternate promises and menaces. To the first he said: “Be wise, my son, obey the command of the emperor; if not, I shall have you scourged till you are dead.” “My mother,” said Januarius, “has spoken wisely, and I should act foolishly if I preferred the emperor’s command to God’s command. I do not fear scourging. My God will aid me that I may remain faithful, even unto death.” Enraged at this dauntless answer, Publius ordered him to be scourged and cast into a dungeon. The same was done to the second, third, fourth, and fifth, as their answers breathed the same spirit as that of their brother. He then left nothing untried to induce at least the two youngest, Vitalis and Martialis, to forsake Christ, but found that they were not less brave and constant than the others. Vitalis said: “I am ready rather to give my life than sacrifice to the devils, your gods.” Martialis, the youngest, fearing that they might spare him on account of his tender age, cried aloud: “I too am a Christian, like my brothers. I despise the idols as they do, and if their lives are taken, mine must be taken also.” Publius, astonished at such unprecedented heroism, reported the whole proceedings to the emperor, who gave orders that they should all be executed.

Beyond description was the joy of the seven Christian heroes when their death was announced to them. They hastened to the place of execution with greater eagerness than others to a cheerful entertainment, and lost, during their martyrdom, neither their courage nor their joy. Each encouraged the other, until all had gone to heaven. Januarius was scourged with loaded whips until he expired; Felix and Philip were beaten to death with clubs; Sylvanus was thrown down a precipice; Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis received the crown of martyrdom by being executed with the sword. Felicitas, the pious mother, was present at the dreadful martyrdom of her sons, but, like the above-mentioned mother of the Maccabees, she continued to encourage them until the last had expired. After this, she was brought back to prison, where she suffered four months longer, when at last she was beheaded, and thus rejoined her seven sons in heaven. Her festival is therefore commemorated on the 23d day of November. This glorious martyrdom took place in the 171st year of the Christian Era.

Practical Considerations

1. How happy a Mother was Saint Felicitas who gave to heaven as many martyrs as she had sons! Her careful instructions in the true faith, her exhortations highly to venerate it, her encouragement to endure suffering, and torments, her pious discourses of the great reward which the martyrs receive in heaven, made her children holy, and opened the gates of heaven to them. If she had lived and spoken as many mothers do at the present time, she would surely have brought up more than one to eternal misery.

Christian Parents! on your conduct, on your instructions, on your discourses, depends mostly the salvation or the damnation of your children. If they see that your conduct is not according to the laws of God and the Church, if they hear from your mouth nothing but lies, slander, unchaste or blasphemous words, if you speak to them more of dresses, dancing, gambling, theatres and other worldly pleasures, than of God and of virtue; how shall they become acquainted with the true spirit of Christianity, how shall they learn how to save their souls? Oh! be watchful of your conduct and your discourse, if you wish to bring up your children as servants of the Most High, as future inhabitants of heaven.

2. How happy were the sons who possessed so holy a mother! But what would have availed their mother’s sanctity to them, if they had not followed her admonitions and commands?

Christian children! if God has blessed you with parents who are solicitous for your salvation, give thanks to Him. Pray for them, and receive their instructions and reproofs willingly and obediently, that one day, you may rejoice with them for all eternity in heaven. The seven holy martyrs rejoice now with their mother in heaven, and doubtless give her ceaseless thanks for the careful instruction she imparted to them; while she is not less happy that they followed her advice

How many children may there be in hell who ceaselessly curse their parents for having allowed them too- much liberty, for not having punished their faults, for not having kept them in the right path, or who even misled them to do evil by their discourse and example, and thus became the cause of their eternal ruin. Likewise there are parents who curse the disobedience, wickedness, and obstinacy of their children. If you, father or mother, desire not to be counted among these unhappy ones, follow the example of Saint Felicitas and remember the admonition of the Holy Ghost: “Instruct thy son,” by word and example “and he shall refresh thee, and shall give delight to thy soul. “(Proverbs 29) And again: “Hast thou children? Instruct them, and bow down their neck from their youth.” (Eccl. 7) And you, my child, if you will not suffer during all eternity in hell, be obedient to the command of God, which is as follows: “My son – my daughter – hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.” (Proverbs 1)

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “The Seven Brothers, Martyrs, Sons of Saint Felicitas”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 14 March 2018. Web. 11 December 2018. <>