Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – The Seven Holy Machabees, Martyrs

detail from 'The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple' by Raffaello Sanzio, 1511-1512, Stanza di Eliodoro, Palazzi Pontifici, VaticanArticle

Today is the feast of Saint Stephen, pope and martyr. But as his life is so similar to the lives of many other Saints which we have related, we will give his place to the seven holy Machabees, although their feast was yesterday, as their history contains examples of the most heroic virtues.

After king Antiochus, surnamed Epiphanes, had conquered Jerusalem, he massacred many thousand Jews and endeavored to force others to abandon their religion. For instance, he had meats placed before them which their laws forbade, with the command that those who would not eat, should be executed. Many Jews obeyed, for fear of death; but others would rather die than, transgress the divine commandment. Among these were the seven sons of one mother, generally called “the seven Machabees.” When they, and their mother were seized and taken before the king, and refused to obey his commands, they were most cruelly tormented with scourges. The eldest, addressing the tyrant, said: “What would you ask or learn of us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of God received from our fathers.” The tyrant, incensed at this boldness, commanded his executioners to lay him on a large frying-pan made red hot, and let him burn slowly, after having in the presence of his mother and brothers, cut out his tongue, tore the skin from his head, and cut off his hands and feet. The other brothers, not disheartened by this terrible spectacle, exhorted each other to bear up manfully, saying: “The Lord will act justly and comfort us, as Moses says in his canticle: ‘and he will comfort his servants.'” As soon as the first brother breathed his last, they seized the second and asked him if he would not eat the food set before him. “No,” replied he, “I will not do it.” Hardly had the words passed his lips, when they began to torture him. Turning towards the king, he said undauntedly; “Thou indeed, O most wicked king! destroys us out of this present life; but the King of the world will raise us up, who die for His laws, in the resurrection of eternal life.”

The tyrant, not heeding these words, ordered him to die like his brother. After this, the third was brought forward who seemed more eager to die than the king was to torture him. When the executioner commanded him to put out his tongue, he quickly did so, and, at the same time, stretching forth his hands, he said: “These I have from heaven, but for the laws of God, I now despise them; because I hope to receive them again from him;” Although the king and those present were astonished at the noble youth, who regarded the most terrible sufferings as nothing, he still continued to torture all the others. It was now the turn of the fourth, who, suffering the same martyrdom, showed the same fortitude. “It is better” said he “being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by Him”; and turning to the king, he added: “For, as to thee, you shalt have no resurrection unto life.” After his life had gloriously ended, the fifth was tortured like the others, but first addressing the king, he said: “Whereas you hast power among men, though you are corruptible, you dost what thou wilt. But stay patiently a while and you shalt see His great power, in what manner he will torment thee and thy seed.” Not disturbed by these words, after the fifth was dead, the king ordered that the sixth should be killed in the same manner; but he, no less resolved than his brothers to die for the maintenance of the laws of God, in defiance of all danger, addressed the king, “Be not deceived without cause; for we suffer these things for ourselves, having sinned against our God; and things worthy of admiration are done to us: but do not think that you shalt escape unpunished, for that you hast attempted to fight against God.” During the martyrdom of these six heroes, their mother was not only present, but exhorted them, with more than manly fortitude, not to forsake the law’s of God, but rather to suffer the most terrible torments, the most cruel death. She spoke to them especially of the resurrection at which God would restore to them the life which they now despised for the sake of His commandments. How deeply she impressed her six sons, by her encouragement, has already been related. There remained now but one. Antiochus, not wishing to be conquered by him also, spoke to him in the kindest manner, offering him his friendship, even promising, upon oath, to make him rich and happy, if he would forsake the law of his fathers. As he could not persuade the youth, he called the mother and requested her to beg her son to preserve his life. The mother promised to exhort him and kept her word, but not as the tyrant desired “My son,” said she, “have pity upon me, that bore thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee suck three years, and nourished thee and brought thee up to this age. I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth and all that is in them: consider that God made them out of nothing and mankind also: so you shalt not fear this tormentor; but being made a worthy partner with thy brethren, receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee again with thy brethren.” The youth burning to suffer for the love of God, did not allow his mother to say more, but calling to the executioners, cried out: “For whom do you stay? I will not obey the commandment of the king, but the commandment of the law, which was given us by Moses.” After this, turning to the king, he said: “But you that hast been the author of all mischief against the Hebrews, shalt not escape the hand of God. For we suffer thus for our sins. And though the Lord, our God, is angry with us for a little while for our chastisement and correction, yet He will be reconciled again to His servants. But thou, O wicked and of all men most flagitious, be not. lifted up with vain hopes without cause, whilst thou art raging against His servants. For you hast not escaped the judgment of Almighty God, who beholds all things; for, my brethren, having undergone a short pain, are under the covenant of eternal life: but thou, by the judgment of God, shalt receive just punishment for thy pride. But I, like my brethren, offer up my life and my body for the laws of my fathers; calling upon God, to be speedily merciful to our nation, and that thou, by torments and stripes, mayst confess that He alone is God. But in me and in my brethren, the wrath of the Almighty, which has justly been brought upon our nation, shall cease.” The king, greatly incensed, raged against him more cruelly than all the rest, and finally had him beheaded. Thus gloriously fought and died these seven incomparable heroes. The narrative of these events is taken from Holy Writ, which contains the words of the heroes as here given. Of the subsequent history of their mother, whose grand and heroic spirit no one can sufficiently praise, Scripture makes no further clear mention. The Hebrew historian, Josephus, states that the king wreaked his vengeance upon her, by putting her to death with still more cruel torments, as he looked upon her as the cause of her sons’ indomitable firmness, or as he termed it, obduracy. Many holy fathers, as Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose, Saint Chrysostom, Saint Gregory, Saint Cyprian and Saint Leo, extol and praise these martyrs as glorious examples of faithful adherence to the laws of God, and recommend them to all Christians as worthy of imitation.

Practical Considerations

• The history of the seven Machabees and their heroic mother, is one of the most beautiful and instructive ever written, and is well worth reading more than once. Parents are taught by it how to instill into the hearts of their children, obedience to God and avoidance of sin; and children how to live according to their parent’s precepts; while Christians, in general, are instructed by it how to keep the laws of God. The seven holy martyrs rather suffered the most terrible torments and cruel death, than touch the meats which God had forbidden them to use. This same God forbids you, on certain days, the use of certain food. Woe to you, if you allow yourself to be persuaded to partake of it through the bad example of others, or by their taunts and mockery, or from other frivolous excuses. The holy martyrs sustained themselves by the hope of the resurrection and of the recompense which they would one day receive in Heaven. Your body will also rise again. You will receive again all your limbs, either for eternal reward or eternal punishment, as you have used them in the service or to the displeasure of the Almighty. Woe to your tongue, your lips, your eyes, your hands and feet, if you do not use them better than you have done until now. Lastly , all should learn, what their conduct should be. when they are tempted to sin. We must fight and say: “No, I will not do it. I obey, not him who tempts me, but the Lord, my God. I am ready to die rather than transgress the laws of God.” And let those who tempt others to sin, consider well what one of the martyrs said to Antiochus: “Thou shalt not escape the hand of the Lord;” and another: “Wait patiently, and you shalt recognize, in thy punishment, the power of the Almighty.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “The Seven Holy Machabees, Martyrs”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 March 2018. Web. 17 November 2018. <>