St. Gregory Nazianzan
On the Holy Example of the Machabees.
BUT what are the Machabees ? For the present festival is in honour of those saints who are not honoured by many, because their contest was not after Christ but hwo are worthy of being honoured by all because their valour was for the laws of their country and, those who underwent martyrdom before the passion of Christ, what would they not have done had they been persecuted after Christ and were to imitate His death for us? For those who were so great in virtue with out such an example, how should they not have been witnessed more generous in undergoing after the example? And at the same time this appears to me, and to all other lovers of God, a certain mystic and secret, and very credible saying, that none of those who were made perfect before the coming of Christ, obtained this gift with out this gift without faith in Christ. For the Word was Openly preached afterwards in its own season, nevertheless it was previously known to those who were pure of mind, as is manifest from many who had been honoured before His coming.
Therefore those are not to be neglected because they were before the date of the cross but they are trust worthy because they have suffered according to the cross and they are worthy of the honour to be derived from words; not in order that their glory may receive an increase (for what increase e could the glory of those receive from words whose end contains glory itself? ) but in order that those who praise them may be glorified and those who hear may imitate their virtue, being impelled by the recollections of those things as by a goad to the performance of equal things. But being what manner of men, and starting originally whence, and from what training and teaching, those Machabees have advanced to such a degree of virtue and glory as to be honoured by those yearly ceremonies and festivals, and as that a greater glory than what is declared by the things seen, should be excited in the souls of all, the book concerning them will show to those who lover learning and labour; the book I mean which argues that reason is the master of the passions and lord of the propensity to both - I mean virtue and vice. For he made use of other examples not a few, and also of the struggles of those. But to me it will be sufficient to have said so much.
Eleazar is therein the first fruits of those before Christ, as Stephen was of those after, a priest and an elder, aged in hair and aged in wisdom, at an earlier period offering sacrifice and paying for the people, but now coming forward himself a most perfect sacrifice to God, purification of the entire people, a fortunate prelude of the contest and exhortation, at once speaking and Silent, but bring forward in addition his even sons, the fruits of his training, "a living sacrifice, truly pleasing to God.' more brilliant, and purer than any legal sacrifice. For that one should ascribe the virtue of the children to the father is amongst the most legitimate and the justest proceedings. Those generous and great souled children, the noble offspring of a noble mother, zealous champions of the truth,, more sublime than the days of Antiochus, genuine disciples of the law, rigid observers of the customs of their fathers; beings even (which n umber is of the numbers most reverenced by the Hebrews, as being honoured by the mystery of the seven days rest), breathing one thing, looking towards one thing, seeing one way of life, brethren not less in soul than in body, rivals amongst each other for death (O wondrous thing), struggling to be foremost in securing tortures as treasures; fighting in the first rank for the law their teacher, not so much fearing those of the tortures brought as seeking those that remained behind, fearing this one thing, lest the tyrant should desist from torturing, and, lest some of them should depart uncrowned, and should against their will be unyoked from their brethren, and might win the shameful victory, running the risk of not suffering. There was the brave and generous mother loving her children and loving God at the same time, and having her maternal bowels torn beyond the habit of nature. For She did not pity her children's suffer, but She was in agony les they Should not suffer; nor did she so much long after the dead, as she prayed that those left behind might be added to them, and her account was more of these, than of who had already passed from life. For the struggle of these was doubtful, the release of those was certain, and those she had already consigned to God, but she was still in concern that God might take these. O manly soul in a woman's body ! O wonderful and magnanimous gift! O sacrifice equal to that of Abraham ! Even if no great praise can be ventured upon. For he, indeed, freely brings forward one, even though it be his only one, the child who had been born according to the promise, and concerning whom the promise had been made, and what is greater because he stands forward the first fruits and the root, not only of his race, but of all sacrifices of this description; but she sacrifices to God an entire people of children; having excelled both mothers and priests by her victims ready for Slaughter, by her rational holocausts, by her willing sacrifices. She showed them her breasts and reminded them of their nursing; and put forward her gray hairs and advanced her old age as by way of supplication, not seeking their deliverance, but urging them to suffer, and readying delay, not death, as the danger. Whom nothing bent, nothing softened, nothing made less daring, not the racks, stretched forth before her, not the wheels brought forward, not the torchanteres, not the katapeltae, not the points of iron hooks; not the sharpened swords; not her offspring beheld by her; not their limbs torn asunder; not their lacerated flesh not the flowing streams of blood; not their youth which was being consumed; not the present terrors; not the expected sufferings. And what to others is most grievous in such matters, the prolongation of the danger, to her was light; for she revelled in the spectacle. For, not only did the variety of the tortures brought forward cause a delay to their sufferings, all which they contemned as another not have contemned even one torture but also the varied speeches of the persecutor, as he insulted, threatened, or flattered, or set in motion what not, in in order to attain what he hoped for.
And , truly, the answers of the children also to the tyrant are to be mentioned; those answers having so much wisdom and generosity together, that in comparison to their fortitude all the great actions of others collected into one, are small ; and that their fortitude was small compared with the understanding in their words, and with the circumstance that it was theirs alone so to suffer, and to philosophize spiritually in their answers to the threats of the persecutors, and to the terrors held out to them, of whom none were more lost, neither the noble children, nor the nobler mother. But placing herself above all, and mingling inspired passion with the charm of love, she bestows herself as a beautiful shroud upon her children, having followed those who went before. And how this? Of her own accord going forward to dangers, and, with what epitaphs 1 For the words of the children also to the tyrant were noble, and noblest of the noble (for how should it not be so?) wherewith they stood armed, and wherewith they struck the tyrant : but more noble were the words of the mother : both the exhorting words which she spoke first, and the words which she afterwards spoke as an epitaph.
What, then, were the words of the children ? for it is meet to remind you of those also, in order that you may have a type, as of the struggle, so also of the words used by martyrs on such occasions. The words of each, indeed, were different, and were spoken according as the words of the persecutors, or the order of the dangers, or the zeal of each one's soul armed him with them. But in order to take them together in one specimen, they were of this sort.
" To us, indeed, Antiochus, and all ye who stand around, there is one king, namely, God, by whom we were made, and to whom we return ; and one lawgiver, Moses, whom we will not betray nor insult : no, we swear by the danger encountered by the man for virtue's sake, and by his many wonders, not if another Antiochus more cruel than thou should threaten us. But there is one security for us, namely, the keeping his command, and the not breaking the law by which we are fenced in : but there is one glory for us, that, namely, of despising all glory for such things : but there is one wealth, namely, the things which we hope for ; but nothing is dreadful to us save that anything be dreadful before God. With these reasons we are arrayed for fight, and thus are we armed. Unto youths of this kind is the discourse now. Sweet indeed is also this world : sweet is the soil of our country, and our friends, and relations, and companions, and this temple, and its great and renowned name, and our country's festivals, and our mysteries, and all the things in which we seem to differ from other nations ; but they are not so dear as God, and as the danger, which we undergo for honour.
Do not imagine this. For there is for us another world, much more sublime and lasting than this. But our country is the Jerusalem above, to which no Antiochus shall lay siege, nor will it look to be subjected, strong and impregnable as it is : but our kindred is the breathing of life into man, and those who have been born according to virtue : but our friends are the prophets and the patriarchs, with whom also is for us the model of piety : but our companions, those who to-day are undergoing danger along with us, and are our cotemporaries in fortitude. But Heaven is far more magnificent than the temple. But our festival is the choir of angels, and our one great mystery, the greatest of all, and hidden from the multitude, is God, to whom those mysteries also here below refer. Cease, therefore, from promising us small and worthless advantages, for we will not be honoured by things without honour, nor will we gain hurtful things : we will not traffic so miserably. Cease also from threatening, or we shall threaten in our turn, to convict thy weakness : and for this purpose we shall threaten thee with our punishments. For we also have a fire by which we punish persecutors. Dost thou think that thy struggle is with nations and cities, or with the most cowardly of kings, of whom some will conquer, and others in like manner be defeated ? For neither do they encounter danger about such matters as we do. Thou art in arms against the law of God, against the tables graven by God, against national rites, honoured by reason and by time, against seven brethren bound together with one soul, who are about to inscribe thy name upon seven trophies of thy infamy, to prevail over whom would be nothing great, and to be conquered by whom is altogether disgraceful.
We are the sons and the disciples of those whom a pillar of fire and of a cloud led upon their way, for whom the sea divided and the river stood, and the sun was interrupted in his course and bread rained, and the stretching out of hands routed many, having defeated them through prayer ; by whom wild beasts were worsted, and whom fire did not touch, and from whom kings departed admiring their nobleness. And we shall tell thee something of the things familiar to thyself. We are the disciples of Eleazar, whose courage you know. Our father underwent the struggle before us : his children will undergo the struggle after him. Thou hast sought to terrify us in many things : we have prepared ourselves for more. What wilt thou do to us with thy threats, insolent man ? What shall we suffer ? Nothing can be stronger than those who are prepared to suffer all things. Executioners, why do you delay ? Why do you put off? Why do YOU await a clement order ? Where are the swords, where the chains ? I require speed ! Let more fire be kindled. Let more active beasts be brought forward, let more elaborate tortures he produced; let all things be royal and splendid. I am the firstborn: sacrifice me first. I am the last ; let the order be changed.
Let some one of the intermediate brothers be amongst the first, in order that they may be honoured by equality of lot. Dost thou forbear ? Dost thou expect, perchance, something contrary to what I have said ? Again and oftentimes will we speak the same word for thee : we will not eat unclean meats, we will not give in. Thou wilt sooner adore our mysteries, than we will yield to thy rites. To speak in one word, either invent newer punishments, or know that thy actual punishments are despised by us".
These things indeed they spake to the tyrant ; but the things which they said by way of exhortation to each other, and the things which they afforded to be seen, how beautiful and sacred were they not, and sweet to the lover of God beyond any other spectacle, or aught that may be heard? I, indeed, remembering them, am myself filled with sweetness, and am in spirit with them in their struggle, and glory in this narrative of their history. They embraced and kissed each other, and it was as it were a festival to men who had already come to the end of their struggles. " Let us go, brethren, to meet the dangers", they cried ; " let us go, let us hasten, whilst the tyrant still boils with rage against us, lest he may be in any degree softened, and we may lose our salvation.
The complete banquet lies before us, let us not be left behind. It is a beautiful thing when brethren dwell together, and feast together, and embrace each other, but it is more beautiful when together they encounter danger for virtue. If it were possible, we should with our bodies have struggled for, our national laws : for this death also is amongst those deserving of praise.
But since the present is not the time for this, let us bring forward our bodies themselves. For what is the case ? Even suppose we do not die now, are we not to die at all? Shall we not pay the service due to our birth ? Let us make necessity into zeal. Let us deceive our dissolution. Let not any one of us be a lover of life, or cowardly. Let the tyrant, dealing with us, despair of the others. He himself will assign their order to our trials ; but it is we who will put an end to the persecutions. Let us not differ about this in the fervour of our eagerness ; and let the first be a path to the others, and let the last be a seal of the straggle. But let this be a fixed determination for us all alike, that we be crowned universally, and that the persecutor take no portion from our merit, nor swelling in wickedness, may glory in one conquered, as if he had conquered all. Let us appear brethren both in birth and in death ; let us all seek danger as one, and let each one meet it on behalf of all. Receive us, Eleazar : accompany us, mother : Jerusalem, bury thy children magnificently, if anything of us be left to thee for burial. Relate our sufferings, and show to those coming after, and to those who love thee, the blessed burying-place of the children of one womb". But those indeed having said and done those things, and having aliened each other like the teeth of wild boars, persevered each one in the order of his age and in the equality of his eagerness.
They were a delight and a wonder to those of their own tribe ; a fear and astonishment to the persecutors ; who, having gone to war against the entire nation, were so easily overcome by the
concord of seven brothers struggling for piety, that they had no encouraging hope concerning the others.
But the noble mother, truly the mother of children such as these, of children such and so great in virtue, that great and magnanimous nurseling of the law for a time was blended of joy
and fear, and was upon the boundary line of two feelings. She was in joy on account of the courage of her sons, and of the things which she saw ; she was in fear on account of the delay,
and the extreme character of the sufferings, and as a bird acts when a serpent or any of the insidious enemies creeps in, she flew around her young, she screamed around them, she supplicated, she struggled along with them, doing and saying what not of those things, exhorting them to virtue. She caught up the drops of blood, she received the fragments of the limbs, she venerated their remains. She gathered up this, she held out that, she prepared the other, she called out to all, " Well done, my children, well done, my brave ones, almost bodiless in bodies ; well done, ye champions of the law, and of my gray hairs, and of the city which has reared you and led you forward to this virtue : a little yet, and we have conquered. Are the torturers tired?
This is the only thing I fear : a little yet, and I shall be blessed amongst mothers, and you shall be blessed amongst youths. But do you long for your mother ? I shall not be left behind you, that I promise you. I do not so hate my children". But when she saw that they were dead, and she now had security, by reason of the completion of their martyrdom, then, having raised her head very joyfully, like one conquering in the Olympic games, with sublime spirit, and, having stretched out her hands, she says, "I return thanks to Thee, Holy Father, and to thee, law, my instructress, and to thee Eleazar, our father, and who hast gone before thy children in the struggle, because you have received the fruit of my throes, and because I have become a mother sacred above all mothers. I have left nothing to the world ; I have handed over all to God, ray entire treasure, the hopes that cherished my old age. How magnificently have I not been honoured! how exceedingly has not my old age been cherished ! I have the rewards of your nurture, my children, I have seen you struggling for virtue, I have beheld you all crowned. I look upon the torturers as benefactors ; and I almost give thanks to the tyrant for the order of our offerings, because he has reserved me last for the danger, in order that, having first looked on at my own offspring, and, having struggled in each one of my own children, I may thus, with complete security, follow those perfect victims.
I will not tear my hair, I will not rend my garments, I will not scratch my flesh with my nails, I will not excite lamentation, I will not call fellow-mourners, I will not shut myself up in darkness, in order that the air may lament along with me ; I will not expect consolers; I will not set out the bread of grief; for those are the demonstrations of ignoble mothers, who are mothers only according to the flesh, whose children depart without any distinguished commendation. But ye, most beloved of children, have not died for me, but you have been gathered to God ; you have not departed, but you have passed elsewhere ; you have not been
torn, but fixed together. No wild beast has torn you ; the wave has not drowned you ; no robber has destroyed you ; no sickness has wrought your dissolution ; war has not carried you off; nor any other of mortal occurrences, small or great. I should have lamented, and very vehemently, if any of those things had happened to you. I should have then appeared a lover of my children by my tears, as now I appear so by my not weeping. But those mischances are yet small things. I should have bewailed you if you had been disgracefully saved, if you had been conquered by the torturers, if the persecutors had conquered any of you as they have now been conquered. But the things that have happened now are the source of praise, joy, glory, festivity, and brilliancy to those left behind. For I am poured out after you. We shall be ranked with Phineas, we shall be glorified with Anne, unless so far as he was but one, whereas you are such numerous slayers of harlots, having to-day pierced not the harlotry of the body, but that of the soul ; and he indeed sacrificed but one gift to God, and that one lately born, whereas I have sacrificed seven men and those, willing men, to God. And Jeremiah also has filled up for me their epitaph, not lamenting, but praising this holy end. "You have been brighter than snow; you were curdled beyond milk ; your assembly is beautiful beyond the sapphire". The assembly of you, begotten to God and offered to God. What more remains? Add me, tyrant, to my children, if there be any favour amongst enemies, in order that the conflict may be more illustrious for thee. And may it be granted me to pass through all those sufferings, in order that I may mingle my juices with their juices, and my old flesh with their flesh (I love the very punishments for my children's sake).
But if this be not so, consign my dust to their dust, and let one tomb receive us. Do not grudge an equally honourable end to those who have been of equal honour in their virtue. " Farewell, ye mothers, farewell, ye children. Let you, the former, so rear those coming from you : and be ye, the latter, so reared. We have given you a noble example. So struggle". She said those things, and added herself to her children. After what manner ? Running to the pile (for to this was she sentenced) as a bride to the bridal-chamber, not awaiting those who were to take her thither, in order that nothing impure might touch her pure and noble body. Thus did Eleazar exercise his priesthood.
Eleazar, who had learned and had taught Heavenly things, and having sanctified Israel, not by a sprinkling from without, but by his own blood, and having made his end the final mystery celebrated by him. Thus did the children exercise their youth, not having been slaves to pleasures, but ruling over their passions and purifying their bodies, and being transferred to a life free from passion. Thus did the mother enjoy her fruitfulness.
Thus was she proud of them while living, and ended her life along with them, departing, having given over to God those whom she had begotten to the world, and having reckoned by her conflicts the number of her throes in child-birth, and marked the course of births by the deaths of her offspring. For, from the first to the last of her children, they all underwent the struggle ; and one after the other, as in the succession of the waves, exhibited his virtue, and was more eager for suffering, having been strengthened by the sufferings of him who had preceded him, so that the tyrant was well pleased that she had not been the mother of more such sons : for he rather went away turned to shame and defeated ; and then he learned for the first time, that he was not able to accomplish all things by arms, since he had attacked unarmed boys, or rather boys armed with one thing, piety, and more willing to suffer all things than to do what he commanded them. This deed of theirs was more firm and more noble than the sacrifice of Jephthe. For the heat of the promise, and the desire of the despaired-of victory, did not make, as there, the gift compulsory, but the sacrifice was a willing one, and had only the things hoped for as a reward. This was not less honourable than the struggle of Daniel, who had been given as food to the lions, and who had overcome the lions by the stretching out of his hands. This was not second to the great act of the youths in Assyria, whom an angel refreshed in the fire, not having broken the law of their fathers, nor having taken into their mouths profane and unholy food. This is not inferior in zeal to those victims who afterwards suffered for Christ. For those, indeed (a thing which I said beginning my discourse), followed the blood of Christ, and God was the leader of such struggles, God who had imparted so great and incredible a gift upon our behalf: but to those there were not many, nor such like example. All Judea, indeed, marvelled at the fortitude of those, and exulted and stood erect as if she had herself been crowned. For, this contest was the greatest of all the contests at any time surrounding the city, namely, whether the law should be overturned on that day or be glorified; and the consequences of that struggle were standing, as it were, upon the edge of a razor for the whole Jewish race. But Antiochus himself admired, having changed his threats into wonder. For, even enemies know how to admire virtue, when, their passion being appeased, the action is estimated according to itself. So that he also went away, having done nothing, and having also greatly praised his father, Seleucus, for the honour which he had done to the nation, and for his munificence towards the temple, and having greatly blamed Simon, who had led him on, as the cause of his cruelty and of his disgrace. Let us all, priests, mothers, and children, honour those. The first indeed in honour of Eleazar, their spiritual father, who has given them the best example in word and work; but mothers, in honour of that generous mother, being first lovers of their children, and offering to Christ those "ho have come from them, in order that marriage may be sanctified by such a sacrifice ; but the children, reverencing the children of the priest, and spending their youth not in shameful passions, but in struggles against the passions, and fighting bravely against the Antiochus of our day, who wages war upon all our members, and persecutes us in various ways. For I desire to have combatants for every time and manner, and of every kind and every age, whether openly attacked or secretly plotted against, and that they should be assisted as well by the old narratives as by the new, and that like bees they should collect all things profitable for the formation and the sweetening of one honey-comb, in order that, through both the Old and the New Testaments, God, who is glorified in the Son and in the Spirit, may be glorified in us, knowing His own, and being known by His own, confessed and confessing, glorified and glorifying in Christ Himself, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.