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SS. EPIMACHUS AND ALEXANDER, ETC., MARTYRS
From St. Dionysius of Alexandria, in Eusebius, Hist.1. 6, c. 41.
A. D. 250.
WHILE the persecution set on foot by Decius raged with the utmost violence at Alexandria in 250, and the magistrates were very industrious and active in searching for Christians, Alexander and Epimacnus fell into their hands, and upon confessing the name of Jesus Christ, were loaded with chains, committed to prison, and suffered all the hardships of a long and rigorous confinement. Remaining the same after this severe trial of their faith and patience, they were beaten with clubs, their sides were torn with iron hooks, and they consummated their martyrdom by fire. St. Dionysius, archbishop of that city, and an eye-witness of some part of their sufferings, gives us this short account of their sufferings, and also makes mention of four martyrs of the other sex, who were crowned on the same day, and at the same place. Ammonarium, the first of them, a virgin of irreproachable life, endured unheard-of torments without opening her mouth, only to declare that no arts or power should ever prevail with her to let drop the least word to the prejudice of her holy profession. She kept her promise inviolably, and was at length led to execution, being, as it seems, beheaded. The second of these holy women was named Mercuria, a person venerable for her age and virtue; the third was Dionysia, who, though a tender mother of many children, cheerfully commended them to God, and preferred his holy love to all human considerations; the fourth was another Ammonarium. The judge blushing to see himself shamefully baffled and vanquished by the first of these female champions, and observing the like fortitude and resolution in the countenances of the rest, commanded the other three to be beheaded without more ado. They are all commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on this day.
To place the virtue of the Christian martyrs in its true light, we have but to consider it as contrasting the pretended heroism of the greatest sages of paganism. The martyr’s constancy is founded in humility, and its motive is the pure love of God, and perfect fidelity to his holy law. He regards himself as a weak reed; therefore God strengthens him, and by his grace makes him an unshaken pillar. The martyr considers himself as a base sinner, who deserves to suffer the death he is going to endure; he looks upon his martyrdom as the beginning of his penance, not as the consummation of his virtue; and he is persuaded that whatever he can suffer falls short of what he deserves: that it is the highest honor, of which he is infinitely unworthy, to be called to make a sacrifice to God of his life and all that he has received of his bounty, to give so pregnant a testimony of his fidelity and love, to be rendered conformable to Christ, and to die for his sake who, out of infinite mercy and love, laid down his most precious life, and suffered the most cruel torments, and the most outrageous insults and affronts for us: he calls it the greatest happiness to redeem eternal torments by momentary sufferings. Again, the martyr suffers with modesty and tender fortitude; he desires not acclamations, seeks no applause thinks only that God is the spectator of his conflict, and thes the eyes of men, at least unless with a pure view that God may be known and glorified through the testimony which he bears to his law and sovereign goodness and greatness. Lastly, he praises and thanks God amidst his torments; he feels no sentiments of revenge, but tenderly loves, and earnestly prays for the prosperity of those by whose hands or unjust calumnies he suffers the most exquisite and intolerable pain, and is only afflicted at the danger of their eternal perdition. On the other side, the vain and proud philosopher is puffed up in his own mind because he suffers; he sets forth his pretended virtue and constancy with a foolish grovelling ostentation, he conceals his inward spite, rage, and despair under the hypocritical exterior of a forced and affected patience; he insults his enemies, or at least studies and wishes revenge. The boasted Cato dreaded and abhorred the sight of Csar, and killed himself that he might not be presented before, or owe his life to, an enemy by whom he was vanquished. A Christian hero would have appeared before him without cither indignation or fear, and would have overcome him by humility, meekness, patience, and charity. Socrates by the haughtiness of his looks despised and insulted his judges, and by the insolence of his behavior, provoked them to condemn him; whereas the Christian martyr affectionately embraces, loves, and prays for his tormentors, like St. Stephen under a shower of stones, and covered with wounds and blood.