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Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity



Faith, Hope and Charity, Saints, the names of two groups of Roman martyrs around whom a considerable amount of legendary lore has gathered; though the extent of sound historical data possessed concerning them is so slight, that until very recent times the most eminent scholars failed to distinguish between them. However, the extent and antiquity of their cult and the universality with which their names are found not only in the various early martyrologies of the Western Church, but also in the Menaia and Menologies of the Greeks, render the fact of their existence and martyrdom unquestionable. Setting aside the purely legendary accounts that have come down to us (see Migne, P.G. CXV, 497; Mombritius, Vitae Sanctorum, II, 204), we find that in the reign of Hadrian, a Roman matron Sophia (Wisdom), with her three youthful daughters, Pistis, Elpis, and Agape (Faith, Hope and Charity), underwent martyrdom for the Faith, and were interred on the Aurelian Way, where their tomb in a crypt beneath the church afterwards erected to St. Pancratius was long a place of resort for pilgrims, as we learn from various indubitable documents of the seventh century, such as an Itinerarium (or guide to the holy places of Rome compiled for the use of pilgrims) still preserved at Salzburg, the list, preserved in the cathedral archives of Monza, of the oils gathered from the tombs of the martyrs and sent to Queen Theodelinda in the time of Gregory the Great, etc.

Later surely than the reign of Hadrian, but at what time is uncertain, another band of martyrs, Sapientia (Wisdom) and her three companions, Spes, Fides and Caritas (Hope, Faith and Charity), suffered death and were buried near the tomb of St. Cecilia in the cemetery of St. Callistus on the Appian Way. Despite the meagreness of these authentic details, the explicit references in the documents cited to a band of martyrs, mother and daughters, whose names are always given in Greek, and who are buried on the Aurelian Way, and to another band of four martyrs, interred on the Via Appia, whose relationship is not indicated and whose names, though the same as those of the martyrs of the Aurelian Way, are yet always given in Latin, certainly point to distinct groups. Nor is the coincidence in names remarkable, seeing that the early Christians so often (according to De Rossi) took in baptism mystical names indicative of Christian virtues, etc. Thus Sophia, Sapientia, Fides and the like are common names in early Christian inscriptions and martyrologies. The Roman martyrology names on 1 Aug., "the holy virgins, Faith, Hope and Charity, who won the crown of martyrdom under the Emperor Hadrian" and, on 30 Sept., "St. Sophia, widow, mother of the holy virgins, Faith, Hope and Charity". In some places, on 1 Aug., St. Sapientia is also venerated; but generally owing to the confusion of the two groups, none of the second group receives special recognition. In the Eastern Church the feast is kept on 17 September.

John F. X. Murphy.








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