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SS. BONOSUS AND MAXIMILIAN, MM.
From their genuine Acts in Ruinart. See Tillemont, t. 7; Ceilier, t. 4, p. 552.
A. D. 363.
THE emperor Julian the Apostate commanded the cross and name of Jesus Christ, which Constantine had placed in the Labarum or chief standard of the army, to be struck out, and had the standards reduced to the ancient form used under the pagan emperors, on which the images of false gods were represented. The apostate emperor had created Julian, who was his uncle by the mother’s side, and was an apostate from the Christian faith like himself, count or governor of the East; and he became a more barbarous persecutor of the Christians than his nephew himself. There were in the troops called the Old Herculians, two officers of distinguished virtue and zealous Christians, named Bonosus and Maximilian, who refused to change their standards; for each legion had a Labarum for its principal ensign. Count Julian sternly commanded them to give their troops the new ensigns, and to adore the same gods which he and the emperor worshipped. Bonosus answered, “We cannot adore gods which have been made by the hands of men.” The count ordered him to be tied up, and above three hundred lashes to be given him with leathern thongs, loaded at the ends with balls of lead. Under this torment Bonosus only smiled, and made no answer to his questions. The count afterward caused Maximilian to approach, who said, “Let your gods first hear and speak to you, and then we will adore them; for you know that we Christians are forbidden to worship deaf and dumb idols.” Julian caused them both to be stretched on the rack, and when a crier had called them each by their name, the count said to them, “You now lie on the rack, and are on the point of being tormented. Obey: exchange the representation of the cross on your standard for the images of the immortal gods.” They answered, “We cannot obey the emperor in these matters, because we have before our eyes the invisible immortal God, in whom we place our confidence.” Julian ordered them to be beaten with balls of lead three several times, and said to the executioners, “Exert your utmost strength, give them no respite.” But the martyrs felt not the least pain. Julian then commanded them to be plunged into boiling pitch; by which they receiving no hurt, both Jews and pagans cried out that they were magicians. Count Julian ordered them back to prison, and sent them bread sealed with his own signet, on which was probably engraved the figure of some idol; for they would not eat of it. Prince Hormisdas, brother to Sapor king of Persia (who having left his own country had embraced the faith, and had spent the better part of his days in the courts of Constantine and Constantius), paid them a visit in prison, and finding them in perfect health and very cheerful, recommended himself to their prayers. The count threatened the martyrs in a second and a third interrogatory. But they answered him they were Christians, and were determined to continue such. They added, that Constantine, near the end of his life, had made them take an oath to be faithful to his children and to the Church, a promise they would inviolably observe. The count was for having them tormented; but Secundus, prefect of the East (whom, though a pagan, St. Gregory Nazianzen commends for his probity and mildness,1 and who sat with him on the bench), refused absolutely to hear of it. Whereupon Julian, without more ado, condemned them and several other Christian prisoners to be beheaded. St. Meletius, patriarch of Antioch, and several other bishops, attended them to the place of their martyrdom, which they suffered with incredible joy.
Count Julian was very soon after seized with a terrible disease in his bowels and the adjacent parts of his body, whereby they putrified and bred such an incredible quantity of worms, that it was impossible to destroy them. The physicians tried all sorts of remedies; several rare birds were procured at a great expense, which, being killed, the blood of them was applied to the parts affected, in order to draw out the worms; but they, crawling higher into the bowels, and into the most sensible and tender parts of the body, only rendered his pains the more intolerable, whilst he voided his excrements at his mouth. His wife, who continued a zealous Christian, said to him, “You ought to give thanks to Christ our Saviour, for having by this chastisement made you sensible of his power; you would not have known who he is to whom you have declared yourself an enemy, had he shown his usual forbearance.” Count Julian, in this extremity, repented of his persecutions, bade his wife run to the churches of the Christians, and beg them to pray for him; and he besought the emperor to restore to the Christians their churches; but his entreaties were not regarded. He, however, in his last moments invoked, like Antiochus, the true God, protesting aloud that he had no hope but in his mercy; and in this miserable condition he expired.2 Nor did the emperor himself reign long unpunished.
The death of a sinner is the most dreadful of all evils.3 His mirth and jollities are then all come to their fatal period, and his eyes are taking an everlasting leave of all the fond objects of his passions. This horrible divorce and separation makes him shudder in most bitter anguish and grief,4 whilst he beholds himself violently torn from all he possesses and enjoys, and from his very body. The pagan philosopher considered this only when he defined death the king of terrors, and of all terrible things that which is the most dreadful; but what is more alarming than all this separation is, that all his former notions of things are overturned in this awful moment, and an entire new scene is opened to him. His conscience is a confused chaos, a thousand perplexing thoughts disturb him, and his habits of spiritual sloth grow stronger than ever. He sees that riches and honors, which he so eagerly pursued, were mere illusion; that his pleasures were dreams and shadows, which passed in a moment, but left a cruel sting behind them; the treacherous world forsakes him in the day of his distress; and the prospect of the abyss of eternity into which he is stepping, fills his mind with alarms and dread which no tongue can express. If he dies insensible, his situation is but the more desperate and unhappy. For, alas! in the moment in which the miserable soul leaves the body, no tongue can express her horrible calamity. We ought to invite heaven and earth to weep over her; or rather adore God, who is terrible in his justice, and stop our tears which can no longer avail such a soul. She is from this moment eternally and irretrievably lost. She is abandoned by God and his angels, and given over a prey to merciless devils, who insultingly cry out,—Let men on earth crown the carcass with pomp, epitaphs, monuments, and panegyrics, whilst it is made a feast for worms and maggots; and the soul is our victim, as the body also will one day be. How happy were the martyrs, who, by their torments purchased themselves joy, secure peace, and eternal glory at their death!