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Saint Sebastian

Victories of the Martyrs


Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church


Chapter LXII


SS. Sebastian, Officer; and the Two Brothers, Marcus and Marcellianus


This saint was born of Christian parents, who dwelt at Narbonne, in Languedoc, but were natives of Milan.  St. Ambrose (Acta S. Sebast. apud Boll.) relates that, by reason of his extraordinary talents and exemplary conduct, our saint was much be loved by Diocletian, who appointed him captain of the first company of his guards. Sebastian employed the emoluments of his station in the relief of the poor; he was indefatigable in assisting his brother Christians, and particularly those who languished in prison, whom he not only relieved with alms, but encouraged to suffer for Jesus Christ. He was consequently considered the main prop of the persecuted faithful. 


At this time it happened that the two brothers, Marcus and Marcellianus, Roman knights, who had suffered tortures with considerable constancy, were being led to death, when their father, Tarquillinus, and their mother, Marcia, accompanied by the wives and children of the two confessors, obtained from the judge, Cromatius, by tears and entreaties, that the sentence should be deferred for thirty days. It is easy to imagine what wailings and entreaties were used by their relatives during the respite in order to induce the two brothers to prevaricate; indeed, they were so importunate and unceasing, that they who had already confessed the faith began now to vacillate. But Sebastian, knowing them, ran instantly to their assistance, and God s blessing so accompanied his words, that he induced them to receive with joy a most cruel death; for they were obliged to hang nailed by the feet to a gallows for a day and a night before they were transfixed with a lance. Nor was this all: the zealous captain likewise converted to the faith not only all the above-named relatives of Marcus and Marcellianus, but also Nicostratus, an officer of Cromatius, Claudius, the provost of the prison, and sixty-four prisoners, who were idolaters.


But the most remarkable conversion was that of Cromatius himself, who, hearing that Tarquillinus had embraced the faith, sent for him and said: “Hast thou then turned mad in the last days of thy life ?” The good old man replied: “On the contrary, by embracing the Christian faith I have become wise, for it is wisdom to prefer an everlasting life to the few wretched days that await me in this world.” He then persuaded him to have an interview with St. Sebastian, who quickly persuaded him of the truth of the Christian religion; and Cromatius, having received baptism, with his entire family, and one thousand four hundred slaves, to whom he granted their freedom, renounced his office, and retired to his country house.


Fabian, the successor of Cromatius, having learned that Sebastian not only exhorted the Christians to remain steadfast in the faith, but procured also the conversion of the pagans, reported the fact to the emperor, who sent for our saint, and upbraided him with the crime of perverting his subjects. Sebastian answered that he considered he was rendering the greatest possible service to the emperor, since the state benefited by having Christian subjects, whose fidelity to their sovereign is proportionate to their devotedness to Jesus Christ. The emperor, enraged at this reply, ordered that the saint should be instantly tied to a post, and that a body of archers should discharge their arrows upon him. The sentence was immediately executed, and Sebastian was. left for dead; but a holy widow, named Irene, went at night to bury him, and finding him yet alive, brought him to her house, where he recovered. After this the saint went to the emperor, and said to him: “How long, O Prince, wilt thou believe the calumnies that have been spread against the Christians? I have returned to tell thee again that thou hast not in the empire subjects more faithful than the Christians, who by their prayers obtain for thee all thy prosperity.”


Diocletian, surprised to see the saint still living, exclaimed:  “How is it that thou art yet alive?”  Sebastian answered:  “The Lord has been pleased to preserve my life that I might admonish thee of thy impiety in persecuting the Christians.”


The emperor, irritated at the admonition, ordered that the saint should be scourged to death. This sentence being executed, he expired on the 20th January, about the year 228.


The pagans threw the body of the martyr into a marsh, but a holy lady named Lucina caused it to be taken thence, and buried it at the entrance of a cemetery which is now called the “Catacombs of St. Sebastian.”


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