TO THE MARTYRS
Blessed martyrs elect, along with the nourishment for the body which our
Lady Mother the Church from her breast, as well as individual brethren from
their private resources, furnish you in prison, accept also from me some
offering that will contribute to the sustenance of the spirit. For it is
not good that the flesh be feasted while the spirit goes hungry. Indeed, if
care is bestowed on that which is weak, there is all the more reason not to
neglect that which is still weaker.
(2) Not that I am specially entitled to exhort you. Yet, even the most
accomplished gladiators are spurred on not only by their trainers and
managers but also from afar by people inexperienced in this art and by all
who choose, without the slightest need for it, with the result that hints
issuing from the crowd have often proved profitable for them
(3) In the first place, then, O blessed, 'do not grieve the Holy Spirit who
has entered prison with you. For, if He had not accompanied you there in
your present trial, you would not be there today. See to it, therefore,
that He remain with you there and so lead you out of that place to the
(4) Indeed, the prison is the Devil's house too, where he keeps his
household. But you have come to the prison for the very purpose of
trampling upon him right in his own house. For you have engaged him in
battle already outside the prison and trampled him underfoot.
(5) Let him, therefore, not say: 'Now that they are in my domain, I will
tempt them with base hatreds, with defections or dissensions among
themselves.' Let him flee from your presence, and let him, coiled and numb,
like a snake that is driven out by charms or smoke, hide away in the depths
of his den. Do not allow him the good fortune in his own kingdom of setting
you against one another, but let him find you fortified by the arms of
peace among yourselves, because peace among yourselves means war with him.
(6) Some, not able to find this peace in the Church, are accustomed to seek
it from the martyrs in prison. For this reason, too, then, you ought to
possess, cherish and preserve it among yourselves that you may perhaps be
able to bestow it upon others also.
(1) Other attachments, equally burdensome to the spirit, may have
accompanied you to the prison gate; so far your relatives, too, may have
escorted you. From that very moment on you have been separated from the
very world. How much more, then, from its spirit and its ways and doings?
Nor let this separation from the world trouble you. For, if we reflect that
it is the very world that is more truly a prison, we shall realize that you
have left a prison rather than entered one.
(2) The world holds the greater darkness, blinding men's hearts. The world
puts on the heavier chains, fettering the very souls of men. The world
breathes forth the fouler impurities--human lusts.
(3) Finally, the world contains the larger number of criminals, namely, the
entire human race. In fact, it awaits sentence not from the proconsul but
(4) Wherefore, O blessed consider yourselves as having been transferred
from prison to what we may call a place of safety. Darkness is there, but
you are light; fetters are there, but you are free before God. It breathes
forth a foul smell, but you are an odor of sweetness. There the judge is
expected at every moment, but you are going to pass sentence upon the
(5) There sadness may come upon the man who sighs for the pleasures of the
world The Christian, however even when he is outside the prison, has
renounced the world and, when in prison, even prison itself. It does not
matter what part of the world you are in, you who are apart from the world.
(6) And if you have missed some of the enjoyments o life, remember that it
is the way of business to suffer one losses in order to make larger
I say nothing yet about the reward to which God invites the martyrs.
Meanwhile, let us compare the life in the world with that in prison to see
if the spirit does not gain more in prison than the flesh loses there.
(7) In fact, owing to the solicitude of the Church and the charity of the
brethren, the flesh does not miss there what it ought to have, while, in
addition, the spirit obtains what is always beneficial to the faith: you do
not look at strange gods; you do not chance upon their images; you do not,
even by mere physical contact, participate in heathen holidays; you are not
plagued by the foul fumes of the sacrificial banquets, not tormented by the
noise of the spectacles, nor by the atrocity or frenzy or shamelessness of
those taking part in the celebrations; your eyes do not fall on houses of
lewdness; you are free from inducements to sin, from temptations, from
unholy reminiscences, free, indeed, even from persecution.
(8) The prison now offers to the Christian what the desert once gave to the
Prophets. Our Lord Himself quite often spent time in solitude to pray there
more freely, to be there away from the world. In fact, it was in a secluded
place that He manifested His glory to His disciples. Let us drop the name
'prison' and call it a place of seclusion.
(9) Though the body is confined, though the flesh is detained, there is
nothing that is not open to the spirit. In spirit wander about, in spirit
take a walk, setting before yourselves not shady promenades and long
porticoes but that path which leads to God. As often as you walk that path,
you will not be in prison.
(10) The leg does not feel the fetter when the spirit is in heaven. The
spirit carries about the whole man and brings him wherever he wishes. And
where your heart is, there will your treasure be also. There, then, let our
heart be where we would have our treasure.
(1) Granted now, O blessed, that even to Christians the prison is
unpleasant--yet, we were called to the service in the army of the living
God in the very moment when we gave response to the words of the
sacramental oath. No soldier goes out to war encumbered with luxuries, nor
does he march to the line of battle from the sleeping chamber, but from
light and cramped tents where every kind of austerity, discomfort, and
inconvenience is experienced.
(2) Even in time of peace soldiers are toughened to warfare by toils and
hardships: by marching in arms, by practicing swift maneuvers in the field,
by digging a trench, by joining closely together to form a tortoise-shield.
Everything is set in sweating toil, lest bodies and minds be frightened at
having to pass from shade to sunshine, from sunshine to icy cold, from the
tunic to the breastplate, from hushed silence to the warcry, from rest to
the din of battle.
(3) In like manner, O blessed, consider whatever is hard in your present
situation as an exercise of your powers of mind and body. You are about to
enter a noble contest in which the living God acts the part of
superintendent and the Holy Spirit is your trainer, a contest whose crown
is eternity, whose prize is angelic nature, citizenship in heaven and glory
for ever and ever.
(4) And so your Master, Jesus Christ, who has anointed you with His Spirit
and has brought you to this training ground, has resolved, before the day
of the contest, to take you from a softer way of life to a harsher
treatment that your strength may be increased. For athletes, too, are set
apart for more rigid training that they may apply themselves to the
building up of their physical strength. They are kept from lavish living,
from more tempting dishes, from more pleasurable drinks. They are urged on,
they are subjected to torturing toils, they are worn out: the more
strenuously they have exerted themselves, the greater is their hope of
(5) And they do this, says the Apostle, to win a perishable crown. We who
are about to win an eternal one recognize in the prison our training
ground, that we may be led forth to the actual contest before the seat of
the presiding judge well practiced in all hardships, because strength is
built up by austerity, but destroyed by softness.
(1) We know from our Lord's teaching that, while the spirit is willing, the
flesh is weak. Let us, however, not derive delusive gratification from the
Lord's acknowledgment of the weakness of the flesh. For it was on purpose
that He first declared the spirit willing: He wanted to show which of the
two ought to be subject to the other, that is to say, that the flesh should
be submissive to the spirit, the weaker to the stronger, so that the former
may draw strength from the latter.
(2) Let the spirit converse with the flesh on their common salvation, no
longer thinking about the hardships of prison but, rather, about the
struggle of the actual contest. The flesh will perhaps fear the heavy sword
and the lofty cross and the wild beasts mad with rage and the most terrible
punishment of all--death by fire--and, finally, all the executioner's
cunning during the torture.
(3) But let the spirit present to both itself and the flesh the other side
of the picture: granted, these sufferings are grievous, yet many have borne
them patiently nay, have even sought them on their own accord for the sake
of fame and glory; and this is true not only of men but also of women so
that you, too, O blessed women may be worthy of your sex.
(4) It would lead me too far were I to enumerate each one of those who, led
by the impulse of their own mind put an end to their lives by the sword.
Among women there is the well-known instance of Lucretia. A victim of
violence, she stabbed herself in the presence of her kinsfolk to gain glory
for her chastity. Mucius burnt his right hand on the altar that his fair
fame might include this deed.
(5) Nor did the philosophers act less courageously: Heraclitus, for
instance, who put an end to his life by smearing himself with cow dung ;
Empedocles, too, who leaped down into the fires of Mt. Etna; and Peregrinus
who not long ago threw himself upon a funeral pile. Why, even women have
despised the flames: Dido did so in order not to be forced to marry after
the departure of the man she had loved most dearly; the wife of Hasdrubal,
too, with Carthage in flames, cast herself along with her children into the
fire that was destroying her native city, that she might not see her
husband a suppliant at Scipio's feet.
(6) Regulus, a Roman general, was taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, but
refused to be the only Roman exchanged for a large number of Carthaginian
captives. He preferred to be returned to the enemy, and, crammed Into a
kind of chest, suffered as many crucifixions as nails were driven in from
the outside in all directions to pierce him. A woman voluntarily sought out
wild beasts, namely, vipers, serpents more horrible than either bull or
bear, which Cleopatra let loose upon herself as not to fall into the hands
of the enemy.
(7) You may object: 'But the fear of death is not so great as the fear of
torture.' Did the Athenian courtesan yield on that account to the
executioner? For, being privy to a conspiracy, she was subjected to torture
by the tyrant. But she did not betray her fellow conspirators, and at last
bit off her own tongue and spat it into the tyrant's face to let him know
that torments, however prolonged, could achieve nothing against her.
(8) Everybody knows that to this day the most important festival of the
Lacedaemonians is the "diamastigosis," that is, The Whipping. In this
sacred rite all the noble youth are scourged with whips before the altar,
while their parents and kinsfolk stand by and exhort them to perseverance.
For they regard it as a mark of greater distinction and glory if the soul
rather than the body has submitted to the stripes.
(9) Therefore, if earthly glory accruing from strength of body and soul is
valued so highly that one despises sword, fire, piercing with nails, wild
beasts and tortures for the reward of human praise, then I may say the
sufferings you endure are but trifling in comparison with the heavenly
glory and divine reward. If the bead made of glass is rated so highly, how
much must the true pearl be worth? Who, therefore, does not most gladly
spend as much for the true as others spend for the false?
(1) I omit here an account of the motive of glory. For inordinate ambition
among men as well as a certain morbidity of mind have already set at naught
all the cruel and torturing contests mentioned above. How many of the
leisure class are urged by an excessive love of arms to become gladiators?
Surely it is from vanity that they descend to the wild beasts in the very
arena, and think themselves more handsome because of the bites and scars.
Some have even hired themselves out to tests by fire, with the result that
they ran a certain distance in a burning tunic. Others have pranced up and
down amid the bullwhips of the animal-baiters, unflinchingly exposing their
(2) All this, O blessed, the Lord tolerates in the world for good reason,
that is, for the sake of encouraging us in the present moment and of
confounding us on that final day, if we have recoiled from suffering for
the truth unto salvation what others have pursued out of vanity unto
(1) Let us, however, no longer talk about those examples of perseverance
proceeding from inordinate ambition. Let us, rather, turn to a simple
contemplation of man's ordinary lot so that, if we ever have to undergo
such trials with fortitude, we may also learn from those misfortunes which
sometimes even befall unwilling victims. For how often have people been
burned to death in conflagrations! How often have wild beasts devoured men
either in the forests or in the heart of cities after escaping from their
cages! How many have been slain by the sword of robbers! How many have even
suffered the death of the cross at the hands of enemies, after having been
tortured first and, indeed, treated with every kind of insult!
(2) Furthermore, many a man is able to suffer in the cause of a mere human
being what he hesitates to suffer in the cause of God. To this fact,
indeed, our present days may bear witness. How many prominent persons have
met with death in the cause of a man, though such a fate seemed most
unlikely in view of their birth and their rank, their physical condition
and their age! Death came to them either from him, if they had opposed him,
or from his enemies, if they had sided with him.