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E01043: Gregory of Nazianzus in his Oration 15, On the *Maccabees (pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch, S00303), delivered during their festival in 379/381, stresses that they deserve equal veneration to Christian martyrs, and recounts their story according to the biblical narrative. Written in Greek in Constantinople.

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posted on 02.01.2016, 00:00 by erizos
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 15, On the Maccabees (CPG 3010.15, BHG 1007)

ΛΟΓΟΣ ΙΕʹ.
Εἰς τοὺς Μακκαβαίους.

Oration 15, On the Maccabees

Αʹ. Τί δὲ οἱ Μακκαβαῖοι; τούτων γὰρ ἡ παροῦσα πανήγυρις, οὐ παρὰ πολλοῖς μὲν τιμωμένων, ὅτι μὴ μετὰ Χριστὸν ἡ ἄθλησις· πᾶσι δὲ τιμᾶσθαι ἀξίων, ὅτι περὶ τῶν πατρίων ἡ καρτερία· καὶ οἱ πρὸ τῶν Χριστοῦ παθῶν μαρτυρήσαντες, τί ποτε δράσειν ἔμελλον μετὰ Χριστὸν διωκόμενοι, καὶ τὸν ἐκείνου ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν μιμούμενοι θάνατον; Οἱ γὰρ χωρὶς ὑποδείγματος τοιούτου, τοσοῦτοι τὴν ἀρετὴν, πῶς οὐκ ἂν ὤφθησαν γενναιότεροι, μετὰ τοῦ ὑποδείγματος
κινδυνεύοντες; Καὶ ἅμα μυστικός τις καὶ ἀπόῤῥητος οὗτος ὁ λόγος, καὶ σφόδρα πιθανὸς ἐμοὶ γοῦν καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς φιλοθέοις· μηδένα τῶν πρὸ τῆς Χριστοῦ παρουσίας τελειωθέντων, δίχα τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως τούτου τυχεῖν. Ὁ γὰρ Λόγος ἐπαῤῥησιάσθη μὲν ὕστερον καιροῖς ἰδίοις, ἐγνωρίσθη δὲ καὶ πρότερον τοῖς καθαροῖς τὴν διάνοιαν. ὡς ἐκ πολλῶν δῆλον τῶν πρὸ ἐκείνου τετιμημένων.

Βʹ. Οὔκουν, ὅτι πρὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ, τοιοῦτοι περιοπτέοι· ἀλλ’ ὅτι κατὰ τὸν σταυρὸν, ἐπαινετέοι, καὶ τῆς ἐκ τῶν λόγων τιμῆς ἄξιοι· οὐχ ἵνα προσθήκην ἢ δόξαν λάβοιεν· (τίνα γὰρ ὧν ἡ πρᾶξις ἔχει τὸ ἔνδοξον;) ἀλλ’ ἵνα δοξασθῶσιν οἱ εὐφημοῦντες, καὶ ζηλώσωσι τὴν ἀρετὴν οἱ ἀκούοντες, ὥσπερ κέντρῳ τῇ μνήμῃ πρὸς τὰ ἴσα διανιστάμενοι. Οὗτοι τίνες μὲν ὄντες, καὶ ὅθεν, καὶ ἐξ οἵας ὁρμώμενοι τὸ ἀπαρχῆς ἀγωγῆς καὶ παιδεύσεως, εἰς τοσοῦτον ἀρετῆς τε καὶ δόξης προεληλύθασιν, ὥστε καὶ ταῖς ἐτησίοις ταύταις τιμᾶσθαι πομπαῖς τε καὶ πανηγύρεσι, καὶ μείζονα τῶν ὁρωμένων τὴν περὶ αὐτῶν δόξαν ἐναποκεῖσθαι ταῖς ἁπάντων ψυχαῖς, ἡ περὶ αὐτῶν βίβλος δηλώσει τοῖς φιλομαθέσι καὶ φιλοπόνοις, ἡ
περὶ τοῦ αὐτοκράτορα εἶναι τῶν παθῶν τὸν λογισμὸν φιλοσοφοῦσα, καὶ κύριον τῆς ἐπ’ ἄμφω ῥοπῆς, ἀρε-
τήν τέ φημι καὶ κακίαν. Ἄλλοις τε γὰρ οὐκ ὀλίγοις ἐχρήσατο μαρτυρίοις, καὶ δὴ καὶ τοῖς τούτων ἀθλήμασιν· ἐμοὶ δὲ τοσοῦτον εἰπεῖν ἐξαρκέσει.

‘But why the Maccabees? This festival is indeed theirs, even though they are not honoured by many, because their martyrdom was not after Christ. Yet they deserve to be honoured by everyone, because they suffered for the sake of their ancestral traditions. For what else would they have done, those who suffered martyrdom before Christ’s passion, if they had been persecuted after the time of Christ, and had been able to emulate his death on our behalf? Indeed, these men displayed valour of this magnitude without the benefit of such a model: how then could they not have gained in heroic stature, had they undertaken their trial with the example before them? This is a somewhat mystic and arcane thing to say, but at the same time very persuasive, at least for me and for all those who love God: none of those consummated before the coming of Christ attained their end without faith in Christ. For the Logos was later openly proclaimed in His own era, but He was made known even before to the pure of mind, as is evident from the large number of persons who obtained honour before His day.

2. Such figures, then, are not to be overlooked because they lived before the time of the cross, but should rather be acclaimed for having lived in accordance with the cross, and are entitled to the honour that words bestow, not that they may acquire some additional repute or glory (for what could ever be added to men of inherently glorious conduct?), but that those who sing their praises may be glorified, and that the audience may be inspired to emulate their valour, being directed to their imitation by memory, as if by a goad. Who were these people, and from where? And what kind of culture and education did they have, so as to rise to such a peak of valour and renown that they are honoured annually by these festal processions and festivals, and that even greater honour for them is treasured in everyone’s heart than these visible expressions indicate? These things will be revealed to the studious and diligent by the book about them, which advances the theory that reason is the absolute master of emotions and has the power to incline us in both directions, virtue or vice. The book employs several other examples, in addition to the struggles of these men, but, for me, it will suffice to say what follows.’

(3-4) The author presents the heroes of the story, namely the elderly priest Eleazar, who is praised as the first pre-Christian martyr, and the seven youths with their mother, praised for their heroic steadfastness. (5-6). Especially admirable is the brave reply of the children to king Antiochus, by which they refuse to abandon their ancestral traditions and to betray God and the Mosaic Law, and declare their willingness to die. (7-8) They follow their fate with an enthusiasm which astonishes everyone. Their mother follows their martyrdom, cheering and encouraging them. (9-10) Once they have died, she rejoices for the triumph of her children, and rushes willingly into the fire, in order to die as a martyr herself. (11-12) The story of the Maccabees must be held in the same esteem as that of Daniel and the three Hebrew Youths, and of all the Christian martyrs. It provides models for priests, mothers and children, who should imitate the heroes of the story.

Text: Migne, J.-P. (ed.), Patrologiae cursus completus: series graeca. 166 vols. Vol. 35 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1857), 911-934
Translation : E. Rizos (using Vinson 2003)

History

Evidence ID

E01043

Saint Name

Maccabean Brothers, 2nd-century BC Jewish martyrs in Antioch : S00303 Daniel, the Old Testament prophet : S00727

Saint Name in Source

Μακκαβαῖοι Δανιήλ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

360

Evidence not after

381

Activity not before

360

Activity not after

381

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nazianzos Constantinople

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Nazianzos Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nazianzus

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Source

Gregory was born in c. 330 to a wealthy Christian family in Cappadocia. He was educated at Nazianzos, Kaisareia/Caesarea, Athens, and Alexandria, and in 361 he returned to Nazianzos where he was ordained priest by his father, Gregory the Elder, who was bishop of Nazianzos. He was ordained bishop of Sasima in Cappadocia by Basil of Caesarea in 372, but stayed in Nazianzos, administering the local community after the death of his father. After retreating as a monk in Isauria for some years, he moved to Constantinople in 379, in order to lead the struggle for the return of the city to Nicene Orthodoxy. Two years later, the Arians were ousted by the emperor Theodosius I, and Gregory became bishop of Constantinople. In 381, he convened the Council of Constantinople, at the end of which he resigned his throne and retired to Cappadocia where he died in 390. The authenticity of Oration 15 as a work of Gregory has been questioned in the past, but it is no longer disputed. The latest edition of the text is that of the Patrologia Graeca, while a critical edition is due to be published in the Sources Chrétiennes series. For the manuscript tradition (422 manuscripts) and editions, see: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/8170/ (accessed 09/03/2017) Ziadé 2007

Discussion

Although excluded from the biblical canon by most early Christian authors, like Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius of Caesarea, the books of the Maccabees were widely read by the Christians, and are included in the earliest extant Christian codices of the Βible, such as the 4th-century Sinaiticus. However, it was not the main subject of these books (the Jewish resistance against the attempt of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to Hellenize Judaea) that attracted the interest of the Christians, but, very selectively, the story about the deaths of the elderly scribe Eleazar, and the seven brothers with their mother, which are recounted by the Second and the Fourth Book of the Maccabees (2 Mc 6-7; 4 Mc 5-15). This narrative, especially in its extensive version of 4 Maccabees, had an immense influence on the Christian literature about martyrs. Its influences can be recognised in some of the earliest Christian martyrdom accounts, like those of the *Martyrs of Lyon and Vienne (see E00212), *Polycarp (see E00035) the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and some of the African martyrdom accounts. 4 Maccabees 5-15, in particular, can be described as the archetype of the texts Hippolyte Delehaye classified as ‘epic passiones’, which form the bulk of martyr-related hagiography in Late Antiquity (Delehaye 1921, 226). The veneration of the Maccabees themselves as martyrs by the Christians is explicitly attested for the first time through this sermon. The date is uncertain. Most scholars place it early in Gregory’s career, during the time of his ministry as presbyter in Nazianzus. The dating is mostly deduced from the interpretation of the sermon as being associated with the presence of the pagan emperor Julian the Apostate in Anatolia. Gregory is thought to have attempted to prepare his audience for a confrontation with the pagan emperor, drawing a parallel between him and Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Recently, Raphaëlle Ziadé convincingly questioned this view. According to her, the sermon may well have been composed and preached in Constantinople, without any reference to a presumed contemporary persecution. This is strongly supported by the fact that Gregory’s sermon focuses on the same theme as a homily given on the same subject by his successor in Constantinople, John Chrysostom, namely the doubts of many about the legitimacy of the cult of the Maccabees by the Christians (see E02697). It seems that both the sermons of Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom are related to the cult of the Maccabean martyrs in Constantinople and the resistance it met. It is unknown if Gregory preached his sermon at a service held at a shrine. The 10th century Synaxarion of the Church of Constantinople reports that the Byzantine capital had two major shrines of this cult. One of them was between the porticoed streets of Domninos and Maurianos in central Constantinople, while the other was in the outskirts of Sycae/Galata (on the sources, see Janin 1969, 313; Berger 2012, 105-109). The shrine of central Constantinople was apparently located very near the Anastasia, namely the church hall of Gregory’s Nicene community, but it is not mentioned before the Middle Byzantine period. The shrine of Sycae, however, was known to Chrysostom (E02697) and may well be related to the festival at which Gregory gave his sermon. Gregory’s synoptic remarks are based almost entirely on 4 Maccabees (5-15). The only change with regard to the biblical story is that Gregory calls the elderly Eleazar a father, and the seven Maccabean Brothers his disciples. This is probably meant in a spiritual sense, expressing the close association of the two stories in the Christian cultic practice, although the two episodes are thought to have been historically separate and unrelated. The connection between the cult of Eleazar and the Seven Brothers was partly dictated by the close coexistence of the narratives in the biblical text, and by the fact that their remains were venerated together in Antioch. Gregory talks about a yearly festival and processions, but he gives no concrete information about the date, and it is unclear if this was the Christian celebration of 1 August, or Jewish Hannukah in December.

Bibliography

Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologiae cursus completus: series graeca 35 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1857), 911-934. English Translation: Vinson, M.P., St. Gregory of Nazianzus: Select Orations (Fathers of the Church 107; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 72-84. Further Reading: Berger, A., "The Cult of the Maccabees in the Eastern Orthodox Church," in: G. Signori (ed.), Dying for the Faith, Killing for the Faith: Old-Testament Faith-Warriors (1 and 2 Maccabees) in Historical Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 105-123. Delehaye, H., Les passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1921). Hahn, J. "The Veneration of the Maccabean Brothers in Fourth Century Antioch: Religious Competition, Martyrdom, and Innovation," in: G. Signori (ed.), Dying for the Faith, Killing for the Faith : Old-Testament Faith-Warriors (1 and 2 Maccabees) in Historical Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 79-104. Janin, R. La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin. I 3: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. 2nd ed. (Paris, 1969). Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, D., Christian Memories of the Maccabean Martyrs (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Schneider, A.B., "Makkabäische Märtyrer," in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 23 (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 2010), 1234-51. Van Henten, J.W., "The Christianisation of the Maccabean Martyrs. The Case of Origen," in: J. Leemans (ed.), Martyrdom and Persecution in Late Antique Christianity: Festschrift Boudewijn Dehandschutter (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium; Leuven: Peeters, 2010), 333-351. Vinson, M.P., "Gregory Nazianzen's Homily 15 and the Genesis of the Christian Cult of Maccabean Martyrs," Byzantion 64 (1994), 165-92. Ziadé, R., Les Martyrs Maccabées: De l’histoire juive au culte chrétien. Les homélies de Grégoire de Nazianze et de Jean Chrysostome (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 80; Leiden: Brill, 2007).

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