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E02689: Augustine of Hippo (North Africa), preaches in Latin a sermon on the feast of the *Maccabean Martyrs (pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch, S00303), calling them martyrs of Christ and mentioning their church in Antioch (Syria). Sermon 300, delivered possibly in Hippo, c. 397/430.

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posted on 2017-04-12, 00:00 authored by robert
Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 300

1. Istum diem nobis solemnem gloria Machabaeorum fecit: quorum mirabiles passiones, cum legerentur, non solum audiuimus, sed etiam uidimus et spectauimus. Olim ista gesta sunt, ante incarnationem, ante passionem Domini et saluatoris nostri Iesu Christi. In primo populo illo exstiterunt, in quo prophetae exstiterunt, qui haec praesentia praedixerunt...

'The glory of the Maccabees has made this day into a very special feast day for us; when the marvelous account of their suffering was read to us, we not only heard about them, but could practically see them as spectators. These things happened a long time ago, before the incarnation, before the passion of the Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. These martyrs emerged in this first people which produced the prophets who foretold these present realities ...'

2. Nondum quidem erat mortuus Christus: sed martyres eos fecit moriturus Christus. Hoc ergo in primis commendandum est charitati uestrae, ne, cum illos martyres admiramini, putetis non fuisse christianos. Christiani fuerunt: sed nomen christianorum postea diuulgatum factis antecesserunt. Sed uidelicet quasi non eis erat confessio Christi, a rege impio et persecutore non cogebantur negare Christum, quod postea martyres, cum cogerentur, ne facerent, similem gloriam consecuti sunt ...

'So the first thing I must impress upon your graces is that when you are admiring these martyrs, you shouldn't think they weren't Christians. They were Christians; but with their deeds they anticipated the name Christian that was publicised much later on. But yes, it's true, as it wasn't Christ they were confessing, they were not being forced by the godless king and persecutor to deny Christ, which the later martyrs were forced to do, and didn't, and so obtained a similar glory.'

Augustine argues that the Macchabean martyrs were Christian even if the name of Christians did not exist yet.

3. Existit aliquis Iudaeus, et dicit nobis: quomodo istos nostros, uestros martyres computatis? Qua imprudentia eorum memoriam celebratis? Legite confessiones eorum: attendite si confessi sunt Christum. Cui respondemus: uere quia unus es ex eis qui in Christum non crediderunt, et fracti de oliua, oleastro succedente, foris aridi remanserunt; quid dicturus es unus ex perfidis? Non confitebantur illi aperte Christum, quia adhuc uelabatur Christi mysterium ...

'Some Jew steps forward and says to us, "How can you reckon these people of ours to be your martyrs? How can you be so unwise as to celebrate their memory? Read their confessions; see whether they confessed Christ." To whom we reply, "It's true, you are one of those who did not believe in Christ, and being broken off from the olive remained withered outside, when the wide olive took your place; what are you going to say being one of those faithless people? They weren't openly confessing Christ, because the mystery of Christ was still concealed behind a veil ...'

The Old Testament is a prefiguration of the New Testament and tells about the things which actually occurred only after the coming of Christ. The passion of Christ was described by the prophets even if they had lived before he came.

6. Machabaei ergo martyres Christi sunt. Ideo non incongrue, neque importune, imo conuenientissime dies eorum et solemnitas eorum a christianis potius celebratur. Quid tale iudaei celebrare nouerunt? Sanctorum Machabaeorum basilica esse in Antiochia praedicatur: in illa scilicet ciuitate, quae regis ipsius persecutoris nomine uocatur. Antiochum quippe regem persecutorem impium pertulerunt, et memoria martyrii eorum in Antiochia celebratur; ut simul sonet et nomen persecutoris, et memoria coronatoris. Haec basilica a christianis tenetur, a christianis aedificata est. Eorum ergo memoriam celebrandam nos habemus, nos tenemus: apud nos passiones eorum millia per orbem terrarum sanctorum martyrum imitata sunt. Nemo ergo dubitet, fratres mei, imitari machabaeos; ne cum imitatur machabaeos, putet se non imitari christianos ...

'So the Maccabees really are martyrs of Christ. That's why it is not unsuitable, not in the least improper, but on the contrary absolutely right for their day and their solemnity to be celebrated especially by Christians. What do the Jews know about such a celebration? Word is going round that there is a basilica of the Holy Maccabees in Antioch; in the very city, that is to say, which is called by the name of that persecuting king. They endured the persecution of the wicked king Antiochus, and the memory of their martyrdom is celebrated in Antioch, so that both the name of the one who persecuted and the memory of the one who crowned them are heard together. This basilica is owned by Christians, was built by Christians. It's we who keep, we who celebrate their memory; it's among us that thousand of holy martyrs throughout the world have imitated their sufferings.'

7. Augustine quotes the dialogue of the mother of the Maccabees with her youngest son, encouraging him to martyrdom.

Text: Patrologia Latina 38, 1376-1379. Translation: Hill 1994, 276-279. Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Maccabean Brothers, 2nd-century BC Jewish martyrs in Antioch : S00303

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Hippo Regius

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

Hippo Regius Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Major author/Major anonymous work

Augustine of Hippo

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


The date of this sermon is difficult to determine. It was possibly preached in Hippo, Augustine episcopal see.


Augustine, like his contemporaries, Gregory of Nazianzus (see E01043) and John Chrysostom (E02567, E02689, E02697), addresses the question of whether the Old Testament heroes can be venerated as the Christian martyrs. When talking the Maccabean brothers he refers to their story as described in 2 Mac 7 and does not mention the long narrative from the apocryphal 3 Mac. The cult of the Maccabean brothers in Antioch is well attested by John Chrysostom (see the records named above).


Text: Migne, J.P., Patrologia Latina 38 (Paris, 1865). Translation: Hill, E., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. III 9. Sermons 306-340A for the Saints ‬(New York: New City Press, 1994). Dating: Kunzelmann, A., "Die Chronologie der sermones des hl. Augustinus," Miscellanea Agostiniana, vol. 2 (Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1931), 417-452. Further reading: 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 (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History 206; Leiden: Brill, 2012), 79-104.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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