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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

April 28

SS. Didymus and Theodora, Martyrs

        From their beautiful acts, copied in part from the presidial registers, the rest being added by an eye-witness, extant in Ruinart and the Bollandists, t. 3, Apr. in Append. p. lxiii. See also St. Ambrose de Virgin. l. 2, c. 4.

A.D. 304.

EUSTRATIUS PROCULUS, imperial prefect of Alexandria, being seated on his tribunal, said:—“Call hither the virgin Theodora.” A sergeant of the court answered:—“She is here.” The prefect said to her:—“Of what condition are you?” Theodora replied:—“I am a Christian.” Prefect.—“Are you a slave or a free woman?” Theodora.—“I am a Christian, and made free by Christ; I am also born of what the world calls free parents.” Prefect.—“Call hither the bailiff 1 of the city.” When he was come, the prefect asked him what he knew of the virgin Theodora. Lucias, the bailiff, answered:—“I know her to be a free woman, and of a very good family in the city.” “What is the reason, then,” said the judge to Theodora, “that you are not married?” Theodora.—“That I may render myself the more pleasing and acceptable to Jesus Christ, who, being become man, hath withdrawn us from corruption; and as long as I continue faithful to him, will, I hope, preserve me from all defilement.” Prefect.—“The emperors have ordered that you virgins shall either sacrifice to the gods, or be exposed in infamous places.” Theodora.—“I believe you are not ignorant that it is the will which God regards in every action; and that if my soul continue chaste and pure, it can receive no prejudice from outward violence.” Prefect.—“Your birth and beauty make me pity you: but this compassion shall not save you unless you obey. I swear by the gods, you shall either sacrifice or be made the disgrace of your family, and the scorn of all virtuous and honourable persons.” He then repeated the ordinance of the emperors, to which Theodora made the same reply as before, and added:—“If you cut off unjustly my arm or head, will the guilt be charged to me or to him that commits the outrage? I am united to God by the vow I have made to him of my virginity; he is the master of my body and my soul, and into his hands I commit the protection of both my faith and chastity.” Prefect.—“Remember your birth: will you dishonour your family by an eternal infamy?” Theodora.—“The source of true honour is Jesus Christ: my soul draws all its lustre from him. He will preserve his dove from falling into the power of the hawk.” Prefect.—“Alas, silly woman! do you place your confidence in a crucified man? do you imagine it will be in his power to protect your virtue if you expose it to the trial?” Theodora.—“Yes; I most firmly believe that Jesus, who suffered under Pilate, will deliver me from all who have conspired my ruin, and will preserve me pure and spotless. Judge, then, if I can renounce him.” Prefect.—“I bear with you a long time, and do not yet put you to the torture. But if you continue thus obstinate, I will have no more regard for you than for the most despicable slave.” Theodora.—“You are master of my body: the law has left that at your disposal; but my soul you cannot touch, it is in the power of God alone.” Prefect.—“Give her two great buffets to cure her of her folly, and teach her to sacrifice.” Theodora.—“Through the assistance of Jesus Christ, I will never sacrifice to, nor adore devils. He is my protector.” Prefect.—“You compel me, notwithstanding your quality, to affront you before all the people. This is a degree of madness.” Theodora.—“This holy madness is true wisdom; and what you call an affront will be my eternal glory.” Prefect.—“I am out of patience; I will execute the edict. I should myself be guilty of disobeying the emperors, were I to dally any longer.” Theodora.—“You are afraid of displeasing a man, and can you reproach me because I refuse to offend God, because I stand in awe of the emperor of heaven and earth, and seek to obey his will?” Prefect.—“In the mean time you make no scruple of slighting the commands of the emperors, and abusing my patience. I will, notwithstanding, allow you three days to consider what to do; if within that term you do not comply with what I require, by the gods, you shall be exposed, that all other women may take warning from your example.” Theodora.—“Look on these three days as already expired. You will find me the same then as now. There is a God who will not forsake me. Do what you please. My only request is, that I may be screened in the mean time from insults on my chastity.” Prefect.—“That is but just. I therefore ordain that Theodora be under guard for three days, and that no violence be offered her during that time, nor rudeness shown her, out of regard to her birth and quality.” The three days being elapsed, Proculus ordered Theodora to be brought before him: and seeing she persisted in her resolution said: “The just fear of incurring the indignation of the emperors obliges me to execute their commands: wherefore sacrifice to the gods, or I pronounce the threatened sentence. We shall see if your Christ, for whose sake you continue thus obstinate, will deliver you from the infamy to which the edict of the emperors condemns you.” Theodora.—“Be in no pain about that.” Sentence hereupon being pronounced, the saint was conducted to the infamous place. On entering it she lifted up her eyes to God and said: “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, assist me and take me hence: Thou who deliveredst St. Peter from prison without his sustaining any hurt, guard and protect my chastity here, that all may know I am thy servant.” A troop of debauchees quickly surrounded the house, and looked on this innocent beauty as their prey. But Jesus Christ watched over his spouse, and sent one of his servants to deliver her. Among the Christians of Alexandria, there was a zealous young man, named Didymus, who desiring earnestly to rescue the virgin of Christ out of her danger, habited himself like a soldier, and went boldly into the room where she was. Theodora, seeing him approach her, was at first much troubled, and fled from him into the several corners of the room. He, overtaking her, said to her: “Sister, fear nothing from me. I am not such a one as you take me to be. I am your brother in Christ, and have thus disguised myself on purpose to deliver you. Come, let us change habits: take you my clothes and go out, and I will remain here in yours: thus disguised, save yourself.” Theodora did as she was desired: she also put on his armour, and he pulled down the hat over her eyes, and charged her in going out to cast them on the ground, and not stop to speak to any one, but walk fast, in imitation of a person seeming ashamed, and fearing to be known after the perpetration of an infamous action. When Theodora was by this stratagem out of danger, her soul took its flight towards heaven, in ardent ejaculations to God her deliverer.
  A short time after, came in one of the lewd crew on a wicked intent, but was extremely surprised to find a man there instead of the virgin: and hearing from him the history of what had passed, went out and published it abroad. The judge, being informed of the affair, sent for the voluntary prisoner, and asked him his name. He answered:—“I am called Didymus.” The prefect then asked him, who put him upon this extraordinary adventure? Didymus told him it was God who had inspired him with this method to rescue his handmaid. The prefect then said:—“Before I put you to the torture, declare where Theodora is.” Didymus.—“By Christ, the Son of God, I know not. All that I certainly know of her is, that she is a servant of God, and that he has preserved her spotless: God hath done to her according to her faith in him.” Prefect.—“Of what condition are you?” Didymus.—“I am a Christian, and delivered by Jesus Christ.” Prefect.—“Put him to the torture doubly to what is usual, as the excess of his insolence deserves.” Didymus.—“I beg you to execute speedily on me the orders of your masters, whatever they may be.” Prefect.—“By the gods, the torture doubled is your immediate lot, unless you sacrifice: if you do this your first crime shall be forgiven you.” Didymus.—“I have already given proof that I am a champion of Christ, and fear not to suffer in his cause. My intention in this matter was twofold, to prevent the virgin’s being deflowered, and to give an instance of my steady faith and hope in Christ; being assured I shall survive all the torments you can inflict upon me. The dread of the cruellest death you can devise will not prevail on me to sacrifice to devils.” Prefect.—“For your bold rashness, and because you have contemned the commands of our lords the emperors, you shall be beheaded and your corpse shall be burnt.” Didymus.—“Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath not despised my offering, and hath preserved spotless his handmaid Theodora. He crowns me doubly.” Didymus was, according to this sentence, beheaded, and his body burnt. Thus far the acts.  2
  St. Ambrose, 2 who relates this history of Theodora, (whom he calls by mistake a virgin of Antioch,) adds, that she ran to the place of execution to Didymus, and would needs die in his place, and that she was also beheaded; which the Greeks say happened shortly after his martyrdom. St. Ambrose most beautifully paints the strife of these holy martyrs, at the place of execution, which of the two should bear away the palm of martyrdom. The virgin urged, that she owed indeed to him the preservation of her corporal integrity; but would not yield to him the privilege of carrying away her crown. “You were bail,” said she, “for my modesty, not for my life. If my virginity be in danger, your bond holds good: if my life be required, this debt I myself can discharge. The sentence of condemnation was passed upon me: I am further obnoxious, not only by my flight, but by giving occasion to the death of another. I fled, not from death, but from an injury to my virtue. This body, which is not to be exposed to an insult against its integrity, is capable of suffering for Christ. If you rob me of my crown, you have not saved but deceived me.” The two saints, thus contending for the palm, both conquered: the crown was not divided, but given to each. St. Didymus is looked upon to have suffered under Dioclesian, in 304, and at Alexandria. The Roman Martyrology commemorates these two saints on this day.  3
Note 1. Curatorem civitatis. Curateur, Fleury; Bailiff, Ainsworth. [back]
Note 2. De Virgin, b. 2, c. 4. [back]