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

April 17

St. Simeon, Bishop of Ctesiphon, and His Companions, Martyrs

        From their genuine acts published by Assemani, Acta Mart. Orient. t. 1. p. 1; Sozom. b. 2, c. 8, 9, 10, &c.

A.D. 341.

THIS holy primate of the church of Persia was its most illustrious champion, in the great persecution of Sapor II., surnamed the long-lived. 1 The haughtiness of this prince appears from his letter to Constantine the Great, preserved by Ammianus Marcellinus, 2 in which he styles himself king of kings, partner with the stars, brother of the sun and moon, and says, “That whereas in valour and virtue he surpassed all his predecessors, he ought to have demanded the largest extent of empire that any of them had possessed. Nevertheless, though their dominions had formerly reached as far as Macedonia, he contented himself with insisting only on the restitution of the eastern parts, which had been usurped by the Romans.” It was as much out of hatred of the Roman name, as of the faith, that this haughty tyrant vented his rage on the Christians of his empire in three bloody persecutions. The first he raised in the eighteenth year of his reign, of Christ 327, in which were crowned Jonas, Barachisius, and others, mentioned on the 29th of March: the second in his thirtieth year, in which died SS. Sapor, Isaac, &c., whom we commemorate on the 20th of November; and the third, of all others the most cruel, in his thirty-first year. This was continued with the utmost rage, during the last forty years of his reign. Sozomen writes, 3 that the names of sixteen thousand who were crowned by it, were upon record; but adds, with St. Maruthas, that those whose names were not known on earth, were innumerable.— 4 Of these glorious martyrs, St. Simeon and his companions were the most illustrious.
  St. Simeon was surnamed Barsaboe, signifying the son of a fuller, from the trade of his father, according to the custom of the Orientals. He was a disciple of Papa, bishop of Ctesiphon, and by him made his coadjutor, in 314; from which time he sat twenty-six years and some months; some time with Papa, afterwards alone. The council of Nice declared the bishop of Ctesiphon metropolitan of all Persia, which happened in St. Simeon’s time: for he assisted at that council, not in person, but by his priest, who was afterwards his successor, and named Sciadhustes, as Ebedjesus and St. Maruthas testify. 5 The Chaldaic acts of the martyrdom of St. Simeon, written by St. Maruthas, give us the following account of his triumph.  2
  In the hundred and seventeenth year of the kingdom of the Persians, the thirty-first of Sapor, the king of kings, of Christ, the three hundred and fortieth, king Sapor, resolving to abolish the Christian religion, decreed, that whoever embraced it should be made a slave, and oppressed the Christians with unsupportable taxes. St. Simeon wrote to him a letter, with that courage which nothing but a truly apostolic spirit could dictate. And to the threats of the king against him and his people, he answered: “As Jesus willingly offered himself to death for the whole world, and by dying redeemed it, why shall I be afraid to lay down my life for a people, with the care of whose salvation I am charged? I desire not to live, unless I may continue unspotted and undefiled. God forbid that I should purchase life at the hazard of those souls for which Jesus died. I am not so slothful as to fear to walk in his steps, to tread the path of his passion, and to share in the communion of his sacrifice. As to your threats against my people, they do not want for courage to die for their salvation.” The king, receiving this answer, trembled with wrath, and immediately dictated a decree, commanding all priests and deacons to be put to death, the churches to be levelled with the ground, and the sacred vessels to be converted to profane use. He added: “And let Simeon, the leader of wicked men, who despises my royal majesty, worships only the God of Cæsar, and despises my divinity, be brought and arraigned before me.” The Jews, naturally enemies to the Christians, seeing the circumstances favourable to their malice, said to the king: “If you, O king, write to Cæsar, he will take no notice of your letter: but at a poor line from Simeon he will arise, adore, and embrace it with both hands, and command all things contained in it to be instantly put in execution.” Simeon, pursuant to the king’s orders, was apprehended and bound in chains with two others of the twelve priests of his church, Abdhaicla and Hananias. As he was led through his native city Susan, he begged he might not pass by a great Christian church lately converted into a Jewish synagogue, by the authority of the Magians, 6 lest the very sight should make him fall into a swoon. Being hurried on by the guards in great haste, they made a long journey in very few days, and arrived at Ledan, the capital of the Huzites, or, as it is called by the Latins, the province of Uxia, upon the river Oxios, to the East, adjoining to the province of Susan. The governor had no sooner informed the king, that the leader of the Christians was brought thither, than Simeon was ordered to appear before him. The holy bishop refusing to prostrate himself according to the Persian custom, the king asked why he did not adore him as he had formerly been accustomed to do.—Simeon answered; “Because I was never before brought to you bound, and with the view of compelling me to deny the true God.” The Magians told the king that Simeon ought to be put to death as a conspirator against his throne. Simeon said to them: “Impious men, are not you content to have corrupted the kingdom? Must you endeavour to draw us Christians also into your wickedness.” The king, then putting on a milder countenance, said: “Take my advice, Simeon, who wish you well: adore the deity of the sun: nothing can be more for your own and your whole people’s advantage.” Simeon answered: “I would not adore you, O king; and you far excel the sun, being endued with reason. We Christians have no Lord but Christ, who was crucified.” “If you adored a living God,” said the king, “I would excuse your folly; but you give the title of God to a man who expired on an ignominious tree. Lay aside that madness, and adore the sun, by whose divinity all things subsist. If you do this, riches, honours, and the greatest dignities of my kingdom shall be yours.” Simeon replied: “That sun mourned at the death of Christ its Lord and the Creator of men, who rose again glorious, and ascended into heaven. Your honours tempt not me, who know much greater are prepared for me in heaven, with which you are unacquainted.” The king said: “Spare your own life, and the lives of an infinite multitude, who, I am resolved, shall all die, if you are obstinate.” Simeon boldly answered: “Were you to commit such a crime, you would find cause to repent of it on the day when you will be called upon to give an account of all your actions; you will then know the heinousness of your offence.—I resign to your pleasure this miserable short life.” Then the king said: “Though you have no compassion for yourself, I pity at least your followers, and will endeavour to cure them of their folly, by the severity of your punishment.” Simeon answered: “You will learn by experience that Christians will not lose their lives in God, for the sake of living here with you; nor would we exchange the eternal name we have received from Christ, for the diadem which you wear.” The king said: “If you will not honour me before my nobles, nor adore me with this sun, the deity of all the East, I will to-morrow cause the beauty of your face, and the venerable comeliness of your body, to be disfigured by blows, and stained with your blood.” Simeon replied: “You make the sun and yourself equally gods; but you are greater than the sun. If you disfigure this body, it has a repairer who will raise it again, and restore with interest this beauty which he created, and which is now despicable.” The king then commanded he should be kept in close confinement till the next day. It is remarked that St. Simeon was exceeding comely in his person, and venerable and graceful in his aspect.  3
  There sat at the palace gate, as Simeon was led through it, an old eunuch, in the highest favour with the king, who had been trained up by him from his infancy. He was then the first nobleman in the whole kingdom, and the Arzabades, that is, the keeper of the king’s chamber, or the lord high chamberlain: his name was Guhsciatazades, which in Chaldaic signifies nobleman. Sozomen calls him Usthazanes. He was a Christian, but, fearing his master’s displeasure, had some time before publicly adored the sun. This minister seeing the saint pass by, as he was led back to prison, rose up and prostrated himself before him. But the bishop, having been informed that he had been guilty of an outward act of idolatry, reprimanded him sharply for it, and turned away from him. This touched the eunuch to the quick, who entering into a sense of the enormity of his crime, burst into loud cries and many tears, filling the court with his lamentations, saying to himself: “If Simeon’s aversion and rebuke be so grievous to me, how shall I be able to bear the anger and indignation of God, whom I have basely denied.” Whereupon, hastening home, he threw off his rich garments, and put on black for mourning, according to the Persian custom, still in use, under any affliction. In this dress he returned, and sat in grief at the palace gate in his usual place. The king, being informed of it, sent to inquire why he mourned, whilst his sovereign enjoyed his crown and health.—He answered, that it was for a double fault, the renouncing the true God, by adoring the sun, and the imposing on the emperor, by an insincere act of worship, acting therein contrary to the dictates of his reason and conscience. The king, enraged hereat, said: “I will soon rid you of this mad grief, if you continue obstinate in your present opinion.” Guhsciatazades replied: “I call to witness the Lord of heaven and earth, that I will never more obey you in this, nor repeat that of which I heartily repent. I am a Christian, and will never more be guilty of so base a perfidy against the true God to please man.” The king said: “I pity your old age: I grieve to think you should lose the merit of your long services to my father and myself. I beg you, lay aside the opinion of wicked men, that you may not perish together with them.” The eunuch answered: “Know, O king, that I will never abandon God, and pay divine worship to creatures.” “Do I then worship creatures?” said the king.—“Yes,” said the nobleman, “even creatures destitute of reason and life.” Hereupon the king commanded him to be put to the torture, but at the request of the nobility changed his mind, and gave orders for his immediate execution. As he was led out to be beheaded he sent a faithful eunuch to the king, begging, as the last and only favour for all his past services, that a crier might proclaim before him, that he was not put to death for any crime, but purely for being a Christian. This he desired, that he might repair the scandal which his apostacy had given. The king the more readily assented to the proposal, because he thought it would the more effectually deter his subjects from a religion, which he punished with death even in a faithful domestic, and a kind of foster-father: not considering how much so great an example would encourage them. The holy old man was beheaded on Maunday-Thursday, the thirteenth lunar day in April. St. Simeon being informed in his dungeon of the martyrdom of Guhsciatazades, gave most hearty thanks to God for his triumph, and earnestly begged his own might be hastened, crying out: “O happy day, which will call me to execution! It will free me from all dangers and miseries, and present me with my long desired crown: it will end all my sorrows, and wipe away all my tears.” Whilst he poured forth his soul in languishing sighs and long prayer, with his hands lifted up to heaven, the two priests, who had been apprehended with him, saw and admired his countenance most beautiful and shining, expressing the inward joy of his soul, and his longing hope and desires. Maunday-Thursday night the saint spent in prayer, crying out: “Hear me, O Jesus, though most undeserving and unworthy, grant that I may drink this cup on this day, and at the hour of your passion. May all know that Simeon was obedient to his Lord and was sacrificed with him.”  4
  Simeon being brought to the bar the next day, it being Good-Friday, and refusing, as before, to adore the king, he said to him: “Simeon, what is the result of this night’s deliberation? Do you accept of my mercy, or do you persist in disobeying me, and choose death? Adore the sun but for once, and never adore it again, unless you please. On that condition, I promise you all liberty, security, and protection.” Simeon replied: “I will never be guilty of such a crime and scandal.” The king said: “I call to remembrance our former friendship: on which account I wished you well, and have given you signal proofs of my lenity: but you contemn my benevolence. Impute therefore all to yourself.” Simeon said: “Flatter me not: why am not I speedily sacrificed? The table is ready prepared for me, and the happy hour of my banquet calls me.” The king, turning to his nobles, said: “Behold the wonderful dignity of his countenance, and the venerable majesty of his person. I have seen many countries, but never beheld so graceful a face, and such comely limbs. Yet see the madness of the man; he is obstinately bent on dying for his error.” To this they all answered him: “O king, your wisdom cannot so much admire the beauty of his body, as not to regard more the minds which he has corrupted.” Then the king condemned him to be beheaded, and he was immediately conducted to execution. A hundred other Christians were led out to suffer with him: among whom were five bishops, some priests and deacons, the rest were of the inferior clergy. The chief judge said to them: “If any one of you will adore the sun, the great god, let him step forth: his life shall be granted him.” But not one of them accepted life at this rate, all crying out: “Our faith in God teaches us to contemn your torments, your swords cannot cut off our firm hopes of our resurrection. Your pretended deity we will never adore.” The officers accordingly began to despatch them, while St. Simeon, standing in the midst of them, continued exhorting them to constancy in the assured hope of a happy resurrection. After the hundred martyrs were executed, St. Simeon also received himself the stroke of the axe, together with his two companions, Abdhaicla and Hananias. The latter, as he was putting off his clothes, was seized with a violent but involuntary trembling; which being observed by Phusikius, or Phasic, who had been a few days before created by the king the Karugabarus, or prefect of all the king’s workmen, cried out: “Hananias, banish all fear: shut your eyes one moment, and you will behold the light of Christ.” He had no sooner said this, than he was seized and carried before the king, who reproached him as ungrateful for the honour lately conferred upon him. Phusikius answered: “I could desire to exchange my life for their faith. I renounce this your honour, full of cares and trouble, and beg their death, than which nothing can be more happy.” Then the king said: “Do you despise your dignity, and prefer death? Are you lunatic?” Phusikius answered: “I am a Christian; and, by a most certain hope in God, I prefer their death to your honours.” The king being enraged, said to his attendants: “This man must not die by any common death;” and commanded that the back of his neck should be cut through into his mouth, and his tongue plucked out by the roots through the wound. This was executed with extreme cruelty, and Phusikius expired the same hour. He had a daughter who had consecrated her virginity to God, who was also apprehended, and crowned with a no less glorious martyrdom in 341. St. Simeon and all this troop are mentioned with most honourable encomiums in the Roman, and all the Eastern martyrologies. St. Maruthas translated the relics of St. Simeon, and deposited them in the church of his own episcopal city, which from thence took the name of Martyropolis. St. Simeon suffered on the 17th of April, in 341, the second year of the great persecution, and is named in the Roman Martyrology on the 21st of this month: but is honoured in the Greek Menæa on the 17th, and in the menology of the emperor Basil on the 14th of this month.  5
Note 1. King Hormisdas dying left his queen with child, and the infant in the womb was immediately proclaimed king by the Magians, who went so far as to crown it yet unborn, by placing the diadem for that purpose upon the mother. Thus Sapor was born king in 310, and lived seventy years, dying in 380; and the beginning of his reign was dated in 309, some months before his birth. He was the ninth king of the Saxanite, or fourth dynasty of the Persian kings, founded by Artaxerxes, a Persian, who defeated and slew Artabanus, king of Parthia, in whom ended the Parthian empire, in the year of Christ 223, of the Greeks or the Seleucidæ 534, the third of the Emperor Alexander. St. Maruthas, in the acts of the martyrs, with the Persians of his time, computes the years from this epoch: thus he says the great persecution was begun in the thirty-first year of King Sapor, and the hundred and seventeenth of the Persian empire, i. e. of the reign of the Saxanite, or last dynasty, which held that empire four hundred and eighteen years, till the rise of the Mahometan kingdom. [back]
Note 2. B. 17, c. 5. [back]
Note 3. Soz. b. 2, c. 15. [back]
Note 4. The Christian faith was planted in the Parthian empire by the apostles. St. Ambrose, (in Ps. 45,) St. Paulinus, (carm. 26,) &c. testify that St. Matthew preached to the Ethiopians, and afterwards to the Parthians, Persians, and Medes. Eusebius and Theodorus the Studite say, that St. Bartholomew also preached in India and Persia. Some are of opinion, from St. John’s epistle being inscribed to the Parthians, that they had been, in part, his conquest to Christ. The Chaldæans and Persians all agree that St. Thomas the Apostle, and Thaddæus, one of the seventy-two disciples, with his two disciples, Maris and Aghæus, were the principal apostles of the East, and to them they ascribe the foundation of the see of Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Their testimonies may be seen in Assemani’s Bibliotheca Orientalis, t. 3, par. 2, p. 4. Eusebius shows, that there were many Christians in Persia in the second century. [back]
Note 5. Seleucia, called by the Syrians Selik, was built by Seleucus Nicator, or his son, and so called from him. Ctesiphon was situated on the opposite eastern bank of the Tigris, built by the Parthians in a most fruitful plain, separated from Seleucia by the river, though Strabo, &c. make the distance three miles. They were the two capital cities of Assyria and of the Persian empire, during the reigns of the Arsacide kings, the ruins of whose palace long subsisted there. The archiepiscopal see of Seleucia and Ctesiphon enjoyed the right of primacy over all the churches in Persia, and the first general council of Nice decreed that it should be the first in rank and dignity after the great patriarchates, as is mentioned in the Arabic canons, (can. Arabic, 38, alias 33,) and as the Orientals assure us. St. Simeon is said to have been the first archbishop to whom the title of Catholicus of Persia was given. (See Steph. Evod. Assemani, p. 4.) Seleucia and Ctesiphon having been destroyed in the wars, in 762, Abdalla Abugiapharus Almansores, the second of the Abbacide caliphs, built Bagdad, or new Babylon, on the western bank of the Tigris, about the place where Seleucia had stood. The Nestorian patriarch, who pretends to succeed the ancient Catholicus of Seleucia, resides at Bagdad. (See Steph. Evod. Assemani, p. 38.) Old Babylon stood on the Euphrates, probably on a channel diverging to the Tigris. The distance between the Tigris and Euphrates, where nearest, about Seleucia and Babylon, was above two hundred furlongs, according to Strabo, l. 16, near the mouths of the two rivers, twenty-five Roman miles, according to Pliny, l. 6, c. 27.
  Susa, the capital of the old Persian kings, lay to the east from Seleucia, according to Pliny, l. 6, c. 27, four hundred and fifty Roman miles; from Ecbatana, capital of Media, where the ancient kings of Persia passed the summer, as the winter at Susa, (see Cellarius, t. 2, p. 668, ad Lipsiens, 1732,) also four hundred and fifty Roman miles; from whence twenty to the Portæ Caspiæ, or Streights in the Caspian mountains, (separating Media from Parthia.) From Susa to the Persian gulf Pliny counts two hundred and fifty miles. Herodotus (l. 5,) counts from Sardes to Susa four hundred and fifty parasangs, (each of thirty furlongs,) or thirteen thousand five hundred furlongs, and from Ephesus to Sardes five hundred and forty furlongs, that is, from Ephesus to Susa, fourteen thousand and forty furlongs.
  N. B. Pliny informs us that the Persian parasang was not always of the same measure: and the same is to be said of the Parthian schœnus. Hasius proves that in Xenophon the parasangs are in such a proportion that thirty-three measured a degree on the equator, that is, sixty modern Italian, or seventy-five old Roman miles. As eight furlongs made a Roman mile, De l’Isle counts six hundred in a degree, or seventy-five Roman miles. A German mile comprises four Italian, or five old Roman miles or forty furlongs. One furlong contained six hundred and twenty-five Roman, or six hundred Grecian feet, i. e. five hundred and seventy-one Paris feet. The confusion found in the mensurations of roads in Pliny, Diodorus, &c., is thought by Hasius to proceed from a great difference in the old furlong, of which he thinks a degree contained one thousand one hundred. F. Hardouin, in his notes on Pliny, (l. 6, c. 27,) takes notice, that a Persian parasang was of sixty, or of thirty or forty furlongs; and that there was as great a difference in the Egyptian schœnus. [back]
Note 6. The Magians had always a great sway in the Persian government, till the Mahometans possessed themselves of that empire, who put many of them to death, and abolished their sect in the cities, though some still remain in the mountains and in Caramania. The word in Chaldaic signifies mediators. They were philosophers, much addicted to the folly of judiciary astrology and divinations. [back]