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

November 30

SS. Sapor and Isaac, Bishops, Mahanes, Abraham, and Simeon, Martyrs

IN the thirtieth year of Sapor II., the Magians accused the Christians to the king, with loud complaints, saying: “No longer are we able to worship the sun, nor the air, nor the water, nor the earth: for the Christians despise and insult them.” Sapor, incensed by their discourse against the servants of God, laid aside his intended journey to Aspharesa, and published a severe edict commanding the Christians everywhere to be taken into custody. Mahanes, Abraham, and Simeon were the first who fell into the hands of his messengers. The next day the magians laid a new information before the king, saying: “Sapor, bishop of Beth-Nictor, and Isaac, bishop of Beth-Seleucia, build churches, and seduce many.” 1 The king answered in great wrath: “It is my command that strict search be made to discover the criminals throughout my dominions, and that they be brought to their trials within three days.” The king’s horsemen immediately flew day and night in swift journeys over the kingdom, and brought up the prisoners, whom the magians had particularly accused; and they were thrown into the same prison with the aforesaid confessors. The day after the arrival of this new company of holy champions, Sapor, Isaac, Mahanes, Abraham, and Simeon, were presented to the king, who said to them: “Have not you heard that I derive my pedigree from the gods? yet I sacrifice to the sun, and pay divine honours to the moon. And who are you who resist my laws, and despise the sun and fire?” The martyrs, with one voice, answered: “We acknowledge one God, and Him alone we worship.” Sapor said: “What God is better than Hormisdatas, or stronger than the angry Armanes? and who is ignorant that the sun is to be worshipped.” 2 The holy bishop Sapor replied: “We confess only one God, who made all things, and Jesus Christ born of him.” The king commanded that he should be beaten on the mouth; which order was executed with such cruelty, that all his teeth were knocked out. Then the tyrant ordered him to be beaten with clubs, till his whole body was bruised and his bones broken. After this he was loaded with chains. Isaac appeared next. The king reproached him bitterly for having presumed to build churches; but the martyr maintained the cause of Christ with inflexible constancy. By the king’s command several of the chief men of the city who had embraced the faith, and abandoned it for fear of torments, were sent for, and by threats engaged to carry off the servant of God, and stone him to death. At the news of his happy martyrdom, St. Sapor exulted with holy joy, and expired himself two days after in prison, of his wounds. The barbarous king, nevertheless, to be sure of his death, caused his head to be cut off and brought to him. The other three were then called by him to the bar: and the tyrant finding them no less invincible than those who were gone before them, caused the skin of Mahanes to be flayed from the top of the head to the navel; under which torment he expired. Abraham’s eyes were bored out with a hot iron, in such a manner, that he died of his wounds two days after. Simeon was buried in the earth up to his breast, and shot to death with arrows. The Christians privately interred their bodies. The glorious triumph of these martyrs happened in the year 339. See their genuine Chaldaic acts in Steph. Evod. Assemani, Acta Mart. Orient. t. 1, p. 226.

Note 1. The word Beth in Chaldaic signifies a hill; both these cities being built on hills, and standing in Assyria. [back]
Note 2. From these and other acts of the Persian martyrs it is clear, that besides a good and evil principle, the ancient Persians of the magian sect worshipped the four elements, principally fire, as inferior deities, and that the account which Prideaux, Samuel Clark, and especially Ramsay, have given us of their religion, is defective, and in some essential points entirely false. The laborious Dr. Hyde, who has left a monument of his extensive reading, in his book, On the Religion of the Ancient Persians, shows in what manner Zoroaster purged the Persian superstition of the grosser part of its more ancient idolatry, teaching the unity and immensity of the supreme deity, and regarding fire (which before his time was most grossly worshipped) merely as a minister and instrument of God: but he still retained a more refined worship of it, especially of Mythras or Myhir, the celestial fire of the sun, and he continued to maintain the perennial fire, though he abolished many of the grosser rites which the Persians observed in the worship of it before his time. The Guebres in Persia, a poor and despicable race, are allowed to be descendants of the magians. And the same is granted with regard to the Parsees, that is the ancient Persians, who fled from the swords of the Mahometans, into the neighbouring country of India, where they still pretend to adhere to their old superstitions, though they live amidst the Indian idolaters, and are dispersed as far as the neighbourhood of Surat and Bombay. Their chief moghs or magians, who have the direction of their sacred rites and records, are in India called Dustoors. Mr. Grose, in his voyage to the East Indies, printed at London in 1757, takes notice that the religion or reform of Zoroaster was too uncompounded to satisfy the gross conceptions of the vulgar, and the lucrative views of the Dustoors in succeeding ages after his death: so that it retained not long its original purity. The same author learned from these Parsees, that all the books of Zoroaster were destroyed, (whether by accident, or on purpose he could not be informed,) and that the present capital law-book of this people, called the Zendavastaw, written in the Pehlavi, or old Persian language, was pretended to have been compiled by memory, by Erda-Viraph, one of the chief magians. An abstract or translation of this into the modern Persian, was made by the son of Melik-Shadi, a Dustoor, who lived about two hundred and fifty years ago, and entitled Saud dir, that is, The Hundred Gates. Mr. Grose assures us, that it appears from this abstract that Erda-Viraph greatly adulterated the original doctrine of Zoroaster by interpolations, additions, and foisting in many superstitions. Such as he doubts not, are their not daring to be an instant without their cushee or girdle; their not venturing to pray before the sacred fire without having their mouth covered with a small square flap of linen, lest they should pollute the sacred fire by breathing on it, &c. See ib. p. 355. From this observation we infer that Dr. Hyde and Beausobre, in their account of the ancient magians, lay too great stress upon the customs and tenets of their descendants. [back]