Posted: March 12, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Today is the feast day of St. Maximilian of Tebessa, a Christian martyred in antiquity for refusing to serve in the Roman military:

…The proconsul Dion said, “What are you called ?” Maximilianus replied,
“Why do you want to know my name ? It is not permitted to me to serve
in the military since I am a Christian”. The proconsul Dion said,
“Ready him”. When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied, “I
cannot serve in the military; I cannot do wrong; I am a Christian.” The
proconsul Dion said, “Let him be measured”. When he had been measured,
an official reported, “He is five feet ten inches tall.” Dion said to
the official, “Let him be marked.” And as Maximilianus resisted, he
replied, “I will not do it; I cannot serve in the military.”

2. Dion said, “Serve so that you do not perish.” Maximilianus
replied, “I will not serve; cut off my head; I do not serve the world,
but I do serve my God.”Dion the proconsul said, “Who has persuaded you
of this ?” Maximilianus replied, “My soul and he who has called me.”
Dion said to his father Victor, “Advise your son.” Victor replied, “He
himself knows – he has his purpose – what is best for him.” Dion said
to Maximilianus, “Serve and accept the seal.” He replied, “I will not
accept the seal: I already have the seal of my Christ.” Dion the
proconsul said, “I will send you to your Christ right now.” He replied,
“I wish that you would do so. That is even my title to glory.” Dion
said to his staff, “Let him be marked.” And when he was resisting, he
replied, “I do not accept the world’s seal, and if you give it to me, I
will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not
permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received]
the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he
whom you do not know, who suffered for the life of the world, whom God
surrendered for our sins. All of us Christians serve Him. Him we follow
as the source of life and author of salvation.” Dion said, “Serve, and
accept the seal, so that you do not suffer a terrible death.”
Maximilianus replied, “I will not die. My name is already with my Lord;
I cannot serve in the military.” Dion said, “Have regard to your youth
and serve; for this befits a young man.” Maximilianus replied, “My
service is for my Lord; I cannot serve the world. I have already said:
I am a Christian.” Dion the proconsul said, “There are Christian
soldiers in the sacred retinue of our lords Diocletian, Maximianus,
Constantius, and Maximus, and they serve.” Maximilianus replied, “They
themselves know what is best for them. But I am a Christian, and I
cannot do wrong.” Dio said, “What wrong do they who serve do ?”
Maximilianus replied, “You know well what they do.” Dion replied,
“Serve, lest, having scorned military service, you begin upon a
terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will will not die; even if I
do depart the world, my spirit will live with my Lord Christ.”

3. Dion said, “Strike out his name.” And when it had been struck
out, Dion said, “Because you have disloyally refused military service,
you will receive the appropriate sentence in order to serve as an
example to others.” And he read his decision from his tablet,
“Maximilianus, since you have disloyally refused the military oath, it
has been decided for you to be punished by the sword.” Maximilianus
replied, “Thanks be to God.” He was 21 years, 3 months, and 18 days
old. And when he was being led to the place [of execution], he spoke as
follows, “Dearest brothers, with an eager desire, hurry with as much
courage as you can so that it may befall you to see the Lord and that
he may reward you also with a similar crown.” And with a joyous face,
he addressed his father as follows, “Give that guard the new clothing
which you had got ready for me during my military service, so that I
may welcome you with a hundredfold reward and we may glory with the
Lord together.” And so he suffered death shortly afterwards.

Controversy surrounds the historicity of this account. However, what’s important about this story is not its historicity, but that the early church would celebrate the protagonist of such a story as a martyr. Declaring someone a saint is a political act, and the canonization of Maximilian as a saint in the eyes of the church also tells us something about the orientation of the early church to questions of war and violence. Interestingly, the author of the above-linked article debunking the historicity of the martyr story dates its composition to C.E. 384-439, during the time when the militarized Constantinian version of Christianity was supplanting the earlier anti-violent incarnation.


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