SAINT MAURICE and the THEBAN LEGION (?-c.286), martyrs – Patron saint of soldiers
Today, the Church honors Saint Maurice, a Christian and a Roman soldier, and his Legion of 6,600 Christian soldiers who gave their lives for the principle of preserving the sanctity of innocent life.
Maurice was born about the middle of the 3rd century in Thebes, an ancient city in Egypt near the site of the Aswan Dam. He was an acknowledged Christian at a time when the Church was considered to be a threat to the crumbling Roman Empire. Yet, he moved easily throughout the pagan society of his day.
He was considered by many to be a good soldier and a born leader. The Roman emperor, Probus, commissioned him to select and command a full Roman legion. His legion, the Theban Legion, was made up of 6,600 men. Most of them were Christians from Africa.
The Theban Legion was a well-trained battalion. It displayed exceptional intelligence, discipline and valor. Maurice was their leader in the truest sense. He was totally committed to God and was concerned with the spiritual and the temporal welfare of his men. He ate with them and worked with them. He engaged in play with them and prayed with them. He rejoiced in their victories and suffered with each loss. They were truly a military family.
In 284 A.D., Diocletian became emperor and divided the Roman Empire. He chose a soldier named Maximian to rule as the Caesar of the West from Milan. Besieged by nomadic tribes from Gaul, Maximian sent an appeal for reinforcements. Maurice and the Theban Legion were dispatched with orders to clear the Saint Bernard Pass across Mount Blanc, including ruthlessly pillaging and brutally massacring those who resisted. Before going into battle, they were instructed to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods and pay homage to the emperor.
Maurice pledged his men’s military allegiance to Rome, but he also replied that service to God superseded all else. To engage in wanton slaughter was inconceivable to Christian soldiers, and that he and his men refused to worship the Roman gods.
Enraged by such insubordination, and Diocletian being convinced by his soothsayers and fortune-tellers that the Christians were responsible for the reversals in the war, Maximian ordered the execution of the entire Theban Legion. About the year 286 A.D., 6,600 “conscientious objectors” chose martyrdom and glorification following the example of their leader, Maurice.
We commemorate their joint feastday on September 22.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, stmaurice.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Several Martyrs)
“All-powerful and Ever-living God, turn our weakness into strength. As You gave Your martyrs Maurice and the Theban Legion the courage to suffer death for Christ, give us the courage to live in faithful witness to You.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”