March 12 is the feast day of Maximilian of Thavaste, whom tradition holds was beheaded for refusing to serve in the Roman military because he was a Christian.
1. On the 12th day of March during the consulship of Tuscus and Anolinus , when Fabius Victor had been brought into the forum at Tebessa, together with Maximilianus, and their advocate Pompeianus had been granted an audience, the last declared, “The temonarius Fabius Victor is present, together with Valerianus Quintianus, the praepositus Caesariensis, and the fine recruit Maximilianus, Victor’s son. Since he is acceptable, I ask that he be measured.” 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. And the matron Pompeiana obtained his body from the judge and, having placed it in her carriage, she brought it to Carthage, and buried it beneath a little hill near the martyr Cyprian and the palace. And so, after the 13th day, the same woman died, and was buried there. But his father Victor returned to his home with great joy, thanking God that he had sent on ahead such a gift to the Lord, he who was about to follow shortly afterwards.
As I wrote about this account last year:
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.
Today is also the anniversary of Fr. Rutilio Grande’s murder in El Salvador in 1977. Grande was a close friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero and an outspoken opponent of the abuses of the U.S.-backed government. The speech that probably got him killed was his “Apopa sermon,” delivered on February 13, denouncing the expulsion of a fellow priest from the country. He said:
“I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive—against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. They would accuse him, the man-God, the prototype of man, of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and i.e., against the minorities. …Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again. And they have said so.”
One month after delivering the Apopa sermon, Grande was gunned down, and the local government authorities refused to order an autopsy. The Jesuits hired their own physician to conduct an autopsy, which determined that Grande had been shot by the same type of automatic rifles used by the police. This was only one of several signs of government complicity in the murder.
Grande’s death was a crucial moment in Romero’s life, and triggered his move to openly oppose the Salvadoran government. He canceled all future attendance at state events and meetings with the president pending the fulfillment of his demands for an official investigation, and that investigation never took place.