Mauritius and the Thebaic Legion

Mauritius And The Thebaic Legion.

The legend concerning St. Mauritius and his fellow-soldiers originated with Eucherius, bishop of Lyons († about 450), and was first published in A.D. 1662, by the Jesuit Francis Chiffletus, from an old martyrology in the Abbey of St. Claude, in the Jura. A recension of this legend was admitted by Surius into his Lives of Saints in 1569, which is drawn from martyrologies of a later date, and was composed by a monk connected with the cloister of St. Maurice, who bore the same name as the bishop, but flourished nearly a century later. Much has been written for and against the authenticity of the legend, but the results of modern criticism seem to indicate that a basis of truth underlies the story. The evidence in its favor reaches to the 4th century, while the adverse proof rests chiefly on the improbability of the events narrated. It relates that during the wars of the emperor Maximian with the Gauls, a legion, known as the Thebaic, was ordered from the East to reinforce his army. It was composed entirely of Christians, and was led by Mauritius. While the emperor rested at Octodurum (now Martigny, at the foot of Mount St. Bernard), the bulk of this legion was stationed at St. Maurice, in the present canton of Wallis, excepting two cohorts, which were sent to Treves. The army was at this time employed in persecuting Christians, in which service the Thebaic legion was ordered to cooperate. They refused to obey, and the emperor, in a rage, commanded the decimation of the legion. As they remained firm, even after a second decimation, Maximian ordered the massacre of the entire body. Eucherius states that at this period a legion numbered 6600 men, and clearly asserts that the greater portion of this legion perished at St. Maurice, while the martyrology of St. Mauritius adds that officers were sent to Treves to execute a similar punishment on the two cohorts stationed there. A similar legend occurs in Simeon Metaphrastes, according to which a St. Mauritius with seventy of his soldiers was executed by order of Maximian; but this was probably a Greek adaptation of the Latin story. Grave doubts are cast upon the legend by the great number of fugitives from this massacre which constantly meet us, and by the improbability of the sacrifice of so large a body of troops in time of war. See De Lisle, Defense de la Verite du Martyre de la Legion Thebeenne (1737); the Acta SS. Surius, and the Martyrol. Usuardi, edit. J. B. du Sollier, S.J., Sept. 22, and October 4, 10, 15; also Tillemont, Memoires, tom. 4; Stolberg, 9:302 sq.; Rettberg, Kirchengesch. Deutschlands, 1, § 16. — Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 9:197 sq.; Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, 6:414 sq.

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