LEARN TO LIVE, LIVE TO LEARN
“To know much and taste nothing-of what use is that?” ―St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
"Dear Kuya Jeff, I came across your post exploring the parallels between Augustus and Jesus, and it truly opened my eyes to the importance of not overlooking details in the Gospel narrative. Your insights consistently inspire the Bible student within me, and I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts. I've been pondering a question lately and would love your input. Regarding the infants massacred in Bethlehem, it seems they couldn't have desired martyrdom, given their infancy and lack of understanding. Can we consider them true martyrs, the Holy Innocents? I'm eager to hear your perspective, ideally before the Feast of Holy Innocents. Wishing you a swift recovery and a joyful Christmas!" - Inocencio T.
1. The story of the Holy Innocents appears in Matthew 2:16–18. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the Magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the Magi, the Gospel reads.
2. Herod the Great held the title of "king," yet he functioned as a dependent ruler under the Roman empire, designated as the "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate. This signified his status as a local leader accountable to Rome, owing his throne to the Senate. While he identified religiously as a Jew, his ethnic background traced back to the Idumeans, who had been compelled to adopt Judaism during the Maccabean era. Notably, Herod exhibited extreme cruelty, having not only killed his father-in-law Simon Boethus, the High Priest, but also his wife Mariamne and his three sons, Alexander, Aristobolus, and Antipater, eliminating anyone perceived as a threat to his reign. Macrobius relates that when Augustus heard that amongst the boys of two years and under, Herod's own son also had been massacred, he said, "It is better to be Herod's pig, than his son," alluding to the Jewish law of not eating, and consequently not killing pigs. Herod's ruthlessness persisted until the end; Josephus reported that, as he neared death, Herod ordered the execution of prominent figures in Israel to ensure widespread mourning at his passing. This paints a vivid portrait of Herod's character.
3. Should the Holy Innocents be honored as saints, let alone martyrs? According to St. Augustine of Hippo, the Church regards these children as martyrs (flores martyrum). They represent the initial blossoms of the Church, snuffed out by the frost of persecution, having not just died for Christ but in his place. We can be assured of their salvation, since Jesus promised that "whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it (Matthew 16:25)".
4. Can we consider them to be martyrs despite their infancy and lack of understanding of what was happening? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of martyrdom as a kind of good work that the martyr does for Christ. Instead, martyrdom is a grace that — if need be — we receive from Christ. According to St. Cyprian of Carthage, "the cause of perishing is to perish for Christ. That Witness who proves martyrs, and crowns them, suffices for a testimony of his martyrdom." So it’s not the Holy Innocents who make themselves martyrs. It’s ultimately Christ who makes them saints and martyrs.
5. St. Peter Chrysologus poses the question, "Why did Christ choose this course of action? Why did He forsake those whom He knew were pursued because of Him and would perish for His sake? Born as the King of Heaven, why did He abandon the innocent? Why did He overlook this assembly of His own peers? Why did He leave those who, like Him, slumbered in a crib, while the adversary, seeking only the king, inflicted harm upon all the soldiers?" The same saint provides an answer, stating, "Brethren, Christ did not abandon His soldiers; instead, He ordained for them the most favorable destiny, granting them victory before living, enabling them to achieve triumph without struggle, bestowing upon them the crown even before their faculties were fully developed. By His divine power, He desired for them to overcome vice and attain possession of Heaven before Earth."
6. The martyrdoms during Christmas convey a relevant message for us today. While the holiday season is traditionally associated with peace and joy, it is crucial to acknowledge the existence of challenges, persecutions, and various forms of suffering. The birth of Jesus does not eliminate suffering from our lives; instead, it alters its nature, allowing us to partake in the redemptive sufferings experienced by the Holy Innocents and all saints who have closely aligned themselves with Christ. Dear Holy Innocents, you were treated with the utmost cruelty even before you were capable of understanding such cruelty. God permitted your suffering, and now He exalts you forever as the first witnesses to Him who shed your blood. Please pray for me, that I will always bear witness to Christ in my life and will walk with peace and joy amidst the sufferings in this life. Holy Innocents, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum