Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume XII: December. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Maruthas, Bishop and Confessor
THIS holy prelate was an illustrious father of the Syriac church about the end of the fourth century; and was bishop of Tagrit, in Mesopotamia, at that time subject to the Oriental empire, though near the borders of Persia. He compiled the Acts of the martyrs who suffered in that kingdom, during the forty years of Sapors persecution, from 340 to 380, part of which valuable collection has been recovered and published by Stephen Assemani, in 1748. St. Maruthas wrote several hymns in praise of the martyrs, which together with others of St. Ephrem, are inserted in the Chaldaic divine office, and are sung by the Maronites, Jacobites, and Nestorians, who use that tongue in the church office. St. Maruthas gathered the relics of many Persian martyrs, and distributed them over the Roman empire, that the people might every where receive the divine blessing by those sacred pledges. Isdegerdes having ascended the Persian throne, in 401, St. Maruthas made a journey to Constantinople in 403, in order to induce Arcadius to use his interest with the new king in favour of the distressed Christians. But he found the court too much embroiled in carrying on an unjust persecution against St. Chrysostom. Maruthas hastened back into Mesopotamia. The year following he made a second journey to Constantinople, and St. Chrysostom recommended him to the widow Olympias entreating her to assist him, and promote what he himself had begun in favour of the church of Persia, for which he expressed an extraordinary zeal.1 Theodosius the Younger having succeeded his father in the empire, honoured St. Maruthas with the commissions of two successive embassies to Isdegerdes, to settle a lasting peace between the two empires. The Persian monarch conceived the highest esteem for the saint, and by his prayers was cured of a violent headache, which his Magians had not been able to relieve, as Socrates relates.2 This historian adds, that the king from that time usually called him The friend of God; and the Magians, fearing that the prince should be brought over by him to the Christian faith, had recourse to a wicked and base contrivance. They hid a man under the ground in the temple, who when the king came to adore the perpetual fire, cried out: Drive out of this holy place the king who impiously believes a priest of the Christians. Isdegerdes hereupon was going to dismiss the bishop; but Maruthas persuaded the king to go again to the sacred place, assuring him that by causing the floor to be opened, he would discover a wicked imposture. The king did so; and the issue was, that he commanded the Magians who attended the place to be decimated, and publicly gave Maruthas leave to erect churches wherever he pleased. The holy bishop rebuilt a considerable number in several parts of Persia, and in his second embassy thither made a long stay, and held two synods at Ctesiphon: in the latter, in 414, Arianism was condemned, and several regulations of discipline were made. St. Maruthas, in his old age, returned into Mesopotamia, and brought back with him many relics of martyrs, and enriched his own church with such a multitude, that the city of Tagrit was from that time called Martyropolis.
The principal work of this father is a Syro-Chaldaic Liturgy, which the Maronites, who employ that language in celebrating the divine office, still make use of on certain days. A manuscript copy of his Syriac commentary on the gospel of St. Matthew is preserved in the Vatican library; out of which Joseph Assemani has extracted many testimonies to prove the belief of the real presence of Christs body in the eucharist.3 A history of the council of Nice, with the canons, translated into Syriac, compiled by St. Maruthas, is mentioned by Ebedjesus; which, if ever discovered, will be a most valuable treasure. This holy bishop died at his own see before the middle of the fifth century, and was there interred. During the incursions of the Persians and Arabs his body was conveyed into Egypt, where it still remains in an honourable monument in the monastery of our Lady, in the desert of Sceté, inhabited by Syrian monks. Stephen Assemani saw there a Syro-Chaldaic manuscript, containing a long history of the life of St. Maruthas, and several of his writings; but was not able to procure a copy. The Cophtists in Egypt honour St. Maruthas on the 19th of February: the Syrians and Melchites on the 6th of that month: the Greeks and Latins on the 4th of December. See Jos. Assemani, in Bibl. Orient, and Steph. Assemani, in Acta Mart. Orient. Also Socrates, Sozomen and Photius. Ceillier, t. 10, p. 466.