The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian

After all of these things had taken place, Sebastian himself was arrested by the imperial spies. Since he was a man of high rank in the Roman army and court, he was taken before the emperor Diocletian for a personal audience.

Diocletian looked upon Sebastian with some sadness and disappointment. At last, he exclaimed,

“Sebastian, I have always held you to be one of my most trustworthy and capable officers, and I have given you a distinguished place in my court. And yet you, in return, have betrayed both the ancient gods of Rome and myself! You have been an enemy to me, a spy and traitor, hiding yourself beneath the military garments of a soldier of the empire.”

 Sebastian raised his eyes to him and replied with all sincerity,

“My Emperor, I have worshiped Christ, it is true. But I have done this always for the sake of your own well-being and preservation. Yes, I have adored the one God of heaven for the benefit of the great empire of Rome, as well as for the salvation of my own soul! For I have come to realize how foolish and vain it is to seek assistance from false idols, from gods made of lifeless stone, when it is only the true God who can help and protect us.”

 But Diocletian, despite the gentleness and honesty of Sebastian’s words, was filled with black fury. He commanded that his former friend and officer should be taken out to a field and bound to a pole. There, he was to be shot at with arrows until he expired. So the soldiers led him forth and did just as was commanded. They shot so many arrows into him that his body came to resemble that of a hedgehog, with innumerable spikes protruding from every part of it.

So, supposing him to be dead, they left him where he was, tied to the pole, perforated with countless wounds and bleeding profusely. That night, the widow of the Castulus, the palace caretaker—who had been martyred earlier—a woman by the name of Irene, came to recover the corpse of Sebastian so that she might give him an honorable Christian burial. But, to her utter amazement, she discovered that he was still living! She took him to her house, and within a few days, he had entirely recovered from his many wounds, with his health and limbs restored to perfect soundness and vigor.

When the local Christians heard about this miracle, they all came to see Sebastian. And they urged him to go into hiding to escape the wrath of Diocletian. But he, on the contrary, prayed to God and then proceeded straight to the imperial palace. There he stood boldly on the steps. And when the two co-emperors, Diocletian and Maximian, passed by, he reproached them vehemently and vociferously. “Your Majesties, the high priests of the pagan gods are laying wicked snares to souls and to the whole empire of Rome. For they make false accusations against Christians, labelling them as enemies of the state. But this is simply not true! For we who believe in the one true God never cease to pray to Him for the good of the people of Rome and the peace and prosperity of the empire.”

Diocletian was bewildered and perplexed to see Sebastian still alive and healthy. He said in astonishment, “Are you really the same Sebastian whom I ordered to be shot with arrows, and whom my soldiers informed me was dead?” To this the saint replied, “Indeed I am! For the Lord Jesus Christ has deigned to restore me to the fullness of life and health, as you can plainly see. And He did this so that I could give testimony to Him in the presence of all the people and declare the injustice of your cruel persecution of Christians and of the holy Church.”

Diocletian was infuriated, and ordered Sebastian to be taken to the stadium and there to be clubbed to death. This was promptly done, and the saint gave forth his noble and courageous spirit to God, his faithful soul ascending to the infinite glories of heaven.

The soldiers took his body that night and threw it scornfully into the great sewer of Rome, saying, “This way the Christians will not be able to find his remains and venerate him as a martyr.”

This article is taken from a chapter in A Tale of Death and Glory: The Acts of Saint Sebastian and His Companions by Saint Ambrose of Milan, which is avaliable from TAN Books.

St. Ambrose of Milan (339-397) is a Doctor of the Church. As a renowned homilist and Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose helped bring St. Augustine into the Catholic Church.