By St. Alphonsus Liguori
The Christian religion had been for a long time persecuted in Persia, but during the reign of King Isdegerdes it had enjoyed a peace of twenty years. A certain bishop, named Abdas, set fire to a temple, in which was an idol worshipped by the Persians; and this circumstance gave rise to a fierce persecution of the Christians, since Isdegerdes, infuriated by the fact, gave orders that all Christian churches should be leveled with the earth, and that all his subjects should profess only the Persian religion.
James, overcome by the fear of losing his property and the honors he enjoyed at court, obeyed the iniquitous decree. But his mother and his wife, most exemplary Christians, who were then absent, having heard of his fall, wrote to him a letter, in which, after exhorting him to repair his grievous error, they said: “If thou wilt not return to the good path from which thou hast departed, we shall treat thee as a stranger, and separate from thee; it behooveth us not to have any communication with one who hath abandoned his God to please men, and to secure to himself the perishable things of this life, which will cause him to perish everlastingly.”
James, whose conscience continually upbraided him with his apostasy, was strongly affected by the letter; and he began to reflect that if his nearest relatives thus reproached him, how much more would he have to fear the censure of the Eternal Judge. While he bewailed the publicity of his sin, he resolved that his repentance should be equally notorious, and took frequent occasion to express himself in the following terms: “I am a Christian, and I repent that I have abandoned the faith of Jesus Christ.”
The king upon hearing this was much enraged, and considering himself personally offended by the insult offered to the gods whom he adored, ordered him to be conducted to his presence. The saint appeared before the tyrant, who reproached him with fickleness, and threatened him with the most cruel death unless he immediately sacrificed to the gods of the Persians. But the saint replied that he was a Christian, that he sincerely repented of his apostasy, and that he wished to continue no longer unfaithful to his God. The tyrant, in transports of rage, commanded that his body should be chopped to pieces, limb by limb, in order, as he said, that others might be deterred from following his example.
The saint intrepidly offered himself to this horrible torture. The executioner first cut off the thumb of his right hand, telling him that if he would obey the king his torments should cease there. But James was anxious to give his life for Jesus Christ, and to repair the scandal he had given by having denied him; presenting, therefore, each limb to the executioners, he suffered them to be cut off, joint by joint, without a moan. The faithful witnessed his martyrdom with great edification, until, his body being reduced to a mere trunk, his head was struck off. This happened on the 27th of November, in the year 420, and from the nature of his martyrdom he was called Intercisus, that is, cut into pieces.
The constancy of this martyr makes us better understand the efficacy of the grace of Jesus Christ, since by it he was enabled to suffer this cruel butchery not only with resignation, but with great spiritual joy. All the martyrs were, of themselves and as men, vile and weak, but they were enabled by Jesus Christ, who strengthened them, to suffer their trials with fortitude, and to obtain the victory. Let us also have confidence in the assistance of Jesus Christ, and whenever we find our strength or courage to falter under trial or temptation, let us instantly have recourse to him, praying him to succor us by the merits of his precious blood. If we but do this with fervent faith we also may be sure of triumph.