Every year on August 26, Augustinians around the world honor seven Catholic saints for sacrificing their lives. These men, contemporaries of Saint Augustine himself, all stood up for their faith, all ending up being martyred for doing so. They are truly Heroes of Faith.
Who Were These Men?
Their names? Saints Liberatus, Boniface, Servus, Rusticus, Rogatus, Septimus, and Maximus.
More important than their names, though ... these men were among the earliest followers of the Augustinian way of life. Even though the Augustinian Order hadn't been formally established by the Church until the Little Union of 1244, many communities had followed Augustine's Rule since the fifth century. Augustine himself died in the year 430 in Hippo (present-day Annaba, Algeria). He served as the Bishop of Hippo until his dying year there, the year that the Germanic Vandals tribe sacked the city.
Augustine's legacy continued to spread throughout Northern Africa after his death. Augustine, being a prolific writer in Christian theology, inspired several communities in the region to adopt his Rule, a writing of how monastic clergy should live their lives. One community in particular was Capsa (present-day Gafsa, Tunisia). This is the city where our Augustinian Martyrs of Africa had lived and prayed together.
In the year 484, King Huneric of the Vandals issued a decree stating that all monasteries were to be abolished and that all the monks and nuns were to be captured. The Augustinian community in Capsa was apprehended and forcefully taken to Carthage, where they were offered worldly rewards if they renounced their faith and their Augustinian way of life. When the men rejected this offer, they were imprisoned.
Their captors continued attempts to persuade the men to disavow Jesus, but the men held their ground. Eventually, the king ordered that all seven men be burned to death. His soldiers then tied bundles of wood on each of the men and placed them on a raft. When they attempted to burn the wood, though, nothing would ignite. This enraged the king, who consequently ordered that the men be beaten to death.
What is their legacy?
These men were among the earliest followers of Augustine; we continue to follow in their footsteps today. Sure, their names are not widely known among the most popular saints in the Church (in fact, several of their names should not be confused with other more commonly celebrated saints), but they are still among the most courageous Christians to pay the ultimate temporal cost for following Jesus. On June 6, 1671, the Catholic Church granted permission to the Augustinian Order to liturgically mark their feast day.
The Augustinians look to these martyrs of Northern Africa so that we may recall the sacrifices that our Christian ancestors willingly accepted. In the face of persecution, worldly temptation, and gruesome deaths, these men defiantly said, "I will put my faith in Christ." We can all look to their sacrifices and think about what we are willing to sacrifice for Christ.