With the free eBook, Martyrs Through the Ages

From St. Stephen to the modern day, we have seen countless examples of courage from admirable men and women who have followed in Christ’s footsteps and have willingly given their lives for the Kingdom. 

This eBook tells the stories of nine heroic men and women from all walks of life and through different moments in history who chose to offer their lives for Christ. 

Sign up here for your free eBook.

Why did people despise St. Stephen and put him to death?

St. Stephen spoke out fearlessly about his faith, in order to convert souls to Christ. It became evident that he was an extraordinary preacher and could work great miracles, bringing even more people to the faith, all of which hastened his death.

Where in the Bible is the death of St. Stephen?

The account of the first martyr, St. Stephen, is found in the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 6 and 7. One of his most memorable quotes, which no doubt infuriated many of his hearers, recalled how the prophets had been treated.

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. (Acts 7:51-53)

“And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” - Acts of the Apostles 7:59-60

Who was present at St. Stephen’s martyrdom?

In the year 35, Saul appeared as a self-righteous young Pharisee, fanatically anti-Christian. He believed the trouble-making new sect should be stamped out and its adversaries punished. We are told in Acts chapter 8 that he was present, although not a participant, in the stoning by which the Church’s protomartyr Stephen met his death.

Read More

What were St. Stephen’s last words?

The Acts of the Apostles in 7:54-60 recounts the crowds’ reaction to Stephen’s condemnation of the treatment of the prophets over the centuries.

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Why was St. Stephen sometimes titled “archdeacon”?

While the title “archdeacon” is of later usage, the deacon St. Stephen is singled out in Scripture as being “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). According to Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints, he is listed first among the deacons as Peter is listed first among the Apostles. Thus, he is held up in the Church as a model for deacons.

Did St. Stephen ever perform any miracles?

According to Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints, while we do not have written accounts of St. Stephen’s miracles, “he was filled with the Holy Ghost, preached, and pleaded the cause of Christianity with great courage, confirming his doctrine by many public and unquestionable miracles” (St. John Chrysostom).

Read More

“Yet not in houses made by hands does the Most High dwell, even as the prophet says. ... Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ear, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; as your father did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you have now been the betrayers and murderers, you who received the Law as an ordinance of angels and did not keep it.” – St. Stephen, when speaking to his agitators leading to his death

What kind of lesson does the martyrdom of Stephen give?

Stephen’s story tells us that we should never be afraid of proclaiming the Gospel. While men could kill his body, his death glorified the Lord – and won for him the martyr’s crown in heaven. 

Pope Benedict XVI said,

Stephen’s story tells us many things: for example, that charitable social commitment must never be separated from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven made responsible above all for charity. But it was impossible to separate charity and faith. Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom. This is the first lesson we can learn from the figure of St Stephen: charity and the proclamation of faith always go hand in hand.

Above all, St Stephen speaks to us of Christ, of the Crucified and Risen Christ as the centre of history and our life. We can understand that the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church's life and also of our life. In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian's famous words, becomes "the seed of Christians," the source of mission for Christians to come.

I cite his words: “We multiply wherever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed...” (Apology 50, 13): Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum. But in our life too, the Cross that will never be absent, becomes a blessing.

And by accepting our cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn Christian joy even in moments of difficulty. The value of witness is irreplaceable, because the Gospel leads to it and the Church is nourished by it. St Stephen teaches us to treasure these lessons, he teaches us to love the Cross, because it is the path on which Christ comes among us ever anew.

What does St. Stephen’s martyrdom say about the Cross?

As Christians, we must accept our sufferings, even when it means our martyrdom. We should also unite our suffering with Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Thus the saints propose that every day we pray for “final perseverance,” the gift of fortitude at the hour of our death, whether by martyrdom, illness or any other means.

What kind of impact on the faith did the death of Stephen have?

The death and martyrdom of St. Stephen created a paradoxical effect. The Christians in Jerusalem were afterwards so heavily persecuted that many fled to other cities, towns, and countries. Those disciples who were dispersed openly shared the message and life of Jesus, and multitudes more converted. 

Unlike the blood of Abel, which cried out to God for vengeance, the blood of the martyrs, like that of Christ, is an appeal to the Father for grace, and the conversion of sinners. In Stephen’s case, the first fruit was Saul, who took the name Paul, and became the Apostle to the Gentiles. So common has this phenomenon been in history that already by 200 AD the writer Tertullian would write, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” 

What became of the relics of St. Stephen?

In the fifth century, it is said that the Rabbi Gamaliel, who had taught St. Paul the Law (Acts 22:3) and warned the Sanhedrin about persecuting the Apostles (Acts 5:34), appeared to a priest named Lucian in his church near Jerusalem. He instructed Lucian where he would find St. Stephan’s remains. There, also, would be those of Nicodemus, and Gamaliel himself, since the property had been his own estate. Lucian went to the Patriarch John of Jerusalem and together they opened the tomb and found the relics just as Gamaliel had said. 

Read More

“Looking to the exemplary models of the martyrs of yesterday and today, the Christian is called to live a full life, welcoming the martyrdom of everyday faithfulness to the Gospel and conforming to Christ.” – Pope Francis

What is St. Stephen the patron of?

St. Stephen is the patron of deacons, stone masons, headaches, and those who suffer them. 

What is the meaning of “Stephen”?

The meaning of Stephen is derived from the Greek word stephani, which can mean a garland, wreath, or a crown. This is fitting since this is a common symbol of the glory of the martyrs. 

What does “martyr” mean?

The Greek word martus is the source of the English word martyr. While martus can mean a witness in a variety of senses, literally and figuratively, for Christians it has come to mean the witness of one’s life, especially in death. We, as Christians, are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in our words and actions. And some, like Stephen, are called to be martyrs in the fullest sense, shedding their blood rather than renouncing their faith.

What is the Church’s teaching on martyrdom?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2473), “Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith; it means bearing witness even unto death.” 

Videos About St. Stephen

What kind of lesson can we learn from Christian martyrs?

Pope Francis says the words of St. Stephen teach us that

It is not beautiful speeches that reveal our identity as children of God, but that only by surrendering one’s life into the hands of the Father and forgiving those who offend us can the quality of our faith be shown.

The Holy Father further says, we are then asked through prayer by “looking to the martyrs of yesterday and today, we can learn to live a full life, welcoming the martyrdom of everyday faithfulness to the Gospel and conforming to Christ.”