"Honor the physician for the need thou hast of him: for the Most High hath created him. For all healing is from God..." (Ecclus. 38: 1-2). The Church obeying the inspired injunction, honors the medical profession in the persons of Ss. Cosmas and Damian, who not only, like many others, sanctified themselves in that career; but, far beyond all others, demonstrated to the world how grand a part the physician may play in Christian society.
They had been Christians from their childhood. The study of Hippocrates and Galen developed their love of God, whose invisible perfections they admired reflected in the human body—His palace and His temple. To them, science was a hymn of praise to their Creator, and the exercise of their art a sacred ministry; they served God in His suffering members, and watched over His human sanctuary, to preserve it from injury or to repair its ruins. Such a life of religious charity was fittingly crowned by the perfect sacrifice of martyrdom.
East and West vied with each other in paying homage to the Amargyres (without fees), as our Saints were called, on account of their receiving no fees for their services. Numerous churches were dedicated to them. The Emperor Justinian embellished and fortified the obscure town of Cyrus out of reverence for their sacred relics preserved there; and about the same time, Pope Felix IV built a church in their honor in the Roman Forum, thus substituting the memory of the twin martyrs for that of the less happy brothers, Romulus and Remus. Not long before this, St. Benedict had dedicated to Ss. Cosmas and Damian his first monastery at Subiaco, now known as St. Scholastica's. But Rome rendered the highest of all honors to the holy Arabian brothers, by placing their names, in preference to so many thousands of Her heroes, in the solemn Litanies and in the Canon of the Mass.
The following is the Church’s account of the two brothers:
The brothers Cosmas and Damian were Arabians of noble extraction, born in the town of Aegae. They were physicians; and during the reign of Diocletian and Maximian, healed even incurable maladies by Christ's assistance rather than by their knowledge of medicine. The prefect Lysias, being informed of their religion, ordered them to be brought before him, and questioned them on their faith and their manner of life. They openly declared that they were Christians, and that the Christian Faith is necessary to salvation; whereupon Lysias commanded them to adore the gods, threatening them, if they refused, with torture and a cruel death. But as the prefect saw his threats were in vain: "Bind their hands and feet," he cried, "and torture them with the utmost cruelty." His commands were executed, but Ss. Cosmas and Damian remained firm. They were then thrown, chained as they were, into the sea, but came out safe and loosed from their bonds. The prefect attributing this to magical arts ordered them to prison. The next day, he commanded them to be led forth and thrown on a burning pile, but the flames refused to touch them. Finally, after several other cruel tortures, they were beheaded; and thus confessing Jesus Christ, they won the palm of martyrdom.
O illustrious physicians, help us all, and heal the sick who confidently implore your assistance. We see how the study of medicine in our time so often leads astray into the paths of materialism and fatalism, to the great detriment of science and humanity. It is false to assert that simple nature is the explanation of suffering and death; and unfortunate are those whose physicians regard them as mere flesh and blood. Even the pagan schools took a loftier view than that; and it was surely a higher ideal that inspired you to exercise your art with such religious reverence. By the virtue of your glorious death, O witnesses to the Lord, obtain for our sickly society a return to the true Faith, to the remembrance of God, and to that piety which is profitable to all things and to all men, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Tim. 4: 18).
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