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Christian Martyrs

Phoebe Ndoro
01:28 PM ET (US)
Origen's 'Exhortation to Matyrdom' erodes some of the awe and reverence that surrounds the concept of matyrdom because he makes he emphaisizes the idea, that Christian matyrs who suffer and die now, will be bountifully rewarded later. As he says " who would not welcome affliction upon affliction, that he might immediately welcome hope upon hope?
He later adds "we turn our governing minds from our sufferings and look not at the present sufferings but at the prizes".
Ths emphasis on suffering now, for a reward later on, somehow diminishes the act of Christian matyrs because after reading Origen it seems that they were acting not out of selflessness but out of an intrinsic human nature to gain eg honor, fame, immortality. This concept has many serious implications because it leads us to the question that if they were acting out of a desire to benefit or gain, then where was the "honor" in their actions?
Evie Thibault
10:54 AM ET (US)
Okay, I'm confused too. The first time I read the email message, I thought we were replacing Virgin Martyrs with Josephus and Masada. But I just reread it and it looks like we were supposed to replace "Christian Martyrs" with Josephus and Masada. Ah well...

I'll share some thoughts about what I thought we were supposed to read this week, although I'm pretty sure now that I did the wrong reading.

I was struck by how much of what we have been inferring from other texts about martyrdom is actually very clear in Origen. He is very certain that martyr's redeem people, just as Christ redeemed people, when he writes to Ambrose, "so some will be redemed by the precious blood of the martyrs, since they too have been exalted byond the exaltation of those who were righteous but did not become martyrs."(79) It seems to be a matter of degrees. There are the exalted, and then those who are exalted more, and so on. So Jesus Christ, as exalted by all, redeems all, but martyrs, although exalted less than Christ, can still redeem some. Origen even goes so far as to glorify Ambrose the way Abraham is glorified, as the father of a great nation of people (69). We can add that to the list of rewards of martyrdom that we've discussed (higher place in heaven, fame, honor, etc.).

Origen also makes some interesting comments on shame. He writes, "the contest must be waged not only to escape denial, but also to escape feeling the first inclination to shame when we are thought by those alien to God to be suffering what deserves shame."(67) He is aware that Christians are not entirely impervious to the opinions of the pagans, but he is urging them to invest in a different honor code. Christians do not need to concern themselves with feeling shame for being the center of a public spectacle, because they are acting for God. Glory in God's eye is much more powerful than shame in the eyes of the masses. In affect, they are giving up their own public honor to honor god.

One more thing: did anybody else notice that scene where Perpetua becomes a man? This is probably off topic, but I'm wondering what sense other people made of that. A woman becomes a man (albeit in a vision) and defeats another man. She commands more power, and refuses to submit to the wishes of her father. For someone without the benefit of being a virgin, she has an awful lot of power.
Edited 11-11-2002 10:54 AM
Karen JohannsPerson was signed in when posted
09:07 AM ET (US)
I'm confused. I thought we were doing Josephus this week and Christian martyrdom was put off until next week. Fearless leader sent us questions for Josephus only, right?
Edited 11-11-2002 09:07 AM
laura sutherland
12:54 AM ET (US)
Like Mandy I was struck by the jealous God theme in the Origen piece, but what was more interesting to me was the "fear" of God theme that ran throughout the Exhortation. On page 55, he quotes "Fear no one else but Him" and later, on page 65, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
  This makes me question the legitimacy of the act of martyrdom- does exchanging one fear (fear of death) with another fear (fear of God) make the act noble and honorable? Does it really qualify as a witness if you're only saving yourself from a different kind of misery? It seems that the Christian martyrs weren't just witnesses for their religious beliefs, but acting out of a greater fear that was created by religious persecution.
   In the previous reading of Josephus, he wrote "Miserable men, indeed, were they! whose distress forced them into slay their own wives and children with their own hands, as the lightest of those evils that were before them. So they not being able to bear the grief..." Seems like a parallel to the fear aspect- these men were grief-sttricken and tormented by what they had done, and what would be done to them, not sacrificing themselves for their God per se. Does it qualify if the act of death wasn't commited with bravery and stocism (like the greek martyrs)??
   Basically what Im questioning is the reasons given for the deaths and whether there is a broadening of what qualifies as "martyr" material....
   One section was confusing to me. On page 69, "So hate your own souls that by hating them you may keep them for eternal life," elaborated with a quote from Jn.12:25, "He who hates his soul in this world will keep it for eternal life." What is this about? Why this hate? Is this because of the past idolatry of false gods???
Hannah Fisher
11:26 PM ET (US)
I found myself feeling very surprised at the insistent tone in Origen's Exhortation to Martyrdom. LIke mandy, I picked up on the "jealous God" and the expectation of unwavering fidelity or face the fires of hell. This God is very demanding. I don't want to insult anyone, but his interpretation of religion is so rigid- if I were expected to live by these principles, I'd welcome death rather than live with the creepy thought that someone is listening to my every thought. If I"m not faithfull in my heart and words, then I"m going to hell. Marytrdom might just be the easy way out. He says several times (he's very redundant), "they deceive themselves who suppose that it is sufficient for gaining the goal in Christ to believe with the heart for jutsification, even if the confession with the mouth for salvation is not added." It sounds as if he's saying that it isn't enough to believe, you have to go around telling people what you believe and seek martyrdom.
Somewhat unrelated...thinking about Maccabees. I'm taking an course on Ancient Israel and the professor puts a lot of emphasis on the difference in style between the books in the Bible and what this tells us about dating and audience. Maccabees is SO gory and I found this uncharacterisitc of the examples of martyrdom in the Old Testament. You never really know when someone's being martyred/sacrificed. Like we discussed with Isaac last class, there's no evidence to suggest that he came down from the mountain with Abraham. The other examples professor Straw read us are also vague. Another great passage is Judges 11:29 which concerns the story of Jephtha's daughter. He promises God that if he gives him victory, Jephtha will sacrifice the first thing he sees coming out of his house (my professor suggested that he would know his daughter woudl be the first person/thing to greet him-it's tradition). Lo and behold, when he returns, victorious, his daughter comes to congratulate him and he sadly tells her he needs to sacrifice her. Do what you gotta do, Dad, only let me go into the wilderness with my friends to "mourn" my virginity. He lets her go, she returns...and nothing. No description of the sacrifice. She really resembles Iphegenia. To make long story short, who was Maccabees really aimed at? What does this say about the Israelites and sacrifice- are the squeamish?
Mandy Cass
03:12 PM ET (US)
Umm... exhortation to martyrdom... yes. A very scary thing to be writing about. Seems redundant to mention the echos of stoicism yet again (don't get too attached to family, don't bemoan your lot in life, realize that your will can not be taken from you, ect...). I guess the difference between the rejecting of worldly possessions in this piece (as opposed to say, Socrates) is that here it is because those possessions interfere with your being close to God. If you love earthly possessions, you can not wholly be devoted to God. The necessity for complete devotion also leads to a new dimension of their God's "personality," JEALOUSY. The Greek God's were jealous, but to this point the Christian God has been becoming more and more benevolent; now suddenly "I the Lord your God am jealous." Is this a throwback to the wrathful God? Or the phenomenon we mentioned last time in class of people fearing that God COULD again be wrathful (and so they invent that He will be benevolent if you are devoted, but if you're not, He becomes jealous -and again wrathful)? The fear of God is clearly still prevalent ". . .in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear Him."

I think the thing about this piece that struck me as different is the emphasis on heaven and hell. To this point the literature has been pretty quiet about that, and now all of a sudden the point of existence is to honor God so that you will go to Heaven, and if you don't you automatically go straight to Hell (do not pass go, do not collect $200). This also becomes the major point of becoming a martyr, it's a sure way to salvation. I can see the image of martyrdom as a second baptism as being a very powerful one, if believed. Especially when compared with the direct implication that if you cave before your persecutors, you are condemned. Period.

Another thing which interested me is the transition from glory in this world to glory in the next world (though there is still the tie to your martyrdom assuring safe perpetuation of your line after your death, as in the Binding of Issac and the bottom of pg168). This is especially noticeable in section XXI where it is stated that "martyrdom in secret" is equally noble. It makes sense that Christian martyrdom at this time would not be for great glory in this world, after death; as the Christians were not generally considered to be more than fanatics. This position in the world is emphasized by such statements as "let us not be surprised if the world hates us." These are the kinds of points which would have needed addressing, as the question of why God's love resulted in suffering (from one of our former readings...).
Carolina CamargoPerson was signed in when posted
08:31 PM ET (US)

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