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Identities i6 p&c 00 book.indb 81 2017.09.20. 16:22 i6 p&c 00 book.indb 82 2017.09.20. 16:22 IMITATIO CHRISTI? LITERARY MODELS FOR MARTYRS IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY Monika Pesthy-Simon Martyrs are not born but made. To become a “martyr” in early Christianity, it was not enough—and sometimes not even necessary—to die for Christ. Rather, the essential part of martyr creation was the martyr story compiled by a hagiographer presenting the (actual or fictive) death of a (real or imaginary) person as a heroic public act accomplished for Christ. New hero, the martyr had to replace all preceding models. For this purpose, hagiographers had recourse to various devices. This paper concentrates on a special aspect of the hagiographer’s work: the models employed in order to present the protagonist in as heroic a light as possible. It is commonly accepted that the Christian martyr imitates Christ. Examining two early martyrial texts, the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and the Martyrdom of Polycarp, I wish to argue that in the majority of cases, the real model used by the hagiographer in composing his account of a martyr’s execution, and the events leading to it (arrest, tribunal, imprisonment, torture, etc.), is not Christ, even if the martyr actually declares to follow Christ and even if certain details are taken from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death. If Christ is the theological and literary model for the martyr, the martyr is presented by hagiographers as surpassing His heroism in a variety of ways. First, I sum up the main differences between Christ and the martyrs in Late Antique Christian literature. On the basis of the martyrdom of Ignatius and Polycarp, I then attempt to show that even in the case of the martyrs generally considered prototypes of the imitatio Christi, Christ is not the only literary model and perhaps not even the most important one. Finally, I briefly survey and summarize the variegated models used in Christian martyrology.1 1  The material of this paper is partly incorporated into my book Isaac, Iphigeneia, Ignatius: Martyrdom and Human Sacrifice (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2017), pp. 119–31, 157–69. i6 p&c 00 book.indb 83 2017.09.20. 16:22 MONIKA PESTHY-SIMON 84 Christ and the martyrs: different attitudes The difference between the martyr’s death and that of Christ is obvious with regard to their respective behaviour. The martyrs’ aggressive and provocative activity, their zeal to promulgate their convictions and to insult their enemies as much as possible , is the opposite of the passive and reserved attitude of Christ. Let us briefly summarize the differences with the help of some examples taken in a somewhat haphazard way.·  Jesus does not want to die (Matthew 26.36–44; Mark 14.32–44; Luke 22.39– 44). The martyrs, without exception, want to die. “This we long for, this we desire” – answer the saints to the threats of the magistrate in the Acts of Justin and his companions.2 Desire for death attains pathological measures in the case of Ignatius: he wants to die (dñ§í ôï™ Pðïèáíåsí) and admonishes the Christians in Rome not to do anything to save him. If the beasts fail to kill him, he will provoke them to do so (cf. Letter to the Romans 4.7).·  Jesus does not want to suffer. The martyr, on the contrary, wants to suffer so as to achieve higher glory. Thus Saturninus “insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious”.3·  Jesus is sad (Matthew 26.38; Mark 14.34). The martyrs, in contrast, rejoice. Fructuosus is “glad (gaudens) that he would receive the Lord’s crown”;4 Marian and James are unable to control their overflowing joy (gaudia cumulata frenare) when they are arrested;5 Perpetua and her companions go happily (hilares) to their execution;6Agathoniké throws herself joyfully (PãáëëéùìÝíç) upon the stake;7 Carpus is smiling while he is nailed to the stake, etc.8·  Jesus waits to be arrested. Christians denounce themselves voluntarily before Roman authorities to become martyrs. In 185, a group of Christians showed up before Arrius Antoninus, proconsul of Asia to be executed. The proconsul executed some of them and advised the others to kill themselves by ropes and 2  4.6 (Recension C), (Herbert Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 59). 3  The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas 19.2 (Musurillo, The Acts of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9789633862568
Related ISBN
9789633862551
MARC Record
OCLC
1019979655
Pages
382
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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