Imitators of Christ: Is Martyrdom a Sacrament? Part 10

This is the conclusion to the paper, nuff said. 

It would seem safe to say from all the evidence provided above that martyrdom could be considered a sacrament of the Church.  This paper has tried to show through the use of Scripture, reason, and the testimony of the Church that martyrdom can be considered a type of sacrament.  It has also shown that martyrdom did have a liturgy, although not a set one.  However, no one in the early church called martyrdom a sacrament, and future generations did not promote it to the ranks of sacrament as they did other practices of the Church.  So what is martyrdom?  Martyrdom can be described as a sacramental, since it is a means of preparing one for a sacrament or grace.  It might be difficult to think of martyrdom as being in the same category as praying with an icon or using holy water, because it is a much greater act of devotion than these actions.  There might be hope for martyrdom as a sacrament, however, because Jesus modeled martyrdom in his own passion and death.  The sacraments are all taken from the actions of Jesus, such as breaking the bread and blessing wine, forgiving sins, and undergoing baptism.  Obviously not everyone is called to martyrdom, just as not all are called to be clergy or married.  The Church would not want to encourage people to seek out martyrdom, which became a problem in the early Church.  The martyrs are special, and have been considered blessed and important since St. Stephen gave up his life while professing his belief in Christ.  In these various ways it is obvious that the martyrs did receive a special grace from Christ in their death making martyrdom and themselves sacraments.  It is important for churches to see martyrdom as a sacrament because it would help to encourage present day and future martyrs.  It is also a way of remembering those who were martyred in the past.  The early Church did not have the need to make martyrdom a sacrament because they saw and appreciated the work of the martyrs in their daily lives.  Most people today do not have the examples of the martyrs and do not appreciate the work that they do in the world.  If martyrdom were considered a sacrament, it might cause these people to think about martyrdom more and be grateful for the imitation, sacrifice, battle, and help the martyrs offer the universal church.

About Jesse

I am a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Arts in Theology focusing on Church History. I am a Third Order Benedictine monk, in the Company of Jesus. I am married to a wonderful woman, we just had a baby Michaela Rose. You can follow me and be alerted of new blog post by following me on Twitter @jtalexanderiv. Or following this blog.
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2 Responses to Imitators of Christ: Is Martyrdom a Sacrament? Part 10

  1. Rich Wollan says:

    Jesse, I appreciate the study. It is fascinating how the early Church viewed martyrs. Your conclusion began to head in the direction that your paper stirred up in me: taking the ancient views of martyrdom and bringing them as a powerful resource to current day Christians who are persecuted and killed in many countries. As I read accounts of modern-day Christians under persecution, I am deeply saddened because all too often the believer being interviewed by the reporter expresses LOTS of fear (and too often, an expression of hope in human institutions as well!). Even worse, it’s too common that they don’t mention the sacrifice of Christ, etc. This is contrary to the ancient witness of the saints. So it makes me ask: what are modern, persecuted Christians lacking in this area that causes them to live in fear rather than brave, exuberant joy, and vivid testimony to Christ?
    I would love to see someone study martyrdom in the 20th century– the greatest century in terms of numbers of Christians being killed for their faith. For example, under Communism, was there a difference between how Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical believers reacted to persecution, torture and death? Or was there a substantive commonality between them? Or what difference/commonality between them and the ancient Ante-Nicene witness? Lastly, how can the ancient witness and the 20th century witness be a help to the church in persecuted lands today. I think many fellow believers around the world today could use that kind of encouragement– and for some reason they are ignorant of the testimony of the many martyrs throughout church history.
    Anyway, those are some of the thoughts your paper engendered in my brain.
    Blessings to you as you pursue Doctoral work.

    • Jesse says:

      Rich, Thanks for taking the time to read the paper. I am glad it stirred up so many questions and ideas in you.

      I would say that one of the reasons Christians who are persecuted today seem different than ancient Christians, is the training. Ancient Christians it seems from my research went through a type of training for martyrdom in their catechism. Of course no church that I know of today would train people to be prepared for martyrdom. It might also be that many people don’t think about the liturgy of martyrdom that Young wrote about.

      I need to read more Bonhoeffer, but I suspect some of this writings and writings about him might answer some of your questions from the 20th century. Also DC Talk’s Jesus Freaks write about quite a few modern martyrs or confessors, it seems many of these do express the same confidence as the ancient martyrs did. So part of the problem might be that many of the modern persecuted Christians are not called to martyrdom. The early church had to deal with this too and I pointed this out in the paper, some people, like Origen, wanted to be martyrs but were not called to it. So those not called to it are not going to make as good a confession as those who are called to martyrdom.

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