Martyrdom quotes from throughout Church History.
Taking Aim at Rome's Audacious Claim is coming in September, but you could read one of our other books while you wait. Our new books and author page is up at RebuildingtheFoundations.org.
Quotes marked "unknown" are usually courtesy of the newsletter Revival List. They give permission to reuse their quotes.
Letter to Diognetus, AD 80 - 200
Christians … love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life. They are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. (ch. 5)
Don't you see them exposed to wild beasts for the purpose of persuading them to deny the Lord, yet they are not overcome? Don't you see that the more of them that are punished, the greater the number of the rest becomes? This does not seem to be the work of man. This is the power of God. These are the evidences of his appearance. (ch. 7)
When you despise that which is considered to be death here, then you shall fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict to the end those that are committed to it. Then shall you admire those who for righteousness' sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and you shall count them happy when you understand that fire. (ch. 10)
Ignatius of Antioch, AD 110
The believing have, in love, the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ, by whom, if we are not in readiness to die into his suffering, his life is not in us. (Letter to the Magnesians 5)
May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me. I pray that they would be found eager to rush at me, and I will also entice them to devour me speedily and not deal with me as some, whom out of fear they have not touched. If they are unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me; I know what is to my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. Let no one, of things visible or invisible, prevent me from attaining to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocation of bones; let cutting off of limbs; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the evil torments of the devil come upon me; only let me attain to Jesus Christ. (Letter to the Romans 5)
Justin Martyr, c. AD 150
And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid. (First Apology 11)
The men mentioned in this next quote are all gnostics. Simon (mentioned in Acts 8) is considered by early Christians to be the inventor of gnosticism after he was sternly rebuked by Peter and John. Justin is pointing out that these gnostics are not persecuted by Rome like the Christians are.
After Christ's ascension into heaven, the devils put forward certain men who claimed they were gods. They were not only not persecuted by you [addressed to Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor], but even deemed worthy of honors. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who, in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. ...
Almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him ... A man, Menander, also a Samaritan, ... a disciple of Simon and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art. ... And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive and teaching his disciples to believe in
some other god greater than the Creator. He, by the aid of the devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe ...
All who take their opinions from these men, as we have said, are called Christians, just as there are those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, yet the name of philosophers is given to them as well. And whether [the gnostics] perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds [that are rumored about Christians]—the knocking over of the lamp, promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh—we do not know, but we do know that they are neither persecuted nor put to death by you, at least on account of their opinions. But I have a treatise against all the heresies that have existed already composed, which, if you wish to read it, I will give you. (First Apology 26)
Though death is decreed against those who teach or at all confess the name of Christ, we everywhere both embrace and teach it. And if you also read these words in a hostile spirit, you can do no more, as I said before, than kill us; which indeed does no harm to us, but to you and all who unjustly hate us and do not repent, brings eternal punishment by fire. (First Apology 45)
We pray for you [Jews] and all other men who hate us, so that you may repent along with us and not blaspheme the One who by his works, by the mighty deeds done through his name, by the words he taught, by the prophecies announced concerning him, is the blameless and irreproachable-in-all-things Christ Jesus. We pray that, believing on him, you may be saved in his second glorious coming and may not be condemned to fire by him. (Dialogue with Trypho 35)
You [Jews] hesitate to confess that he is Christ, as the Scriptures and the events witnessed and done in his name prove, perhaps for this reason: that you may be persecuted by the rulers, who, under the influence of the wicked and deceitful spirit, the serpent, will not stop putting to death and persecuting those who confess the name of Christ until [Christ] comes again and destroys them all and gives each what they deserve. (Dialogue with Trypho 39)
Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, crucified, thrown to wild beasts, chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; instead, the more such things happen, the more others—in even larger numbers—become faithful and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For if someone were to cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it would grow up again and yield other branches, flourishing and fruitful. Even so, the same thing happens with us. (Dialogue with Trypho 110)
Minucius Felix, AD 160-230
It's a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone, and—triumphant and victorious—he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful. (The Octavius 37)
How many of our people have borne that not their right hand only, but their whole body, should be burned—burned up without any cries of pain … Do I compare men with [your Roman heroes]? Boys and young women among us treat with contempt crosses and tortures, wild beasts, and all the bugbears of punishment with the inspired patience of suffering. And do you not perceive, O wretched men, that there is nobody who either is willing without reason to undergo punishment, or is able without God to bear tortures? (ibid.)
Tertullian, c. AD 210
The Christian, even when he is condemned, gives thanks. (Apology 46)
Here we call your own [i.e., the Roman emperor's] acts to witness, you who are daily presiding at the trials of prisoners and passing sentence upon crimes. In your long lists of those accused of many and various atrocities, has any assassin, any pickpocket, or any man guilty of sacrilege, seduction, or stealing bathers' clothes had his name entered as being a Christian too?
When Christians are brought before you simply because of their name, is there ever found a criminal of any sort? It is always with your people that the prisons are streaming, the mines are sighing, and the wild beasts are fed. It is from you that the exhibitors of gladiator shows always get their herds of criminals to feed up for the occasion. You will find no Christian there except for simply being one. Or, if one is there as something else, he is a Christian no longer. (Apology 44)
But what is the real authority of human laws, when it is in man’s power both to evade them, by generally managing to hide himself out of the sight of his crimes, and to despise them sometimes, if inclination or necessity leads him to offend? Think of these things, too, in the light of the brevity of any punishment you can inflict—never to last longer than till death. On this ground Epicurus makes light of all suffering and pain, maintaining that if it is small, it is contemptible, and if it is great, it is not long continued. No doubt about it, we, who receive our awards under the judgment of an all-seeing God, and who look forward to eternal punishment from him for sin—we alone make real effort to attain a blameless life, under the influence of our ampler knowledge, the impossibility of concealment, and the greatness of the threatened torment, not merely long-enduring, but everlasting. We fear him, whom he too should fear who is judged by the fearing, even God, I mean, and not the proconsul.(Apology 45)
It is quite true that it is our desire to suffer, but it is in the way that a soldier longs for war. Indeed, no one suffers willingly, since suffering implies fear and danger. Yet the man who objected to the conflict both fights with all his strength, and, once victorious, he rejoices in battle because he reaps from it glory and spoil. It is our battle to be summoned to your tribunals that there, under fear of execution, we may battle for the truth. The day is won when the object of the struggle is gained. This victory of ours gives us the glory of pleasing God and the spoil of eternal life. (Apology 50)
Go zealously on, good presidents! you will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish. Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust. Your injustice is the proof that we are innocent.
Therefore God suffers that we suffer like this. For lately, in condemning a Christian woman to the leno [pimp or seducer] rather than to the leo [lion], you confess that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death.
Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, do you any good. It's just a temptation to us. The more often we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed. (Apology 50)
It is our battle to be summoned to your tribunals that there, under fear of execution, we may battle for the truth. But the day is won when the object of the struggle is gained. This victory of ours gives us the glory of pleasing God, and the spoil of life eternal. (Apology 50)
But the very desperation and recklessness you object to in us, among yourselves lift high the standard of virtue in the cause of glory and of fame. Mucius of his own will left his right hand on the altar: what sublimity of mind! Empedocles gave his whole body at Catana to the fires of Ætna: what mental resolution! A certain foundress of Carthage gave herself away in second marriage to the funeral pile: what a noble witness of her chastity! Regulus, not wishing that his one life should count for the lives of many enemies, endured these crosses over all his frame: how brave a man—even in captivity a conqueror! Anaxarchus, when he was being beaten to death by a barley-pounder, cried out, “Beat on, beat on at the case of Anaxarchus; no stroke falls on Anaxarchus himself.” O magnanimity of the philosopher, who even in such an end had jokes upon his lips! I omit all reference to those who with their own sword, or with any other milder form of death, have bargained for glory. Nay, see how even torture contests are crowned by you. The Athenian courtezan, having wearied out the executioner, at last bit off her tongue and spat it in the face of the raging tyrant, that she might at the same time spit away her power of speech, nor be longer able to confess her fellow-conspirators, if even overcome, that might be her inclination. (Apology 50)
Commodianus, c. AD 240
I admonish the faithful not to hold their brothers and sisters in hatred. Hatred is considered ungodly even in martyrs for the flame.†The martyr is destroyed whose confession is of such a kind, Nor is it taught that this evil is expiated by the shedding of blood. A law is given to the unrighteous man so that he may restrain himself.†Therefore, he ought to be free from ill will; you ought to as well! You sin twice against God, if your strife reaches your brother. You will not avoid sin following your former way of life.† Thou hast once been washed [i.e., baptized]:†shall you be able to be immersed again? (Instructions of Commodianus 47)
Since, O son, you desire martyrdom, hear.†Be like Abel was, or like Isaac himself, or Stephen, who chose for himself on the way the righteous life.† You indeed desire something suited for the blessed. First of all, overcome the evil one with your good deeds by living well. Then, when he who is your King sees you, be secure. … Even now, if you have conquered by good deeds, you are [already] a martyr in him.†You, therefore, who seek to extoll martyrdom with your word, clothe yourself during this time of peace with good deeds, and be secure. (Instructions of Commodianus 62)
Cyprian, c. AD 250
And, as the Eucharist is appointed for this very purpose, that it may be a safeguard to the receivers, it is necessary that we may arm those whom we wish to be safe against the adversary with the protection of the Lord’s abundance. For how do we teach or provoke them to shed their blood in confession of his name, if we deny to those who are about to enter warfare the blood of Christ? Or how do we make them fit for the cup of martyrdom, if we do not first admit them to drink, in the church, the cup of the Lord by the right of communion? (Letters of Cyprian 53:2)
[Celerinus] made a way for others to conquer; a victor with no small amount of wounds, but triumphant by a miracle, with the long-abiding and permanent penalties of a tedious conflict. For nineteen days, shut up in the close guard of a dungeon, he was racked and in irons; but although his body was laid in chains, his spirit remained free and at liberty. His flesh wasted away by the long endurance of hunger and thirst; but God fed his soul, that lived in faith and virtue, with spiritual nourishments. He lay in punishments, the stronger for his punishments; imprisoned, greater than those that imprisoned him; lying prostrate, but loftier than those who stood; as bound, and firmer than the links which bound him; judged, and more sublime than those who judged him; and although his feet were bound on the rack, yet the serpent was trodden on and ground down and vanquished. In his glorious body shine the bright evidences of his wounds; their manifest traces show forth, and appear on the man’s sinews and limbs, worn out with tedious wasting away. Great things are they—marvelous things are they—which the brotherhood may hear of his virtues and of his praises. And should any one appear like Thomas, who has little faith in what he hears, the faith of the eyes is not wanting, so that what one hears he may also see. In the servant of God, the glory of the wounds made the victory; the memory of the scars preserves that glory. (Letters of Cyprian 33:2)
"The servants of Christ residing at Vienne and Lyons, in Gaul, to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia ... The greatness of the tribulation in this region, the fury of the heathen against the saints, and the sufferings of the blessed witnesses, we cannot recount accurately, nor indeed could they possibly be recorded. For with all his might the adversary fell upon us, giving us a foretaste of his unbridled activity at his future coming. He endeavored in every manner to practice and exercise his servants against the servants of God, not only shutting us out from houses and baths and markets, but forbidding any of us to be seen in any place whatever. But the grace of God led the conflict against him, and delivered the weak, and set them as firm pillars, able through patience to endure all the wrath of the evil one. They joined battle with him, undergoing all kinds of shame and injury. Regarding their great sufferings as little, they hastened to Christ, revealing truly that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us." (Church History. Book V. Chapter I. Par. 3-6.)
Then the others were examined, and the prime witnesses were obviously ready and finished their confessing with all eagerness. But some appeared unprepared and untrained, weak as yet, and unable to endure so great a conflict. About ten of these proved abortions, causing us great grief and sorrow beyond measure and impairing the zeal of the others who had not yet been seized. These, though, suffered all kinds of affliction, continued constantly with the witnesses, and did not forsake them. Then all of us feared greatly on account of uncertainty as to their confession; not because we dreaded the sufferings to be endured, but because we looked to the end and were afraid that some of them might fall away. But those who were worthy were seized day by day, filling up the number [of the witnesses], so that all the zealous persons, and those through whom especially our affairs had been established, were collected together out of the two churches [Vienne and Lyons]." (Church History. Book V. Chapter I. Par. 11-13.)
Thomas Aquinas, d. 1274
With regard to heretics, two considerations are to be kept in mind: (1) on their side, (2) on the side of the Church.
(1) There is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the church by excommunication, but also to be shut off from the world by death. For it is a much more serious matter to corrupt faith, through which comes the soul's life, than to forge money, through which temporal life is supported. ...
(2) But on the side of the Church there is mercy, with a view to the conversion of them that are in error; and therefore the Church does not straightway condemn, but *after a first and a second admonition* (emphasis in original), as the Apostle teaches [Tit. iii. 10]. After that, if he be found still stubborn, the Church gives up hope of his conversion and takes thought for the safety of others, but separating him from the Church by sentence of excommunication; and, further, leaves him to the secular court, to be exterminated from the world by death. (Summa Theologica ii Q.xi, Article III; cited by Henry Bettenson, ed.; Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., paperback [Oxford Univ. Press, 1967], p. 134)
Now if heretics who return were always taken back, so that they were kept in possession of life and other temporal goods, this might possibly be prejudicial to the salvation of others ... Therefore, in the case of those who return for the first time, the Church not only receives them to penance, but preserves their lives ... But when, after being taken back, they again relapse ... they are admitted to Penance, if they return, but not so as to be delivered from sentence of death. (Summa Theologica ii Q.xi, Article III; cited by Henry Bettenson, ed.; Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., paperback [Oxford Univ. Press, 1967], p. 134-5)
Martin Luther, d. 1946
Whenever the true message of the cross is abolished, the anger of hypocrites and heretics ceases.. and all things are in peace. This is a sure token that the devil is guarding the entry to the house, and that the PURE doctrine of God's Word has been taken away. The Church then, is in the BEST state, when Satan assaileth it on every side ... both with subtle sleights, and outright violence. And likewise it is in the WORST state when it is most at peace. (unknown)
Philip Melancthon (Martin Luther's best friend and protegé), c. 1650
Philip Schaff, 1882
One man with truth on his side is stronger than a majority in error, and will conquer in the end. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII, ch. 3, sec. 56)
Paul S. Rees, d. 1991
To be where God is quietly talked about seems a lovely thing. But to be where God really grips us is a risky matter. As long as a Living God is about and given any chance at all, it will be found dangerous to be in His presence. Dangerous, that is, to everything that is more to our liking than it is to His. (unknown)
Leonard Ravenhill, d. 1994
The early church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity. (unknown)
E. Glenn Hinson, 1996
This quote assigns Daniel and the "three children" thrown into the furnace as belonging to the Maccabean era. I don't think many Christians would concede this, but the dating of the book of Daniel is not an area I have studied well.
The steadfastness of large numbers of Christians in persecution is in itself an interesting phenomenon that has received several explanations. Some scholars have pointed to analogous accounts of Greek and Roman heroes, but the analogies break down when motives are closely examined. Others have emphasized instead the conditioning process that converts went through in the catechumenate that prepared them for such opposition. Although this would offer a partial explanation, it too overlooks the deeper theological perspective out of which the martyrs themselves acted. The martyrs belonged to the lineage of Jewish martyrs and inherited from Judaism the idea of martyrdom as personal witness to the truth of their faith over against heathendom, the hope of personal resurrection and vengeance on apostates and persecutors in the hereafter, and the view that the true oppressors were not earthly powers but cosmic and demonic ones. It was not by chance that pictures of Daniel among the lions and the three "children" in the fiery furnace turned up frequently in the catacombs, for the stories of the Maccabean era fed the Christian faithful just as they had fed the Jewish people. (The Early Church. [Abingdon Press: Nashville] 1996. p. 73)
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