Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Where are the Third Century Catholic Martyrs?

I think I have a pretty good handle on what happened in the Commodian age down through the later Antonine Emperors - the Markan tradition was persecuted and the Catholic tradition of Irenaeus was favored by the Imperial authorities. In fact if you filter out Alexandria as the epicenter of the persecutions in the third century, you have to start asking yourself - where are the Catholic martyrs?

Of course Irenaeus speaks of Catholics dying in large numbers. Later Church Fathers claim him as a martyr connecting him with the martyrs of Lyons. But where is the proof for any of this?

Take the example of the persecutions in Carthage associated with Prisca, Perpetua and Felicitas. These were undoubtedly members of the Montanist sect. And then the Acts of Scilitan Martyrs. They admit to only using a canon of Paul so they were probably Marcionite. If you on down the list it is very difficult - if not impossible - to find an actual Catholic who was martyred for HIS beliefs or HIS canon.

The Catholic tradition itself acknowledges that it had a problem with martyrdom - at least in a backhanded way.

If you look carefully you will see that its apostolic line starts with 'St. John of Ephesus' who never suffered martyrdom (it would have been impossible to explain why there wasn't a separate day for John so they had to admit he never suffered). Polycarp's martyrdom is perplexing enough as it is if you just look at the story which emerges in the official story. Yet once you realize that Lucian of Samosata was likely parodying the circumstances of Polycarp's death it becomes plainly evident that he too never managed to find Imperial authorities who wanted to do the 'martyr dance' with him.

As I am not the only one who has his suspicions about Irenaeus' death. As John Ford writes:

The date of Irenaeus' death is unknown although convention places it in ca. 202 to correspond with the renewed persecution of Septimus Severus. However the texts which mention Irenaeus' martyrdom are late and uncertain.

Indeed I have always been puzzled by the fact that the Catholic representative in Alexandria - Demetrius (the married guy in an ascetic tradition that even the Copts remember as an ignoramus) never managed to get a scratch on HIS body while everyone else was dying around him. It's like the guy in the movie who stands in front of a row of machine guns pointed in his direction and somehow manages to survive!

So the same question keeps bobbing back up to the surface time and time again - where are the Catholic martyrs?

I can't find any veriable 'witnesses' who died in the name of the Catholic Church any time before Nicaea. Where are they I wonder. If anyone can help spot a real live Catholic, someone who had nothing to do with the tradition of Mark and who held fast to the four gospels and NT of Irenaeus - who was killed for his beliefs in Jesus Christ I would love to learn about such a figure.

I think it was all made up. I think the Imperial forces were helping 'clear the way' for a Roman Catholic tradition. Call me crazy I guess but I don't see any ACTUAL Catholic martyrs being killed by the Roman authorities.

My suspicion was that the unrepentant heretics were the ones dying and those who turned their back on their former beliefs were 'saved' as Catholics.

Is there any evidence to disprove this hypothesis? I'd love to hear from anyone out there.


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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.