Acts of The Martyrs

Accounts of early Christian martyrdoms, divisible into several categories:<br /><br />

(1) Official transcripts of court proceedings (<em>acta proper</em>; <em>gesta</em>), deposited in archives: e.g., Justin, the Scillitans, Cyprian.<br /><br />

(2) Broader, more literary narratives compiled by Christians from the personal testimony of participants (e.g., Perpetua) or spectators (Gr. <em>martyria</em>; Lat. <em>passiones</em>): e.g., Polycarp, martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, Perpetua and Felicitas.<br /><br />

Both these genres were liable to interpolation (e.g., the Scillitans' <em>acta</em>), normally with embellishment of the miraculous, a feature not always absent from the original versions.<br /><br />

(3) Largely legendary stories constructed around a slender historical core, sometimes solely the martyr's name: e.g., Ignatius, Vincent, Lawrence, George, <span class="auto-link">[[Catherine of Alexandria]]</span>. As the golden age of martyrdom faded into the past, this literature multiplied and became the Christians' novels and romances. Their reflection of popular Christianity gives them a secondary historical value.<br /><br />

These various accounts served for apologia (“the blood of the martyrs is seed”) and edification (the martyr's <em>imitatio Christi</em>) as well as commemoration (in the West, especially Africa, the acts were read liturgically on the martyr's “birthday,” <em>natalitia</em>). There existed models both Jewish (e.g., <em>2 Maccabees</em>) and pagan (H.A. Musurillo, <em>The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs</em>, 1954).<br /><br />

H. Delehaye, <em>Les Passions des Martyrs et les genres littéraires</em> (1921); <em>idem</em>, <em>Les Origines du culte des Martyrs</em> (2nd ed., 1933); H. von Campenhausen, <em>Die Idee des Martyriums in der Alten Kirche</em> (1936); H. Leclercq in <em>DACL</em> 1, pp. 373-446; J. Quasten, <em>Patrology</em> 1, pp. 176-85.<br /><br />

Texts: R. Knopf, G. Krüger, G. Ruhbach, <em>Ausgewählte Martyrerakten</em> (4th ed. 1965). With translation: H. Musurillo, <em>The Acts of the Christian Martyrs</em> (1972).<br /><br />