Christian martyr  

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"One could ask oneself whether the obsession with the Christian martyrs and their tortures, as published in Tortures and Torments of the Christian Martyrs, is not responsible for the inordinate amount of interest in hagiographies. It is this kind of sensationalism which has provided their enduring popularity."--Sholem Stein

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A Christian martyr is one who is murdered or put to death for his Christian faith or convictions. Many Christian martyrs suffered cruel and torturous deaths like stoning, crucifixion, and burning at the stake. The word 'martyr' comes from the Greek word translated "witness." Martyrdom is the result of religious persecution.



Martyrs in the New Testament

The doctrines of the apostles brought the Early Church into conflict with some Jewish religious leaders. This eventually led to their expulsion from the synagogues. Acts records the martyrdom of the Christian leaders, Stephen and James of Zebedee.

The first known Christian martyr was St. Stephen who was stoned to death for his faith. Stephen was killed for his support, belief and faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth as the Messiah. There were probably other early Christian martyrs besides Stephen, since St. Paul acknowledged persecuting Christians before his conversion.

Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire

Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire

In its first three centuries, the Christian church endured periods of persecution at the hands of Roman authorities. Christians were persecuted by local authorities on an intermittent and ad-hoc basis. In addition, there were several periods of empire-wide persecution which was directed from the seat of government in Rome.

Christians were the targets of persecution because they refused to worship the Roman gods or to pay homage to the emperor as divine. In the Roman empire, refusing to sacrifice to the Emperor or the empire's gods was tantamount to refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to one's country.

Some early Christians sought out and welcomed martyrdom. Such seeking after death is found in Tertullian's Scorpiace but was certainly not the only view of martyrdom in the Christian church. Both Polycarp and Cyprian, bishops in Smyrna and Carthage respectively, attempted to avoid martyrdom. However, an overwhelming majority of Christians did not choose to die for their faith during the persecutions.

Persecution of heretics

While Christianity became the state religion of the Empire in 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica, persecution of Christians switched to those deemed to be heretics.


See also

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