MARTYR (marius, then martur, which was originally the Æolic form). A witness for Christ. In early times this title was given generally to those who were distinguished witnesses for Christ, then to those who suffered for Him;1 lastly, after the middle of the third century, the title was restricted to those who actually died for Him. The very first records of the Church which we possess tell us of the honors done to the martyrs. It was the martyrs who, first of all, were regarded as saints; the relics of the martyrs which were first revered; to the martyrs that the first churches were dedicated. The name "martyrium" (marturion), which at first meant the church built over a martyr's remains, was given to churches generally, even if dedicated to saints who were not martyred, though this usage was partly justified by the fact that a church was not consecrated till the relics of some martyr had been placed in it.
Benedict XIV., in his work on "Canonization" (lib. iii. cap. II seq.), gives the modern law of the Church on the recognition of martyrdom with great fullness. He defines martyrdom as the "voluntary endurance of death for the faith, or some other act of virtue relating to God." A martyr, he says, may die not only for the faith directly, but also to preserve some virtue _ e. g., justice, obedience, or the like, enjoined or counseled by the faith. He mentions the dispute among theologians whether a person who died for confessing the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, which in his time had not been defined, would be a martyr. He gives no decided opinion on the point, but says that "in other cases the safe rule is that one who dies for a question not yet defined by the Church dies in a cause insufficient for martyrdom." Further, he explains that to be a martyr a man must actually die of his sufferings or else have endured pains which would have been his death but for miraculous intervention
A LIST of martyrs and other saints, and the mysteries commemorated on each day of the year, with brief notices of the life and death of the former. It is these brief notices which distinguish a Martyrology from a mere calendar. It is read in monastic orders at Prime after the prayer "Deus qui ad principium." It is followed by the versicle "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints," and by a petition for the intercession of the heavenly court; and these words are retained even in the secular office when the Martyrology is not actually recited. Mr. Maskell has collected many proofs that in England the Martyrology used to be said in the monastic chapter, not, like the office, in the choir. This custom, however, was in no way peculiar to England, as may be seen from the notes of Meratus on the subject (Pars. II. sect. v. cap. xxi.). After Prime, or sometimes after Tierce, the monks adjourned to the chapter, heard the Martyrology, and said the prayers which now form part of Prime, "Deus in adjutorium meum"; "Dignare, Domine, die ista," etc., before setting out to their daily labor.
Gregory the Great speaks of a Martyrology used by the Roman Church in his day, but we do not know for certain what it was. A Martyrology attributed to Jerome is printed, e.g. in Vallarsi's edition of his works. It has undergone many revisions and later editions. It is quite possible that Jerome may have collected a Martyrology from the various calendars of the Church, and that the Martyrology which goes by his name, as we have it, is the corruption of a book used in St. Gregory's time at Rome. The lesser Roman Martyrology was found at Ravenna by Ado, archbishop of Vienna, about 850. A third Martyrology is attributed (erroneously, Hefele says) to Bede, and the foundation of the work may probably come from him. All Western Martyrologies are based on these three. We have Martyrologies from Florus, Ado, Usuard, in France; from Rabanus and Notker of St. Gall, in Germany.
The Roman Martyrology mentioned, as we have seen, by Gregory the Great, is mentioned again at the English Council of Cloveshoo. Such a work is of course subject to constant alterations from the addition of new feasts, etc. A revision of the Roman Martyrology was made by Baronius and other scholars in 1584. It was revised again under Urban VIII. (See Laemmer, "De Mart. Rom." Ratisbonæ,2 1878.)
A WORD which, so far as the New Testament is concerned, only occurs in St. John's Epistles. In itself it might mean _ "like Christ," or "instead of Christ," as antitheos signifies Godlike, or anthupatos proconsul, but the Antichrist of St. John is Christ's adversary. "Ye have heard," he says, "that Antichrist3 is coming, and now there have been many Antichrists. . . .This is the Antichrist who denies the Father and the Son." In the fourth chapter he makes the characteristic of Antichrist (to tou antichristou) consist in not confessing Jesus;4 and more fully in the seventh verse of the Second Epistle, he places the guilt of Antichrist in his denial that Christ has "come in the flesh." Thus St. John identifies the Antichristian spirit with the Docetic heresy, though he seems also to allude to a single person who is to come in the last days. St. Paul, In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, is more explicit. He does not, indeed, use the word "Antichrist," but he speaks of a person whom he describes as the "man of sin," "the son of perdition who opposeth and raiseth himself over all that is called God, or is an object of awe, so as to sit in the temple of God, exhibiting himself as God." At present, there is a power which hinders his manifestation. The Thessalonians looked on the "day of the Lord" as already imminent. Not so, St. Paul replies; three things must happen first _ an apostasy or defection must occur; the hindrance to the manifestation of Antichrist must be removed, and then Antichrist himself revealed. This "man of sin" is usually called "Antichrist," and to this terminology we shall conform during the rest of the article.
As to this Antichrist, we must distinguish between what is certain and what is doubtful.
It is the constant belief of the whole Church, witnessed by Father after Father from Irenaeus downwards, that before our Lord comes again, a great power will arise which will persecute the Church, and lead many into apostasy. All that is "lawless," all that oppose "lawful authority" in Church or State, partake so far of his spirit, who is called, in the words of the Apostle, the "lawless one" by preeminence. But this must not lead us to treat Antichrist as a mere personification of evil, or to forget the universal belief of Fathers and theologians that he is a real and individual being who is to appear before the end of the world.
So much for what is certain. When we come to details, the Fathers, Bossuet says, "do but grope in the dark, a sure mark that tradition had left nothing decisive on the subject." All, or nearly all, are agreed in considering that the "mystery of iniquity already worked" in Nero, that the power which hindered the appearance of Antichrist was the Roman Empire, and that he was to appear as the Messias of the Jews, and to possess himself of their temple. Further, from very early times, St. Paul's "man of sin" was identified with one of the two Apocalyptic beasts, in Apoc. xiii., and with the little horn, in Daniel vii., which roots out the other ten horns, or kings, speaks blasphemies, and destroys the saints. A time was expected when the Roman power would be divided into ten kingdoms. Antichrist was to destroy three of these, to subdue the rest, till, after a reign of three and a half years, he, in turn, was destroyed by Christ. It was also commonly held that Antichrist was to be a Jew, of the tribe of Dan, because that tribe is described as a serpent by the dying Jacob,5 and is omitted from the list of tribes in the Apocalypse.6 Many other features in the picture might be given. Some regarded Antichrist as generated by Satan; others, as actually Satan incarnate. The Arian persecution in Africa, the domination of Islam, were looked upon as likely to usher in the reign of Antichrist. Among other curious beliefs we may mention that of some among the Béguines, who supposed that as Lucifer had come from the highest order of angels, so Antichrist would spring from the most perfect Order, viz. the Franciscan. In contrast with these aberrations of fancy, St. Augustine in the West, and St. John Damascene in the East, preserve a marked moderation of tone in discussing this subject.
At the Protestant Reformation, an entirely new view appeared on the field. Even heretics had not ventured to assert that St. Paul, in the "man of sin," meant to describe the Pope. Wicliffe, indeed, had called the Pope "Antichrist," while the name was applied to Pope Silvester by the Waldensians, to John XXII. by the Béguines; but the word was used in that vague sense in which everyone who does or teaches evil is an Antichrist. Indeed, till Luther's time it was generally agreed that Antichrist was to be an individual, and this fact, which the plain sense of St. Paul's words implies, is enough of itself to refute the absurd opinion that Antichrist means the line of Popes. All Protestant writers of respectable attainments have now rejected this monstrous interpretation. Yet it is well not to forget that it was once almost an article of Protestant faith, and it was actually made a charge against Archbishop Laud on his trial that he refused to recognize Antichrist in the Bishop of Rome.
(Chiefly taken from Dollinger's "First Age of the Church," Appendix I.)
1 Martus and the cognate words begin to assume their later technical sense in Acts xxii.; Apoc. ii. 13. This technical sense is probably intended in Clem. Rom. I, Ad Cor. 5; certainly in Ignat. Ad Ephes. I: Mart. Polyc. 19; Melito (apud Euseb. H.E. iv. 26); Dionys. Corinth. (ib.. 25); Hegesippus (ib. ii. 23. iv. 22); Epist. Gall. (ib. v. 1, 2) ; Anon. Adv. Cataph. (ib. v. 16); Iren i. 28, I, etc.: though at the same time the words were also used of testimony which was not sealed by death. The Epistle of the Martyrs of Vienna and Lyons just quoted distinguishes between confessors and martyrs, but, in Clement. Alax. (Strom. iv. 9, p. 596) and even in Cyprian the distinction is not observed. The Decian prosecution tended to fix it.
2 This scholar classifies Martyrologies thus: (I) that attributed to Jerome; (2) Martyr. Rom. Parv. published by Rosweyd in 1613. and written in Rome about 740; (3) a genuine Martyrology of Bede, with interpolations from Florus; (4) that of Usuard, dedicated to Charles the Bald, used from the ninth century, not only in Benedictine houses, but throughout the West. In the fifteenth century no other was in use except in St. Peter's, and even there the Martyrology was but a transition of Usuard
3 I Ep. ii. 18. The reading ho an, "that the Antichrist comes," is that of the received text, but Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles omit the article.
4 "Every spirit which does not confess Jesus." So the Greek, according to the editions just quoted. The Vulgate has "every spirit which dissolves Jesus."
5 Gen. xlix. 17.
6 Apoc. vii. 5.
Return to Contents
Return to Homepage.