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date: 21 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The Bible played a foundational role in early Christian reflection on martyrdom. This is most evidently the case with the concept of the imitatio Christi, which was based on many biblical quotations and allusions. Cyprian of Carthage’s understudied To Fortunatus demonstrates that the early Church had a coherent theology of martyrdom as well as a systematic overview of scriptural material supporting it. Moreover, the Bible also provided exempla for martyrdom, such as the Maccabees and Stephen the Protomartyr. Furthermore, some biblical passages function more like back-up vocals in that they recur time and again but always in a subsidiary role. A prime example of such a passage is Psalm 115.6: ‘Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints.’ The tension between voluntary martyrdom and kairological martyrdom is also essential, with Matthew 10.23 as the prime example of a biblical passage advocating the lawfulness of flight for persecution. Finally, all of these themes and the biblical material supporting them come together in a recontextualized form in Augustine’s writings, especially in his controversy with the Donatists.

Keywords: imitatio Christi, voluntary martyrdom, kairological martyrdom, martyr acts, Cyprian of Carthage, Augustine of Hippo, Donatists, Maccabees, Saint Stephen, Psalm 115.6

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