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In Procession Before the World

Martyrdom as Public Liturgy in Early Christianity

75 pages
Marquette University Press
One consistent and widespread Christian teaching in the first three centuries of the church, and an important early witness to the concomitant understanding of the liturgy as the axis of earth and heaven, was the public and liturgical sacrifice of martyrdom.

Martyrdom was concerned less with the church as a corporate entity than with the kingdom of God, which is to say that it participated in a kind of expectant, not a realized, eschatology. Christians expected it and trained for it in the communities where it occurred, and its possibility was proven by the exceptions to the rule, namely, those volunteers who buckled under persecution, or who found ways to avoid it. It functioned as a public liturgical sacrifice in which the word of Jesus and his kingdom was confessed and acted out, and an offering made that repeated his own. If the Eucharist of the early Christians was a kind of substitute sacrifice, then the martyrs' was an imitative one. When the Eucharist was still private, not open to non-Christian view, the martyrs' sacrifice was public and dramatic.
Author Bio
Robin Darling Young (BA, Mary Washington College; MA, PhD, University of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Spirituality at The Catholic University of America. She has published and lectured widely on topics in the history of early Christianity and its thought, including the areas of scriptural interpretation, the history of asceticism and monastic thought, and the Christian cultures of ancient Syria and Armenia.