Sunday, May 4, 2014


Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer
Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1883
Thoughts for a Sunday Afternoon

“If the world hates you, remember that they hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as it loves its own people. But I have chosen you to be different from those in the world. So you don’t belong to the world, and that is why the world hates you. 

"Remember the lesson I told you: Servants are not greater than their master. If people treated me badly, they will treat you badly too. And if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours too. They will do to you whatever they did to me, because you belong to me. They don’t know the one who sent me." 

(Gospel of John chapter 15 verses 18 - 21, ERV)

We're moving steadily towards the birthday of the Christian Movement (a.k.a. "Pentecost"). Jesus of Nazareth predicted something very different from a comfortable church-going experience for his followers. That some of us are comfortable doesn't mean he was wrong, but that the place and time we happen to live in is an historical aberration that insulates us. There are plenty of Jesus' followers even today who are not insulated at all.

Today, his followers in ancient France give us a report of what it was like for them.


The servants of Christ who live as aliens at Vienna and Lugdunum [Vienne and Lyons] in Gaul, to the brothers in Asia Minor and Phrygia. The adversary has fallen upon us with all his might...
In the presence of all the people, the governor had given the order that all of us with our households should be investigated. Prompted by Satan, fearful of the tortures which they saw God’s people suffer, and under pressure from the soldiers who talked them directly into it, pagan slaves in our service brought forth lies against us. These lies were the usual accusations of cannibalism, unnatural sexual unions, and similar ghastly things which we should never speak or think about or even believe that they have ever happened among human beings. When this became known among the pagans, they all flew into a truly bestial rage against us.
Through the slave girl, Blandina, Christ revealed that what is regarded as mean, insignificant, and unattractive by humans is accounted worthy of great glory in the sight of God because of the fact that love towards him proves itself with power and does not vaunt itself for the sake of making an impression. Her comfort, her relief, her refreshment, her painkilling remedy for everything she suffered was the cry, “I am a Christian, and nothing evil happens among us...”
Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus were taken to the wild beasts in the amphitheater, to give the pagan crowd which was gathered there a public spectacle of inhumanity. They ran the gauntlet of whips. They were already used to this. They let themselves be dragged around and mauled by the wild beasts. Everything the raving, yelling mob wanted, now from this side, now from that, they endured. They sat upon the iron chair which roasted their bodies so that the fumes rose up. Yet they heard nothing from Sanctus beyond the confession of faith he had repeated over and over again from the beginning. When they were still found alive in spite of the terrible and prolonged torture, they were finally killed...
The glorified Blandina had already learned to know the scourging, the wild beasts, and the red-hot griddle. Finally they tied her in a fishing net and threw her to a bull. For a long time the animal tossed her about, and so she was killed.
The bodies of those that had perished in prison they threw to the dogs, watching carefully night and day that none of us could be buried. The remains of those who had been torn to pieces by the wild beasts and those charred by the fire they put on public view just as they were. The heads and trunks of the others, carefully guarded by soldiers, they also left unburied for many days. Some of them were raging and gnashing their teeth, seeking to take even more vengeance on them. Others laughed and jeered at them and exalted their own idols, to whom they attributed the punishment of the martyrs. 
The more reasonable ones, those of whom one could believe that they knew pity to a certain extent, slandered them, crying, “Where is your god? How were they helped by the faith which they loved more than their own lives?”
For six days the bodies of the martyrs, mocked in every possible way, were exposed to the elements. Finally they were burned to ashes by these lawless men and swept into the Rhône, which flows nearby. Not a trace of them was to remain on earth. This they did thinking that they could defeat God and deprive them of their restoration. They said that they should not be allowed to have any hope of resurrection, for it was through their faith in this that they introduced a strange and new religion. “Now let us see whether they will rise again, whether their god can help them, and whether he can deliver them out of our hands.”

Letter from Vienne and Lyons to Phrygia (c. AD 177)
Quoted from Eusebius' Church History book 5 chapter 1 ff.

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