Friday, October 19, 2012

The Martyrs Testify: Christian Catholicity Against the Victim Mentality

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen
by Annibale Carracci from WikiPaintings
A few weekends ago, Regent College had a conference on faith and politics. During this conference, Peter Leithart spoke on the role of martyrs in the transformation of society. He emphasized the powerful witness of the Christian martyrs against the system of power in the old roman world, and how this witness stood as a prophecy of the coming destruction of pagan Rome, and as a prayer to the God who would surely not let the seed of the martyr blood lie fallow. Leithart then emphasized that we ought to identify ourselves with the martyr witness.

In response to this, Iwan Russel-Jones worried that to focus on the martyrs would simply encourage the harmful victim mentality of modern evangelical Christians.

And he's right - it might. Indeed, I think it will if we continue to forget the catholicity of the Church. If we forget that we are one body with the martyrs past, present and future, then we may indeed exaggerated our own sense of cultural alienation into melodramatic martyr language.

However, I believe that the prescription of Peter Leithart is precisely what we need to cure the victim mentality. For Leithart is not advocating a localized view of martyrdom and the church, but a global one. When we are truly catholic, remembering that many Christians today are true martyrs, and that they are our brothers and sisters, along with the saints in Heaven who's prayers continually go up before the throne of God, then we can be under no illusion that our present trials are martyrdom. Our witness will become the prayers, fasting and acts of service we do in honour of those whose lives have become true sacrifices.

Let us remember the martyr-saints who have gone before us, and those who stand beside us in the Church militant.