Michael Jenson concludes in his Martyrdom and Identity: The Self on Trial that, while martyrdom is a form of Christian identity, it is not a matter of self-narration:
“Martyrdom is not a sign that the Christian self is always at odds with earthly government; but neither is the authentic Christian given to collusion with the state and its values. Martyrdom is not an assertion of the self through action, but rather a suffering act which refuses that assertion. Neither is it patriotic without reserve. Christian martyrdom is not even the result, it turns out, of pursuing martyrdom, but rather of discipleship and witness. It is not really a self-narration at all. The crowning of martyrs is, as we shall see, a divine rather than a human business.”
He contrasts pagan and Christian notions of honor:
“For the pagan, honour came through free and active exercise of self-assertion. For the Christian, though the language of soldierly action was used, the gestures that this described were entirely of a different order. No swords were taken up, not even against the self. Suicide was not a Christian option because the nature of the action itself was an assertion of self over against the enemy. Martyrdom was different: where the noble soldier was responding to remorseless fate, the Christian was entrusting him- or herself to the benevolent providence of God himself. Straw calls this a ‘realignment of agency’: the martyr does not seize his own will back from fate, but rather offers his will to God’s greater purpose and power.”
From Bonhoeffer he draws the lesson that the disciple’s calling is simply to watch and wait with Jesus: “What Bonhoeffer saw is that the disciples of Jesus are not called to will a separate suffering and dying of their own. Rather, they are only to keep watch with Christ, and so perhaps to share in his death.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm
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