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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 22, 2014

Das Martyrium als imitatio Christi: Die literarische Gestaltung der spätantiken Märtyrerakten und -passionen nach der Passion Christi

Maarten Taveirne


From the beginning of Christianity, the martyrs have been deemed paragons of the ideal of imitatio Christi, their willingness to lose their life for Christ’s sake proving their perfect discipleship. This article examines how martyrdom is literarily framed as an imitation of the Passion of Christ within the Latin acta martyrum and passiones from the 4th to 6th centuries. After an outline of the imitation concept in the New Testament, several instances from those late antique stories reveal a literary technique to deepen the description of the martyrdom by means of inserting quotations from and allusions to the Passion into the martyr narrative. In this manner the martyrdom account relates to the Passion of Christ, and-to at least some extent-renews its model. Two early instances (the stoning of Stephen [Acts 6:8−7:60] and the Martyrium Polycarpi) demonstrate that such stylization is no late antique innovation but dates back to the era of the Apostolic Fathers. Observations in the late antique narrative show its continuing popularity, but also a restraint in identifying the martyrs too much with Christ. By limiting the references, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the hagiographers made sure that (even a partial) imitation of the Passion of Christ in no way would amount to rivalry with the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

Published Online: 2014-11-22
Published in Print: 2014-11-1

© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston

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