"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Did Early Martyrs Feel or Deny Their Pain?

The University of California Press, which has a number of series publishing works about early and Eastern Christian history, inter alia, has just sent me an intriguing new study by L.S. Cobb, Divine Deliverance: Pain and Painlessness in Early Christian Martyr Texts (UC Press, 2016), 264pp.

Amidst much chatter recently about the dim future of the Church in the West, and the various forms of "persecution" that are coming, this book raises an important question about how to respond to any form of "persecution," violent and otherwise, and where power ultimately lies.

The key question, in the words of the publisher's blurb, is this:
Does martyrdom hurt? The obvious answer to this question is “yes.” L. Stephanie Cobb, asserts, however, that early Christian martyr texts respond to this question with an emphatic “no!” Divine Deliverance examines the original martyr texts of the second through fifth centuries, concluding that these narratives in fact seek to demonstrate the Christian martyrs’ imperviousness to pain. For these martyrs, God was present with, and within, the martyrs, delivering them from pain. These martyrs’ claims not to feel pain define and redefine Christianity in the ancient world: whereas Christians did not deny the reality of their subjection to state violence, they argued that they were not ultimately vulnerable to its painful effects.

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