Seditious Athletes

In the Martyrs of Palestine, Christian Historian Eusebius wrote of his fellows who would die rather than sacrifice to the gods of Rome.

His account is largely free of the miraculous - though there is the sea threw out before the gates of the city the body of the divine martyr, as if unable to endure it and the earth, unable to endure the abomination of these things, had shed tears in a mysterious manner; and that as a rebuke to the relentless and unfeeling nature of men, stones and lifeless wood had wept for what had happened. And he doesn’t dwell on how happy they are to die though he has rushed to meet a bear which had been let loose against him, surrendering himself most cheerfully to be devoured by him. And of course, Roman officials are all enraged like a wild beast or not a man, but a wild beast. But then again, his was a “for us or against us” time.

Interesting is the clear anti-state aspect of martyrdom. Take his first martyr Procopius. As expected, this holy man refused to sacrifice to the so-called gods but then went further, impugned the four emperors (using Homer!) …

when he was commanded to offer libations to the four emperors, having quoted a sentence which displeased them, he was immediately beheaded. The quotation was from the Poet: The rule of many is not good; let there be one ruler and one king.

Judges were toyed with. As usual, they would ask an accused their name and country …

heard in reply the name of some prophet instead of his proper name. … Jerusalem was his country, meaning that of which Paul says, Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother … the judge being perplexed, was impatient, thinking that the Christians were about to establish a city somewhere, inimical and hostile to the Romans.

Martyrs harassed officials as they performed services …

rushed up to Urbanus as he was offering libations, and fearlessly seizing him by the right hand, straightway put a stop to his sacrificing … having first bound their own hands, went in haste to Urbanus, who was about to open the exhibition, evidencing great zeal for martyrdom … Three of the faithful joining together, rushed on the governor as he was sacrificing to the idols, and cried out to him to cease from his delusion

As an aside, Eusebius must have admired Athletic contests because his heroes are described as victorious athletes of religion, noble athlete of piety, our Saviour again infused such boldness into his athletes, who endured the contest for the true and only religion and won the crown of martyrdom. What if Eusebius had been American? Would the martyrs have donned baseball outfits?

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