Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The cult of martyrs existed throughout the Mediterranean world in late antiquity, but local communities venerated the martyrs in their own ways and for their own reasons. During the fourth and fifth centuries, two factions of Christianity existed in North Africa. Catholicism and Donatism competed for the souls of North African Christians, and this competition influenced the development of the cult of martyrs in that region. The sermons on the martyrs by Augustine of Hippo (354-430) illuminate the milieu of North African Christianity's cult of martyrs and demonstrate that Augustine viewed "possessing" the martyrs as a key component in overcoming his ecclesiastical rivals. In order to "reclaim" martyrdom from the Donatists, Augustine reinterpreted martyrdom solely in light of the New Testament concept of bearing witness. This reinterpretation had a number of results. First, focusing on witness bearing gave Augustine the justification for invalidating all forms of voluntary martyrdom, which the Donatists tolerated. Secondly, Augustine taught that Christians must not admire the sufferings of martyrs for their own sakes; they must look past the sufferings to honor the cause of the martyrs, which belonged to the Catholics. Third, Augustine's emphasis on the martyrs' cause over the martyrs' sufferings enabled him to expand the classification of martyr well beyond those who had died violently for the faith. This approach to understanding the cult of martyrs demonstrates the unique manner in which one bishop attempted to make the cult relevant to his local circumstances.



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Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Maribel Dietz



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