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St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologica

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  • SECOND PART
    • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[1] Out. Para. 1/4 - SECOND PART OF THE SECOND PART (SS) (QQ[1]-189)
      • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF MARTYRDOM (FIVE ARTICLES)
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Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF MARTYRDOM (FIVE ARTICLES)

We must now consider martyrdom, under which head there are five points
of inquiry:

(1) Whether martyrdom is an act of virtue?

(2) Of what virtue is it the act?

(3) Concerning the perfection of this act;

(4) The pain of martyrdom;

(5) Its cause.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether martyrdom is an act of virtue?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It seems that martyrdom is not an act of virtue. For all acts of
virtue are voluntary. But martyrdom is sometimes not voluntary, as in the
case of the Innocents who were slain for Christ's sake, and of whom
Hillary says (Super Matth. i) that "they attained the ripe age of
eternity through the glory of martyrdom." Therefore martyrdom is not an
act of virtue.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, nothing unlawful is an act of virtue. Now it is unlawful
to kill oneself, as stated above (Q[64], A[5]), and yet martyrdom is
achieved by so doing: for Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i) that "during
persecution certain holy women, in order to escape from those who
threatened their chastity, threw themselves into a river, and so ended
their lives, and their martyrdom is honored in the Catholic Church with
most solemn veneration." Therefore martyrdom is not an act of virtue.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, it is praiseworthy to offer oneself to do an act of
virtue. But it is not praiseworthy to court martyrdom, rather would it
seem to be presumptuous and rash. Therefore martyrdom is not an act of
virtue.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] OTC Para. 1/1
On the contrary, The reward of beatitude is not due save to acts of
virtue. Now it is due to martyrdom, since it is written (Mt. 5:10):
"Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven." Therefore martyrdom is an act of virtue.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, As stated above (Q[123], AA[1],3), it belongs to virtue
to safeguard man in the good of reason. Now the good of reason consists
in the truth as its proper object, and in justice as its proper effect,
as shown above (Q[109], AA[1],2; Q[123], A[12]). And martyrdom consists
essentially in standing firmly to truth and justice against the assaults
of persecution. Hence it is evident that martyrdom is an act of virtue.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Some have said that in the case of the Innocents the use of
their free will was miraculously accelerated, so that they suffered
martyrdom even voluntarily. Since, however, Scripture contains no proof
of this, it is better to say that these babes in being slain obtained by
God's grace the glory of martyrdom which others acquire by their own
will. For the shedding of one's blood for Christ's sake takes the place
of Baptism. Wherefore just as in the case of baptized children the merit
of Christ is conducive to the acquisition of glory through the baptismal
grace, so in those who were slain for Christ's sake the merit of Christ's
martyrdom is conducive to the acquisition of the martyr's palm. Hence
Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (De Diversis lxvi), as though
he were addressing them: "A man that does not believe that children are
benefited by the baptism of Christ will doubt of your being crowned in
suffering for Christ. You were not old enough to believe in Christ's
future sufferings, but you had a body wherein you could endure suffering
of Christ Who was to suffer."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i) that "possibly the Church
was induced by certain credible witnesses of Divine authority thus to
honor the memory of those holy women [*Cf. Q[64], A[1], ad 2]."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[1] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: The precepts of the Law are about acts of virtue. Now it
has been stated (FS, Q[108], A[1], ad 4) that some of the precepts of the
Divine Law are to be understood in reference to the preparation of the
mind, in the sense that man ought to be prepared to do such and such a
thing, whenever expedient. In the same way certain things belong to an
act of virtue as regards the preparation of the mind, so that in such and
such a case a man should act according to reason. And this observation
would seem very much to the point in the case of martyrdom, which
consists in the right endurance of sufferings unjustly inflicted. Nor
ought a man to give another an occasion of acting unjustly: yet if anyone
act unjustly, one ought to endure it in moderation.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether martyrdom is an act of fortitude?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It seems that martyrdom is not an act of fortitude. For the Greek
{martyr} signifies a witness. Now witness is borne to the faith of
Christ. according to Acts 1:8, "You shall be witnesses unto Me," etc. and
Maximus says in a sermon: "The mother of martyrs is the Catholic faith
which those glorious warriors have sealed with their blood." Therefore
martyrdom is an act of faith rather than of fortitude.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, a praiseworthy act belongs chiefly to the virtue which
inclines thereto, is manifested thereby, and without which the act avails
nothing. Now charity is the chief incentive to martyrdom: Thus Maximus
says in a sermon: "The charity of Christ is victorious in His martyrs."
Again the greatest proof of charity lies in the act of martyrdom,
according to Jn. 15:13, "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man
lay down his life for his friends." Moreover without charity martyrdom
avails nothing, according to 1 Cor. 13:3, "If I should deliver my body to
be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Therefore
martyrdom is an act of charity rather than of fortitude.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, Augustine says in a sermon on St. Cyprian: "It is easy
to honor a martyr by singing his praises, but it is a great thing to
imitate his faith and patience." Now that which calls chiefly for praise
in a virtuous act, is the virtue of which it is the act. Therefore
martyrdom is an act of patience rather than of fortitude.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Cyprian says (Ep. ad Mart. et Conf. ii): "Blessed
martyrs, with what praise shall I extol you? Most valiant warriors, how
shall I find words to proclaim the strength of your courage?" Now a
person is praised on account of the virtue whose act he performs.
Therefore martyrdom is an act of fortitude.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, As stated above (Q[123], A[1], seqq.), it belongs to
fortitude to strengthen man in the good of virtue, especially against
dangers, and chiefly against dangers of death, and most of all against
those that occur in battle. Now it is evident that in martyrdom man is
firmly strengthened in the good of virtue, since he cleaves to faith and
justice notwithstanding the threatening danger of death, the imminence of
which is moreover due to a kind of particular contest with his
persecutors. Hence Cyprian says in a sermon (Ep. ad Mart. et Conf. ii):
"The crowd of onlookers wondered to see an unearthly battle, and Christ's
servants fighting erect, undaunted in speech, with souls unmoved, and
strength divine." Wherefore it is evident that martyrdom is an act of
fortitude; for which reason the Church reads in the office of Martyrs:
They "became valiant in battle" [*Heb. 11:34].

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Two things must be considered in the act of fortitude. one
is the good wherein the brave man is strengthened, and this is the end of
fortitude; the other is the firmness itself, whereby a man does not yield
to the contraries that hinder him from achieving that good, and in this
consists the essence of fortitude. Now just as civic fortitude
strengthens a man's mind in human justice, for the safeguarding of which
he braves the danger of death, so gratuitous fortitude strengthens man's
soul in the good of Divine justice, which is "through faith in Christ
Jesus," according to Rm. 3:22. Thus martyrdom is related to faith as the
end in which one is strengthened, but to fortitude as the eliciting habit.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Charity inclines one to the act of martyrdom, as its first
and chief motive cause, being the virtue commanding it, whereas fortitude
inclines thereto as being its proper motive cause, being the virtue that
elicits it. Hence martyrdom is an act of charity as commanding, and of
fortitude as eliciting. For this reason also it manifests both virtues.
It is due to charity that it is meritorious, like any other act of
virtue: and for this reason it avails not without charity.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[2] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: As stated above (Q[123], A[6]), the chief act of fortitude
is endurance: to this and not to its secondary act, which is aggression,
martyrdom belongs. And since patience serves fortitude on the part of its
chief act, viz. endurance, hence it is that martyrs are also praised for
their patience.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether martyrdom is an act of the greatest perfection?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It seems that martyrdom is not an act of the greatest perfection.
For seemingly that which is a matter of counsel and not of precept
pertains to perfection, because, to wit, it is not necessary for
salvation. But it would seem that martyrdom is necessary for salvation,
since the Apostle says (Rm. 10:10), "With the heart we believe unto
justice, but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation," and it is
written (1 Jn. 3:16), that "we ought to lay down our lives for the
brethren." Therefore martyrdom does not pertain to perfection.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, it seems to point to greater perfection that a man give
his soul to God, which is done by obedience, than that he give God his
body, which is done by martyrdom: wherefore Gregory says (Moral. xxxv)
that "obedience is preferable to all sacrifices." Therefore martyrdom is
not an act of the greatest perfection.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, it would seem better to do good to others than to
maintain oneself in good, since the "good of the nation is better than
the good of the individual," according to the Philosopher (Ethic. i, 2).
Now he that suffers martyrdom profits himself alone, whereas he that
teaches does good to many. Therefore the act of teaching and guiding
subjects is more perfect than the act of martyrdom.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Augustine (De Sanct. Virgin. xlvi) prefers martyrdom to
virginity which pertains to perfection. Therefore martyrdom seems to
belong to perfection in the highest degree.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, We may speak of an act of virtue in two ways. First, with
regard to the species of that act, as compared to the virtue proximately
eliciting it. In this way martyrdom, which consists in the due endurance
of death, cannot be the most perfect of virtuous acts, because endurance
of death is not praiseworthy in itself, but only in so far as it is
directed to some good consisting in an act of virtue, such as faith or
the love of God, so that this act of virtue being the end is better.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] Body Para. 2/2

A virtuous act may be considered in another way, in comparison with its
first motive cause, which is the love of charity, and it is in this
respect that an act comes to belong to the perfection of life, since, as
the Apostle says (Col. 3:14), that "charity . . . is the bond of
perfection." Now, of all virtuous acts martyrdom is the greatest proof of
the perfection of charity: since a man's love for a thing is proved to be
so much the greater, according as that which he despises for its sake is
more dear to him, or that which he chooses to suffer for its sake is more
odious. But it is evident that of all the goods of the present life man
loves life itself most, and on the other hand he hates death more than
anything, especially when it is accompanied by the pains of bodily
torment, "from fear of which even dumb animals refrain from the greatest
pleasures," as Augustine observes (QQ[83], qu. 36). And from this point
of view it is clear that martyrdom is the most perfect of human acts in
respect of its genus, as being the sign of the greatest charity,
according to Jn. 15:13: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man
lay down his life for his friends."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: There is no act of perfection, which is a matter of
counsel, but what in certain cases is a matter of precept, as being
necessary for salvation. Thus Augustine declares (De Adult. Conjug. xiii)
that a man is under the obligation of observing continency, through the
absence or sickness of his wife. Hence it is not contrary to the
perfection of martyrdom if in certain cases it be necessary for
salvation, since there are cases when it is not necessary for salvation
to suffer martyrdom; thus we read of many holy martyrs who through zeal
for the faith or brotherly love gave themselves up to martyrdom of their
own accord. As to these precepts, they are to be understood as referring
to the preparation of the mind.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Martyrdom embraces the highest possible degree of
obedience, namely obedience unto death; thus we read of Christ (Phil.
2:8) that He became "obedient unto death." Hence it is evident that
martyrdom is of itself more perfect than obedience considered absolutely.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[3] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: This argument considers martyrdom according to the proper
species of its act, whence it derives no excellence over all other
virtuous acts; thus neither is fortitude more excellent than all virtues.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether death is essential to martyrdom?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It seems that death is not essential to martyrdom. For Jerome
says in a sermon on the Assumption (Epist. ad Paul. et Eustoch.): "I
should say rightly that the Mother of God was both virgin and martyr,
although she ended her days in peace": and Gregory says (Hom. iii in
Evang.): "Although persecution has ceased to offer the opportunity, yet
the peace we enjoy is not without its martyrdom, since even if we no
longer yield the life of the body to the sword, yet do we slay fleshly
desires in the soul with the sword of the spirit." Therefore there can be
martyrdom without suffering death.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, we read of certain women as commended for despising
life for the sake of safeguarding the integrity of the flesh: wherefore
seemingly the integrity of chastity is preferable to the life of the
body. Now sometimes the integrity of the flesh has been forfeited or has
been threatened in confession of the Christian faith, as in the case of
Agnes and Lucy. Therefore it seems that the name of martyr should be
accorded to a woman who forfeits the integrity of the flesh for the sake
of Christ's faith, rather than if she were to forfeit even the life of
the body: wherefore also Lucy said: "If thou causest me to be violated
against my will, my chastity will gain me a twofold crown."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, martyrdom is an act of fortitude. But it belongs to
fortitude to brave not only death but also other hardships, as Augustine
declares (Music. vi). Now there are many other hardships besides death,
which one may suffer for Christ's faith, namely imprisonment, exile,
being stripped of one's goods, as mentioned in Heb. 10:34, for which
reason we celebrate the martyrdom of Pope Saint Marcellus,
notwithstanding that he died in prison. Therefore it is not essential to
martyrdom that one suffer the pain of death.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] Obj. 4 Para. 1/1

OBJ 4: Further, martyrdom is a meritorious act, as stated above (A[2],
ad 1; A[3]). Now it cannot be a meritorious act after death. Therefore it
is before death; and consequently death is not essential to martyrdom.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Maximus says in a sermon on the martyrs that "in dying
for the faith he conquers who would have been vanquished in living
without faith."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that As stated above (A[2]), a martyr is so called as being a
witness to the Christian faith, which teaches us to despise things
visible for the sake of things invisible, as stated in Heb. 11.
Accordingly it belongs to martyrdom that a man bear witness to the faith
in showing by deed that he despises all things present, in order to
obtain invisible goods to come. Now so long as a man retains the life of
the body he does not show by deed that he despises all things relating to
the body. For men are wont to despise both their kindred and all they
possess, and even to suffer bodily pain, rather than lose life. Hence
Satan testified against Job (Job 2:4): "Skin for skin, and all that a man
hath he will give for his soul" [Douay: 'life'] i.e. for the life of his
body. Therefore the perfect notion of martyrdom requires that a man
suffer death for Christ's sake.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: The authorities quoted, and the like that one may meet
with, speak of martyrdom by way of similitude.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: When a woman forfeits the integrity of the flesh, or is
condemned to forfeit it under pretext of the Christian faith, it is not
evident to men whether she suffers this for love of the Christian faith,
or rather through contempt of chastity. Wherefore in the sight of men her
testimony is not held to be sufficient, and consequently this is not
martyrdom properly speaking. In the sight of God, however, Who searcheth
the heart, this may be deemed worthy of a reward, as Lucy said.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: As stated above (Q[123], AA[4],5), fortitude regards danger
of death chiefly, and other dangers consequently; wherefore a person is
not called a martyr merely for suffering imprisonment, or exile, or
forfeiture of his wealth, except in so far as these result in death.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[4] R.O. 4 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 4: The merit of martyrdom is not after death, but in the
voluntary endurance of death, namely in the fact that a person willingly
suffers being put to death. It happens sometimes, however, that a man
lives for some time after being mortally wounded for Christ's sake, or
after suffering for the faith of Christ any other kind of hardship
inflicted by persecution and continued until death ensues. The act of
martyrdom is meritorious while a man is in this state, and at the very
time that he is suffering these hardships.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether faith alone is the cause of martyrdom?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It seems that faith alone is the cause of martyrdom. For it is
written (1 Pt. 4:15,16): "Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a
thief, or a railer, or a coveter of other men's things. But if as a
Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name."
Now a man is said to be a Christian because he holds the faith of Christ.
Therefore only faith in Christ gives the glory of martyrdom to those who
suffer.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, a martyr is a kind of witness. But witness is borne to
the truth alone. Now one is not called a martyr for bearing witness to
any truth, but only for witnessing to the Divine truth, otherwise a man
would be a martyr if he were to die for confessing a truth of geometry or
some other speculative science, which seems ridiculous. Therefore faith
alone is the cause of martyrdom.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, those virtuous deeds would seem to be of most account
which are directed to the common good, since "the good of the nation is
better than the good of the individual," according to the Philosopher
(Ethic. i, 2). If, then, some other good were the cause of martyrdom, it
would seem that before all those would be martyrs who die for the defense
of their country. Yet this is not consistent with Church observance, for
we do not celebrate the martyrdom of those who die in a just war.
Therefore faith alone is the cause of martyrdom.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, It is written (Mt. 5:10): "Blessed are they that suffer
persecution for justice' sake," which pertains to martyrdom, according to
a gloss, as well as Jerome's commentary on this passage. Now not only
faith but also the other virtues pertain to justice. Therefore other
virtues can be the cause of martyrdom.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, As stated above (A[4]), martyrs are so called as being
witnesses, because by suffering in body unto death they bear witness to
the truth; not indeed to any truth, but to the truth which is in
accordance with godliness, and was made known to us by Christ: wherefore
Christ's martyrs are His witnesses. Now this truth is the truth of faith.
Wherefore the cause of all martyrdom is the truth of faith.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] Body Para. 2/2

But the truth of faith includes not only inward belief, but also outward
profession, which is expressed not only by words, whereby one confesses
the faith, but also by deeds, whereby a person shows that he has faith,
according to James 2:18, "I will show thee, by works, my faith." Hence it
is written of certain people (Titus 1:16): "They profess that they know
God but in their works they deny Him." Thus all virtuous deeds, inasmuch
as they are referred to God, are professions of the faith whereby we come
to know that God requires these works of us, and rewards us for them: and
in this way they can be the cause of martyrdom. For this reason the
Church celebrates the martyrdom of Blessed John the Baptist, who suffered
death, not for refusing to deny the faith, but for reproving adultery.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: A Christian is one who is Christ's. Now a person is said to
be Christ's, not only through having faith in Christ, but also because he
is actuated to virtuous deeds by the Spirit of Christ, according to Rm.
8:9, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His"; and
again because in imitation of Christ he is dead to sins, according to
Gal. 5:24, "They that are Christ's have crucified their flesh with the
vices and concupiscences." Hence to suffer as a Christian is not only to suffer in confession of the faith, which is done by words, but also to
suffer for doing any good work, or for avoiding any sin, for Christ's
sake, because this all comes under the head of witnessing to the faith.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: The truth of other sciences has no connection with the
worship of the Godhead: hence it is not called truth according to
godliness, and consequently the confession thereof cannot be said to be
the direct cause of martyrdom. Yet, since every lie is a sin, as stated
above (Q[110], AA[3],4), avoidance of a lie, to whatever truth it may be
contrary, may be the cause of martyrdom inasmuch as a lie is a sin
against the Divine Law.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[124] A[5] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: The good of one's country is paramount among human goods:
yet the Divine good, which is the proper cause of martyrdom, is of more
account than human good. Nevertheless, since human good may become
Divine, for instance when it is referred to God, it follows that any
human good in so far as it is referred to God, may be the cause of
martyrdom.





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