Using dates from the official liturgical calendar of the Church of Saints and Blesseds - the 2004 calendarRoman Martyrology– and data from the Department for the Causes of Saints show my calculations that 14,154 men, women and children have been recognized as martyrs over the centuries.
30 January 2023Dawn Beutnerthe office1Press
How many martyrs have there been in the history of the Catholic Church? This turns out to be a more complicated issue than one might think.
Take for example the group known collectively as the First Martyrs of Rome. Every year on June 30, the Catholic Church commemorates the Christians who died in the city of Rome in 64 AD. Every year, Catholics are reminded how a devastating fire destroyed two-thirds of the city and how the Roman Emperor Nero, without evidence, accused Christians of setting the fire. These Christians were murdered with the utmost brutality,1and her death ushered in more than two hundred years of official persecution of the Church by the Roman Empire.
But we have no idea how many Catholics were killed in this persecution. The Romans did not keep pace, and the Catholics who were not arrested were too busy avoiding the same fate. This is not uncommon in Church history. There are fifty-nine other unnamed and unnumbered groups of martyrs recognized by the Church. For these groups we can be sure of the place and date (or century), but we cannot be sure of the total number of people who died for Jesus Christ.
But even leaving aside these myriad groups of martyrs, it is possible to calculate a fairly accurate minimum number of people who have been martyred throughout Church history and who are now celebrated as saints or blessed. Using dates from the official liturgical calendar of the Church of Saints and Blesseds - the 2004 calendarRoman Martyrology— and data fromDicastery for the beatification and canonization processes, my calculations show that 14,154 men, women and children2They have been recognized as martyrs over the centuries.
How can we understand the suffering of these thousands of individual lives? We can begin by looking at the details of the martyrs' lives. The stories of some of the saints remembered by the Church in recent weeks can help us understand why ordinary Catholics would be executed for their faith.
On January 19, the Church commemorated four relatives who died in the fourth century. According to tradition, Saints Maris and Martha were husband and wife, and Saints Audifax and Abauchum their children. Originally from Persia, the family moved to the city of Rome. As persecution increased in Rome and Christians were executed, these four searched for the bodies of Christian martyrs and gave them a Christian burial. Doing a physical work of mercy is a Christian duty, but it also led the authorities to recognize that they were Catholic. All four were arrested and executed.
Most Catholics are familiar with Saint Fabian, the 20th Pope of the Church, who was martyred in 250 AD. Saint Fabian, whose feast day fell on January 20, shows us that being Pope can be unhealthy. At least twelve popes have died as martyrs over the centuries.3Regardless of the exact figure, it is safe to say that before the end of the persecutions of the Church around the year 313, any man who accepted the papacy did so knowing that martyrdom was always at his fingertips.
Most Catholics also know of another saint celebrated on January 20th. Saint Sebastian was a soldier who survived execution with arrows but was recaptured on a second attempt and executed with greater success. His death occurred in the year 288. The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian reminds us that 426 saints and blesseds in the ecclesiastical calendar served as soldiers at some point in their lives, although the soldier's profession is not generally seen as a path to great holiness. . It is true that some of them, like Saint Martin of Tours, left military service at a young age and later became hermits, monks and bishops. But 402 soldiers, not all from the early days of the Church, proved their bravery off the battlefield, willing to die rather than give up their faith in Christ.
On January 21, the Church celebrated Saint Agnes, that well-known consecrated virgin who died in Rome in the 3rd or 4th century. But Agnes is certainly not the only martyr on this day in the Church calendar. Other martyrs celebrated on January 21 include: a wealthy layman martyred in third-century France; four men executed for the crime of being Catholic priests in England in the 16th and 17th centuries; and a farmer murdered in South Korea in 1867 for his Catholic beliefs. All of these men died martyrs for the same reason Agnes was killed: being a Christian was considered treason.
Saint Meinrado, also celebrated on January 21, is considered a martyr for a different reason. Meinrad was a 9th-century German monk and priest before deciding to live as a hermit in Switzerland. A group of robbers approached his hermitage pretending to be in distress, and Meinrad greeted them, fed them, and showed them hospitality. They rewarded this hospitality by killing him, thinking (wrongly) he was hiding treasure they could steal. That is why Meinrado was celebrated as a martyr for centuries for his Christian charity.
On January 22, the Church of St. Anastasio. According to tradition, Anastasius was a soldier serving in the Persian army when he learned about Jesus Christ and converted to the faith. He returned to his hometown (in present-day Syria) and tried to lead his countrymen to Christ. When the king of Persia launched a persecution of Catholics in his territory, Anastasius was arrested along with seventy other Christians, many of whom he helped convert to the faith. In 628 they were all tortured and killed. The Persian king, like all other perpetrators of Christian persecution over the centuries, was certain that the annihilation of Christians from his territory would annihilate Christianity. Obviously he was wrong.
Perhaps 14,000 martyrs seems a rather small number compared to the billions of people who have been baptized as Catholics over the past twenty centuries. What is certain, of course, is that many other unnamed but staunch Catholics were killed for their faith.
But that is the meaning of the commemoration of the martyrs. The normality of their lives reminds us that anyone of any calling, in any country, can face opposition because they are followers of Christ. Persecution is the norm, not the exception. Like them, we may be ridiculed or punished for doing works of mercy, living our calling in a Christian way, refusing to give in to unfair pressure from government, living a virtuous life, or simply declaring our faith to others.
The martyrs of the Church show us that ordinary Christians can, by the grace of God, imitate Christ in our daily lives. And we can even receive the added grace of dying as He did.
1Remember that while all martyrdom is brutal and violent, it is possible to talk about martyrs without reveling in all the gory details. For many of the saints described here, see for more detailsButler's Lives of the Saints.
2This total is based on current data. Saints and blessed are constantly being added to the calendar.
3Modern scholars generally agree that twelve popes died as martyrs, including nine from the church's first three centuries. Due to the paucity of ancient records from these first three centuries, it is no longer believed that all or most of the first thirty-two popes (those who ruled before the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity) died as martyrs. Many may have died as martyrs, but we cannot be sure.
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About Dawn Beutner 61 Article
Dawn Beutneris the author of the next bookThe Leaven of the Saints: Bringing Christ to a Fallen World(Ignatius Press, June 2023), as well asSaints: Become an image of Christ every day of the yearby Ignacio Press. She keeps bloggingwww.dawnbeutner.com.
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On Monday, Pope Francis invited young people to learn more about the story of Bl. Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who was arrested and killed for refusing to fight for the Nazis in World War II.
"Despite all the flattery and torture, Franz would rather be killed than killed. He considered the war totally unjustified. If all the young men who were called to arms had acted as he did, Hitler could not have carried out his diabolical plans. To succeed, evil needs accomplices,” the pope said in a statement released July 11.
Francis' message was sent to the EU Youth Conference, which will be held July 11-13 in Prague, Czech Republic. The theme of the 2022 conference, aimed at youth and young people from the European Union, is "Together for a sustainable and inclusive Europe".
In view of the war in Ukraine, the Pope invited young people "to get to know the extraordinary figure of a young adversary,a young Europeanwith 'far-sightedness'”, Franz Jägerstätter, beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
"Franz was a young Austrian who, because of his Catholic faith, conscientiously refused the order to swear allegiance to Hitler and go to war," Pope Francis said.
He stated that when asked to fight, Franz refused because of his "deep conviction"; "He felt it was unfair to kill innocent lives."
The husband and father of four girls was eventually executed for refusing to fight. Pope Francis noted that he was “murdered in the same prison where his contemporary Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German Lutheran theologian and anti-Nazi, was imprisoned and met the same tragic end.”
Those two men were killed because they held to the ideals of their faith, he said.
The Pope invited young people to “think outside the box, to keep searching for the true meaning of life itself, where one comes from and where one goes, and for the truth, because we cannot live authentically if we do not seek the truth seek". .
Although Ukraine is not part of the European Union, Francis urged the young people attending the conference to work to promote peace and end the war.
He said it was "legitimate to rebel" in cases like this "where, as always, a powerful few decide and send thousands of young people to fight and die."
The Pope recalled that someone once said: "If the world were ruled by women, there would not be so many wars, because those who have the mission to give life cannot choose death."
"In the same vein, I like to think that if the world was ruled by young people, there wouldn't be so many wars," he added. "Whoever has his whole life ahead of him does not want to spoil it and throw it away, but live it to the fullest."
He ended his message by asking young people to “create new lives generously, always and only as the fruit of love”.
"The love of husband and wife, the love of family and children, but also the love of Europe, to make it a land of peace, freedom and dignity for all," he said.