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I en död som hans: En komparativ studie över hur martyrers tolkningar av martyrskap och dess lidande förändrats
University College Stockholm, Stockholm School of Theology, Department of Religious Studies and Theology.
2023 (Swedish)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesisAlternative title
Unto His Death : A Comparative Study on How Martyrs' Interpretations of Martyrdom and Its Suffering Have Changed (English)
Abstract [en]

The objectives of this study is to investigate how the church has changed over time, with focus on how modernity has influenced the church’s construction of its identity through martyrs’ texts, and to contribute to theory development through analysis. The study takes its theoretical starting point in Rowan Williams perspective on history as stories we tell to understand who we are. My main question is: how are changes in the church’s identity reflected in texts of martyrs from two historical periods?

This question is answered through comparative analysis of texts written by martyrs from both the early church and the twentieth century, focusing on how the martyrs interpret and describe their coming martyrdom and suffering. Ignatius of Antiochs letters together with the prison narrative from The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas is compared to texts by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and by four trappist monks from Algeria: the brothers Luc, Paul, Christophe and Christian. 

Six motifs are identified as common in the martyrs’ texts regarding their interpretation of martyrdom and its suffering: 

1.    Suffering as freedom and liberation,

2.    the transformative suffering,

3.    suffering and martyrdom as argumentation,

4.    suffering as communion with God,

5.    the martyr’s suffering as the special path,

6.    and martyrdom as combat.

Changes within these motifs are identified between the historical periods. Central differences between the texts involve a recurring shift from a transcendental to immanent interpretive framework, a movement from power to powerlessness and an increased focus on humanity and mankind in the modern era. The image of God has changed: from identification with the risen powerful Christ, the martyr rather identifies with the incarnated, suffering, serving, powerless and dying human Jesus in the modern era. The self-image of the martyrs has changed: the modern martyrs see themselves not becoming anything other than human, and instead becoming more human through her suffering and martyrdom. The political potential and hope have also changed: powerlessness is premiered, the martyr’s own guilt as human beings replaces the demonization of the other, and the change the martyrs hope for is in the immanent realm of humanity for the common well of all mankind in modern times.

These changes can only to some extent, but not fully, be explained and understood by Charles Taylors theory on modernity and suffering presented in his A Secular Age (2007) and Byung-Chul Hans theory on modernity and suffering as discussed in his Palliativsamhället (2021). The immanent frame, the process of disenchantment and the anthropocentric shift helps to understand some of the differences between the eras. 

But both Taylor’s and Han’s basic thesis is that suffering is impossible to handle and by default meaningless and negative in the modern west, and that suffering in modernity has lost all its political and societal dimensions that previously could result in the fight for political change, and that there is no possibility to maintain a Christian belief in God whilst suffering. This is by this study proven to be incorrect. The modern martyrs, and the church in the modern era reflected through the texts of the martyrs, is influenced by but not synonymous with the modernity pictured by Taylor and Han. They are not non-modern, but neither do they repeat the same interpretations and theology as their precursors in the early church. Instead, we see in them the expression of a renewed Christian identity.

The modern martyrs in this study have, through theological creativity, recontextualized and reinterpreted their faith informed by the experience of modernity as pictured by Taylor and Han. The church has changed over time and it shows through the martyrs accounts and interpretations of their suffering and martyrdom. The renewed identity, both anthropocentric and theocentric, formed through creative theological recontextualization, has made it possible to maintain a Christian belief in God, a hope for a better world and a sense of meaning midst suffering, in the modern era. Taylor’s and Han’s theories about the secularization of the church’s identity and the modern west have not happened in practice.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2023. , p. 61
Keywords [en]
Martyrdom, Modernity, Suffering, Pain, Secularization, Byung-Chul Han, Charles Taylor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christian de Chergé, Perpetua, Ignatius of Antioch
Keywords [sv]
Martyrskap, Moderniteten, Komparativ analys, Modernitetsteori, Lidande, Smärta, Sekularisering
National Category
Religious Studies History of Religions History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ths:diva-1841OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ths-1841DiVA, id: diva2:1757737
Subject / course
Church History
Educational program
Theological Program, Minister in The Church of Sweden
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Available from: 2023-06-15 Created: 2023-05-17 Last updated: 2023-10-11Bibliographically approved

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