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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX:
Epistle to Gregory and Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John.: Chapter XXXVI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

36.  Of the Death of the Martyrs Considered as a Sacrifice, and in What Way It Operates to the Benefit of Others.

Akin to this sacrifice are the others of which the sacrifices of the law are symbols, and another kind of sacrifice also appears to me to be of the same nature; namely, the shedding of the blood of the noble martyrs, whom the disciple John saw, for this is not without significance, standing beside the heavenly altar.  “Who is wise, 4964 and he shall understand these things, prudent, and he shall know them?”  It is a matter of higher speculation to consider even slightly the rationale of those sacrifices which cleanse those for whom they are offered.  Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter should receive attention; it was by vowing it that he conquered the children of Ammon, and the victim approved his vow, for when her father said, 4965 “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord against thee,” she answered, “If thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord against me, do that which thou hast vowed.”  The story suggests that the being must be a very cruel one to whom such sacrifices are offered for the salvation of men; and we require some breadth of mind and some ability to solve the difficulties raised against Providence, to be able to account for such things and to see that they are mysteries and exceed our human nature.  Then we shall say, 4966 “Great are the judgments of God, and hard to be described; for this cause untutored souls have gone astray.”  Among the Gentiles, too, it is recorded that many a one, when pestilential disease broke out in his country, offered himself a victim for the public good.  That this was the case the faithful Clement assumes, 4967 on the faith of the narratives, to whom Paul bears witness when he says, 4968 “With Clement also, and the others, my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.”  If there is anything in these narratives that appears incongruous to one who is minded to carp at mysteries revealed to few, the same difficulty attaches to the office that was laid on the martyrs, for it was God’s will that we should rather endure all the dreadful reproaches connected with confessing Him as God, than escape for a short time from such sufferings (which men count evil) by allowing ourselves by our words to conform to the will of the enemies of the truth.  We are, therefore, led to believe that the powers of evil do suffer p. 378 defeat by the death of the holy martyrs; as if their patience, their confession, even unto death, and their zeal for piety blunted the edge of the onset of evil powers against the sufferer, and their might being thus dulled and exhausted, many others of those whom they had conquered raised their heads and were set free from the weight with which the evil powers formerly oppressed and injured them.  And even the martyrs themselves are no longer involved in suffering, even though those agents which formerly wrought ill to others are not exhausted; for he who has offered such a sacrifice overcomes the power which opposed him, as I may show by an illustration which is suited to this subject.  He who destroys a poisonous animal, or lulls it to sleep with charms, or by any means deprives it of its venom, he does good to many who would otherwise have suffered from that animal had it not been destroyed, or charmed, or emptied of its venom.  Moreover, if one of those who were formerly bitten should come to know of this, and should be cured of his malady and look upon the death of that which injured him, or tread on it, or touch it when dead, or taste a part of it, then he, who was formerly a sufferer, would owe cure and benefit to the destroyer of the poisonous animal.  In some such way must we suppose the death of the most holy martyrs to operate, many receiving benefit from it by an influence we cannot describe.



Hosea xiv. 10.


Judges xi. 35.


Wisdom xvii. 1.


1 Clement, 55.


Philipp. iv. 3.

Next: Chapter XXXVII