Conclusion: Surviving Martyrdom: History, Historiography, and Power

Martyrs do not have to die in order to be martyrs. Not, at least, according to Prudentius, Paulinus, and Augustine, and not according to many Christians throughout the span of Christian history. When historians ignore this fact, ignoring the words, projects, and sentiments of our subjects, we are forfeiting (among other things) an avenue of access into their experiences of their faith. We, to put it simply, are not being accurate. Neither are we being sufficiently cognizant of the world around us.

To phrase this another way: for many Christians throughout history, martyrdom was something that living people could achieve and, for some, a long-term, ongoing, lived reality—not an existence characterized by fear of possible persecution but one of sustained outlook and varied embodiment. To ignore these martyrs’ experiences based on the fact that our definitions do not line up with theirs would be antithetical to many historians’ self-understanding as scholars, and it would be counter to best practices in Religious Studies, where the etic subsumes the emic only on peril of entering entirely into the realm of (dangerous) fiction. We need to acknowledge the perspectives of the people we study and the power of their discourse as it filters into avenues we have not been conditioned to expect.

This Conclusion is designed to distill and expand upon what I see as the three main correctives embedded in the argument of this book: the historical, the historiographical, and the political (that is, a corrective relating to the operation of power). First, I review the historical corrective that the book offers, namely that, factually speaking, according to the definitions used by our late ancient authors, martyrdom meant a way of life rather than an experience of death. Second, I articulate the historiographical corrective and offer potential solutions: how should historians change our “search terms” to more accurately uncover instances of martyrdom in ancient texts? Third, and finally, I elaborate on the political corrective necessitated by a shift in the analytical category of “martyrdom” to include living martyrs.


In the preceding chapters, I uncovered and elaborated the particular constructions of martyrdom used by Prudentius, Paulinus, and Augustine, as well as the uses to which each author put those constructions. Each rejected death as the primary criterion for martyrdom; each employed his construction of martyrdom to promote the idea that martyrdom was still a possibility for Christians after the age of persecution; each used rhetoric in some fashion to make that martyrdom more accessible to his contemporaries.

In Chapters 1 and 2, I demonstrated that Prudentius used his martyrological poetry to configure a martyrdom that was based on witness, not on death, even for those martyrs whose stories would otherwise have seemed to fit the traditional, death-driven definition of martyrdom: even the martyrs’ requests for death underscored the role of witness, as it is their parrhesia and their persuasive power that are truly on display. Witnesses—those who observe, announce, and refigure the truth—take the place of the dead as exemplars of martyrdom, and witness becomes the new focal point of martyrial experience. By involving his readers in his martyrologies through rhetoric, Prudentius makes them witnesses, too—or at least invites them to become, like the child martyr’s mother in Peristephanon 10, martyrs without physically inflicted suffering. Prudentius’s method for advocating this new martyrdom is sophisticated and subtle, ultimately only finding purchase in readers who not only possessed the literary-cultural fluency to understand his machinations but who would also be willing to take the same heroic typological journey as had the child martyr’s mother.

Paulinus, too, provided the tools necessary for his contemporaries to become martyrs without dying and, again like Prudentius, used poetry as a vehicle to advocate continued martyrdom. In Chapter 3, I explored how Paulinus characterized Felix, Victricius, and Maximus as martyrs, determining both how he defended his constructions (he pointed to their power, their recognition by God, and their typological connections to Christ) and how he thought these men had earned their title (through an embodied orientation to God). In Chapter 4, I showed how Paulinus attempted to extend that martyrdom to his audiences by instilling in them an imitative ethic—a project he pursued through exhortations to imitation, assertions of universal principles, and rhetorical manipulation of his audience. He sought to encourage his listeners to imitate Felix, Victricius, and Maximus in an embodied orientation to God that would constitute martyrdom.

Finally, in Chapters 5 and 6, I established that Augustine likewise rejected death as a requirement for martyrdom and that he actively and explicitly urged his parishioners to become martyrs themselves by imitating the martyrs’ adherence to their causae, without concern for consequences. He employed an array of rhetorical techniques to make his case more persuasive, eschewing in his homiletic and pastoral advocacy the subtlety Paulinus and Prudentius brought to bear in their poetry. In consequence, however, his exhortations were plainer and more egalitarian than those of his poetic contemporaries and therefore accessible (in concept, at least) to all who heard his preaching. Augustine’s template of what the subjective reality of martyrial life would look like is also, unlike Prudentius’s and Paulinus’s, fully fleshed out.

Despite sharing a rejection of death as a requirement for martyrdom and an interest in helping their contemporaries achieve their own martyrdoms, Prudentius, Paulinus, and Augustine did not have wholly homogenous ideologies of martyrdom. They disagreed in emphasis—witness, for example, was important for Augustine and Paulinus but was not the overriding determinant for them that it is for Prudentius. And Augustine’s emphasis on intent alone stands in tension with Paulinus’s desire for embodiment and Prudentius’s need for witness and acknowledgment.

To highlight the intersections and divergences among these three constructions of martyrdom, it is helpful, I think, to speculate what each author’s judgment of the others’ martyrs might have been. What, for instance, would Prudentius and Paulinus make of Augustine’s sickbed martyr? Prudentius would probably not have recognized the sickbed martyr as a martyr because his struggle and performance of martyrdom would not have been witnessed or recognized by anyone but God. For Prudentius, the communicative aspect of martyrdom is crucial. Paulinus would likely have agreed with Augustine, since God’s witness is all that matters and he believes in the primacy of will—the sickbed martyr is an excellent example of an embodied orientation toward God. What about the child martyr’s mother in Peristephanon 10? We see the fruits of her rethinking of martyrdom, we see that she is wearing “Christ-colored glasses,” but we do not have access to her inner monologue, except to assume that her instructions to her son (to make the desire to see Christ the “one fire that burns” in his “soul and marrow”1) are ones that she herself follows. If we assume that, then we can state with confidence that both Paulinus and Augustine would have recognized her as a martyr. But it is significant that Prudentius does not seem to see a distinction between interior and exterior—the mother’s interpretation is so all-encompassing that her motivation, commitment, and will have been entirely fused with her performance of her interpretation. She does not have an interior monologue (or, at least, not one we are given access to). Turning to Paulinus’s audience members and felices (looking to where they overlap), we can say with some confidence that Prudentius would have recognized them as martyrs while Augustine would not. That their imitation was so successful that it resulted in an identification through which others could see Felix (and consequently Christ) would have made them martyrs in Prudentius’s reckoning, while Augustine would not identify them as martyrs because we all have to go on is their external presentation as martyrs. Augustine would concede that the felices and audience members could be martyrs, but he would be wary of saying that they are. Paulinus, by contrast, feels perfectly comfortable telling Victricius that he is a living martyr.

The distinctions between these three accounts of martyrdom are important: each lay at the center of an ideal image that was utilized for self-fashioning by their authors’ communities—or, at least, they were intended to be used in such a manner. They thus give us better access into the spirituality of these authors’ intended reception communities, as well as a more accurate sense of the sheer variety of ways that martyrdom has been conceived in Christian history, even within “mainstream” Nicene orthodox Christianity and even within the subset of Christian thinkers who claimed that martyrdom did not require death. These differences thus highlight the conceptual breadth of what martyrdom can mean: as a point of historical fact, we must acknowledge that the definition of martyrdom is historically contingent—and does not always include death.

And, importantly, martyrdom without death is not a lesser form of martyrdom; it is not “Martyrdom Lite” or martyrdom with an asterisk. For each of these authors, and for many Christians who believed in living martyrdom, the living martyrdom they advocated simply was martyrdom, and, like all forms of martyrdom, it required much from martyrs. The fourteenth-century English pilgrim Margery Kempe, for example, in characterizing her continuous public humiliations as martyrdom, truly understood herself to be surpassing the feats of other martyrs. This opinion is confirmed for Margery by a vision she has of Jesus himself, who tells her, “Daughter, it is more pleasing to me that you suffer scorn and humiliation, shame and rebukes, wrongs and distress, than if your head were struck off three times a day every day for seven years.”2 “Dying is easy,” as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s George Washington reminds us. “Living is harder.”3

Indeed, ideologies of living martyrdom are often characterized as more demanding than those that require death. Commodian, for instance, outlined the requirements of martyrdom explicitly: in addition to fighting against lust, luxury, abundant wine, improper speech, and unrestrained anger,4 martyrs must reconfigure all their actions to be consonant with (Commodian’s) Christian ideals:

Beware trampling on lesser folk when you are oppressed by misery;

Apply yourself to chastising only and do no harm;

Conduct yourself on the pure and righteous path through this world.

Share your wealth with those the world deems insignificant;

Give from your labor, clothe the naked: Thus you will conquer.”5

This is what a righteous Christian martyr’s life should look like: a lifelong, daily struggle to refine every element of one’s character and govern every minute interpersonal interaction. And Commodian concludes his poem by contrasting this lifetime of righteous struggle with the common (mis)conception of martyrdom as salvation in a single moment, by a single action: “You offer so many empty words, who seek in one moment to raise a martyrdom to Christ!”6 Commodian is not just saying that you can be a martyr without dying; he is redefining martyrdom wholesale. Martyrdom is a long-term, all-consuming effort, shaping one’s identity completely, even without death.

How totalizing is the witness that Prudentius advocates, and how all-consuming is the worldview he attempts to train his readers to adopt? How incredibly difficult is it to achieve a martyrdom that is, as Paulinus describes it, based entirely on God examining “the silent heart” and “[holding] those prepared to suffer/on par with those who have”?7 And how laborious and transformative is the life of martyrdom that Augustine advocates, wherein the martyr exercises constant vigilance—an overwhelming focus on and adherence to God while navigating a world full of temptations as real as any beasts in the arena?

Dissociating martyrdom from death actually enables an intensification of martyrdom—several intensifications, in fact: by not requiring death, martyrdom becomes open to more people across a wider set of historical circumstances; by being the work of a lifetime and not of an instant, martyrdom becomes a long-term commitment, instantiated moment after moment, for decades on end; by requiring care and nourishment every moment of one’s life, martyrdom becomes totalizing, the lens through which all other experience is filtered and the measure by which all experience is judged. This is not a form of spirituality historians should ignore.


In order to see this spirituality in various historical contexts, however, scholars must change how we locate martyrdom in our sources—we need to edit our “search terms” so they do not hinge on death (among other things). Were we to look for martyrs only where we saw death, we would not be able to see all the other martyrs that our authors have created: the child martyr’s mother, the felices and pilgrims to Nola, the sickbed martyrs. And we could not acknowledge the martyrs our authors sought to make out of their reading audiences, listening audiences, and parishioners. We need to change how we seek out martyrdom in our sources so that we do not dismiss our subjects’ views and so that we do not miss the work our subjects are attempting to accomplish.

When our sources use the terminology of martyrdom, we need to resist the inclination to assume we know what they are referring to. Instead we must use the fact of the term’s deployment as our starting point for questioning. What does the term seem to mean here? What knowledge is the author assuming their readers have? What experiences do they seem to be presuming? What arguments are they engaging? The term must be not the endpoint, but the starting point of analysis.

This same point—that martyrdom needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis—has been made before, in particular by Candida Moss in both Ancient Christian Martyrdom and The Other Christs, where she argues that: “Just as we speak of ancient Christianities, we should speak of ancient ideologies of martyrdom.”8 But the way that most scholars treat martyrdom has not changed, for the most part. My hope is that with a concrete historical corrective firmly established—namely, that martyrdom does not require death—we will be better able to act on this imperative. I am hopeful that having such a pointed and precise example of the sort of thing we should not take for granted will facilitate the implementation of this reform. If we can’t even assume that martyrdom includes death, what else should we be circumspect about? How much more careful must we be in our analyses? How much more critical of our own assumptions?

Furthermore, when we expand our investigations in this way, looking for the ways that martyrdom ideology is more broadly present in the worldviews of our sources, we find ourselves more capable of identifying martyrdom when the specific terminology is not used. Too often, analyses of martyrdom have been stymied by this attachment to the word itself— “the lexical fallacy,” as Van Norden calls it, that I mentioned in the Introduction.9 But there are many times when an ideology of martyrdom pervades discourse without explicit acknowledgment. That does not mean that martyrdom is less influential in these situations. Indeed, it is more likely to mean the opposite: that martyrdom looms so large that it does not even need to be named; it (and its frameworks) can simply be assumed. Instead of looking for the specific terminology, we can look for common resonances, images, or analogies that are frequently used in martyrdom discourse in a particular author or milieu. These images and analogies are, importantly (and again), not ends in themselves; they are flags we can use to mark a need for further analysis and closer examination.

How might this “constellation” approach to identifying martyrdom play out? We would begin by identifying significant themes in the established discussions of martyrdom we see (moments where either the terminology is explicitly used or where martyrdom is widely acknowledged to be present); then, we would look for those themes elsewhere, in other sources, paying attention to potential similarities and differences in milieu, setting, and genre. So, for example, based on our investigations of Prudentius, Paulinus, and Augustine, we can see that witness played an important role in each of their ideologies of martyrdom. Knowing this, we could use the language and imagery of witness as a sign that we should be looking for martyrdom discourse.

But so that our search terms are neither too diffuse to be helpful (“Is all witness martyrdom?”) nor co-opted by another term (“So we can just use ‘witness’ instead of ‘martyr’?”), we would need to look for further signals to show us that we were dealing with a materially functional idea of martyrdom. For Prudentius, Paulinus, and Augustine, we could pinpoint a discourse surrounding suffering—not necessarily the idea that martyrs suffer (as Stephanie Cobb reminds us10), but that they are oriented around the specter of suffering. As we have seen, Prudentius values in his martyrs both suffering and not suffering—that is, he values the martyr’s insensitivity to torments intended to cause pain; Paulinus is adamant that the willingness to suffer is what God credits, rather than actual suffering—this still establishes suffering as part of the martyrial dialectic; and for Augustine, even though he argues emphatically that suffering is to be ignored as a criterion for martyrdom, he often characterizes the willingness to endure bodily suffering as significant in the martyr’s struggle—indeed, the life of martyrdom is oriented toward helping the martyr navigate suffering and the threat of suffering with the correct (divine) perspective.

We could, additionally, identify another conceptual “flag” for martyrdom in the ways that each of these authors incorporates into their account of martyrdom a realized eschatology (following, once again, Stephanie Cobb’s suggestion). This is the idea that “the benefits of future reward are translated into earthly life” for the martyrs—essentially, the future is now, the kingdom of heaven is here (if even momentarily), with God’s promises fulfilled right here, right now.11 In Prudentius, we see this in the miraculously enduring bodies of the martyrs that, as Cobb points out, model for onlookers and readers what the resurrection body will be like; we see it in the divine punishments often meted out in-text to the persecutors, as, for example, a persecuting prefect begins frothing at the mouth, devolving into a frenzied, animal state when he cannot kill the martyr as easily as he expected to. In Paulinus, we can see this in Maximus’s resurrected body, Victricius’s present existence as a martyr, and in Felix’s many miracles (among other things). For Augustine, who places such a separation between the world as it is now and the world God will invite the faithful to at the Judgment, the life of martyrdom acts as a bridge between the two, helping to realize the martyr’s preferred eschaton: union with God based on sole contemplation of the divine. To be a living martyr, for Augustine, is to possess (in infinitely small measure) some of the peace and equanimity that will be one’s reward in the hereafter.

With these additional components (and/or others) added to the constellation of concepts and imagery that help us identify martyrdom, we would be able to locate functional martyrdom discourse in a wide variety of texts that, for whatever reason, do not explicitly name martyrdom. And while we are seeking out examples of unlabeled martyrdom, we are also getting a richer sense of the moments we have already identified as martyrdom. These concepts each help us to see our authors’ martyrs more clearly, enabling a deeper consideration of their constructions of martyrdom, allowing us to better access what their own definitions are so that we can recognize the full ramifications of the images and ideas introduced.


It is in recognizing the full ramifications of martyrdom discourse that this book’s final corrective takeaway lies: we need to acknowledge both the power and the pervasiveness of martyrdom discourse. Once we can see our sources’ martyrs more clearly, we can see how powerful they are; once we expand our method of defining martyrdom, we can see how often and in how many varied situations it is deployed.

Martyrdom discourse has consequences. Authors’ attempts to “argue for” a martyr point to their desire to inculcate some truth, some message, some lesson in their audiences that will affect the way they live and think of themselves as individuals and as members of a community. Perhaps the authors even hope their audience will take imitative action. Making martyrs of your audience likewise has consequences, and not solely for the individuals who are able to become martyrs themselves. Prudentius’s active reader–turned-martyr will, through her totalizing typological interpretation, fundamentally change her mode of interacting with the world, ultimately refiguring for others what she herself has witnessed. The Christian who succeeds in imitating the orientation to God that Paulinus advocates will not only enable his own salvation but also will affect those around him—by leaving his family, forfeiting his property, “harmonizing” with Paulinus’s verses, or otherwise showcasing his devotion. Imitation was, after all, transformational in Paulinus’s reckoning. Augustine’s martyrs, committed to divine causae, may not be recognizable to their peers as martyrs, but their enactments of the life of martyrdom, quiet though they might be, would color their every interaction with others.

Cultivating these martyrial worldviews in individuals, then, would have led to broader shifts in the late antique épistémè, laying groundwork for Christianization, which required the construction of a worldview capable of adapting to transformations of the physical, political, and social landscape. Certainly, the worldviews that Prudentius, Paulinus, and Augustine posited were adaptable, capable of surviving any change in external circumstance. Prudentius’s worldview allowed any and every experience to be typologically linked to Christ, and we saw how Paulinus and Augustine both advocated their worldviews in times of social, political, and military upheaval. And for each of these authors, we have seen possible evidence of their ideas being positively received and adopted to some degree: if nothing else, they were part of the movement, in late antiquity, toward the “democratization of culture,” in which laypeople of all social classes were expected and encouraged to become involved in religious discourse, and in which the project of Christianization was widely understood to require broad public involvement and not just the exemplary participation of the elite.12 Whether and to what extent Prudentius, Paulinus, and Augustine were widely successful in inculcating an ideology of living martyrdom in late ancient Christians is hard to gauge, but, ultimately, it does not matter; the very fact that they attempted to cultivate these sorts of worldviews is evidence of their possibility in Late Antiquity and, thus, of their possibility of success.13 Scholars, then, need to recognize that living martyrdom was a potent, potentially culturally determinative discourse in Late Antiquity.

But we also need to recognize that the power of martyrial discourse, its potential as a driver of cultural, societal, and religious change, did not end in Late Antiquity. We see it today, diffused throughout global discourses in forms as variegated as the diversity of regions and cultures in which it has taken root. This inheritance is not always linear, and it is certainly not always acknowledged. But where it appears, it is deployed with the intent to influence and to exert power. If we, as both scholars and citizens, can recognize it more clearly, we can better identify, appreciate, analyze, and react to martyrial ideologies as they appear in contemporary settings. Just as with our ancient sources, if we fail to see that the discourse we are observing is martyrial, we miss major elements of the experiential realities that are being generated by that discourse.

So, for example, we might look at the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. His inaugural address has been widely analyzed and has been determined to be a masterpiece of national populist rhetoric.14 The speech portrayed an America besieged from without by foreign actors and hijacked from within by “a small group in our nation’s capital.” To remedy the injustices wrought by these malevolent actors, Trump asserted, Americans needed to unite in loyalty for their country, a “total allegiance to the United States of America,” through which, he argued, Americans would “rediscover our loyalty to each other.” The “American carnage,” he declared, “stops right here, and stops right now.” This speech was, indeed, populist. But it was also martyrial, weaving together the concepts of witness, suffering, and realized eschatology.

Witness was central to the address. Vivid and image-filled, it evoked sight in its listeners. Who can forget the image of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation”? The speech asks us to see alongside it, to share its vision of America—literally. But it also explicitly made witness and testimony part of its mission. Americans, Trump declared, were issuing “a decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power,” championed by a “movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” Our “way of life” would “shine as an example,” he asserted several times: “We will shine for everyone to follow.” Trump asked Americans to “speak openly,” because “your voice” will define the American destiny; “Everyone is listening to you now,” “you will never be ignored again.” Trump gave his audience something to see, demanded that the audience itself be seen and interpreted in a way that showcased a singular cause, and encouraged Americans to speak up in support of that cause. This is our tripartite witness: observing, enacting, testifying.

Overcoming suffering is another major theme of the speech. From its second sentence, where he declared that we must “rebuild our country,” the tale Trump told was one of outrages endured and overcome. Amid the litany of grievances listed, he honed in on “mothers and children” “trapped in poverty in our inner cities,” with “crime and gangs and . . . drugs [stealing] too many lives and [robbing] our country of so much unrealized potential.” “Their pain is our pain,” Trump intoned. We have suffered nothing less than “carnage.” Trump made his own willingness to suffer clear, as well: “I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever, let you down.”

Finally, the speech operates with a realized eschatology—everything we want to accomplish has already come to fruition. With “today’s ceremony,” Trump declared, “we are transferring power from Washington, DC, and giving it back to you, the people.” The status quo of suffering “changes, starting right here and right now.” “January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” The “American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” A utopian America was now within reach, all obstacles cleared. The future was assured, according to the speech; nothing stood in America’s way.

In this inaugural address, Trump was constructing both himself and his supporters as martyrs—witnessing to a higher truth through, despite, and because of suffering, establishing a perfect world in the process. The potential effect of this construction was profound—remember, the life of martyrdom is a long-term, totalizing commitment, one that shapes a person’s worldview and becomes the lens through which all other experience is filtered. This was the commitment Trump sought to inspire in his audience, and regardless of his success or even the extent to which he consciously embarked on this project, it is vitally important to register that he was aiming to effect this thoroughgoing, homogenizing, community-generating transformation of the American consciousness into a martyrial one. Without recognizing the martyrial aspects of his speech, we cannot recognize just what kind of reality he was attempting to create and how ardently he strove to create it.

* * *

In the Spring of 2014, I had the invaluable opportunity of assisting Constance Furey in her class at Indiana University on “Original Sin and Free Will”—a broadly conceived 100–level topics course that sought to introduce students to some themes in Religious Studies while allowing them to get their required arts and humanities credit. As Constance designed it, the course was really a semester-long series of reflections on human nature and capabilities. The final assignment asked students to take one piece of media they loved (a song, a book, a movie, a piece of art, etc.), excavate the view of human nature it offered, and present it to the class in a brief presentation. The results were phenomenal. And not just from my perspective—students all seemed floored to realize the power of the embedded articulations of human nature in the media they consumed. In every case, the students recognized that the implicit assumptions about human nature in their chosen media had in some way affected them—either forcing them to reject the media’s assumptions, to try to overcome them or compete with them, to try to live up to them, or (most commonly) to realize how they had embraced those assumptions without even thinking. How often did they steel themselves during a breakup with the lyrics from a song? How often was their behavior influenced by interpersonal interactions depicted on film? How often did fiction or an interpretation of history play into their own decision-making or (as was the case with my personal favorite presentation on the 1993 movie Groundhog Day) how they felt about the rest of humanity? This book is, in many ways, an attempt to achieve similar excavations, both for our sources and for ourselves. I hope that it allows us to better access and articulate historical assumptions about martyrdom, and that it helps us better access and articulate our own assumptions about identifying it.


1. Prudentius, Peristephanon 10.731–735 (CCSL 126, 355): Venies ad illud mox fluentum, si modo / animo ac medullis solus ardor aestuet / uidere Christum, quod semel potum adfatim / sic sedat omnem pectoris flagrantiam / vita ut beata iam sitire nesciat.

2. Book of Margery Kempe, chap. 54.

3. “Right-Hand Man,” in the Broadway musical Hamilton (2015).

4. Commodian, Instructionum libri ii, 2.18.2–7.

5. Commodian, Instructionum libri ii, 2.18.8–12: Oppressus miseriis depremere caue minores / Terrorem adcommoda tantum et noli nocere / Tramite uos rectum ducite sincero per seclo / In tuis diuitiis commune te redde pusillis / De labore tuo dona, nudum uesti: sic uincis. We see this same argument elsewhere in the Instructiones: “Many are the martyrdoms accomplished without the shedding of blood. / You ought not desire what belongs to others; you should have the will of the martyrs, / rein in your tongue, give yourself to humility; / not use force against another, nor return violence done to you. / Your mind has been patient: know that you are a martyr” (2.3.14–18: Multa sunt martyria, que sunt sine sanguine fuso. / Alienum non cupire, velle martyrii habere, / Linguam refrenare, humilem te reddere debes / Vim ultro non facere, nec factam reddere contra. / Mens patiens fueris: intellege martyrem esse). Commodian is also clear, elsewhere, that failing to hold oneself to this high standard will lead to an ineffectual “martyrdom”: “Impious hatreds are imputed to the martyrs in the fire; The martyr will be destroyed, whose confession is thus, / nor is it taught that evil will be expiated by bloodshed” (2.2.2–4: Impia martyribus odia reputantur in ignem; / Distruitur martir, cuius est confessio talis: / Expiari malum nec sanguine fuso docetur). In other words, if a Christian has hatred in her heart, she may die for her faith and still not achieve martyrdom.

6. Commodian, Instructionum libri ii, 2.18.16–17: Verba geris tanta uana, qui sub uno momento / Martyrium queris otiosus tollere Christo.

7. Paulinus, Carmen 14.5–9 (CSEL 30, 46): Nam confessor obit poenas non sponte lucratus, / acceptante Deo fidam pro sanguine mentem; / qui cordis taciti scrutator, ferre paratos / aequiparat passis.

8. Moss, The Other Christs, viii.

9. Van Norden, Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism, 22–23.

10. L. Stephanie Cobb, Divine Deliverance: Pain and Painlessness in Early Christian Martyr Texts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017).

11. Cobb, Divine Deliverance, 130.

12. See Bailey, Religious Worlds of the Laity, 9–10. Bailey here summarizes and synthesizes the insights of Jean-Michel Carrié (“Antiquité Tardive et ‘démocratisation de la culture’: un paradigme à géométrie variable,” Antiquité tardive 9 [2002]: 27–46) and Jaclyn Maxwell (Christianization and Communication in Late Antiquity [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006]) on the direction of democratization—was it imposed by the elites on the masses or was there a more reciprocal model of influence at play? Bailey, as do I, sides with Maxwell (or, more closely with Maxwell), in acknowledging the limits imposed upon the elite by the necessity of communicating with non-elites (9).

13. For a discussion of moments where rhetoric fails to have the intended effect, see de Bruyn, “Ambivalence Within a Totalizing Discourse.” Augustine’s failure to persuade his audience of his interpretation of the sack highlights the reality that rhetorical prowess was no guarantee of success in worldview construction. Nonetheless, pace de Bruyn, partial success is not total failure: even moderate success would have had a cultural impact.

14. For video of the speech and a transcript of the speech as given, see For assessments of the speech, which was written by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, see Robert C. Rowland, “The Populist and Nationalist Roots of Trump’s Rhetoric,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 22, no. 3 (2019): 343–388, as well as several treatments in the popular press: Susan Page in USA Today describes it as a “populist manifesto”; (; Nick Morgan, writing in Forbes, offered that the speech was “populist in a way we haven’t seen in many years, if ever” (; and, of course, David A. Graham’s take for The Atlantic, “‘America First’: Donald Trump’s Populist Inaugural Address” ( Julie Sedivy, writing for Politico, noted that the simplicity of the address presaged a policy break with its populist message (

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