Friday, 24 May 2019

Elisabeth Schwab: The Suffering Body. Christian Martyrdom and the Conventionality of Death in the 3rd Century AD

In the 3rd century AD faith was a matter of following Christ not just in heart and mind, but also with one’s physical body and at the possible expense of one’s life. Christians were persecuted and faced humiliating executions of many sorts.Many Christians were famously steadfast in confronting the dangers. Several are still known to us and venerated as martyrs or even saints of the church. They stand out against the tumultuous backdrop of early Christianity as names, stories and physical remains of body parts that endured formidable tortures. But Saint Barbara and her fellow martyrs were not the only people who died in the third century.This change of perspective is my starting point: in my paper I explore what is said about the miseries of non-Christians by early Christian writers from Northern Africa. How and why are their suffering bodies staged in the writings by Tertullian (150-220), Cyprian (200-258), and Lactantius (250-320)? These authors witnessed the persecutions, and thus are known for shaping our view of the period and of early martyrdom. But we must realize that when they address the violence against Christians they do so in the light of the fact that death is a conventional conditio humana. By examining the full variety of descriptions surrounding bodily suffering and death we cultivate a finer understanding of what was conceived as “holy” and “un-holy”.

  • In this workshop, speakers will only give brief summaries of their papers. The draft papers will be circulated in advance to all participants. Please contact the organiser to have the PDFs sent to you by late July/early August.

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