The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 26, 2000 Issue
Saint of the Day

Martyrdom: something old and new

St. Pothinus and fellow martyrs passed the faith down through centuries

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

We've all heard stories about the martyrs in the early church who were rounded up by the Romans and told to choose between the Roman gods and Christianity. Those who chose the latter met a violent death.

We know what happened to them through writings from that era. The earliest and fullest authentic document recounting their sufferings and martyrdom dates to the second century.

This work, believed to have been written by St. Irenaeus, was quoted by Eusebius, a 4th century Christian historian and bishop.

In it, St. Irenaeus wrote about how his bishop, St. Pothinus (or Photinus) was martyred in Lyons in 177 along with 47 other Christians.

St. Pothinus was the Bishop of Lyons and Vienne in Gaul. When Pothinus was about 90, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, ordered another persecution of Christians.

Marcus, who lived from 121 to 180 and ruled from 161 until his death, was a well-known Stoic philosopher and emperor during a time of epidemics, revolts and frequent wars along the frontiers. The Stoics believed in divine providence and the role of fate, plus they said people should lead virtuous lives.

But his philosophy did not leave room for Christians, so Pothinus; Alexander, a newly baptized physician; Matrurus, a catechumen; Sanctus, a deacon; Vettius Epagathus, their attorney; Blandina, a slave, and more than 40 others were arrested.

Their treatment included public humiliation, stoning, imprisonment, torture and then execution when they still refused to deny their faith.

For example, St. Blandina, whose mistress thought she was too frail to uphold the faith, was wrapped in a net and tossed to a bull.

These saints are known collectively as the Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne.

St. Irenaeus, who was serving as a missionary in Lyons, was well-versed in these martyrdoms, which took place while he was in Rome on a mission to Pope St. Eleutherius.

While it would be nice to believe that the martyrdom of Christians ended early in the first millennium, Pope John Paul reminded the world this month of modern martyrs.

In a ceremony at the Colosseum in Rome, he and other Christian leaders paid tribute to 12,000 20th century Christians who were killed for their faith.

The feast on June 2 of St. Pothinus and the other Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne is an excellent opportunity to remember Christian martyrs of all centuries and to realize that such horrors continue today.

Sources: Dictionary of Saints, 365 Saints and World Book Encyclopedia.

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