Vogon Today

Selected News from the Galaxy

The Pedant

I’m not selling anything, thanks

Martyrdom is a thorn in the side, a historical and moral stumbling block like its divine matrix, Christ on the cross "a scandal to the Jews, foolishness to the pagans" (1 Cor 1:23). For those who do not believe it is the uncomfortable reminder that "the notion of eternity" remains engraved in mortal hearts (Ec 3:11) and the secular salvations that have enthralled every age – but never as much as ours – are not enough because "in this tent [of the earthly dwelling] we groan intensely desiring to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling "(2 Cor 5: 2). In his fixing his eyes on the beyond, the martyr humiliates the offerings of the world, of those who dominate it and of those who aspire to make it a possible paradise that makes celestial consolations superfluous. Before his faith he testifies that no, it is not true that one can and want to put everything in the earth, draw bliss from its abysses, truth from the count of its phenomena, immortality from the invisible plots of organisms. He says the desired goal is not here, however far one can advance.

The martyr's spit on the cookware of progress activates the most classic defenses of the progressive. The staging of the sacred on the stage of history produces lay martyrs whose characteristic is precisely that of being anti-eternal, the winners of the next day to whom the schools and streets are named up to the next regime. Undying while it lasts, they satisfy a timeless thirst for glory by clinging to the flags of the times.

Once everything has been translated into the world, even the martyrs of the faith become pawns of a historical representation in perpetual ascent. They no longer bear witness to the beauty of the future prize, but to the ugliness of past horrors, the "irrationality" of distant places and times in which people killed and let themselves be killed in the most atrocious ways not so much for an idea but – yes, intolerable – for a religious idea. Put like this, without divine trappings, martyrdom no longer arouses discomfort but relief, indeed pride, of having drawn from the troubles of a past haunted by ghosts of the spirit and of looking at it from the dry shores of hygiene, plastic and calculating machines. The consolations that arise from this historical awareness are so refreshing as to cloud the awareness of history, for example of the fact that " today there are … more martyrs in the Church than in the first centuries " or that the very foundations of that secular and "rational" modernity we boast about rest on the unsung corpses of martyrs. Of the thousands of religious and faithful massacred by the revolutionary troops who brought liberté and fraternité to France, four hundred thirty-nine are venerated today as blessed, while the canonization process is underway for another six hundred.

For not very different reasons, even believers keep a good distance from the example of the martyrs. Not so much for the (understandable) fear of sharing their torments, but more substantially because in their affairs the warning of the Scriptures is reiterated, that between Caesar and God there can be a truce, but never peace . The Calvinist and bourgeois dream of a prosperous life because of faith fades into the palm of the martyrs, but also the recent demand that the Church and the community of the faithful work on an equal footing with the civil powers to contribute to a global "humanitarian" project. And that this solidarity identity of ideas and language is itself a proof of quality, the pedigree of a Christianity finally capable of archiving the rigidities of the past to occupy its place in the world: respected because respectful, respected because obsequious.

Everything returns, everything is reconciled: "If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own". And patience if "since you are not of the world, but I have chosen you from the world, this is why the world hates you" (Jn 15: 18-19) and if "I have given them your word and the world has hated because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world "(Jn 17:14). After that prayer, the "justice" of men would have claimed the death of the Lamb to save a brigand, the first of a series of martyrs destined to be repeated everywhere, with all due respect for those who imagine that the wound opened by Adam has healed – or lucky chance! – in its square meter of "civilized world".


Does martyrdom make sense, is it worth it? Net of human weaknesses, the answer seems easy: yes for those who believe that the earth is a passage and a test, no for those who do not believe in it. In practice, however, it is more complex, because the device of martyrdom almost never presents itself with the scholastic contours of hagiographies. Addressing the faithful in 2010, Pope Ratzinger commented that "martyrdom is probably not required of us, but Jesus asks us for fidelity in small things". Only a week later, however, he gave a broader and more convincing formulation of the concept: «the martyr is a supremely free person, free in the face of power, of the world; a free person, who … abandons himself in the hands of his Creator and Redeemer ». If we understand it in its etymology (Gr. Μάρτυς , "witness"), the martyr is the one who testifies to the precedence of the eternal laws in the act of rejecting the offers of the worldly powers that oppose those laws, up to the extreme limit of life. Rather accepting their punishments, he certifies his freedom and their impotence, he reveals the mud of which their currency is made. For Christians, John continues, this is not an eventuality but a destiny: «Remember the word I said to you: a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too "(Jn 15:20). To varying degrees, martyrdom is a universal calling.

Assuming this broader meaning, of an imitatio Crucis silloge of every single life, then the problem arises of discerning case by case if and when it is wise to expose oneself to the aggressions of the temporal hierarchies to witness a value that transcends them, and when to do so is not than an ambition. The problem is all the more tangled by the fact that today moral questions are almost never posed in the ultimate terms of their eschatological or at least existential effects. The ideal horizon of moderns has got rid of these domains so that everything must be explained according to functionality and rationality and nothing remains outside the social scientist's microscope. Abortion is a question of "rights", the closing of the churches of "hygiene", the fornication of "affective well-being" and so on. Today no one would dream of explicitly inflicting an apostasy or a sin: it would mean raising the underlying norm to the dignity of existing. Therefore the sacred, even if declared dead, does not cease to call us to itself. It does it clandestinely, disguises itself in the profane vocabulary and from the darkness of conscience it gives birth to the deformed fruits of secular bigotry, the most fanatic of all cults. Faith in science and the market, abstinence from one's rights for the "common good", the taboos of defeated regimes and selected social discriminations, the sacrileges of "denial" and "revisionism" appease men's need for religion and put the eternal out of action. Given these conditions, the conditions for an "open cards" sacrifice are lacking. Everything is played in metaphor, everything must be translated and reassigned to a lost lexicon.

In this fog, however, it is not impossible to orient oneself, indeed it can be done without uncertainty as long as the analysis is reversed and one's gaze turns away from the martyr to fix it on the first architects of his testimony. The matter of martyrdom is a classic business proposal that presents itself in the subtractive variant of blackmail, where the proponent does not offer his own but threatens to take away from the oblate something that already belongs to him, having the right to do so. Here the contested good is faith, the price is life. Now, who sets that price? The martyr? No, the persecutor. Who determines that faith is worth at least – but actually more, because every good negotiator always tries to get the lowest price – as much as life? Again, the persecutor. It can then be said that the martyr "discovers" the value of what he believes in precisely thanks to those who undermine it, as someone would discover that he possesses a treasure thanks to one who offers him millions for it. If it is highly incorrect to argue that martyrs "give" their lives for the faith (in that case they would be suicides) it is also incorrect to attribute to them the exclusivity of witness. They certify it by example, it is true, but they are not the authors.

The criterion is especially infallible in "in the dark" negotiations, when the proposer's intentions seem unclear or insincere. In principle, an offer presented in blackmail terms signals on the one hand an imbalance of forces and a willingness to overwhelm that easily let us predict who will benefit from the deal, on the other hand the inability of the proposer to obtain what he wants by offering a good just of comparable value. From here it is understood that the stakes can be reasonably much, much higher than the declared one, even without knowing how much and why. So high that it cannot be bought even by the richest in means and substances, not without resorting to force. And that suspicion can only consolidate as the "offered" price increases (ie the amount of the subtracted), until it becomes certainty when the apparent disproportion between the values ​​becomes grotesque and the insistence of offers obsessive. So, is it worth it? Obviously yes, because that penalty is value , whatever it is. And those who ask by holding the pistol on the butt side can only answer with the words pronounced in the Sanhedrin: "You said it." Not me.

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Il Pedante at the URL http://ilpedante.org/post/non-compro-niente on Tue, 15 Feb 2022 10:58:54 PST.