The blood of martyrs, the seed of Christians

This title has been almost literally copied from Tertullian, who in the year 197 wrote: "The blood [of martyrs] is the seed of Christians". The same idea was already to be found in the mid 2nd century in a speech by an unknown author made to the pagan Diogneto: "Do you not see that [the Christians] thrown to the wild beasts - that they may recant the Lord - do not allow themselves to be beaten? Do you not see that the more they are punished, the more the others increase in numbers?" (7, 7-8). One of Tertullianís contemporaries was Ippolito Romano, who, during the persecutions organised by Septimius Severus, wrote that a large number of men, attracted to the faith by martyrs, also became Godís martyrs (see Commentary to Daniel, II, 38).

This belief of the first Christians was well-founded, because referring to His redeeming death, Jesus said: "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (John 12, 24). The martyrs simply follow the path shown by Jesus, who speaking of Himself said: "I am the way, and the truth and the life" (John 14, 6).

The martyrs gain through losing their lives in bearing witness to Jesus Ė they gain eternal life. But this is also positive for the Church, that receives new believers, encouraged to convert thanks to the example set by the martyrs, and she also sees a renewal in existing believers. John Paul II showed us that he was convinced of this when, during the year of the Great Jubilee, in his speech at the Colosseum for the commemoration of 20th century martyrs he said: "in this new century and new millennium, the memory of these brothers and sisters of ours must remain alive. Indeed, may it grow! May it be passed down from generation to generation, that it may germinate a profound Christian renewal!" (Teachings, 23/1, 776).

To better understand how the death of martyrs is the seed for Christians, it is well worth remembering that in the parable of the seed "the seed is the word of God", and not only His revealed words, but even more His Word, with a capital letter, the Son sent by the Father and that the Holy Sprit allows to germinate in the hearts of Christians, identifying it with Christ. The testimonial deaths of martyrs are in fact identified with Christ. However, the Holy Spirit also works in the hearts of those who welcome the testimony of the martyrs, which become of special eloquence. As recited in the Preface for the holy martyrs: "they bore witness with their blood to Your miracle".

Martyrs help us understand the great value of this testimony rendered to Christ by totally giving oneís life. This is a donation that can be at a certain moment asked of some; but that we are all asked day after day, hour after hour. As Saint Ambrose said, when speaking of his times, during which external persecutions had come to an end: "How many today are Christís secret martyrs, bearing witness to the Lord Jesus!" (Comment for psalm 118).

Professor Antonio Miralles

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross