Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs

Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs

Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs

Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs

Synopsis

This book provides a new way of understanding the role of the cult of the martyrs for the Cappadocian Fathers and their families. The study shows that the cult of the martyrs was so popular among all social levels of Christians, including the Cappadocian Fathers, that it formed the rudimentary framework for Christian piety in the fourth century. When Christianity became the state religion in 325, the fundamental presupposition of martyrdom as Christian identity became ambiguous. Thus it was paramount for the Cappadocians to preserve, evolve, and represent how martyr piety fit into the Christian life after the Constantinian settlement. The book reveals the Cappadocians' tireless promotion of martyr piety through careful expositions of the ritual of the panegyris and importance of the calendar, their pastoral teachings through panegyrics to the martyrs, and the triumphs and frustrations of building a martyrium. Limberis also demonstrates how the Cappadocians fixed the imageof the martyrs on their families' identities forever, showing how the veneration of the martyrs contributed to practicing Christian faith in a familial context. The study demonstrates that the local martyr cults were so powerful that the Cappadocian Fathers promoted their own kin as martyrs, and claimed other martyrs as their ancestors. The study also engages how gender and theories of kinship complicate their texts, both for the Cappadocians and for us.

Excerpt

I first became interested in Christianity’s process of sacralizing matter, but especially geography, in 2000, when Helmut Koester, Dan Schowalter, and Steve Friesen asked me to participate in the conference, “Urban Religion in Roman Corinth, Interdisciplinary Approaches,” at Harvard Divinity School, held in 2001. in the course of writing the paper I first grappled with the importance of martyrologies and calendars for the Christians of Corinth, and discovered that the martyrological calendars function as neat summaries for what the Christians of the region promote as holy and uniquely their own.

A few years later I was able to combine my newfound interest with further research in an academic area with which I had much more familiarity: the Cappadocian Fathers. When Derek Krueger invited me to contribute an article to the volume Byzantine Christianity, in the series A People’s History of Christianity, the topic was initially rather loosely defined as “popular piety in the Cappadocian Fathers.” To my great joy when I began the research, I discovered that popular piety in the Cappadocian Fathers was thoroughly focused on the cult of the martyrs and was highly developed in ways that had been relatively little explored by

1. Vasiliki Limberis, “Ecclesiastical Ambiguities: Corinth in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” in Urban Religion in Roman Corinth, Interdisciplinary Approaches, eds. Daniel Schowalter and Steven Friesen, Harvard Theological Studies 53 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 443–457.

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