I recently encountered a question that was new to me, and wanted to see your take on it. It’s essentially just asking about saints who sought martyrdom and went out of their way to become martyrs. The person I was speaking with claimed that it seemed as though that was just a “religious suicide” instead of true martyrdom since they were trying to be killed for the faith.
I said I’d do some research on it, but it’s apparently not a very common question as I couldn’t find it within the previous forum posts or CA Blog (I might just be missing it, but I’ve looked quite a bit).
Thanks in advance!
The difference between martyrdom and “religious suicide” is best described by St. Gregory of Nazianzus: “it is mere rashness to seek death, but it is cowardly to refuse it” (Orat. xlii, 5, 6).
The Church tradition has always been that Christians should not seek to become martyrs but if it be put upon us Christians should not refuse it. The tradition was so strong against seeking or antagonizing others to execute you that the Council of Elvira (306) decreed that Christians executed for smashing the idols of the pagans were to be refused the title of martyr.
Essentially a martyr is someone who is executed for simply living his faith and would choose to live if he could make that choice.