What Does a Martyrologist Do?

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  • Written By: Debra Barnhart
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 12 December 2019
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A martyrologist studies and memorializes the lives of martyrs from various religions. The theme of sacrifice and suffering for religious faith is central to many religions. Martyrologists catalog the lives and sacrifices of martyrs and examine the importance of martyrdom to religious tradition. Authenticating the details of martyrs’ lives and attempting to verify religious truth are the main concerns of a martyrologist.

Early Christian martyrologies were authored by local priests and devout Catholics who kept lists of people who died during Roman rule for the sake of their belief in Jesus Christ. Catalogs of martyrs expanded as neighboring churches combined their lists. The first well-known Catholic martyrology, the Hieronymian Martyrology, was put together in Italy during the second half of the fifth century, and St. Jerome was mistakenly credited with being the martyrologist. The sources for the Hieronymian Martyrology include lists of martyrs and saints from eastern churches as well as Roman churches and African sources.

Well-known martyrologists include Bede, a monk who wrote during the eight century, and Usuard, another monk who wrote during the ninth century. St. Aengus and St. Maelruain published the Martyrology of Tallaght at a Dublin monastery in 790. Their martyrology was based on folklore and religious writings. In 1584, Pope Gregory XIII issued an edition of the Roman Martyrology, which was adopted as the official martyrology of the Catholic Church. The Roman Martyrology is one of six main books of Catholic liturgy.


Martyrologists for the Catholic Church frequently update the list of recognized saints, and Pope Benedict XVI canonized five new saints in 2009. The process of becoming a Catholic saint has several steps. First the Vatican begins an examination of a person’s life. The person must have conducted his or her life with “heroic virtue.” In order to be canonized or declared a saint, the person must have performed two miracles.

Protestant religions have their own share of martyrs. Perhaps the most famous protestant martyrologist was the Englishman John Foxe, who published Foxe’s Book of Martyrs in 1563. Foxe’s book cataloged Christian martyrs with a particular focus on Protestant martyrs.

A martyrology is a collection of names or the names and biographical details of martyrs. A Catholic martyrology lists saints according to their feast day on the calendar. The term martyr, when understood in the context of religion, refers to someone who publicly confesses his or her religious belief and faces persecution as a result. In Catholicism, the martyr dies for his or her faith. In general, the martyr’s religious views are incompatible with other civil or religious ways of thinking.


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Post 2

@Soulfox -- Let's not forget that all but one of Christ's 12 apostles were martyred. The one that died of old age was John, while the rest died from crucifixion, being beheaded, stabbed and through other means. Of course, there is some debate over whether Judas was actually martyred because he committed suicide.

Plus, let's not forget that early Christians were regularly martyred in an attempt to keep the religion from influencing the Roman Empire. It was regarded as a triumph, then, when the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, but credit has been given to those early Christians for sticking to their guns in the face of certain death and spreading the faith.

Fascinating stuff, huh?

Post 1

Are martyrs important to Christian theology? You'd better believe it. Considering how the religion was really kick started with the death of Christ (the most famous Christian martyr of them all), it would seem that martyrs play a major role in the development of the faith.

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