THE MARTRY AS MODEL: THE ROLE OF RIGHTEOUS SUFFERING IN SHAPING PROTESTANT IDENTITY

The goal of this proposed project is to examine how the ideals of righteous suffering shaped early protestant identity through the tradition of martyrology. The early reformation saw a renaissance of protestant interest in martyrology, which was quickly expanded as protestants gained martyrs of their own. This paper will argue that protestants adapted the commonplaces of martyrology to shape their own identity in three profound ways. First it gave them a connection to the primitive church and thus an answer to the accusation of innovation. Second it allowed protestants to cast themselves in the role of the martyrs, giving meaning to their persecution. Third, by encouraging their readers to identify with the martyrs, they were able to co-opt the public interest in hagiography to protestant ends, presenting the martyr saints as devotional models rather than holy intercessors. To achieve this goal, I will briefly examine the evolution of martyrology from the early practice of veneration through its development into medieval hagiography. To understand the Protestant reception of martyrology, I will examine the immediate literary background to protestant martyrology: late medieval pastoral literature. This examination will move in three stages. First, I will explore the growing interest in devotional literature in the late Middle Ages, exemplified by the popularity of the Imitatione Christi and Ars Moriendi. This rising public concern about the intersection of devotion and death provided an audience for devotional martyrology. Second, I will explore the devotional role of the cult of the saints, particularly exemplified in the widely popular Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine. By comparing protestant martyrology to de Voragine, I will show that early protestant martyrologists were at once copying, parodying, and deliberately subverting and co-opting hagiography to protestant ends. Third, I will explore early protestant martyrological literature itself, culminating in an assessment of John Foxe’s “book of Martyrs,” the most enduring and influential of the protestant martyrologies. This exploration will show how protestant martyrologists adapted the earlier martyr stories and added their own martyrs using the same commonplaces to create a martyr ideal which shaped the protestant identity of their readers.

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