Acta Marterum

Acta Marterum

(Acts of the Martyrs), the title of the record of the lives and actions of martyrs kept in the ancient Church for the edification of the faithful. Whenever a Christian was apprehended, the accusation, defense, and verdict were noted in these Acts. Some of the martyrs also wrote accounts of their own sufferings, or this was done for them by a regular officer of the Church acting as notary, who took down the facts in a prescribed form; and these reports were also designated as acta martyrii or martyrum. SEE CALENDARIA; SEE MARTYROLOGIA; SEE MENEION; SEE MENOLOGIUM. The oldest are those referring to the death of St. Ignatius (q.v.), Bishop of Antioch (died 107), and of Polycarp (q.v.) (died about 165), both of which are given in Dressel's and Hefele's editions of the

Patres Apostolici. The oldest collection of Acts of the Martyrs was compiled by the Church historian Eusebius, in his two works de Martyribus Paloestinoe and Synagoge Martyriorum. The latter, a martyrology of the Church universal, was lost as early as the end of the sixth century; the former has reached us as an appendix to the eighth book of the author's Church history. A second large collection of 12 volumes was in existence at Constantinople in the ninth century, and probably formed the basis of the work of Simeon Metaphrastes, de Actis Sanctorum, in the tenth century. In the Latin Church a catalogue of martyrs, containing the names of martyrs from different countries arranged according to the days on which they were commemorated in the mass, as also the place and the day, but not the details, of their martyrdom, was, at the close of the sixth century, in extensive use. It was, though without good reason, ascribed to Jerome. The particular churches used to add to this general catalogue of martyrs their local calendars, a circumstance which explains the diversity of the different copies of this work still extant (ed. by Fr. Mar. Florentinius, Lucae, 1668 sq.; d'Achery, Spicileg. ed. Nov. 2, p. 27, according to a manuscript of the French convent Gellou, written about 804; J. B. Sallerius, Act. Sanctorum, June tom. 6, according to copies of Reichenau, St. Ulric's at Augsburg, Corvey, etc.). While this work excludes all historical accounts of the lives of martyrs, giving only their names and the place and day of their martyrdom, there are indications that detailed historical works were also compiled at an early period. A council at Carthage 397 permits the reading of the Passiones Martyrum on the days of their commemoration, besides the reading-lessons from the Scriptures. Pope Gelasius, on the contrary, excludes this kind of literature from ecclesiastical use, on the ground that the names of the authors were unknown, and that infidels, heretics, and unlearned persons (idiotae) had inserted many superfluous and improper things, a conclusive proof of the untrustworthy condition in which this literature, even at that early time, was found. The heads of the monastic orders were in general very urgent in recommending to their monks the reading of the Gesta Martyrum, the history of their sufferings. Besides the two classes of works just named, there was a third class, the so-called Vitas Patrum, whose object was more literary than edifying, and some of which belong among the most valuable sources of the early Church history. To this class of works belong the very valuable history of Severin, by his disciple Eugippius, the biographies of Columban, Gallus, etc. Collections of accounts of this kind are extant by Palladius (about 420), in his Historia Lausiaca (Λαυσαικόν); by Heraclides, in his Paradisus, s. de Vitis Patrum; by Johannes Moschus (died about 620), the author of the lives of the monks, under the title Λειμών, Λειμωνάριον, or Νεὸς Παράδεισος. These works are designated in the Greek Church under the name of Γεροντικά, Κλίμακες, Λαυσαϊκἀ, and Πατεριακά. They were followed by Simeon Metaphrastes (q.v.), about 901, of whose biographies of saints we have 122 left, while a much larger number have been erroneously ascribed to him. In the Latin Church we have the 14 hymns of Prudentius (q.v.), entitled Peristephanon s. de Coronis et Passionibus Martyrum; the Collationes Patrum, by Cassian (q.v.); and several historical works of Gregory of Tours (q.v.), as de Miracalis, Vita Patrum, de Gloria Martyram. The biographical material contained in this class of works was gradually worked into the martyrologies. That known under the name of Beda is mostly restricted to statistical statements; yet a copy of it at the beginning of the ninth century received considerable additions from Florus, a sub-deacon at Lyons. Considerable additions to the martyrologies were also made by Hrabanus Maurus (q.v.); 'Ado, archbishop of Vienna, about 860; Usuard, a monk at Paris (875); and Notker (died 912). This enlargement of the ancient martyrologies forms the transition to the legends of the Middle Ages, which are generally nothing but ecclesiastical novels, and have no claim whatever to credibility. The "Acts of the Martyrs" had, moreover, gradually been enlarged into "Acts of the Saints," as other saints than martyrs had been added to the catalogues of the latter. SEE ACTA SANCTORUM. The most valued collection is Ruinart's Acta Martyrum sincera (Paris, 1689, fol.; 2d ed. Amst. 1713, fol.; B. Galura, Augsb. 1802, 3 vols. 8vo). It is more critical than most Roman biographies, but nevertheless contains many incredible legends. A large collection was also published by the learned Stephen Evodius Assemanni, under the title Acta Sanctorum Martyrum Orientalium et Occidentalium (Romae, 1748, 2 vols. fol.). — Herzog, 1:100; Wetzer and Welte, 1:88. SEE MARTYROLOGY.

 
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