A “Good” Death
For centuries, Christians have desired a peaceful and painless death, with ample opportunity to tie up loose ends and heal relationships. The Catholic writer Flannery O'Conner believed that her long battle with lupus preceding death was a sign of God's mercy — she wished that everyone would have years to prepare, as she did. But martyrdom can come suddenly, and the death of a martyr is rarely tidy, almost never painless.
The early martyrs did not have a long history of saints' stories to draw upon, nor did they have firm footing in an established church. Their faith ran deep, however, and they refused to deny their faith when called upon to do so — and then were slain for it.
In many cases, few biographical details of the early martyrs survive. But some of these names might ring a bell with saint-watchers, who remember hearing and reading about the dramatic deaths of St. Agnes, St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, St. Polycarp, and a number of other men and women who are still remembered in the twenty-first century. Their memories are cherished not only for how they died, but because their deaths brought life to others. As the early Christian theologian Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”