MARTYR (Gr. naprvp or judprus), a word meaning literally " witness " and often used in that sense in the New Testament e.g. Matt, xviii. 16; Mark xiv. 63. During the conflict between Paganism and Christianity when many Christians " testified " to the truth of their convictions by sacrificing their lives, the word assumed its modern technical sense. The beginnings of this use are to be seen in such passages as Acts xxii. 20; Rev. ii. 13, xiii. 6. During the first three centuries the fortitude of these " witnesses " won the admiration of their brethren. Ardent spirits craved the martyr's crown, and to confess Christ in persecution was to attain a glory inferior only to that won by those who actually died. Confessors were visited in prison, martyrs' graves were scenes of pilgrimage, and the day on which they suffered was celebrated as the birthday of their glory. Martyrology was the most popular literature in the early Church. While the honour paid to martyrdom was a great support to early champions of the faith, it was attended by serious evils. It was thought that martyrdom would atone for sin, and imprisoned confessors not only issued to the Churches commands which were regarded almost as inspired utterances, but granted pardons in rash profusion to those who had been excommunicated by the regular clergy, a practice which caused Cyprian and his fellow bishops much difficulty. The zeal of Ignatius (c. 115), who begs the Roman Church to do nothing to avert from him the martyr's death, was natural enough in a spiritual knight-errant, but with others in later days, especially in Phrygia and North Africa, the passion became artificial. Fanatics sought death by insulting the magistrates or by breaking idols, and in their enthusiasm for martyrdom became self-centred and forgetful of their normal duty. None the less it is true that these men and women endured torments, often unthinkable in their cruelty, and death rather than abandon their faith. The same phenomena have been witnessed, not only in the conflicts within the Church that marked the 13th to the 16th centuries, but in the different mission fields, and particularly in Madagascar and China.
Sec A. J. Mason, The Historic Martyrs of the Primitive Church (London, 1905); H. B. Workman, Persecution in the Early Church (London, 1906); Paul Allard, Ten Lectures on the Martyrs (London, I9 O 7); John Foxe, The Book of Martyrs; Mary I. Bryson, Cross and Crown (London, 1904).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)