« Acosta, Uriel Acta Martyrum, Acta Sanctorum Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg »

Acta Martyrum, Acta Sanctorum

ACTA MARTYRUM, ACTA SANCTORUM,

ac´ta mɑ̄r´ter-um, ac´ta sanc´´tō´rum.

I. Acts of Martyrs.

Acta martyrum sincera (§ 1).

Legendary Acts (§ 2).

Calendaria and Gesta martyrum (§ 3).

II. Histories of the Saints.

In the Churches of the East (§ 1).

In the Western Church (§ 2).

English Lives of Saints (§ 3).

By Acta Martyrum and Acta Sanctorum are meant collections of biographies of holy persons, especially of the older Church. The former title refers particularly to those who have suffered death for the faith; the latter is more general, including all “saints,” i.e., Christians canonized by the Church on account of their eminently pious and pure lives.

I. Acts of Martyrs.

1. Acta Martyrum Sincera.

(Acta sive passiones martyrum; Martyrologia): The oldest authentic sources for the history of the early martyrs are the court records of the Roman empire (Acta proconsularia, præsidialia). They are not preserved in their original form, but more or less complete extracts from them constitute the kernel of the passion histories recorded by Christian hands; and they are acknowledged to be the authentic bases of these histories (cf. the works of Le Blant and Egli cited below), which, so far as they are based upon these official documents and thus demonstrate that they belong to the class of acta martyrum sincera, are either written in the form of a letter or are devotional narratives without the epistolary character (passiones, gesta martyrum). The former class includes the oldest of these histories; the chief examples are: the Passio Polycarpi, in a letter of the congregation of Smyrna, of which extracts are given by Eusebius (Hist. eccl., IV. xv.), while the complete text is handed down in five Greek manuscripts; the letter of the churches of Lyons and Vienne to the Christians 27 of Asia and Phrygia concerning their sufferings under Marcus Aurelius in 177 (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., V. i.-iii.); the report of the Alexandrian bishop Dionysius to the Antiochian Fabianus on the sufferings of the Christians of his church during the persecutions under Decius (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., VI. xli.-xlii.); and certain reports concerning North-African martyrs and confessors of the same time, in Cyprian’s collection of epistles (xx., xxi., xxii., xxvii., xxxix., xl., etc.).

Passions in narrative force are more numerous. Among the oldest and historically most important are: From the second century, the Acta Justini philosophi et martyris; the Acta Carpi, Papyli, et Agathonicæ (cf. Eusebius, IV. xv. 48); the Passio sanctorum Scilitanorum of the year 180, a report of the martyrdom at Carthage of six Numidian Christians under the proconsul Vigellius Saturninus July 17, 180, distinguished by its strictly objective form, reproducing the official proconsular acts without Christian additions; the Acta Apollonii, belonging to the time of Commodus (cf. Eusebius, V. xxi.). To the third century belong the Passio Perpetuæ et Felicitatis, covering the martyrdom of certain Carthaginian Christians, belonging probably to Tertullian’s congregation, Mar. 7, 203; the martyrdom of Pionius (cf. Eusebius, IV. xv. 47), of Achatius, and of Conon, all three belonging to the epoch of Decius; the Acta Proconsularia which record the trial and execution of Cyprian of Carthage under Valerianus, Sept. 14, 258. Finally, belonging to the beginning of the fourth century (the time of persecution under Diocletian and his coemperors, 303-323), there are the records collected by Eusebius, which now form an appendix to book VIII. of his church history, and treat of the Palestinian martyrs of that time, as well as somewhat numerous martyria of the period, to which must be ascribed a greater or less historical value (such as the Testamentum xl martyrum from Sebaste in Armenia, belonging to the time of Licinius, the newly discovered Greek text of which has full documentary value).

2. Legendary Acts.

Much greater than the number of such acta martyrum sincera sive genuina is that of the non-authentic histories of martyrs which contain little or nothing of contemporaneous notices and have an essentially legendary character. To these belong, among others: two accounts of the martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch; the Martyrium Colbertinum and the Martyrium Vaticanum; the Acta Nerei et Achillei; the Passio Felicitatis et septem filiorum; the Acta S. Cypriani et Justinæ; the legends of St. Agnes, St. Cecilia, St. Catherine, St. Maurice, and others.

3. Calendaria and Gesta Martyrum.

After the cessation of persecutions the memory of the martyrs was cherished mainly by two kinds of written records: (1) calendaria, i.e., lists of the names of martyrs in calendar form for the purpose of fixing their memorial days for the liturgical use of individual congregations or greater church dioceses; (2) more detailed memorial books (gesta martyrum) for the purpose of private devotion and instruction, incorporating also longer passion narratives, and avoiding as much as possible the putting together of mere names in calendary statistical form. Of the latter kind may have been that copious collection of martyrological material from all branches of the Church which Eusebius composed in addition to the booklet on the Palestinian martyrs already mentioned (cf. his references to this collection, Hist. eccl., IV. xv. 47; V. Proem., iv. 3; also V. xxi. 5), but which was lost at a very early period (cf. Gregory the Great, Epist., viii. 29). Biographical and other notices were gradually added to the names of the martyrs in many of the calendaria; and by such inclusion of general hagiological matter they somewhat approached the character of the devotional reading-books. This enrichment of the calendaria with material not strictly martyrological in its nature (i.e., additions of a narrative character, not mere names) commenced in the West. While a calendarium of the Syriac Church from the year 412 (ed. W. Wright, 1865) still shows a strictly martyrological character, the old calendar of the Roman congregation from the year 354 (ed. Ægidius Bucher, Antwerp, 1633; T. Mommsen, in Abhandlungen der sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1850) gives, besides the names of martyrs, those of Roman bishops (twelve in number). The same is true of the Calendarium Africanum vetus from the year 500, edited by Mabillon (Vetera Analecta, iii. 398 sqq.). The martyrologium of the Church of Rome mentioned by Gregory the Great in his epistle to Eulogius of Alexandria (Epist., viii. 29) consisted of martyrological and non-martyrological (especially papal) elements, and had even admitted the older Roman festival calendar. The so-called Martyrologium Hieronymianum is an enlarged revision of this Roman calendar. In its present form it is a compilation edited about the year 600 at Auxerre in Gaul; but it was previously recast in upper Italy, as is indicated in the correspondence of the alleged author Jerome, with the bishops Chromatius of Aquileia and Heliodorus of Altinum, which stands at the beginning. It is a medley of names of places and saints, data of martyrs, and the like, collected from older local and provincial calendars. The Syriac calendarium already mentioned was used (in a somewhat enlarged form) by the compiler as a source of information for the East; for North Africa a Calendarium Carthaginense (probably from pre-Vandalic times) was used; and for Rome, no doubt, the Roman martyrologium to which Gregory the Great referred. Jerome probably contributed nothing to the collection (cf. the critical edition of the work, ed. J. B. de Rossi and L. Duchesne, from numerous manuscripts, in ASB, Nov., ii., 1894, and the criticism of B. Krusch in Neues Archiv für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, xx., 1895, 437-440). To still later times belong similar compilations ascribed to the Venerable Bede, to Florus Magister of Lyons (c. 840), to the abbot Wandelbert of Prüm (848), and others (see below, II., 2).

II. Histories of the Saints (Acta sive vitæ sanctorum):

From the end of the fourth century, under the influence of the Vitæ patrum, disseminated 28 at first from the Eastern but soon also from the Western monasteries, true biographies of the saints became much more numerous. The biographies contained in the Historia monachorum of Rufinus, the Historia Lausiaca of Palladius, the Historia religiosa of Theodoret, as well as in other works like the Pratum spirituale of Johannes Moschus, and the Vitæ patrum and Libri miraculorum of Gregory of Tours, furnish much more devotional matter than the histories of martyrs of former centuries. This hagiological literature, of monastic origin, had the advantage that it was not so much exposed to suspicion of falsification by heretics or the incompetent (idiotæ) as were productions of the older passion literature (the reading of which in divine service in the Roman Church was forbidden by edict of Gelasius I. in 494). Under the influence of the new kind of biographies of monks and hermits a general hagiological element entered also to an ever-increasing degree into the martyrological collections of the older type, and thus brought about their constant expansion.

1. In the Churches of the East.

In the Churches of the East, the older calendary statistical form of the compilations, confining itself to martyrological material proper and serving only liturgical purposes, was still cultivated, especially in the so-called menologia, or monthly registers, as well as in the liturgical anthologia (“collections”). But besides these arose hagiological collections of considerable copiousness: the menæa arranged in a calendary form and divided according to months; and shorter, condensed synaxaria (from synaxis, “religious gathering”) or extracts. In the Byzantine Church the large collection of legends by Simeon Metaphrastes (10th cent.), which is preserved in a greatly revised and corrupt form, exercised much influence (see Simeon Metaphrastes). Of the editors of the martyrologies and menœa literature of the Syriac Church in the earlier time, Stephan Evodius Assemani deserves mention, more recently Paul Bedjan (Acta martyrum et sanctorum Syriace, 7 vols., Paris, 1890-97); of those of the Russian Orthodox Church, Joseph Simonius Assemani, and in recent times J. E. Martinov (Annus ecclesiasticus Græco-Slavicus, Brussels, 1863,—ASB, Oct., xi. 1-385) and V. Jagic (“The Menæa of the Russian Church from Manuscripts of 1095-97,” St. Petersburg, 1886, Russian); of those of the Armenian Church, the Mekhitarists, who published a martyrologium in two volumes at Venice in 1874; and of those of the Coptic Church, H. Hyvernat (Les Actes des martyrs de l’Égypte, Paris, 1886 sqq.).

2. In the Western Church.

In the Western Church, during the Middle Ages the hagiological literature, critically considered, deteriorated. Ado of Vienne and Usuardus (both c. 870); the author of the Martyrologium Sangalense (c. 900); Wolfard of Herrieden (c. 910); later, especially Jacobus de Voragine (d. 1298), author of the so-called “Golden Legend,” and Petrus de Natalibus (d. 1382), author of a Catalogus sanctorum (often reprinted since 1493), are the main representatives of the writers of this legendary literature, of whose eccentricities and extravagancies humanists and reformers often complain. Since the end of the fifteenth century efforts have been made to publish critically genuine and older texts. Early attempts were: the Sanctuarium of Boninus Mombritius (Venice, 1474; Rome, 1497); the first (and only) volume of the Martyrum agones of Jacobus Faber Stapulensis (1525); and the De probatis sanctorum historiis of the Carthusian Laurentius Surius (d.1578; arranged according to the calendar; 6 vols. folio, Cologne, 1570 sqq.; 2d ed., 7 vols., 1581 sqq.). As concerns the abundance of matter and critical treatment of the documents, these first labors of modern times are far surpassed by the gigantic hagiological work the Acta Sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur, the publication of which began at Antwerp in 1643. It was conceived by the Jesuit Heribert Rosweyde; and after his death (1629) was undertaken by Jan Bolland and others. From the name of the first actual editor it is generally known as the Acta Sanctorum Bollandi or Bollandistarum (cited in this encyclopedia as ASB). With the exception of a period somewhat less than fifty years, consequent upon the disturbances of the French Revolution, the labor of preparation and publication has proceeded continuously to the present time, when the editors (following the calendary arrangement) are engaged upon the month of November (see Bolland, Jan, Bollandists). More or less valuable are the extracts from the Bollandist main work in collections like that of Alban Butler (The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, 4 vols., London, 1756-59; see Butler, Alban), his French imitator, the Abbé J. F. Godescard (Vies des Pères, des martyrs et autres principaux saints, traduit librement de l’anglais d’ Alban Butler, 12 vols., Paris, 1763 sqq.), and A. Räss and N. Weiss, the German successors of both Butler and Godescard (Leben der Heiligen, 23 vols., Mainz, 1823 sqq.); mention may also be made of a later French work by Paul Guérin, Les Petits Bollandistes (7th ed., 18 vols., Paris, 1876). In lexical form the lives of the saints are treated by the Abbé Pétin (Dictionnaire hagiographique, 2 vols., Paris, 1850) and J. E. Stadler and F. J. Heim (Vollständiges Heiligen lexikon, 5 vols., Augsburg, 1858 sqq.). There are also hagiological collections devoted to the members of particular orders, of which the Acta Sanctorum ordinis S. Benedicti of J. Mabillon and others (9 vols., Paris, 1668-1701) is the most important.

O. Zöckler†.

3. English Lives of Saints.

The best-known work in English is that of Alban Butler, already mentioned. It is written in a heavy eighteenth century style. Much pleasanter reading is the work of Sabine Baring-Gould, The Lives of the Saints (15 vols., London, 1872-77; new illustrated ed., revised and enlarged, 16 vols., 1897-98). The author is a High-church Anglican, not untouched by the modern critical spirit. He states in his introduction that his work is not intended to supplant Butler, being prepared on somewhat different lines. Butler “confined his attention to the historical outlines of the saintly lives, and he rarely filled them in with anecdote. Yet it is the little details of a man’s life that give 29 it character and impress themselves on the memory. People forget the age and parentage of St. Gertrude, but they remember the mouse running up her staff.” The style is diversified by occasionally introducing translations and accounts by other writers. The Sanctorale Catholicum, or Book of Saints, by Robert Owen (London, 1880), is a single octavo volume of 516 pages, provided with critical, exegetical, and historical notes. The Saints in Christian Art (3 vols., London, 1901-04), by Mrs. Arthur George Bell (née Nancy Meugens, known also by the nom de plume “N. d’Anvers”), contains sketches of the lives of the saints treated, written with little discrimination as to sources and in an uncritical, credulous spirit. The Saints and Servants of God is a series of lives, original and translated, edited by Frederick William Faber and continued by the Congregation of St. Philip Neri (42 vols., London, 1847-56). A second series was begun in 1873, in which the lives for the most part are translations of those drawn up for the processes of canonization or beatification. Another series, consisting of single-volume lives of various saints, specially prepared by modern writers, is being issued in authorized English translation under the editorship of Henri Joly for the original (French) volumes, and of the Rev. Father George Tyrrell, S.J., for the translations (Paris and London, 1898 sqq.).

A number of works are devoted to saints of the British Isles. As to the older works of this character Baring-Gould remarks (Introduction, i., pp. xxix.-xxx., ed. 1897):

“With regard to England there is a Martyrology of Christ Church, Canterbury, written in the thirteenth century, and now in the British Museum; also a Martyrology written between 1220 and 1224 from the southwest of England; this also is in the British Museum. A Saxon Martyrology, incomplete, is among the Harleian MSS. in the same museum; it dates from the fourteenth century. There is a transcript among the Sloane MSS. of a Martyrology of North-English origin, but this also is incomplete. There are others, later, of less value. The most interesting is the Martiloge in Englysshe after the use of the churche of Salisbury, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1526, reissued by the Henry Bradshaw Society in 1893. To these Martyrologies must be added the Legenda of John of Tynemouth, 1350; that of Capgrave, 1450, his Nova legenda, printed in 1516; Whitford’s Martyrology, 1526; Wilson’s Martyrologe, 1st ed., 1608, 2d. ed., 1640 and Bishop Challoner’s Memorial of Ancient British Piety, 1761.”

Bishop Challoner’s larger Britannia Sancta, or the Lives of the Most Celebrated British, English, Scottish, and Irish Saints (2 parts, London, 1745) may also be mentioned. The Saints and Missionaries of the Anglo-Saxon Era, by D. C. O. Adams (2 ser., Oxford, 1897-1901), is a collection of brief and popular lives brought down to Queen Margaret of Scotland (d. 1093). A Menology of England and Wales, compiled by Richard Stanton, priest of the Oratory, London (London, 1887; Supplement, 1892), is probably the fullest list in existence of names of English and Welsh saints, with brief biographical notices. It is a scholarly work based upon sources (calendars, martyrologies, legends, histories, acts) many of which were previously inedited. A somewhat wide interpretation is given to the terms “English” and “saint.” The Lives of the Irish Saints, with Special Festivals, and the Commemoration of Holy Persons, by John O’Hanlon, is an exhaustive work, in somewhat florid style, arranged according to the calendar, one volume being devoted to each month (Dublin, 1875 sqq.). Scottish calendars have been edited, with brief biographies of the saints, by A. P. Forbes in his Kalendars of Scottish Saints (Edinburgh, 1874). For Wales there is W. J. Rees’s Lives of the Cambro-British Saints of the Fifth and Immediate Succeeding Centuries (Llandovery, 1853), Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Lives of the English Saints (15 vols., London, 1844-45, and often) is more interesting now for the history of the movement which called it forth than as a contribution to hagiology. See also the bibliography of the article Celtic Church in Britain and Ireland.

Bibliography: For elaborate bibliographical lists of acts and lives of saints: A. Potthast, Bibliotheca historica medii ævi, pp. xxxii.–xxxv., 1131–1646, Berlin, 1896 (the most complete list yet made in which the editions are accurately given); MGH, Index volume, Hanover, 1890; T. Ruinart, Acta primorum martyrum sincera et selecta, Paris, 1689 (latest ed., Ratisbon, 1859); Gross, Sources, pp. 84-89, 213-222, 245-249, 390-400, 442, 517-525; R. Knopf, Ausgewählte Märtyrakten, Tübingen, 1901; O. von Gebhardt, Acta Martyrum selecta, Leipsic, 1902. For history and criticism: A. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im Abendlande, 3 vols., ib. 1874–87 (2d ed. of vol. i., 1889, perhaps the best survey of the subject); C. Jauningus, Apologia pro Actis Sanctorum, Antwerp, 1695; A. Scheler, Zur Geschichte des Werkes Acta Sanctorum, Leipsic, 1846; J. B. Pitra, Études sur la collection des Actes des Saintés publiés par les Bollandistes, Paris, 1850; J. Carnandet and J. Fèvre, Les Bollandistes et l’hagiographie ancienne of moderne, ib., 1866; Dehaisnes, Les Origines des Acta Sanctorum et les protecteurs des Bollandistes dans le nord de France, Douai, 1870; A. Tougard, De l’histoire profane dans les actes grecs des Bollandistes, Paris, 1874; C. de Smedt, Introductio generalis ad hist. eccl., Ghent, 1876 (contains a bibliography in pp. 111-197); E. le Blant, Acta Sanctorum et leur sources, Paris, 1880; idem, Les Actes des martyres, supplément aux Acta sincera de Dom Ruinart, ib. 1882; E. Egli, Altchristliche Martyrien und Martyrologien ältester Zeit, Zurich, 1887; A. Ehrhard, Die altchristliche Litteratur und ihre Erforschung, i. 539-592, Freiburg, 1900; Harnack, Litteratur, ii. 2, 463-482.

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