Thursday, 28 September 2017

Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs




The earliest Latin document of the Western Church is the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs. It describes the trail of a number of Christians, which took place at Cartage on July 17, AD 180. For an overview see this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scillitan_Martyrs

Martyrdom was something which some Christians desired, as it was considered a special grace of God. For us this is something strange, but the world of Late Antiquity was a world of harsh conditions and death was everywhere. Religions promising salvation – so-called mystery religions - were popular and Christianity can also be considered as such a religion. What sets Christianity apart was their refusal to pay homage to the emperor and to partake in state-organized religious festivities. Its outlook was at that time very much directed towards the afterlife and the suffering in this life stood in no comparison with reward gained in heaven.
Martyrs had a special status and their date of execution - or from the perspective of Christians, the day they were received in heaven – was celebrated with a mass in their remembrance in which their acts were read.
Apart from genuine religious convictions, it is not impossible that such a special status, be it after their death, was also a reason for seeking martyrdom.
There are a number of problems which are not mentioned in the link above, such as the question to what extend this text is a verbatim report and how it came into the hands of Christians. Of course these questions can’t be answered, but the first question must be kept in mind when reading martyr acts.

Acta Martyrum Scillitanorum.

Praesente bis et Claudiano consulibus, XVI Kalendas Augustas, Karthagine in secretario inpositis Sperato, Nartzalo et Cittino, Donata, Secunda, Vestia, Saturninus proconsul dixit: Potestis indulgentiam domini nostri imperatoris promereri, si ad bonam mentem redeatis. 2. Speratus dixit: Numquam malefecimus, iniquitati nullam operam praebuimus; numquam malediximus, sed male accepti gratias egimus, propter quod imperatorem nostrum observamus. 3. Saturninus proconsul dixit: Et nos religiosi sumus, et simplex est religio nostra, et iuramus per genium domini nostri imperatoris et pro salute eius supplicamus, quod et vos quoque facere debetis. 4. Speratus dixit: Si tranquillas praebueris aures tuas, dico mysterium simplicitatis. 5. Saturninus dixit: Initianti tibi mala de sacris nostris aures non praebebo; sed potius iura per genium domini nostri imperatoris. 6. Speratus dixit: Ego imperium huius saeculi non cognosco: sed magis illi Deo servio, quem nemo hominum vidit nec videre his oculis potest. Furtum non feci; sed si quid emero, teloneum reddo: quia cognosco dominum meum, regem regum et imperatorem omnium gentium. 7. Saturninus proconsul dixit ceteris: Desinite huius esse persuasionis. 8. Speratus dixit: Mala est persuasio homicidium facere, falsum testimonium dicere. 9. Saturninus proconsul dixit: Nolite huius dementiae esse participes. 10. Cittinus dixit: Nos non habemus alium quem timeamus, nisi dominum Deum nostrum qui est in caelis. 11. Donata dixit: Honorem Caesari quasi Caesari; timorem autem Deo. 12. Vestia dixit: Christiana sum. 13. Secunda dixit: Quod sum, ipsud volo esse. 14. Saturninus proconsul Sperato dixit: Perseveras Christianus? 15. Speratus dixit: Christianus sum; et cum eo omnes consenserunt. 16. Saturninus proconsul dixit: Numquid ad deliberandum spatium vultis? 17. Speratus dixit: In re tam iusta nulla est deliberatio. 18. Saturninus proconsul dixit: Quae sunt res in capsa vestra? 19. Speratus dixit: Libri et epistulae Pauli viri iusti. 20. Saturninus proconsul dixit: Moram XXX dierum habere et recordemini. 21. Speratus iterum dixit: Christianus sum; et cum eo omnes consenserunt. 22. Saturninus proconsul decretum ex tabella recitavit: Speratum, Nartzalum, Cittinum, Donatam, Vestiam, Secundam et ceteros ritu Christiano se vivere confessos, quoniam oblata sibi facultate ad Romanorum morem redeundi obstinanter perseveraverunt, gladio animadverti placet. 23. Speratus dixit: Deo gratias agimus. 24. Nartzalus dixit: Hodie martyres in caelis sumus: Deo gratias. 25. Saturninus proconsul per praeconem dici iussit: Speratum, Nartzalum, Cittinum, Veturium, Felicem, Aquilinum, Laetantium, Ianuarium, Generosam, Vestiam, Donatam, Secundam duci iussi. 26. Universi dixerunt: Deo gratias. 27. Et ita omnes simul martyrio coronati sunt, et regnant cum Patre et Filio et Spiritu Sancto per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.

bis: for the second time
in secretario inpositis: put before court (a secretarium was a closed courtroom)
proconsul –is (m.): governor of a province
indulgentia: indulgence, mildness
promereo –ui: to deserve or in a juridical sense `to be entitled to’
iniquitas –atis (f.): injustkice
operam praebeo = operam dare `to give attention to’
male accepti: ill treated
gratias egimus: suffering was seen as a special favour of God and something to be thankful for
imperatorem nostrum: God
observo: to honour
simplex: simple iuro: to swear
genius: titular deity, the divine part of a person, especially the emperor
supplico: to pray
praebuo aures: to listen (Si tranquillas praebueris aures tuas: if you listen quietly)
mysterium simplicitatis: Speratus refers back to the earlier simplex.
initianti tibi mala:  to you revealing negative things
saeculum: world
furtum: theft
emo emi emptum: to buy
teloneum: (an unpopular) tax on the purchase of goods
persuasio –onis (f.): conviction
mala est persuasio homicidium facere: again Speratus uses a word earlier used by Saturninus. Of course Christians considered their persecution and trail not as legal, but as murder.
dementia: madness
honorem (da)
quod sum, ipsud (= ipsum) volo esse: what I am, that very thing I want to be (namely a Christian)
numquid ad deliberandum spatium: some time for consideration
capsa: bookcase
libri: the gospels. Probably some version of the Vetus Latina, the latin translation in use before the Vulgate translation. There was not a fixed canon at that moment, but the gospels and the letters of Paul belonged to the core of the biblical writings used by Christian communities.
moram XXX dierum habere: i.e. period of thirty days to reconsider their stubborn attitude
recordor recordatus: to think over
decretum: decision (of the court)
tabula: writing tablet covered with wax
oblata sibi facultate ad Romanorum morem redeundi: though the possibility has been given for them to return to the way of life of the Romans
gladio animadverti placet: it behoves (the proconsul) (them) to be punished with the sword
praeco –onis (m.): herald
duci: to be led away (to the place of their execution)
martyrium: martyrdom


Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IX, The Passion of the Scillitan Martyrs
Various, translated by Philip Schaff et al.

When Praesens, for the second time, and Claudianus were the consuls, on the seventeenth day of July, at Carthage, there were set in the judgment-hall Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Secunda and Vestia. Saturninus the proconsul said: Ye can win the indulgence of our lord the Emperor, if ye return to a sound mind. 2. Speratus said: We have never done ill, we have not lent ourselves to wrong, we have never spoken ill, but when ill-treated we have given thanks; because we pay heed to our Emperor. 3. Saturninus the proconsul said: We too are religious, and our religion is simple, and we swear by the genius of our lord the Emperor, and pray for his welfare, as ye also ought to do. 4. Speratus said: If thou wilt peaceably lend me thine ears, I can tell thee the mystery of simplicity. 5. Saturninus said: I will not lend mine ears to thee, when thou beginnest to speak evil things of our sacred rites; but rather swear thou by the genius of our lord the Emperor. 6. Speratus said: The empire of this world I know not; but rather I serve that God, whom no man hath seen, nor with these eyes can see. I have committed no theft; but if I have bought anything I pay the tax; because I know my Lord, the King of kings and Emperor of all nations. 7. Saturninus the proconsul said to the rest: Cease to be of this persuasion. 8. Speratus said: It is an ill persuasion to do murder, to speak false witness. 9. Saturninus the proconsul said: Be not partakers of this folly. 10. Cittinus said: We have none other to fear, save only our Lord God, who is in heaven. 11. Donata said: Honour to Caesar as Caesar: but fear to God. 12. Vestia said: I am a Christian. 13. Secunda said: What I am, that I wish to be. 14. Saturninus the proconsul said to Speratus: Dost thou persist in being a Christian? 15. Speratus said: I am a Christian. And with him they all agreed. 16. Saturninus the proconsul said: Will ye have a space to consider? 17. Speratus said: In a matter so straightforward there is no considering. 18. Saturninus the proconsul said: What are the things in your chest? 19. Speratus said: Books and epistles of Paul, a just man. 20. Saturninus the proconsul said: Have a delay of thirty days and bethink yourselves. 21. Speratus said a second time: I am a Christian. And with him they all agreed. 22. Saturninus the proconsul read out the decree from the tablet: Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda and the rest having confessed that they live according to the Christian rite, since after opportunity offered them of returning to the custom of the Romans they have obstinately persisted, it is determined that they be put to the sword. 23. Speratus said: We give thanks to God. 24. Nartzalus said: To-day we are martyrs in heaven; thanks be to God. 25. Saturninus the proconsul ordered it to be declared by the herald: Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Januaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata and Secunda, I have ordered to be executed. 26. They all said: Thanks be to God. 27. And so they all together were crowned with martyrdom; and they reign with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.