Standing At Lyon An Examination of the Martyrdom of Blandina of Lyon 978-1-4632-0384-9

In 177 CE an enslaved woman, known to the world subsequently only as Blandina of Lyon, underwent a tortuous and humiliat

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Standing At Lyon An Examination of the Martyrdom of Blandina of Lyon

Table of contents :
2. RIVERS OF LIFE….……………………………………………………23
The Lyonnaise Landscape………………………………………25
The Ethnic and Social Diversity of the Lyon Christian
Religious Attributes of the Christian Community at Lyon………35
The Possibility of Jewish Background
and Influence at Lyon……………………………42
The Possibility for Orthodoxy or Montanism at Lyon….52
3. LAW AND ORDER…………………………………………………….61
The Cultural System Through the Lens of Imperial Rome.............66
The Cultural System Through the Lens of Local Gallic
Tensions and Eruption…………………………………………84
Distribution of Power: Matrix of Relations……………………...98
Re-distribution of Power: Blandina as Self-differentiating
Re-distribution of Power: Rome as Undifferentiating Pawn…....120
Eusebius and Blandina’s Story…………………………………129
The Modern Reader and Blandina’s Story……………………...148
Foucault, Bowen, and Inherent Subjectivity:
Blandina and the Art of Being – Human………………………153
CONCLUSION… ………………………………………………………..163

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Standing At Lyon

Gorgias Studies in Early Christianity and Patristics 25

In this series Gorgias publishes monographs on Christianity and the Church Fathers in the early centuries of the Christian era. Gorgias particularly welcomes proposals from younger scholars whose dissertations have made an important contribution to the field of patristics.

Standing At Lyon

An Examination of the Martyrdom of Blandina of Lyon

Elizabeth A. Goodine


34 2014

Gorgias Press LLC, 954 River Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA Copyright © 2014 by Gorgias Press LLC

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise without the prior written permission of Gorgias Press LLC. 2014



ISBN 978-1-4632-0384-9

ISSN 1935-6870

Reprinted from the 2008 Gorgias Press edition.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A Cataloging-in-Publication record is available from the Library of Congress. Printed in the United States of America

For my husband, David, in whom I see Christ each day!


Page INTRODUCTION….………………………………………………………1 CHAPTER 1. BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK……………………………………………………………..7 2. RIVERS OF LIFE….……………………………………………………23 The Lyonnaise Landscape………………………………………25 The Ethnic and Social Diversity of the Lyon Christian Community…………………………………………….28 Religious Attributes of the Christian Community at Lyon………35 The Possibility of Jewish Background and Influence at Lyon……………………………42 The Possibility for Orthodoxy or Montanism at Lyon….52 3. LAW AND ORDER…………………………………………………….61 The Cultural System Through the Lens of Imperial Rome.............66 The Cultural System Through the Lens of Local Gallic Authorities……………………………………………..78 Tensions and Eruption…………………………………………84 4. “DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING: STAND THERE!”……………………..97 Distribution of Power: Matrix of Relations……………………...98 Re-distribution of Power: Blandina as Self-differentiating Agent…………………………………………………107 Re-distribution of Power: Rome as Undifferentiating Pawn…....120




5. THE PERIL OF THE PEN: CONSTRUCTING A SELF………...…………129 Eusebius and Blandina’s Story…………………………………129 The Modern Reader and Blandina’s Story……………………...148 Foucault, Bowen, and Inherent Subjectivity: Blandina and the Art of Being – Human………………………153 CONCLUSION… ………………………………………………………..163 BIBLIOGRAPHY….……………………………………………………...167 INDEX.……………………………………………………………….....177


I wish to express my deepest thanks to so many people without whose kindness and support this project would never have been completed. I thank especially the faculty and staff of the department of Religion at Temple University as well as the wider Temple community. The opportunity to study and work at Temple was a blessing and I am both honored and humbled by the challenge to somehow, in some small way, do my part in the world to carry on the vision of Russell Conwell. I particularly thank the members of my dissertation committee especially my advisor, Professor Vasiliki Limberis who encouraged individual thought and creativity while at the same time gently expecting that thought and creativity to be logical and articulate. Her dedication to scholarship continues to be an inspiration. Thank you also to Professor Rebecca Alpert whose questions and comments throughout the writing of this dissertation were invaluable. Her ability to help me unmask my own assumptions (which are always much easier to see when they belong to someone else) was most appreciated. I also thank Professor Robert Wright whose seminars were always filled with warmth and caring as well as learning. I thank him for fostering the laughter of friendships that fill my memories of Temple. I am grateful also to the members of our Greek reading group and I thank especially my fellow student and friend, Matthew Mitchell, for his exceptional talent and love for the study of languages. My deep appreciation goes also to the editors at Gorgias Press for their interest in this manuscript. I am especially grateful to Steve Wiggins for his expertise and kind guidance throughout the entire process and to Katie Stott for her support through a variety of technical matters. I also wish to thank my many friends and relatives, too numerous to name, who gave their support and encouragement throughout this project. My dear friend, Rose Giambra, sent me daily messages that lifted my spirit and kept me writing; and my former professor, colleague and friend, Timothy Allan, read numerous drafts, always playing devil’s advocate and challenging me to resist easy interpretations. I give special thanks also to my parents, Don and Esther Bennett, who have always




encouraged me in the various paths I have taken through life. And, to my children, I offer my very deep gratitude. Jacob, Adam, Rachel and Samuel, you have been and continue to be my joy. In a sense, this project grew up with you and I thank you for sharing your adolescent years with Blandina. I am well aware that in your world your mother was a bit odd; always the one at the baseball and soccer games with a book instead of a score pad. I thank you for embracing the oddity and for the part that each one of you played in making our sometimes chaotic home a place of love. Finally, I offer my greatest love and thanks to my husband, David, who believed in me even when I was sometimes tempted to give up on myself. Thank you for your tirelessness in the long hours of discussion related to this project, your critique of every draft and your readiness always to fight with the computer on my behalf. More importantly, thank you for your dedication to and love for our family, for always giving of your whole self. I can truly say that without your love and support this project would never have been started let alone completed. I thank God for you and for our lives together! Elizabeth Goodine November 2008


In 177 CE an enslaved woman, known to the world subsequently only as Blandina of Lyon, underwent a tortuous and humiliating ordeal at the hands of her Roman persecutors. Starved, beaten, burned, lifted up on a post and finally thrown before wild beasts, this woman stubbornly clung to her confession in the name of Christ, risking, and seemingly losing, all for that name. Because it is said that her bones were burned, ground into dust and then dumped into the Rhône, she may have been entirely forgotten but for the fact that history occasionally has a strange memory, sometimes leaving on written pages traces of events otherwise forgotten and remembrances of people otherwise erased. In this case, it was the fourth century Church historian, Eusebius, who deemed valuable the preservation of an encyclical letter which details the account of the martyrs of Lyon and which is the primary text to be used in conducting this project. The purpose of the letter appears to have been two-fold; to share the horrors undergone by the Christians at Lyon and to use the example of their horrors to buoy up fellow Christians who may also have been facing persecution. I first went searching for Blandina of Lyon in the pages of Eusebius’ Church History in the spring of 1995, after hearing that a rather brash, eccentric Lutheran minister had presented her story to a group of fellow men of the cloth at a circuit pastor’s gathering.1 Some of the listeners that day suggested that he made the presentation merely for shock value; others that he had so little to do at his church that he could afford the luxury of sitting around reading such trivial and non-canonical literature. Still, at least one other found the story intriguing enough to mention to others; hence how I first learned of Blandina, a woman who has been with me ever since. For me, her story is a masterpiece that reveals new treasures every time it is read. Initially, I admit, it was the sheer horror of it that drew me. How could this woman have endured such atrocities? How could she have 1 Since the pastors gathered at this event were part of a conservative branch of Lutheranism which does not ordain women into the pastoral office, the use of the term “men” here is to be taken literally and not in any inclusive sense.




maintained faith in any cause at such high personal cost? Eventually, I began to ask just what exactly was the loyalty that was driving her and her community. And just why was that loyalty so repugnant to the Roman government? I began to see that the character of Blandina as she is presented in this account of the martyrs of Lyon and Vienne, is compelling precisely because she invites ambiguity and thereby raises questions for deep introspection. In her person, presumably concrete social categories are blurred; lines between human and divine, slave and free, female and male are turned upside down and obscured. While never ambiguous in terms of her faith, the agonizingly slow, brutal, indeed gruesome nature of Blandina’s death and her total acceptance of it, suggests at one and the same time a woman both powerful and weak, both winner and loser, both victor and victim. Indeed, in recent years, because she possessed characteristics commonly understood as manly—“fortitude and endurance”—scholars have referred to Blandina as a character typical of the “victorious” athlete or gladiator type of female Christian martyr depicted in martyrologies prior to the increasing institutionalization of the Church in the fourth century.2 Yet, while the “victorious gladiator” label is fitting, it is only partially so. While the tone of the story and Blandina’s steadfast endurance in the face of unthinkable tortures leads one to experience her as victor, the fact remains that unlike any self-respecting gladiator, she never raises a finger in her own defense; her performance seems neither rousing nor entertaining. Quite to the contrary, but for one brief statement, her actions appear 2 See Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 21-23 and his Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), especially chapter three, “Thinking with Virgins.” See also Brent D. Shaw, “Body, Power, Identity: Passions of the Martyrs,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4, no. 3 (Fall 1996) : 269-312. While Shaw’s emphasis is on a blending of two previously contradictory virtues, nobility and endurance, which together he maintains provide for a place of resistance in the body of the martyr, Boyarin, like Virginia Burrus, emphasizes that which he understands as a shift in representation of female martyrs between the second and fourth centuries coinciding with increasing orthodoxy. See also the extensive work of Virginia Burrus, especially “Equipped for Victory: Ambrose and the Gendering of Orthodoxy,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4, no. 4 (1996) : 461-475, and “Reading Agnes: The Rhetoric of Gender in Ambrose and Prudentius,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 3, no. 1 : 25-46.



entirely passive. Nonetheless, the reader is left with a distinct impression that a label of passive female victim would surely be inappropriate. Or would it? The character, Blandina of Lyon, represents a slave woman tortured and killed specifically for her religious convictions. Her suffering extends beyond the boundaries of that which most people consider thinkable. Yet, the account as it is passed on, has an exultant ending in the sense that it presents her as finally entering full communion with her savior and, thus, as receiving the crown of eternal life in exchange for her martyrdom. It appears then, that for her, suffering ultimately leads to good; torture and death result in eternal life. Such a trajectory raises serious questions. Feminist theologians in particular have questioned the value of atonement theodicies for groups who often bear the brunt of oppression and violence. Some assert that the notion of a vicarious atonement carried out on the cross by Jesus serves only to make the suffering Jesus a model which others are expected to emulate. Hence, they suggest that such a theology potentially glorifies attitudes toward suffering and encourages actions that victimize and abuse the less powerful within society.3 Read this way, one might argue that the suffering and martyrdom of Blandina represents nothing more than a rationalization of abuse and oppression. Perhaps the author of this text glorifies Blandina and her suffering in an effort to excuse the fact that her own community did not protect her; perhaps as a slave and as a woman she was more expendable

3 On women and suffering, see the excellent study by Kristine M. Rankka, Women and the Value of Suffering: An Aw(e)-ful Rowing Toward God (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1998). On the problems raised by theologies that emphasize Jesus’ passion and crucifixion as salvific, see especially Isabel Carter Heyward, The Redemption of God: A Theology of Mutual Relation (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982). See also Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker, “For God So Loved the World?” in Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse: A Feminist Critique, ed. Joanne Carlson Brown and Carole R. Bohn (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989), 1-30. For feminist critiques which interpret the passion and death of Jesus within the framework of his overall life, thus, understanding it as an act of resistance illustrative of the power of God to offer new hope for life even in the midst of evil and death, see Pamela Dickey Young, “Beyond Moral Influence to an Atoning Life,” Theology Today 52 (1995): 344-355 and Lou Ann Trost, “On Suffering, Violence and Power,” Currents in Theology and Mission 21 (1994): 35-40. For a most thoughtful discussion of feminist Christology and atonement theory see Mary J. Streufert’s “Reclaiming Schleiermacher for Twenty-first Century Atonement Theory: The Human and the Divine in Feminist Christology” in Feminist Theology 15, no.1 (2006): 98-120.



than others (such as her own mistress) and so they placed her in the forefront. How then is Blandina to be understood? Was she merely a victim or was she, as the text reports, transformed (in accordance with her own free will, and despite her femaleness), into a powerful Christ-symbol, a representation of Jesus the crucified, victor for the oppressed? What repercussions did her actions—or passivity—have on witnesses, both Christian and pagan? And, what were the historical and sociological conditions underlying those repercussions? In order to begin to answer those questions, two problems raised by the text must be noted. First and most obvious is the wide disparity between the expected outcome of this second century confrontation and the outcome which the text relates. Surely this group of weak dissidents should have been utterly crushed by the powerful might of Rome and Roman rule and authority thereby strongly reinforced. Yet, such is not the outcome, or the viewpoint, related by the author of the text. The problem presented by this discrepancy will be the main focus of this project. While Blandina does eventually die according to the ruling of the Roman governor, the text implies not only that she dies with power but also that she transfers that power to fellow members of her Christian community. This raises several specific questions, for example: just what is the nature of this apparent power and whence does it come? How does this member of a dissident group, who also happens to be a woman and a slave, manage to attain this power? By what means does she pass this power to others? The textual implication, that a slave-woman holds agency which she utilizes to the advantage of herself and her group, reveals a situation in which power is not held in the hands of only one person or one group. At first glance into the arena, an observer might assume that all authority and power is in the hands of the Romans. Undercurrents revealed through an examination of the text, however, clearly defy that assumption. While the first problem involves a network of power within the context of the story related by the text, a second problem involves other networks of power revealed by Eusebius’ preservation of the text. That Eusebius includes the letter in his Church History and not only in his Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms (no longer extant) shows that he understood the text to be of tremendous importance. Still, it is curious, given that Christian orthodoxy sought early on to limit the roles and influence of women, that this Church historian should feel thus, and that he would choose to include an account such as this one which so clearly portrays Christ in the figure of a woman. On one hand, his inclusion of her story is understandable.



Blandina’s class and gender status both serve to render her lowly in the eyes of observers. She is, thus, very functional as a servant figure, the greatest of which Christians deemed to be Christ. Yet, on the other hand, even such functionality does not account for the very organic difference which both direct observers and later audiences must have noted between her and their crucified lord. This dissertation, then, examines the event of Blandina’s martyrdom by considering the following questions: • How is the functioning of the woman, Blandina, to be understood in this story? Is she victim, victor or both? • What is her relationship to the other actors in the story (her Roman persecutors, pagan observers, Christian observers, later witnesses to the text)? • What forces or circumstances enable her to change from victim to victor? • Is there something about her own behavior or that of the onlookers that contributes to her transformation? • Is there something special or unique to her society / culture that enabled the transformation or might her experience represent a paradigm for the workings of power? The questions above reflect the complexity of the person, Blandina. Through an examination of relationships within networks of power as they are shown to be operative in this text, the ambiguities presented by this woman as she functions in her world will not be erased. Instead, it is my hope that they will be sufficiently analyzed so as to be more fully appreciated in their complexity. It will be shown that while multiple forces of power operate simultaneously throughout the text, the dynamic flow of power is directionally affected by this woman’s unwavering adherence to her belief in Christ. I contend, finally, that Blandina is indeed both victor and victim, that she attains the former state by first accepting the latter, and most importantly, that this process, attainment of the victor’s crown and not simply denigration of the victim, takes place in this world amidst, and even because of, the complex relationships in which she was engaged in her time. Since the workings of power through and in the person of Blandina cannot be understood apart from her social context, this project progresses using a systems theory approach to the analysis of the primary text. Chapter one thus provides both background knowledge regarding the text and a brief explanation of the specific theoretical frameworks that will be



employed. The second chapter provides an overview of the Christian situation by examining the Lyonnaise context and by providing information regarding the background of members of the Christian community and their major beliefs. Chapter three presents the Roman viewpoint of imperial power and its official stance to, and against, dissident behavior during this time period. Social responsibility of individuals, as it pertains to the maintenance of the Roman ideal, as well as attitudes toward those deemed dissident will be examined. Chapter four examines the relationships between Blandina, her persecutors and other observers during her lengthy ordeal. Her response to the various rounds of torture will be analyzed as will the reaction of others to her response. Particular attention will be given to the scene in which, according to the text, her fellow Christians claim to see Christ in her body. Finally, chapter five concludes the project with an examination of the ancient response to the text as compared to that of the modern. Here, I raise suggestions as to why Eusebius, during a time when the Church appears to have been increasing its restrictions on the roles of women, apparently felt less distaste and discomfort with the notion of a female icon of Christ than do many who occupy seats of power in the Christian Church of today.


Early in the fourth century, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, undertook a massive project. He sought to write an account of the Christian Church covering the time period from the apostles to his own day. On its completion, the work included ten books relating important events in the history of the Church. Through this work, Eusebius sought to tell the stories both of those who had proclaimed and lived the faith faithfully, as well as the stories of those who had fallen into error, thus causing extreme harm to the followers of Christ. While Eusebius’ works are many, and by no means limited to his Church History, this particular work has been of immense importance to the Church through the ages. Scholars throughout the centuries have both revered his work for its breadth and criticized it for its lack of depth.1 Eusebius himself, like his work, was both praised and criticized. As one who eventually signed the document at the Council of Nicea, he was respected for serving the process of peace; yet, as one who had earlier supported the Arian view, he sometimes fell under suspicion from people on both sides of the argument. Nonetheless, regardless of the praise or criticism that Eusebius encountered during his lifetime, and that follows his work even into the present, his History became the most valuable record in existence of the life of the ancient Church, possessing an authority that has endured the test of time. 1 Much has been written on the life and works of Eusebius. For a good overview, see Arthur Cushman McGiffert, “Prolegomena: The Life and Writings of Eusebius of Caesarea,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 1, reprint 1982, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1890), 3-72, hereafter NPNF. See also, “Eusebius of Caesarea” in A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature, ed. Henry Wace and William Piercy (London: John Murray, 1911), 318-334; and trans. Paul L. Maier, Eusebius, The Church History: A New Translation with Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 9-20.




It is in this history of the Church that Eusebius includes “for posterity” and because “it is worthy of perpetual remembrance,” the account of the martyrs at Lyon.2 The letter, as he transmits it, claims to have been sent by the survivors of the churches of Lyon and Vienne in Gaul to the Christian churches in Asia and Phrygia. While the distance separating these communities is over a thousand miles, that claim is not improbable. The churches of Lyon and Vienne had strong ties to the Christian communities in Asia Minor. Active trade routes existed between east and west and it was this transcontinental accessibility that had enabled Polycarp, the famous martyred bishop of Smyrna, to earlier send Pothinus, the very aged bishop of Lyon who also died during the ordeal of 177, to Gaul as a missionary.3 Irenaeus (fellow student of Pothinus under Polycarp) soon 2 See Eusebius’ own introduction to the letter, “The Persecution at Lyon,” in Eusebius Church History (hereafter HE), in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 1, book 5, reprint 1982 (Arthur Cushman McGiffert, trans.), ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing), 1890. English translations of the letter, “The Persecution at Lyon” may be found in Eusebius Church History 5.1-4 in Schaff and Wace; trans. Roy J. Deferrari, Eusebius Pamphili. Ecclesiastical History (New York: FC, 1953); trans. G.A. Williamson, Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (Baltimore: Penguin, 1965); trans. with introduction and notes by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea. The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, vol. 1 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1927); trans. C.F. Cruse, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, Massachusetts: Reprint, 154; trans. Kirsopp Lake, Eusebius. The Ecclesiastical History, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1965); trans. Paul L. Maier; and in Herbert Mursurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972). Mursurillo and Lake also include the Greek text. The original text of Eusebius’ Church History (in which the letter is contained) is in Greek and has been published in many editions. Henri Valesius published an edition with Latin translation in 1659 which was seen by most as a great improvement over previous editions and which has served as the basis for subsequent editions. The notable edition of J.P. Migne which includes the original Greek with Latin translation (PG 20) was completed in 1857 and is based on Valesius’ edition of 1659. The standard critical edition is Eduord Schwartz and Theodor Mommsen, Eusebius Werke. Zweiter Band. Die Kirchengeschicte (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1903). Translations of those portions of the letter used here are my own unless otherwise indicated. 3 Thus, Pothinus was the first bishop of the Church at Lyon. Irenaeus is known to have succeeded him but the date that this occurred is not absolutely certain. Irenaeus was still a presbyter immediately following the persecution when a letter was sent on his behalf to Bishop Eleutherus at Rome. It is likely that he was made

BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 9 joined Pothinus in Gaul where gathering a few Christians around them, they began the small Christian communities at Lyon and Vienne.4 These communities, lacking other support, continued to consider the Christians in Asia and Phrygia as their spiritual parents. Thus, it is not surprising that in a time of terror, they would direct their outcry to those churches, however far away. While the author of the text is unknown, some have attributed authorship to Irenaeus, since he was named bishop of Lyon following the death of Pothinus.5 Still, there is no certain evidence either from within the text or from other sources to sustain that assertion with surety. Eusebius himself makes no suggestions regarding authorship. He claims only that the information is reliable and that a more complete rendering on the subject can be found in his Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms unfortunately no longer extant.6 The loss of the Collection leaves Eusebius’ bishop shortly after that visit, since Eusebius counts him among the bishops in HE 5. 24. 10-11. See also the introductory note to “Irenaeus: Against Heresies” by Cleveland Coxe in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, vol. 1, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 309-313. 4 On the indebtedness of the Christian west to Christianity in the east, see the introductory note to “Irenaeus: Against Heresies” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 309. Coxe writes that “so far from being the ‘mother and mistress’ of even the Western Churches, Rome herself is a mission of the Greeks; Southern Gaul is evangelized from Asia Minor, and Lyon checks the heretical tendencies of the Bishop of Rome.” 5 See Schaff and Wace, 212, footnote, 3. W.H.C. Frend refers to the author as an “anonymous survivor” – See W.H.C. Frend, Martrydom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Press, 1965), 1. Pierre Nautin has argued that Irenaeus wrote the letter and that it is logical that he addressed it to the churches in Asia since he was active in the controversies taking place in Asia during that time. Irenaeus, he suggests, carried the letter to Bishop Eleutherus in Rome specifically as assurance to him that the Christians of Lyon were true and worthy martyrs – Pierre Nautin, Lettres et Écrivains Chrétiens des IIe et IIIe siècles (Paris: Les Éditions Du Cerf, 1961), 54-61. Robert Grant agrees with Nautin – Robert Grant, Eusebius as Church Historian, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 118-119. Timothy Barnes raises the possibility as well but reiterates that there is no “conclusive proof or disproof” – Timothy Barnes, “PreDecian Acta Martyrum,” Journal of Theological Studies 19 (1968): 517. 6 Eusebius’ “Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms” is not thought by scholars to have been an original composition but rather Eusebius’ own compilation of accounts of martyrdoms that had taken place prior to his day. For more information on this, see the introduction provided in McGiffert’s “Prolegomena” in Schaff and Wace.



Church History as the sole ancient source of the text. While I recognize that there is some disadvantage to this forced reliance on Eusebius’ transmission, I believe that the disadvantage is minimal. With the exception of J.W. Thompson who questioned the validity of the letter in 1912, and J. Colin who did so in 1964, scholars have overwhelmingly viewed it as authentic.7 McGiffert asserts that There can be no doubt as to the early date and reliability of the epistle. It bears no traces of a later age, and contains little of the marvelous, which entered so largely into the spurious martyrologies of a later day. Its genuineness is in fact questioned by no one so far as I am aware (Schaff and Wace, 212, footnote 3).

Mursurillo, while cautioning that the possibility of a textual reworking, perhaps in the third century, cannot be entirely excluded, echoes McGiffert’s confidence that the text, as Eusebius transmits it, is substantially authentic, saying that there is “no solid reason” for suggesting otherwise.8 At any rate, my main concern is less with Eusebius’ skill and factual accuracy as an historian than with his reasons for utilizing the text and for retaining it as an integral and important part of the Church’s 7 Mursurillo, xx. Thompson questioned the text’s validity on the basis of his proposed date for the persecution, a century later than that commonly believed. He posited this new date on the largely discredited notion that Marcus Aurelius was not a persecutor, thus arguing that the persecutions could not have taken place during his reign. J. Colin’s protestation regarding the text’s validity has also been largely rejected. He asserted that the actual persecution took place not in Lyon but in Galatia. See Barnes, “Pre- Decian,” 517, footnote 6 and 7. 8 Mursurillo, xx-xxi. Glen Bowersock has also argued that the fact that the letter is addressed to the Churches “in Asia and Phrygia” further attests to its authenticity. He notes that while this conjunction of Asia and Phrygia initially seems odd, since during the second century Phrygia was an integral part of Asia, it is in fact quite logical because following the reign of Hadrian the title of “metropolis” began to be bestowed on more than one city per province. Based on inscriptional evidence he contends that during the time of Marcus Aurelius, interior parts of Asia were reorganized and given their own separate identities based on ethnic make-up. Thus, although Phrygia was within the province of Asia, the two would have been considered separate, having their own distinct titles and treasuries. In other words, there was a province of Asia but also an Asia proper; somewhat like the State of New York and New York City. See “Appendix 4: Asia, Aphrodisias, and the Lyon Martyrium” in G. W. Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 85-98.

BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 11 history. Because the form of the letter as Eusebius transmits it is the form in which the Church has absorbed the story into tradition and utilized it throughout the centuries, I will for the purposes of this project consider that form authentic. In addition, of particular importance for this project is his retention of that portion of the text which renders Blandina, a woman, as a powerful image of Christ. Implicit in Eusebius’ inclusion of this text in his Church History is his assumption that such stories of torture and martyrdom are really stories of victory over oppressors rather than stories of defeat by oppressors. Clearly, both he and the unknown author of the letter understand these martyrs as holding power in the midst of a situation in which their persecutors have supposedly rendered them powerless. There is a great disconnect here between the view of the Roman persecutors who underscore their victory by ultimately heaping mockery even on the dead bodies of the martyrs and that of the Christian survivors who write of victory achieved by the martyrs. On one hand, Rome has won because Blandina is dead; on the other hand, it is clear that the Christian crowd does not understand her as having been defeated and even the pagan witnesses seem to harbor a certain degree of uncertainty. Where, then, is the power of victory located in this story? And, what is the nature of power being displayed in this text? Of what does it consist? Who exactly qualifies as a power-holder and how are the holdings determined? My analysis of such questions will be informed by the work of the French thinker, Michel Foucault and the Systems Theory first proposed by Murray Bowen. While the two views do converge at some points, I acknowledge that there is also a significant difference between them. Foucauldian theory understands human beings and their relationships of power as discursive while Bowen theory understands those relationships and resulting power strategies as organic. Throughout this project, I rely more heavily on the Bowen viewpoint, however, I retain both as theoretical underpinnings precisely because of the differing angles from which they come. In recent years Michel Foucault, has largely discredited the notion of power as a single force acted out by one party upon another. In an interview in which he discusses his understandings of the workings of power, Foucault asserts that “the State consists in the codification of a whole number of power relations which render its functioning possible, and



that Revolution is a different type of codification of the same relations.”9 Power in this sense is numerous and impossible to pin down at one point. Instead, it is in relationships and its movements allow for various groups, from government officials to revolutionaries, to take part in it and deploy it as needed. In our post-modern world, it is easy to see that while the most obvious power-holders are those wielding vast amounts of money and political influence, in many cases, such money and influence rests squarely on the support (or lack thereof) of people with far fewer resources. Power then, while it may be inequitably distributed, is by no means singular. Instead, as Foucault notes, it consists of “a multiplicity of discourses produced by a whole series of mechanisms operating in different institutions.”10 Thus, operating simultaneously within a variety of institutions, power is by nature no single force; nor is it made up even of multiple singular forces, pumping individually through the course of history. Rather, power is found in a system of relationships and depending on one’s vantage point might be understood as either positive or negative. According to Foucault, What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body . . .( Foucault, “Truth and Power” in Gordon, 119).

If, then, one accepts Foucault’s assertion that power runs through the entire social body, it becomes evident that no force or action occurs in a vacuum. Instead, every move affects other elements within the system, which in turn affect other elements; and every system is intertwined with and makes an impact on neighboring systems. Power then might be described as multiple, and as operative within a matrix wherein each individual affects every other individual with whom she/he comes into contact. Within such a system, every person affects not only one other person as in a linear fashion but rather she/he affects every person with whom she/he comes into contact and even those with whom they come 9 Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power” in Power / Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 122. 10 Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 33.

BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 13 into contact. Individuals also form groups which then develop mechanisms of power through which they operate and which they utilize in their contacts with other groups. Each individual’s socialization, his/her functioning (both within the group and through contacts with other groups), constructs just who and what that individual becomes. Thus, power is both multiple and institutional. For Foucault, then, power is relational; it occurs within systems and is produced discursively. Hence, multiple discourses of power operate simultaneously. Bowen theory, however, understands this systemic nature of power(s) as organic; anchored not only in the human process of socialization and production of discourse but also in the evolutionary process of human development. This organic basis for power, sometimes also referred to as Family Systems Theory, was first developed by Murray Bowen and furthered by the work of Michael Kerr and others.11 The theory stemmed initially out of Bowen’s work with schizophrenic patients in the late 1940s at the Menninger Clinic where he first began to conceive of the notion that the strong symbiotic relationship between his schizophrenic patients and their mothers was deeply rooted in the natural life process as well as in the more obvious psychological process. Bowen had long noted the presence of this general characteristic in other mammals, as well as in non-schizophrenic mother-child relationships. He began to consider the possibility that in the case of schizophrenia, this natural characteristic of mother-child symbiosis had merely become intensified. In 1964, Bowen left Menninger and undertook further research at the National Institute of Mental Health where he studied, in an in-patient setting, schizophrenic individuals along with the entire nuclear family of each. Here, he began to notice that the presence and actions of other family members served to foster and perpetuate the intensity between the mother and the schizophrenic child, while at the same time the relationship between the mother and this child appeared to inflame relationships throughout the family as a whole. As Kerr puts it, Bowen began to find it difficult, even impossible, to conceive of any single member of the family without the others. Individuals were so intertwined that they could not be accurately conceptualized as individuals. Instead, Bowen conceptualized the “family,” rather than the individual, as the basic “emotional unit” in all 11 For a more complete explanation of Bowen Theory than can be given here, see Michael E. Kerr and Murray Bowen, Family Evaluation (New York: W.W. Norton, 1988).



natural life systems.12 In his thinking then, an individual could only come into being, both physically and sociologically, through a group relationship. The fact that a newborn human infant cannot survive without the care of another human underscores Bowen’s insight, yet, the notion of the family (or group) as the basic emotional unit from which all human relationships stem was a radical shift in paradigm. It departed sharply from psychoanalysis, its modern predecessor, which presumes the individual as the most basic element in all life systems. This basic “emotional unit” proposed by Bowen is understood by him and like-minded theorists to be at the heart of human constructedness; it posits the notion of relationship at a deeper level than that of the individual. Furthermore, it understands the concept of human relationship, rather than individuality, to take place not only at the sociological level of the production of discourse but at an even deeper level, that is, at the very base of the evolutionary process. Essentially, Bowen asserted a whole to parts (systems) approach to understanding human behavior rather than the generally accepted psychoanalytic parts to whole (individual) approach. Rather than beginning with an assumption that individuals are each a basic unit, which, when combined with other individuals, make up a group, Bowen theory assumes that group rather than individual relations are at the base of the social and biological evolutionary process. The basic element of the system, then, is not one individual (or even one cell) but something deeper that precedes even the first cell – the basic emotional unit. This basic emotional unit consists of operational principles which regulate the functioning of various parts as they exist and function among one another. It must be stressed that these operational principles, the basic emotional unit, exist at a prediscursive and a pre-cellular level. Bowen came to this radical reversal after realizing that the parts to whole approach (whether applied biologically or sociologically) often cannot offer any explanation as to how parts come together to create a whole. Since his patients could not be conceptualized apart from their family system, Bowen reasoned that each could not have become the individual she/he was apart from that system. A part could not become a whole but a whole, Bowen used the term “family” to describe those of his patient’s immediate household, his/her family of origin. As was common in his time period and as he describes the families of his patients, the term indicated mother, father and children – the group which commonly came to be referred to as the “nuclear” family. Here, I will retain his use of the term “family,” however, it should be understood not necessarily as the “nuclear” family but rather as a term denoting a person’s most intimate social group, the group within which she/he is nurtured and grows. 12

BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 15 he surmised, could give birth to a part; that is, the whole can to a certain extent, determine what each part becomes – both on the social/psychological and on the biological level. Bowen and Kerr contend that such is the case in all natural life systems including that of human beings. On the sociological level, the example already given, that a human infant cannot survive outside of a group, suffices to illustrate the point. At the biological level, the group as base is somewhat more difficult to see but can be viewed in various life systems. The life process of the tropical fish Labroides dimidiatus, for instance, demonstrates the strong interconnection between anatomy, physiology and behavior as they are played out in the dynamics of group relations.13 In this species, individual fish change both behavior and sex according to the needs of the group. If a group leader dies, a previously less powerful fish will begin to demonstrate aggressive behavior and soon take over the dominant role as leader.14 In addition, the sex of the fish will also change according to the needs of the group. For the continuance of this species, it seems, one male is necessary because he spawns; several are not. Many females on the other hand, are necessary because they carry the eggs; one would not be enough. Thus, the system consists of few males and many females; individual fish adapt both behaviorally and biologically, in order to accommodate the survival and needs of the group; each individual not only functions, but is constructed, in ways that serve the needs of the group – sex itself, along with behavior is a group determination.15 D. R. Robertson, “Social Control of Sex Reversal in a Coral-Reef Fish,” Science 177 (September 15, 1972) : 1007-1009. 14 In this species, a group is made up of one mature male (the oldest in the group) with three to six mature females and several immature individuals, either male or female. Robertson asserts that “Sex reversal frequently occurs as a part of the reorganization of the group following the death of the male.” Robertson, 1007. 15 It should be noted that age and size also play a role in the construction of individuals within this system, as do invasions from other groups. Robertson notes that in eleven cases of territorial invasion by outside males following the death of a dominant male, sex reversal of a female within the group did not take place. Instead, the invading male took over the role of leader. In four of those cases, the dominant female had actually already begun the process of sex reversal but that process was reversed when she was dominated by the invading male. Yet, in every case, Robertson observes, the invading male was “considerably larger than the incumbent dominant female”(Robertson, 1008). In one case where the invading male was only slightly larger than the dominant female, the two battled for power over a period of two weeks during which the female “behaviorally” went through a 13



In the case of Labroides dimidiatus, then, the system, not the individual fish, female or male, determines individual make-up and functioning. Group constructs individuals rather than vice versa; and that construction is organic, taking place both at the sociological and the biological level. Bowen maintains that such an organic view of group as the basic emotional unit is not limited to fish but extends to and is operative throughout all life systems. Thus, in contrast to a parts to whole approach, his whole to parts approach asserts that every individual is the product or result of an organic system. Bowen’s radical overturning of the basic assumption that individual parts rather than group relation lie at the base of human construction resonates with the work of some feminists in recent years. For example, Thomas Laqueur documents a paradigmatic shift from a whole to a parts approach as regards the historical understanding of the sex of the human body. He and Anne Fausto-Sterling both question the validity of those sexual categories deemed as basic in our modern heterosexually oriented society. In her book Sexing the Body, Fausto-Sterling writes: I take seriously the ideas of Foucault, Haraway, Scott and others that our bodily experiences are brought into being by our development in particular cultures and historical periods. But, especially as a biologist, I want to make the argument more specific. As we grow and develop, we literally, not just ‘discursively’ (that is, through language and cultural practices), construct our bodies, incorporating experience into our very flesh. To understand this claim, we must erode the distinctions between the physical and the social body (Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, New York: Basic Books, 2000, 20). series of changes, from female to male and then back to female and once again back to male. The final change was accompanied by a biological change indicating that the invader had finally been beaten and that the changee’s role as leader was finally established. In the case of Labroides dimidiatus it may appear to some that male sex is associated with leadership and dominance while the female occupies a secondary place. Yet, such is only a matter of viewpoint. It must also be emphasized that male sex is limited (only one mature male to a group). Immature males must upon maturation invade another group in order to find a dominant place, or vie with the dominant male and dominant female within his own group for the position of dominance, or be killed. In the sense that those of male sex are so limited and are allowed to live only according to the need of the bulk of the population which is female, one could say that the males are very much dominated, very much led, by the females.


I believe Bowen theory presents one approach by which we might begin to erode that distinction. Like Bowen, the works of both Laqueur and FaustoSterling illuminate the importance of understanding and getting beneath one’s basic assumptions; and above all, of recognizing that they may be just that—only assumptions—based on shared and learned experience in relation with others.16 It is this organic notion of wholeness at a very basic level that will be presumed throughout the course of this project. Such an approach assumes the systemic nature of the relationships in Lyon and leaves no room for the possibility of analyzing one individual or group in isolation from the others. There are no parts waiting to become wholes but only whole systems being continuously formed, re-formed and worked out through their parts. While it will, of course, be necessary to separately examine the parts, such as Blandina as an individual, the fledgling church of Lyon, the Roman government in the second century and Eusebius’ own reasons for preserving this text, it will be equally essential to remember that none of these parts function alone. The concept of a “multiplicity of discourses” as it is articulated by Foucault can be grounded in a theory that recognizes the possibility that relationships, those various “discourses,” take place within flesh. Discourse is thus bound up in a natural life system. Our bodily experiences are discursive but they are also organic. Seen as products of an evolving natural system, then, power mechanisms can be named and analyzed according to the purpose they serve at a systemic level; that is, not only as to that which each individual part stands to lose or gain by the power exercise but also according to how the exercise of power, by any particular group or individual, perpetuates the construction and the functioning of the natural system as a whole. Bowen theory, then, moves apart from Foucauldian theory in that it suggests that humanity’s most basic functioning emotional unit is grounded in an ancient evolutionary pattern present in all life systems. This suggests that human beings and their relationships are more than just discursive; that they are also biological. At the same time, the theory, while sharing much with sociobiology, does not support the notion that the influence of cultural practices are at best secondary to biology. While sociobiology has sometimes linked specific behaviors to specific genes 16 See Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990); and Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body.



(leaving open the terrifying possibility that humans have little if any control over behavior), Bowen theory does not subordinate culture to biology but rather bridges the gap between notions that humans are biologically constructed and notions that we are always and only sociologically constructed. It presumes that an emotional system as it is encased in the basic emotional unit of the family precedes even the development of specific genes and thus may even preside over the way those genes function. 17 Thus, it suggests an organic system in which biology is informed by the social system but at the same time the social system is embedded in the biological body in a very real evolutionary manner. Bowen theory, unlike sociobiological theory, does not stand in opposition to Foucauldian theory. Rather it bridges the gap between discursive and biological theories. By retaining the Foucauldian view as a backdrop, I hope to provide a safeguard against the misinterpretation of Bowen theory as sociobiology; a Foucauldian opposite. References to Foucauldian theory throughout this dissertation should serve to remind the reader of the importance, though not exclusive importance, of the notion of discourse to the construction of human beings and their relationships of power. Such references are made to underscore that Bowen theory with its organic understanding of human constructed-ness, does not deny the function or importance of discourse to the workings of power. Rather, it operates with a foot in both the discursive and the biological camp; at the same time, it belongs completely to neither. With such an understanding of the relationships of power as organic, Foucault’s assertion regarding the immensely far-reaching effects of power is underscored, even amplified. As he notes in The History of Sexuality: Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere. And “Power,” insofar as it is permanent, repetitious, inert, and self-reproducing, is simply the overall effect that emerges from all these mobilities, the concatenation that rests on each of them and seeks in turn to arrest their movement (Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 93).

In his view then, power emanates from everywhere and cannot be located in any single individual. While I would not completely agree with Foucault that “One has to dispense with the constituent subject, to get rid of the subject itself” in order to “arrive at an analysis which can account for


Kerr and Bowen, 48.

BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 19 the constitution of the subject within a historical framework”18 I would agree that power is everywhere, that it can neither be located in individuals apart from their relationships nor said to have its source in specific individuals. It might however be located in individuals as they exist in relationship with others. It is at this point that Bowen theory and Foucauldian theory converge and demonstrate their usefulness for this project; for both, power is conceived and located in relationship. For Foucault, those relationships are grounded in discourse; there can be no pre-discursive body. For Bowen, however, they are grounded even deeper than both discourse and biology – they are grounded organically in a basic emotional (relational) unit common to all life systems. Group relation thus creates both bodies and discourse. With such a theoretical underpinning, it is possible to examine the participants in the drama of death enacted at Lyon, according to their functioning within relationships – that is, as individuals (or small groups) seeking to build or retain some degree of individuality, and as individuals seeking to maintain a functioning relationship with others in the larger group. Bowen refers to these two types of functioning, which make up a pattern for organization passed on in the basic emotional unit, as the force toward individuality and the force toward togetherness. Both presume a focus on relationship; the individual strives both for autonomy within that relationship and for connectedness within the relationship. The effect might be pictured as the tension on a taut rubber-band. Both forces are necessary and important to maintaining the optimum degree of tension; that which is sought is a balance in relationship between self and others. These forces make up a portion of the emotional system into which an individual is born, lives and grows. While Bowen and Kerr understand these forces of individuality and togetherness as biologically rooted, that is, as more basic to the evolutionary process than something that is merely a function of the brain, they also contend that these forces are socially conditioned: While individuality is anchored in biological processes that are part of every person, the extent to which a person’s individuality is developed is based primarily on learning . . . [Likewise] While the togetherness force is rooted in biological processes, its intensity in a given person is heavily influenced by learning (Kerr and Bowen, 64-65).


Foucault, “Truth and Power” in Gordon, 117.



The effect of social conditioning on these forces that are anchored in the biological process can be easily observed in everyday life. A mentally or emotionally challenged person, for instance, may be diagnosed as having a chemical disorder or a genetic abnormality that is responsible for his/her condition. Yet, in spite of the biological condition, that person may, with the proper assistance from others, attain higher academic and living skills than the biological condition would seem to allow. This person needs others and yet, also needs time to work and process information alone, sometimes taking hours to complete a simple project. A balance between these forces of individuality and togetherness enables a positive outcome. By the same token, a seemingly normal person in terms of physicality, deprived of all or of most human contact, may be unable to even approach his/her biological potential. While this person also needs time to act individually, the imbalance between the individual and togetherness forces will, in all probability, lead to a negative outcome. Environment affects development and yet, biology also plays a role. Such examples appear obvious. Yet, the situation becomes more complex if the question is asked: What does it mean to be mentally, emotionally or even physically challenged? The answer to that question may differ according to the system. A biologically negative trait according to the standards of one time and place may prove to be profitable in another. If so, the forces at work within the system will develop that trait. One such example is the sickle cell gene, deadly to some, and yet protective of many who live in countries severely affected by malaria. Biology functions hand in hand with social forces. As each human being attempts to develop and maintain his/her individual self, the force pulling us together is also strong. Functioning as both individual and communal beings within a system, we strive to keep the rubber-band taut, all the while using care not to break it. Since the intent of this project is ultimately to understand the process by which Blandina of Lyon navigates within her system, becoming a viable symbol of Christ for her community, I employ an examination of these life forces of individuality and togetherness as they are exhibited in her person. In the process, it is noted how she functions in relation to others, both differentiating herself as an individual and simultaneously solidifying her connection to a particular group. The project, thus, proceeds with her at center and attempts to uncover her experience. Nonetheless, because Blandina’s experience can only be known through the text, I conduct this analysis by focusing specifically on her reported behavior under duress and the effects of her actions on others occupying the system. This analytical approach affords a more objective reading by relying on recorded, and thus

BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 21 verifiable, reactions of those who witness her ordeal.19 It also demonstrates the process by which this Christian slave-woman, specifically situated within her own historical context, seizes and manipulates power in a manner that ultimately thwarts the intent of her oppressors and concurrently produces a contagious sense of liberation among those who share her communal world. It is my hope that in addition, by revealing Blandina as an integral part of, and not separate from, the overall system(s) of power in which she operates, this project will do justice to the complexity of her character and thereby contribute significantly to our current knowledge regarding who she was as a person.

19 This reliance on both the effects of Blandina’s actions on others as well as on the words and actions attributed specifically to her represents a systems approach. It also bears some similarity to the feminist standpoint epistemology developed by Sandra Harding. On feminist standpoint epistemology, see Sandra Harding, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking From Women’s Lives (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1991). Chapter ten, “Thinking from the Perspective of Lesbian Lives” is particularly useful because it focuses on the notion of looking at women within particular historical contexts (as opposed to the notion of a universal woman) and on uncovering the meanings they create within their own particular contexts.


Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. (Jesus to the Samaritan woman, Jn 4: 13-14 NRSV).1

As she stood at the well from which she drew water each day, Jesus’ words must have seemed strange indeed to this Samaritan woman. Who was this guy; this mentally deranged transient who somehow, having found his way to the city’s water supply, first demanded a drink and then proceeded to claim that he already had water that could quench thirst forever? Her curt answer, both polite and sarcastic, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty, or have to keep coming here,” is not particularly surprising.2 One can almost imagine her eyes rolling toward heaven and the murmur under her breath, Lord, please, I don’t need this today! Yet, as the woman is soon to discover, this is not an ordinary man, not even an ordinary transient, who speaks these words. Rather, as she and later Christians would come to understand him, this man was a “prophet” or even “the Messiah,” the one about whom the prophet John declared “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal” for “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”3 Throughout Christianity’s long history, its adherents have understood themselves to be linked to their God, and subsequently to one another, through simple elements, two of which are water in Baptism and Word in the gospel. The Samaritan woman’s shift from a desire for earthly water to a desire for that spiritual spring of water gushing up to eternal life is illustrative of this crucial link. The link represents that which stands between the human being and Christ himself. It is the connection through 1 Jn 4: 13-14 in Bruce Metzger and Roland Murphy, eds., The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical Books (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), New Revised Standard Version; hereafter NRSV. 2 Jn 4: 15 NRSV. 3 Jn 4: 19, 4: 29, 1: 27 and 1: 33 respectively NRSV.




which the human can experience the power of the divine. While the Samaritan woman desired this connective spiritual water and recognized Jesus as the one who could give it to her, so also did the Lyon martyrs desire and receive such water. Of Sanctus, the deacon of Vienne, whose torture included the attachment of hot metal plates to his “most delicate parts,” the letter says “these certainly were burned, but he stood his ground, unbending and unyielding, firm in his confession, possessing life by the water flowing from heaven; [and] being sprinkled and strengthened out of the belly of Christ.”4 Water, therefore, played a crucial role in the formation of the Christian community at Lyon. In a spiritual sense, it provided a powerful picture of the faithful person’s connection to Christ. Yet, in this narrative, it also plays an important role in a very ordinary, physical sense for it is mainly via water that both new people and fresh ideas travel to the greater community, thus feeding into the newly formed Christian community as well. As a result of its location at the junction of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers, Lyon occupies the head of the fertile Rhône Valley and in ancient times operated as a major economic, commercial and political center. According to Eusebius, “The country in which the arena was prepared for them [the martyrs] was Gaul, of which Lyons and Vienne are the principal and most celebrated cities. The Rhône passes through both of them, flowing in a broad stream through the entire region.”5 Thus, the Rhône, it could be said, literally bathed the countryside with life. As its waters teemed with nutrients for the continual replenishment of the soil, the river also carried in new ideas borne on the minds of immigrants and temporary 4 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 22. This portrait of Sanctus’ suffering alludes to the piercing of Christ on the cross in which the forces of life, blood and water, are said to have flowed from his side (Jn 19:34). That image, coupled with the author’s reference to this martyr’s most delicate parts and his use of the phrase e/k th=j nhdu/oj, underscores the deep intimate relationship of the martyr to Christ. Although the martyr may be wounded even in the tenderest places, that is, in the essence of his/her being, she/he cannot ultimately be overcome since strength comes from the deepest and purest source, the very belly of Christ. 5 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 1 (NPNF). J. F. Drinkwater reports that this area was indeed “celebrated” by the second century. As early as 39 BCE Agrippa restructured the Gallic road system centering it on Lyon which was, then, able to serve not only as a military outpost but also as a kind of model city, a display for “the material benefits of the adoption of Roman ways.” Augustus quickly proceeded to build on this military and economic base. See J. F. Drinkwater, Roman Gaul: The Three Provinces, 58 BC-AD 260 (London: Croom Helm, 1983), 111.



travelers. In regard to the Lyon Christian community, scholarship indicates a great deal of variance both as to nationality and social status of the members. This variety is consistent with the diversity of the greater cosmopolitan community. In order to understand Blandina’s particular place, that is, to situate her, within the context of this ethnically and socially diverse community bound by a common faith, I will in this chapter first provide a brief picture of the physical and commercial landscape of second century Lyon, a city that churned with the excitement of any major crossroad. I will then examine the ethnic origins and social status of the various members of this Christian group. This ethnic and social profile will be followed by an assessment of the group’s religious origins and the tenets of their faith.

THE LYONNAISE LANDSCAPE Because of its various riverbanks and waterways, life pulsed continuously through Lyon which thrived as a cosmopolitan urban center. In the second century, Lyon consisted of three major areas; the hill of Fourvière (actual old Lyon, or Lugdunum, as it was known in ancient times), the federal territory of the Three-Gauls, and the isle of Cannabus. The Fourvière Hill area, originally established as a military colony, was, during the second century, the administrative capital of the Three-Gauls.6 Excavations in this area have uncovered a possible imperial palace, a sanctuary to Cybele, a theatre and bathing areas.7 It is here that according to the letter preserved by Eusebius “the adversary” first fell upon these Christians, pitting his servants “against the servants of God, so that we were not only shut out 6 In the mid-first century BCE, Gaul came under Roman rule through the military conquest led by Julius Caesar. The entire area was then divided into three parts, Belgium, Aquitania and Celtae, as Caesar recounts in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars: “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam ei qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.” See Julius Caesar, Caesar’s Gallic War, 1.1, ed. Charles E. Bennett (New York: Allyn and Bacon, 1920), 1. For an English translation, see Commentaries of Caesar, William Duncan (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1858). By the second century, these boundaries had been significantly shifted for administrative convenience. Nonetheless, the name, “Three Gauls” seems to intentionally invoke the language used by Caesar. See Drinkwater, 93. 7Amable Audin, “Présentation de Lugdunum” in Les Martyrs De Lyon (177), Lyon, 20-23 Septembre 1977. (Paris: Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique, 1978), 15.



from houses and baths and markets, but, they even forbade any of us to appear in any place whatever.” 8 Downhill from Lugdunum and at the left bank of the Saône River sits the federal territory of the Three-Gauls. At the sanctuary here, the delegates of the sixty nations of the Three-Gauls assembled each August. The sanctuary was impressive, housing a great altar at which Gallic loyalty to Rome and the worship of Augustus was first established on August 1, 12 BCE (the anniversary of Augustus’ final victory over Antony and Cleopatra).9 This altar was flanked by two columns, each bearing the likeness of Roman victors, an image that likewise decorated the back of currency struck at Lugdunum and used throughout all Gaul.10 The west end of the sanctuary housed the amphitheatre, used regularly for games and gladiatorial shows. It was here in this amphitheatre that Blandina and her fellow Christians made their appearance; it was here where their blood was mixed with the blood of countless animals and other criminals of the state. Downhill further from the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône, somewhat apart from the spectacle of the amphitheatre, sits the third major area, the isle of Cannabus. In the second century, Cannabus had a distinctly commercial character. Warehouses filled its streets and the kilns of potters decked its landscape.11 Merchants came from all directions to trade their wares; many remained permanently, setting up shops and businesses in the area. As noted earlier, a significant amount of trade took place between Asia in the East and Gaul in the West. A significant land route existed between Marseilles in the Rhône Valley and Smyrna in Asia Minor. Historically, Rome is credited with introducing a road system in which major thoroughfares extended in every direction to and from Lugdunum. These land routes not only assisted the process of trade but also enabled

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 5. Drinkwater, 111-113. There is some discrepancy regarding the actual year of the dedication. Drinkwater’s date, 12 BCE follows the testimony of Dio and Livy. Testimony from Suetonius, however, has led some scholars to suggest that the dedication may have taken place in 10 BCE, in the year of Claudius’ birth. For an in depth discussion, see Duncan Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire, vol. I: 1 (New York: Brill, 1987), 97-99. 10 Audin, “Présentation de Lugdunum” 16. 11 Audin, “Présentation de Lugdunum” 16. 8 9



the military to keep troops supplied in all areas of deployment.12 Of perhaps even greater importance to Lyon, however, was its extensive water navigational system. Jean Rougé has argued that the land route with its western base in Marseilles, was eclipsed by a greater use of water traffic at the port of Arles, situated northwest of Marseilles at the point where the Rhône separates into the Grand Rhône and the Petit Rhône. Lyon was, he suggests, above all else, a river crossroads since the main route for excellent interior land navigation in Gaul was built to go through the Rhône and Saône valley, an area which gained much in importance with the development of the port at Arles through which ships could travel to and from Lyon. Once this transport route, between Arles and Lyon via the Rhône, became available a significant connection was established between Gaul’s interior and exterior land navigational routes. Although river navigation at Arles posed a great deal of difficulty, Rougé contends, based on writings of Strabo and of Ammianus Marcellinus, that up to the fourth century the ancients did navigate these waterways using large vessels accustomed to moving heavy freight and to navigating through harsh winds and weather. Once into the port at Arles, passage at Lyon, from the Rhône to the Saône, was difficult but not impossible.13 Because of its central location amid waterways, people streamed into Lyon from all directions and the area drew many who were wealthy. Yet, where the wealthy live, there is also need for those who would care for the wealthy, providing all the finer necessities of life. One Greek inscription found in the ruins of the ancient church of the Maccabees underscores this influx of imported materials saying, “To the Celts and to the land of the west, all that God has laid out to bear from the land of the east.”14 And indeed it seems that Lyon did import much from the fertile east as well as from other parts of the west, both in terms of goods and people. Because of the large extent of trade, bankers, in particular, were in high demand. 12 Drinkwater, 124-125. Drinkwater suggests that at the time of Roman conquest the Celts had already created a significant network for land travel. The contribution of Rome, in his view, was largely the advancement and systematization of that navigational system. 13 Jean Rougé, “Aspects économique du Lyon antique” in Les Martyrs De Lyon (177), Lyon, 20-23 Septembre 1977. (Paris: Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique, 1978), especially 47-53. 14 Cited by Rougé, 59, footnote 4. “dw~~ra ta\ pa&nta fe&rwn ei0j Ke<ouj kai\ Du/sewj ghn[o3]ssa qeo\j prose/tace fe/rein xqo/na pa/nforon H)o~u=j . . .” For the complete text of the inscription, see J.F. Reynaud, A. Audin and J. Pouilloux, “A nouvelle inscription grecque a Lyon” Journal des savants (1975) : 58, l. 11-12.



Lyon’s population consisted of a rich mix of manufacturers and negotiators in wine, in fabrics and in ceramics and glassware. Fabric makers ranged from those who produced fine clothing for the wealthy to those who produced everyday supplies such as rugs and blankets. Similarly, makers in ceramics and glass produced both fine wares and simple pots for daily use. Vestiges of ancient boutiques, docks for ports, underground storage areas, and fine decorative mosaics all testify to the rich diversity of Lyon’s population in the second century.15

THE ETHNIC AND SOCIAL DIVERSITY OF THE LYON CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY The extent to which the Christian community in Lyon reflected the rich diversity of the general population is difficult to say with certainty. The matter is complicated by the fact that the portion of the letter transmitted by Eusebius in his Church History identifies only ten persons by name: Vettius Epagathus, Pothinus, Sanctus, Maturus, Attalus, Blandina, Biblias, Alexander, Ponticus and Alcibiades. This is problematic since as Garth Thomas notes Eusebius includes in his History that portion of the letter which he likely considers to tell the stories of the most remarkable martyrs. It is highly unlikely that since he claims to include the entire text of the letter in his Collection of Martyrdoms, he would, here, choose to feature the more banal or ordinary characters. Eusebius’ possible reasons for including these particular martyrs, especially Blandina, in his History will be discussed in greater detail in chapter five. However, at this point it is important to recognize, as Thomas does, that by definition, the most remarkable cannot also be the typical.16 It is likely that Eusebius chose these ten on the basis of their remarkable exhibition of faith and not because they necessarily comprised a good demographic sample of the area. As Thomas notes, one might assume that the origins of the Christians in the letter would follow the demographics for second century Lyon. To the contrary, the percentage of Greeks in the sampling may be as high as 45%, a figure much higher than that found in the general population.17 Thus, it cannot be assumed that the martyrs necessarily represent a true demographical picture of the whole of Lyon in Rougé, especially 61-63. Garth Thomas, “La condition sociale de l’Église de Lyon en 177” in Les Martyrs De Lyon (177), Lyon, 20-23 Septembre 1977. (Paris: Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique, 1978), 94. 17 Thomas, 97. 15 16



terms of nationality and/or social status. Nonetheless, they do provide us with enough background to see that the Christian community included people of differing ethnic and social backgrounds; a variety of people bound not by social and ethnic heritage but rather by a common faith. While it is noted that more than these ten actually died during the persecution, the letter gives neither an exact number nor any specific information as to the background of those who are unnamed. Although Eusebius may have included more extensive information in his Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms, that text, as has already been noted, is no longer extant. While his Chronicle also makes mention of the martyrs of Lyon, no detailed information is given there since he appears to be content with the knowledge that the event has been preserved in his other works.18 Later authors also sought to preserve the names of the martyrs of Lyon. Some of these listings include as many as forty-eight names presumably derived from Eusebius’ lost Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms. In 1921, Dom Quentin conducted the most extensive study of these various lists to date.19 Quentin’s work is extensive and useful, yet because the listings come from later centuries and because the names within the lists vary and sometimes appear to be duplicates of one another, there is no way to determine that even Quentin’s reconstituted list represents that which was contained in Eusebius’ Collection. Furthermore, even if we assume that Quentin’s list accurately represents the Collection’s listing, this does not necessarily prove that Eusebius’ Collection itself contained an accurate listing of the martyrs. Indeed, Glen Bowersock notes that many of the names found on the lists, and thus also on Quentin’s reconstituted list, appear in

18 For an overview of the works of Eusebius’ which focus specifically on persecution and martyrdom, see Grant, especially chapter ten, “The Fifth Theme: Persecution and Martyrdom.” 19 Dom H. Quentin, “La listè des martyrs de Lyon de l’an 177,” Analecta Bollandia 39 (1921): 113-138. According to Quentin’s findings, lists claiming to reveal the names of the Lyon martyrs are found in the Martyrology of Saints, in the Historical Martyrologies, in Gregory of Tours’ Glory of the Martyrs and in the Passions (those of Saints Blandina and Pothinus); Rufinus’ redaction of book five of Eusebius’ Church History; the Velser manuscript in Paris at the bibliothèque Nationale and the Brussels manuscript in Brussels at the bibliothèque Royale, 119120. Quentin reconstituted a list of names based on the texts that he believed to contain the most ancient forms – the Velser and Brussels manuscripts and the list given by Gregory of Tours.



Eusebius’ texts on the history of Montanism.20 He argues, therefore, that the lists do not represent the names of the Lyon martyrs at all but rather, are most probably only the work of a redactor who was inspired by Eusebius’ lectures on Montanism.21 Because of the uncertainty of these later lists, even after Quentin’s reconstitution, this brief analysis of the community will rely solely on the ten names given in the letter included by Eusebius in his Church History. Since, as already noted, most scholars believe the letter to be authentic and not simply a construction of Eusebius’ imagination, these ten names represent the most reliable source for information regarding the national and social make-up of this group, even though the sample is small and the information given is sometimes sketchy and ambiguous. The letter informs us, for instance, that Attalus was a native of Pergamum in Asia Minor.22 Nonetheless, he is given a brief reprieve from torture when the governor realizes that he is a Roman citizen.23 While it is probable that he emigrated from the east and purchased his Roman citizenship, we are left without any details, such as his length of residence in Lyon. Based on his name and on the fact that he speaks in Latin, the deacon, Sanctus, is also sometimes thought to have been a Roman citizen.24 Yet, as Thomas notes, the name (meaning “holy one”) may be only a Christian name given to him at baptism and not a birth name coinciding with his earthly background.25 This possibility is bolstered by the fact that with the exception of Blandina, he dies the most tortured death of any of the martyrs, certainly not the dignified decapitation reserved for those holding Roman citizenship. The origin of Vettius Epagathus is likewise ultimately unknown. While Vettius was a well-known and honored family name in Rome, this martyr also carries a Greek surname which is unusual unless he was previously a slave and only recently emancipated.26 The situation of Vettius Epagathus is further complicated by the fact that the letter reveals him as an important figure, one whose support of the Christians infuriated the 20 Glen Bowersock, “Les Églises de Lyon et de Vienne: relations avec l’Asie” in Les Martyrs De Lyon (177), Lyon, 20-23 Septembre 1977. (Paris: Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique, 1978), 254. 21 Bowersock, “Relations,” 254-255. 22 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 17. 23 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 44. 24 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 20. 25 Thomas, 102. 26 Thomas notes that Greek surnames were not generally carried on for more than two generations after emancipation, 103.



governor and the crowd precisely because he was a man of distinction. The Greek word used by the text to denote his distinction is e0pi/shmoj, which Thomas notes can be equated to other Latin epithets used in the equestrian order (such as insignis, nobilis, or illustris); on this basis he hypothesizes that Vettius Epagathus may have held a government title.27 The holding of a title, whether or not Vettius Epagathus actually functioned in any specific role under that title, might account for the seemingly exaggerated fury of the judiciary and the people against him.28 Maturus represents another martyr possibly of Roman descent. The letter itself mentions only that he was a “late convert” and a “noble competitor” giving no hint as to his background.29 His name is a Latin cognate. Yet, we cannot conclude on that basis that he was a Roman citizen since the name has been documented among both slaves and free people.30 The fact that he is not afforded the customary noble Roman death suggests slave status though such cannot be claimed with certainty. The martyr, Alcibiades, whose name is Greek, likewise was probably not a Roman citizen. He may have come from Greece or Asia Minor. Concerning him, the text says only that he led a most “austere life, partaking of nothing but bread and water.”31 Similarly, little is known about the woman, Biblias. Because she bears a name derived from the Greek word bi/bloj it is possible that she too was an immigrant from the east.32 In the cases of Pothinus and Alexander, the letter provides a bit more information regarding their backgrounds. We can conclude that these men came from the east without relying on their names alone. As Thomas, 104-105. Dom Quentin suggested the possibility that “Zacharias” represents another name for Vettius Epagathus, a suggestion that, if true, would provide evidence of a Jewish background which might also account for the exaggerated fury against him. On this point, however, I agree with Bowersock who maintains that the letter simply uses the biblical figure, Zacharias, to illustrate for the reader the great integrity of Vettius Epagathus who could be seen to have “the Advocate in himself, the Spirit more fully than Zacharias.” The statement is one of comparison to Zacharias rather than of identification by the name Zacharias. See Bowersock, “Relations,” 253-254 and Eusebius HE 5. 1. 10. See also Luke 1: 67-79 in which Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied that his child would be called the prophet of the Most High, the God of Israel. 29 Eusebius HE 5.1.17. 30 Thomas, 100. 31 Eusebius HE 5. 3. 2 (NPNF). 32 bi/bloj means a paper, scroll or letter. See Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, 7th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 150. 27 28



mentioned earlier, Pothinus was the elderly bishop of Lyon, sent from Smyrna (by Polycarp) to begin the mission in Lyon. As for Alexander, the letter informs us that he was a physician originally from Phrygia who had, by the time of this ordeal, resided in Gaul for many years.33 Like Pothinus and Alexander, it is likely that Blandina also came from the east. While such an assertion cannot be firmly supported on the basis of her name, there is internal textual evidence to support such a conclusion. First, it should be recognized, however, that the name, Blandina, may be of Celtic origin as suggested by Bowersock.34 Or, even more plausibly, it may be derived from the Latin word, blandus/a/um, meaning smooth-tongued, sweet, charming or winsome.35 Yet, even if this woman bears a Latin name, such does not rule out the possibility of a nonRoman origin. Because of her slave status, it is very possible that Blandina’s mistress gave her the name Blandina as a way to express the characteristics that she herself (the mistress) saw in her slave’s character. From the letter, it is possible to deduce that the mistress was indeed fond of this young female slave, since she is said to have worried specifically about Blandina, fearing that the weakness of the young woman’s body would prevent her from making a bold confession.36 If such fondness by her Roman mistress was actually the case, the name Blandina would not be surprising. Two other factors point to the possibility of a Greek background for Blandina. Throughout the course of her tortuous ordeal, this young woman utters only one sentence that is recorded by the author – “I am a Christian and there is nothing vile done by us.”37 Although this confession is recorded in Greek, such does not prove that Blandina actually spoke it in Greek. Still, since the author takes care to tell his readers that Sanctus speaks in a different language than that in which the letter is written, it seems likely that he would have done so in this case as well, if indeed Blandina had not been speaking in Greek. A second factor pointing to a Greek origin for Blandina relates to the one martyr not yet mentioned, the Eusebius HE 5. 1. 49. Bowersock, “Relations,” 254. Bowersock points out that the name “Fl. Blandinus” appears in England in a dedication to a celtic god, thereby bolstering the argument that Blandina may have been of Celtic background. 35 Sir William Smith and Sir John Lockwood, Chambers-Murray Latin-English Dictionary, original printing 1933, reprint 2001 (Cambridge: University Press, 2001), 84. See also William Whitaker, Latin Words, 36 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 18. 37 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19. 33 34



young boy, Ponticus. As with so many of the others, Ponticus’ origins cannot be known with certainty, though his name is usually thought to refer to Northern Asia Minor, the region named Pontos. Since the Greek word po/ntoj means the “sea,” the name, Ponticus, possibly suggests that this young man came from that area, located close to the sea.38 Nonetheless, all that is really known about him is that he was about fifteen years of age and that he died in the arena with Blandina after being encouraged by her to remain strong in his confession of faith.39 One particularly interesting point regarding Ponticus, however, is raised by the text – the author of the letter refers to Blandina as Ponticus’ sister. Certainly, it is possible to read this portion of the text as referring to the spiritual relationship between the two. In the Christian sense of family, Blandina could be considered the spiritual sister of any of the others, including Ponticus. Yet, as Thomas astutely points out, she is also referred to in another portion of the text as a “noble mother;” one who gathers and encourages all of her children before sending them onward to the King.40 This raises the question as to why the text does not also use the “mother” designation when referring to her relationship with Ponticus. Thomas suggests that perhaps the designation, in reference to Ponticus, specifies sister because Blandina actually is Ponticus’ biological sister. If Blandina was, as is commonly assumed in church tradition, a young woman of about twenty years of age, it would not be unreasonable to imagine that she might have a brother of fifteen to whom she would feel especially drawn to give encouragement. Furthering this possibility is the author’s use of the term paida/rion when referring to Ponticus. In Greek, this word is used to designate a young child or a young slave.41 Since Ponticus is fifteen, he hardly seems young enough to fall under the designation of paida/rion merely because of his age. It seems very likely that paida/rion is, instead, used here to designate his social status as slave. Since we know from the text that Blandina is a slave, it makes sense that Ponticus might also be a slave if one accepts that the two are biologically related, as might be implicitly understood due to the text’s assertion of her as his sister. One other important point must be raised in order to understand Blandina’s place within this Christian community. I have already noted that she is referred to both as “mother” and as “sister.” Since there is some Liddell and Scott, 661. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 53-54. 40 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 55. 41 Liddell and Scott, 584. 38 39



evidence to support a biological (rather than only a spiritual reading) for the term “sister,” it might also be suggested that the term “mother” could hold possibilities apart from the spiritual. However, this seems unlikely. The Church’s traditional understanding of Blandina as a virgin is somewhat supported by the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that she has biological children (Ponticus is the youngest person named and at fifteen, he is clearly too old to be this young woman’s child). Still, there is the possibility that Blandina has been given the formal title of “mother” because of the high esteem in which she is held by the community. Thomas notes that in certain parts of the Empire the title, “mere dù collège,” was sometimes given to specific women whom the community wished to honor.42 Such a title was generally reserved for women of high birth; to bestow it on a slave would have been highly unusual. Yet, he raises it as a modest possibility because of the height to which the community appears to have elevated Blandina in this text. While I agree with the possibility that such an honorary title could have been given her, it seems to me more likely that the honor was given only informally. The text honors Blandina by referring to her as “mother;” yet, there is nothing to suggest that she has been relieved of her status as slave or that she has, in any way, supplanted the authority of her mistress within the community. A formal title would seem to alter such relationships as that of slave to master; yet, such alteration is not seen to occur in this account. The text appears to use the designation of “mother,” not in the formal sense of an actual title (or as a physical reality) but rather, only to honor Blandina in a spiritual sense. Thus, whereas the term “sister” might be intended to be read either in the biological or the spiritual sense, it seems to me that the term “mother” connotes neither a biological nor a social relationship but instead refers strictly to Blandina’s spiritual relationship with the others. “Mother,” is a designation that is important, for the fact that, even as a slave, Blandina attains such a strong spiritual relationship with the others, attests to the faith that binds this group together. They are bound not by ethnicity or by social status but rather only by faith in the one they call Christ. Ultimately, as has been shown, it is impossible to determine with absolute certainty the ethnic backgrounds and social status of each of the members mentioned. The group represents a mix of people from Roman, Greek and perhaps Celtic backgrounds. These martyrs span the social spectrum from respected Roman citizen to immigrant slave. Included among them are those of high 42

Thomas, 100.



social status such as Vettius Epagathus, Alexander and Blandina’s mistress. At the same time, the group includes, and even sometimes elevates, those of low status such as Ponticus and, of course, Blandina. Of the background of Blandina herself, only one point can be made with absolute certainty – she was a slave! That she acted as a spiritual “mother” of all can be fairly safely accepted. That she was the biological sister of Ponticus might be cautiously assumed. The rest, including her ethnic origin, is left either to educated assessment, or even outright speculation, since, sadly, the extant text is silent on those matters.





Several attributes mark the religious practice of the Christian community at Lyon. These attributes have resulted in much study and speculation regarding the roots of the community’s beliefs. A major difficulty in presenting these beliefs is the desire to ascribe various labels to the group; labels which in some instances were created to designate categories of belief that were solidified later than 177. I will attempt to avoid that tendency by focusing on four specific attributes that can be seen in the text itself: dualism, apocalypticism, asceticism and a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit. After first examining these attributes, I will then suggest how this group’s belief system may or may not be aligned with other categorized systems. First, this text from Lyon exhibits a strong dualistic understanding regarding the nature of persons in the world. People are understood as falling into two camps; either that of Christ or that of Satan. The persecutors are understood as servants of the “Evil One” or the “adversary” while the Christians themselves are designated servants of God.43 As mentioned earlier, the letter tells us that in the early days of the persecution, the “adversary” fell with such force upon the Christians that his servants did not allow them to enter any public space.44 And, a later portion of the text reveals that pagan servants of the Christians, fearing for their own safety, began bringing false accusations against their masters, thus proving that they also had been “ensnared by Satan” himself.45 A pervasive sense of evil runs through the entire text; evil pitted against good, the Eusebius HE 5. 1. 6 and 5 respectively. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 5. 45 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 14. 43 44



wicked servants of Satan pitted against those “firm pillars,” the noble and faithful followers of Christ who only through the strength of their endurance are able to withstand all that the adversary can bring against them.46 The dual camps of good and evil outlined in this text resemble the duality of light/dark, truth/deceit that is prevalent in the Johannine literature. Indeed, the Christians at Lyon appear to comprehend completely that some people love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil, but that others, they themselves, “do what is true [and] come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”47 As firm and noble pillars, they know themselves as the believers who are not condemned while they know their oppressors to be “condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”48 That these Christians do not view themselves as among the “condemned” even in the midst of their terror, is attested to by the second prevalent attribute of this text – its apocalyptic nature. As the “adversary” falls upon them, he is seen as giving them a mere foretaste of his future coming.49 Yet, even with all his efforts, the faithful know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed in us.”50 Clearly, they recognize and believe that as the faithful ones, they will, nevertheless, have to suffer greatly before that glory can be revealed, for as the writer of the text relates, But while these things were being reported [cannibalism and incest] all [the non-Christians] were enraged toward us so that even if some were formerly moderate because of friendship, they, at that time, became exceedingly violent and gnashed their teeth against us. And that which was said by our Lord was fulfilled; that the time will come in which all the ones who condemn you will think they bring forth service to God (Eusebius HE 5. 1. 6).51

Certainly, this community sees itself in the midst of this fulfillment of God’s glory. It can be no accident on the part of the author that while a Eusebius HE 5. 1. 6. Jn 3: 19 and 21 NRSV. 48 Jn 3: 18 NRSV. 49 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 5. 50 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 6. See also Rom 8: 18. 51 Eusebius HE 5.1. 15 (the text takes the italicized portion from Jn 16: 2). 46 47



variety of New Testament passages are quoted, including the gospel of Luke and a few Pauline verses,52 it is the passages and themes of John’s gospel and the Book of Revelation that are most prominent. The battle is understood as already upon these Christians and the end is near, for even though each of the martyrs follows the example of Vettius Epagathus in following the Lamb wherever he goes, the wrath of the oppressor is like that of a wild beast in order that “the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Let the lawless still be lawless, and the righteous still be righteous.’”53 Righteousness contributes to a third attribute seen in this text, that of asceticism. This particular attribute does not become evident in the bulk of the letter which Eusebius includes in chapter one of his Church History. Two more sections of the letter, however, appear in chapters two and three and it is in chapter three where the reader learns of the martyr, Alcibiades, who ate very sparingly, taking in only bread and water.54 Alcibiades’ behavior cannot be considered strange. As scholars have long noted, the practice of asceticism is utterly interwoven in early martyr texts. The basic issue underlying both martyrdom and asceticism was that of freedom. In the former, the believer sought liberation from this world through death and the promise of a better life in eternity. In the latter, freedom was also sought but, here, leave-taking took place while still in the world through the process of removing oneself from the things of the world. It is, therefore, not strange that a person preparing for martyrdom would do so by first

52 The gospel of Luke 1: 6 is quoted in the comparison of Vettias Epagathus to Zacharias: “he walked blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord” – Eusebius HE 5. 1. 9. Pauline passages are utilized when they serve the overall apocalyptic theme of the text. For instance, Romans 8: 18: “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed to us” is quoted in the re-telling of the initial round-up of Christians – Eusebius HE 5. 1. 6. 1 Cor 1: 27-29 NRSV: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” seems to be alluded to in the passage conveying Blandina as among those who though “mean and obscure and despicable to humans are deemed by God worthy of great glory” – Eusebius HE 5. 1. 17. In addition, 2 Cor 2: 15 NRSV, which speaks of the “aroma of Christ to God,” seems to be alluded to in Eusebius HE 5. 1. 35 which tells of the martyrs who gave off the “sweet scent of Christ.” 53 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 10 and 58 respectively (the italicized portions take their sense from Rev 14: 4 and 22: 11 respectively). 54 Eusebius HE 5. 3. 2.



voluntarily giving up the necessities and niceties of the world while still in the world.55 This process of leaving the world while still in it had been undertaken earlier by Alcibiades who attempted to continue this extreme lifestyle while in prison. Under such harsh circumstances, however, he apparently found this extra hardship too difficult, and his own inability to maintain his standards caused not only disappointment for himself but also placed a “stumbling block before others” who, after watching him, apparently began to expect the same from themselves.56 It is difficult to imagine that prison fare would have been lavish anyway; yet, we do learn earlier in the text that those, particularly the young whose bodies were not accustomed to at least some measure of hardship, died in confinement more readily than the others.57 It makes sense, then, that Alcibiades’ severely restrictive lifestyle, if taken up by those already unprepared for hardship, would have caused them even greater difficulty. It makes further sense that Attalus should, as we are told he did, step into the picture and entreat Alcibiades to eat whatever food was offered and that Alcibiades then obeyed and began to eat without restraining himself.58 This brief portion of the text provides insight into Lyon communal beliefs as they relate to asceticism. First, it shows that at least some within the community practice deliberate restraint in certain areas of their lives in an attempt to strengthen their relationships with God. Second, it shows that although this ascetic attitude is present and apparently respected under normal conditions, the community sees fit to curb such practices under circumstances where the behavior appears to facilitate a weakening rather than a strengthening of spirit. Third, it reveals that an individual is expected 55 Elizabeth Clark underscores the intertwining of ascetic practice and martyrdom by noting that while the former had taken place in Christianity from its earliest development, it increased dramatically after Constantine’s conversion in 312. Two explanations are given: 1) once people no longer had to die in order to express extraordinary devotion to the faith, they began to do so in greater numbers through asceticism and 2) once Christianity became a legal religion, people “of less than heroic fiber” flocked to it, thus, leaving the truly devoted with a need to distinguish themselves through some other manner. Many did so by practicing asceticism. See Elizabeth Clark and Herbert Richardson, eds., Women and Religion: The Original Sourcebook of Women in Christian Thought, revised ed. (San Francisco: Harper Collins), 1996, 38-39. 56 Eusebius HE 5. 3. 2. 57 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 28. 58 Eusebius HE 5. 3. 3.



to consider how his or her actions affect the spirit of the entire community. In this particular case, it is not just the strength of Alcibiades that is weakened by his refusal of food but that of the other members as well. Communal need forces an adjustment in behavior, even in behavior deemed valuable under prior circumstances. Finally, the fourth and perhaps most important attribute, since it infuses the whole of this text is that of spiritual zeal and the presence of the Holy Spirit, the para/klhtoj. That the text uses this term, para/klhtoj, is significant since it is a word used only five times in the New Testament; four of those times in the gospel of John and once in the First Epistle of John. The term literally means to be “called to one’s aid.” In the New Testament, however, it takes on a more specific and active meaning such as Advocate, Intercessor, Comforter, or Helper.59 In the First Epistle of John, Jesus himself is designated as this Paraclete, the Advocate – “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”60 Each time the word is used in the gospel of John, however, it comes from the lips of Jesus himself, who promises that, after his death, the Advocate will be sent to the disciples in his stead. In John 14: 26, Jesus identifies this Advocate as the Holy Spirit – “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” This Holy Spirit, Advocate, is earlier identified in John 14: 17 as “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. [But] You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” In his excellent study on the Johannine community, Raymond Brown asserts that for the writer of John’s gospel, the concept that is most essential is “the living presence of Jesus in the Christian through the Paraclete.”61 And, it is this very concept, that Jesus abides in individual Christians through the Spirit, that is so prominent in the letter sent from Lyon. Early in the text, at the time when the group is first arrested and brought before the governor, the Spirit is introduced in the person of Vettius Epagathus who attempts to speak on behalf of the rest. Vettius, as already mentioned, 59 See Liddell and Scott, 597. For a thorough citation on New Testament usage see also Walter Bauer, William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature, 4th ed. (Cambridge: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 623-624. 60 1 Jn 2: 1 NRSV. 61 Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times (New York: Paulist Press, 1979) 88 (emphasis mine).



was a “distinguished person;” a man who possessed “great zeal for God” and “was boiling over in spirit.”62 Testifying on behalf of his Christian brothers and sisters, Vettius gives an impassioned defense. Yet, the crowd shouts against him and the governor denies his request to release the prisoners, asking instead whether Vettius himself is a Christian. To this accusation, Vettius boldly answers in the affirmative and is rewarded by the governor with a place among the prisoners. Following his arrest, Vettius is called the “Advocate of the Christians” since he had “the Advocate (Paraclete) in himself, the Spirit more fully than Zacharias.”63 While the activity of the Spirit is documented throughout this letter from Lyon, it is significant that the term Paraclete is used early in the text and in reference to Vettius Epagathus. Brown asserts that for the writer of the gospel of John the term is multi-faceted, yet, one important and specific aspect is as a type of defense witness, a spokesperson for Jesus within the context of a trial.64 Here, Vettius represents just such a defender and spokesman. The Lyon author’s use of the term, Paraclete, within this courtroom context, invokes in the reader a sense of Jesus’ own trial and subsequent death. It thus sets the scene for the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (in opposition to the Spirit of falsehood) whom Lyon, like Johannine believers before them, understood as Jesus.65 The gospel writer combines the particular function of the Paraclete as defender with other New Testament aspects of the Holy Spirit such as helper and comforter. The Paraclete/Spirit operates as the Spirit of Jesus who comes to believers and remains with them, not only after the death of Jesus himself but even after the deaths of the apostolic eyewitnesses. The Paraclete, then, that repeatedly descends at Lyon is the Spirit of Jesus. The use of the term within this courtroom scene makes that point crystal clear. This is the Spirit of whom Vettius Epagathus testifies, the Spirit of the once dead, but now risen, Christ. Subsequently, throughout the rest of the text, this living presence of Jesus continues to descend on individual believers, empowering them through the Spirit, manifesting his glory in them even in the midst of their Eusebius HE 5. 1. 10 and 9 respectively. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 10. 64 Raymond E. Brown, “The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel,” New Testament Studies 13, no. 2 (January 1967) : 118. 65 This Spirit of Truth was also a prominent concept in Qumran literature. Yet, the concept was adapted by the gospel writer who used the term to refer specifically to Jesus. See R. Brown, “The Paraclete,” especially pages 120-125. 62 63



suffering. Sanctus is said to have endured torture “beyond all measure and beyond any human.”66 Likewise, Alexander proceeded to his death with dignity; he uttered no sound but only “conversed with God in his heart.”67 Yet, the descent of the Spirit is not limited only to those who appear to occupy leadership roles. At one point the text relates that a “great dispensation of God occurred, and the immeasurable compassion of Jesus appeared plainly, in a manner that rarely occurred among the brotherhood but is not beyond the power of Christ.”68 Several newly arrested had been imprisoned along with others who had previously recanted and it was feared that the spirits of these new prisoners might also become downcast and that they, therefore, would lose all hope and recant like the others. Instead, however, “the Spirit of the Father” began to work through their bodily senses empowering them with strength and grace so that throughout their ordeal, their bodies “exuded the sweet scent of Christ.” Because of this intervention by the Spirit they were enabled to make their confessions without hesitation, nobly enduring all kinds of torture to the end.69 Over and over again, this short letter relates the tales of the Spirit. Yet, it is to the weak and small Blandina, that the Spirit gives the power to endure to the point that even her persecutors are astonished. Filled with the power of the Spirit, Blandina, the weak, becomes Blandina, the “noble athlete;” the one “through whom Christ showed that things which appear cheap and without form and despicable to humans are deemed worthy of great glory by God.”70 Thus, as the glory of the Lord is gradually revealed in this text, so too are these central tenets of communal belief: an apocalyptic dualism, a somewhat restrained practice of asceticism and a strong participation in the workings of the Holy Spirit. Yet, as mentioned earlier, a major problem in situating and understanding these religious beliefs within their historical context is that the formation of the categories available to modern scholarship sometimes post-dates the Lyon community itself. The categories most relevant to a discussion in relation to this group are JewishChristianity, orthodoxy, and Montanism.71 While the first of these certainly Eusebius HE 5. 1. 20. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 20 and 51 respectively. 68 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 32. 69 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 34-36. 70 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19 and 17 respectively. 71 One might also consider the influence of pagan religions. I choose not to do so here as I see nothing in the text to suggest a direct relationship to pagan cult. This is not to say that the group could not have absorbed pagan ideas indirectly 66 67



does pre-date the Lyon community, the second definitely does not and the third is questionable. Reflecting from those categories, two main questions have been asked in regard to the beliefs of the Christians at Lyon: 1) To what degree is the group associated with a Jewish community in Lyon and/or influenced by a Jewish background? And 2) Was this an orthodox or a Montanist community? Here, I will first address the question of Jewish character or influence and then consider the problems and issues raised by the second question. The Possibility of Jewish Background and Influence at Lyon As can be seen by the names already discussed there is no evidence to suggest that the Lyon community is made up of Jewish Christians. However, the extent of Jewish influence on this community has been debated. In assessing the dualistic and apocalyptic nature of the beliefs of this group, it is possible to draw some connections to the strain of Judaism that existed at Qumran. As they awaited the End-time, the inhabitants of Qumran, like the Lyon martyrs, appear to have understood human beings and the powers of the cosmos through a dualistic frame. This is particularly obvious in the scroll of the Rule: “And in the hand of the Prince of Lights is dominion over all the sons of justice; they walk on paths of light. And in the hand of the Angel of darkness is total dominion over the sons of deceit; they walk on paths of darkness.”72 Still, any link between the beliefs of the Lyon community and those who dwelt at Qumran is probably best understood as indirect. The common cultural and literary milieu of the writers of the Qumran and Johannine texts may account for some similarities between the beliefs of the Lyon community and the Qumran inhabitants. Yet, the more direct link is clearly with the Johannine texts, which, like the letter from Lyon, place heavy emphasis on Jesus as the one

through culture, especially since I believe the group to be made up mainly of Gentiles and since archaeological evidence (including a temple of Cybele) reveals that a variety of pagan deities were worshipped in Lyon at the time. Nonetheless, I believe this group set itself apart from pagan religion and that the text itself reflects Jewish and Christian influence. 72 See “1QS III” (“The Scroll of the Rule”), 20-21b in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, vol. 1, ed. Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1997), 75.



who is the light of the world and who is also the one whose own spirit dwells within the people of light and truth.73 A strong Jewish influence on the Lyon Christian community has also been posited on the basis of portions of the text which bear similarity to portions of the Maccabean works. W.H.C. Frend argues strongly that there is much in this martyrology that is “derived from late-Jewish rather than Christian literature,” that is, that it stems from an earlier genre of Jewish martyr stories.74 Frend observes parallels between Bishop Pothinus and Eleazar of the Maccabees, between Vettius Epagathus and Razis of the Maccabees, and between Blandina and the Maccabean mother of seven

73 For a careful comparison of the theologies of the Qumran and Johannine communities, see Raymond E. Brown, “The Qumran Scrolls and the Johannine Gospel and Epistles,” Part 1, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 17, no. 3 (July 1955): 403-419 and Part 2, 17, no. 4 (October 1955), 559-574. Brown concludes that overall “there remains a tremendous chasm between Qumran thought and Christianity. No matter how impressive the terminological and ideological similarities are, the difference that Jesus Christ makes between the two cannot be minimized,” 571. On commonality and difference between the two communities, see also Frank Moore Cross, Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Garden City, New York: Doubleday), 1961, especially chapter 5. Cross makes a strong case for the possibility that the theological roots of the gospel of John are in Essene Judaism rather than in Hellenism. He bases his assertion of a common root on the apocalyptic framework that is an important characteristic of each. Yet, he too, cautions that there are strong differences as well, i.e. Jesus regularly welcomed the poor into his midst and often ate with sinners, while the Essenes “excluded from the eschatological banquet all the unclean, those distorted in body and spirit” (241). On a possible relationship between John the Baptist and the Essenes, see Otto Betz, “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Hershel Shanks (New York: Random House, Vintage), 1993, 205-214. Betz concludes that John the Baptist was probably raised at Qumran but left the monastery in order to preach his message to the masses. On the possible relationship of both John the Baptist and Jesus to the Essenes, see James H. Charlesworth, “John the Baptizer, Jesus and the Essenes” in Caves of Enlightenment: Proceedings of the American Schools of Oriental Research, ed. James H. Charlesworth (North Richland Hills, Texas: Bibal Press), 1998, 75-103. Charlesworth concludes that while it would be inappropriate to label either John the Baptist or Jesus as Essene, it is highly likely that each was familiar with the Essene community(ies) and that each had been influenced to a certain degree by its teachings. He notes, in particular, Jesus’ use of the term “Sons of Light” as recorded in Jn 12: 36 and Lk 16: 8. 74 Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution, 19.



sons.75 He believes the strongest of these parallels is between Blandina and the Maccabean mother and can be seen at the point of Blandina’s third and final appearance in the arena. During this round of torture, Blandina encourages the young Ponticus to remain strong and then succumbs to death only after she has first seen him safely on his way to eternity. Frend understands Blandina as a picture of the mother of seven sons because, like that mother, the text declares that she is “noble,” that she “encouraged her children” and that having sent them on before her, she then “hastened toward them.”76 These are strong similarities and yet, they may not be enough to allow for the claim that they stem from an earlier Jewish martyr tradition. G. W. Bowersock argues against the notion that the Maccabean mother should be understood as the prototype of Blandina. He believes the tale of the Maccabean mother of seven sons, and probably that of Eleazar as well, to be a later insertion into the text of the Maccabees.77 He makes this assessment based on the fact that while the main portion of the text makes heavy reference to the temple at Jerusalem, neither of these particular portions, which contain the tales of resistance, make any reference to it at all.78 Bowersock proposes that this is because at the time these tales were written the temple no longer stood. The significance of this point might legitimately be argued. Jewish texts that clearly post-date the temple’s destruction often make reference to the temple as if it was never destroyed. Therefore, one might argue that even those portions of the text not 75 For the story of Eleazar, see 2 Macc 6:18-31 and 4 Macc 5:1 – 7:23; for the death of Razis, see 2 Macc 14:37-46; for the martyrdom of the mother and her seven sons, see 2 Macc 7:1-42 and 4 Macc 8:1-18:24. The comparison between Vettius Epagathus and Razis seems minimal to me. Both express indignation at the plight of their fellow believers and both seek unsuccessfully to intercede with the authorities on their behalf. Yet, at the point of arrest, Razis falls upon his sword and when the blood is nearly drained from him, tears out his own entrails and hurls them at the crowd, “calling upon the Lord of life to give them back to him again” – 4 Macc 14:46. All that we are told about Vettius Epagathus, on the other hand, is that he “was taken into the order of witnesses” and that he was “well pleased even to lay down his own life in defense of the brethren” – Eusebius HE 5.1.10. While Frend suggests that “Vettius Epagathus may be modeled on Razis” (19) the text seems to me to bear much closer affinity to Jn 15:13 – “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I am, therefore, more inclined to think that the author of the text intended to model Vettius Epagathus after Jesus. 76 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 55. 77 Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 10. 78 Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 10.



considered insertions are unreliable date markers based on references made to the temple.79 Such references to the temple might be considered no more reliable than the lack of reference noted in the possibly inserted portions. Even so, as Bowersock notes, it is then strange that the temple is mentioned in almost every chapter except those containing the tales of resistance.80 Furthermore, the possibility that the whole of these Maccabean texts, and not merely the insertions, date to a later period would not impair an assertion that the martyr tales are contemporaneous with Christian martyrologies. In Bowersock’s view, the “stunning resemblance” between the Maccabean tales and Christian martyr texts provides strong evidence not for an earlier Jewish tradition that resurfaced later in Christianity but, rather, for a contemporary dating of the Maccabean and early Christian martyr texts. While he concedes that strong similarity between the two provided justification for Christian use and appreciation of these texts, he asserts that such later appreciation is “no reason to think that the two accounts [Eleazar and the Maccabean mother] reflect the historical time of the Maccabees, [rather] what time they do reflect is anyone’s guess . . . they could even be associated with the Roman empire after AD 70.”81 In his view, then, there is no doubt that 4 Maccabees, which amplifies the martyr tales told in 2 Maccabees, was written under the Roman empire. While 2 Maccabees was probably written before 70, there is a possibility that it could have been even later.82 Frend and Bowersock thus disagree as to whether the Maccabean texts pre-date or parallel the development of Christian martyrology as a genre. Bowersock believes it more likely that the Maccabean and the Christian martyr stories parallel one another. He suggests that they were written within a common cultural milieu and that this alone constitutes the reason for their shared concepts and characteristics. He does not believe For several such late references to the temple in Jewish texts and legal documents, see Miriam Peskowitz, Spinning Fantasies: Rabbis, Gender and History (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1997. 80 Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 10. 81 Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 11. 82 Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 10. Bowersock asserts, then, that if one accepts that these two tales are insertions into the Maccabean text, there is no reason to believe that they were written before the middle of the first century and that it is possible they were written up to a century later than that – “the first allusion to the extant books of the Maccabees does not appear until the writings of Clement of Alexandria in the late second century,” 10-12. 79



that the one stems from the other. If this is the case, the Maccabean mother cannot be said to provide the prototype for Blandina. Yet, if Frend is correct and the stories of the Maccabees do ante-date the Christian concept of martyrdom, it makes sense to consider that the Christian stories may well be rooted in these earlier Jewish tales. Furthermore, it would, then, also follow that the Maccabean mother could have provided the model for Blandina. Clearly, the question raised by the uncertain dating of the Maccabean texts is important. As Frend puts it, “If iv Maccabees proved to be a work of an Alexandrian Jew of the second century A.D., rather than of an Antiochene Jew contemporary with Jesus its value as one of the sources of inspiration of Christian Acta Martyrum would have to be re-assessed . . .”83 In Frend’s view such re-assessment is unnecessary. He holds strongly to an early date for the Maccabees and thus to the notion that Jewish martyrology, and Jewish martyrs themselves, become the model for later Christian martyrs and texts. He reasons that if 4 Maccabees, which is clearly an amplification of 2 Maccabees, is contemporaneous with Jesus’ life, then 2 Maccabees clearly pre-dates Christianity. 84 Perhaps the largest bit of evidence supporting the opposite position (that held by Bowersock) is that the Lyon text itself makes no mention of the Maccabean martyrs. It seems strange that if indeed Blandina was to be portrayed as the Maccabean mother of seven sons, there is no direct reference to that woman or to her sons in the text. While the language used is sometimes similar (even as the language used in Qumran texts bears some similarity to the Lyon text), these similarities alone, such as references to the martyrs as “noble” and as “athletes,” lack the strength to support a claim of direct Jewish descent for this text.85 They might, rather, be attributed to common cultural milieu. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution, xi. The basis for this early date for 4 Maccabees is that the text (4: 9) assigns the title “governor of Syria, Phoenicia and Cilicia” to Apollonius and that such would only make sense to readers of the text when Syria and Cilicia were associated for administrative purposes, that is, between 20-54 CE. See Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution, 72, footnote, 70. [Note: the reference given is to 4 Macc 4: 9, however, the reference in which Apollonius is actually called governor of Syria, Phoenicia and Cilicia is 4: 2 in the NRSV.] 85 4 Macc 6:10 calls Eleazar a “noble athlete” and the Maccabean sons in general are referred to as “noble” in 4 Macc 16: 16. Eusebius refers to martyrs in general as “athletes of religion” (5. Introd. 4) and the letter calls Blandina both a “noble athlete” (5. 1. 19) and a “noble mother” (5. 1. 55). 83 84



Still, there is one portion of the text that might support the notion of direct Jewish influence. This portion involves the woman, Biblias, who becoming frightened by accusations thrown at the Christians, denies Christ. Shortly thereafter, however, under torture, she recovers her resolve and exclaims “How could such as these devour children when they do not [even] take part in eating the blood of irrational creatures?”86 It seems reasonable to assume from this statement that the Lyon community followed the ban on the consumption of blood that is set down by the apostles in Acts 15. Frend, thus, suggests that in Lyon “The prohibition against eating ordinary meat had nothing to do with the ban on meats offered to idols, but is connected to the taboo against defilement by contact with the blood remaining in the animal after slaughter.”87 This leads him to suggest a social connection between Jews and Christians in Lyon since it forces one to ask where, or from whom, the Christians obtained their meat. Having asked the question, he concludes that “The only possible answer is, from a kosher market established for the Jews, and [that] this in turn indicates fairly close personal relations between the Jews and Christians in the city.”88 Whether or not this is indeed the only possible answer, however, has also been questioned. In his article, “Judaïsme et christianisme en Gaule” M. Simon contends that the 1908 hypothesis of Salomon Reinach, a theory on which Frend’s own conclusion appears to rest, is seductive, even perhaps probable, and yet, it is largely an argument from silence and therefore needs to be nuanced.89 Reinach’s supposition, followed by Frend, is that a Christian community of modest means, such as that in Lyon, would not have been able to maintain a slaughterhouse and butcher shop and that, therefore, the Christians must have had strong relations with an established Jewish community from whom they purchased meat. The theory rests on the assumption that the presence of a Christian community implies the existence of a Jewish community large enough to operate a synagogue and to act as spiritual mother, as well as butcher, for a fledgling Christian community. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 26. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution, 18. 88 Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution, 18. 89 M. Simon, “Judaïsme et christianisme en Gaule” in Les Martyrs De Lyon (177), Lyon, 20-23 Septembre 1977. (Paris: Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique, 1978), 257-266, especially 262-265. See also Salomon Reinach, “La communauté juive de Lyon au II siècle de notre ère,” Cultes, Mythes et Religions, vol. 3, Paris, 1908, 449-460. 86 87



While Simon supports the likelihood that a Jewish community was established in Gaul by the second century, he points out that the most ancient textual evidence of an actual Jewish community in Gaul consists of an early fourth century law of Constantine.90 Nonetheless, it is known from Josephus that individual Jews were in Gaul prior to the third century: Archelaus was banished to Vienne by Augustus and Herod Antipas to Lyon by Gaius Caligula.91 Furthermore, archaeological evidence of Jews in Gaul, consisting of lamps, rings, and personal seals decorated with the design of the Jewish candelabra, and appearing to be made of local materials, date possibly as early as the end of the first century.92 In addition, clay figures depicting circumcised males appear to be caricatures of Jews and are made from a type of clay natural to Gaul.93 Still, archaeological evidence attesting to the presence of Jews in second century Gaul does not, as Simon points out, necessarily mean that close relations existed between Jews and Christians. While substantiation for such relations might be construed from the writings of Irenaeus who makes reference to “the synagogue of God,” such evidence is weak. As Simon and Frend both note, Irenaeus uses the word “synagogue” to refer, not to Jews, but to the Christian Church.94 In his tract, “Against Heresies,” Irenaeus writes And again: “God stood in the congregation of the gods, He judges among the gods.” He [here] refers to the Father and the Son, and those who have received the adoption; but these are the Church. For she is the synagogue of God, which God – that is, the Son Himself – has

Simon, 258. For reference to the exile of Archelaus see Josephus Jewish Antiquities 17. 13. 2-3 in Loeb Classical Library 410, ed. G.P. Goold, Ralph Marcus, trans. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963, reprint 1990), 531. For the banishment of Herod, see 18. 7. 2 in Loeb Classical Library 433, ed. Goold, Louis H. Feldman, trans. (1965, reprint 1996), 151. 92 Simon, 260. 93 Simon, 259. 94 Simon, 262, footnote 1: “Ils [Irenaeus words] ne traduisent, â mon sens qu’une certaine identité d’atmosphère, qu’on retrouverait aussi dans d’autres secteurs de l’Église ancienne: ainsi pour le millénarisme.” See also Frend, 18: “It seems that even in 185 the Old Israel was still leaving its mark on Christian habits of thought and expression in Lyons. One finds traces of this in the writings of Irenaeus not long afterward. For instance, he still speaks sometimes of the Church as the ‘synagogue,’ only the true one . . .” 90 91



gathered by Himself (Irenaeus Against Heresies 3. 6. 1. in ed. Roberts and Donaldson, 419).

When Irenaeus speaks of the “synagogue,” then, he refers not to the synagogue of the Jews but to the Church, the “synagogue” of Christians, for whom “the Son Himself” is God. As for evidence within the text itself of a relationship between a Jewish community and this Christian group, there is none, except this one statement by Biblias regarding abstention from blood. Whereas one might expect that the Jews played some kind of role in the persecution of the Christians, either as accusers or supporters, there is no solid evidence that the two groups interacted to any degree at all. Simon concludes that while it is likely that there was a functioning Jewish community in Lyon by the end of the second century, it is less plausible that strong relations existed between the two groups. He contends that while they may have frequented the same butcher shop, this does not constitute strong interaction, particularly considering that the separation between Jews and Christians seems to be nearly complete by this time and since the letter itself indicates that the background of members of the community is Gentile, not Jewish.95 Simon’s reasoning is sound. It seems likely that these Lyon Christians did indeed follow the apostolic decree of Acts 15 which stems from the Noahide law. That much can be deduced from Biblias’ statement. Yet, without stronger evidence from the letter itself, there is no reason to read more into that sentence than that which is clearly stated; an incredulous – How could we eat children, we who don’t even eat the blood of animals? Overall, neither the internal nor the external evidence strongly supports the notion of direct and close relations between a Jewish community and the Christians at Lyon. There is, however, indirect influence coming through identification with the True Israel that both Gentile and Jewish-Christians, from the time of Paul, claimed as their own heritage. As has been shown, Frend posits that the Christian practice of martyrdom stemmed from Judaism, and thus that the Maccabean mother is the logical prototype of Blandina. Indeed, he asserts that “We know now that the New Israel owed so much in regard to the form of its ideas and institution to the Old Israel that a development from Jewish origins should not be surprising.”96 Bowersock, on the other hand, contends that the origin of martyrdom cannot be based on literary similarities and that “martyrdom 95 96

Simon, 265. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution, 21.



had nothing to do with Judaism or Palestine. [Rather] It had everything to do with the Graeco-Roman world, its traditions, its language, and its cultural tastes.”97 In his view, therefore, Blandina and the Maccabean mother are contemporaries. The former does not stem from, nor receive her model for martyrdom, from the latter. Rejecting both of these views, Daniel Boyarin, provides a third view regarding the rise of martyr discourse. He asserts that the position of Frend “is one of thoroughgoing supersessionist theology, and it affects his historiography.”98 Moreover, he contends that while the concept of martyrdom could not have arisen out of nothing, the construction of the discourse was much more complex than Frend’s methodology would lead one to believe. Martyrdom, as he sees it, arose out of the entire cultural world of antiquity and since Rabbinic Jews and Christians both participated in that world, both must have contributed to the construction of the martyrs and their texts.99 Thus, he faults Frend mainly for a failure to recognize the complexity of these various contributions and for that which he terms an “anachronistic assumption” that later texts portray events as they actually occurred or at least as they were conceived of in the earlier period.100 He suggests that such a “supersessionist theology” becomes, at times, “actively dangerous” since it allows Frend to label the Jews as key troublemakers in various places and times by ignoring historical specificity.101 Frend, he asserts, “does not take into account the possible ideological role that such descriptions of Jewish hostility to the martyrs play in establishing Christianity via its martyrs over against Judaism.”102 Though not going into detail, Boyarin also argues against the position of Bowersock, whom he maintains, disallows “virtually any contribution to the formation of the later discourse called martyrdom by this earlier ‘native’ Jewish response to religious persecution.”103 Bowersock, he suggests, focuses on the Greco-Roman world without seeming to recognize that Jews are also a part of that world. While he seems to believe that Bowersock’s view is less “dangerous” than that of Frend, he appears to find it no more satisfying in terms of examining the origins of martyrdom. In his own study, Boyarin himself attempts to approach martyrdom as a Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 28. Daniel Boyarin, “Appendix to chapter four” in Dying for God, 128. 99 Boyarin, “Appendix”in Dying for God, 125. 100 Boyarin, “Appendix”in Dying for God, 129. 101 Boyarin, “Appendix”in Dying for God, 128-129. 102 Boyarin, “Appendix”in Dying for God, 130. 103 Boyarin, Boyarin, “Appendix”in Dying for God, 128. 97 98



development stemming from “overlapping and intimate collectivities.”104 In his view, Judaism and Christianity, even into the fourth century, were not necessarily separate religions. Instead, they were continually intertwined. As such, he implies that the views of both Frend and Bowersock are faulty precisely because they each begin with the implicit assumption that Jews are separate from Christians; for Frend, Jews can be superceded by Christians; for Bowersock, Christians can be examined as if they are not still largely Jewish. According to Boyarin, “the so-called parting of the ways is a much more ambiguous and complicated narrative than is usually imagined. Jews and Christians, however much they tried to convince themselves and others differently, traveled indeed along similar paths for a long, long time – if not always.”105 Boyarin’s view offers a necessary reminder that the examination of martyrdom involves the recognition that systemic forces are at work and that a thorough analysis involves the examination of the interaction of all parties involved. Nonetheless, while beliefs and practices of Jews and Christians did overlap and converge at many points during the early centuries, and indeed still do, the points at which they differed and diverged while interacting with the wider Greco-Roman world remain equally important in determining the make-up of any group. In this regard, the works of both Frend and Bowersock are valuable in any discussion of the origins of martyrdom. In regard to the Lyon martyrs it is especially important to recognize the differences. As I have shown, the Lyonnaise Christians may have had some contact with Jews but there is no evidence to suggest that they were either Jewish-Christians or that they themselves did not distinguish themselves from Jews. Irenaeus’ reference to the synagogue of God, “that is, the Son Himself,” shows that Lyonnaise Christians at least by the end of the second century understood themselves, and their “synagogue,” as different from Jews and their synagogues. Thus, I contend that the Christian community at Lyon in the late second century was distinctly Christian and made up of Gentile, not Jewish, Christians. That these martyrs were distinctly Christian, and not Christians who could be confused with Jews, is expressly seen in their high, Johannine type Christology, in which they focus on Jesus as the Christ and on the Paraclete/Spirit as their own connection to him. Jewish influence was distant and indirect, coming through a cultural milieu shared by the 104 105

Boyarin, “Appendix”in Dying for God, 128. Boyarin, Dying for God, 41.



Johannine writers. While there may have been a Jewish community in Lyon, and perhaps they and the Christians even shared a butcher shop, it does not seem likely either from internal or external evidence that the two groups mingled intimately with one another. Furthermore, according to Eusebius, the Lyon community had its own bishop, first, Pothinus and then Irenaeus. This would seem to indicate that the community was fairly well-established, certainly well enough to be recognized as a specific Christian group by other Christian communities. I do not see a direct connection to the Maccabean martyrs and would not suggest that the Maccabean mother was Blandina’s prototype. While there is resemblance between the two in regard to encouraging others, there is nothing in the story of the Maccabean mother that appears to pre-figure the Lyon text’s portrayal of Blandina as Jesus, the crucified Christ. I am inclined to believe, therefore, that similarities between these texts (and the “mothers” portrayed), arise out of a common cultural milieu that spans a number of years, rather than that one is directly related and dependent on the other. The Possibility for Orthodoxy or Montanism at Lyon As already noted, affixing either a label of orthodoxy or Montanism to the Lyon community is problematic. In terms of orthodoxy, the reasoning is obvious since principles defining the orthodox position were not officially set down until the Councils of the fourth century. The dating for the rise of Montanism (or the New Prophecy), however, poses more difficulty, first, since a precise date cannot be established and second, because the movement is known to have arisen at least sometime within the same century as the martyrdoms at Lyon. In his Chronicle, Eusebius places the origins of Montanism at about 171, toward the middle of the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and the martyrdoms at Gaul slightly earlier (late 160s).106 In his History, however, he places the wider spread of the Montanist movement somewhat later, making it contemporaneous with the Gallic 106 Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 26-27. See also the commentary in Schaff and Wace, 211, footnote 3. These commentators assert that in his Chronicle, Eusebius did not intend to give exact dates for particular events such as martyrdoms. Rather, they suggest that he grouped together events similar in nature and close in occurrence in order to give a general sense of chronology. Here, it is argued that he groups the deaths at Lyon together with the martyrdom of Polycarp, with the result that the former is placed slightly earlier and the latter slightly later in the chronology.



martyrdoms which he dates at 177.107 While these are slight differences in the sources, the earliest Eusebius places the rise of Montanism is the early 170s. In his clearest statement on the matter, Epiphanius, however, dates the movement quite a bit earlier, during the nineteenth year of the reign of Antoninus Pius, placing it at 157 CE.108 Yet, in other sections of his writings, he indicates that the movement could have been active as early as the 140s. The wide inconsistency of Epiphanius’ dates and the discrepancies between the dates given by Eusebius in his Chronicle and his Church History cause some scholars to side with Epiphanius and others with Eusebius.109 Other scholars seek to harmonize the dates given by the two ancient authors and consequently place the rise of Montanism somewhere in the mid 160s. Timothy Barnes, however, makes a strong case against harmonization of dates.110 He accepts Eusebius’ chronology though not necessarily his actual date, acknowledging that the exact date cannot be determined unless new evidence is uncovered as to the proconsulship of Gratus, whom Eusebius’ anonymous author mentions in relation to the career of Montanus.111 Christine Trevett on the other hand, argues that there may be good reason for harmonization of the ancient sources.112 She suggests that the New Prophecy could have begun as early as the late 150s though she finds the early 160s more probable.113 One reason for Trevett’s support of this earlier date is that Eusebius claims that the martyrs from Gaul knew about the dissent caused by the teachings of Montanus and that, in response, they sent out epistles, even to Bishop Eleutherus of Rome, who was negotiating for peace 107 Timothy D. Barnes, “The Chronology of Montanism,” Journal of Theological Studies 21 (1970), 403 and Eusebius HE 4. 27 in Schaff and Wace, 207. Here, Eusebius speaks of “the Discourse addressed to the above-mentioned emperor.” This discourse is understood as part of an apology addressed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. See footnote 2. 108 Epiphanius Panarion 48. 1. 1 in The Panarion of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, ed. and trans. Philip R. Amidon (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 170. 109 Pearson, Dodwell, Neander, Eno and Aland have accepted the date given by Epiphanius while those following the dates of Eusebius are Labriolle, Barnes, D.H. Williams and Frend – see Trevett 26-32. 110 Barnes, 403-408. Barnes cites Bonwetsch, Zahn, Harnack, Knox and Freeman-Grenville among those scholars who have attempted to harmonize the dates given by Eusebius and Epiphanius. 111 Barnes, 404-406. See also Eusebius HE 5. 16. 7 in Schaff and Wace, 231. 112 Trevett, especially 26-45. 113 Trevett, 32.



between the churches.114 Trevett reasons that a date as late as 171 would not have allowed enough time for the development of the movement in Asia and Phrygia and then for its spread to Gaul to the extent that problems related to it were already seen by 177.115 In addition, the letter from Lyon never mentions the New Prophecy by name, suggesting that this is not a group that specifically wishes to identify itself as Montanist. Still, as Trevett also notes, there are enough similarities to Montanist beliefs and practices that the possibility of significant influence should not be ruled out entirely.116 Therefore, while a Montanist identity cannot be ascribed to the Lyon community, neither can Montanist influence be completely denied. As the forces which later led to orthodoxy were active in 177, so too were those forces which leaned toward Montanism. In the beliefs and actions of the believers, portrayed in the letter from Lyon, it is possible to see seeds of both of these forces. The community straddled a widening fault-line between seekers of a centralized authority and those who pushed for a decentralized authority.117 Unity of the Church was at stake but the question became one of how high the cost of unity should be. Raymond Brown has argued convincingly that the late acceptance of the Johannine Gospel into the canon resulted from an early schism within the Johannine community.118 He posits that the author of the first epistle of John sought to respond to secessionists who interpreted the Johannine Gospel as proclaiming an ultrahigh Christology in which Jesus’ body and earthly life were irrelevant for salvation. The descendants of this secessionist group, he suggests, moved toward true docetism, gnosticism and Montanism.119 Conversely, the Eusebius HE 5. 3. 4. Trevett, 36-37. 116 Trevett, 53. 117 Here, I am grateful for, and borrow the terminology of Timothy R. Allan, of the State University of New York – Fredonia, whose informative and stimulating lectures on the “fault-lines of tension” that often accompany differences such as race/ethnicity, sex and religion, have enabled me to more clearly recognize and link “eruptions” to earlier tensions. 118 Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 149. Here, Brown notes that “The acceptance of the Gospel into the canon before A.D. 200 . . . was only at the price of the assurance that it had apostolic origins. Irenaeus also takes pains to relate it to John the disciple of the Lord, and he carefully reads the Gospel through the looking glass of 1 John.” 119 Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, Chart One: The History of the Johannine Community. Brown describes the move toward true docetism as going “from a not fully human Jesus to a mere appearance of humanity;” that toward 114 115



community of the author, who sought to safeguard the Johannine Gospel from any interpretation that would negate the importance of Jesus’ humanity, eventually merged with the apostolic Christians into the “Great Church.”120 The schism proved that the Fourth Gospel could be interpreted in a manner suitable to each side. However, as Brown understands it, the fact that the Fourth Gospel’s “Paraclete-centered ecclesiology had offered no real protection against schismatics ultimately caused his followers [those supporting the view of the author of 1 John] to accept the authoritative presbyter-bishop teaching structure which in the second century became dominant in the Great Church but which was quite foreign to Johannine tradition.”121 The cost of unification for this Johannine group, then, was high. They had already lost those who seceded. Now, they joined with the apostolic group but only at the cost of a somewhat toned down, less personal understanding of the workings of the Paraclete. The Lyon Christians, descendants of this Johannine history, were caught between these forces; one moving toward orthodoxy and the other moving toward positions later deemed heterodox, such as Montanism. This is not particularly surprising. As Frend notes, “Prophecy, asceticism, and martyrdom, the [very] hallmarks of Montanism, all belong to the secondcentury Christian tradition” and not to Montanists alone.122 Trevett also argues that Montanism has too often been aligned with early Christian gnosticism as progressing “from a pre-existent Jesus to pre-existent believers who also came down from the heavenly regions;” and that toward Montanism as movement “from possessing the Paraclete to the embodiment of the Paraclete.” Trevett also notes a progression of Montanist thought from possession of the Spirit to embodiment of the Spirit. She notes that the earliest sources (Epiphanius and Tertullian) speak of Montanus’ self-understanding as an association with the Paraclete, that is, as a “mouthpiece of the Spirit” while later authors such as Origen, Eusebius and Basil of Caesarea, accuse him of having identified himself as the Paraclete (See Trevett, 79). The slippage is not surprising given two oracles of Montanus passed on by Epiphanius: “I am the Lord God, the Almighty dwelling in man” and “Neither angel nor envoy, but I the Lord God the Father have come” [italics mine] – See Ronald E. Heine, The Montanist Oracles and Testimonia Patristic Monograph Series 14 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989), 3. 120 Brown uses the term “Great Church” to refer to the second century apostolic Churches that he sees as increasingly bound more closely by a “common structure of episcopate and presbyterate in mutual recognition,” The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 83. 121 Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 146. 122 W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 254.



fanaticism when in fact “much of the language of the rigorous life and sacrificial death was readily to hand in Christian circles and would not have been peculiar to Montanists.”123 Neither those later deemed orthodox nor those later called heterodox held a monopoly on these seemingly fanatical aspects of the faith. On the one hand, members of the Lyon community recognized the activity of the Spirit as it manifested itself through Prophecy. Indeed, the working of the Spirit provided individual believers with strength to meet and defy the forces of opposition. Yet, on the other hand, group unity and cohesion also provided a source of strength and the Spirit was understood as working through individuals for the benefit of the group.124 In this sense, within this system, an individual possessed by the Spirit could act as a conduit between that all-powerful Spirit of God and the group, thus opening up an avenue for other group members to become linked to the Spirit. Trevett, 128. In his article “The Influence of Christian Prophecy on the Johannine Portrayal of the Paraclete and Jesus,” New Testament Studies 25 (1979) : 113-123, M.E. Boring asserts that the Paraclete served a more particularized function of the Spirit than that given to every believer. In his view the Paraclete was understood as coming to an “identifiable group” within the community who would then exercise the gifts of the Paraclete on behalf of and for all the members of the community (114). Thus, he understands the Paraclete as coming to a particular group of Prophets rather than to all believers. He reasons that even at the time of the writing of the gospel of John, some of the members of the community would have been gifted in particular ways and therefore would have taken up leadership roles. These would have been the ones endowed with the Paraclete. This view is quite different from that asserted by Brown who stresses that the author of the first Johannine epistle was reacting to just such a view “by reminding his audience that every Johannine Christian is a teacher through and in the Paraclete-Spirit” (The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 142). Brown’s point then is that the author of the epistle interprets the gospel to mean that all believers have the Paraclete whereas his opponents understand that the Paraclete descends only on some. The argument between the author of 1 John and his opponent shows that both views regarding the function of the Paraclete were present early on, probably even at the time that the fourth gospel was written. By 177 in Lyon, it appears that some members of the community were understood as having been endowed with the Spirit to a higher degree than others. However, the incident in which the Spirit descends on many at once seems to indicate that those called by name, those who most clearly manifest the presence of the Spirit, do not have a monopoly on the Spirit. The Paraclete/Spirit is seen as functioning in all believers, not just in some. Yet, that functioning is to varying degrees and is always for the benefit of the whole group. 123 124



The emphasis this community places on this type of connection to the Spirit is evident in the fact that while they clearly value such connections, they refuse to tolerate any attempt to increase one’s own connection to the Spirit at the expense of the group. Such intolerance is revealed in the incident involving Alcibiades whose extreme asceticism shows clearly that while some members of the group do practice asceticism, there are also those who wield the authority to curtail that asceticism when its practice threatens communal well-being. Still, in the case of Alcibiades, the possibility must be acknowledged that Eusebius edited the letter, thus highlighting this reining in of asceticism. This type of redaction surely would have served any desire to utilize the Lyon letter in support of an orthodox position. I am more inclined to imagine, however, that if any revision of this letter did take place, it occurred in the second century, that is, almost immediately after it was written. I have already noted Mursurillo’s caution that although there is no real evidence for a third century revision, one must always keep open the possibility that such may have occurred. In addition, as stated earlier, some scholars have argued that Irenaeus was the author of the letter. If indeed it was this letter that was sent not only to the Churches in Asia and Phrygia but also to Bishop Eleutherus in Rome, it was certainly he who carried it.125 Eusebius relates that, 125 Eusebius states that a letter was carried to Bishop Eleutherus commending Irenaeus – HE 5. 4. 1-2 NPNF. Earlier he notes that the Gallic Christians had “published also several epistles from the witnesses that had been put to death among them” and that they sent these “to the brethren throughout Asia and Phrygia, and also to Eleutherus” – HE 5. 3. 4 NPNF. It seems most logical to assume that the account of the martyrs was included in these letters and that Irenaeus carried it. If so, the date that it would have reached Eleutherus would be about 179 CE -- see Timothy Barnes, “The Catholic Epistles of Themison: A Study in 1 and 2 Peter,” The Expositor, 6th ser., 8 : 40-62. Barnes contends that the verses of 1 Peter 4: 12-5: 11 actually form the cover letter of the letters encouraging peace (between proto-orthodox and Montanist Christians) which were sent by Eleutherus later in 179 in response, at least in part, to the account of the persecution that he had received from the survivors at Lyon. He notes that in the second century, homilies and letters were often sent to churches under the authority of the Church at Rome. He suggests, then, that 1 Peter, the bulk of which he believes to be a Pauline homily, was sent to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia by Eleutherus in 179 and that the portion above was written with the letter from the Lyon Christians in the forefront of his mind. In both 1 Peter and the letter from Lyon, Christians are ultimately blessed specifically because they suffer for the name of Christ – see especially 1 Peter 4: 14.


STANDING AT LYON The same witnesses [those who survived the 177 persecution] also recommended Irenaeus, who was already at that time a presbyter of the parish of Lyons, to the above-mentioned bishop [Eleutherus] of Rome, saying many favorable things in regard to him, as the following extract shows: “We pray, Father Eleutherus, that you may rejoice in God in all things and always. We have requested our brother and comrade Irenaeus to carry this letter to you, and we ask you to hold him in esteem, as zealous for the covenant of Christ. For if we thought that office could confer righteousness upon any one, we should commend him among the first as a presbyter of the church, which is his position” (Eusebius HE 5. 4. 1-2, NPNF).

Since Irenaeus, according to this document, was presbyter at Lyon during this time, and was also transporting letters, it is certainly possible that if he was in fact not the author of the persecution account, he would, nonetheless, have had both opportunity and motive for altering it if he so desired. He surely would have wanted to present the Gallic Christians favorably to Eleutherus. Even so, the nature of the letter recommending Irenaeus, which appears to have been appended to another letter, most likely the account of the martyrs, suggests that it was written as a group project or at least that it had been endorsed by the entire group. It also asserts strongly that its authors trust Irenaeus to reliably deliver the mail. I find it difficult to imagine that he would have altered either this text or the persecution account once having left their presence. It seems far more likely to me that the letter documenting the account of the martyrs was also a collaborative effort of the group and that Irenaeus, whose opinion was obviously respected, had significant input. Perhaps he even penned it. Yet, it seems doubtful that he performed secret alterations. Thus, in considering the matter of Alcibiades’ asceticism and to what extent the group attempted to curb that practice, I would argue again for accepting the text at face value. Indeed, even if either Eusebius or Irenaeus chose to purposely highlight group curtailment of the practice, such would still not negate the fact that according to the text, asceticism was, to some degree, practiced and that it was, to some degree, curbed. Other than proceeding with caution, that is, keeping mindful of the fact that we do not possess the entire text, we have no choice but to deal with that portion which has survived. On examination of the extant text, then, there is simply not enough information to allow for the labeling of the group as either orthodox or Montanist. Instead, aspects of both are present. Within this community, behaviors are seen that simultaneously fit (or do not fit) later orthodox and



heterodox categories. Among second century Christians, disagreements regarding the power of the Spirit and its manifestations were actually struggles over authority. Would the Church become an institution with an organized hierarchical structure of shared authority or would authority rest within individual Christians whose lives manifested the power of the Spirit? The Lyon community cannot be situated on only one side of that debate. The text simultaneously conveys aspects of centralized and de-centralized authority. For instance, while orthodoxy sought to curtail the equal participation of women in the community (and therefore to centralize authority among men), the letter portrays Blandina as an individual woman who clearly possesses the power of the Spirit and therefore also the authority and respect that accompany that power. In addition, Blandina’s elevated position as both “mother” and “sister” within the community suggests that her mistress was also a woman of authority within this group, another factor that disallows the labeling of this group as orthodox. Perhaps the community even met in the house of Blandina’s mistress. Whether or not such was the case, it is unlikely that a slave would have risen to such high status without the backing of a powerful mistress. Even with her own strong powers of the Spirit, it seems probable that Blandina would have died among the unnamed except for the attention drawn to her by her mistress’ concern. Yet, while women hold a measure of influence within this community, a situation that suggests a de-centralized notion of authority, certain aspects of the text also point toward hierarchical institutionalization. Pothinus is called the bishop of Lyon, a title that suggests that this community is sanctioned by and connected to the developing Great Church that spanned from east to west.126 Furthermore, the text refers to Sanctus as the deacon from Vienne, a title which, like the one given to Pothinus, suggests a hierarchy of persons within a given community. In the end, it must be concluded that the community implemented certain measures to control the working of the Spirit even as they bore a desire to allow the Spirit his/her due measure of freedom. The text gives evidence of both decentralized authority and centralized notions of authority. The former can be seen in the fact that a variety of people, including women, exercise strong influence within the group. The latter comes to light clearly through titles known as hierarchical designations within the wider Church system. Evidence of forces moving simultaneously toward orthodoxy and Montanism, then, reveal the second century Christian community at Lyon 126

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 29.



to be situated on a fault-line of tension between these forces. These believers held a dualist apocalyptic outlook on history and they understood themselves as moving toward the fulfillment of God’s plan. A measured asceticism provided one outward manifestation of the Spirit. This Spirit, the Paraclete, infused some with the power to endure even in the midst of horrendous oppression and violence. These in turn enabled and strengthened others. They bore witness to Jesus even as the Samaritan woman had done in years not so long past. Yet, while that woman had requested and received living water from Jesus himself, these second century Christians, living after the death of Jesus, received those same “rivers of living water” through the Spirit who according to the gospel writer was to come to believers following Jesus’ glorification.127 While Lyon’s waterways gave life to the ancient city making it into a major metropolis, the water of the Spirit gave life to ancient Christians making them into a community of believers. Yet, just as rivers sometimes are regulated and sometimes run wild, so it was with the Spirit. Sometimes roaming freely and sometimes reined in, the Spirit manifested itself in this second century community of faith. Neither orthodox nor heterodox, Lyonnaise Christians, like the Samaritan woman, longed for and actively sought the water offered by Jesus – that living spring of water that would gush up to eternal life.128

127 128

Jn 7: 38-39 NRSV. Jn 4: 14 NRSV.


“I am a Christian and there is nothing vile done by us!” (Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19).

This statement of being and proclamation of innocence is the one and only sentence that Blandina speaks to those in authority over her. With it, she insists that she and her fellow Christians have done nothing evil. Yet, obviously her captors do not agree. As they see it, Blandina deserves to die! The question arises then as to what responsibility, if any, Blandina and the other Christians held in the brutal treatment accorded them? What part, if any, did they play in bringing about their own deaths? Were they really just innocent victims as so often portrayed, or, is such an assertion a matter of perspective? It is clear from Blandina’s statement, coupled with the fact that she died at the hands of the authorities, that perspectives differed on the matter of what exactly is vile and deserving of death, even death by torture. Within the greater context of her lengthy ordeal, Blandina’s actual death at Lyon is almost anti-climactic. Much more riveting is the account of the brutal treatment inflicted on her and her fellow martyrs prior to their deaths and the length of time taken to actually kill them. The text conveys that the woman, Blandina, finally met her end during the early August annual public spectacle which was attended by delegates from the entire area of the Three-Gauls.1 Nonetheless, while evidence suggests an August death, events of the story indicate that her ordeal began long before that very hot and humid late summer day. Initially, she and her fellow prisoners awaited the arrival of the governor who was absent during the initial roundup.2 Upon the governor’s arrival, another waiting period ensued while the governor sought advice from the emperor as to how to deal with his

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 47. Because the text specifies that this was indeed the festival attended by delegates from all of the Gallic areas, scholarship has identified it with the annual meeting on August 1, which, as noted earlier, was first instituted as a tribute and worship to Augustus. See McGiffert, Frend, Drinkwater, Fishwick and others. 2 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 8. 1




prisoners.3 Lest we assume that the Christians passed this time of waiting in relative ease, however, we are quickly informed by the author that at the governor’s command, numerous tortures were inflicted almost immediately. A suitable allowance of time for a reply from the emperor to the governor places the initial arrest in early summer, probably sometime in June. As for Blandina herself, the text asserts that following her initial arrest, this apparently weak woman quickly established herself as a “noble athlete,” enduring numerous tortures, any one of which should have been sufficient to kill her.4 These included confinement in the dank prison (where many died for lack of sufficient air to breathe) as well as the stretching of the feet to the fifth hole in the stocks.5 It also included the customary running of the gauntlet, that is, walking or running under the whips of hunters, often while wearing a burning tunic;6 and exposure to wild beasts, previously deprived of food and thus anxious to lunge at the blood which would drip from festering wounds as well as from new wounds created by recent tortures.7 Blandina herself appears twice in front of large crowds in the arena. During the first spectacle her torturers subject her once again to the running of the gauntlet and attacks by wild beasts. When these measures still do not result in death, the torture techniques are intensified. Thus it is that the bruised and bloody body of the woman is finally suspended on a vertical stake. Mangled and wounded, perhaps beyond recognition, she hangs on that stake, displayed throughout the whole length of the hot summer day; a delicate appetizer for the beasts prowling at her feet and a gruesome, yet spectacular, vision for any human bold enough to look on.8 This first exhibition in the arena nearly overshadows the second wherein Blandina’s gruesome death is met by the reader with almost welcome relief. On that August day, the smell of blood and human flesh must already have hung heavily in the air when the slave woman, Blandina, entered the arena. Once again, the gauntlet, once again the scourging, once

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 44. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 18. 5 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 26. 6 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 38. See also Tertullian who describes the process in his ad Martyras 5, in ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, vol. 3, (Peabody: Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1885), reprint 1986, 695. 7 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 37, 38, 41, 56. 8 Eusebius HE 5. 41. 3 4



again the exposure to wild beasts!9 Yet on this day, the stake is exchanged for a red-hot iron chair.10 Strapped into the chair, her flesh, earlier tenderized by repeated beatings and floggings, is now cooked, seared to perfection, and readied for its final presentation to the crowd. Thus prepared, Blandina, the insignificant slave-woman, is finally enclosed in a net and tossed before a running bull, meeting death after what must have been an excruciatingly long ordeal for tortured and torturers alike.11 Blandina’s repeated public torture reveals a scenario wherein death is merely a backdrop to a more complex cultural phenomenon. An obvious hint that such is the case lies in the very fact that this woman lived long enough to make not one but two spectacular appearances in the arena. Surely, the Romans were not so inept at capital punishment that they were incapable of killing her on the first try. Instead, however, they choose to employ a complex system of escalating torture, one designed to reinforce Roman power over dissidents, yet one that because of the intricate nature of the relationship matrix actually ends in empowering those very dissidents. In this chapter, I examine Roman use of capital punishment not only as a means of depriving an individual of life but also as a means of maintaining social law and order. Furthermore, I seek to shed light on the intertwining threads of governmental relations, that is, to examine the situation in second century Gaul from the perspective of imperial authorities as well as from the perspective of local governing authorities. Relations between these two primary groups reveal long-standing tensions that both compete and convene on the playing field of Gaul; tensions that, with the introduction of a third party, the Christian community, first smolder and finally erupt into scenes of capital punishment via public spectacle. Just what was the nature of these relationships and how is it that tensions between the groups could have resulted in that which appears to have been a systematic and brutal sanctioning of terror? In his work documenting the history of torture, Brian Innes writes that the application

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 54-56. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 56. The “iron chair” (also referred to as the “roasting seat” or the “gridiron”) was utilized as a torture device by the Romans. It consisted of an iron chair-like structure that was placed over or near a fire. As the metal heated, the victim’s flesh could be burned to the degree that would inflict the desired amount of pain. See Brian Innes, The History of Torture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 72 and 136. 11 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 56. 9




of torture techniques is “in itself inexcusable.”12 While today even the most “advanced” governments and societies continue to practice torture to some degree—emotional, verbal or physical—few in our post-modern world, where the rights of individuals are highly regarded, would argue with Innes’ statement. Commonly, torture is understood as a measure of last resort; a practice that should be applied only in the most extreme cases and only after all other measures have failed. For most, torture, even when inflicted on the vilest of criminals, appears at best, barbaric; a tactic so inhumane that its use is shocking and its inexcusability goes virtually without question. It is curious, then, that this fact, so largely unquestioned today, was so obviously not a fact in the Gallo-Roman world where Blandina and her fellow confessors endured torture upon torture in the public arena. If torture is, as so widely agreed upon, unquestionably “inexcusable,” how does one account for a society in which such barbarous behavior was not only excusable but indeed was presumed highly proper; and, not only just proper but even essential? The question exposes the need to consider Roman spectacle from within the Roman, rather than the modern, framework. Without such an examination of Roman spectacle within its historical context, it becomes impossible to understand Rome and the Gallo-Romans as anything other than bloodthirsty savages. While I might indeed prefer to portray them as such, my own interest in Blandina makes it clear that I can do so only at the expense of also labeling myself a savage. After all, I have already admitted that I was drawn to this text partially by the gruesome nature of this woman’s death. How, even now, I would love to sit invisibly in that arena! How I would love to see the unfolding of these events for myself! Must I not admit a bit of bloodthirstiness here? Am I not somewhat like the person who attends the modern bullfight and then loftily exclaims “but I’d never go again; it was so repulsive!” Perhaps the question to the bullfight attendee (and to myself) should not be “would you attend again?” but rather, “how is it that you attended in the first place?” “What forces propelled your doing so?” The answer to that question lies in both the individual and the societal realm. Due to changing social, economic and political forces, Foucault notes that by the beginning of the nineteenth century “the body as the major target of penal repression [had] disappeared” and that


Brian Innes, The History of Torture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 8.



“punishment had gradually ceased to be a spectacle.”13 He suggests that “As a result, justice no longer takes public responsibility for the violence that is bound up with its practice.”14 While today the executioner (and common citizen) stands distanced from the condemned criminal, who receives death privately and “humanely” by lethal injection or electric shock, the Roman executioner (and common citizen) took on the task directly, understanding it as communal responsibility. The contrast illustrates that neither the ancient nor the modern individual functions outside his/her communal world. As Foucault notes: [the human body is] directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs. This political investment of the body is bound up in accordance with complex reciprocal relations . . . (Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 25).15

While the previous chapter surveyed the character of the Christian community in Lyon, this chapter focuses on the make-up and functioning of the other parties present in this dynamic of “reciprocal relations;” that is, the imperial government of Rome and the Gallo-Roman local governing authorities. Thus, the second century cultural climate in Gaul is examined first from the perspective of imperial Rome and second, from the perspective of the Gallo-Romans. Finally, the part played by the Christian community in the violent eruption of this already fragile relational process is exposed. Keeping in mind Foucault’s assessment that invested, marked and trained bodies exercise rather than possess power,16 I do not, however, seek to 13 Michel Foucault (trans. Alan Sheridan, 1977), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Second Vintage Books, 1995; Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1975), 8-9. 14 Foucault, Discipline, 9. 15 Foucault, Discipline, 25. Apart from Foucault’s extensive discussion of penal systems, one might also see the work of Negley K. Teeters who wrote extensively about prison systems. In the nineteenth century, penal systems began to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The earliest penitentiary system in the United States was the Quaker based Pennsylvania system, which emphasized a monastic lifestyle of solitude. It was hoped that through reflection, repentance and prayer, inmates would eventually change their lives. The later Auburn, New York system, the model followed in the U.S. today, seeks inmate reform through strictly enforced routine rather than through solitude and reflection. 16 Foucault, Discipline, 26.



answer why imperial and local authorities acted as they did. To do so, would be to thwart any examination of relational processes. As Kerr notes, “When one person asks the other, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ focus on the relationship process is immediately lost.”17 The situation is by the very asking of such a question reduced to one of cause and effect since the question itself “assumes that the cause of the person’s behavior exists within that person” rather than in the relationship.18 This question, “why?” produces the same effect at the group level. Its asking presumes a localization of power rather than an understanding of power as a non-static force working itself out in the process of relationships. Thus, instead of inquiring as to why imperial Rome and her local authorities chose to mete out punishment on her Christian subjects through torture and spectacle, I will instead examine the political, social and economic system that enabled and even encouraged such spectacles. Through this wider systemic lens, participation in this cultural drama by authority figures as well as dissidents is unmasked. There are no neutral parties. Whether Blandina herself operates as pawn, innocent bystander or active participant is revealed as clearly a matter of perception.






From the perspective of imperial authorities, all immigrant and local Christians as well as the pagan populace in Gaul owed much to Rome. Heavily indebted as they were to Roman improvements, loyalty to Roman gods and to the empire must have seemed a small price to pay. Since the time of her first encroachment into the area, Rome indeed had done a great deal to improve the status of the Three Gauls. While Celtic society surely had produced both land and river navigation routes prior to Roman invasion, it was Rome that improved, expanded, advertised and policed these routes making them even more valuable for the purposes of trade, military use and government systematization.19 Many members of the Lyonnaise Christian community itself had made their way to the area by means of these trade routes. Under Roman rule, the area and its people, both pagan and Christian, flourished economically as has already been Kerr and Bowen, 61. Kerr and Bowen, 61. 19 Drinkwater, 124-125. According to Drinkwater, “the Empire gave the Three Gauls the integrated system which they previously lacked.” 17 18



noted by the large influx of immigrants and the wide assortment of products available for sale and for purchase during the second century. Imperial Rome also afforded the citizens of Gaul greater military protection, a valuable benefit in its own right but one made even more valuable by its stimulation of the economy. Not only did the existence of military troops increase the volume of supplies needed, a boon for suppliers, but their presence in Gaul necessitated Rome’s continual attention to both land and water transportation systems thus ensuring the continual exchange of goods, people and ideas. The city of Lyon, in particular, flourished as a result of Roman intervention. It is likely that Agrippa initially chose Lyon as a main junction because of the fact that in his day, it was the nearest of the existing Roman colonies to central Gaul and because routes from the Province and the upper Rhine already existed there.20 Thus, it was a readily accessible trading point and ripe for further development. As already noted, by the end of the second century Lyon was well established as the capital of the Three Gauls. As such, it housed the tables of law for provincial procurators. In addition, pan-Gallic activities, such as the supervision of provincial iron mining and the operation of the mint took place in Lyon. Since the mint was located in this city, it is likely that an imperial treasury also existed there.21 As Drinkwater suggests, to the visitor, Lyon must indeed have appeared “like a miniature Rome.” 22 It is no surprise then that the Christian community, made up largely of immigrants seeking jobs and some means of livelihood, should put down its roots here, in this flourishing city. While all of these improvements required higher taxation of residents, from the Roman perspective the trade-off was minimal. Indeed, from the perspective of Roman authorities, Gallic inhabitants (pagan and Christian alike) had little to complain about since Rome herself was also forced to make certain concessions in the interest of area improvement. For instance, while imperial officials, fearing the fomenting of rebellion, generally hesitated to allow private citizens to form their own organizations, they did allow traders on the waterways in Gaul to form an association referred to as the Nautae.23 It is very possible that this particular association Drinkwater, 126. Drinkwater, 103. 22 Drinkwater, 103. 23 Drinkwater, 127. The Nautae were boatmen who worked the rivers, not the seaways. They worked to transport goods from one river to another. Several of these corporations of boatmen existed, usually named after the river that each particular group worked. 20 21



was allowed because the group provided a specific service essential to Rome; that is, the movement of supplies from central Gaul to armies located on the Rhine. The nautae benefited significantly from this societal formation; first, through the business gained via the military contract, and second, because they could also engage in further money-making trade on the side.24 Thus, the nautae clearly profited financially by the presence of Rome while the imperial government reaped the benefits provided by these Gallic corporations. The functioning of these river organizations illustrate well the systemic nature of this process of Romanization in Gaul. While the Roman perception that her presence improved Gaul might arguably be called arrogant, it nonetheless must have been considered true by many residents as well, at least by those who significantly benefited, such as the Nautae. Indeed from the Roman perspective, the advances attained by the inhabitants of Gaul as a result of Rome’s presence went well beyond economic improvement and military protection. Along with these benefits, Rome also brought a new form of government and new gods, aspects of Romanization that from the Roman viewpoint should have been received gratefully by all who dwelled in Gaul. After all, through Roman eyes, native inhabitants of Gaul desperately needed to be civilized and Rome’s political system and her imperial cult were considered up to the task. While today even the implication that one group might be more civilized than another is generally enough to evoke visceral reactions of disgust and valid demands that the term civilized be defined, I wish to put such reactions on hold – not so as to provide an apology for Rome but in order to consider the Roman perspective, that is, just what was it about the early Gallic tribes that was believed to need civilizing? The point is important because by 177, the failure of the Lyon Christian community to honor Roman gods marks them as in desperate need of being civilized themselves. Through the lens of imperial Rome, Christians with their exclusive and irreverent behavior toward the gods dredge up memories of past uncivilized people, in this case, the dreaded Gauls, effectually conquered and brought to civility in earlier centuries by Julius Caesar. Rome did not want to risk the resurgence of wild tribes and Christians with their decadent behavior posed just such a threat. Indeed, fear of the Gauls once conquered by Caesar ran deep. Roman sources suggest that the Celtic peoples25 were both admired (though Drinkwater, 127. Miranda Green points out that the meaning of the term “Celts” may have varied widely among ancient writers. In general, the term was a “vague label used 24 25



somewhat grudgingly) and feared by Romans who came into contact with them. In his discussion on the Druids, the priestly class throughout Gaul who concerned themselves with matters of “divine worship, the due performance of sacrifices, public and private, and the interpretation of ritual questions,”26 Caesar speaks admiringly regarding certain religious beliefs and the ability of the Druids to commit their religious teachings to memory: Report says that in the school of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training. And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they have adopted the practice for two reasons – that they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and, in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory. The cardinal doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valour. Besides this, they have many discussions as touching the stars and their by Mediterranean chroniclers to identify essentially heterogeneous groups of people living north of the ‘civilized’ world of Greece and Rome.” See Miranda J. Green, Exploring the World of the Druids (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997), 11. For instance, Caesar does not identify Britons as Celts though he does say that those of the southeast exhibit similar customs and lifestyles as the Celts – See Green, 11. Diodorus of Sicily gives perhaps the best description regarding the use of the term: “The peoples who dwell in the interior above Massalia, those on the slopes of the Alps, and those on this side the Pyrenees mountains are called Celts, whereas the peoples who are established above this land of Celtica in the parts which stretch to the north, both along the ocean and along the Hercynian Mountain, and all the peoples who come after these, as far as Scythia, are known as Gauls; the Romans, however, include all these nations together under a single name, calling them one and all Gauls” – See Diodorus of Sicily, ed. E. Capps and W.H.D. Rouse (C.H. Oldfather,trans.), Diodorus of Sicily in Twelve Volumes, in Loeb Classical Edition, vol. 3, 5. 32. 1 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939), 181. Throughout this work, I use the terms, “Celts” and “Gauls” interchangeably to denote the indigenous inhabitants of the area of the Three-Gauls. 26 Julius Caesar, ed. G.P. Goold (H.J. Edwards, trans.) The Gallic War, 6. 13 in Loeb Classical Library, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1917), reprint 1979, 335-336.


STANDING AT LYON movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature, the strength and the powers of the immortal gods, and [they] hand down their lore to the young men (Julius Caesar, The Gallic War 6. 14 in Loeb, 339).

Clearly, Caesar admires the Druidic ability to commit material to memory and the importance placed on teaching the young. Likewise, he appears to respect the Celtic notion regarding the reincarnation of the soul since he recognizes that the belief provides an incentive to valour. Yet, one does not need to read much further in Caesar’s account to discover that he also holds deep reservations regarding the practices of these people whom he declares were, prior to his coming, at war often, “well-nigh every year,” either “making wanton attacks themselves or repelling such.”27 In his view, it seems, it was necessary to conquer these people in order to civilize them; in order to stop not only the continual battles but also the barbarous behaviors that accompanied such warring spirits. Caesar writes: The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances, and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow so to do, employing the Druids as ministers for such sacrifices. They believe, in effect, that, unless for a man’s life a man’s life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private, life they observe an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame. They believe that the execution of those who have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even of the innocent (Julius Caesar, The Gallic War 6. 16 in Loeb, 341).28

Caesar’s horrific report of human sacrifice and torture by fire, even sometimes of the innocent, represents a charge repeatedly leveled against Caesar, The Gallic War 6. 15 in Loeb, 339. Caesar, The Gallic War 6. 16 in Loeb, 341. Strabo likewise writes that the Gauls engaged in human sacrifice specifically mentioning also this large contraption in which human beings were burned along with animals. See Strabo, ed. E. Capps, T.E. Page and W.H.D. Rouse (Horace Leonard Jones, trans.), The Geography of Strabo 4. 5 in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 2, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1923), 249. 27 28



the Gauls in the following centuries. It is significant that such charges as human sacrifice, killing of the innocent and cannibalism resurface in the charges against the Christians at Lyon. Instigated by soldiers who were charged by authorities to conduct a full-scale investigation, pagan servants of some of the Christians accused them “falsely of Thyestean banquets and Oedipodean intercourse, and of such things that are not right for us to speak or think about, or even to believe that such things ever happened among human beings.”29 Thus, Christian refusal to worship the gods coupled with notions regarding the kinds of barbaric behavior that might occur during secret worship under the guise of religious practice arouse suspicion among Roman and local authorities who by 177 have been conditioned by prior events to be on the lookout against such atrocities. Christian behavior in 177 is equated in the Roman mind with earlier Gallic uncivilized behavior. Christians in the second century, like the Celts in Caesar’s day, represent a menace to society, a dissident group that authorities could not afford to allow to get out of hand. As for the early Gauls, they were feared not only for that which they actually did but even for the way in which they looked and for atrocities perhaps only assumed and exaggerated. Diodorus of Sicily, for instance, reports that they were even terrifying to look at30 for they are tall and blonde with rippling muscles.31 Like Caesar, he appears to hold a grudging admiration as he reports that among them are many lyric poets and philosophers.32 Yet, in addition to these lofty qualities, Diodorus also levels accusations against the Gauls similar to those later leveled against Christians. According to his account the Gauls impale prisoners, dedicating them to their gods,33 that they eat human beings34 and that at times they even use their prisoners in order to foretell the future. Such fortune telling is accomplished by plunging “a dagger into him in the region above the diaphragm, and when the stricken victim has fallen they read the future from the manner of his fall and from the twitching of his limbs, as well as from the gushing of the blood . . .”35 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 14. Diodorus of Sicily 5. 31. 1 in Loeb, 177. 31 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 28. 1 in Loeb,169. 32 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 31. 2 in Loeb,179. 33 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 32. 6 in Loeb,183. 34 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 32. 3 in Loeb,181. 35 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 31. 3-4 in Loeb, 179. See also Strabo, Geography, 4. 5 in Loeb, 247. 29 30



Like Caesar, Diodorus’ respect for the Gauls is checked continually by his disgust, which is best illustrated in his recounting of Gallic treatment of the bodies of their dead enemies: When their enemies fall they cut off their heads and fasten them about the necks of their horses; and turning over to their attendants the arms of their opponents, all covered with blood, they carry them off as booty . . . and these first-fruits of battle they fasten by nails upon their houses, just as men do, in certain kinds of hunting, with the heads of wild beasts they have mastered. The heads of the most distinguished enemies they embalm in cedar-oil and carefully preserve in a chest, and these they exhibit to strangers . . . (Diodorus of Sicily 5. 29. 4-5 in Loeb, 173 and 175). 36

For Diodorus, this exhibition of victims’ heads appears particularly repulsive. Yet, his ambivalence toward the Gauls shows through as he continues his account, noting that the victors often claim to have refused great sums of money in exchange for a head. This, Diodorus concedes, displays “a barbarous sort of greatness of soul; for not to sell that which constitutes a witness and proof of one’s valour is a noble thing.”37 Still, “to continue to fight against one of our own race, after he is dead, is to descend to the level of beasts.”38 For Diodorus, then, the Gauls present a puzzle: are they noble victors or are they savage beasts? It appears he concurs with Caesar, that is, they possess some noble qualities but they would benefit from intervention. Certain customs could be tolerated, such as their penchant to shave their beards while leaving intact long moustaches which “become entangled in the food.”39 Other practices, however, such as their males’ lust for other men40 or the “fact that their [men and women’s] tasks have been exchanged,

Diodorus of Sicily 5. 29. 4-5 in Loeb, 173 and 175. Strabo also records this treatment of the heads of enemy victims. However, he attributes his information to Poseidonius, a Syrian born Greek philosopher whose work is no longer extant and is known now only through later sources. Poseidonius lived about 135 BCE and traveled extensively in Gaul. He may also have been the source for Diodorus’ information though such is not stated here by Diodorus. See Strabo, Geography 4. 5 in Loeb, 247. See also Green, 40. 37 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 29. 5 in Loeb, 175. 38 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 29. 5 in Loeb, 175. 39 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 28. 3 in Loeb, 171. 40 Diodorus of Sicily 5. 32. 7 in Loeb, 183. 36



in a manner opposite to what obtains among us”41 were perhaps more difficult for the Roman mind to excuse. Yet, according to the ancient sources, the most heinous offences understood by the Romans to justify, even to require, intervention were crimes of human sacrifice and brutal treatment of corpses; practices the Romans considered barbarous and understood as the duty of a responsible society to stamp out. For Roman authorities, second century Christians represent a dilemma similar to the one posed for them earlier by the Gauls. Are they noble and good citizens, as they sometimes appear, or are they savage beasts who in the late night hours when no one is watching sacrifice and kill human beings feasting on the flesh as if this were somehow a thing to please the gods? For second century Romans then, Christians mirrored the behavior of the dreaded Gauls and their decadent activity had to be stopped for the well-being of the community. Such was the responsibility of Rome as the ruling power. While it might be argued that such atrocities also occurred under Roman rule and that Roman authorities therefore should have pointed the finger at themselves rather than at others, it is necessary to be cautious. A distinction must be recognized between torture and death as a method of punishment / prevention and torture and death as a required gift to the gods. The distinction is subtle but important. Donald Kyle, in his study Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome, suggests that the distinction revolves around the purpose for which the sacrifice is offered. In that which he calls actual “human sacrifice,” a human is killed in order to fulfill a regular requirement of the god(s) regardless of circumstances within the society. This is the type of killing ascribed to the early Gallic tribes and second century Christians. The type of killing undertaken in the Roman arena, however, “ritual killing” (or “ritualized murder”), is a form of penal or capital punishment instituted for the common good. In the Roman world, a human being could be killed for the purpose of restoring order in the midst of chaos or to prevent pollution within society. As such, it was a means of purging the state of dissident elements. Such killing functioned also as an act of appeasement to the god(s). As such, it represented an appeasement not necessary during periods of social well-being and harmony but absolutely essential at times of social threat or chaos.42

Strabo, Geography 4. 3 in Loeb, 245. Donald G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (New York: Routledge, 1998), 36. 41 42



Within the Roman mind-set, public death was utilized as just such a means of curtailing violence and restoring order; hence, Caesar’s revulsion that the Gauls would put to death even the innocent. It was not used as a regular means of honoring the gods. As for the mutilation of corpses, a practice that is meted out on the bodies of the Lyon martyrs under GalloRoman rule,43 it is likely that such treatment occurred more as a concession by Rome to a surviving local Gallic custom (similar to the posting of heads described by Diodorus) than as an action sanctioned by the empire. According to the Roman view, ritualized killing (though not human sacrifice) was necessary in order to restore society both by appeasing the gods for the decadent behavior of some and by putting an end to barbarous practices engaged in by such as the earlier Gauls and the second century Christians. To this end, ridding the world of barbarity, Augustus banned the practice of Druidism for Roman citizens in the first century, and his successor, Tiberius, followed with an edict apparently designed to dismantle the Druids entirely.44 Pliny the Elder offers insight into how such a move was probably perceived by those who considered themselves civilized: Magic certainly found a home in the two Gallic provinces, and that down to living memory. For the principate of Tiberius Caesar did away with their Druids and this tribe of seers and medicine men . . . So universal is the cult of magic throughout the world . . . It is beyond calculation how great is the debt owed to the Romans, who swept away the monstrous rites, in which to kill a man was the highest religious duty and for him to be eaten a passport to health (Pliny the Elder in ed. T. E. Page (W.H.S. Jones and D. Litt, trans.), Natural History, 3. 4 in Loeb Classical Library, vol.8 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), 287).

It can be concluded, then, that Roman authorities understood themselves as civilizing those whom they conquered; they perceived themselves as restoring order, as ridding the world, so to speak, of evil and by so doing, as creating a better world for all. I would agree with Miranda Green that in the process, “many Graeco-Roman writers give the Druids a thoroughly bad press.”45 After all, aside from arguing that the Romans themselves sometimes engaged in similar actions, one might also point out Eusebius HE 5. 1. 59. Green, 14-15. 45 Green, 14. 43 44



that the written sources may contain material borrowed from one another. That possibility makes it impossible to prove beyond a doubt (from the writings) that any, or all, of these authors actually witnessed the events they write about and /or consequently, to ascertain from them even if human sacrifice really did occur among the Celts, or if it did, to what degree.46 Still, in an attempt to understand the Roman mind-set, and thus to answer how, rather than why, events leading to the martyrdom of Blandina and the others unfolded at Lyon, it is not so important to determine whether, or how many, human sacrifices actually occurred among the Celts. Rather, what is of great importance is that the Romans believed such events to be prevalent and thus proceeded to conquer and re-design nations believing that their efforts would better the world, both for themselves and those whom they came to rule.47 The praise accorded to Rome by Pliny reveals that Rome did not lack support in her efforts. That authorities sought to work with,48 rather than to crush, the Gauls in an effort to develop that which they felt would be a better society is illustrated by the development of the imperial cult at Lyon through which Augustus binds the people of the Three-Gauls to himself and to the imperial office in general while also binding that relationship to the gods. This bond between ruler, people and cult can be seen in the dedicatory line of the great altar at Lyon which honors the

46 But see Green, especially chapter 5, “Sacrifice and Prophecy” for archaeological evidence that supports the written record. 47 In her dissertation, “Marcus Aurelius and the Accidental Martyrs of Lyons,” Shelley Jeanne Croteau touches on this point, stating succinctly that “even if the Roman beliefs about Druids’ rites were wrong, the fact that they acted on these beliefs makes them important” – Shelley Jeanne Croteau, “Marcus Aurelius and the Accidental Martyrs of Lyons (A.D. 177)” (Dissertation: University of MissouriColumbia, 1992), 75. 48 Here, language illustrates the difficulty of maintaining a systems approach (which sometimes appears simplistic on the surface). A non-judgmental, neutral word choice is crucial to maintaining a focus on relationship and thus to avoiding a simpler cause-effect approach. Here, if I wish to label the Romans as evil imperialists, I might say that they “exploit,” “take advantage of,” or “coerce” the Gauls, all of which would be true. If, on the other hand, I wish to exonerate them from charges of violence and corruption, I might say that they “defend” the Gallic population (from traditional foes) and “develop” the area, statements that would be equally true. In the absence, then, of any truly neutral language, I choose to say they “work with” the Gauls as such seems to best support the relational nature of the imperial cult and political structure that develops.



goddess Roma and the emperor Augustus: “ROM. ET AVG.”49 Fishwick notes that the goddess, Roma, had long been worshipped in the Greek east but that her figure took on new meaning in the provinces where she became “the embodiment of the imperial state, the res Romana.”50 As such, Rome itself is associated with the gods; it becomes a sacred precinct. As for Augustus, the placement of his name after that of Roma places him on the same level as the gods without his having blatantly proclaimed himself to be one. As Fishwick puts it, “To combine the personification of the imperial city with the person of the ruler was a happy idea . . .”51 Happy, indeed – all the way around. For Rome, the cult ensures that the state and her gods (including those indirectly linked to the divine, the emperors) will be worshiped and the emperor understood as the highest authority. For the provinces, not previously accustomed to the worship of Rome’s state gods, however, this system could also work well since at the municipal and private level the Gauls were allowed to worship their traditional gods or even to form new religious cults. Rome, in general, exhibited a lenient attitude toward private worship so long as the collective worship of a province (such as that which took place at Lyon’s altar) followed imperial guidelines.52 That the Christian community at Lyon ran into difficulty with this system is, at least from the Roman perspective, not the fault of Rome whose system would have happily allowed them to worship their god, Jesus, so long as such was done in conjunction with the worship of traditional gods and imperial cult. In Roman eyes, the problem rested not with Rome but in the Christians’ insistence on worshipping their god alone; an exclusivism that translated for Roman authorities into disloyalty to the empire. Thus, while the Lyonnaise Christians refused to integrate it with their developing Christianity, the imperial cult was not intentionally set up in direct opposition to either Christianity or pagan Gallic traditions that preceded it. In fact, it appears that the Romans sought to incorporate some local customs and most likely would have incorporated or at least allowed for, the worship of Jesus had Christians been amenable to the possibility. For instance, following the dedication of the altar at Lyon to Rome and Augustus in 12 BCE, authorities instituted the assembly that was still Fishwick, 125. See also Henri Leclercq, “Lyon” in Dictionnaire D’Achéologie Chrétienne vol. 10 (Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ane, 1931). The dedicatory line that once graced the altar is known through numismatic evidence. 50 Fishwick, 127. 51 Fishwick, 129. 52 Fishwick, 91-92. 49



meeting at the time of Blandina’s death; the annual gathering of the leading rulers of the Three-Gauls. In setting up this council, Drusus53 built significantly on Gallic precedent, since Caesar’s account shows that a tradition of tribal gatherings for the purpose of debating common concerns had existed since 52 BCE.54 In addition, there had been a Celtic tradition of an annual assembly of the Druids in the area of the Carnutes, east of Lyon, during which both private and public disputes were settled.55 Therefore, in his day, Drusus’ assembly served to subvert the gathering of the Druids without blatantly banning it. When Tiberius later issued an edict against it, the void had already been filled; there already existed the annual gathering of Gallic leaders as instituted by Augustus. Thus, a once Gallic activity was reshaped as a Gallo-Roman activity. Gallic rulers met but they did so within the context of and under the authority of Rome. Following the formation of the Council, delegates, representing sixty to sixty-four civitates, met each summer and elected a new president from among their own ranks.56 As Fishwick notes, the annual assembly is “a striking innovation and there can be no doubt that, in this respect at least, imperial policy combined with Gallic federalism to achieve a happy result.”57 The blending of Roman and Gallic traditions within the imperial cult provided a structure from which Roman authorities could begin to meet their goal of ruling and civilizing, provincial lands. Romanization allowed for Rome’s expansion of territory while at the same time, the maintenance and even improvement of some Gallic traditions and structures, such as the nautae corporations, created the cooperation necessary to ensure the best environment for both trade and military 53 A Roman General who served as governor of the Three Gallic provinces from 13-10 BCE. 54 Fishwick, 100. 55 Fishwick, 101. In addition, an annual festival to the god, Lug, held on August 1 has been documented in medieval Ireland. It has been suggested, and indeed is possible that the traditional Gallic festival held on August 1 was also a feast in honor of this god. However, there is no written testimony regarding Lug in Gaul nor any conclusive archaeological evidence (99-100). 56 Fishwick, 101. 57 Fishwick, 101. Fishwick is careful to note, however, that although the council develops within Celtic context and maintains some features from Celtic tradition, its distinguishing characteristics, particularly its link with the imperial cult, suggest that Augustus drew on Roman experience in the east for this model rather than that this council evolved as a Gallic institution under Roman patronage (101-102).



protection. Yet, the continuance of such cooperation required the maintenance of a delicate balance between Roman and Gallic forces. For Roman authorities, it was imperative that ultimate authority rest with the state; for Rome, holding such authority was a matter of survival. Yet, by the second century, her chances for survival cannot be said to rest in her hands alone. To a certain extent, Rome’s fate at the time that the Christian martyrs die at Lyon is dependent on those Gallic tribes who have seemingly been conquered, and who have, in effect, become Rome. The future of the empire had become bound up in relationships that extended beyond her ability to single-handedly control. This occurred, as Foucault says, “in two senses: first of all because the state, for all the omnipotence of its apparatuses, is far from being able to occupy the whole field of actual power relations, and further because the state can only operate on the basis of other, already existing power relations.”58 In her conquering of the Gallic provinces, Rome found herself no longer able to occupy the entire field of power since certain power structures already existed among the Gauls. Instead, it became necessary to work with the Gauls, developing a relationship system in which both groups were intertwined. It was therefore this blend of Roman and Gallic forces existing in relation to one another which sought to maintain a safe and ordered playing field in Gaul at the time that the Christians gathered there as a community in the second century.

THE CULTURAL SYSTEM THROUGH THE LENS OF LOCAL GALLIC AUTHORITIES One might think that having been solidly conquered by Caesar’s forces in earlier years, second century Gauls would retain a bitter taste in their mouths for Rome. They might even be tempted to side with the Christians as fellow sufferers under a common oppressor rather than to side with the imperial government. Yet, the intertwining of Gallo and Roman culture following Gaul’s defeat by Rome was significant and from the Gallic perspective, as from the Roman, Christianity represented an odious, dangerous and subversive threat to the general society and needed to be rooted out. Drinkwater calls Gallo-Roman society “a true hybrid, and not just an artificial transplant” noting that Celtic was used in courts of law and that native leagues rather than Roman miles were used to designate


Foucault, “Truth and Power,” 122.



distances on roads throughout the Three-Gauls.59 He asserts that both of these concessions illustrate “the administrative pragmatism so typical of the High Empire: if current usage was so strong as to produce a serious legal anomaly it was found much better to change the law than to attempt to suppress the anomaly.”60 While it would be an obvious overstatement to say that Gaul initially welcomed her defeat by Caesar, it would be no overstatement to say that by the second century, the area had been Romanized to the extent that benefits already mentioned, such as the increased strength of road and river transport systems, had been duly accepted and were now expected. Second- century Celts were dependent on Rome even as Rome was dependent on them. This mutual dependency can be seen in the workings of the political/administrative structure “which remained remarkably undergoverned by the imperial power,” a factor which “forced Rome to cooperate as much as possible with local authorities to persuade these to do her job for her.”61 Within this system, local authorities maintain a certain individuality, that is, their own sense of Gallic identity, while at the same time they move closer to the position of Rome, adopting a more Romanized position within the group. That these local authorities would not look favorably on a third party, the Christians, who were viewed as attempting to undermine the greater social order, then, is hardly surprising. This positioning of local authorities is perhaps best seen through an examination of positions held within the government and the duties and functions attached to each, particularly to the offices of governor, procurator and chief priest. The highest provincial position was held by the governor, who was appointed by the emperor and was directly responsible to him.62 A governor was appointed to each of the Three-Gauls and ran his administration from the capital city of his province. The duties of this governor were to “protect his province from external aggression, to maintain internal peace, and to uphold the law.”63 In light of these duties, the governor functioned as the military commander-in-chief, a role which made him the supreme legal authority within the province. Indeed, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, in his well known study, “Why Were the Early Christians Drinkwater, 83. Drinkwater, 83. 61 Drinkwater, 97. 62 Drinkwater, 94. For a detailed overview of Rome’s political structure as it is implemented in the provinces, see especially Drinkwater’s chapter 5, “The Administrative Structure.” 63 Drinkwater, 96. 59 60



Persecuted?” asserts that “In the criminal sphere it [the power of the governor] was almost unlimited, save in so far as the rights of Roman citizens (under the Lex Iulia de vi publica) had to be respected . . .”64 Yet, even Roman citizenship could not guarantee a swift rather than a tortured death if the governor was inclined to act otherwise. According to the letter from Lyon, the governor ordered the Christian and Roman citizen, Attalus, to be thrown to the wild beasts in order to please the populace rather than having him quickly beheaded as was the usual punishment for citizens. Although he had previously ceased to torture this prisoner after discovering his citizenship status, the governor at Lyon clearly understood himself as having the authority to surpass the usual course of action if he felt that doing so was in the best interest of maintaining the peace, his highest goal as provincial governor. A more easily overlooked but further illustration of the strength of the governor’s position noted in the letter from Lyon is simply that while Christians were initially rounded up and imprisoned under the authority of the military tribune, both questioning and sentencing had to be put off until the arrival of the governor who had been out of town.65 All proceedings had to wait for him. That the position of provincial governor had wide latitude from early on can be seen in the tone of the famous correspondence between Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Trajan in which Pliny seeks counsel regarding the handling of Christians. Pliny requests Trajan’s advice, saying that he has “doubts” having previously “never been present at any trials of the Christians.”66 Yet, it is clear that he has already made some decisions regarding these subjects and that he has already taken action, having questioned them, given them an opportunity to recant and then, “if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed.”67 That Pliny held the authority to make the decision, either to release or to execute is evident in the reply by Trajan who does not chastise him for having overstepped his authority but which, rather, assures him that his actions were “extremely proper.”68

G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, “Why Were The Early Christians Persecuted?” Past & Present 26 (Nov. 1963): 11-12. 65 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 8. 66 Pliny the Younger, ed. E. Capps (William Melmoth, trans., revised by W.M.L. Hutchinson), Letters 10. 96 in Loeb Classical Library: Pliny, vol. 2, 401. 67 Pliny the Younger, Letters 10. 96. 68 Trajan in Pliny the Younger, Letters 10: 97. 64



Thus, from early on, a governor’s authority reached throughout the whole of his province, a factor that also necessitated a great deal of travel on his part. Consequently, he was forced to rely heavily on support staff in his absence. This staff would include military messengers, clerks and secretaries, all who would have come from the local population. Therefore, the governor, although he was appointed by the Emperor and consequently strongly attached to Rome, found himself equally, perhaps even more strongly, attached and answerable to the local population. Along with the populace and his local staff, the governor of Lyon enjoyed a special security benefit over residents of other provinces. Since Lyon housed the imperial mint, this commander-in-chief also stood as the head of a one thousand member permanent police security force in the city. If necessary, he could even request a loan of further troops; in addition, he held the authority to raise a local militia.69 This represents a significant amount of military might given that the population of Lyon itself was probably only in the low thousands.70 Because of these ties to the imperial government the governor was in a strong position to protect the city and his province from either external or internal aggression. Still, much of his power arose not only through his close association with Rome but also through his relationship with the populace. Thus, it is not particularly surprising first, that according to the letter from Lyon regarding the persecution of the martyrs, the Christians were initially imprisoned to await the arrival of the governor who was absent, apparently away on other provincial business. The arresting officers are reported to have been the military tribune and the city authorities, that 69 Drinkwater, 96. See also Croteau who likewise notes that in the second century, criminal jurisdiction was in the hands of imperial authority, the governor – 56 and footnote 33. 70 Scholars have been unable to conclusively determine the average size of the early capital cities of the Gallic provinces. Criteria have included the number of seats available in local theatres or amphitheatres, estimating the volume of water carried by the aqueducts, assuming a certain density of settlement per area and attempting to establish the amount of housing facilities that were available. Drinkwater consults the work of Duval, Etienne and Buchanan asserting that while none of these offer conclusive proof of size, each illustrates that the cities would be considered very small by modern standards; no more than several thousand. He cautions, however, that the size of the cities should not be taken to mean that the entire population was small since many, indeed most, residents of the provinces lived in rural areas. See Drinkwater, chapters 7 and 8, “Urbanisation” and “The Countryside,” especially 155-159.



is, magistrates and civil servants elected by the local populace who were enraged with the Christians.71 The cooperation of military and civil authorities illustrates how closely the governor and his underlings worked with one another in the common goal of maintaining order in the province. Secondly, it is not surprising that upon his arrival, the governor, noting the upset of the populace and the anger toward these particular prisoners, treated them “with the utmost cruelty” and then condemned them.72 As the governor, maintenance of the peace was a top priority. It was his task to preserve order; he could not let the situation get out of hand. Wanting to keep the populace in check, governors were strongly influenced by public opinion. If public opinion were highly inflamed against a particular group, as it was against these Christians, a governor would have little reason for not following through with prosecution. While it is unlikely that he would have bothered to move forward had there been no persons serious enough to bring their complaints formally before the court, an angry group of people such as this obviously demonstrated sufficient reason for moving ahead with prosecution.73 Thus, while the provincial governor occupied the position of supreme legal authority within his province, in practice his actions were influenced not only by the emperor but also by the populace whom he ruled. In addition, the governor did not have completely free reign, checked as he was by his provincial procurator. This was particularly true in Lyon. From the mid-first century, the financial affairs of Lyon and Aquitania were overseen from Lyon and while there were never more than two provincial procurators at a time throughout the Three-Gauls74 it is certain that the procurator, because he governed the money, was able to keep his finger on the pulse of even the governor at Lyon. The position of provincial procurator ensured that a governor could not single-handedly gain excessive funds and thereby be enabled to finance a revolt against the emperor. This distancing of the governor from the money also limited the governor’s chances of stockpiling large sums of money for his own personal use and it prevented the utilization of imperial funds for buying the support of troops.75 Furthermore, through the procurators and their staffs, the Empire collected a number of taxes. The most important was the “tribute,” a direct Eusebius HE 5. 1. 8. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 9-10. 73 See De Ste. Croix, 15-16. 74 Drinkwater, 97-98. 75 Drinkwater, 97. 71 72



tax paid by non-Roman citizens which the Empire levied ostensibly for the good of the provinces but which provincial people “resented as a mark of Rome’s subjects’ buying themselves out of slavery which, by the right of conquest, was properly their lot.”76 The “tribute” represents an area of tension wherein the forces of individuality and togetherness described by Bowen are played out clearly. In this matter, it can be seen that the local populace gravitates toward their sense of individuality in that they resent the tax and apparently complain about it. They wish to maintain their Gallic identity and to remain separate from Rome. Yet, at the same time they exhibit also a certain pull toward Rome coming from their own sense of togetherness. While they do resent the tax, they make the payment, apparently recognizing at some level that the payment does indeed afford them certain features in life that they would prefer not to be without, in particular, military protection from external invaders and economic benefits. A third position of great importance within the provincial structure was that of chief priest, who as already noted, was elected to office each year by members of the Gallic Council. The ceremony conducted annually on August 1 by this priest represented an affirmation of loyalty to the imperial power; specifically to the goddess, Roma who was understood to personify Rome, and the current ruling emperor. The significance of Gallic priests publicly offering sacrifices and espousing loyalty to the empire is obvious. Yet, the particular title given to this chief priest, sacerdos, is curious since the usual term associated with state-priesthoods is flamen whereas sacerdos was properly restricted to state recognized Greek cults.77 The imperial cult as it is practiced, then, in Lyon utilizes a title for the chief priest associated with Greek, not Roman, cult. This sacerdos offers sacrifice to a couple – Roma (a goddess of Greek, not Roman, origin) and the Roman emperor. Both the divine goddess and the priest who offers sacrifice are associated with non-Romans, an apparent and significant attempt on the part of Rome to inculcate other peoples into her midst. Indeed, it is no accident that in the second century, as in the earlier days of Augustus, Lyon’s altar is still being used as a means to inculcate new groups of people. The very make-up of the cult portrays the benevolence of Rome. Rome insists on her authority but she takes in and makes as equals gods of other origins, just as she did Roma. She also accepts the sacrifices and prayers of priests of non-Roman origins (the sacerdos) at her altars. At 76 77

Drinkwater, 98. Fishwick, 131-133.



the altar of Rome and Augustus, the merger of Rome and Gaul is epitomized. The fact that Blandina and her fellow Christians refuse to worship even the gods of the blended state represented here makes them odious to imperial authorities, Gallo-Roman authorities and populace alike. Through their exclusive behavior Christians make themselves enemies of the state. The ceremony conducted each year on August 1 was designed to affirm the loyalty of the people to the emperor. Yet, it also affirmed the loyalty of the emperor to them. The ceremony itself served to bind ruler and ruled in a way that was sacred while still eminently practical. From both imperial and local perspective, then, it was fitting that Christians who deliberately undermined such religious and civic unity be sacrificed in the interest of that unity.

TENSIONS AND ERUPTION Intertwining relationships between the emperor, provincial authorities and populace thus reveal a system in which multiple loyalties sometimes complement one another and at other times conflict. The smooth functioning of this provincial system depended largely on the ability of provincial authorities to maintain a balance in relationship between the Gallo-Roman populace and the imperial government; a balance through which complementarity would be maximized and conflict minimized. Such a balance would allow the Celts to enjoy the freedom to remain Celtic as well as to enjoy the benefits of, to a certain extent, becoming Roman. In other words, Gallic identity had to be maintained while, simultaneously, a communal Gallo-Roman world created. The key to maintaining this “true hybrid” was balance, with the forces of individuality and the forces of togetherness being kept in careful and controlled interplay. The tensions were always there; tremors always present and often constructive. Yet, the goal was to allow for these constructive tremors without the ensuing destructive eruption of an earthquake.78 It was to the advantage of both Rome and the Gauls to allow these forces of individuality and togetherness to pull concurrently and advantageously against one another, creating a positive balanced tension. Yet, such balance is not always easily kept and, as in this case, the delicate peace not easy to maintain. By the second century, the exclusive activities of 78 The illustration given earlier of a taut rubber-band is a fitting way to picture the interplay of these forces. A rubber-band can be pliable and strong enough to stretch and bind and yet the goal is generally not to break the rubber-band in the process of stretching it.



Christians in Gaul exerted the final pressure on an already quaking system. Bowen and Kerr suggest that when forces of individuality and togetherness are in balance, the interplay between such forces “may be barely visible [since] the adjustments people are making to one another are so subtle and automatic that they are not obvious.”79 However, if pressure is exerted on the system, either internally or externally, the system will be pushed out of balance, with the result that adjustments made in an attempt to restore balance are “more intense and more easily observed.”80 By the second century, the area of the Three-Gauls shows observable signs of a system out of balance. Forces from both outside and inside Roman territory threatened Rome’s survival and by this time any threat to Rome was a threat to the Three-Gauls as well. By the time that Antoninus Pius died and Marcus Aurelius rose to power81 the empire suffered under financial strain brought on largely by threats of military invasion.82 The Rhine frontier remained basically strong but along the Danubian front, the Macromanni and the Quadi posed a continuous and serious threat.83 While the area of the Three-Gauls did not apparently sustain significant social or economic misfortune during this period, a certain degree of anxiety regarding financial matters is revealed by the fact that the emperor sent a senator by the name of Vettius Sabinianus into the area under his authority in order to make an examination of accounts.84 As Drinkwater suggests, although the area may not have been directly affected by the difficulties on the Danube, “it is not unreasonable to suppose that Gaul suffered under her fair share of the general ills of the Empire occasioned by the struggle on the Danube – a shortage of ready cash, a temporary draining-away of manpower, and the plague brought from the east.”85 Indeed, plague of epidemic proportion is known to have broken out in 167. The loss of life was great and the effect throughout the Empire very serious. According to the account written later by Ammianus Marcellinus, plague extended “From the frontiers of the Persians as far as to the Rhine

Kerr and Bowen, 66. Kerr and Bowen, 66. 81 Marcus Aurelius reigned from 161 to 180. From 161-169, he and Lucius Verus ruled conjointly. 82 Drinkwater, 76-79. 83 Drinkwater, 76-79. Also, Croteau, 50. 84 Drinkwater, 76. 85 Drinkwater, 76. 79 80



and Gaul” polluting “everything with contagion and death.”86 Throughout the empire stories circulated among the populace, linking the illness to the anger of the gods. Indeed, in Rome anxiety ran so high that Marcus Aurelius was led to summon priests to perform religious rites and to purify the city.87 This combination of plague, military threat and financial struggle exerted sufficient pressure on the system to cause observable responses. Marcus Aurelius, as emperor, sought to defend the empire from military invasion by increasing troops and resources along border areas.88 Such increases, however, could avail nothing against the uncontrollable and insidious plague. For assistance in dealing with that threat, he called on the help of the gods, and on the people of Rome and the provinces, to purify the Empire. While in the twenty-first century, talk of purification would involve masks and disinfectants of all types, purification in the Roman Empire during the second century meant becoming pure before the gods. Such purification involved purging the land of peoples and behaviors displeasing to the gods and actively performing rituals that might bring divine favor. Rising tensions thus influenced the emperor, local authorities and the pagan populace to draw themselves together in this proper worship of the gods in order to fight those factors that threatened the fragile unity of the empire. Not everyone, however, took part. The failure of Christians to honor and revere the gods during such a time made them an easy target for long lasting hatred. By 177, the plague had died down but it is unlikely that tensions had; military and financial struggles continued and it was within this tense environment that the Christians of Lyon worshipped their own god exclusively and refused to pay homage not only to local deities but even to Rome and the emperor. It was within such a volatile environment that they avoided public worship of the gods, choosing instead to worship in their own households; activities that not only aroused suspicions of secretive and evil rites but which for Roman authorities also dredged up memories of past druidic rites which they feared lay always under the surface in Gaul. Resisting togetherness forces and moving instead toward the establishment of a more individualized identity, these Christians Ammianus Marcellinus in Anthony Birley, Marcus Aurelius: A Biography (London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., revised edition – 1987, original – 1966), 149. 87 Birley, 151. See also Croteau, 50. 88 This was no easy task since troops who lived in congested barracks had been among the hardest hit by the disease – see Birley, 150; and because the general population from which the army could be re-supplied was also decimated. 86



separated themselves in their worship, causing dismay and inflaming already existent hatred against them. That the pagan populace saw Christians as dissidents and wished to curtail their unseemly practices is made clear by the letter sent from Lyon which claims that angry mobs shut them out of public places89 and accused them of cannibalism and incest.90 Such accusations were indeed serious. They bore close resemblance to the rites of human sacrifice which Rome had sought to purge from Gaul and for which the Druids had been expelled. The belief that Christians engaged in such barbarous activity (whether or not the accusations were true) must have renewed fear in both Roman and Gallo-Roman minds. Rome had worked long and hard to rid herself and her provinces of such practices and pagan Gauls, now Romanized themselves, clearly understood themselves as too civilized to engage in such practices. The Christian community, however unwittingly, dredged up a deep seated fear of past times in which daggers were plunged into human beings in order to tell the future and even the innocent were sometimes killed in dedication to the gods.91 In short, they posed a serious threat to the overall well-being and security of the community; they and their barbarous practices had to be stopped. Therefore, as the Christians sought to follow their own practices, practices which divided them from the greater community rather than binding them to that community, Rome and her local authorities, with the approval of the populace endeavored once again to purge herself of the menace. Plague, border unrest, and accompanying financial difficulty caused both imperial and local authorities to place paramount importance on security. This meant that radical, subversive groups demanded suppression in the interest of order. As Kyle puts it, “Christian abstention (e.g. from the games, sacrifices, and the emperor cult) was seen as hostility to Rome, as religious treason threatening the pax deorum, and as insolence against the majesty and divinity of emperors.”92 Against such subversive elements, Rome needed to demonstrate a show of force in order to convince the pagan crowd that all was well; that indeed officials were in control of what Eusebius HE 5. 1. 5. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 14. 91 Drinkwater maintains that for centuries Romans experienced “the terror Gallicus” which can be traced back to their defeat by the Celts at Rome around 390 BCE and the Celtic sack of Delphi in 279 BCE. This fear of the Gauls was “destined to recur as a fundamental theme in the dealings between Rome and Gaul” – Drinkwater, 7-9. 92 Kyle, 243. 89 90



was, in reality, a politically shaky situation. At the same time it needed to strike fear into the hearts of any would-be Christians. In both Rome and her provinces, the government (supported by the populace) used brutal public punishment in an attempt to deter dissidents.93 Execution was only secondary. First and foremost was the implication, This too could be YOU! In concert with the thoughts of Foucault, K.M. Coleman, in her study on the aims of the Roman penal system, notes that the “humanitarian notion that execution should be carried out with dignity, speed, and discretion is a modern idea.”94 Clearly, in the Roman Empire, the death penalty was not instituted only to deprive the offender of life but also to inflict pain and humiliation in an effort to deter others from subversive behavior and thereby to maintain law and order.95 Since Christians chose to separate themselves from the greater community by dissident behavior, the practice of Christianity needed to be It is clear in the letter from Lyon that some were indeed deterred, even if only temporarily, by the sight of torture enacted on their comrades: see especially the account of Biblias who first denies and then later confesses – Eusebius HE 5. 1. 25-26. Crucifixion, a form of torture used both inside and outside the arena was utilized as a particularly strong deterrent – see Vassilios Tzaferis, “Crucifixion – The Archaeological Evidence,” The Biblical Archaeology Review 11:1 (Jan. and Feb. 1985): 44-53, especially 48. 94 K.M. Coleman, “Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments,” The Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990): 46. According to Coleman, Seneca “maintains that the law fulfills three functions in punishing offenders: correction, deterrence, and the restoration of security by removing the criminal from society” 48. 95 While legally execution is now carried out with “dignity, speed and discretion,” it is nonetheless interesting to note that among much of the modern populace public shame continues to be understood and accepted as an effective deterrent to crime. In their immensely popular country hit, Toby Keith and Willie Nelson capture the sentiment of a significant element of the population as they sing about hangin’ up them bad boys – for all the people to see. The rationale (once the crimes against decent people have been recounted) is clear: “cause justice is the one thing you should always find; you’ve got to saddle up your boys, you’ve got to draw a hard line . . .” While some might find this tune, and perhaps even the entire genre of country music distasteful, it can hardly be denied that as a body of music, country tells stories about the lives of real people, often uniting them at a deep level by capturing emotions that otherwise go unsaid. It may be that the line between country and classical is more opaque than is often thought, even as the line between justice and injustice is not always so obvious, but rather is a matter of perspective. See Toby Keith “Beer For My Horses” Unleashed, #5, Nashville: DreamWorks Records, 2002. 93



deterred and Christians themselves came to be understood by authorities and pagan populace alike as people deserving of death. It is not so surprising then, given the Roman understanding of the means of maintaining law and order, that Christians in Lyon should be persecuted and die in a public manner and in a way that bears some resemblance to the human sacrifice of earlier centuries. While by the second century, GalloRomans had distanced themselves from the blatant practice of human sacrifice as a means of gaining divine favor, there still exists the likelihood that the Lyon Christians were used as trinqui in a ritual sacrifice at the annual festival of the Three Gauls.96 While trinqui were understood to be gladiators, they were, in a sense, voluntary rather than selected sacrificial victims.97 For Gallo-Romans, it seems the games provided for the annual August 1 festivities retained a sacred and religious tone since inscriptional evidence from a Roman senatorial meeting relates that trinqui “because of an ancient custom of sacred ritual are eagerly awaited in the states of the most glorious Gallic provinces . . .”98 This matter of the trinqui first became important in scholarship on the Lyon martyrdoms when J.H. Oliver proposed, based on the inscriptional evidence from the Roman senatorial meeting that the Lyon martyrs were also trinqui.99 His theory gained wide support from many scholars including Frend, Kyle, Drinkwater and Croteau.100 Drinkwater and Croteau, however, both emphasize that the edict does not specifically 96 See James H. Oliver and Robert E.A. Palmer, “Minutes of an Act of the Roman Senate,” Hesperia, 24 (1955): 320-349. 97 See the discussion on trinqui in Kyle, 250 and Croteau, 85-88. 98 The Aes Italicense, 56 in Croteau Appendix 3, 152. Croteau provides the complete text and translation of the Aes Italicense inscription (usually referred to as the “senatus consultum”) taken from the most recent reworking of that inscription by Oliver and Palmer, Hesperia, 24 (1955): 320-340. 99 See Oliver and Palmer. 100 For support for this theory see especially Frend (Martyrdom, ch. 1), Kyle (Spectacles, ch. 8), Drinkwater (Roman Gaul, 78-79) and Croteau (Marcus Aurelius, ch.3). It should also be noted that Mursurillo does not support Oliver’s theory claiming that there is no direct evidence for it from ancient sources including the letter itself – see Mursurillo, xx-xxi. Whether or not there is evidence within the letter can be disputed. Verse 39 says that “throughout the day, they [the victims] were a spectacle in place of all the variation among the gladiators.” Whether the statement means that the victims replaced actual gladiators or only that this was a spectacle in the style of the gladiatorial combats cannot be known with certainty. Still, circumstantial evidence combined with inscriptional information makes it highly likely that in this particular instance Christians were indeed used as trinqui.



designate Christians but rather was directed at all condemned criminals. Drinkwater, in particular, cautions against the temptation to assume the legislation was used as an excuse to round up Christians for the specific purpose of generating more victims. His caution is well-taken. I agree with Kyle who states that “in a time of economic stress, criminals, including Christians, were unpopular, cheap, and convenient.”101 The Christians at Lyon were victims of systemic forces. The facts of their circumstance cannot be used to explain pogroms against Christians in other times and places. Still, this senatorial inscription also serves well to reveal the intermingling of the remnants of Gallic religion with an imperial concern regarding financial affairs. It relates that in an effort to relieve the financial burden of the priests who were charged with the purchase of gladiators for the games, Marcus Aurelius issued an edict in 176-177 that placed limits on the price of gladiators.102 The edict allowed imperial procurators to substitute criminals for hired gladiators and also allowed these criminals to be purchased for a fraction of the cost of a gladiator.103 This edict was met with joy in the Gallic provinces: When it was unofficially reported that the profits of the lanistae [those who sold gladiators to the priests] had been pruned back and that the Fiscus had renounced all that money as contaminated, immediately the priests of your most loyal Gallic provinces rushed to see each other, were full of joy, and plied each other with questions and answers. There was one who being appointed priest had given up his fortune for lost, had named a council to help him in an appeal addressed to the Emperors. But in that very gathering, he himself, before and after consulting his friends, exclaimed, “What do I want with an appeal now? Their most sacred Majesties the Emperors have released the whole burden which crushed my patrimony. Now, I desire and look forward to being a priest, and as for the duty of putting on a spectacle, of which we once were solemnly asking to be relieved, I welcome it” (Aes Italicense, 14-18 in Croteau, 146-147).

It is small wonder that this news was so welcomed by this Gallic priest. Not only would he save a significant amount on the purchase of Kyle, 250. For the prices in each class and grade, see The Aes Italicense 29-35 in Croteau, 148-149. The lowest price (of all classes and grades) is 3000 HS while the maximum price is 15,000 HS. 103 See The Aes Italicense, 56-58 in Croteau 152-153. 101 102



gladiators but the edict also made two other declarations of importance to him. First, the price limit on gladiators was to apply also to trinqui and second, condemned criminals could be substituted for trinqui. In regards to trinqui, the senatorial minutes read: . . . let the lanistae not charge a higher price than 2,000 sesterces apiece, since their Majesties the Emperors have announced in their oration that the policy will be for a procurator of theirs to hand over to the lanistae at a price of not more than six gold pieces a man who has been condemned to death (The Aes Italicense, 56-58 in Croteau, 152-153).

Thus, while by the second century blatant human sacrifice was not the norm in Gaul, neither Gallo-Romans nor imperial officials were against the ritual execution of criminals in the interest of the common good; if the ritual murder had a sacred undertone to it, so be it. While in the eyes of the people innocent human victims were no longer sacrificed, the elimination of Christian criminals did in an indirect way, serve as a means of procuring divine favor. The purging of subversive elements which through neglect and disrespect, continually incited the gods and thereby invited disorder could only please the variety of deities. Thus, from the view of both imperial Rome and the Gallo-Romans, Christians brought persecution on themselves and therefore were not to be pitied. While from a post-modern view in which individualism is highly valued, such an attitude may seem harsh, from a communal view, Christian behavior was not only ignorant but irresponsible as well. In the eyes of Romans and Gauls, Christians, through their reckless behavior, had brought death and destruction to the entire community. Better to see them die than to witness the destruction of a carefully constructed society. Looking through such a lens, it is no surprise that Christians at Lyon ended up in the arena. Social, religious, political and economic forces all converged to bring about such a result. Neither is it any surprise that pagans are said to have looked on without pity. Indeed, when Blandina and Ponticus enter the arena on the last day of their torment, the author of the letter reports that the crowd “had no compassion for the youth of the boy nor respect for the woman.”104 The already low status of the two had been reduced even further to that of common criminal and thus no pity was merited. Still, since many pagan criminals as well as Christians died in Roman arenas, questions arise regarding the specific charges brought 104

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 53.



against the Christians. In his excellent article on the legal basis for condemnation of Christians as criminals, A.N. Sherwin-White outlines the three major schools of thought on the topic : 1) a general enactment throughout the empire that forbade the practice of Christianity, 2) Roman governors used their own discretion to maintain order without reference to any specific legislation and 3) Christians were charged for specific offenses under known criminal laws, offenses such as murder, incest, magic, illegal assembly and treason.105 Noting that “No Roman historian seems to have supported whole-heartedly the notion of a general law of early date,” he asserts that most now support the notion that Roman governors acted according to their own discretion.106 However, the case remains open as to whether or not they acted with reference to a specific crime and if so, the nature of that crime. Specifically, were Christians killed for one of the known crimes already mentioned or were they, as is often suggested, killed simply for being Christian? Sherwin-White, himself acknowledging the wide latitude given to Roman governors, argues that Christians died not necessarily for the Name of Christ but rather for their wanton contumacy. In his view, the “Name” acted as a flag that alerted officials to trouble. However, since most followed the advice of Trajan allowing Christians to recant, prove their loyalty to the emperor and consequently to be released, it was only those who continued in their contumacia who were finally condemned. The core objection in his view then, was not the “Name,” nor even any of the dissident acts associated with followers of that name (crimes of which governors may or may not have believed them to be guilty) but rather the core objection was contumacia.107 Against this view stands that of the well-known scholar on this topic, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix who, while praising the careful overview and analysis provided by Sherwin-White, argues that Christians did indeed die precisely for the “Name.” In his view, that which he refers to as the

105 A.N. Sherwin-White, “The Early Persecutions and Roman Law Again,” The Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 3 (1952): 199. Scholars heading the three major schools are Calawaert, Mommsen and Conrat respectively. 106 Sherwin-White, 200. According to Sherwin-White, the notion of the general law has been largely rejected for three reasons: “First, the limited and sporadic nature of the persecutions down to Tertullian’s time . . . Secondly the well-known passages in Pliny, Suetonius, and Tacitus do not require it. Thirdly, the specific references in Tertullian’s Apology to leges, whereby non licit esse Christianos, are too forensic and rhetorical to prove it.” 107 See Sherwin-White, especially 207-213.



“sacrifice test”108 “destroys the whole foundation of the [contumacia] theory.”109 Pliny, he notes, only asks those who had denied to sacrifice and he asks this as a test of their loyalty to the emperor. Since he did not ask those who continued to confess to sacrifice, it is obvious that they did not have an opportunity to refuse this order.110 Pliny feels “no doubt that [their] contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement.”111 Still, the contumacy is related to their confession of the “Name” and not to a refusal to sacrifice. While the arguments of both Sherwin-White and de Ste. Croix are plausible, the real problem in solving the question of legal charges seems to be the wide latitude of governors and thus the imprecise nature of foundations for those charges. Was the core objection against the Christians, that which led to legal charges, the confession of the “Name” or wanton contumacia? De Ste. Croix seems to answer this in the best way possible when he asserts that “under the cognitio process no foundation was necessary, other than a prosecutor, a charge of Christianity, and a governor willing to punish on that charge.”112 Governors did indeed have wide latitude in their decisions, thus, some Christians may indeed have died for the confession of the “Name” while others may have died, after several opportunities to recant, for what was deemed obstinate and wanton contumacy. As for the martyrs of Lyon, the evidence is overwhelming that they died for the confession of the “Name” of Christ. The letter indicates that in the Christians’ initial encounter before the governor in which Vettius Epagathus acted as spokesperson, the governor’s only question to him was whether or not he was a Christian. Upon answering in the affirmative, Vettius was sent immediately to prison along with the rest.113 Torture of the Christians quickly ensued. Following only one inquiry by the governor as to who he was, Alexander was rapidly sent to the beasts for responding that he was a Christian.114 Likewise, Attalus was sent to the beasts in spite of being a

De Ste. Croix, 19-20. De Ste. Croix, 18. 110 De Ste. Croix, 18. 111 Pliny the Younger, Letters 10. 96 in Loeb Classical Library: Pliny, vol. 2. ed. E. Capps, trans. William Melmoth, revised by W.M.L. Hutchinson (New York: Macmillan, 1915), 401 and 403. 112 De Ste. Croix, 17. 113 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 10. 114 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 50. 108 109



Roman citizen. Significantly, prior to his entrance in the arena, a sign was placed about his neck proclaiming “This is Attalus, the Christian.”115 Perhaps the best evidence that these Christians died precisely because of their confession rests in the information that even those who first confessed and then recanted were thrown into prison with the rest.116 Their denial, it seems, did them no good. Apparently, the governor at Lyon used his discretionary power and ruled against them in spite of their late denial. Perhaps he determined that the damage to the greater community had already been done and thus, that these needed to be punished as a deterrent to others who might even consider involvement with this group. At any rate, according to the text late deniers and steadfast confessors alike were condemned, the earlier deniers imprisoned with those who had never wavered and who were locked up “as Christians, no other charge being brought against them.”117 In the end, it is the governor who appears most to blame for the heavy loss of life during the summer of 177 in Lyon. Yet, he did not act alone. Social, political, religious and economic forces all converged to place him in a position in which the emperor allowed him discretionary power and in which the populace exerted tremendous influence over his decisions. An examination of the systemic forces does not allow for the exoneration of the emperor or for the populace at the expense of the governor. As parts of the system, all were caught up in the forces of their day. But what should be said about the Christians? What part did they play in the bringing about of their own fate? Perhaps it is that one statement made by Blandina that provides the most insight: “I am a Christian and there is nothing vile done by us.”118 The first portion of this statement represents her own confession which by virtue of the endurance she shows for the faith cannot be disputed. The second part, however, is questionable. Was there indeed nothing vile done by these Christians? From their own viewpoint, as well as from our own post-modern view which assumes the individual’s right to religious freedom, the answer is clearly “no.” Yet, from the viewpoint of the Roman imperial government, local authorities and the Gallo-Roman pagan populace, such a quick and ready response would appear absurd. How could any civic-minded, religious person Eusebius HE 5. 1. 44. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 33. 117 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 33. 118 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19. The text uses the word fau~lon, literally “paltry” or “lowly,” even shameful. The word “vile” seems to best capture the sense in English. 115 116



easily absolve those whose self-centered behavior had already threatened the well-being of the nation; how could such a person simply pardon those responsible for numerous deaths, threats on national security and economic hardship? To free such as these would be to invite more of the same. These martyrs, too, played a part in the systemic forces that led to their deaths. Their mode of operation—their exclusivity in regards to their worship; their very setting apart of themselves and their god—was indeed vile in the eyes of their pagan neighbors. From certain restricted angles and through a limited lens it is true that the Christians at Lyon were pawns in a political system; they might even be construed as innocent bystanders. Yet, a systemic view reveals them as active participants in an historic drama.


They endured again the gauntlet of whips, customary to that place, and the violence of the wild beasts, and everything which the frenzied mob, some from here, some from elsewhere, called for and demanded [and] finally the iron chair from which their bodies being roasted tormented them with odor (Eusebius HE 5. 1. 38-39).

Such was the brutal treatment of the Lyonnaise Christians who were deemed by authorities and populace alike as the very stench of the earth. Unceasing and unyielding, the text reveals violent and escalating acts of torture. Yet, as the final spectacle draws to its close, hatred is diluted, though not diminished, by a nearly palpable mixture of awe and fear as “the Gentiles themselves confessed that never among them had a woman endured so much and so many [tortures]” and as Christian bodies are desecrated in order to safeguard the public against the possibility of their resurrection.2 What can account for this change? How is it that officials, initially on the offensive, end up in such a defensive posture? How is it that they, all confident and all-powerful as they mete out numerous acts of torture, come to be standing in shocked amazement instead of in the expected stance of powerful and glorious conquerors? What, or who, has robbed them of their joy-filled certain victory? Here, I will make the case that the answer to that question is “Blandina,” the seemingly powerless slave-woman who acts as her own self; not as a super-hero and not as a warrior but simply as who she is – a woman, a slave, a Christian. As an active but often overlooked participant in her cultural milieu, Blandina exercises a will that turns the tide of power in her direction.

1 A saying that is common among practitioners of Bowen theory. It is thought to have originated with Dr. Murray Bowen and was utilized by Rabbi Ed Friedman. 2 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 56b.




When examined through a systemic lens, the events that unfold at Lyon reveal a matrix of relationships. This matrix allows for the shifting of power throughout the overall system. As already shown, by the second century, imperial Rome, Gallo-Rome and the growing Christian community at Lyon were intertwined in a network of relations that precluded the possibility of operation in a vacuum. Within this context, it is no accident that Blandina, the victim, comes to be seen by Christians (and to a certain degree, by pagans as well) as Blandina, the victor. It is, instead, the result of choices made both by this woman and by her captors. In this chapter, it will be shown that Blandina’s response to her situation serves to neutralize the efforts of her tormentors and even, finally, to thwart them completely. Her choices, made not in a void, but rather, within the context of a system unprepared for them, force a rearrangement of power holdings. At the same time, choices made by her persecutors allow that new arrangement to occur. In order to illustrate how this reorganization of power takes place, I will first provide an analysis of the matrix of power within the system at Lyon as it relates specifically to Blandina. I will then show how Blandina’s actions serve to re-distribute power within this volatile system, thus, significantly changing the expected course of events. Finally, I will examine the response of authorities to Blandina’s action, revealing how their response to her behavior solidifies their own loss of power. Blandina’s choices within this matrix of relationships will thus be shown to result in a re-distribution of power that changes the perception of this slave-woman from one who is victim to one who is victor; from one who is tortured to one who causes torturers to stand in amazement.

DISTRIBUTION OF POWER: MATRIX OF RELATIONS The portion of text most relevant for illuminating this shift of power which brings about a change in Blandina’s perceived status is that section in which, brutally tortured and hung up on a stake, she is portrayed as a figure of Christ: 41. H( de\ Blandi~na e0pi\ cu/lou kremasqei~sa prou/keito bora\ tw~n ei0sballome/nwn qhri/wn, h(\ kai\ dia\ tou~ ble/pesqai staurou~ sxh/mati kremame/nh, dia\ th~j eu0to/nou proseuxh~j pollh\n proqumi/an toi~j a0gwnizome/noij e0nepoi/ei, blepo/ntwn au0tw~n e0n tw~| a0gw~ni kai\ toi~j e1cwqen o0fqalmoi~j dia\ th~j a0delfh~j to\n u(pe\r au0tw~n e0staurwme/non, I(/na pei/sh| tou\j pisteu/ontaj ei0j au0to\n o(/ti pa~j o( u(pe\r th\j Xristou~ do/chj paqw\n th\n koinwni/an a0ei\ e0/xei meta\ tou~ zw~ntoj qeou~. 42. Kai\ mhdeno\j a(yame/nou to/te



tw~n qhri/wn au0th~j, kaqaireqei~sa a0po\ tou~ cu/lou a0nelh/fqh pa/lin ei0j th\n ei(rkth/n, ei0j a!llon a0gw~na throume/nh I(/na dia\ pleio/nwn gumnasma/twn nikh/sasa tw~| me\n skoliw~| o0/ /fei a0parai/thton poih/sh| th\n katadi/khn, protre/yhtai de\ tou\j a0delfou\j h( mikra\ kai\ a0sqenh\j kai\ eu0katafro/nhtoj, me/gan kai\ a0katagw/niston a0qlhth\n Xristo\n e0ndedume/nh, dia\ pollw~n klh/rwn e0kbia/sasa to\n a0ntikei/menon kai\ di0 a00gw~noj to\n th~j a0fqarsi/aj steyame/nh ste/fanon (Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41-42). 3 41. But Blandina was hung there on wood as fodder while wild beasts were thrown at her, and because she hung as one seen in the form of a cross, and because during the contest they were seeing with outward eyes, through their sister, the one who had been crucified for them, she aroused, through her vigorous prayer, very great zeal in those contending for the prize; in order that she would persuade those who have faith in him that everyone who has suffered for the glory of Christ has communion forever with the living God. 42. And since at that time none of the beasts had touched her she was taken down from the wood [and] taken back to the prison to be guarded for another contest, in order that having been victorious through more games she would make irrevocable the judgment of the twisted serpent and she would urge on the brothers; [for] she, being small and weak and despicable put on the great and invincible athlete Christ, for through many throws of the dice she had overthrown the adversary and through her conflict won the crown of immortality.

The first point that is obvious in an examination of this text is that this is a public event. While previously Blandina and her fellow Christians had been examined before the governor, an earlier verse tells us that on this particular day the torment takes place in the arena itself, in order to provide the Gentiles with a spectacle of cruelty, a time of entertainment; “a day for fighting with wild beasts being purposely designed for our sake.”4 Indeed, for Blandina, suspension on a stake is the culmination of a long day of having survived the gauntlet, the beasts, the roasting seat and “everything which the furious mob. . . called for and demanded.”5 Thus it was that the governor, in acquiescence to an angry public and in accordance with Roman methods of maintaining law and order, provided this day of spectacle. He did not act completely of his own accord Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41-42: Greek text taken from Mursurillo, p. 74. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 37. 5 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 38. 3 4



but rather in reaction to expectations and pressures placed upon him. As the governor he has a stake in the events that take place during this hot summer in Lyon. Yet, as has been seen, the governor and his local governing authorities are not the only stakeholders in this drama. Rather, they act in relation to imperial Rome and the Christian community, groups who also have a stake, and thus some influence, over the outcome of these events. Furthermore, by virtue of the fact that this text was utilized by Eusebius and is still read today, it is clear that both the ancient and the modern reader also have a stake, so to speak, in the outcome of events. The interests of these later stakeholders will be addressed in the following chapter. At this point, by first recognizing the immediate, second century power-holders (imperial Rome, the Christian community, local authorities and angry local populace) and the nature of the influence they exert on one another within this system, it is then possible to analyze these verses with an eye to the key players on this particular day. Just who, it can be asked, are the persons or groups that hold a vital interest in the events on the day that Blandina is lifted up on the stake? Who stands to lose or gain with the outcome of these events? Who, in other words, are the key stakeholders? The most obvious of key stakeholders in these two verses (being literally attached to the stake) is Blandina. Clearly, barring some kind of a miracle, she stands to lose everything on this day. Between the stake and the beasts and the fact that she has already been gravely injured by previous tortures, her chances are not good; nonetheless, she maintains some influence and interest in events by virtue of the fact that all eyes are centered on her. A second major power broker that can be identified in these verses are those responsible for torturing Blandina – local authorities and, by influential extension, imperial authorities and the furious pagan populace. This group is represented here by the “wild beasts,” those whose desire and task it is to rip the woman to shreds and to devour her, wiping any trace of delinquent, dissident, behavior from the face of Gaul.6 6 The symbolism used here is common to apocalyptic literature wherein Gentile nations are often represented as wild beasts. See, for instance, the beast of the book of Revelation who, rising out of the sea, appears like a leopard, has the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion – Revelation 13: 1-2. Since beasts were both an entertaining and efficient way of disposing of criminals in the Roman arena, Christian martyrologies likewise often associate the beasts who literally attack the faithful with the authorities who do so metaphorically. In this text, it has already been noted that those who act against the Christian community are associated with “the adversary” who “swooped down upon us with all his might.” These are said to



Two other crucial stakeholders can be identified in these verses. The first of these are the Christian witnesses who, looking on Blandina in her plight, see “with outward eyes” “the one who had been crucified for them.” The second is their perception of that crucified one himself – Jesus, the one who is seen – and who thus, also plays a critical role in exerting influence within this system. It matters not that as twenty-first century onlookers to the text, readers today perhaps perceive this Jesus as a cosmic, non-real figment of the ancient observer’s imagination. According to the text, believers saw Jesus with their own outward, physical, eyes. For them, Jesus was a reality and hence, must be recognized as one of the clear forces of influence within this system. Thus, Blandina, her pagan persecutors, believing onlookers and Jesus all take up their places as major powerbrokers within the system on this fateful day. Foucault’s assertion, that power always functions as a “multiplicity of discourses,” and never as a singular force, is operative here.7 Bowen Systems Theory can be utilized to further explain how this “multiplicity” functions, thereby resulting in outcomes that are sometimes predictable. Beginning with the concept that relationships (rather than individual parts) make up the smallest possible emotional unit, Bowen posits the triangle as the smallest stable unit of relationship. The triangle is considered stable because of its three interconnecting nodal points. While earlier in relation to imperial Rome and the Gallo-Romans, I discussed the broad forces that pull either toward individuality or togetherness, the concept of the triangle allows us to picture those forces as they are operative in relationships involving more than two people or two groups. According to Bowen, and consistent with Foucault, it is never possible to adequately examine the process of relationship between two parties in isolation. This is because the relationship between these two parties is always intertwined with other parties. In order to recognize this interconnection, at least three parties must be acknowledged and the relationship examined on that basis.8 For this reason, Bowen posits the triangle as the smallest possible unit of relationship. Each corner of the triangle is then recognized as a “functioning position” within the relational

have become “greatly violent” and to have “gnashed their teeth against us.” – see HE Eusebius 5. 1. 5 and 15. 7 Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1, 33. 8 This is the principle Bowen first discovered when he attempted to analyze the relationship between his schizophrenic patients and their mothers without involving the entire family unit.



triangle.9 Thus, a person occupying a particular position functions not just according to his/her autonomous nature but according to his/her position within the triangle. If for instance, there is anxiety between two persons (nodal points) of the triangle, these two will invite a third into the tension in an effort to shift the anxiety and to thereby maintain a certain degree of comfortable homeostasis. This shifting of tension in order to displace it throughout the triangle is seen in the basic triangular relationship between imperial Rome, Gallo-Roman authorities and the Christian community. As economic, political and health issues increase in the empire, the anxiety held by the governor at Lyon and the emperor increases. The relationship between the two thus becomes fraught with underlying tension; the emperor expects the governor to maintain peace in his province while the governor grows increasingly uncomfortable under the weight of such an expectation, given the elements over which he has no control, such as external war and threats of plague. Thus, in response to mounting tension, the governor determines to take charge over that area in which he does indeed have some control; that of maintaining the internal peace. To this end, he draws a third party, the Christian community, into the relationship triangle. That Christians are brought into the relationship and thus engaged as the group on which the rising tension is unleashed is no surprise since the populace, whom the governor has been charged by the emperor to keep peaceful, has already demonstrated a fury against them. Once the Christians come to occupy the position of third node in the relationship triangle, the tension shifts. Anxiety between the governor and the Christians increases as demonstrated by events in the arena but anxiety on the leg of the triangle between the governor and the emperor appears to decrease; the emperor gives the governor instructions on how to deal with the Christians but allows a wide degree of latitude while the governor accepts those instructions but is comfortable enough in his relationship with the emperor that he feels free not to follow them entirely (as in his treatment of Attalus). The triangle, then, provides a means of understanding relationships as systemic networks through which power moves and is exercised. Every person or group within the matrix must be considered and thus, no position holder can be ignored or labeled entirely neutral. This network concept differs significantly from the linear notion of cause and effect in which A 9 Kerr and Bowen, 142. For a more extensive discussion of the workings of the triangle see Kerr and Bowen, chapter six, “Triangles.”



can be understood to cause B which causes C etc. A linear examination of events at Lyon would be likely to blame the governor almost exclusively for the deaths of the Christians because he (A) prompted the order (B) which resulted in their deaths (C). Such thinking ignores the fact that the emperor afforded the governor virtually unlimited power in the matter. The network concept differs also from a multiple causation model. While in both models, the component parts—A, B, C and D—come together to “cause” E, these parts are understood as independent in the multiple causation model while they are interdependent in the network model. Within this interdependent network, A, for instance, is not only connected to E but is also connected in a reciprocal fashion to B, C and D. Therefore, each component operates as part of the larger whole. While each part has input and is recognizable in its own right, it functions according to its position in the network. Unlike under the multiple causation model, these network components cannot be adequately studied apart from the network because 1) each part would function differently if it were removed from its system, and because 2) even within the system its functioning will differ according to its position (its relation to others) in the network.10 In the system operating at Lyon, multiple causation thinking might lead to the conclusion that the governor, the emperor and the crowds should all be blamed. All acted as causative agents; the emperor as the person of ultimate authority, the governor as the one who chose to take deliberate and decisive action, and the crowd who vented its wrath on the Christians. That model, however, is unlikely to recognize any blame or responsibility on the part of Christians at all. They are the effect, so to speak, not the cause. This differs significantly from the network model in which the parties are intertwined; that is, connected to each of the other components in a manner that places them, like the others, in an acting position. Thus, in contrast to linear or multiple causation models, this notion of the systemic network understands the movement of power through interlocking relational triangles. As such, the responsibility of all parties, including that of the Christians, must be considered. It is through the shifting tensions within and between triangles that power is constantly distributed and re-distributed within a system. As pressure builds in one 10 For a good discussion of the systemic network of triangles in relation to linear and multiple causation models, see Edwin H. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: Guilford Press, 1985), 14-17.



section of the system, persons or groups who, because of their functioning positions are directly attached to one another, will be drawn either to move closer together or to pull further apart by attaching themselves more closely to a third party. Forces toward togetherness or individuality operate thus in an interlocking system of triangular relationships. Within second century Gaul, the general overarching triangle of imperial Rome, Gallo-Rome and Christian community is clear. In regards to Blandina, however, three specific triangles based on relationships between the four key stakeholders identified in the crucifixion scene can be noted. They are as follows: Triangle A: Blandina, Jesus, the persecutors (wild beasts) – based on verse 41a Triangle B: Observing Christians, Blandina/Jesus, persecutors (wild beasts) – based on verses 41b-42a Triangle C: Serpent (Persecutors), Blandina, Christ – based on 42b The first triangle is not difficult to picture. In it, Blandina occupies one corner “functioning position” and her persecutors clearly occupy another. The tension is predictably high between them as the persecutors (metaphorically through the beasts) are thrown at her, seemingly ready to devour her. However, there is also a third occupant in a functioning position of this triangle and it is the one at that nodal point to whom Blandina prays. As tension rises between her and her persecutors, Blandina chooses to engage a third party, her god, Jesus. This move relieves a portion of the anxiety generated between Blandina and the persecutors by shifting a portion of it to Jesus through prayer. As Blandina pulls away from her persecutors, becoming absorbed in her communion with Christ, the tension in the triangle shifts. It is not removed but it is diffused. The anxiety on the ground, so to speak, between Blandina and the beasts biting at her limbs, is relieved somewhat by a shift in focus upward, that is toward Blandina’s mouth and the prayers that she utters between herself and her god. A similar shift of anxiety can be noted in the second triangle. Here, the Christian observers, instead of focusing on the actions of the wild beasts and trembling over them, as the torturers must have expected, focus on Blandina (in the same way in which she focused on Jesus in the first



triangle). As they do, they see Jesus, “through their sister,” and are filled with zeal. Their zeal indicates their movement toward Blandina and to Jesus, and thus further from the wild beasts. The Christian onlookers, here, exhibit more zeal for their god than fear of the beasts. As in the first triangle, the anticipated response of complete and total fear of the beasts, which the persecutors must have expected, is interrupted by the intrusion of the presence of a third party in the relationship system. It is evident that with no third party to diffuse the tension, the expected response would have ruled the day. Likewise, anxiety in the third triangle is also diffused by a shifting of tension. In verse 42, Blandina is said to have been taken down from the stake in order that she might face the “twisted serpent” in future contests wherein she would “put on the great and invincible athlete Christ.” The language of the text again reveals, not two but three participants in this particular scene, Blandina, the serpent and Christ. Once again, where anxiety is expected to be highest, that is, between Blandina and the serpent (the great adversary), a third participant in the relationship is revealed. It is then the relationship between this third participant, Christ, and Blandina which diffuses the heightened anxiety between Blandina and the serpent. In examining these three triangles as they arise in the text, two critical points are revealed. First, the persecutors are never in a position of drawing close, or of being drawn toward, the other parties. They, as represented by the beasts and the serpent, are always odd one out. By contrast, in drawing toward one another, the other parties in each of the triangles always pull away from the persecutors. Second, Blandina is present in every triangle. The Christian observers, it can be noted, are present only in the second triangle. As for Jesus, while he is represented in each, the second triangle depicts him only as he is seen in the woman, Blandina. In other words, he is present but only through her. Thus, the one consistent figure, present in each of these triangles, is Blandina who from her functioning position consistently moves away from her persecutors, creating a greater distance between herself and them by moving closer (that is, by lessening the emotional distance) between herself and the remaining party: in the first triangle, Jesus, in the second, fellow Christians and in the third, Christ. The three triangles with their functional positions and the movements made therein, as related by the text, might be illustrated as follows:








Triangle A

Blandina/Jesus Triangle B




Triangle C (In all triangles, straight line indicates movement toward togetherness; double-arrowed lines indicate movement apart) Having established Blandina as the one party consistently present in every relationship triangle revealed in these verses, it is then possible to assert that it is she on whom the tensions in this system of relationships consistently turns. She represents the most active node within these triangular relationships. It is thus she who stands at the most active functioning position; she is the one to whom the others respond time and time again. Consequently, her response to the situation and to the other stakeholders in the event is crucial. Furthermore, it should be noted, and is somewhat ironic, that the very reason that Blandina occupies every triangle is precisely because her enemies have made her the focus of their attention.



By lifting her up on the post, they themselves have placed her in the spotlight. Even so, while the network is operative in all directions and thus no response is unimportant, it is the response of Blandina that stands in position to create the greatest number of effects on the entire network. As the character elevated on the stake in the cruelest of Roman spectacle, it is altogether obvious that Blandina would occupy the center of attention; that all eyes around the arena would be drawn to her. It is not, however, altogether obvious that she should have any kind of agency, any ability to shift the direction of power, as she hangs in that lowliest of exalted positions. The evidence as uncovered by an analysis of the triangles of relationships at Lyon, however, reveals a distinct possibility for just such agency. From the consistency and centrality of her functioning position, it is clear that Blandina has the capacity to create the greatest rippling effect throughout the entire network. The possibility is there; the actual outcome dependent on how she chooses to make her stand!

RE-DISTRIBUTION OF POWER: BLANDINA AS SELF-DIFFERENTIATING AGENT According to the text, Blandina is hung up on a stake of wood, served up, so it seems, as a lunchtime treat for the wild beasts. There is no hint that she argues with her persecutors or that she attempts to fight them off. Her approach thus far appears entirely passive. Yet, in the very next section of the text, the reader is informed that, looking on the gruesome scene, Blandina’s sisters and brothers in the faith see Christ in her and that they do so specifically because she arouses their zeal through her act of prayer. This slave-woman who initially appears passive and helpless is exposed in this line as a rabble-rouser. This is hardly the look of a woman who has given up. In her own way, Blandina is armed for battle. Through her act of prayer she chooses to engage herself in a battle for the hearts of the crowd. This is surely not the reaction her captors expected.11 A beaten, broken, worthless slave-woman That an action as seemingly simple as prayer can affect the operation of an entire system illustrates well the subtle intricacies of human interaction. While superficially most people understand that actions as subtle as even hand motions and voice tone affect outcomes, we rarely recognize the influence wielded by the person who is motioning or speaking. I am reminded of an elderly female friend, a woman who was the classic, wonderful but obedient wife and mother of the fifties. In conversation one day, this woman admitted that when her children were young, 11



was not supposed to take up a leadership role; she was not supposed to lead prayers in the midst of men, women, civil as well as Christian authority figures. While the persecutors must have expected a fairly easy pseudo contest in which the woman would cry, perhaps plead and her fellow dissident Christians would tremble, cower and begin to recant in record numbers, what they received instead was a zealous crowd with renewed devotion to their blasphemous god. This turn of events occurs not accidentally but rather quite predictably. It occurs precisely because Blandina takes up action at the very time when the system is poised and ripe for movement. She utilizes her functioning position in order to change the flow of power which could have gone either in her captors’ favor or in her own. Had she remained passive as she hung on that post, it is certain that the Romans would have been done with her that very day. Instead, the text informs us that even the wild beasts refuse to touch her. As can be seen, Blandina’s decision to pray rather than to tremble in the midst of her torment produces multiple repercussions throughout the system. When Christian witnesses see her body “in the form of the cross,”12 a huge symbol of power for them, a shift takes place in the triangle of relationship between Blandina, the authorities and the Christian observers. Upon entry into the arena, Blandina and the persecutors appear close to one another – the beasts are about to devour the woman. Yet, it is with she had experienced a nearly overpowering urge to go sky-diving. Of course, her husband would not permit his wife to take part in such a ludicrous and dangerous activity and even she herself was restrained by a certain amount of guilt. After all, how could a woman responsible for the lives of children justify taking such a risk? Still, the urge would not go away so with a glint in her eye, this woman explained that since she could not go sky-diving, she did the “next best thing.” She went out one day and purchased an orange sink! It was a seemingly small, and on the surface, even unrelated, action. Yet, to this day, that orange sink sits in her kitchen. It matches nothing! But every day since, each time they look at that orange sink, this woman’s husband and children are reminded of the power that she wields within their family system. They found out with the purchase of that sink, that it is not Dad alone who controls the finances and the power. Mom can choose to sky-dive if she wishes. And although this woman is now well up in years, her children exhibit a certain amount of fear that she still might just do it. 12 While the text notes earlier that Blandina was hung up on “wood” ( cu/lou ), this portion says that she was seen in the form of the “cross” ( staurou~ ). Both of these words bear the literal meaning of “wood,” “post” or “stake.” However, in New Testament usage, each, especially stauro/j , is used to depict the instrument of torture, the cross. See Liddell-Scott, 540 and 743.



Blandina’s prayer and the Christians’ recognition of her in the form of the cross, that she draws closer to Christ and the Christian witnesses draw closer to her. In so doing, both she and her Christian comrades pull away from the persecutors, leaving these surprisingly stripped of the satisfactory outcome they had expected. This is expressed both physically and metaphorically through the figures of the beasts. In a very real sense, the beasts themselves are said to have refrained from eating her – “and since at that time [while, because of her prayer from the cross, she was being seen by the Christians in the form of Christ] none of the beasts had touched her . . .” Likewise metaphorically, the persecutors were unable to touch or devour her. Instead, in a very real way, “she was taken down from the wood [and] taken back to the prison to be guarded for another contest.” Thus, because of her action of prayer, Blandina alters the course of events, shifting the direction of power within this relational matrix. In so doing, she wins this battle, if not yet, the entire war. As noted earlier, death by crucifixion represented the ultimate disgrace in Roman discourse. The hanging up of any human being on wood was intended to produce not only punishment but intense humiliation of the criminal, as well as fear among bystanders. In this way, dissidents were encouraged to mend their ways while at the same time further potential delinquency was discouraged. As the ultimate shaming device, crucifixion in Rome and its provinces was generally reserved for slaves, the lowest of the low, and thus, was entirely suitable for Blandina, a criminal and a slave. In his defense of a Roman citizen charged with the killing of a tribune, Cicero sums up well the rights of the Roman citizen versus the non-citizen by declaring that “the very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of the Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears . . .” for such “is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.”13 While the governor’s humiliating and public treatment of Attalus shows that the general thrust of Cicero’s words, that a citizen should not be publicly denigrated, was not entirely heeded by authorities in second century Lyon, it is clear that the cross was still considered the ultimate device of shame, since as a citizen Attalus was spared that particular type of torturous ordeal. Blandina, however, was not and it is hard to imagine that the authorities did not intend that she should hang on that post until the animals managed to pick her dead carcass nearly clean. Thus, the fact that 13 Cicero’s defense of one C. Rabirius, a Roman citizen charged with murder in 63 BCE. See Martin Hengel’s well-known study on crucifixion: Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Cross, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 42.



she is removed from the cross without having been once and for all shamed and conquered by death illustrates no small shift in the exercise of power within this relational system. She and the other parties are intertwined in interlocking triangles of relationships, a factor that results in every movement affecting, however minutely, every party. Yet, although every party is affected, this does not necessarily mean that every party is equal in terms of ability to affect the system. In this particular scene it can be noted that the power of the persecutors is effectively neutralized and that this neutralization is a direct result of Blandina’s actions, which served to redirect the otherwise obvious course of events. As she hangs, praying, on the post, Blandina functions as an agent of change, not simply as one whose passive activity directs movement only toward homeostasis. How then does she accomplish this? How is it that she seizes power from the party who is so obviously more powerful than she? Here, I speak of seizing power deliberately in an effort to underscore that while historical context and relations of power among groups surely enabled shifts of power to occur in her favor, I do not believe she acts in this text as only a passive pawn. Rather, Blandina makes a deliberate decision to act in the manner in which she acts and her decision reverberates throughout the system. It is this active functioning of Blandina within her relational system, that I believe cannot be adequately explained through the use of Foucauldian theory but which perhaps can be better understood through the lens of Bowen thought. As noted earlier, both Foucault and Bowen understand power as operative only within systems. This text illustrates that principle well in the diffusing of tension that takes place throughout the triangular relationships. The triangles make evident that neither individuals nor groups function within a vacuum and that power, therefore, is never operative in isolation. Yet, at the point of considering the actual functioning of an individual within his/her relationship system Bowen and Foucault part paths. According to Foucauldian thought, there are no universalist categories. Every universal truth claim must be dismantled for there are no certainties that can be presumed beyond history and the social world. For Foucault, every institution as well as every idea, certainly every guiding principle, has been constructed through the systemic workings of history and social practice.14 Anything, any thought, that admits of a universal 14 For a good explication of Foucault’s thought on the problem of universalisms, see Paul Rabinow’s introduction to The Foucault Reader, (New York: Pantheon Books), 3-27.



principle is not in actuality a base principle but rather an inflicted idea or discipline that is so thoroughly inculcated through systemic discourse that it comes to be accepted as a principle. Thus, any so-called principle must be unmasked as nothing more than a charade “with a respectable face; hence the fear of abandoning them [principles] if one cannot find any substitute; hence the affirmation that they are at the very foundation of society” whereas they have actually come about through an “infinitely minute web of panoptic techniques. . . ”15 Thus, following Foucauldian theory, everything is produced through systemic discourse. Nothing is pre-discursive. Bowen theory, on the other hand, suggests that there is something pre-discursive, that is, a unit of discourse itself -- the basic emotional unit of relations that stands at the base of all life systems, and from which all biological and social bodies and discourses are constructed. If one follows Foucauldian thought it is clear that every individual action must be understood as nothing more than a thinly disguised coerced reaction to the discourse in which the person functions. If, however, one accepts Bowen’s organic notion of the basic emotional unit, it is possible to recognize a potential for individual agency since each node of the triangle (even the three nodes that make up the most basic unit/triangle) is understood as having the ability to move toward or away from the other nodes. Choice, or agency, is thus understood as built into the very base relations of human beings. As such, it is an integral part of the make-up of every biological and social being; a potential that each and every human being can choose to exercise. Foucauldian and Bowen theory then, convergent on some points but divergent at this critical juncture stand head to head at the figure of Blandina as she hangs on the stake. The two theories, placed in juxtaposition, force the question not only of how Blandina exercises power within this system but even whether she, as one individual human being (and an insignificant one at that) can actually do so at all. Is Blandina functioning only according to systemic forces over which she has no control? Is she manipulated so to speak, and thus, incapable of individual agency as Foucauldian theory would lead us to conclude, or does the text suggest that she actually exercises agency from her position on the cross? In short, does she choose to act or are her actions simply the likely outcome of systemic forces in that day? I believe a close examination of the text reveals the former.


Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 223-224.



As she hangs on the stake, Blandina, according to the author, prays and in so doing creates enough commotion that the authorities remove her from the cross. This is not the expected outcome of these systemic forces! Physically, Blandina is the weakest of the parties involved. She is beaten, broken, dying. Giving up, even cursing her god would have been a likely action but fervent prayer is not. Likewise, her fellow Christians, while not as broken as she, have also been imprisoned, left to the effects of darkness, dampness, hunger and torture. Many, including the bishop, Pothinus, have already succumbed, having suffocated in their small cells.16 They are in no position to support the dying woman on the cross. As the text relates, it is she who arouses them, not vice versa: “she aroused, through her vigorous prayer, very great zeal in those contending for the prize.” This she does not by talking either to her comrades or to her persecutors but rather only by communing with her god. Through this action, she demonstrates that she has no fear of those who can kill her body but rather fears, that is, stands in awe, only of the one who commands her soul.17 Blandina’s persecutors, in contrast to both herself and the Christian witnesses, seemingly hold a great measure of power. They are poised like wild beasts, set to devour the woman and subdue the bystanders. They have health, strength, vitality and equipment. They come bearing stakes, devices for hanging perpetrators on stakes, whips and wild beasts – all the devices and backing of the empire. How is it, then, that systemic forces do not move in their favor? I submit that the reason is two-fold: 1) officials choose to focus on Blandina, seeking to force her to recant rather than focusing on their own response and 2) because Blandina makes a decision to respond as she does, to exercise her own personal agency from within her functioning position in the system. Had she not done so, the outcome as a result of systemic forces would likely have been much different; she would have died, her comrades would have quivered with fear and her tormentors would have rejoiced. Instead, she continues to live, the crowd goes wild and the tormentors back off. Blandina’s story represents a shift of forces that comes about due to a choice made that goes directly against the strongest forces present. Her choice, to pray rather than to tremble, was an active choice, the consequences of which reverberated across the amphitheatre that day. Because it was a choice made within a system forever linked to other systems in other places and time periods, it continued to reverberate 16 17

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 27. Lk 12: 4 and Mt 10: 28 NRSV.



throughout the empire, inspiring later martyrs to action and even rippling through the Church today among those who work with, or are among, the oppressed.18 Yet, in this scene Blandina’s choice of prayer is particularly curious. It is understandable that she makes the choice to remain emotionally strong but it is less understandable that, having made that choice, she does not fight. Why doesn’t she resist being lifted up on the stake? Why not become an actual victorious gladiator?19 Why not fight to the death and thus prove her strength once and for all? Blandina is no real fighter. She is, however, a very real pray-er. A choice for physical fighting rather than for prayer would have moved her toward her persecutors and would likely have resulted in her death that very day. Such would have been the logical outcome of systemic forces since in that case, she would have relinquished control, letting her captors define the events taking place in the arena. Through her choice for prayer, however, Blandina moves emotionally toward Christ, binding herself to him as tightly as her captors have physically bound her to the stake. In this movement toward Christ, Blandina engages in that which Bowen refers to as self-differentiation, the practice of personal agency within a systemic network.20 In differentiating self, Blandina is able to act as a self, asserting personal agency, even as she acts within her network of relationships. As noted earlier, according to Bowen thought, even the weakest of individuals possesses such an ability to exercise agency because she/he each has an inborn potential for choice and because she/he occupies a place within various triangular relationships. Thus, although each human being functions within his/her network of relations, she/he is understood as having the capacity to act socially as an individual and not simply as a by-product of the system. Such self-differentiation, individual agency, is possible because this social being is understood as bound up also with, and in, a biological being; 18 In Book 8 of his Church History Eusebius relates the valor of martyrs of his own day who like Blandina stood against forces violently opposed to them. The valorization of martyrs continues to the present. Recently, Loyola University in New Orleans honored the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador with several prayer vigils and talks by invited guests. In addition, each martyr was remembered with the placement of a white cross; together, the crosses encircled a statue of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Order of Jesuits. 19 See introduction to this work, p. 2 and footnote 2. 20 Kerr and Bowen, especially chapter 4, “Differentiation of Self.”



the biological body is not separate from the social person. This unified being stems, as noted earlier, from an organic base which informs both its biological and social construction; both aspects are constructed with the basic emotional unit of relation at the base of the organic system through which the unified being is formed. Together, the biological and the social form a single personal identity; that is, a personal identity that has as its most base unit not just an individual biological cell from which the social person is formed (the parts to whole approach mentioned earlier) but rather an emotional unit of relationship that encompasses and pre-dates both the biological and the social (the whole to parts approach). Thus, when Blandina prays, her body acts in a manner consistent with the person whom she has already declared herself to be: “I am a Christian and there is nothing vile done by us.”21 When she chooses to pray from her place on the stake, Blandina once again takes her stand; confirming who and what she is. With both her physical and her social self, her body and her voice, she affirms her very being -- this, this bruised, bloody and beaten believer who prays, this, is who I am! Blandina does not fight for she has not said, “I am a gladiator.” She does not cower, for she has not said, “I am a victim.” Instead, she prays to her god, thereby affirming her statement of being—“I am a Christian.” With this action, she differentiates herself from all others. She does not specifically call others to prayer. Instead, she communes with her god in her own being, letting the others do as they see fit and the forces of power move as they will. She has not separated herself from the system but she has taken her own personal stand within the system. In Bowinian terms, she differentiates self. According to Bowen, individuals possess varying capacities to differentiate self. It is a process that involves choosing how to move between the forces of individuality and togetherness in a manner that is most consistent with one’s being. Individuals are not doomed to a lifetime of merely being propelled along by outside forces, yet, some are better able than others to consistently make their own choices in the midst of those forces. The self-differentiating process as exhibited in Blandina involves the ability to distinguish between feelings that one might have at any given moment based on circumstances and thoughts based on the intellectual process of choice.22 Thus, the more highly differentiated a person is, the

21 22

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19. Kerr and Bowen, 97.



more she/he is able to tolerate, and even to resist being greatly influenced by anxiety either within the self or within the relationship system.23 In one of his teaching fables, the late rabbi Edwin Friedman illustrates the process of self-differentiation well by telling of a narrow row of dominos that circled back onto itself.24 The dominos, as he tells it, were positioned such that “all knew that if ever one lost its balance, all would have trouble keeping theirs;”25 there would be such a great chain reaction that every single domino in the line would be powerless to stop it. But one day it happened. Number 10101 fell against 10100 and before long “all the dominos recognized the malignant state of their condition.”26 As Friedman weaves his tale, some of the dominos give in without a fight, others pretend the upset is not happening and then fall, somewhat surprised, against their neighbors. Some try to calculate how to sustain their neighbors but when the time comes, they too, powerless, fall against the others. At some point, however, a curious thing happens along the domino line. Just as all are thinking the situation is hopeless, everything stops and a ricochet occurs with dominos wavering and tottering in the opposite direction. Finally, with all energy expended, each finds itself not flat on its face but tottering slowly and then standing again upright. At this point they begin to inquire of one another as to what or whose action had caused the reversal of inevitable fate. Slowly, the dominos realize that the reversal had occurred at the site of one member of their community. Earnestly, they question this member as to how she/he had acted differently than the others, thereby managing to shift the course of the seemingly inevitable. Somewhat perplexed, the domino could only reply that it did not know what the difference was: “All I can say is that while each of you kept trying to hold your neighbor up, my concern was that I did not go down.”27 While some might perceive Friedman as having a vaguely concealed uncaring and sarcastic wit, his domino story illustrates well that the person most able to shift influence within a system is one who focuses on self, that is, simply on being who she/he is and acting in a manner consistent with that being, rather than acting according to the demands of

Kerr and Bowen, 99. Edwin H. Friedman, “Panic,”in Friedman’s Fables, (New York: Guilford Press, 1990), 175-178. 25 Friedman, Fables, 175. 26 Friedman, Fables, 176. 27 Friedman, Fables, 178. 23 24



others or according to infectious anxiety.28 This self-differentiating behavior is the type repeatedly exhibited by Blandina as she consistently refuses to recant, declares herself a Christian and especially as she hangs on the cross engaging in prayer. The entire crowd perceives the woman’s actions; the Christians respond with zeal and the beasts respond by retreating and refusing to touch her. Yet, she herself, appears completely oblivious to the fact that these others are even present. As for herself, she binds her being to Christ. She is a Christian and her action of prayer, as well as her body itself, bespeaks her very being. Self-differentiation is behavior that requires agency but the agency comes not just from the woman’s experience. Rather, it comes from her whole being. It involves everything that she is; not just her social standing, not just her body, not just her intellect, but rather, she, Blandina, the whole person. Such agency based on the whole person requires an understanding of human constructed-ness as both social and physical. While Foucauldian theory understands human beings as socially constructed through systemic discourse and experience that takes place over time and generations, this specifically social construction does not offer a theory for understanding how, and from what, the flesh itself is constructed. Because it does not, the personal identity and agency of a very real fleshly body with its lived experiences does not find a solid theoretical place. This is particularly problematic when that fleshly body is one that has been socially marked by characteristics of inferiority or insignificance such as in the case of Blandina, who is marked as both a slave and a woman. Is there a way to understand the body, any body, as a full person and therefore capable of 28 Another illustration of self differentiating behavior, perhaps more mundane than that offered in Friedman’s fable, is sometimes seen in the actions of persons living within a system made up largely of alcoholics or drug addicts. A poorly differentiated person living in such an environment is likely to also drink alcohol or use drugs to excess because she/he simply follows the flow of the system, the behaviors of others which seem to indicate that such is the best way to survive within the system. She/he is not likely to heed governmental warnings against these products or the occasional therapist who warns against such excess. The feeling that it is easier to follow the system overpowers any other choice that person might make to do otherwise. If, however, the person living in such an environment is one who is self-differentiated to a high degree, she/he may be able to make the intellectual choice to abstain or to use such products only moderately. Such a person chooses to act thus; to move toward the force of individuality rather than toward togetherness, even when a network of relations propels she/he toward joining the crowd.



exercising agency regardless of social markings attributed to it in the course of its physical and social development? While the work of Foucault has been extremely useful to feminist theorists, feminism continues to struggle with the long assumed binary between nature and nurture and the persistent problem of what to do about the female body. In the introduction to their feminist reader, Margrit Shildrick and Janet Price note that “feminism has from the start been deeply concerned with the body – either as something to be rejected in the pursuit of intellectual equality according to a masculinist standard or as something to be reclaimed as the very essence of the female.”29 Is it biology (and therefore one’s physical reproductive organs) that gives a person his/her gender identity or is it the historical/socialization process? Early feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft sought to downplay the effects of biology, asserting that a woman is capable of doing anything that a man can do.30 Any apparent limitations were the result of having been socialized against such activities and not the result of innate ability. Hence, the argument went, given the same opportunities, a woman could prove herself every bit as capable in the public realm as a man. Given the proper education, she could enter the business, academic or political world with equally strong faculties as any man. Such an argument served well to advance the rights of women and to unmask the practice of oppression via rationalization based on biology. Yet, at the same time, the dismissal of a place for biology in regard to the process of human construction does a disservice to feminists and all those who seek to relieve injustice. In lifting up the importance of the socialization process to the extent that the physicality of the body itself is denied import in the construction of being, theorists sometimes abstract the body out of existence.31 As such, the body becomes an abstract entity, a Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, eds., Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader (New York: Routledge, 1999), 2-3. Price and Shildrick also note a “third, more recent alternative, largely associated with feminist postmodernism that seeks to acknowledge embodiment as “the site of potential, rather than as a fixed given.” See Price and Shildrick, 3. 30 “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 2, 6th ed., ed. M. H. Abrams (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993), 101126. 31 See Price and Shildrick who trace various understandings of the body through the history of feminist thought noting that “The status of the body within the Western intellectual tradition has largely been one of absence or dismissal. Despite the necessary ubiquity of the body, and its apparent position as the secure 29



mere by-product of social and historical discourse rather than a tangible living being made up of both flesh and lived experience. Under such abstraction, there seems to be no place for the reality of suffering bodies; no place for such as Blandina whose suffering body is such a part of who she is that to dismiss her experience of suffering is to actually abstract her out of existence; and thus, to make of her a non-person.32 Such an end, to make tangible, biological, and sometimes suffering bodies into abstractions, is the very fate which feminism has fought since its inception and which individual women fought long before any practical and cohesive women’s movement existed. It is theoretically and ethically grounding of all thought, the processes of theorizing and theory itself have proceeded as though the body itself is of no account, and that the thinking subject is in effect, disembodied, able to operate in terms of mind alone. At the end of the twentieth century, however, that familiar form of incorporeal abstraction is a site of serious contestation . . .” See Price and Shildrick, 1. 32 Judith Butler is one theorist who has been accused of such abstraction. In her “Bodies That Matter,” Butler argues that materiality itself is an effect of the discourse of power. Matter, she suggests, is “power’s most productive effect” and it is produced through “a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter.” See Judith Butler, “Bodies that Matter” in Price and Shildrick, 236 and 239. Italics are Butler’s. Butler, it seems, intends to depict this materialization process as the means by which the body enters discourse. It appears her intent is not to discount the body but rather to find a suitable entry point for the body within a discourse that precedes it. Thus, in her work, all matter, even the body is a by-product, an effect of discourse. This analysis has been met by other feminists not with an appreciation for the possibility of a place for the body but rather with resistance to that which they understand as an abstracting of the body; an insistence on the body as discourse to the extent that it effaces the actual bodies of women into non-existence. Susan Bordo asserts that “Butler’s world is one in which language swallows everything up, voraciously, a theoretical pasta-machine through which the categories of competing frameworks are pressed and reprocessed as ‘tropes.’” See Susan Bordo, “Postmodern Subjects, Postmodern Bodies, Postmodern Resistance” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993; Reprint 1995) 291. Likewise, in her essay “The Economy of Violence: Black Bodies and the Unspeakable Terror,” Bibi Bakare-Yusuf challenges theorists such as Butler by asking “But what of the dying body, the weeping, living, hurting body, the body as flesh that ‘does not escape concealment under the brush of discourse or the reflexes of iconography’. . . I am talking about the body that is marked by racial, sexual and class configurations. . .” See Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, “The Economy of Violence: Black Bodies and the Unspeakable Terror,” in Price and Shildrick, 312313.



problematic when dealing with issues relevant to the oppressed since it allows for the rationalization of injustice through the devaluation of personal bodily experience. The admission of tangible, fleshly bodies into the equation of that which makes up human construction does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that women (and all human beings) are forever bound to and governed by their biological circumstance. Just as environment and socialization contribute to but do not make up the whole person, so biology contributes to the whole person and yet, is not the equivalent of that whole person. As has been seen, Blandina suffers as a biological woman. That is clearly an important aspect of her make-up since “the Gentiles themselves confessed that never among them had a woman endured so much and so many [tortures].”33 Yet, her very intellect, her ability to make decisions, to differentiate self in the midst of horrendous torture, indicates that the wholeness of her person is made up of more than just her flesh. Bowen Theory represents one way to effectively bridge the often assumed chasm between the biological and the social; “to take seriously,” as Fausto-Sterling says, the ideas of Foucault and yet make the argument (regarding human construction) more specific.34 As in Foucauldian theory, Bowen theory understands human beings as created (constructed) out of relationship and as functioning within relationship networks. Yet, because human beings are understood as constructed both biologically and discursively, that is, as stemming from a basic emotional unit that prefigures both biology and social/political/historical discourse, each person possesses the capacity to function with individual agency and not only as a pawn within a social system; that is, to be more than just a by-product of social discourse. Under this type of theoretical construction, there is no need to dissolve the body, to abstract the personhood of any being, in order to meet a particular standard dictated by culture. Each person is recognized as a full Subject, a whole person with the potential for agency, on the basis of being, itself, rather than on the basis of any social standard. Furthermore, under such construction, the body can be celebrated, however it is marked, without being subordinated to a socialization that designates it as inferior, dark, mysterious etc. Through Bowen theory, it is possible to understand even one as seemingly oppressed as Blandina as a full Subject. Neither her body nor her social markings prevent her from exercising her capacity for agency. Still, it is necessary to reiterate the 33 34

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 56b (emphasis mine). See chapter one, page 16-17 of this work.



likelihood that Bowen’s notion of the basic emotional unit that pre-dates both the biological and the social and stands at the base of every organic life system might for Foucauldian theorists represent the positing of a universal principle. As such, it runs the risk of being labeled as biological essentialism; that is, as an uncritical universalisation of the sexed body. Seen in this manner it could rightfully be dismissed as that which Foucault would describe as nothing more than a manipulative technique, a result of clever panopticism. Yet, I suggest that this would be an incorrect and unfortunate rendering of the theory for it fails to recognize that the universal principle being espoused is neither biological nor social but, rather, is organic. Through its insistence on this organic basic emotional unit, Bowen thought does indeed posit a universal principle. It is a principle, however, that is based in the very notion of discourse, or relationship, itself; that is, in a discursive relationship that pre-figures and incorporates both the biological and the social. It thus offers a way of understanding embodiment that can account for physical differences of sex, race, class etc without demanding erasure of those differences and without imposing hierarchical standards of superiority and inferiority. Furthermore, it provides a theory useful to those who understand themselves as living in very real, physical bodies and not just as abstractions created out of social/political/historical discourse. Under such a theory, no physical body can be dismissed as an abstraction. Even such as the socially insignificant and suffering being, Blandina, is capable of personal agency since Subject-hood itself is understood as organic, that is, as based on the whole person and not on either one’s social status or biological make-up alone.

RE-DISTRIBUTION OF POWER: ROME AS UNDIFFERENTIATING PAWN Blandina’s seemingly simple act of prayer from the cross demonstrates the process of self-differentiation through which the forces of power shift, unsettling the previous notion of certain victory for her persecutors. Still, a systemic analysis of the situation demands an examination not only of Blandina’s actions but also of those others who occupy functioning positions within the system. What then does the text relate regarding the activities of Blandina’s persecutors and how do their actions affect the movements of power? From the crucifixion scene, it has already been noted that the persecutors first suspend Blandina on the stake but then retreat when the tide shifts against them. Seeing that the beasts do not devour the woman as expected and that the Christian witnesses get more rebellious



rather than more compliant, the torturers finally remove the battered woman from the post, deciding to keep her in prison until a later contest. Perhaps matters would settle down and they could then dispose of her in a manner that would not only teach the Christians a lesson but would also make for a greater demonstration of their own valor. Thus, authorities exercise patience until August 1, the day of the great public festival of the Three-Gauls. This day of the feast to Rome and Augustus would surely be a day fitting to dispense with this troublesome woman while at the same time ensuring that all throughout Gaul would know that the governor of Lyon had his constituents, even his Christian constituents, under peaceful control. Thus, it happened that “Blandina was brought back again with Ponticus, a boy about fifteen years old.”35 As the author relates, Blandina had not been left to languish in the days since her removal from the stake. Rather, she, Ponticus and, one might assume all those who had refused to recant, had been forced each day to look upon the abuse of other Christians and had been pressed to swear by the idols.36 Yet, the text informs us that Because they [Blandina and Ponticus] stood fast and condemned them the crowd became furious with them so that they had no compassion for the youth nor respect for the woman. And they subjected them in every way and led them through every torture in turn, repeatedly compelling them to swear but with no success (Eusebius HE 5. 1. 5354).

This brief passage reveals both the make-up of the triangular relationship set up on this day as well as the nature of the movement within the triangle. Immediately identifiable as stakeholders are the multitude, Blandina with Ponticus, and those who enact the torture. As for movement within the triangle, it is clear that the multitude emotionally distances itself from the Christians with whom they are “furious.” Here, it is useful to recall that in the cultural milieu of the second century, Christian behavior equaled dissident, even immoral behavior, and therefore was seen as a cause for divine disfavor and punishment. From the perspective of this “multitude,” there was reason to be enraged by these Christians who, rather than returning to decent and responsible behavior when given an

35 36

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 53. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 53.



opportunity, instead choose to continue in their disruptive ways. The multitude thus moves apart from the Christians.37 The torturers likewise distance themselves emotionally from the Christians. In response to the fury of the multitude, these unleash further rounds of torture on Blandina and Ponticus, “repeatedly,” as the text informs us, “compelling them to swear.” The picture revealed by these actions is one of the multitude and the torturers moving closer together as they both move away from the delinquents. This accounts for the strong connection between the fury of the crowd and the intensified torture by the persecutors. As they and the crowd are drawn together in an emotional relationship that separates them both from Blandina and Ponticus, the acts of the torturers begin to mirror the attitude of the crowd – they illustrate for the crowd that they too have “no compassion” for dissidents of any kind, not even when such are children or young women. Thus, the triangular relationship as it appears in this passage looks like this:38 Blandina / Ponticus


Multitude Triangle D

37 This emotional distancing is not quite total dehumanization, since the tortured are, even in the amphitheatre, given the opportunity to recant (to raise their voices in speech, a human activity). Yet, the process certainly exhibits movement toward dehumanization since those in the arena are clearly labeled as “other,” that is, as not quite like “us,” not as decent as “us” etc. 38 Blandina and Ponticus are grouped together since the two are brought into the arena together and are treated by the multitude and the torturers with the same disdain. As with the earlier triangles, the straight line indicates movement toward togetherness; double-arrowed lines indicate movement apart.



That the torturers work so blatantly in conjunction with the multitude in this scene is a critical point. In doing so, they fulfill their responsibilities as government workers called on to work the spectacle that day. We can recall that the purpose of the Roman spectacle was two-fold: first, to provide entertainment and second, to dissuade criminal activity. The torturers who worked this particular August 1 spectacle in Gaul simply took up their duty with gusto; they identified with the infectious anger of the crowd and then they proceeded to do what the crowd desired. They provided good entertainment. At the same time, it is reasonable to assume that they believed the actions they perpetrated on these victims would cause other Christians and maybe even these two, to think seriously about recanting. These inflictors of torture, known only in the text as “they,” simply did what was expected of them within their systemic framework. Actually, they not only did what was expected but they did it exceedingly well. Following the death of Ponticus whom we are told managed to remain faithful to Christ only because of the strong encouragement offered to him by Blandina, the torturers unleash all of the fury of the crowd on the stubborn woman. Only “after the scourging, after the wild beasts, [and] after the roasting chair,” is Blandina finally covered in a net and tossed in front of a running bull.39 Inside the net, she finally takes her last breath but that, only after being “tossed about” in what must surely have been quite a rousing show.40 Why is it then that the multitude, the very ones who had cheered on the facilitators of torture, did not praise them when Ponticus and Blandina were finally dead? Why is it that instead, they almost seem to sympathize with Blandina, confessing as they did that never among them had a woman endured so much and so many [tortures].”41 Perhaps the answer to that question is simply that crowds are often fickle. Yet, I believe that the final scene described by the author of this letter in regard to the martyrs of Lyon sheds further light on the matter. Although somewhat sympathetic toward Blandina, given her horrendous death, the crowd also continues to align itself with the authorities for although they allow her a certain degree of sympathy, the major effect of her death is to inflame still further the hatred of both governor and people.”42 What occurs within the triangle, then, is not a definitive Eusebius HE 5. 1. 56. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 56. 41 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 56. 42 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 58. 39 40



movement of the crowd toward Blandina but rather only a slight shift in her favor. The crowd, at this point, wavers between Blandina and the torturers, who represent local and imperial authority. This multitude is somewhat sympathetic toward Blandina, yet at the same time, they remain furious with her. Their even wavering loyalty, however, causes obvious tension for the governor who reacts by moving into what appears as blatant overdrive. In an effort to encourage the crowd to move toward him (and away from sympathy toward the dissidents) he engages them in a final crushing of these Christian criminals. Rather than simply acknowledging and glorying in the execution of a woman who had come to be known as a key rabble rouser, the governor provides yet a further spectacle for the people. Unlike the type that is over in a day, however, this one goes on for many days and is one in which the people, by virtue of their continuous exposure to the affair, are allowed to take a more active role. Here, authorities and people alike bind themselves together against the Christians by a desecration of bodies designed to protect the public from future threat: At any rate, they tossed to the dogs those who had been strangled in prison, guarding them closely both night and day lest one of us should bury them. Then whatever remained from the beasts or the fire they left [lying in the dirt], torn and charred, and the heads of the remaining with their trunks, they guarded carefully with soldiers for many days . . . Afterward, these were reduced to ashes by these wicked ones and swept into the Rhône river which flows by hard, so that not a trace of them might be left on the earth . . . in order that as they said “they might have no hope of resurrection, through belief in which they bring to us this new and foreign religion” (Eusebius HE 5. 1. 59, 62-63a).

The triangle of relationships as demonstrated in these passages is made up of governor, crowd and dead Christian bodies. The relationship process taking place within this triangle is merely a magnification of the process seen in the earlier triangle that involved the persecutors, the multitude and Blandina / Ponticus. The fact that the Christians are now dead does not change the relationship process but rather merely intensifies it. As the governor and the people draw closer and closer together, growing more and more furious (and emotionally distant) from the Christians, their determination to destroy them utterly only increases. Their own actions and behaviors thus are governed, not by they themselves, but by their enemy who has managed, even in death, to infuriate them to this extent. Both the exposure of the body parts and the guarded exhibition of the remaining heads indicates this emotional bonding (movement toward



one another) between crowd and governor and also movement away, or a lack of sympathetic bonding, by either party with the Christians. Two points, however, the specific display of the heads and the sweeping of the ashes into the Rhône, solidly demonstrate that the governor engenders the support of the crowd by playing on their past and on their fears. As noted earlier, exhibition and trophy-like protectiveness of the heads of rival warriors was an ancient Gallic custom, one deemed barbaric by Romans and not encouraged after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Yet here, the local governor re-institutes the custom and the people revel in it. Apparently, Christian delinquents had destabilized the system to the extent that a return to an old custom was somehow understood as comforting; to display the heads of enemies indicates certain defeat and no further reason for fear. Like a good chicken soup or other comfort food when a person is afraid, the heads provided needed solace, a reminder of a past free from fear and diseased minds. Likewise, the final sweeping of the ashes into the Rhône, “so that not a trace of them might be left on the earth . . . in order that as they said ‘they might have no hope of resurrection. . . ’” indicates an attempt on the part of the governor to ensure his populace that there was no further reason to be afraid. Yet, particularly curious in this entire sequence of events is that even as the governor orders the display of heads as well as the crushing and sweeping away of charred bones, in an effort to convince the populace of their security, these very actions suggest that the situation is anything but under control.43 Instead of a cool and collected commander in chief, the governor here appears over-reactive, exhibiting a posture of extreme defensiveness. His actions bespeak not control but fear, fear that these Christians might not really be crushed, fear that they might return to haunt his rule once again. Hence, he does not simply rid the arena of the bodies as was done with those of fighting animals.44 Instead, he pulverizes them, squeezing out all possibility of life, and then sweeps them away down the river, attempting to ensure that if ever they do pop up once again, it will not be in Lyon. Yet, he cannot be sure. Hence, the final line, “Now let us see if they will rise and if their God is able to deliver them out of our hands.”45 Therefore, this final scene immediately following Blandina’s death and depicting the desecration of Christian bodies leaves the impression that, 43 The situation brings one to recall the famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much!” 44 See Kyle on the disposal of carcasses, animal and human, the central theme of his text. 45 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 63. (Emphasis mine).



although the governor has won the battle, he has certainly not won the war. He is left cowering while the Christian community, with Blandina as its ultimate hero, is understood as victorious; perhaps, not even really dead, given the possibility of resurrection.46 Still, although the reinstitution of an old custom and the lure of promised security explains the process by which the governor binds, at least temporarily, the wavering crowd to himself, it does not yet answer that final and most basic question – that is, how is it that Blandina, and not he, is implied as the final winner? Once again, a look at the movement within the triangles of relationship is useful. As noted earlier, in every triangle in which she is present, Blandina consistently differentiates self by remaining stable within her functioning position, that is, by refusing to change her behavior based on the activities of others within the triangle. Blandina as she hangs on the post, is oblivious not only to her persecutors but also to the Christian crowd who cheers her on. Her engagement is never with these other humans in an effort to gain their favor but only with Christ whom she herself desires and whom she herself decides to put on. She seeks Christ, puts on Christ and in the eyes of fellow believers, thus, becomes Christ. This self-differentiating process in which she declares once and for all, This is who I am, I am a Christian, is quite different from the path taken by the governor. While Blandina states clearly and unequivocally “I am a Christian,” and consistently conducts herself in a manner that underscores that declaration, the governor of Lyon seems to not quite know who he is. It is clear from his position as governor that he desires to please the emperor and that he desires to please the pagan crowds. These two goals are not necessarily in conflict. Both the emperor and the people wish him to maintain peace in the community. Both see Christians as an obstacle to that peace. Hence, the putting down of the Christian community is an action he can take without jeopardizing his relationship with either emperor or people.

46 Here, Arnold Schwartzenegger’s famous line from The Terminator comes to mind – “I’ll be back!!!” – 108 min., Live Entertainment, 1995, videocassette (Carolco Pictures, 1991; original Greenburg Brothers, 1984). Or, a more positive comparison might be to the movie Braveheart in which the protagonist, William Wallace and his community are only superficially defeated, since the crowd who first backs his execution ends up so moved by his bravery that they eventually begin to shout for mercy leaving the king to wonder just what happened – Mel Gibson: Braveheart, 177 min., Paramount Pictures, 1995.



The situation becomes murkier, however, once the Christians are actually arrested and the trials begin. The fury of the crowd is such that in order to please them, the governor must go beyond the guidelines set by Rome in regard to punishment. That he struggles with his situation is demonstrated by the fact that he initially seeks the advice of the emperor.47 However, that he does not entirely heed the emperor’s advice is shown by his refusal to release even those who do recant and finally by his return to the ancient Gallic custom of the exhibition of heads.48 The governor’s desire to please the crowd surpasses even his desire to act in the manner of an official of imperial Rome. Throughout the text, the governor allows himself to be pulled toward the crowd, always acting in whatever manner it appears would best please them. Continuously swayed by the attitude of the crowd, his actions belie and undermine the very goals that he sets for himself. While at one level, the governor aligns himself with Rome, appearing therefore on the surface as an official who is unconquerable, allpowerful and in complete control of his province, on another level, it is obvious that he is not in control at all; rather, the sway of public opinion controls him. He is, so to speak, governed by the polls! He bases his own manner of being on the actions of others and on whether or not he can control them. Had this not been the case, Blandina would never have survived her ordeal on the stake; indeed, it is likely that she never would have made it to the stake. Torture, of course, was employed as a means of dissuading dissidence. Yet, why use an insignificant slave-woman for such purposes? The torture of the bishop Pothinus, the deacon Sanctus, and others of high social standing is logical. Yet, except for the governor’s intense anxiety over the matter, and his desire to please the crowd, Blandina would have either been killed during the first round of torture or thrown immediately into the prison to die there forgotten. Indeed, that she was remembered and brought out again was the effect of her steadfast endurance and her refusal to recant which threatened the governor’s portrayal of himself as one always in control before his underlings and in front of the crowd. The manner in which he believed the populous would see him dictated for him the decision to make a spectacle of her. Had he been driven by self-differentiating behavior rather than by a desire to please the crowd, he could coldly and dispassionately have dismissed her. In effect,

47 48

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 44. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 33 and 59.



he could have said I am the governor, an official of Rome, and you are nothing compared to me! The forces of power as they are depicted in this text are indeed multiple. Yet, the movement, the shifting of these forces, is shown to be subject to the actions of individuals who each take up their own part within the system. The story of Blandina reveals that although outcomes may be predictable, they are not necessarily inevitable. In addition, predictions are susceptible to change based on behaviors of individuals. Agency is not a gift given only to the outwardly powerful. Rather, it is a potential deeply embedded in each and every individual, even the lowliest on any social scale. Blandina bore both the biological and social markings of her historical context. Her society described her biological organs as female and her class as that of slave. But as for her mark as a Christian, that was a marking she chose on her own; a garment she determined to put on and to live with.49 Unlike Blandina, the governor of Lyon never decides what garment to wear. He never seeks to differentiate himself; he does not utilize his functioning position to take his stand and to say, “This is who I am!” Instead, he plays continuously to the crowd. Like the majority of Friedman’s dominoes, he focuses on what others do and on how they might perceive him and respond to him. Thus, in the end, in spite of his best efforts, he is not the one left standing. He falls by the force of his own undifferentiated will while in the memory of history the smallest, the weakest, the most despicable of slave-women towers over him.

49 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 42. See also Paul’s use of the phrase, to “put on Christ” in Rom 13: 14 and Gal 3: 27.


In the previous chapter I dealt with the text at the level of the story, that is, by examining forces of power at work among the characters and events as they are presented by the text. In this chapter I will continue my examination of the forces of power but will do so by looking at less obvious but equally important stakeholders, namely, Eusebius the Church historian as reader and transmitter of the ancient letter, and modern translators as current readers and transmitters of the text handed down by Eusebius. In order to undertake such an investigation and to understand Eusebius’ role as textual transmitter, I will first examine this fourth century historian’s purpose for including the martyrdom of the Christians at Lyon in his Church History, and then consider how Blandina’s story in particular served his purpose. Second, I will look at modern English translations of Eusebius’ text and suggest that the role served by Blandina as she hung on the stake has been misinterpreted. I will further argue that this misinterpretation has led to the devaluation of the person of Blandina and the role that her character is able to serve for the modern reader. Finally, I will assert once again that the agency exhibited in the character of Blandina of Lyon as she is presented by Eusebius is an agency that is an inherent possibility in every individual being. I will suggest that Foucauldian theory, with its basic notion that all power is created within and through cultural systems, can be complemented by Bowen theory which provides a theoretical base for the exercise of individual agency within cultural systems for even the most oppressed of human beings.

EUSEBIUS AND BLANDINA’S STORY Eusebius’ own relationship to the text with which we are concerned is complex. By his own admission, he is not the author. Rather, he claims to pass on “in their own words,” an account of the martyrdoms sent by members of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne to fellow Christians in Asia




and Phrygia.1 Since the original letter is no longer extant, the modern reader of the text is, as with much of Church history, left at the mercy of Eusebius. One can choose either to believe that he transmits the letter accurately, as he claims to have done, or to dispute his rendering. With no original text to use as a basis for comparison, the second choice would be a difficult one. In addition, given the fact that most scholars consider Eusebius’ text authentic, I am choosing as already noted, to treat it as such; in effect, to trust Eusebius. That which must be examined then, in regard to the relationship between this text and Eusebius is not Eusebius’ role as author2 but rather his role as textual transmitter. What is the role of a transmitter versus that of an author? If we consider Foucault’s analysis of the author in his essay, “What is an Author?” it is possible to conclude that the two are not so different after all.3 Foucault distinguishes a “signer,” for instance, from an author: “A private letter [such as the one from Lyon] may well have a signer – it does not have an author; a contract may well have a guarantor – it does not have an author.”4 Foucault’s reasoning for this distinction is that the author’s name “performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function.”5 For Foucault, the designation “author” refers not just to a particular person but rather conjures up a range of ideas, a discursive set or field into which the text can be filed and through which it can be understood. For him the author is not a particular person but rather a function of discourse: We are accustomed, as we have seen earlier, to saying that the author is the genial creator of a work . . . The truth is quite the contrary: the author is not an indefinite source of significations which fill a work; the author does not precede the works; he is a certain functional principle by which in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses . . . (Foucault, Author, 118-119).

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 2. Unfortunately, it is not possible even to know with certainty whether the original text was composed as a group or an individual effort. Eusebius says only that it was sent by the Churches. As noted earlier, it has been attributed by some scholars to Irenaeus but there is no way of confirming such authorship. 3 Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 101-120. 4 Foucault, “Author,” 107-108. 5 Foucault, “Author,” 107. 1 2



In regard to the letter from Lyon which initially has a “signer” but no “author” (in the Foucauldian sense) Eusebius’ name comes to fulfill the function of the author. The text is clearly a Christian martyrology that functions within the realm of early Church history which was framed by Eusebius. The “author function,” as articulated by Foucault (and which will be discussed further in the last section of this chapter), is powerful. Moreover, the slippage between the notions of textual transmitter and author undoubtedly accounts for the fact that readers often refer to the letter as Eusebius’ own work, even after reading his own admission that it is not. Even so, in the interest of clarity, I will continue to refer to Eusebius as transmitter rather than as author of this text. Clearly, under either term, his role as propagator of a discourse in which Blandina’s story is integral allows for an examination of his use of the text without fear that he represents a view contrary to that prevalent among Christians in his day. While ultimately it is impossible to conclude with certainty that Eusebius transmits the text exactly as he received it, it is quite possible, through Eusebius’ transmission, to gain a sense of the importance of Blandina’s ordeal for the ancient reader.6 First, however, the obvious question must be asked, that is, why might Eusebius have chosen to include the martyrdom of a lowly slave-woman in the most impressive work of his life-time, his Church History? Not only does he include her; he actually gives her name and tells her personal story. This is not inconsequential, given that he often groups martyrs together, glossing over their names and individual identities.7 Perhaps he did so merely for dramatic effect, for it is a fairly dramatic story, but such a reason seems unlikely. Eusebius had actually witnessed many martyrdoms in his own day,8 and such deaths must have had a marked effect on him. Indeed, one might expect such recent deaths, rather than those dating back over one hundred years, to constitute the

Eusebius informs readers of his History that he has made certain omissions, including only those portions he deems most important (5. 1. 2), and occasionally noting where omissions occur such as at the beginning of 5. 1. 36 which states “After certain other words they continue.” Phrases such as this one lend credibility to the view that Eusebius attempted to keep his record as accurate as possible, even letting his readers know when portions were omitted. See also the end of HE 5. 1. 61. 7 See Eusebius HE, Book 8 where he recounts the martyrdoms of many men, women and children in Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Alexandria, Egypt and Syria. 8 Again, see Book 8 for the recounting of the deaths of several martyrs, some of which Eusebius claims to have witnessed personally (8. 7. 2. and 8. 9. 4). 6



more likely candidates for being “hand[ed] down to imperishable remembrance.”9 Nonetheless, Eusebius deems the story of the Lyon martyrs, and particularly Blandina’s prominent place in that story, as “worthy of perpetual remembrance.”10 That he informs his readers that he will include in his History only those portions “useful for the present work” and that he devotes a significant amount of space to these martyrs speaks to the importance he places on their story for the future of the Church.11 A brief glance at the general introduction to his History helps to illuminate this point. In regard to Christian martyrdom, Eusebius writes that his purpose is “to record the ways and the times in which the divine word has been attacked by the Gentiles, and to describe the character of those who at various periods have contended for it in the face of blood and of tortures.”12 Continuing, he announces that he will start his entire work “with the beginning of the dispensation of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.”13 Finally, he reasserts this intent at the end of the introduction, saying: My work will begin, as I have said, with the dispensation of the Saviour Christ,–which is loftier and greater than human conception,–and with it a discussion of his divinity for it is necessary, inasmuch as we derive even our name from Christ, for one who proposes to write a history of the Church to begin with the very origin of Christ’s dispensation, a dispensation more divine than many think (Eusebius 1. 1. 8-9 NPNF). Eusebius HE 5. Introd. 4. Eusebius HE 5. Introd. 2. 11 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 2. Robert Grant points out that not only does Eusebius claim to write that which is useful or “needful” but that he also intends for the work to be edifying for believers. To this end, non-edifying material is omitted and / or recorded elsewhere, such as the unseemly behavior of certain bishops during the persecutions of his own day (8. 2. 2). See Grant, especially chapter 4, “The Composition of the Church History,” 22-32. 12 Eusebius HE 1. 1. 3 (NPNF). 13 Eusebius HE 1. 1. 3 (NPNF). Paul Maier makes the excellent observation that although Eusebius determines to record the “glory story” of the Church, he nonetheless also records the portion of the text that tells of those who did not remain strong, those who proved to be “abortions” (5. 1. 11. See also 5. 1. 32-35). That he did so, lends further credence to the view that, excepting the admitted omissions, Eusebius recorded the letter as he received it. See Paul Maier, Eusebius The Church History: A New Translation with Commentary (Grand Rapids MI: Kregel, 1999), 203. 9




If we examine Eusebius’ use of the story of the Lyon martyrs in relation to these statements of overall purpose, it is possible to draw two broad conclusions: first, Eusebius believes these martyrs to have been heroic defenders of the faith whose behavior can be lifted up as a model for believers in his own time. Second, and most important, he understands the dispensation of Christ on earth as foundational to the whole of his work. Yet, while each of the ten martyrs deemed worthy of mention by Eusebius in his History serve his purpose as heroes of the faith, Blandina alone clearly demonstrates the dispensation of Christ on the earth. For this reason, it is logical that Eusebius lifts up and even highlights her story. Pothinus, Sanctus, Vettius Epagathus and the others are all regarded as noble and victorious in the eyes of fellow believers. Yet, it is only Blandina in whom believers see “the one who had been crucified for them.”14 Blandina, in this text, is more than a model of the faithful believer. Likewise, she is more than a simple “type” of Christ. Rather, more precisely, Blandina actually embodies a union with Christ, the possibility of which can then be extended to other believers, both direct witnesses and those for whom Eusebius preserves the text. It is no accident that Blandina’s introduction in 5. 1. 17 as one through whom “Christ made known that things that appear mean and obscure and despicable to humans are deemed by God worthy of great glory” foreshadows the Christophany in 5. 1. 41 and that her death “last of all” in 5. 1. 55 points back to her communion with Christ.15 For Eusebius, the fact that believers see Christ in the person of Blandina is the apex of the story. He highlights the event precisely because it depicts Blandina as the incarnate and crucified Christ. Without Blandina, this is just one more martyr tale of which there are already many. The portions of the text that the Church historian chooses to lift up and indeed to capitalize on, namely the crucifixion scene and the death scene with Ponticus, illustrate this point aptly. Hanging, beaten and bloody on the stake, Blandina does indeed represent Jesus who died in like manner. Yet, in this instance, the text as Eusebius transmits it, portrays this woman as more than mere representation; she is one “to be looked at,” – tou= ble/pesqai. Once lifted up on the stake, Blandina becomes Christ for believers actually witnessing her ordeal. Once the ordeal is recorded by Eusebius she becomes Christ Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41. I am grateful to Matthew Mitchell of Canisius College–Buffalo, New York for his insight on this point. 14 15



also for those who see her only through his faithful transmission. Blandina serves, then, as Eusebius’ instrument for the dispensation of Christ to future generations of Christians. She illustrates that Christ continues to be alive and working in the world within and among believers even centuries after his death; and, not only does Christ continue to be active in the world but he remains accessible to every believer. This is the principle Eusebius drives home with his use of this text – Christ remains active and accessible in the world; his dispensation on the earth is foundational to the faith. It continues even after his death. Blandina, as portrayed by the text and Eusebius, is not like Sanctus and Maturus who, although they endure gloriously, go predictably off to their horrific deaths. Neither is she like Attalus who is spared further torment on that particular day because of his status as a Roman citizen. Blandina is spared none of the torture. She suffers and yet, like Christ, her response to suffering results in the unexpected. Because of her embodied union with Christ, Blandina becomes a mediator between believers and their god and through her ardent prayer she exercises power that forces a shift of events. Eusebius therefore capitalizes on the portrait of this crucified, suffering woman who prays. Within Eusebius’ schema, Blandina the apparent ultimate victim in this text becomes victor even as Jesus the apparent victim became the ultimate victor for all believers. The historian shows this powerful picture of victory as he relates that while hanging on the stake Blandina “aroused, through her vigorous prayer, very great zeal in those contending for the prize; in order that she would persuade those who have faith in him that everyone who has suffered for the glory of Christ has communion forever with the living God.”16 For Eusebius, this point is key. If such as Blandina, a slave and a woman, is able to enter koinwni/a with Christ, and thus, to become a mediator for others with God, so surely must it be possible for all believers. One need not be a deacon like Sanctus or a Roman citizen like Attalus. The message of the text, which Eusebius chooses to lift up is clear. Even the lowliest has potential to become one with Christ; even such a person as Blandina, the slave-woman. Given that Eusebius pens his history during a period when significant numbers of Christians are still dying for the faith, it makes sense that he would not only encourage them to remain steadfast but also that he chooses to offer a reason, a reward so to speak, for doing so. That reward is the possibility of koinwni/a with Christ. It is the “crown incorruptible” that is finally won by Blandina.17 16 17

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 42.



Two assertions of the text, first, that the beasts do not touch Blandina and second, that her persecutors take her down from the stake in order to await a later contest, lift up Blandina’s close identification with Christ. Although these were discussed earlier within the context of relationships present within the story, it is also important to note that they support Blandina’s koinwni/a with Christ by alluding strongly to the crucified Christ as he is depicted in the gospel of John, a text already noted to have been particularly influential among the Lyon Christian community. According to the Johannine gospel, soldiers broke the legs of criminals crucified alongside Jesus. Yet, they did not break the legs of Jesus himself.18 As Jesus escapes that final assault with a mallet, so Blandina escapes the assault of the beasts. While throughout the rest of the text the beasts never seem to lack an appetite for blood, on this particular day, even as they are being thrown in Blandina’s direction, they refuse to touch her.19 Blandina on the stake, like Christ on the cross, is not susceptible to attack. Just as the soldiers could do no more harm to Jesus’ earthly body because “they saw that he was already dead” and thus beyond the power of their grasp, so Blandina is beyond the power of the beasts.20 She cannot be harmed because she is in communion, she is one with Christ. Likewise, Blandina’s oneness with Christ is lifted up in the very act of her persecutors taking her down from the cross. These are forced to remove her alive, the reader is informed, because of the non-cooperation of the beasts.21 Once again, the passage alludes to the gospel of John reinforcing Blandina’s koinwni/a with Christ and serving Eusebius’ purpose of not only presenting this martyr as heroic but also utilizing her story to edify believers by offering the hope of an eternal reward. As the soldiers return Blandina to the prison “to be guarded for another contest,” it is evident that they have not seen the last of her.22 Rather, they will be forced to look on her again, to face her in yet another contest, in the same way that the Johannine gospel informs its readers that Jesus’ persecutors were not yet finished with him. Instead, in fulfillment of the scripture, the gospel declares “They will look [again] on the one whom they have pierced.”23 The fact that within this narrative, Blandina becomes for her captors a detestable, unrelenting sight, a continuing reminder of their loss Jn 19:33. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 42. 20 Jn 19:33. 21 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 42. 22 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 42. 23 Jn 19: 36-37 NRSV. 18 19



of power is significant. For Eusebius, it underscores this woman’s identification with Christ and serves to bolster those suffering for the faith in his day; the oppressor could be mighty but the power of Christ was beyond measure and endurance and the eternal crown a real possibility. As Christ’s power was understood not to have waned upon his removal from the cross but rather to have endured, continuing to challenge oppressors and encourage believers, so Blandina’s ongoing ordeal, her victory through even more games, would do the same. For Eusebius, then, Blandina functions as the perfect Christ-figure. Both her low status as slave and her low status as a woman function as positive, not negative, characteristics in the taking up of this role. For Eusebius, Jesus was the perfect servant, having two natures; resembling the head insofar as his divinity and the feet insofar as his humanity, which he put on “for the sake of our salvation.”24 It was precisely in his taking up the role of the feet (the lowliest or servant role) that Eusebius understands Jesus in the flesh. As human flesh, he consented to become the lowliest, and then to die, thus paying once and for all the sacrificial price that would wipe clean the slate of every believer, not only those most worthy. Before God, then, Jesus the servant, was the perfect mediator for all. As he took up the role of perfect servant, mediating with God on behalf of sinners and furthering the cause of the oppressed by declaring all believers worthy of this mediation, so Blandina takes on that role as she hangs on the stake before her community. It was a role that could not have been filled by anyone in the upper echelons of society. If all believers were to have this possibility of communion with Christ, the model for entering such communion would have to be one that did not exclude anyone, even the lowliest, even the slave, even the woman. Still, while it is not difficult to ascertain how the story of Blandina fits Eusebius’ broad purpose or even to see how her status as slave serves the purpose of depicting the servant Christ, it is more difficult to understand how it is that Eusebius chooses to highlight a woman as the one taking up the role of the incarnate one. How does it happen that Eusebius reads this letter describing the ordeal of a woman on a stake and like the believers in the story, sees in her “the one crucified for them,” Jesus of Nazareth, historically a male?25 It is hard to imagine that he really does not Eusebius HE 1. 2. 1 (NPNF). Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41. I choose to picture the scenario in this manner because, as already stated, I have decided to take the text at face value, that is, to presume that Eusebius has recorded the letter as he received it. Yet, it would also be possible to suggest that Eusebius added this portion of the text. That would 24 25



notice the very fleshly difference between Jesus as a man and Blandina as a woman. Even if first-hand onlookers had been gripped by spiritual fervor to the extent that they overlooked Blandina’s sex, it seems highly unlikely that Eusebius, a writer not known for the passion of his discourse, could ignore the point. The matter is particularly troubling because it might suggest that Eusebius sympathized with some of the ways of “heretics,” such as the Montanists, who as mentioned earlier, were said to have given a more prominent place to women than did believers who followed the path of the “Great Church.” Yet, if so, it is indeed odd that Eusebius takes care to refer to members of the Gallic Christian community as exercising “prudent and most orthodox judgment in the matter of the Phrygian controversy.”26 Furthermore, throughout his History Eusebius consistently deplores the actions of “heretics,” relating that the struggle for the Church often comes through internal as well as external foes since, instigated by Satan himself, “imposters and deceivers, assuming the name of our religion, brought to the depths of ruin such of the believers they could win over.”27 He speaks against Menander, the successor of Simon who had a “certain serpent-like power, double-tongued and two-headed.”28 Menander, he notes, produced the two notorious leaders of “godless”29 and “impious”30 heresies, Saturninus and Basilides. Irenaeus, the great proto-orthodox spokesman against heresy is referred to frequently by Eusebius, speaking against both the Carpocratians and the Valentinians.31 In Book five of the History, Eusebius devotes an astounding six chapters specifically to the refutation of the Montanist heresy reporting that once again the great enemy of the Church had unleashed a strange heresy, for “some persons, like venomous reptiles, crawled over Asia and Phrygia, boasting that Montanus was the Paraclete, and the women that followed him, Priscilla and Maximilla, were prophetesses of Montanus.”32 Continuing, he includes selections from Apolinarius, Apollonius, and Serapion against this group. None are flattering toward the Montanists. indeed be even stranger but the question would remain the same – how is it that Eusebius pictures the male, Jesus, in the body of a woman? 26 Eusebius HE 5. 3. 4. (NPNF). 27 Eusebius HE 4. 7. 2 (NPNF). 28 Eusebius HE 4. 7. 3 (NPNF). 29 Eusebius HE 4. 7. 3 (NPNF). 30 Eusebius HE 4. 7. 4 (NPNF). 31 See Eusebius HE 4. 7, 4. 10 and 5. 20. 32 Eusebius HE 5. 14 (NPNF).



Apolinarius is quoted as feeling the need to speak out since he had visited and found the Church in Galatia “greatly agitated by this novelty, not prophecy as they call it, but rather false prophecy.”33 Montanus is portrayed by him as a frenzied babbler with an “unquenchable desire for leadership”34 which had enabled him to reel in two other women “filled with the false spirit [also], so that they talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely” just like Montanus himself.35 Apollonius likewise relates the strange activities of the Montanists suggesting that these engage in sexually immoral practices, that they teach the annulment of marriage and that they are gluttons who accept gifts and money in exchange for their supposed prophecy.36 As for Serapion, bishop of Antioch in the late second century, Eusebius reports that he favored the work of Apolinarius and that he had gone so far as to send out a letter through which he gathered the signatures of various bishops opposed to the Prophecy.37 Given Eusebius’ blatantly biased recordings against this heresy, it is clear that he harbored no love for Montanism in his heart. Particularly interesting, however, is a section in which he quotes Apolinarius who argues that no Montanist had ever died for the faith. In response to claims by followers of Montanus that indeed many had been martyred, Apolinarius explains that although the group claims many martyrs and alleges that these represent sure evidence of the power of the prophetic spirit, this is “entirely fallacious. For some of the heresies have a great many martyrs; but surely we shall not on that account agree with them or confess that they hold the truth.”38 For this reason, Apolinarius says, those called to true martyrdom in the Church separate themselves from the “so-called martyrs of the Phrygian heresy” and [have] “died without any fellowship with them, because they did not wish to give their assent to Montanus and the women.”39 This passage reveals that obviously all was not equal among martyrs; impending death did not bring about unity on earth. Not only is it clear, then, that Eusebius did not hold Montanist sympathies, since he portrays the leaders of this group as “venomous reptiles” but it is also clear that he would not have lifted up Blandina and her fellow martyrs as true “athletes of religion”

Eusebius HE 5. 16. 4 (NPNF). Eusebius HE 5. 16. 7 (NPNF). 35 Eusebius HE 5. 16. 9 (NPNF). 36 Eusebius HE 5. 18. 37 Eusebius HE 5. 19. 38 Eusebius HE 5. 16. 21 (NPNF). 39 Eusebius HE 5. 16. 22 (NPNF). 33 34



had he suspected them of being Montanists, that is “so-called,” rather than true martyrs.40 Given the evidence against “heresy” in general and Montanism in particular presented throughout the History, it is safe to conclude that Eusebius does not highlight Blandina as a female icon of Christ out of Montanist or other “heretical” sympathies. There is, however, a logical reason that he might make use of a female Christ-figure without regard for accusations of heresy and without concern for her physical sex. As to the matter of heresy, it has already been noted that Eusebius regards martyrs in general as great heroes of the faith. For him, the martyr’s ability to resist temptation and to face whatever terror comes his/her way precludes the possibility that the faith of such a one should be judged by anyone, unless of course, as Apolinarius alleges, these do not profess the truth of Christ. Such is clearly not a problem for the martyrs at Lyon who profess the Name of Christ throughout their long ordeal. Furthermore, Eusebius associates the extremely virtuous behavior of those heroes who die for Christ with orthodoxy. This is not to say that he was comfortable with every martyr. He clearly disapproved of those who voluntarily sought death. Yet, he was always struck by the power of such a person’s faith. As Robert Grant puts it “Eusebius admired heroism but not suicidal heroism;” he was opposed to the rigorists of his day “but not to the martyrs among them.”41 It is possible that Eusebius’ high regard for martyrs rested in a bit of guilt over the fact that he himself had escaped such a fate while many of his acquaintances and even his great teacher, Pamphilus, had died. He must have been continually and acutely aware, even if grateful, for having avoided such an end, for at the Council of Tyre in 335 C.E., he was accused by one of the supporters of Athanasius, Patamo, Bishop of Heraclea, of having offered sacrifice in order to avoid persecution. It was an accusation not backed by any solid evidence, yet, it must have caused Eusebius a great deal of emotional pain. Nonetheless, regardless of the reason, Eusebius appears not to worry that the lifting up of a woman as a Christ-figure might open him to charges of heresy. In fact, he venerates a variety of female martyrs including an unnamed woman of Antioch, “in soul admirable for virtue, in body a woman,”42 a woman at Alexandria who met a tortuous end because

Eusebius HE 5. Introd. 4. Grant, 123. 42 Eusebius HE 8. 12. 3 (NPNF). 40 41



she dared to refuse the sexual advances of Maximin43 and another at Rome who refused the same sort of propositions by Maxentius.44 Eusebius’ attitude toward female martyrs can be summed up in his statement that “the women were not less manly than the men in behalf of the teaching of the Divine Word, as they endured conflicts with the men, and bore away equal prizes of virtue.”45 For Eusebius, it is apparent that physical sex is far less important than virtue. However, we cannot so easily dismiss the matter. In the case of Blandina, Eusebius does not simply ignore the fact of Blandina’s anatomy. Indeed, the text shows that he emphasizes it. Repeatedly, the reader is reminded of the weakness of her female body and of the fact that a woman was actually able to endure such suffering.46 This “blessed woman,” he reports, is “like a noble athlete” enduring all for the glory of the Name.47 As transmitter of the text, these are phrases Eusebius surely would have been at liberty to leave out, yet he chooses not to omit them but even to highlight them by connecting them to Blandina’s womanhood. The focus draws more attention to Blandina than any of the general and brief statements made in regard to the unnamed women. The question then – how is it that Eusebius looks on a woman and sees the man, Jesus – thus remains. However, it becomes more specific – how is it that Eusebius, clearly perceiving that Blandina possesses a woman’s body, nonetheless deliberately chooses to report (apparently even to concur) with the “signer” of the letter that what believers actually see in that figure on the stake is a man? While Eusebius’ choice of Blandina as the perfect Christ-figure makes sense in terms of Jesus/servant and Blandina/slave, it seems to make less sense in terms of Jesus/man and Blandina/woman. Once again, the physical body becomes problematic in an attempt to understand the logic of Eusebius. Still, it need not be so, if we also consider the paradigm of the human body that was prevalent in Eusebius’ day. It is by now well-documented that in the ancient world women were understood as inferior to men on a hierarchical scale of sexuality. In his tremendous work, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Thomas Laqueur brought this matter to light by tracing views of the body Eusebius HE 8. 14. 15-16. Eusebius HE 8. 14. 16-17. 45 Eusebius HE 8. 14. 14 (NPNF). 46 Eusebius HE 1. 5. 56. 47 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19. 43 44



through ancient times to the present.48 Laqueur found that the postenlightenment view of the body, which assumes a difference or opposition of sexes, was not the operative view in the world prior to the Enlightenment. Instead, the lens through which the body was viewed prior to the eighteenth century was one of sexual sameness; one in which males and females constituted not two, but one sex; a sex that reflected the order of the cosmos, a metaphysics of hierarchy. Within this hierarchy, Laqueur maintains that the male represented the standard or superior type of body and the female the non-standard or inferior type. The relationship of male to female, then, was not horizontal, as in opposites, but rather was vertical, as in hierarchical levels. This paradigmatic difference is not an easy one to digest. No sane person would argue against the difference between male and female bodies. To do so might seem to deny the process of regeneration and thus one’s own existence, since each person now living has come through a long process of succeeding generations. Yet, to look upon a male and a female body and to perceive similarity rather than difference is not to deny difference; it is rather to shift one’s perception of difference itself. For instance, let us imagine for a moment the task of an observer of bodies at a nude beach or country club, and let us imagine that in front of that observer, at the same time, passes one male body and one female body. What might the observer see and therefore record? Does she/he record that two bodies passed by, each with a head, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, legs and arms or does she/he record that two bodies passed by, one with a penis and one with enlarged breasts, one with straight hips and one with curves? The notes taken by the observer will prove to be crucial, for from them can be ascertained the location of difference in his/her underlying paradigm about the body. In the former recording, difference occupies a subordinate position; clearly, there was a female and a male who passed by but the observer did not consider that fact to be of very great importance. In the latter recording, however, difference has been made paramount. By becoming the defining factor between two subjects, it has divided the subjects. Rather than perceiving these subjects as in one category, that of human, the subjects are perceived as in two categories, that of male and female. Under this paradigm they are not the same; they are opposites. This horizontal and oppositional, two-sex view of the body differs significantly, then, from the earlier vertical, one-sex understanding of human anatomy. While the distinction between the two paradigms might 48

Laqueur, Making Sex.



seem subtle, the repercussions are actually huge when the modern paradigm is applied to ancient texts. The modern view of sexual opposition implies strict boundaries across which bodies (male or female) may not cross; the two categories are fixed. The ancient paradigm, by contrast, implies one category wherein bodies (male and female) operate on a rather slippery nonfixed scale. Within both of these paradigms, gender roles as deemed proper by society are indeed attached to sexed bodies. However, in the modern view, the sexed biological bodies themselves are understood as immutable; whereas in the ancient paradigm (the one under which Eusebius feels comfortable saying that “the women [martyrs] were not less manly than the men”) the possibility for change exists because of the very understanding of human anatomy.49 A recognition of the one-sex view and its earlier prominence sheds light on Aristotle’s famous statement that “the female is as it were a deformed male.”50 While he is oft quoted and often excoriated for this Within a hierarchical paradigm of scale, multiple sexed bodies, rather than just males and females, occupy a spot in the system. The hermaphrodite, for instance, does not represent an anomaly here but rather only a being who is at an inferior (non-standard) place on the sliding scale. The fact that hermaphroditic individuals are no longer referred to as “hermaphrodites” (those having characteristics of both males and females) but rather as the “intersexed” (implying a being that is in between two fixed categories) is in itself instructive. 50 Aristotle Generation of Animals 2. 3. 737a in ed. T. E. Page, A. L. Peck (trans.), Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1943), 175. This view of the female as deformed can be seen in Aristotle’s depiction of human semen. While Aristotle understands both male and female to possess semen, the female’s is in an “impure condition” because it lacks Soul which is only provided by the sperm (or seed) in the male semen. In other words, the female possesses all the necessary physical parts but needs the principle (the Soul) of male semen in order to actually spark life, hence, the inferiority of female semen (the male semen provides the efficient or formal cause whereas female semen provides only the material cause) – it is fluid without the generative seed. Hence, Aristotle’s understanding of this process is referred to as a “one-seed” theory whereas the theories of Hippocrates and Galen are known as “two-seed” theories. In Galen’s thought, as in Aristotle’s, females are inferior males and both males and females produce semen. Galen, however, argues that female semen, and not male semen alone, is essential for the generation of life. While he agrees with Aristotle that the female (and her semen) is inferior, he also argues that the mixing of the two is necessary for regeneration. He notes that the female gives birth to both males and females and that she is able to do so precisely because her cooler body has not allowed her parts to develop fully. While this is, in a sense, unfortunate for her, it is rather fortunate for the human race because her body provides 1) a reasonable place for male semen to be 49



comment, the scientifically cold and methodical manner in which Generation of Animals is written suggests that Aristotle is not much concerned with whether he portrays women in a positive or negative light. Rather, his goal is to explain how it is that animals, including humans, come with both male and female sex organs. He asks how it is that the female is able to produce both males and females and is not restricted to producing only creatures like herself, that is, more females. He resolves the issue by arguing that she is able to do so because male and female bodies are at base the same since they are both derived from the same substance, semen: Just as it sometimes happens that deformed offspring are produced by deformed parents, and sometimes not, so the offspring produced by a female are sometimes female, sometimes not, but male. The reason is that the female is as it were a deformed male; and the menstrual discharge is semen, though in an impure condition . . . (Aristotle Generation 2. 3. 737a in Loeb, 175).

For Aristotle, then, the underlying paradigm was that of one-sex. Females are actually males, albeit inferior, or deformed, ones. The same is true for Galen, the much revered second century anatomist, for whom the notion that women might be envisioned as men is obvious. Galen offers the following analysis of the reproductive organs: All the parts, then, that men have, women have too . . . Consider first whichever ones you please, turn outward the woman’s, turn inward, so to speak, and fold double the man’s, and you will find them the same in both in every respect. Then think first, please, of the man’s turned in and extending inward between the rectum and the bladder. If this should happen, the scrotum would necessarily take the place of the uteri, with the testes lying outside, next to it on either side; the penis of the male would become the neck of the cavity that had been formed; deposited and 2) a nutritious environment (provided by imperfect semen) in which the fetus can grow. Regeneration takes place because of the mixing of the two and not just with a deposit by the male. Hence, the male needs the female in order to actually produce a viable child. In Galen’s understanding, however, it is equally obvious, if not more-so, that the female semen “clearly stands absolutely in need of the male” since otherwise what would prevent “the female alone from emitting semen into herself and thus bringing the fetus to perfection?” This, he notes, clearly never happens. Hence, male semen is ultimately the efficient principle. See Galen, On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body 2. 301-302 in trans. Margaret Tallmadge May, vol. 2 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1968), 631-633.


STANDING AT LYON and the skin at the end of the penis, now called the prepuce, would become the female pudendum [the vagina] itself. Think too, please, of the converse, the uterus turned outward and projecting. Would not the testes [the ovaries] then necessarily be inside it? Would it not contain them like a scrotum? Would not the neck [the cervix], hitherto concealed inside the perineum but now pendant, be made into the male member?( Galen On the Usefulness 2.296-297 in May, 628-629).

In fact, the female member could be transformed into the male member because, as Galen also asserts in the course of his lectures, “you could not find a single male part left over that had not simply changed its position; for the parts that are inside in woman are outside in man.”51 Women, as Galen understood them, were simply inversions of men. The second century physician, Soranus, likewise compares female and male organs saying that the neck of the female uterus elongates “like the male genital” and that it also “remains collapsed in the same manner as the genitals of men who have no sexual relations.”52 Difference between male and female organs as understood by these physicians is not a difference of kind but only a difference of location. Crucial in determining this locale of the genitalia in any given human being were bodily fluids and bodily temperature. According to Galen, parents contribute blood and semen to the development of a new child during the act of intercourse. Thus each child (fertilized embryo) upon conception possesses the fluids vital to life. As these fluids develop into a viable infant, the look of the genitalia are determined by the temperature at which the blood and semen are “cooked” or “concocted.” High heat produces a male; low heat produces a female.53 In her excellent study on the relationship between food and sexuality in early Christianity, Teresa Shaw explains the ancient perception of male and female genitals as “basically the same but with one crucial difference.”54 That crucial difference she points to is not one of kind but of temperature which affects location: “the greater natural heat of the male body causes the male genitals to develop more completely and protrude outside the body. 51 Galen On the Usefulness 2. 297 in May, 629. See Laqueur, 71-93, for a fascinating array of illustrations taken from Renaissance period anatomy texts, depicting medical understanding of male and female sexual organs as mere inversions. 52 Soranus Gynecology 1. 3. 16 and 1. 8. 33 in Owsei Temkin (trans.) Soranus’ Gynecology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1956), 15 and 31. 53 See Galen On the Usefulness 2. 299 and 301 in May, 630 and 631-632. 54 Teresa M. Shaw, The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 54.



The female, being colder, lacks the heat necessary for the full development of these parts.”55 The understanding that women have a lack of heat in relation to men and that this accounts for less than full development suggests both a hierarchical one-sex paradigm of the body as well as the notion accepted in the ancient world that women reside lower on that hierarchical scale than do men. A metaphor used by Galen to explore this hierarchical arrangement of genital difference is the very clever one of the imperfect eyes of the mole: The reason for his [man’s] perfection is his excess of heat, for heat is Nature’s primary instrument. Hence, in those animals that have less of it, her workmanship is necessarily more imperfect, and so it is no wonder that the female is less perfect than the male by as much as she is colder than he. In fact, just as the mole has imperfect eyes though certainly not so imperfect as those animals that do not have any trace of them at all, so too the woman is less perfect than the man in respect to the generative parts. For the parts were formed within her when she was still a fetus, but could not because of the defect in the heat emerge and project on the outside, and this . . . provided no small advantage for the race . . . Indeed, you ought not to think that our Creator would purposely make half the whole race imperfect and, as it were, mutilated, unless there was to be some great advantage in such a mutilation (Galen On the Usefulness 2. 299 in May, 630).56

This notion that female and male bodies are of like kind—both necessary, but with differing levels of perfection—is the factor that allows, under the one-sex model, for slippage between male and female bodies. It is a paradigm that allows Eusebius to “see” Blandina as Jesus in spite of her female organs. Soranus illustrates the slippage well in his discussion of women who experience amenorrhea. Such cessation of the menses may sometimes indicate illness but also occurs non-problematically, he notes, in the bodies of women with an active lifestyle who are old, pregnant or simply “mannish” in their habits and appearance.57 An active, manly lifestyle or the natural drying of old age, he reasons, causes excess blood that would

Shaw, 54. May notes that Aristotle had earlier made reference to the underdeveloped eyes of the mole and that Galen is thus making use of a metaphor that was common in his day. 57 Soranus Gynecology 3. 1. 7. 55 56



normally be excreted in the menstrual flow to be used up elsewhere in the body. Obviously, it is of no concern whether or not Blandina was experiencing her menses while hanging on the stake. Soranus’ work, however, patently illustrates how easily issues of gender can become entangled with notions about the sexed body. It also shows how subtly the female body in the ancient world could be seen to slip into that of the male. A woman is described in degrees of maleness and femaleness. In his Natural History, Pliny asserts that the “Transformation of females into males is not an idle story.”58 He claims to have read of a girl who was changed into a boy and of a man who, apparently having an effeminate appearance, married another man only to then sprout a beard and other masculine attributes after which he took a female wife instead. As if suspecting that some might doubt these stories, attributing them to mere hearsay, Pliny strengthens his assertion by relating that he himself “saw in Africa a person who had turned into a male on the day of marriage to a husband.”59 Thus, in the ancient world, it was considered possible that certain activities or circumstances might work on a woman’s organic body to make her more male-like (as when she has amenorrhea, grows excess facial hair etc) or more like a female (as when her menses flow). That a woman might be transformed into a man, or at least be perceived by others as having the body of a man, is entirely logical within this framework. If indeed male and female bodies are understood as essentially the same, then the sexed body, like gender, is potentially fluid. For Eusebius, Blandina was a woman but she was manly in virtue and this enabled her to be perceived as the man, Jesus. I am not suggesting that she sprouted a male member, facial hair or any other physical male characteristic. The text says nothing to lead us to such a conclusion. I am claiming, however, that her active seeking of the crown of immortality, even as others trembled,60 and her power to endure tortures, any one of which should have been sufficient to end her life,61 made her a manly “noble athlete,”62 in the eyes of direct witnesses and Eusebius.63 Because of her Pliny Natural History 7. 4. 36, H. Rackham (trans.) in Loeb vol. 2, 531. Pliny Natural History 7. 4. 36, H. Rackham (trans.) ins Loeb, vol. 2, 531. 60 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 18. 61 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 18. 62 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19. 63 That social behavior affects the place that one is understood to occupy on this hierarchy is common in early Christian literature. Clement of Alexandria makes the hierarchy clear when he notes that “males have both more hair and more heat 58 59



virtue, she was understood as moving up the hierarchical one-sex scale to the more perfect, more “manly,” level. At the point, however, where she is tou= ble/pesqai, seen by believers as Jesus, as the very “one who had been crucified for them,”64 she reaches perfection, the top of the scale; she wins the crown of victory. Eusebius is able to perceive Blandina as Christ and to utilize her as a Christ-figure, even to choose her as the best candidate for an icon of Christ, precisely because he understands her as starting at the lowest end of the hierarchy and moving to the highest. With her, a slave and a woman, he presents a portrait of double power. As a woman she is on the low end of the male / female hierarchy; as a slave she is on the low end of the citizen / free hierarchy.65 The message is clear; with Christ all things are possible,66 any believer might possibly reach perfection in Christ for “everyone who has suffered for the glory of Christ has communion forever with the living God.”67 koinwni/a with Christ is a potential not only for those of high status but for every believer – even the lowliest and the most oppressed; even the slave, even the woman! than females, [they are] animals that are entire [rather] than the emasculated, perfect than imperfect.” He also speaks strongly against the male who while naturally “superior” makes himself effeminate through the removal of bodily hair and the wearing of clothes more appropriate to the female. He argues that “we ought not to call such as these men, but lewd wretches, and effeminate, whose voices are feeble, and whose clothes are womanish . . .” See Clement of Alexandria, “The Instructor,” 3.3 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, vol. 6, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, Reprint 1986), 276-277. The words of Methodius in “The Banquet of Ten Virgins” likewise depict the linkage between social behavior and a hierarchy of sex when he speaks of the “Spiritual Zion [which] might bear a masculine people, who should come back from the passions and weakness of women to the unity of the Lord, and grow strong in manly virtue.” See Methodius, “The Banquet of the Ten Virgins,” 8.7 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, vol. 6, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprint 1986), 337. 64 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41. 65 While slavery as an institution was justified by some within the Christian Church even into the nineteenth century, it was, by the twentieth century no longer blatantly justified by use of the Biblical text. Thus, for modern translators, Blandina’s lowly status as slave does not present the same difficulty as does her sex when considering who might stand as a worthy model of Christ. 66 Mt 19: 26 (also Mk 10: 27 and Lk 18: 27). See also Phil 4: 13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” 67 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41.



THE MODERN READER AND BLANDINA’S STORY While Eusebius lifts Blandina up as the embodiment of Christ on earth, it is clear that his example has not been followed by modern Church leaders and readers of Christian history. Among lay and even professional Church workers Blandina’s name and story are often unknown. That she is not often recognized as a heroine and certainly not lifted up as a manifestation of Christ in our day is evident in various collections of saints where she warrants not even her own citation. Bunson’s collection of saints is a telling example. Under “Blandina,” the reader is told to “See Pothinus.” Under “Pothinus” Blandina can be found listed near the very end of the citation (the male martyrs are listed earlier) as merely a “slave girl named Blandina, who was caught in a net and thrown to her death by a wild bull.”68 The citation does concede that she was “One of the most famous martyrs of the group” but there is no mention of the Christophany or the heavy emphasis the narrative places on her.69 It is highly likely that this benign presentation is due to a PostEnlightenment, rather than an ancient, inability to conceive of a woman standing in the stead of Christ. English translators’ treatment of a clause at the most crucial point of the narrative bears this out. The clause in question is i/na pei/sh| which occurs in the phrase I(/na pei/sh| tou\j pisteu/ontaj ei0j au0to\n o(t / i pa~j o( u(pe\r th\j Xristou~ do/chj paqw\n th\n koinwni/an a0ei\ e0/xei meta\ tou~ zw~ntoj qeou~. Since Blandina is the main subject of the entire passage in verses 41-42, I have consistently translated this phrase as “that she would persuade those who have faith in him that everyone who has suffered for the glory of Christ has communion forever with the living God.”70 Surprisingly, none of the English translations render it thus. McGiffert, Mursurillo, Deferrari, Williamson, and Lawlor and Oulton all translate the clause as “that he might. . .” while Cruse, Lake and Maier avoid the choice by rendering the verb as an infinitive, Cruse and Lake with “to persuade” and Maier with “to convince.”71 68 Matthew Bunson et. al., Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1998), 135 and 515. 69 Bunson, 515. 70 Eusebius HE 5. 1. 41. 71 Deferrari, Williamson and Lawlor and Oulton emphasize their choice by also capitalizing “He.” See McGiffert, NPNF, 215; Mursurillo, 75; Deferrari, 282; Williamson, 200; Lawlor and Oulton, 145; Cruse, 154; Lake, 427; Paul L. Maier, 176.



Admittedly, the verb pei/sh| is a third person singular that technically might be translated as either “he persuades” or “she persuades.” Since Christ is also mentioned once in the passage, it would not be unexpected to find a few translators’ who render it “he persuades,” giving the agency to Christ rather than to Blandina. However, given that these same translators allow Blandina to stand as the subject of the majority of other third person singular verbs throughout verses 41-42, it is indeed odd that Christ should suddenly be rendered as the subject of this one. The phrase at the beginning of verse 41, “But Blandina was hung there on wood” provides the narrative framework for all of the activity that takes place in these verses of which Blandina is the central character. Therefore, while not a grammatical impossibility, it makes little syntactical sense to make Christ the subject of the verb pei/sh|.72 I suggest that the verb pei/sh is translated as “he” not because the translators choose the best rendering of the original text but because they operate subconsciously under a two-sex paradigm of the body which creates a binary across which Blandina cannot be allowed to move. Laqueur suggests that during the Enlightenment, as reason became far more valued than ready belief and as science began to be distinguished from religion, the body itself, rather than gender, began to bear the weight of defining political and social distinctions between men and women. “The cultural work that had in the one-flesh model been done by gender devolved now onto sex;” woman’s very body, her sexual organs rather than her behavior, became the “battleground for redefining the ancient, intimate, fundamental social relation” of man to woman.73 While for the ancient onlooker and Eusebius, Blandina functions suitably as a Christ figure because she takes on characteristics normally gendered male, she cannot function as such for the modern translator, no matter how manly she becomes, because her sexual organs themselves remain female. Nothing short of a physical transformation, an event understood in the modern world as most unreasonable, could suffice to render Blandina a fitting model of Christ. Sex in the modern world is constructed as two neatly separate categories – male and female – and the two are not (except in that which is considered the realm of the abnormal) allowed to slide into I am grateful to Matthew Mitchell for his very knowledgeable assistance in the examination of this passage. A more detailed analysis of its grammatical, syntactical and structural attributes is provided in our co-authored article, “The Persuasiveness of a Woman: The Mistranslation and Misinterpretation of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica 5. 1. 41,” Journal of Early Christian Studies, 13: 1, 1-19. 73 Laqueur, 151 and 150 respectively. 72



one another. The English translators find it acceptable to translate Blandina as the one who hung there (prou/keito), who aroused (e0nepoi/ei), who was taken back (anelh/fqh), who made (poih/sh|) irrevocable the judgment of the twisted serpent and who urged on (protre/yhtai) the brothers yet, they refuse her the place as Subject in the phrase i/na pei/sh|, which represents the precise moment when Blandina slips into Christ by being the one who brings others to faith, standing in their place before God. There is clearly discomfort among translators over a woman being portrayed in this role.74 Translators too do their work within historical, social and political systems. They too are affected by systemic forces within which they make choices as to how to render the wording of any text upon which they work. While the depiction of Christ in a female form has never been a dominant trend in Christianity, Eusebius shows that (under certain circumstances and within certain parameters) the recognition of a woman in such a role could not only be useful but also edifying. In the Post-Enlightenment world, even a carefully restricted use of a female symbol has become unacceptable. That this is so was demonstrated well in the very heated reaction to a four foot bronze statue of Jesus created in 1975 by artist Edwina Sandys for exhibition during the “United Nations Decade for Women.” After being displayed in various galleries, the sculpture eventually made its way, in the early 1980s, to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. Here, it was displayed for the first time in a church. Time magazine reported that then New York Bishop Walter Dennis expressed his personal shock upon viewing the sculpture, calling it a “desecration” and urging parishoners to voice their outrage to the diocese.75 Sandys’

74 Indeed, there is likely discomfort over any human being portrayed in the role of Christ as evidenced by the fact that Deferrari, Williamson, and Lawlor and Oulton explicitly capitalize “He” making it clear that they defer to Christ and not just to any man. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that had Blandina been a male this would even have been noticed since other male “types” of Christ are easily accepted throughout Christian history, i.e. Isaac in particular and even Moses and Joseph. 75 “Vexing Christa,” Time, 123, no. 94 (May 7, 1984): 94. Sandys is not the only artist to have produced a likeness of Christ as a woman. Another who has created a similar Christ-figure is Almuth Lutkenhaus – see print in Rosemary Radford Ruether, Womanguides: Readings Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, reprint 1996) 104; (original 1985). Sandys’ work, however, drew considerable attention specifically because of its inclusion in the United Nations exhibit. It is



artwork was deemed a “desecration” not because it depicts the violence of crucifixion; Christians have long exchanged the horror of the cross for a hope in the cross. The problem with Sandys’ sculpture, rather, was that the figure hanging on it was female. As Time reported, when the statue was unveiled at the Maundy Thursday service, “gasps could be heard throughout the main chapel” for “The Christus was, in fact, a Christa, complete with undraped breasts and rounded hips.”76 One observer summed up the feelings of many by saying “It’s disgraceful. God and Christ are male. They’re playing with a symbol we’ve believed in for all our lives.”77 The response to Sandys’ “Christa” reveals a social paradigm within which any valid image of Christ must be male; any depiction that breaks that rule is not only invalid but is also a “desecration,” a “disgrace.” Keeping that in mind, it is possible to examine the response of the modern translators a bit further by using the concept of the basic triangle in which the three nodes might be translator, text and translator’s own paradigm of the body, which according to their time and culture is two-sexed. Looking at the movement within that triangle, the modern translator is seen moving away from the text, that is, away from the possibility that the bodies of Christ and Blandina might be perceived as of the same sex. He makes this move when he chooses the translation that is syntactically least logical. Simultaneously, the translator can be seen gravitating toward his own conception of the body, the two-sex model which dictates that under no circumstances can a woman be understood as a man. There is dissonance here between the translator and the text. Hence, he reverts to a translation that maintains his own comfort level by reinforcing that a male and a female cannot be understood as one. While technically not a grammatical error, the majority translation of i/na pei/sh| as “he persuades” is a mistranslation, certainly not the best translation, in terms of the overall structure and sense of the narrative. The use of the infinitive is only slightly better. While the infinitive construction does not deny Blandina the ability to persuade, it does not lift her up as one who did so. The greater problem that occurs with these modern translations that do not designate Blandina as the subject of the verb pei/sh| is that they lead to a serious misinterpretation of the text overall. The problem is not simply that Blandina’s agency goes unnoticed (a serious difficulty in its own significant that even since that time, work such as that of she and Lutkenhaus has become no more prominent in mainline Christian denominations. 76 Time, 94. 77 Time, 94.



right) but is also that the fundamental understanding of the story is undermined. If Blandina is not depicted as occupying the seat of the mediating Christ in this text, then the very dispensation of Christ as the primary event at Lyon is negated. If Blandina is not recognized as the embodiment and exemplar of active faith, the power of the text is greatly diminished. If she herself has no koinwni/a, no reciprocal relation with Christ in which she enters Christ and Christ surrounds her, then there is no reason for believing witnesses to be filled with zeal or to imagine that they too might have such everlasting communion with their god. The active role of Blandina, therefore, is the essential component in this text. If she is not acknowledged as the one who persuades, then no believer can be understood as taking up the mediating role in inspiring others to faith. Indeed, if Blandina does not stand in the stead of Christ, then her story is only the tale of another brave woman. It is difficult to imagine that Eusebius understood it in that manner given that the figure of Blandina fits so well with his own overall purpose for his history, and his assertion that through the manifestation of Christ things which appear “mean and obscure and despicable to humans are deemed by God worthy of great glory.”78 The intrusion of this misreading damages historical understanding of the text and thereby also our understanding of the way that some early Christians understood their relationship to Christ. On a more ethical level, it denigrates the importance of Blandina’s martyrdom, rendering her powerless as the supreme model of active faith intended by Eusebius and making her story hardly worthy of the time it takes to read. Failure to recognize this woman’s agency results in a further failure to comprehend the efforts of these early Christians to seek and to extend justice to even the most oppressed through the active working of Christ in their world. While Eusebius’ narrative plan, the utilization of a woman precisely because she represents the least, must surely in our day be viewed as less than flattering – something like hiring a woman only because she’s a woman – it must also be recognized that Eusebius makes use of the events of his day, using the common world view to portray a powerful picture of liberation. I am not suggesting that modern translators (or anyone else) must accept Eusebius’ worldview. I am suggesting, however, that by seeking to understand it and translating accordingly, one might identify in it that which was the central goal for Eusebius, to make clear the possibility of justice and liberation for all in Christ. By identifying that central point, it becomes possible not only 78

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 17.



to better appreciate Blandina’s actions in her own time but also to ask how such a goal might be sought in our day. In this way, the ancient text still speaks in today’s world. Without Blandina and without such recognition, it is a fine and compelling story, but little more.

FOUCAULT, BOWEN AND INHERENT SUBJECTIVITY: BLANDINA AND THE ART OF BEING — HUMAN In the previous chapter, I asserted that Blandina acted as an individual, an agent capable of making her own choices, even in the midst of the systemic forces that pushed and pulled at her. One objection to that assertion might be that one can only know Blandina through Eusebius’ presentation of her. While this is absolutely true, I have already given my reasoning for believing Eusebius to be a reliable transmitter of the text; while not including everything, he appears honest in regard to omissions and is scrupulous about relating his own agenda. A second objection might lie in the actual role of a textual transmitter. As already noted, Eusebius’ role as transmitter can, within Foucault’s understanding of an “author,” be considered synonymous with the role of an author since “author” implies a classificatory function, a function of a discourse or whole set of ideas rather than merely a person who is the creator of a work. The objection that might be raised, then, is that if Eusebius, as author, is merely a function and propagator of discourse, and not in any sense an original creator of that discourse, how could it be possible for Blandina, a mere element of the discourse, to be understood as an agent? Clearly, the role of the author must be examined. For Foucault, the author as usually understood, is a privileged subject; one commonly thought to be the creator of a piece but in reality merely a function of the discourse through which she/he is being constructed. Foucault argues, then, that the important question to be asked in regard to the author is not “How can a free subject penetrate the substance of things and give it meaning?” but rather, “How, under what conditions, and in what forms can something like a subject appear in the order of discourse?”79 With the latter as the basic question, Foucault then deduces that “In short, it is a matter of depriving the subject (or its substitute) of its role as originator, and of analyzing the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse.”80 79 80

Foucault, “Author,” 118, (emphasis mine). Foucault, “Author,” 118.



As a “function of discourse,” rather than a Subject who produces discourse, Foucault understands the author as “the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.”81 By this he means that the author is not one who adds to meaning, that is, who creates and perpetuates new meaning but rather one who “limits, excludes and chooses” which meanings go into and make up the discourse.82 For him, the author is one who “impedes” the proliferation of meaning and the “free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition and recomposition” thereof.83 Two points are important here: first, that the author is not a Subject but rather, a function; and second, that the function performed by the author is that of limitation or impediment of meaning within the discourse. As I consider Foucault’s position, I have similar reservations to those of some of the feminist writers mentioned earlier. What of the real person in a story? The real author? Can there really be no such real thing? To recall the words of Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, “what of the dying body; the weeping, living, hurting body of flesh that does not escape concealment under the brush of discourse . . .”84 Can we really accept the erasure of the Subject, acknowledging that the author is not a Subject in his/her own right, not a Subject with the ability to produce and create new meaning out of lived reality? Is it really necessary to do so? As useful as deconstruction has been to academic studies and to feminist studies in particular, there seems something not quite right, even unjust, about the complete abstracting of human beings. Perhaps it can become a means of exclusion even as it attempts to be about inclusion. Susan Bordo appears to have touched on the nerve of the problem when she writes that The author was suddenly dead in the academy, just as we [feminist scholars] began to write for it; and just as we began to locate and describe the systemic racism and sexism of our culture, we found our accounts reduced to nothing more than talk-show topics, on a par with every other complaint and disorder of the moment (Bordo, “Postmodern Subjects” in Unbearable Weight, 282-283).

Bordo also notes that for many scholars the commitment “to cultural constructionism has gone far beyond notions that the biological body never presents itself to us in innocent or ‘natural’ form but is always Foucault, “Author,” 118. Foucault, “Author,” 119. 83 Foucault, “Author,” 119. 84 Bakare-Yusuf, 312. 81 82



historically and politically ‘inscribed’ and shaped . . . to the much more radical position that the very notion of the biological body is itself a fiction.”85 In my view, it seems that Foucault is situated between these two poles. Foucault’s main goal, it appears, was to expose the process of oppression and to elaborate the means by which forces of oppression operate in culture. Yet, with his insistence that power is multiple and that it can develop in both positive and negative forms, he also recognizes the potential of power to continually give rise to “new forms of culture and subjectivity.”86 Bordo reads these “new forms” as providing “new openings for potential resistance to emerge,” thus, providing opportunities for resistance even among the most subordinated individuals.87 I agree with Bordo that new openings for resistance continually emerge. Nonetheless, it must be asked how such resistance can be put into practice except through the body and through the acknowledgment that the physical and social together, and not just the social aspect alone, make up the human being who thus is able to engage in resistance. How does a disembodied being resist? This same problem rears its head when we consider the disappearance, or erasure, of the author as Subject. How does a disembodied author write? How exactly does she/he wield the pen? Grace Jantzen raises this problem in her work, Becoming Divine by noting that Descartes himself, for whom conscious rationality characterized subject-hood, “seems never to have asked himself how he became a conscious rational subject, how he was born and brought up and nourished.”88 Jantzen asserts that His subjectivity, like everyone else’s, emerged out of his bodily development that had its origins in his mother’s womb, was dependent on material sustenance . . .Human subjectivity does not arrive, fully adult into the world: it emerges, and it is not without pain or cost that conscious subjectivity develops out of preconscious materiality and preexisting discursive conditions of every human life (Jantzen, 33).

Bordo, “Postmodern Subjects,” 288. Bordo, “Feminism, Foucault and the Politics of the Body,” in Feminist Theory and the Body, ed. Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick (New York: Routledge, 1999), 254. 87 Bordo “Feminism, Foucault,” 254-255. 88 Grace M. Jantzen, Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), 33. 85 86



Without deliberate acknowledgement that “preconscious materiality” as well as “pre-existing discursive conditions” together form the basis of that which grows into conscious rationality, the flesh is not empowered. Such deliberate acknowledgement is not evident in Foucault’s work89 and I submit that without it, the body cannot be understood as more than an abstract object manipulated by the social construct that occupies its supposed form. Writers and resisters alike grow into conscious rationality through bodies that are based in preconscious materiality as well as preexisting discursive conditions. For women, however, subject-hood based on social construction alone is even riskier than it is for men. Jantzen notes that for Lacan, whose work (along with that of Freud) has strongly influenced modern thought, there is no possible way for a woman, as a woman, to become a Subject since subjectivity comes about through “entry into language, which is always already masculine.”90 For Lacan, language itself is masculine – “There is woman only as excluded by the nature of things which is the nature of words . . .”91 It is for this reason—to make deliberate acknowledgement of both the biological and the social basis of human construction, and not the social alone as is done by Lacan—that I have attempted to use Foucault and Bowen in juxtaposition to one another. Foucault’s work is invaluable in bringing out the extent to which cultural systems impact our lives; shaping the way in which we view ourselves and our world. Yet, while Foucauldian theory makes undeniable that human beings are constructed out of cultural systems (thereby dismantling notions that humans are no more than their 89 Bordo notes correctly that the “antibiologism” of some feminists, for instance, Judith Butler, has become “far more relentless and programmatic than Foucault’s” – Bordo, “Postmodern Subjects,” 290. Nonetheless, Foucault is insistent that power is the product of historical and social, not biological, forces and he thus depicts the creation of subjects as coming out of the cultural realm alone. It is quite possible that he overemphasizes the cultural because his overriding goal was the articulation of the forces of oppression. Still, the body, for Foucault, is real only in that it is a thing acted on and produced through social forces. Biological forces are recognized only insofar as they are co-opted by the social. 90 Jantzen, 41. 91 Lacan in Jantzen, 41 (emphasis mine). Jantzen argues against those readers of Lacan who do not see his agenda as anti-female. To the contrary, she interprets his work as very misogynistic, noting that for him the biological / social binary is firmly in place – “While masculinity is interlinked with the symbolic, the female is the ‘dark continent’ of biology and reproduction” (41, footnote 2).



physiology), it leaves the way open for the complete abstraction of human beings, the erasure of the body. Bowen theory, however, with its notion of the basic emotional unit, which gives rise to both biological form and social discourse, provides a means for understanding and acknowledging the importance of the body in human construction. The conscious rational human being is only able to become that thinking being through an evolutionary process that involves both material and social discourse, neither of which occurs in isolation from the other. I have already spoken at length about the force toward individuality and the force toward togetherness as articulated in Bowen theory. Here, it is helpful, however, to reiterate that these forces are understood as instinctually rooted, that is, they are social forces but they are inseparably bound up in the biological body.92 The physical and the social body are interpreted as inseparable. The Subject or “Self” as it is described in Bowinian terms, then, is the human being that comes into the world through this process of evolution, a process that is simultaneously social and biological. The body is viewed, then, as an integral part of human construction; it cannot be understood as merely a social abstract. This is a useful and necessary acknowledgement of the material realm that is not easily discernible on the basis of Foucault’s work alone. In terms of understanding that which makes one a Subject, it is possible to see that under this Bowinian understanding of human construction, it makes little sense to even question whether or not a person (male, female or inter-sexed) is a “Self” (a Subject). Selfhood occurs by virtue of one’s very humanity; it is inherent. Therefore, one speaks not in terms of who can be a Self but rather, in terms of how that person, who already has the germ of selfhood, becomes more or less of a self through personal response within his/her system of relationships. As one operates within systems of relationships, one is defined (even created) to a certain extent by the system(s) because of the force toward togetherness through which the individual becomes less of a self. Yet, the instinctual force toward individuality also drives the person to attempt to differentiate from others, that is, to strive to be more of a self. In so doing, she/he operates as an individual, that is, with individual agency even as she/he lives and moves within a system of endlessly interlocking relationships. Thus, when Blandina takes her stand, she does so within the greater cultural system, yet at the same time, she also defines herself within that system; she maintains her individuality even as she remains connected to the group. She is the 92

Kerr and Bowen, 95.



“domino,” so to speak, who remains standing precisely because she attends to the self instead of only to that which every other party in the system desires her to do or be. Self-differentiation, the exercise of individual agency within the system, then, is the factor that enables the shifts of power that take place within this system, allowing for an oppressed female slave, an obvious victim, to also be interpreted as victor. The juxtaposition of the work of Foucault and Bowen, then, has been valuable. While I have leaned toward Bowen theory, Foucault’s work has provided a continual reminder of the power of cultural forces. Such a reminder is particularly important to this project since the story of Blandina is embedded in a text written not by her but by another. In terms of Eusebius and his role as author, Foucault’s work leads one to question the extent to which this cultural role impacts Eusebius as an individual being, as a Self (or Subject) in his own right. Does the role of author erase him as a Subject? Is he entirely swallowed up in the discourse or does he continue to function as a Subject within the discourse? Following Foucault, it must be recognized that the work created by Eusebius is bigger than himself. When one reads the story of Blandina, one starts with a whole set of expectations based on the very fact that the work is preserved by Eusebius. The story is embedded in a larger discourse and is appreciated largely because of its place in that discourse. The power of the author in a discourse can perhaps be seen more easily in the following example: A tenth grade student of English writes a story composition in which he provides this description of the setting: “The room smelled very bad.” He receives his composition back with a failing grade and a note that says he needs to be more descriptive, i.e. exactly how did the room smell? Like rotten fruit, like body odor, like a putrified corpse? Imagine the student’s disgust when a week later, the teacher reads a story to the class. With a lilt in her voice and a smile on her face, she reads “The room smelled very bad.”93 Then she asks, “Can you feel Hemingway’s power with words? His ability to make the simple, complex? His gift of turning little into much?” Didn’t I just write that last week?” the student thinks. “Where did I go wrong?” “What did I miss?” What the student lacked was not his own fault. It was the power of the author that brings much more with it than a simple line. He did not have it. Hemingway did. The power of the author role here is quite evident and it is at exactly this point that the differing understandings of human construction 93 Ernest Hemingway, “Indian Camp” in The Finca Vigia Edition, The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1987) 68.



between Foucault and Bowen become useful. The author’s work clearly represents something more, or at least something quite different, than the Self. Foucault’s point on that matter is well taken. Still, must we say that the Self, once the work has been written, is no longer present in the work? Does Hemingway remain present in his story somewhere even though there is much more than just he in it? Is Eusebius still somehow present in his work even though his work has become synonymous with Church history? In Foucauldian terms, the answer is no. The author is only a function of discourse and must be deprived of his role as originator of the text. He must be understood as “something like a subject” but not as THE Subject, or creator, of the text. He is a function of discourse; nothing more, nothing less. Socially constructed, he is swallowed up, and lost, in the social discourse in which he was engaged. However, because of the understanding that each human being is constructed out of an integrated biological and social relationship that predates birth, Bowinian analysis of the author would be quite different. The difference is one that retains a healthy respect for the power of cultural discourse that Foucauldian analysis brings to light, yet, it is one that also insists on the presence and power of the individual within systemic networks. As a human being (both biologically and socially constructed) the author, under this theoretical framework is simultaneously Subject and author. As a human being, he holds the potential to exercise his own choices in his world and in his writing. The author pens the text as a Self. He cannot be deprived of his Subject status even when he takes on the role of the author. He is a part of the discourse but he is also an individual self. As Eusebius exercises personal agency in his role as author (picking and choosing that which he will include), he becomes more, rather than less, of a self. His selfhood is enhanced rather than erased. Certainly, once the text is written and read by others, these others may fill it with meaning that the author did not intend. They may distort it, embellish it, rearrange it, canonize it. Yet, regardless of how the text is treated, regardless of the role it takes on in discourse, the author maintains his/her personal identity. She/he is still the originator of the text and the text still bears the marks of that Self. Hemingway’s work is more than himself but that which he was cannot be erased. He was an author, a propagator of discourse; yet, he was also a living, breathing human being, a real and not an abstract Self who left his own personal mark on his textual creation. Authorship is indeed a privilege but Subject-hood is attained by virtue of one’s very humanity. The former does not negate the latter. I would argue, in addition, that Eusebius-as-Subject shows through in



Eusebius-as-author in that he did create new meaning and new forms of resistance for the Christians of his day. While it is true that he functioned within his own social system, and thus did not produce the principles and ideology of Christian martyrdom single-handedly or out of nothing, he certainly did exercise a creative hand in the process, that is, he fueled the passion for death that helped create the Cult of Martyrs by lifting up stories of resistance and by accentuating the notion of a heavenly reward for enduring faith. Yet, Eusebius does indeed also function according to the role of the author as described by Foucault, that is, he does limit, exclude, and choose which meanings will be allowed to proliferate and which will not. We have seen that he lifts up those martyrs whose stories he believes will edify the Church and that he acknowledges leaving out others. He allows some mention of those who recanted and who subsequently sacrificed but only insofar as they serve to enhance the valor of the true martyrs. He is, in a sense then, both a creator and a manipulator of a discourse; an individual Subject functioning within and among the systemic forces of his day. The conclusion that arises, then, from this juxtaposition is that all individuals, since they are both biologically and socially constructed, possess the potential to exercise agency, to make choices that either follow the expected path of social forces or move against them. Resistance, while it is not always exercised, is always a possibility in some form. To reiterate Bordo: ‘even the most subordinated subjects are therefore continually confronted with opportunities for resistance, for making meanings that ‘oppose or evade the dominant ideology.’94 While Blandina’s form of 94 Bordo “Feminism, Foucault,” 255. It is interesting to note that the strongest critique of Bowen theory seems to come from feminists who espouse and practice it and who continually use feminist principles to critique themselves. For instance, the question arose in conversation that if even the most oppressed individual has the ability to exercise some form of resistance, what about the small child who is raped or otherwise abused? What form of resistance could that child have possessed and if she/he did indeed possess it, what responsibility does she/he bear for not exercising it? The question is a difficult one. The theorist / practitioner eventually came to the realization that the theory would not even allow the asking of her initial question, “What should the child have done or what responsibility does she/he bear?” without first discovering and examining the positions and movements of all the stakeholders in the situation. Indeed, a systems analysis reveals that responsibility (i.e. blame) is not the issue. Rather, the issue centers on the movement within power relations that allowed the abuse to occur in the first place. This type of examination leads to the realization that responsibility rarely, if ever, resides in one place. However, as feminists have long pointed out, neither are



resistance was surely not the type most people would choose to make use of, it was indeed a form that has been employed by many over the centuries. The possible objection, therefore, that Blandina cannot be recognized as possessing individual agency if her status hinges on Eusebius’ status as an author, is dispelled. First, it is dispelled since Eusebius can, himself, be understood as possessing agency, as a full Subject operating creatively within the role of the author, rather than as a variable function that must deprive the Subject (the Self) of its “role as originator.”95 Second, it is dispelled because Blandina, like Eusebius, can be understood to be a Subject and to hold the potential for agency in her own right by virtue of her humanity. As a human being constructed out of a basic relational system that encompasses both the biological and the social, she carried the marks of her own individuality and of her cultural system. Although she is known now to the world only through Eusebius, those marks cannot be erased save by declaring her a complete work of fiction created only in the mind of Eusebius. The evidence of the historical record, I believe, does not allow for that possibility. Eusebius is far too reliable.

all parties equal in the workings of power. The topic was obviously not resolved with complete satisfaction but the analysis that took place because of the theoretical underpinning probably would not have occurred otherwise, since the focus would have remained on the initial questions. Conversation with Carol Jeunette, ILIF University, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Bowen Center for the Family, Georgetown – February 2003. 95 Foucault, “Author,” 118.


The purpose of this project has been to examine the martyrdom of Blandina of Lyon as she is portrayed in the text preserved and passed down by Eusebius. I have sought, first and foremost, to determine how it is that Blandina, a seemingly obvious victim, comes to be understood as victorious over her persecutors. A systemic examination of the social forces operative in second century Lyon has revealed relational networks that allowed for the exercising of power even by this apparently powerless slave-woman. Blandina’s decision to exercise personal agency, individual choice, within a system where others were unprepared to do so, not only affected the outcome for herself but for all participants within the system. By exercising her personal agency Blandina sets off a process through which forces of power are shifted and outcomes are altered. Because she stands her ground, refusing to deny that which she understands herself to be – “I am a Christian!”1 – she effects a transformation not only for herself but ultimately for the entire community. Christians and pagans alike are changed because of her stance; quaking believers become zealous and zealous officials become fearful. The victim Blandina becomes the victorious Blandina/Christ. In Christian terms, it can be said that by choosing to “put on” Christ, Blandina wins the “crown of immortality.” It would have been easy here to focus only on an other-worldly dimension; that is, to understand and depict Blandina simply as winning a well-deserved rest in a heavenly home; a fitting end for a prominent character in an apocalyptic text. Yet a closer look at the story has revealed that for Blandina, the crown consisted of a personal communion with Christ; a communion that was taking place even as she hung on the stake; a communion which, when witnessed by others, opened such possibility for them as well. Thus, in this koinwni/a with Christ, Blandina gains not only victory for herself but also offers the hope of victory to other persecuted believers. By taking her stand, she disrupts the larger system, affecting not only the 1

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 19.




outcome for herself but for all other parties involved. Christians and pagans alike recognize that something unusual has happened and it is in that recognition that the possibility for change is born. Blandina is indeed a victim in the sense that for her, the story ends in death. This examination, however, has disclosed further the power that she wields in the process of her dying. The tale is gripping not simply because it is gruesome but rather because it makes blatant the fact that the actions of one individual, no matter how lowly, do matter. One individual can change a community; one individual can transform a system! At Lyon, it was precisely Blandina’s willingness to take her stand, no matter the cost, that disrupted the system, finally bringing an end to the violence. That which her story offers then is not just a hope in life eternal but also a hope that justice might come about on this earth and perhaps, but not necessarily, even in one’s own time. Obviously, Blandina did not live to reap the earthly benefits of her own actions, yet this does not render her actions worthless or ineffective. In pulverizing the bones of the martyrs, the governor at Lyon sought to thwart the Christian hope of resurrection – “Now let us see if they will rise and if their god is able to deliver them out of our hands.”2 At one level, it appears he was successful. The ashes of the martyrs flowed down the Rhône and their bodies were never to be seen again. Nonetheless, I contend that the governor neglected to consider the dimension of resurrection brought to light by the likes of a lowly female slave; that the power of a people does not reside in only one or two. It does not reside even only in their god. Rather, it lives, moves and breathes in relationships. It is, therefore, capable of rising up in the most unexpected of people and places. It is even capable of rising up in later generations by virtue of the relational evolutionary process through which we are all born. The power of the Spirit (the Paraclete) at Lyon was a power operating in relationship; it was communal, contagious and regenerative. While other groups might choose to name it differently, Christians then (and sometimes now) name this relational power their god. Yet, this is not the type of Christian god that has been entirely spiritualized and who lives entirely apart from people in some other realm. Rather, this is the incarnate Christ; the one believed to have taken on flesh and to still reside in flesh. This Christ is understood as operative in this world; resurrected each day in his/her people. While persecutors could take the lives of individual Christians at Lyon, they could not kill this power that eluded them by moving always in relationship. 2

Eusebius HE 5. 1. 63.



Eusebius’ transmission of Blandina’s story, then, illuminates exactly that point which he most wanted to pass down to imperishable remembrance;3 that is, the dispensation of Christ on earth. Even so, the question might still remain – “Who exactly was Blandina?” While one might always wish that Eusebius had included in his History more detail regarding her background—for instance, actual age, ethnicity and specific physical characteristics—that he does not do so is perhaps one of this text’s greatest gifts. In asking a number of persons to picture Blandina, I have received a variety of answers. Blandina has been a pale-white, red-headed Irish maiden and a fair, blonde haired German teen-ager. She has been a pretty oliveskinned young woman of Mediterranean descent and she has been a mature black woman of African descent. However she is pictured, she is, above all else, a picture of hope and perseverance through the centuries, for in her story each reader catches a glimpse of herself. Blandina, the female slave, is every woman, even every reader, who has ever felt lowly and despicable before the world and yet who knows herself to be beautiful in the eyes of her God.4 Blandina the female slave is Christ in the world!

3 4

Eusebius HE 5. Introd. 4. Eusebius HE 5. 1. 17.


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Bowen Bowen Theory, 13, 119 Family Systems Theory, 13 systems theory, 5 Bowen, Murray, 11, 13, 97, 173

A Adversary adversary, 25, 35, 36, 99, 100, 105 Evil One, 35 Satan, 35, 137 Aes Italicense, 89, 90, 91 Agent, 110, 153 Alcibiades, 28, 31, 37, 38, 39, 57, 58 Alexander, 9, 28, 31, 32, 35, 41, 62, 93, 147, 169, 172, 173, 176 annual assembly, 77 Antoninus Pius, 53, 85 Apolinarius, 137, 138, 139 Apollonius, 46, 137 Aristotle, 142, 143, 145, 167 Asceticism, 35, 37, 38, 41, 55, 57, 58, 60 Attalus, 28, 30, 38, 80, 93, 102, 109, 134 Augustus, 24, 26, 48, 61, 74, 75, 76, 77, 83, 121 Author, 3, 4, 9, 11, 24, 32, 33, 36, 40, 44, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58, 62, 91, 112, 121, 123, 129, 130, 131, 153, 154, 155, 158, 159, 160, 161 author function, 131

C Cannabus, isle of, 25, 26 Cause and Effect Linear causation model, 102 multiple causation model, 103 Celtic peoples, 68 Celts, 27, 68, 71, 75, 79, 84, 87 Gauls, 25, 26, 61, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 82, 84, 85, 87, 89, 91, 121 chief priest, 79, 83 Cicero, 109 Contumacia, 92, 93 Crucifixion, 3, 104, 109, 120, 133, 151 Cybele, 25, 42

D Diodorus, 69, 71, 72, 74, 170 Docetism, 54 Druids, 69, 70, 74, 75, 77, 87, 172 Drusus, 77



Biblias, 28, 31, 47, 49, 88 Body one-sex paradigm, 141, 142, 143, 145, 147 two-sex paradigm, 141, 149, 151

Eleutherus, Bishop of Rome, 8, 9, 53, 57, 58 emotional unit, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 101, 111, 114, 119, 120, 157




Epiphanius, 53, 55, 170 Eusebius Chronicle, 29, 52, 53 Church History, 1, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 28, 29, 30, 37, 53, 113, 129, 131, 132, 170 Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms, 4, 9, 29

105, 106, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 140, 145, 146, 150, 168, 169 Julius Caesar, 25, 68, 69, 70, 173

K koinwni/a, 98, 134, 135, 147, 148, 152, 163

F force toward individuality, 19 force toward togetherness, 19, 157 Foucauldian Theory, 11, 17, 18, 19, 110, 111, 116, 119, 129, 156 Foucault, Michel, 11, 12, 65, 130 Fourvière Hill, 25 functioning position, 101, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 112, 120, 126, 128

G Galen, 142, 143, 144, 145, 173 Gender, 5, 117, 142, 146, 149 Gladiator, 2, 90, 113, 114 Gnosticism, 54, 55

H Heretics Basilides, 137 Carpocratians, 137 Menander, 137 Saturninus, 137 Valentinians, 137

I Irenaeus, 8, 9, 48, 49, 51, 52, 54, 57, 58, 130, 137, 169, 172 synagogue of God, 48, 51

L Labroides dimidiatus, 15, 16 Lugdunum, 25, 26, 167

M Maccabean Martyrs Eleazar, 43, 44, 45, 46 Maccabean Mother, 43, 44, 45, 46, 49, 52 Razis, 43, 44 Marcus Aurelius, 10, 52, 53, 75, 85, 86, 89, 90, 167, 170 matrix of relationships, 98 Maturus, 28, 31, 134 Mole, 145 Montanism, 3, 30, 41, 52, 53, 54, 55, 59, 138, 139, 167, 176 Maximilla, 137 Montanus, 53, 55, 137, 138 New Prophecy, 52, 53, 54, 176 Priscilla, 137 multiplicity of discourses, 12, 17, 101

N Name, of Christian, 92, 139, 140 nature and nurture, 117 Nautae, 67 Network, 4, 12, 27, 98, 102, 103, 107, 113, 116 nodal points, 101, 102

J Jesus, 3, 4, 23, 24, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 46, 51, 54, 56, 60, 76, 101, 104,

P Pamphilus, 139


INDEX Paraclete, 39, 40, 51, 55, 56, 60, 137, 164, 168 parts to whole, 14, 16, 114 Patamo, 139 pei/sh|, 98, 148, 149, 150, 151 Plague, 85, 86, 102 Pliny Pliny the Elder, 74, 174 Pliny the Younger, 80, 93, 174 Polycarp, 8, 32, 52 Ponticus, 28, 33, 34, 35, 44, 91, 121, 122, 123, 124, 133 Pothinus, 8, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43, 52, 59, 112, 127, 133, 148

Q Qumran, 40, 42, 43, 46, 168, 169

R Roma, 76, 83

S Sacerdos, 83 Samaritan woman, 23, 60 Sanctus, 24, 28, 30, 32, 41, 59, 127, 133, 134 self-differentiation, 113, 115, 120 Selfhood

Self, 3, 4, 107, 113, 116, 129, 157, 158, 159, 161 Serapion, 137 Signer, 130, 131, 140 Sociobiology, 17, 18 Soranus, 144, 145, 146, 175 Stakeholders, 100, 101, 104, 106, 121, 129, 160 Subject, 9, 18, 62, 118, 128, 148, 149, 151, 153, 155, 156, 159

T Three-Gauls, 25, 26, 61, 69, 75, 77, 79, 82, 85, 121 Trajan, 80, 92 Transmitter, 129, 130, 131, 140, 153 Triangle of relations, 101, 102, 104, 105, 106, 108, 111, 121, 123, 124, 126, 151 Tribute, 61, 82 Trinqui, 89, 91

V Vettius Epagathus, 28, 30, 31, 35, 37, 39, 40, 43, 44, 93, 133

W whole to parts, 14, 16, 114