Suicide and Martyrdom

Some today admit the possibility that suicide can be a form of martyrdom. The Church, however, has always taught that suicide is wrong, and yet honors those who are martyred for professing the faith. In the following excerpt from his Second Apology, which is addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Roman Senate, St. Justin Martyr (d. 165) explains the difference between suicide and martyrdom.

Justin begins Chapter Four of his Second Apology with these words: “But lest some one say to us, ‘Go then all of you and kill yourselves, and pass even now to God, and do not trouble us,’ I will tell you why we do not so, but why, when examined, we fearlessly confess.”

Justin gives these reasons why it wrong to kill oneself or to unjustly kill another human person: “It seems that We have been taught that God did not make the world aimlessly, but for the sake of the human race; and we have before stated that He takes pleasure in those who imitate His properties, and is displeased with those that embrace what is worthless either in word or deed. If, then, we all kill ourselves we shall become the cause, as far as in us lies, why no one should be born, or instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race should not exist; and we shall, if we so act, be ourselves acting in opposition to the will of God.”

Then he explains why Christians profess the faith, even in the face of persecution: “But when we are examined, we make no denial, because we are not conscious of any evil, but count it impious not to speak the truth in all things, which also we know is pleasing to God, and because we are also now very desirous to deliver you from an unjust prejudice.” Thus, confessors of the faith and martyrs proclaim the truth because (1) it pleases God, (2) it demonstrates their own personal piety, and (3) it instructs their persecutors in the truth.

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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