Truth, morality and martyrdom

Two things that I’m reading right now happen to overlap:

“Teach it to the simple, the learned know it well,
“TRUTH IS TREASURE, the best tried on earth.”

“Nay, but I know not,” quoth I, “ye must teach me better.
“How doth truth grow in me? Is it beyond my ken?”

“Thou doted daff, dull is thy wit,
“Little Latin hast though learnt in the days of thy youth.”

Woe for my barren youth days spent in vain.

“Thou knowest well enough. To love the Lord
“And rather than do deadly sin to die.”

Better die than live ill.

The Vision of Piers Plowman, “The Vision of Holy Church” (ca. 1370-1390).

The Church proposes the example of numerous Saints who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martyrdom, or who preferred death to a single mortal sin. In raising them to the honor of the altars, the Church has canonized their witness and declared the truth of their judgment, according to which the love of God entails the obligation to respect his commandments, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the refusal to betray those commandments, even for the sake of saving one’s own life.

* * *

Martyrdom rejects as false and illusory whatever “human meaning” one might claim to attribute, even in “exceptional” conditions, to an act morally evil in itself. Indeed, it even more clearly unmasks the true face of such an act: it is a violation of man’s “humanity,” in the one perpetrating it even before the one enduring it. Hence martyrdom is also the exaltation of a person’s perfect “humanity” and of true “life”, as is attested by Saint Ignatius of Antioch, addressing the Christians of Rome, the place of his own martyrdom: “Have mercy on me, brethren: do not hold me back from living; do not wish that I die… Let me arrive at the pure light; once there I will be truly a man. Let me imitate the passion of my God.”

Pope St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 91, 92 (1993).


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