Kirkus Reviews QR Code
MARTYRS by Susan Bergman

MARTYRS

Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith

By Susan Bergman

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-061120-0

 A moving anthology that proves Tertullian's age-old axiom that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Bergman (Anonymity, 1994) has culled an impressive collection of essays on 20th-century Christian martyrs. The writings are arranged in reverse chronological order, beginning with the 1993 martyrdom of Russian pastor Aleksander Men and closing with the slayings of missionaries during China's 1900 Boxer Rebellion. Along the way, we encounter familiar exemplars, such as Oscar Romero (in a brilliant essay by Carolyn ForchÇ) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as unexpected ones, such as Simone Weil. (Simone Weil a Christian martyr? Anthony Walton makes a strong case for it, though Weil's death from a heart attack hardly compares to the more gruesome ends of the other heroes described here.) Throughout many of the essays, writers mingle themes of social justice and political maneuvering with Christian theology, painting complex portraits of the individuals involved. In one essay, such complexity verges on skepticism. Gerald Early's portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. explicitly compares the famous leader to Uncle Tom, claiming that King ``artfully and brilliantly exploited the Uncle Tom archetype to legitimate his own leadership in the eyes of both black and white America.'' Early's essay also contains no mention whatsoever of King's martyr-death, the focal point on which the other chapters converge. Still, it is a thoughtful piece that forces readers to examine King in a fresh way. Bergman's anthology is not a simplistic glorification of heroic death Ö la John Foxe's Book of the Martyrs. This is grittier. It is an appropriate response to a century in which cataclysmic violence has reached unprecedented proportions. These essays stand as a bold witness to the courage of a few who have sought God in the midst of systematic destruction.