Martyrdom and the Myth of Progress

St. Primus and Felician

Modern times?

Some Catholics are hesitant to refer to the French priest murdered by Islamic terrorists as a martyr, even though people killed out of “hatred for the faith” have always been referred to as such. In some ways it is understandable – they don’t want to encourage hatred of Islam – but the motives of the murderers were clear.

Ross Douthat however points out that calling Jacques Hamel a martyr would also spoil a certain narrative that the world (and thanks to the Second Vatican Council, the church) were supposed to have come of age, putting aside the fruitless divisions of the past and entering a new era of tolerance and peace through technocratic government. It is easier to cling to the illusions of the past than to acknowledge the facts of the present.

Douthat says:

Our today is not actually quite what 1960s-era Catholicism imagined it would be. The come-of-age church is, in the West, literally a dying church… 

The broader liberal order is also showing signs of strain. The European Union, a great dream when Father Hamel was ordained a priest in 1958, is now a creaking and unpopular bureaucracy, threatened by nationalism from within and struggling to assimilate immigrants from cultures that never made the liberal leap.

… it would have seemed all but impossible, in the bright optimism of the 1960s, that a young priest of the church of Vatican II should, in his old age, die a martyr’s death in the very heart of Europe.

 But it wasn’t, and he did.

The lesson, I think, is that history does not move in straight lines. Nations and governing orders are born, change, grow old and die. We can’t be blind to that fact, no matter how attached we are to the present order or to the myth of progress.

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