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Enjoying the saints in late antiquity

Enjoying the saints in late antiquity

By Peter Brown

Early Medieval Europe, Volume 9, Issue 1 (2000)

Abstract: The discovery at Mainz by Franĉois Dolbeau of a new collection of sermons of Augustine has enabled us to study, in far greater detail, the attitude of Augustine to the reform of the cult of the martyrs between 391 and 404. This study aims to understand Augustine’s insistence on the need to imitate the martyrs against the background of his views on grace and the relation of such views to the growing differentiation of the Christian community. It also attempts to do justice to the views of those he criticized: others regarded the triumph of the martyrs over pain and death as a unique manifestation of the power of God, in which believers participated, not through imitation but through celebrations reminiscent of the joy of pagan festivals. In this debate, Augustine by no means had the last word. The article attempts to show the continuing tension between notions of the saints as imitable and inimitable figures in the early medieval period, and more briefly, by implication, in all later centuries.

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