Thursday, February 9, 2012

The difference between martyrdom and suicide

February 9th, Feast of St. Apollonia
Many of the martyrs speak of their desire for death with a greater zeal than we desire life – for they would suffer untold torments in order to achieve their death, but far too often we would rather die than suffer greatly in order to live.
And yet, without intending any dishonor to the martyrs, we may wonder: How is martyrdom different from suicide? Indeed, many of the ancient martyrs longed for death and even put themselves in harm’s way in order to achieve martyrdom – is this not, in some respect, similar to suicide?
The case of St. Apollonia (whose memory is commemorated this day, though not in the general calendar) will give great insight into this question – she voluntarily threw herself into the fires which her persecutors had prepared for her.

The story of St. Apollonia (from the Roman Martyrology)
The ninth of February, at Alexandria, the birthday [into heaven] of St. Apollonia, Virgin and Martyr, whose teeth were first of all pulled out by her torturers under Decius; then, when they had build and kindled a pyre, they threatened to burn her alive, unless she would utter impious words with them; but she, after a moment’s deliberation, suddenly sprang from their wicked hands, and of her own accord leaped into the flames which they had prepared, being inflamed within by the greater fire of the Holy Spirit. And so the very authors of this cruelty were themselves terrified, since a woman was found more ready to meet death than were her persecutors to inflict it.
The tooth of St. Apollonia
venerated in Porto, Portugal
St. Apollonia probably died late in the year 248 or early in 249. Her story is handed on to us through St. Dionysius the bishop-theologian of Alexandria (247-265). She is particularly interesting insofar as she probably served as a deaconess – however, we recall that the “deaconesses” in the early Church had almost no liturgical role. They could not distribute communion, touch the sacred vessels, approach the altar, or even proclaim the readings. One thing is clear: In the early Church, only the heretics allowed women to minister at the altar (and hardly any even from among the heretics went as far as we have gone in the Church today). So, the “deaconesses” were really nothing like modern day deacons.
On account of the terrible sufferings endured in having her teeth extracted, St. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists and of all suffering from toothache.
Martyrdom or suicide?
St. Augustine touches on this question, considering the fact that many of the early martyrs did indeed voluntary hasten to their death. In the case of St. Apollonia, it would seem that she inflicted the death upon herself, since she was not thrown into the fire but voluntarily jumped into the midst of the flames.
However, we must recognize that martyrdom is nothing like suicide. The two actions are completely different at every level. The acts themselves, the intentions, and the circumstances are all radically diverse.
Hear St. Augustine: “But, they say, during the time of persecution certain holy women plunged into the water with the intention of being swept away by the waves and drowned, and thus preserve their threatened chastity. Although they quitted life in this wise, nevertheless they receive high honour as martyrs in the Catholic Church and their feasts are observed with great ceremony. This is a matter on which I dare not pass judgment lightly. For I know not but that the Church was divinely authorized through trustworthy revelations to honour thus the memory of these Christians.” (City of God I.26)
Let us then not pass judgment lightly, but consider well the difference between a martyr and a suicide.
Is it martyrdom or suicide? A test
Now, the difference between martyrdom and suicide cannot merely be a matter of the intention of the individual – they are two different acts, regardless of the intention. Thus, we must consider the acts and the ends toward which the acts themselves are directed (and this is different from the intention of the individual).
Here is a simple test: Is the act in doubt ordered to the voluntary death of the individual or not? Is the act a “success” or a “failure” if the individual lives?
In the case of suicide, the act itself is ordered to the death of the individual. Whatever further intention the person might have (for example, “to end the suffering”) the immediate end or goal of the act is to bring about the death of the individual (and through this death “to end the suffering”).
Now, in the case of martyrdom, the act itself is not ordered to the death of the individual. For example, when St. John the Beloved was thrown into the boiling oil and was delivered alive, this was not a failure on his part, but a success. So, although it is true that one is not a martyr unless he has died, nevertheless, the act itself of accepting martyrdom is not suicide because it is not ordered necessarily to the death of the individual. Rather, the goal (not only of the individual but of the act itself) is to glorify God. Hence, St. John glorified God by surviving, just as St. Peter glorified God by his death.
Thus, we consider the case of St. Apollonia, who threw herself into the flames. This was not an act of suicide because the goal of that action was not to bring about her death, but rather to bring glory to God. If she had lived (by a miracle), she would not have failed, but would have still succeeded because she would have given glory to God through her miraculous preservation (just as the three young men glorified God in the midst of the flames). Therefore, not only in terms of her personal intention, but even according to the very nature of the act itself, St. Apollonia did not commit suicide.
However, in the case of a suicide, the act itself is ordered to the death of the individual. If a man attempting suicide shoots himself and lives, he has “failed” (insofar as the attempt at suicide did not succeed). However, if St. Apollonia had lived, she would not have failed but still would have succeeded – because the act itself was not a suicide but a martyrdom, and was not ordered directly to her death but rather to the glory of God.
Suicide and 9/11
This same test can prove helpful when considering other matters. We take for an example, two cases form the September 11th attacks.
The Muslim suicide bombers did indeed commit suicide. They are worse than simple murders, but they are suicide killers. If they had somehow lived through the attack, they would have failed. Even if they could have ejected from the planes just a moment before the wreck, they would not have done so, because their death is essential to their attack. It was not enough for them to kill innocent men and woman, but they also had to commit suicide.
Take, on the other hand, certain men and women who jumped from the towers after the attack. At first, it may seem that they were committing suicide – but this is not necessarily the case. There was a great deal of fire inside the buildings and also the people knew that they needed to get out. Now, if a man jumped from the building (falling to his death) in an attempt either to escape the building or to get away from the fire, it is not necessarily a suicide.
Consider our test: Imagine if a man jumped from the building trying to get away from the fire and, by some miracle or coincidence, somehow lived through the fall. Would he have “failed” by living? Of course not! It would be a success, because the act was not really an attempt to die, but rather an attempt to get away from the flames (even though, by double effect, it was clear that he would almost certainly die from the fall).
Thus, while the hijackers did not merit martyrdom, neither are those who jumped guilty of suicide.

St. Apollonia, Pray for us!


A Sinner said...

You are absolutely correct in your understanding of "moral object" being a question of whether something evil (like death) is willed directly as either an ends or a means.

However, you will note, as some like Grisez have argued, this also applies to "abortion" to save the life of the mother, or at least provides a feasible argument for it (suggesting that Bishop Olmsted was wrong in the Phoenix hospital case, etc).

Really, I think, this understanding of moral object as whether or not death (or whatever bad object) is willed as an ends or a means demonstrates that in most cases debate over "life of the mother" "abortions" is a red in most cases, these are not really "abortions" at all.

Consider your own standard: if the baby somehow survived the procedure (miraculous, if artificial wombs are invented someday, etc)...would the doctor have failed? No, indeed, it would probably be celebrated. The baby's death is willed neither as an ends or a means, merely its "removal." The baby's death, in itself, is never instrumental, and therefore never "direct" in these cases.

Abortions for convenience are, of course, a different matter entirely. In those cases, the baby's death itself is desired, if not by the mother (who in some cases may merely want it "removed" without caring whether it lives or dies), then certainly by the abortionist himself.

I think this understanding of moral object would be helpful for making the moral case in the face of liberal objections about life-of-the-mother cases, which really don't seem to be issues at all as far as I can tell, which are more a red herring.

I am not Spartacus said...

In the Traditional Calendar of the Holy City of Rome, today is her Feast day and the great Dom Prosper Gueranger, in, "The Liturgical Year," makes a similar point:

"...To her this present life was a think of little value, and no sooner did she receive God's inspiration to sacrifice it, tan she did what her would-be executioners intended doing....but Apollonia's motive for hastening her death by a moment's anticipation, was to testify her horror of the apostasy that was proposed to her."

Real men follow the Traditional Calendar :)

BTW, when one follows the advice and prayers contained in the incomparable, "The Liturgical Year." one will, during this time of preparation for Lent, be praying a different Penitential Psalm every day - in addition to the other daily prayers of the season

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Father. The Muslim hijackers pose a serious difficulty especially since V2 says they worship the same God we do but our putative same God tells them that to kill the infidel (us) is a command and that if in the act of killing Kaffir they die, they will gain paradise.

That is, if we Catholics on the one hand claim that Mahometans worship the same God as do we, then what rational basis is there to object to them actualising the commands of their God?

Mahometans who are terrorists are the most faithful of the followers of Allah for they put into action His commands as recorded in the Koran which Pope Blessed John Paul II kissed.

Face it, we do not worship the same God as do the Mahometans.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
In the case of an abortion to "save the life of the mother" this is still murder ... the object of the act is still the death of the child.

Ectopic pregnancies are very tricky business, however ... some things which might at first seem wrong, are actually permissible -- but the real question is whether or not the death of the child is directly willed as a means of saving the mother's life.

Still, setting aside some of the more complex questions, there could well be cases where an abortion is done for the life of the mother ... and this would still be a true abortion and murder. [so, I disagree with your comment]

If the death of the child is what saves the mother, then it is an abortion.
[so, for example, if the head of an unborn child is crushed so as to save the mother's life ... it is an abortion, and murder]

Well, I don't want to go into this any further here ... because it is not really the point at issue.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
There are plenty of Christians (and even some Catholics) who have been confused and thought that God was telling them to do something that is wrong ... and yet, I do not deny that they worship the same God as I (only, they are confused about some points).

So too, I see no reason to say that the Muslims do not worship the same God (at least, they offer a natural level of worship - though not supernatural and true worship) just because some of them are confused and think that Allah is telling them to kill innocent people.

In other words, I do not believe it is Allah who is telling them to do such things ... but it comes either from their own imagination or from Satan (who often tries to imitate the Angels of Light).

A Sinner said...

"the object of the act is still the death of the child."

How? Is the death of the child instrumental? If the child survived somehow would the doctor have failed? How is the child's "death" as opposed to just "removal" specifically necessary as an ends or means?

"Still, setting aside some of the more complex questions, there could well be cases where an abortion is done for the life of the mother ... and this would still be a true abortion and murder."

The only such case I could imagine is if they were cannibalizing the child to make a medicine for the mother in such a way that it's death specifically (and not merely it's removal) was necessary for the mother to survive. If the scenario is unaffected (ie, if the doctor "doesn't fail," to use your wording) by a miraculous survival of the does not seem that it's death is willed in any direct sense, either as an ends or as a means.

"If the death of the child is what saves the mother, then it is an abortion."

I see few cases where the death is what saves the mother. If the mother were to be saved even were the baby to somehow survive the procedure, I would have to conclude the death was not "what saves the mother" but rather was (morally speaking) a side-effect, and we would therefore have to consider the question under Double Effect.

"[so, for example, if the head of an unborn child is crushed so as to save the mother's life ... it is an abortion, and murder]"

If you'd like to continue this by email, please email me, as I think it is a major point of confusion.

I would have to ask though, IS "death" the "object" here? I would tend to think, as Grisez suggests, "the baby’s death need not be included in the proposal adopted in choosing to do a craniotomy. The proposal can be simply to alter the child’s physical dimensions and remove him or her because, as a physical object, this body cannot remain where it is without ending in both the baby’s and the mother’s deaths. To understand this proposal, it helps to notice that the baby’s death contributes nothing to the objective sought; indeed, the procedure is exactly the same if the baby has already died. In adopting this proposal, the baby’s death need only be accepted as a side effect."

Once again, look at your own standard: if the baby survived the head-crushing somehow, either miraculous or through future medical technology...would the doctor have failed at his objective? Not at all, in fact it would likely be celebrated! The death of the child adds nothing as either an ends or a means, and therefore it must enter the moral equation as a SIDE effect, not within the direct chain of means and ends.

A Sinner said...

As for I Am Not Spartacus's arguments, they are absurd.

False predication ABOUT a given not the same as predicating about a different subject entirely.

If I say "George W. Bush is a black man"...I'm still predicating something to George W. Bush. I'm predicating something WRONG, but if you claim "You must be talking about someone else" just because I made an error (or told a lie)...that is not epistemologically coherent.

In fact, if every wrong statement or mistaken belief about a given subject rendered things so that you weren't even talking about the same would actually be impossible to be "wrong" about anything, as the fact that you are wrong about your referent depends on the notion that you are truly referring to a given referent in the first place (even if predicating something incorrect)!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
You are confusing the intetio actis with the intentio actoris ... the act itself with the intention of the actor.

The act of crushing a child's head is directly ordered, of itself, to the death of the child ... whatever further intention there may be on the part of the doctor or the woman.
It is murder ... not merely an unintended consequence (sure, the death itself not necessarily "intended" by the woman, but the act of crushing the head is directly ordered to the death of the child ... hence the murder is the very act and is a means of saving the mother ... thus it is an abortion).

Thus, your argument does not hold ... because the obstruction being removed is the child.

In any case, this has gotten far beyond the context of the post.

I'm not going any further on this point ... write about it on your own blog, it is too complicated to discuss in a comment box.

A Sinner said...

Well, but forgetting the abortion question specifically, this relates back to the very point of your post regarding just what constitutes the ordering of acts in general.

Your claim here appears to be that jumping into fire (or off a roof, or into a riptide) can be ordered towards "the glory of God" instead of "death"...but then not crushing a head. So would Apollonia have been a suicide if she had been placed under a big boulder held up by a rope and defiantly cut that rope, rather than similarly jumping into fire? I see little difference between the two.

I'm not confusing object and intent here. The intent in my example is "save the mother." The object in question is removing the child. The death itself is not instrumental.

Again, I won't press you discuss the abortion question here, but it brings up a larger point (essential to the very argument you make in this post) about just what constitutes the "ordering" of the moral object.

The [correct] conclusion you reach in the post seems to admit, by implication, that the actual "objective" of the moral object can itself only be determined by the proposal of the Will, as Bl. John Paul said in Veritas Splendor: "By the object of a given moral act, then, one cannot mean a process or an event of the merely physical order, to be assessed on the basis of its ability to bring about a given state of affairs in the outside world...Rather, that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person."

But then, in the comments here, you seem to revert to what I would see as a naive (and very much 20th century) notion of the moral object as a "type of act" conceived of in a purely material/externalistic fashion rather than rooting its definition in what object(s) the act of the will proposes, internally, as a means to its intended end, and whether that act is internally disordered or not in its (internal) coherence.

This leaves me wondering, why the dissonance.

Kinana said...

Dear Fr Ryan
Thank you. I appreciate your conclusion re the 9/11 ‘jumpers’. Without your knowledge I have come to the same conclusion. I thought, they did not, necessarily intend suicide, they could have simply desired to leave the hell they were in and fall into the arms of God and let Him decide whether they lived or died.

Re your response to ‘I am not Spartacus’ I would be very interested to know of a longer essay you may have written about Islam and whether Muslims worship the same God as Catholics/Christians. My understanding is that they do not in reality worship the same God. However I accept that Islam teaches that they do. The Allah that is described in the Quran and by Mohammed is so vastly different to the Biblical God that any reasonable person would say they are different. Which is, of course, exactly what Islam teaches. We all worship the God of Abraham, but Christians and Jews have got it wrong and only the Islamic understanding of God/Allah is correct.

Thank you

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Father. The Koran, putatively the word of God, does indeed command the Mahometans to kill us kaffirs and that is undeniable.

Dear Sinner. I am not surprised to read you think my arguments are absurd due to your obvious ignorance of the facts.

It is a common error of modernity to think all religions essentially equivalent and that operational indifferentism is due in no small part to the effete ecumenism we have been burdened with for over one-half a century.

My observation that Mahometans who kill us kaffirs are the most faithful adepts of Allah - because they actualise His putative commands in the putative Holy Book of Islam - is but a logical conclusion for it would be illogical, irrational, and insane, to think that a Mahometan ought not actualise the Commands of Allah -unless, of course, you think adepts of Allah ought act like Christians.

(And I have only noted The Koran and not the actions/teachings of "the perfect man," Mahomet his own self who was a famous insane brigand who personally beheaded many Jews.)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
Well, I suppose one could hold that.
You would probably have to suppose, then, that "Allah" is a demon.
And that Mohammed is a "false prophet" [as opposed to "no prophet", which is what I believe].

There is no doubt that the Muslims are profoundly confused, since they have systematically suppressed human nature and reason.
Indeed, it seems that there is nothing more destructive to culture than Islam (I think it is even worse than secularism).

Still, I tend to side with St. John Damascene ... I think that they are heretics ... that Mohammed simply stole and corrupted little bits of Judaism and Christianity (by way of Arianism).
And, if they are heretics, then they do still worship the same God -- but are profoundly confused.

In any case, I do agree with you that many today fail to realize that there can be no lasting peace between Islam and Christianity ... the only options are war or conversion (and that is more because of the nature of Islam than because of the nature of Christianity).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
If Apollonia had remained standing in the flames, unhurt, she would still have succeeded.

If (in the case of a saint about to be crushed by rocks), she remained under the rocks, un-crushed, she would have succeeded.

If, however, (in the case of an abortion to save the life of the mother) the child remains in the mother and un-crushed, the doctor has "failed" and the mother dies --- therefore, there is no comparison between abortion and our Saint.

A Sinner said...

Sigh. But what I'm saying is that if the child SURVIVED "removal" somehow (by whatever means), the doctor wouldn't have failed.

Death may result from removal sometimes, but the doctor has not failed if the child survives the removal (in fact, it would likely be celebrated!)

This suggests that the "death" is not part of the moral object, merely a side-effect of the "removal" which is the real instrumental thing.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Father. Thank you for being so sanguine and patient with me about this topic diversion into Mahometanism and thank you for being so generous as to conceding the argument I make can be made - although are few as bold as me :)

In any event, the idea we worship the same God is made even more problematic when our mutual God tells the Mahometan that he worships a different God than the God we worship.

After this link, I will write no more about the mad man, Mahomet

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
We're not going to get anywhere on this.

My point is simple, the death of the child is too directly linked to the crushing of his head for it to be considered a side effect -- I should think that most ordinary people looking at it would agree.

What is being "removed" and "crushed" is a child's head ... and thus, I do not think that your analogy holds.

In any case, it is far beyond the scope of this post. I'll end the discussion with that.

A Sinner said...

Again, forget about abortion specifically. What I think everyone needs, related directly to this post, is a theological account of these ideas "direct" and "closely linked," etc. Closely linked how? For it to have a moral effect, the close linking can't merely be practical, but would have to translate into a close linking in terms of the Will's object. We need a little more precision here generally.

Nick from Detroit said...

A Sinner,

I believe you are comparing apples and oranges. The examples Father used, i.e., Saint Apollonia, those who jumped from the World Trade Center buildings, and the Moslem terrorists, decided for themselves, using their free-will, their own actions.

In an abortion, the unborn baby's free-will is not a factor. His will is negated by his mother's, and the abortionist's. The force of their will is imposed, physically, on the unborn baby, without his input, or consideration.

So, if the fetus (Latin for unborn baby) defies the will of the abortionist, and survives the abortion, i.e., lives; the abortionist has "failed" in his intent to kill the unborn baby. This is why they leave them to die in garbage cans.

You are comparing those who can decide for themselves what to do with their own lives with those who cannot, and have decisions of life and death forced upon them. This is why your argument is not in keeping with the topic of Father's blog-post.

A Sinner said...

Nick, I'm not sure you even read what I said. I'm not talking about abortion generally, which usually does involve the death of the child as part of the moral object. I was bringing up the example only of cases where the child must be removed to save the mother's life where otherwise they both would die. In this case, presumably, the doctor WOULD remove the child ALIVE (and place it in an advanced incubator, if the technology existed, if that could be done without threatening the mother through the cesarean, etc), but when he can't, tragically accepts that Removal might lead to Death as a foreseen but unintended side effect.

The question more generally, though, is about just what defines the object of moral acts. Why can jumping in fire and death be morally abstracted one from the other (with the death merely a foreseen but unintended side effect), but not crushing a head and death?

My argument would be that, in fact, if a death itself is not instrumental to the outcome, that even if it is inevitable, it must be considered a side effect and evaluated morally as such, as it is not, then, directly chosen by the will as either an end or a means.

Editor: Jay Boyd, Ph.D. said...

Thank you, Father! It has taken me a few days to get around to reading this; I was holding onto it, though, because I WAS a little confused by the reading in the Roman martyrology. I did actually sit and ponder it for a few moments at the time I read it (before I even saw your post!), and thought about it through the day, and beyond. This was very helpful.

yan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I decided to delete your comment because it really was far beyond the scope of the article.

Also, you don't understand the complexity of the questions ... no offense meant ... but the issues are far more complicated than you realize.

The Catholic tradition has not held that every way of ending an ectopic pregnancy is a direct killing of the child.

Nick from Detroit said...

A Sinner,

Your argument is still not germane to Father Erlenbush's original blog-post. Saint Apollonia acted using her free-will. An abortion is the deliberate killing of an unborn baby (fetus in Latin,) even if it is to save the life of the mother. It is the imposition of the will of others' (the mother and the abortionist, at least) by force, on the will of a third party.

As Father clearly stated, it all depends on the intent of the will. Your argument is of the ends justify the means persuasion. In your example, the ends might be to save the life of the mother, but, the means is the deliberate killing of the baby.

This is why your's is an apples-to-oranges argument. Saint Apollonia's example is analogous to a soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his buddies. Your model is akin to someone throwing the guy next to him on the grenade, to save the life of others. Which is not morally justifiable.

By the way, I've heard many physicians state that there is no medical condition that can afflict a pregnant woman which would require the deliberate killing of the baby, i.e., an abortion.

yan said...

Hi Fr.,

No offense taken. I always say, what I lack in intelligence, I make up for in stupidity. I'm sure you believed you had good reason to take it down and you probably did have good reason.

One question arises though from your statement, because I didn't realize Catholic tradition per se [rather than Catholic theologians] had a view on the ending of ectopic pregnancies. Anyway this is an interesting topic to me, and if you could refer me to some reading, I would be grateful.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yan, Sorry, what I mean is not so much that there is a clear answer in Tradition (i.e. the official teaching of the Church herself), but in the tradition (i.e. the teachings of the great Doctors and Theologians).
Peace! +

Martin said...

Back to the subject at hand, many atheists accuse Jesus of suicide because He willed his death. It's not clear to me that their accusation is entirely answered by this response. If Jesus had not died we would not be saved,. He willed His death.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The truth is that Jesus has the power to lay down his life and take it up again ... thus, because he is God, he has absolute power over both life and death - even his own.

Hence, his human will was perfectly in accord with his divine will in desiring to offer himself on the Cross for our salvation.
And yet, this act is judged differently than other human acts ... because God alone has the authority to choose when a man dies.

[so, as you say, Jesus' death is not covered by the above article ... but it doesn't need to be, because it is to be judged by different standards]

Michael said...

Great post!

I know there's always some people who talk about St. Maximilian Kolbe when the topic of martyrdom comes up. Because, he didn't explicitly die for his Faith.

But can it be said that he is indeed a martyr, because he took the place of the man who had a family, so to glorify our Blessed Lord?

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