Why does God need martyrs

Adoration of saints


The first saints that Christianity knew were the martyrs, which literally translated from Greek means witness. It was the first Christians to stand up for their faith until death.

Among the martyrs are men like St. Stefan or St. Sebastian, who were cruelly tortured and executed. They testified of Christ with their blood.

Among the first to witness the faith are many women who made up their own mind to follow Christ. This includes St. Felicitas, who even induced a premature birth in order to be executed together with her companions.

Persecution of Christians reached its peak in the 3rd century under the Roman emperor Diocletian. The first Christians who refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods were considered enemies of the state and were persecuted and killed.


Christianity was elevated to the status of the state religion under the Roman emperor Constantine. This ended the persecution of Christians. People who lived ascetically and purely were now considered exemplary. They turned their backs on the world to be fully absorbed in Christ.

They were hermits who lived in seclusion in the woods of their homeland, in caves, Carthusians or in other remote places. After a few years they returned from their hermitage and preached the gospel.

One of them is Saint Korbinian, who first lived as a hermit and finally moved from the Gallo-Franconian region to Bavaria to do missionary work. Saint Anthony is the prototype of the monk who goes into solitude, fasts and resists all worldly temptations. The desert in which he lives becomes the place of salvation.

Bishops and religious

It is striking that over the centuries many saints emerged from the circle of bishops and religious. They were considered particularly chaste, pure and corresponded to the moral ideal of the Catholic Church.

Saint Martin of Tours was one of the first bishops to be canonized. Legend has it that on a cold winter's day he gave half of his coat to a beggar. Martin von Tours cannot escape the poor man's suffering. He stands up before God for the needy and weak, his work makes him a saint.

It is believed that God will not refuse such a person a request. Henceforth the saint becomes the mediator between God and the believers.

The climax of the veneration of saints

In the Middle Ages, saints were omnipresent, in worship, at saints' feasts and processions. The biographies of saints were popular with literate ladies from the aristocracy.

In all situations, from birth to death, they were turned to. In the event of illness - whether labor pains, sore throats, stomach ailments or fear of death - prayers were specifically addressed to the 14 helpers in need, a group of saints made up of eleven men and three women, all of whom died as martyrs. In the early Middle Ages, the worship of the Holy Helper spread from Franconia over the territory of the German Empire to Northern Europe.

The intercession of a saint was hoped for divine favor. The people of the Middle Ages had a need for divine closeness even more than they do today. Since Christ and God seemed inaccessible to individuals, the saints were turned to, who, according to the Church, were simply closer to God.


Not only the person of a saint was worshiped, but also his relics. The bones or drops of blood of a saint, which were collected in wonderfully decorated vessels and distributed to various churches, were worshiped.

The relics also included objects that the saint had touched. Finally, the most important relics are said to come from Christ himself, such as the holy skirt in Trier or the crown of thorns in Paris.

Even where the grave of a saint was, people hoped for help and made a pilgrimage to the holy relics. One of the most important saints tombs is in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The body of the apostle James is said to rest there. The biggest magnet for pilgrims, however, was Rome with the graves of Saints Peter and Paul.

Princes, kings and emperors of the Middle Ages, such as Charles IV, were particularly keen collectors of relics. The hope was to secure a place in heaven by acquiring a relic. It was also believed that the relics had a protective and healing power.


The reformer Luther took strict action against excessive veneration of saints. He brought Christ back to the center of worship as advocate. For Luther there was only one mediator to God and that is Christ himself.

He also strongly argued that only God is holy. Only those who have died can share in God's holiness. To this day, the Protestant Church has no saints.

Saints of today

There was a deluge of beatifications and canonizations under Pope John Paul II. In his 25-year pontificate, the Pope, who alone has this right, blessed 1,345 people and canonized 483 people. Including such controversial figures as Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá.

Enlightened and ecumenically oriented theologians want to expand the term saint and argue that saints are ultimately doers of conscience who stood up and died for their faith. Despite persecution and torture, they have not renounced their ideal. That is why they count a Dietrich Bonhoeffer or a Martin Luther King among the saints as well as Mother Teresa or Edith Stein.

Holy way of life means to follow Christ. Solidarity with the poorest, as Mother Teresa practiced, the struggle for liberation from oppression, which Martin Luther King paid with his life, or adherence to faith in totalitarian times, as exemplified by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are among the basic Christian principles .

If one speaks today of saints, it is less about a reduction to a moral way of life in the sense of the official church, but more about following Christ, in which holiness in God only becomes visible.