851: Saints Flora and Maria of Cordoba, militants

November 24, 851 was distinguished by the beheadings of Saints Flora and Maria of Cordoba.

These Christian denizens of Muslim Spain embraced their own martyrdoms by purposefully denouncing Islam before a Qadi. In Flora’s case, she qualified as an apostate by virtue of her Muslim father.

While in Cordoban prison being entreated by Islamic scholars to reconsider their path, they were admonished to militancy by another inmate, St. Eulogius, himself a future martyr in a like cause. Citing the example of courageous Biblical heroes like Esther, Elogius’s Exhortation to Martyrdom calls on the virgins not to shrink in the face of of their impending tribulations, even if they were to be threatened with rape.

Unfortunately we don’t have the voice of Flora and Maria, even at second-hand. Their actions certainly announce that they like Eulogius were not ecumenical where Islam was concerned. As Charles Tieszen notes in Christian Identity amid Islam in Medieval Spain Eulogius’s language in his confrontational epistle is determinedly martial, with much about arming oneself for battle with the enemy while calling Muhammad

“forerunner of the … possessed man, servant of Satan, full of lies and son of death and perpetual ruin.” Eulogius goes further, coupling his criticism of Islam and its Prophet with a condemnation of the wider Cordovan Christian community (nostra ecclesia), which in his opinion, approved of Islam by its silence. Accordingly, Flora and Maria must not recant upon their previous insults of Muhammad when they faced the qadi again. If they did, their recantations were to be equated with telling outright lies.

Likewise, any retreat by Flora and Maria was to be equated with Christians who remained silent when it came to passing judgment on Islam. In the end, Flora and Maria could do nothing but uphold their public decrials of Muhammad, for if they “… den[ied] having cursed their prophet, [they] will be cursed; and if [they] have not rejected what the Lord rejects, [they] will be guilty of double sin … And surely whomever we do not curse, on the contrary we bless, and whoever we do not reject, we admit in our fellowship as if we were befriending him.” Threats like these, as we have noted, were commonplace in martyrologies, especially texts that exhorted Christians to stay the course towards martyrdom. In the context of Muslim Cordova, it is difficult not to read the threats as a means for equating recanters with the enemy.

Eulogius lamented those Christians that so willingly accepted the presence of Muslims, their leadership, and their customs:

But we wretches, delighting in [Muslims’] crimes, rightfully condemn ourselves by the prophecies of the psalmist who says: “but they mingled with the gentiles and learned their works, they served their idols, and a scandal took place among them.” Oh, what agony, that we consider it a pleasure to be submitted to gentiles and we do not oppose carrying our yoke with the unfaithful. And thus, in our daily business, we participate in their sacrileges and desire their company more than, according to the example of Lot the patriarch, fleeing the territory of Sodom in order to save ourselves in the mountains.

The mid-9th century was an apogee of such militancy with a number of martyrs into the bargain … but the Christian community of Cordoba nevertheless remained submitted to the gentiles (pleasurably or otherwise) until 1236.

If a ready translation of the prelate’s text into English exists online I have not located it; flex your classical learning and peruse Documentum martyriale in Latin here or (adjacent a Danish translation) here.

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859: St. Eulogius of Cordoba

On this date 1,150 years ago, Eulogius of Cordoba was beheaded for blasphemy in Muslim Spain.

Islamic rule in Spain was a century and a half old at this time; a period of relative comity among the Abrahamic faiths, it was nevertheless far from painless for Christians.

Islamic law exerted some (usually) non-lethal pressure on subject Christians by tolerating them as second-class citizens, subject to restricted civic privileges and additional taxes. With apostasy from Islam to Christianity punishable by death, it engineered a steadily increasing Muslim proportion of the populace.

Around 850, and continuing for the ensuing century, some Christians’ resistance to this arrangement would provoke periodoc repressions and a regular supply of martyrs.

Eulogius, a priest renowned for his eloquence and education, became a prominent exponent of the emerging trend of missionary martyrdom — Christians intentionally blaspheming Mohammad to a Muslim judge for purposes of drawing an exemplary death sentence.

We can readily infer that Eulogius’s support for such behavior was controversial; surely missionary martyrdom escalated tensions between the comingling communities in ways potentially troublesome for the go-along, get-along crowd. And Christians had good reasons to go along and get along: they could enjoy positions of wealth, influence and comfort, along with unencumbered worship.

Bishop Reccafred of Cordoba attempted to squelch any appearance of official support for these fire eaters, and threw Eulogius and other priests in prison after promulgating a decree against the martyrdoms in 852. Naturally, this made him a sellout in the eyes of the militants; Eulogius took a firm line against any attempt to derogate the martyrs of a fellow monotheism as unequal to the ancient martyrs of pagan Rome.

Those who assert that these [martyrs] of our own day were killed by men who worship God and have a law, are distinguished by no prudence … because if such a cult or law is said to be valid, indeed the strength of the Christian religion must necessarily be impaired. (Cited here)

The Cordoban martyrs’ movement claimed a few dozen lives over the 850’s — a hagiography records 48 — some taking inspiration from Eulogius’ Exhortation to Martyrdom. The author of that tract eventually followed his own advice.

Caught sheltering an apostate Muslim (she was executed a few days after Eulogius), the priest got into it with the Islamic judge, denounced the Prophet, and earned himself a death sentence. The story says he even literally “turned the other cheek” when struck by a guard en route to his decapitation.

In all the time since, Eulogius’s words have had a resonance for at least some segment of Christendom: when martyrdom has waxed popular, or confrontation with Islam loomed large. As his entry in Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia puts it,

Eulogius’s apologetic treatises are important, then, not only as evidence of the wide spectrum of Christian responses to life under Muslim rule — from outright rejection to almost complete assimilation — but also as one of the earliest extant sources for Western views on Islam.

St. Eulogius’s life gets a somewhat more detailed treatment (from an apologetic perspective) in The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and other Principal Saints, a Google books freebie.

Part of the Themed Set: The Church confronts its competition.

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