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E01034: Augustine of Hippo, in his treatise Against Faustus, explains that the Christians venerate martyrs, such as the Apostles *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008), and *Cyprian (bishop and martyr of Carthage, S00411) as examples to imitate, but worship only God, even if they do it in places in which martyrs are commemorated. Written in Latin in Hippo (North Africa), c. 400.

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posted on 2015-12-30, 00:00 authored by robert
Augustine of Hippo, Against Faustus 20.21

Populus autem christianus memorias martyrum religiosa sollemnitate concelebrat et ad excitandam imitationem et ut meritis eorum consocietur atque orationibus adiuuetur, ita tamen, ut nulli martyrum, sed ipsi Deo martyrum quamuis in memoriis martyrum constituamus altaria. Quis enim antistitum in locis sanctorum corporum adsistens altari aliquando dixit: offerimus tibi, Petre aut Paule aut Cypriane, sed quod offertur, offertur Deo, qui martyres coronauit, apud memorias eorum quos coronauit, ut ex ipsorum locorum admonitione maior adfectus exsurgat ad acuendam caritatem et in illos, quos imitari possumus, et in illum, quo adiuuante possimus. Colimus ergo martyres eo cultu dilectionis et societatis, quo et in hac uita coluntur sancti homines Dei, quorum cor ad talem pro euangelica ueritate passionem paratum esse sentimus; sed illos tanto deuotius, quanto securius post certamina omnia superata, quanto etiam fidentiore laude praedicamus iam in uita feliciore uictores quam in ista adhuc usque pugnantes. At illo cultu, quae graece λατρεία dicitur, latine uno uerbo dici non potest, cum sit quaedam proprie diuinitati debita seruitus, nec colimus nec colendum docemus nisi unum Deum. Cum autem ad hunc cultum pertineat oblatio sacrificii, unde idolatria dicitur eorum, qui hoc etiam idolis exhibent, nullo modo tale aliquid offerimus aut offerendum praecipimus uel cuiquam martyri uel cuiquam sanctae animae uel cuiquam angelo; et quisquis in hunc errorem delabitur, corripitur per sanam doctrinam, siue ut corrigatur, siue ut caueatur. Etiam ipsi enim sancti, uel homines uel angeli, exhiberi sibi nolunt, quod uni deo deberi norunt.

'It is true that Christians piously celebrates the feasts which commemorate the martyrs (memoriae martyrum), both to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although we do it in places in which we commemorate the martyrs (memoriae martyrum). No bishop officiating at the altar in the saints' burying-place ever says, We bring an offering to you, O Peter! Or O Paul! Or O Cyprian! The offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is done in places which commemorate those thus crowned. The emotion is increased by the associations of the place, and love is excited both towards those who are our examples, and towards Him by whose help we may follow such examples. We regard the martyrs with the same affectionate intimacy (cultus dilectionis et societatis) that we feel towards holy men of God in this life, when we know that their hearts are prepared to endure the same suffering for the truth of the gospel. There is more devotion in our feeling towards the martyrs, because we know that their conflict is over; and we can speak with greater confidence in praise of those already victors in heaven, than of those still combating here. What is properly divine worship (cultus), which the Greeks call latreia, and for which there is no word in Latin, both in doctrine and in practice, we give only to God. To this worship belongs the offering of sacrifices; as we see in the word idolatry, which means the giving of this worship to idols. Accordingly we never offer, or require any one to offer, sacrifice to a martyr, or to a holy soul, or to any angel. Any one falling into this error is instructed by doctrine, either in the way of correction or of caution. For holy beings themselves, whether saints or angels, refuse to accept what they know to be due to God alone.'

Text: Zycha 1891, 562. Translation: Stothert 1887 (lightly adapted).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (Africa) and martyr, ob. 258 : S00411 Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source

Cyprianus Petrus Paulus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Hippo Regius

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Hippo Regius Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Major author/Major anonymous work

Augustine of Hippo

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified


Against Faustus belongs to Augustine's anti-Manichean treatises. Augustine wrote it some time after his episcopal ordination (397).


In this passage Augustine presents the distinction which will become classic: between the affectionate intimacy which the Christians feel toward martyrs and the worship which is due only to God. If in Latin the two attitudes are described by the same word cultus, Greek has a separate word for the true worship, namely latreia. This explanation is given to a Manichee, but there is not much doubt that Augustine felt it was needed in his own community. The word memoria is used in this text in a double sense, first as a feast of a martyr, then as a place of his or her cult.


Edition: Zycha, J., Contra Faustum Manichaeum (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 25/1; Vienna: Tempsky, 1891), 251-797. English translation: Stothert, R., Reply to Faustus the Manichaean (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series 4; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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