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E02248: Isidore, bishop of Seville in his De ecclesiasticis officiis explains the role of the cult of the martyrs in the doctrine of the Church, warning that the martyrs should not receive honours that are due only to God; written in Latin in Seville (south-west Spain), in 598/636.

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posted on 2017-01-14, 00:00 authored by mszata
Isidore of Seville, De ecclesiasticis officiis 35 (36)

De festiuitatibus martyrum.

(1) Festiuitates apostolorum seu in honore martyrum solemnitates antiqui patres in uenerationis mysterio celebrari sanc- xerunt, uel ad excitandam imitationem, uel ut meritis eorum consociemur atque orationibus adiuuemur; ita tamen ut nulli martyrum sed ipsi deo martyrum, quamuis in memoriis mar tyrum, constituamus altaria. (2) Quis enim antestitum 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, quod ex ipsorum locorum ammonitione maior affectus exsurgat, ad acuendam caritatem et in illos quos imitare possumus et in illo quo adiuuante possimus. (3) 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 deuo- tius quanto securius post incerta omnia superata. Quanto etiam fidentiori laude praedicamus iam in uita feliciori uictores quam in ista adhuc usque pugnantes.

(4) At uero illo cultu quae graece "latria" dicitur, latineuno 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), nullomodo aliquid tale offerimus aut offerendum praecipimus uel cuiquam martyri uel cuiquam sanctae animae uel cuiquam angelo; et quisquis in hunc errorem dilabitur, corripitur per sanam doctrinam siue ut corrigatur siue ut caueatur; dum etiam ipsi sancti uel homines uel angeli exhiberi sibi nolunt quod uni deo deberi norunt. (5) Apparuit hoc in Paulo et Barnaba cum commoti miraculis quae per eos facta sunt Licaonii tamquam diis immolare uoluerunt;conscissis enim uestimentis suis, confi- tentes et persuadentes se deos non esse, ista sibi fieri uetuerunt. Apparuit et in angelis, sicut et in Apocalypsin legimus angelum se adorari prohibentem ac dicentem adoratori suo: Conseruus tuus sumet fratrum tuorum: deum adora. Recte ita que scribitur homini ab angelo prohibitum esse adorare se sed unum deum, sub quo ei esset et ille conseruus.
(6) Non ergo sit nobis ille diuinae religionis cultus in angelos aut martyres, quia non sic habentur ut tales quaerant honores ut deus ;quia nec ipsi uolunt se coli pro deo, sed illum a nobis coli uolunt quo inluminante laetantur. Honorandi sunt ergo martyres propter imitationem, non adorandi propter religionem, honorandi caritate, non seruitute.

The feasts of martyrs

'(1) The fathers of old consecrated the feasts of apostles or the solemnities in honor of martyrs to be celebrated in the sacramental act of veneration, either for the purpose of stirring up imitation, or so that we might be associated with their merits and helped by their prayers. So therefore we erect altars not to any of the martyrs but to the God himself of the martyrs, although in memory of the martyrs. (2) For which of the witnesses assisting at the altar in the places of the bodies of the saints has ever said, "We offer to you, Peter," or "Paul," or "Cyprian"? On the contrary, what is offered, is offered to the God who crowned the martyrs, in the midst of the memorials of those whom he crowned, so that from the admonition of those places, a greater devotion might spring up, to stimulate love both for those whom we are able to imitate and for the one by whose help we are able to do so. Therefore we honor the martyrs by that cult of love and fellowship in which even in this life are honored the holy men of God whose heart we judge had been prepared for such suffering for the truth of the gospel. But [we honor] the martyrs more devoutly since they are more secure, all uncertainties having been conquered. How much more confidently we preach in praise of the ones already happier victors in [eternal] life, than we do of those who are still fighting in this one.

(4) But truly, we do not honor nor do we teach that anyone be honored by that cult (which is called latria in Greek, but which cannot be expressed in one word in Latin), except the one God, since he is served by that which is properly owed to the divinity. And since the offering of sacrifice pertains to this cult (whence idolatry is ascribed to those who show this worship to idols), in no way do we offer or direct to be offered anything like this to any martyr or to any holy soul or to any angel. Whoever slips into this error is reproached through sound doctrine either that he might be corrected or that he might be warned. These saints or men or angels do not wish to have shown to them what they know to be owed to the one God. (5) This was clear in the case of Paul and Barnabas when, excited by the miracles that had been accomplished by these two, the Lycaonians wanted to sacrifice to them as gods. Having torn their vestments, confessing and persuading them that they were not gods, they prohibited these things from being done to them. This was clear also in the case of the angels, as we read in the Apocalypse that an angel was prohibiting that he be adored and saying to the one adoring him: "I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades. Worship God!" [Rev 22:9]. Rightly it is written to us that we are prohibited by the angel to adore anyone but the one God, under whom we are also only fellow servants.

(6) Therefore there may not be among us that cult of divine religion directed to the angels or the martyrs, because they are not found to wish such honors as God. They themselves do not wish to be honored as God, but they wish him to be honored by us, rejoicing in his illumination. Therefore the martyrs are to be honored for the sake of imitation. They are not honored for the sake of worship; they are honored out of love, not servitude.'

Text: Lawson 1989, 40-41. Translation: Knoebel 2008, 57-59.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

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

Saint Name in Source

Petrus Paulus Cyprianus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Theological works


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Seville Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Major author/Major anonymous work

Isidore of Seville

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Places



Isidore was probably born around AD 560; he became bishop of Seville in 600, and held that office until his death in 636. He wrote several works, among them the De ecclesiasticis officiis ('On the Offices of the Church'), composed certainly after AD 598 (the date of the Moralia in Job by Gregory the Great, which is used by Isidore in Books 5 and 6). We cannot establish a terminus ante quem other than the year of Isidore's death, although some scholars have proposed that the De ecclesiasticis officiis was written before the composition of Isidore's Chronicle in 615 (Lawson 1989, 13*-14*). This argument is based on the assumption that the list of Isidore's writings compiled by Braulio, bishop of Saragossa, is ordered chronologically; but, as was demonstrated by its most recent editor (Martin 2006: 64-73), this was not the case. Isidore composed the treatise at the request of Bishop Fulgentius of Écija (as shown by the dedicatory letter at the beginning of the book).


The chapter about the feasts of martyrs is in the section of Book 1 devoted to Christian celebrations, just after the chapters about Easter, the Ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost. Isidore compiled the text from the two passages from the writings of Augustine of Hippo: Contra Faustum 20.21 and De uera religione 55.108-110.


Edition: C.M. Lawson (ed.), Sancti Isidori episcopi Hispalensis de ecclesiasticis officiis (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 113, Turnhout 1989). Translation: T.L. Knoebel, Isidore of Seville, De ecclesiasticis officiis (Ancient Christian Writers 61; New York/Mahwah, NJ, 2008). Further reading: J.C. Martin (ed.), Scripta de vita Isidori Hispalensis episcopi (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 113B; Turnout 2006).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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