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E04167: Augustine of Hippo delivers a Latin sermon, probably on the feast of martyrs, emphasising that it is the cause, not the suffering that makes one a martyr. Sermon 327, preached possibly in Hippo, at an unknown date, probably before 411.

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posted on 2017-10-18, 00:00 authored by robert
Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 327

[In natali martyrum

'On the birthday of the martyrs']

Cantauimus Deo martyrum uoce, iudica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta. Martyrum uox est.

'We have sung to God in the words of the martyrs, "Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from an unholy people" [Ps 43:1]. It is the voice of the martyrs.'

In what follows Augustine explains what martyrdom consists of.

Multi patiuntur tribulationes; parem habent poenam, sed parem non habent causam. Multa mala patiuntur adulteri, multa mala patiuntur malefici, multa mala patiuntur latrones et homicidae, multa mala patiuntur scelerati omnes, multa mala, inquit, et ego martyr tuus patior: sed discerne causam meam de gente non sancta, latronum, homicidarum, scelestorum omnium. Pati talia, qualia ego, possunt: habere talem causam non possunt. Ego in fornace purgor; illi cinerescunt. Et haeretici patiuntur, et plura a se ipsis; et uolunt martyres dici. Sed contra illos cantauimus, discerne causam meam de gente non sancta. Non facit martyrem poena, sed causa.

'Many people endure tribulation; they have equivalent pains, but not equivalent causes. Many evils are endured by adulterers, many evils by sorcerers, many evils by robbers and murderers, many evils by all sorts of villains; "I too, your martyr," he says, "endure many evils. But distinguish my cause from an unholy people of robbers, murderers, villains of all sorts. They can suffer the same sort of things as I do, they cannot have the same sort of cause. I am being refined in the furnace; they are just being incinerated." Heretics too suffer, and very often at their own hands; and they want to be called martyrs. But it is against them that we sung, "Distinguish my cause from an unholy people". It is not the punishment that makes the martyr but the cause.'

Text: Patrologia Latina 38, 1450; Translation: Hill 1994, 173.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • 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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Acceptance/rejection of saints from other religious groupings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


The sermon cannot be dated with any certainty; the obvious and strong reference to the false Donatist martyrs makes it most probable that it was preached some time before 411, when the Donatist Church was officially delegalised.


The idea that it is the cause, not the suffering that makes a martyr appears also elsewhere in Augustine, see e.g. Sermon 306A (E02773).


Text: Migne, J.P., Patrologia Latina 38 (Paris, 1865). Translation: Hill, E., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. III 9. Sermons 306-340A for the Saints ‬(New York: New City Press, 1994). Dating: Kunzelmann, A., "Die Chronologie der sermones des hl. Augustinus," Miscellanea Agostiniana, vol. 2 (Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1931), 417-452.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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