The Cult of Martyrs in Asterius of Amaseia's Vision of the Christian City

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For what is worth as much as these festival assemblies? And what is so august and all-beautiful as to see the whole city with one's whole race issuing from the town, occupying a holy place to perform pure mysteries of the most genuine devotion?

Few Romans of any era would have disagreed with these exclamations, though earlier generations might have been astonished that such familiar sentiments could issue from the mouth of a Christian bishop. The ideal of civic solidarity through worship and celebration was a familiar concept from ancient times, one which Asterius felt to be entirely in keeping with the practice of Christianity at the end of the fourth century. Asterius's festival homilies reveal part of the process whereby views on society and citizens became informed by Christian belief. First he offers a critique of traditional society and religion. Second he promotes Christian politeia, by means of martyr festivals, as the true foundation for social harmony. Three conceptual strategies emerge in Asterius's program for transforming classical politeia: recommending distinctly Christian philosophic virtue, depicting citizenship in terms of familial relationships, and employing an eschatological dimension to patronage.