views updated


Passio was originally the account of suffering of a martyr written by Christians and based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. In the earliest type of passio, the miraculous element plays a restricted part, as in the accounts of the martyrdoms of St. polycarp and SS. perpetua and Felicity, or in the passio of the Scillitan Martyrs (c. 180). Later authors embellished this type of narrative with fanciful and miraculous happenings to edify, or to satisfy, popular tastes. This was done in the case of the passiones of SS. hippolytus, sebastian, cecilia, agnes, and the four crowned martyrs, making the task of discovering the authentic ones difficult for modern hagiographers. Another type of passio that became popular from the 5th century onward was a completely legendary account of a martyr's or saint's life and death, which usually had nothing more than a name and possibly a location as foundation. The passio of St. catherine of alexandria and that of St. george are without historical foundation. The passio even in its most authentic form is to be distinguished from an authentic Act of the martyrdom, which is the official shorthand report of the trial and death of a martyr. Only a few of these have survived. (see acts of the martyrs.)

The passio was used by the apologists as a subsidiary proof of the divine origin of the Christian religion; but its specific purpose was to encourage Christians to honor and imitate the martyrs. In theology the passio as an account of the sufferings of a martyr points to the relevance of the faith as an absolute factor in the life of the early Church. The martyr was challenged to forswear his faith or die for it. Likewise, the confessions of faith frequently put into the mouth of the martyr, whether authentic or not, witness to belief in a living, triune God, the Resurrection of Christ, and Christian belief in final glory.

Bibliography: a. hamman, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195767) 7:133134; Theologie und Glaube 45 (1955) 3543. g. lazzati, Gli sviluppi della letteratura sui martiri nei primi quattro secoli (Turin 1956). Acta Sanctorum, (Paris 1863). Analecta Bollandiana (Brussels 1882). Bibliotheca hagiographica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis, 2 v. (Brussels, 18981901; suppl. 1911). Bibliotheca hagiographica Graeca, ed. f. halkin, 3 v. (Brussels 1957). r. aigrain, L'Hagiographie (Paris 1953). h. delehaye, Les Passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (Brussels 1921).

[f. x. murphy]