chapter  2
The Bishop of Rome and the Martyrs
ByMarianne Sághy
Pages 20

Bishops and martyrs formed an unbeatable tandem in late ancient Christian Rome and produced one of the greatest success stories in world history. Theirs is a complex relationship, which cannot be constrained into an evolutionary pattern from pre-Constantinian illegality to post-Constantinian public triumph. While the fourth-century ‘rise of the bishop’ is closely connected with the rise of the martyr, their alliance increasingly appears as an unforeseen, yet patiently engineered, by-product of the Constantinian revolution. Bishop and martyr both changed profile after the ‘peace of the church’ and their partnership also altered significantly. The supervision of the cult of the martyrs did not figure in the early Christian bishop’s job description; it developed, rather, as a series of innovative responses to religious conflict and to the appearance of potent and purposeful public patrons within the church. Not the weight of some immemorial tradition, but the heavy pressures brought by Constantine’s new Religionspolitik compelled the bishop of Rome to reinvent himself as the ‘impresario’ of the saints.1