Tripp York. The Purple Crown: The Politics of Martyrdom. Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 2007. Pp. 198. $19.99, US.
The Purple Crown is the first book written by Tripp York (Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University) and the second in Herald’s new series, Polyglossia: Radical Reformation Theologies, edited by Peter Dula (Assistant Professor of Bible and Culture at Eastern Mennonite University), Chris K. Huebner (Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Canadian Mennonite University), J. Alexander Sider (Assistant Professor of Religion at Bluffton University), and Jennifer L. Graber (Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Wooster College).
Probably the best and worst thing about York’s book is its accessibility—it is easy to read. Clocking in at under 200 pages (including breaks, notes, and index), one can blow through it in an afternoon. It is not encumbered by jargon or technical language academics alone understand. The argument is clear: martyrdom is part and parcel of the Church’s missionary work, which is political by virtue of its unique publicity. Politics is bound up with imitation; who you imitate or follow displays your orientation towards the good. Because Christian martyrs are the ultimate imitators of Christ, they exemplify the ultimate political act over-against the powers that kill them. And yet York is quick to connect the martyr to the church that formed her prior to death, emphasizing the social nature of this politics that makes it possible to enact.
The Purple Crown begins with an account of the martyrs of the early church, arguing that they constitute the political agent par excellence for the church. It examines the body of the martyr as the battlefield between God and Satan, intrinsically connecting salvation with the flesh. York then skips to the 16th century, when Christians martyred other Christians, arguing in favor of the Anabaptists as exemplars for the continuity of the suffering church. It is the Anabaptists that maintain a visibly social distinction from the world’s secular civil organization, yet are simultaneously able to “seek the peace of the city.” The tension of being distinct from yet engaged with the world is the embodiment of a citizenship intended to help the nation move towards its divinely oriented destiny. The final chapter is a biography of Oscar Romero, the El Salvadorian priest who displayed this kind of citizenship through his defense of the oppressed and was “martyred” as a result. (more…)