Saint NameMetrodoros, Marcionite priest martyred in Smyrna in AD 250 : S00047
Pionios, presbyter and martyr in Smyrna, ob. 251 : S00031
Saint Name in SourceΜητρόδωρος
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom
Evidence not before250
Evidence not after310
Activity not before250
Activity not after250
Place of Evidence - RegionAsia Minor
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcSmyrna
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Smyrna
Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, ScepticismAcceptance/rejection of saints from other religious groupings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesHeretics
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
SourceThe Martyrdom of Pionios is the second major martyrdom account from the city of Smyrna after the Martyrdom of Polycarp ($E00035). By the late 3rd century, both of them seem to have been among the most famous martyrdom texts from the province of Asia and were known to Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius dates the Martyrdom of Pionios to the time of Marcus Aurelius, considering it contemporary with the Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Martyrdom of Karpos, Papylos and Agathonike (see $E00014). However, the extant text of Pionios' martyrdom dates the event to the persecution of Decius (250/1). The text can therefore be no earlier the late 3rd century. It is a composition of passages derived from a number of documents very different in character and style, including sections reproducing or emulating trial transcripts (§§ 9 and 19) and the two apologetic speeches of Pionios (§§ 4 and 12-14). The latter are written in an erudite style recalling the style of early Christian epistles.
DiscussionOne of the paradoxical inconsistencies of the Martyrdom of Pionios is that it starts by referring to the arrest of five catholic Christians under the leadership of Pionios, but ends describing the martyrdom of Pionios only, accompanied by the Marcionite presbyter Mētrodōros.
The Martyrdom of Pionios was a literary product of the highly divided 3rd-century Christian movement in the province of Asia, and is therefore particularly diligent in mentioning the specific denominational identity of its heroes as members of the Catholic Church of Smyrna (§§ 2.1, 2.2, 3.6, 4.2, 5.6, 6.4, 7.5, 8.5, 19.5). Nevertheless, in the same historical circumstances, the persecutions affected other Christian sects as well, especially the Montanists and Marcionites. Although Christian authors of that period engage in fierce polemic against these groups, their stance towards heretical martyrs is very rarely expressed, and does not seem to have been openly rejective. Irenaeus of Lyons, about half a century earlier than the Martyrdom of Pionios, admits the existence of heretical martyrs, without questioning the validity of their martyrdoms (Against Heresies 4.33.9; see E00122). In much the same spirit, Eusebius of Caesarea, in the early 4th century, does not hesitate to include heretical martyrs among his accounts of the persecutions.
The reference to Mētrodōros in our text seems to echo this neutral spirit. The trivial detail that he was raised on the left, while Pionios was on the right, can perhaps be read as a subtle attempt to stress the superior position of the catholic martyr, but the statement that both were looking towards the east may be seen as an acknowledgement that they both achieved the grace of martyrdom in the end.
Our text contains another reference to a heretic suffering tribulations together with the catholics, namely the Montanist Eutychianos, with whom Pionios and his companions shared their prison (§ 11.2), without saying if Eutychianos eventually reached martyrdom. Figures like Mētrodōros very probably received veneration in their own communities. The reference to him in the militantly catholic Martyrdom of Pionios presents no signs of polemic; quite the contrary, it seems to be a restrained, yet respectful, statement of acknowledgement (see E00014). The acknowledgement of heretical martyrs in the text appears even more striking, if we juxtapose it to the contemptuous references of the text to Euktēmōn, a Christian renegade described as a leading figure of the catholic group, probably its bishop (15.2, 16.1, 18.12).
It appears that Metrodoros was indeed venerated as Pionios' companion in martyrdom, since their are recorded together on 12 March by the Martyrologium Hieronymianum.
Zwierlein ascribes the passage about Mētrodōros to a 5th century redaction, but his arguments are tenuous (Zwierlein 2014, vol. 1, 95, 111; vol. 2, 51-53). The passage was already known to Eusebius and fits well with the 3rd-century context from which the Martyrdom of Pionios emerged. It is difficult to see how a 5th-century editor could have made such a scandalous addition to what was by then an established hagiographical text.
BibliographyEditions and translations:
Musurillo, H., The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), xxviii-xxx, 136-167.
Rebillard, E. Greek and Latin Narratives About the Ancient Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 47-79.
Robert, L., Bowersock, G.W., Jones, C.P., Robert, J., and Vaillant, A., Le martyre de Pionios, prêtre de Smyrne (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1993).
Seeliger, H., and Wischmeyer, W. eds. Märtyrerliteratur. Herausgegeben, übersetzt, kommentiert (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 172; Berlin/München/Boston: De Gruyter), 2015, 129-179.
Zwierlein, O., Die Urfassungen der Martyria Polycarpi et Pionii und das Corpus Polycarpianum. 2 vols (Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte 116; Berlin/Boston: Walter De Gruyter, 2014).
Delehaye, H., Les passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (2nd ed.; Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1966), 15-46.