In his superb book, A Precarious Peace, Chris Huebner explores the connection between epistemology and martyrdom:
“Martyrdom names and approach to knowledge and a way of life more generally which assumes that the truth of Christ cannot somehow be secured, but is rather a gift received and lived out in vulnerable yet hopeful giving in return. On such a reading, the martyr is not one who dies for or because of her beliefs. Rather, the death of the martyr is in some meaningful way the very expression of belief itself. Martyrdom does not arise out of a feeling of control over death. Rather, it is but an expression of a way of life that gives up the assumption of being in control.” (p. 137)
This opens up a crucial vista on the nature of truth, the gospel, and the promise of peace through Christ. The martyr does not give “evidence” for the truth of Christian belief so much as embody a particular way of knowing that refuses to understand truth as a possession. The reality given to us in the gospel, the peace of Christ, is not something that is settled, stable, or under our control, or even ever able to be totally assimilated by us.
“Peace is itself and agonistic reality. It does not name a settled territory that we can fully embody or own. It is not something we own as a first instance called knowledge, which then informs our actions. Rather, it is a gift that might be given through us only when we no longer seek violently to control it.” (p. 142)
Thus, a martyrological epistemology, a mode of knowing and bearing witness to the truth of the gospel as given to us in Christ will take the form of constantly laying ourselves open before the ever-new Word of God which speaks Christ unexpected peace to us in the form of gratuitous and unprecedented gift. Thus the Christian way of knowing, in step with the martyrs, must eschew attempts at offering a total perspective, a closed circle, an indubitably justified belief:
“The knowledge of the martyrs is not preoccupied with epistemic justification but is shaped by the epistemological virtues of patience and hope. It is an agonistic mode of knowledge that proceeds in fragments and ad hoc alliances, not the development of large-scale totalities. This knowledge resists closure, refusing the lie of the total perspective and the search for a purified idiom of speech, recognizing that language about God is finally not limited to our current vocabularies.” (p. 143)
The epistemology of the martyrs is constituted by the refusal to totalize our way of knowing the truth, but rather to live in a constant state of kenotic openness to the gift of God’s truth in Jesus Christ. And only by embracing such a martyrological way of knowing can we be grasped by the truth, stand for the truth, and be found in the truth without reducing that truth to our own possession which we are driven to violently defend