The Roman Martyrs and 86ers

For a while, I pondered the unlikelihood of the premise of 86: that a nation could have a slave army which reaped none of the benefits of citizenship and which fought without the direct coercion of the citizens. It is true that Spartans fought alongside their Helots, and galley slaves rowed as Roman soldiers fought on the high seas; yet, there never existed a purely Helot Spartan army or a Roman navy consisting only of their slaves. Why would slaves or second class citizens fight for someone else’s rights unless they were under the strictest coercion? The main reason citizens fight for a country is because they want to protect their life, liberty, and property. These protections are guaranteed them by their government. Should one’s country be taken over by a hostile nation, one is liable to become a slave and lose one’s property, liberty and even life. So, a slave does not have motivation to fight for their masters unless there is some guarantee of freedom after their service.

San Magnolia has the appearance of recognizing this truth. They claim that an 86er can gain his freedom after six years of military service. *SPOILER ALERT* Yet, the closer 86ers get to fulfilling their term of service, the more dangerous missions they get sent on until they are at last sent on a suicide mission. This fact becomes apparent even to the 86ers themselves, leading the heroine to ask Shin why he continues to fight for people that hate him and see him as less than a machine. He gives an interesting answer:

Major, we’re not going to die. We’re finally following the path we’ve always wanted to follow to the place we wanted to go. We can finally be free.

Shin’s answer reminds me of something a military chaplain named Emil Kapaun, whose cause is being put up for canonization, said. Fr. Kapaun was captured during the Korean War while ministering to wounded American soldiers. He continued to aid his fellow POWs while in captivity, saving many from death and despair and converting 200 men to the Catholic Faith. Though he earned the undying love of his fellow soldiers, his communist captors hated him and sought for a way to kill him without causing a riot in the prison camp.

Fr. Emil Kapaun shows off his pipe. The stem of which had been shot off during combat.

This finally happened when Kapaun fell ill. The communists insisted that he be taken to the camp’s hospital. Though called a hospital, people rarely returned recovered from their illness. It was considered a death sentence to be sent there. The POWs seemed like they would riot then; however, Fr. Kapaun, worried more about harm coming to his fellow soldiers than himself, said: “Don’t worry about me. I’m going where I’ve always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.”

To both Fr. Kapaun and Shin, death both frees them from the misery of this life and unites them to the Supreme Good, the perfect union to which cannot be had here. In 86, this eternal beatitude is hinted at by the reunion of Shin and his brother. All the hatred his brother had for Shin is gone. In heaven, charity is made perfect and hatred is no more.

In the early centuries of the Church, Christians in the Roman Empire acted much as 86ers in San Magnolia: they fought for the lives, freedom, and property of others who could suddenly deny them these same things. Many martyrs were Roman soldiers, like St. George, St. Achatius, and St. Eustachius of the Fourteen Holy Helpers or the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. These martyrs were killed as soon as their Christian identity was discovered. And, they died without any ill-will towards their pagan murderers. The blood of the martyrs paved the way for the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, which the empire finally gave legal status in Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313.

To return to Shin, the reasons he gave for fighting concern loving the good Celena of San Magnolia and feeling like the decision to fight made him free. For God’s sake, the Roman martyrs also loved the societies which hated them. They imitated Christ: “But God commendeth His charity towards us; because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us…” (Romans 5: 8-9). Christians are the greatest friend to any society, because they bring the good news of salvation to it and reveal the goodness of God to others through the operation of grace in their souls and their imitation of Christ. Not even an entire empire’s hatred of them can dim the Roman Martyrs’ charity, and they obtained the object of their struggles: eternal life with God.

It has been said that the world hates the Church as the body hates the soul. The desires of the flesh will destroy both the body and the soul if the flesh has its way. If the soul leads the body according to the Spirit, both the body and the soul will be saved. Here is a very odd relationship where one side wishes to destroy the only thing which can lead it to salvation! We see that phenomenon playing out across the world today where Christians are the most persecuted group of people on earth. Even in Canada, vandals are burning churches to the ground.

The question for us is whether we can imitate 86ers in our own way. Can we do our part to convert people who hate and even want to kill us? Our Lord said: “Yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think he doth a service to God,” (John 16:2). One sees this prophecy come true in places where Muslims persecute and murder Christians. In Western countries, the oppressors of Christians often did not think that they were serving God but the vision of an earthly utopia. They thought that they could create this utopia if only they rid themselves of all dissenters.

It is far easier to meet hatred with hatred than with love. It’s also far easier to have contempt for those who contemn us than to respect them as people whom Christ came to save. Most of the 86ers at the front line have hatred and contempt for those who sent them to the front to die. And, most Christians probably indulge their feelings of hatred and contempt for those living for the world and the flesh under their leader, the devil. Yet, God calls us to imitate His Son and His special friends, the saints, in loving those who hate us and helping them see the happy end God wishes for them. May we be able to accomplish God’s will through His grace and the intercession of the Roman Martyrs. Amen!

86: EIGHTY-SIX can be streamed through Crunchyroll.

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5 thoughts on “The Roman Martyrs and 86ers

  1. – I think Janissary/Ghulam slave soldiers could be used as comparison. Similarly with Jewish slave soldier in Russian army
    – early Church is pacifist. Very small number of soldier do convert to Christianity, but it always individual soldier in pagan legions.
    – in this post, you are indulging in misleading Evangelical fallacy. Christians are not persecuted in Western societies. Church burning is action of vandal and recognized as illegal. Fantasy that Western secular society is presecuting Christian is very unhealthy for Christians.
    – Christianity is not most persecuted religion in planet. In fact it is one of largest faith and most successful in prozelytizing religion.
    – Christianity persecution in Muslim lands is no different than other case of persecution of Minority. Majority faith often persecute Minority faith. It happens whether minority faith is Muslim (Rohingya), Buddhist (Indonesia), Hindu(Pakistan), or Zoroastrian (Iran). Idea that Christian faith is especially hated by World is not reality.

    1. There are certain similarities with the Janissaries under the Turks, conscripted Jews under the Czars, 86ers, and the Christian soldiers of the Roman Empire. That’s true. The difference would be in that the Turks and the Czars did not want their Janissaries and Jewish soldiers to die, while the Celenas wanted the 86ers to eventually die and the Roman Emperors put soldiers discovered to be Christian to death. It is a very odd thing for a government to want some of their soldiers to die.

      The early Church is often viewed as pacifist, but I don’t think that it ever was essentially. When soldiers asked St. John the Baptist what they should do, he told them not to oppress anyone, not to calumniate anyone, and to be content with their pay. St. John did not say that being a soldier was incompatible with living a godly life. And more and more soldiers were added to the Church over time.

      There is research to show that Christians are more persecuted across the globe than people of other faiths. Perhaps that is the result of it being the most widespread religion, but it is there. Why do so many other groups like targeting Christians?

      There is soft persecution, like Christian business owners being forced to support homosexual ceremonies by government entities and courts. Then, there is hard persecution as seen in Muslim and Communist countries, which Christians are killed, imprisoned, and prevented from worship. When churches are burned down, it counts as hard persecution. Though, Western societies generally do not feature hard religious persecution; but the more Marxist a society becomes, the more likely that is to happen, see the history of the 20th century.

  2. Not to get all political, but as a Canadian, I’d say it’s a bit of a stretch to say Christians are being persecuted in Canada…the church burnings mentioned here were directly related to the discovery of hundreds of children’s remains on the property of state- and church-run indigenous residential schools. That is, the burnings are a protest against the alleged crimes of neglect and abuse committed under ostensibly Christian oversight. If you follow the story beyond the strangely vague WSJ article, it’s clear that it is churches in indigenous communities and linked to these former schools that have been targeted. This is a far cry from persecuting Christians or Christianity in general and is more an expression of pain and anger over a very ugly piece of history that has just come to light. Personally, as a Christian in the West, I am very very wary of taking these kinds of events (with very specific and historic causes) as evidence that we are a persecuted people group. It’s a bit of a stretch in my opinion.

    On another note, and interesting historic case of what was virtually a slave army is the tsarist army of Imperial Russia, which was the largest standing army in the world by the mid-nineteenth century, yet despite outnumbering its allied opponents roughly 2-to-1, managed to lose the Crimean War — an event that triggered the complete reform and restructuring of Russia, basically from the ground up (in Alexander II’s Great Reforms). So this complements your discussion here, in the sense that although millions of enserfed soldiers did fight for the tsar with no hope of ever receiving freedom or returning home (the villages always sent the trouble-makers away in the draft, knowing they’d never return! Service was 25 years, i.e. until death), they didn’t do a terribly good job of it! 😉

    1. I can see where you’re coming from, but protesting involves milder actions than arson. If government buildings were being burned down, they would call it an insurrection. Similarly, the hatred expressed against Christian Churches in burning down houses of worship rises to the level of persecution. I expect that there are people protesting the evils of trying to culturally cleanse the Indians and giving inadequate nourishment and medical services to children at those schools, but these know better than to burn down a church! What about the Indian Christians with no place to worship now? I suspect that they did not burn down their own churches, but these actions were committed by people hostile to the Christian faith.

      You’re right that the level of persecution in Western countries is not at the level we have seen in places from the French Revolution through the Rise of Communism. Thankfully! Yet, during the Coronavirus pandemic, we did see countries and U.S. states restricting Christians’ right to worship more than businesses’ right to commerce, including bars and liquor stores. Canada has even arrested pastors for trying to hold services! And, to return to the recent church burnings, politicians in power have had a rather tepid response to the affair. This indicates to me that the people in charge don’t care or even think that Christians deserve to have their places of worship destroyed! While this is a far cry from what happens in Egypt or China, I can only expect things to get worse as the culture as a whole becomes less Christian.

      I did not know that about the Crimean War. Just about everything I know about it comes from the Errol Flynn movie The Charge of the Light Brigade and Tennyson’s poem, which is not much. What you write about does highlight the fact that a nation’s soldiers need to be willing combatants! Alexander II was one of Russia’s greatest czars. Too bad that his reign ended prematurely.

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