Red and White, Sacred and Immaculate

Red and White, Sacred and Immaculate

Given the events the last few weeks, it’s been relatively easy to find mention of martyrdom in the Catholic blogosphere, whether one looks to Francis Cardinal George’s statement that “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square” or my own previous mentions of it. What is not easy to find is a clear distinction between the different types of martyrdom.

A martyr, from the Greek μάρτυς, meaning witness, is typically defined as a person who dies for the faith. To be declared a martyr, one must be murdered in odium fidei, that is, out of a hatred for the faith, or some variation thereof, such as in odium Ecclesiae (out of a hatred for the Church). In its broader meaning, you and I are martyrs anytime we testify to the faith. In a more strict sense, we have two kinds of martyrs: red and white.

How can you tell the difference? Here’s a quick cheat sheet:

Red Martyrs White Martyrs
Give their lives to God… Give their lives to God…
…by dying for Him. …by living for Him.

Both types of martyrs give their lives for the faith, but in different ways. Red martyrs shed their blood, glorifying God by their deaths, while white martyrs, also called confessors, glorify God by their lives, confessing the faith in the face of persecution and suffering greatly for their fidelity to the the Church. Thus, we would call all of the Twelve Apostles (except John, who died a natural death, and Judas, for obvious reasons) red martyrs. Joining their ranks would be everyone through St. Stephen the Protomartyr to St. Maximilian Kolbe (there’s an interesting story about that one; note: I disagree with the source’s claim that St. Maximiliam Kolbe was not killed in odium fidei). White martyrs would include St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Edward the Confessor.

What’s the coolest thing about the red and white martyrs?

The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

At their core, the red and white martyrs reflect a deeper connection: Love of God. The suffering of Our Lord is captured in the famous image of the Sacred Heart, aflame with the Love of God, but wrapped in the crown of thorns that wounded that sacred Head for His witness. Although the Deacon Stephen has the title of protomartyr, it belongs also in a sense to Jesus, the first to die for the Gospel He preached.

If Jesus was the first red martyr, His mother was certainly the first white martyr, of whom was prophesied: “And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35). Was it not Mary that, filled like her Son with the Love of God, suffered more than any human person by her cooperation with the Passion of Christ, her Son, for her witness to the Gospel in His very identity?

In these difficult times, with so much talk of martyrdom, wouldn’t it be prudent to cultivate a renewed devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts that were both aflame with Divine Love, but suffered these two types of martyrdom?

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!


  1. Interesting. On the Wikipedia link where it mentions the controversy of St. Kolbe’s martyrdom, it mentions that he was not killed because of the faith.

    I disagree. St. Kolbe was imprisoned because of his faith, and the other man imprisoned was also because of his faith. At that point, it didn’t matter to the Nazis which one was killed, because all of their enemies of faith were imprisoned.

    • Duly noted. I was linking to the article because it mentions how St. Maximilian Kolbe was first considered a confessor, then a martyr. I think I’ll post a follow-up on that next week.


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