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Athleta Christi (Latin: "Champion of Christ") was a class of Early Christian soldier martyrs or military saints, of whom the most familiar example is probably Saint Sebastian. It also could be used to refer to Christians with exemplary martial prowess, especially when fighting against non-Christians or heretics.
Since the 15th century, the title has been a political one, granted by Popes to men who have led military campaigns defending Christianity. The militant Catholic hymn Athleta Christi nobilis ("Noble Champion of the Lord"), a hymn for Matins on May 18, the feast of Saint Venantius, was written in the 17th century by an unknown author. The medieval precursors of the hymn are numerous and include hymns, responsories and antiphons dedicated to many saints and martyrs, even non-militant ones such as Cosmas and Damian.
Those who have held the title include:
- Louis I of Hungary, called upon by Pope Innocent VI.
- Simon de Montfort, called so by Peter of Vaux de Cernay.
- John Hunyadi of Hungary, called by Pope Pius II.
- George Kastrioti Skanderbeg of Albania, called by Popes Callixtus III, Pius II, Paul II, and Nicholas V.
- Stephen the Great of Moldavia, called by Pope Sixtus IV.
- Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia, called by Pope Sixtus IV.
- Latrobe article Archived January 9, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
- of les Vaux de Cernay, Peter (1998). The History of the Albigensian Crusade. Translated by Sibly, W.A & M.D. Rochester: Boydell Press. pp. XIX, 230, 241, 260. ISBN 0-85115-807-2.
- The Fulfilled Promise: A Documentary Account of Religious Persecution in Albania; By Gjon Sinishta; page 6.
- New Catholic Dictionary: Athleta Christi nobilis
- La Trobe University Library: Medieval Music Database: cf incipits O athleta Christi
- La Trobe University Library: Medieval Music Database: cf incipits Athleta Christi