Church History 101: A short history of church history from 64 AD to 600 AD (part four)

Moving right along, like a comedian whose last joke bombed badly, we’re getting towards the final stages of the “Patristic Period” (which covers roughly 100 A.D to 451 A.D, ending at the council of Chalcedon)… these councils all seem to have to decide the same thing over and over again, first against Arianism, and then against Nestorianism and Eutychianism.

Quick guide to fifth century heresies:

Arianism: Different substance, Jesus is creation, not same as creator.
Apollinarianism: Splits Jesus into divine (mind) and human (body)
Nestorianism: Mary bore Christ not God, different substances. Jesus became God (he was two persons in a moral union.
Donatism: Anything touched by somebody touched by a heretic is tainted. Purity at all costs. Your baptism, and salvation, are ruined by a heretic who transmits his heresy.
Pelagianism: No inherited sin, or original sin, or indeed sinful nature. Works can get you to heaven.
Eutychianism: Christ has one unique nature. Not human. Not god.

Quick Guide to the Councils:

325: Nicea – Against Arianism, Athanasius refutes Arianism, vote is hugely in favour, comes up with the Apostle’s Creed – which bears similarities to creedal confessions from 1 Corinthians 15, through the writings of the early church. Takes two months. Decides Jesus is fully human. Fully god. Of like substance.

381: Council of Constantinople – Jesus Christ is truly human. Just like us. Apollinarianism is refuted by the Cappuccino Brotherhood (Cappuccinos actually get their names from the hoods of monks).

393: Council of Hippo – Affirms Athanasius’ definition of the canon, provides criterion for adopting the books.

431: Council of Ephesus – Jesus Christ is one person, contrary to Nestorianism, which held that Christ was two persons, one divine and one human

449: The “Robber Synod” – Declares Christ has only one nature (Eutychianism).

451 Council of Chalcedon: – Response to Robber Synod, decides that “Jesus Christ is “two natures, the Divine of the same substance as the Father (against Arianism), the human of the same substance as us, which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably…”


Here’s how the period plays out in timeline form:

325 Council of Nicea
328 Athanasius is bishop Alexandria
329 Basil the Great of Cappadocia is born, he promotes communal monasticism that serves the poor, sick, and needy.
330 Constantinople founded
335 Martin of Tours, a monk who is famous for his compassion for the poor is born.
337 Constantine’s baptism and death
339 Ambrose, a significant figure in the church whose powerful rhetoric converted Augustine, is born, his approach to OT exegesis was closely mirrored by Augustine, anything that wasn’t pure moral instruction he allegorised, looking for a mystical meaning. Follows Origen lots, and borrows allegory from Philo. Fought against Arianism.
340 Ulfias, a German dude, converts to Arian Christianity and ends up converting most of the Germanic tribes.
345 Chrysostom is born, the father of historical and grammatical exegesis (the good stuff) starts a movement away from allegorical interpretations that had been popular since Clement of Alexandria.
347 Jerome is born, Augustine’s interlocutor, and a massive brain who translates the Old Testament out of Hebrew into Latin, producing the Vulgate.
353 Constantius’ pro-Arian policy boots Athanasius out of Alexandria
354 Augustine is born, Augustine. The world’s first blogger. A prolific writer about church, state, doctrine, education, music… you name it, he wrote about it. Had an interesting, and slightly munted, view of the transmission of sin, and a predilection for bizzaro allegory in interpreting the Old Testament. Otherwise a brilliant thinker who should still be read today.
361 Julian the Apostate gains control, converts to Paganism. Rules for two years, gives the Donatists a chance to return to Rome (causing later headaches for Augustine)
367 Athanasius defines New Testament, naming the 66 books of the Bible in a letter.
370 Basil becomes bishop of Caesarea
378 Battle of Adrianople
379 Theodosius becomes emperor, makes Christianity the official state religion.
381 Council of Constantinople: Basil, Greg and Greg take down the Arians. Again. The council deals with pretty much the same issues, concluding that Jesus Christ is truly human, contra Apollinarianism, which split Jesus into a human body and a divine mind. The Great Cappadocians are the inspiration behind the defeat of Arianism at this council. They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa
382 A Roman Council affirms Athanasius’ definition of the canon.
385 Ambrose prevails
387 Augustine’s conversion
393 The Council of Hippo also recognises the canon, providing set criteria for recognition: a book had to be Apostolic, fit in with the other scriptures, and have been of fruitful use throughout the church up to that time
395 Augustine becomes bishop of Hippo
397 A council of Carthage recognises the decision at Hippo. We have a Bible.
398 Chrysostom bishop of Constantinople
400 Nestorius, a heretic, dies. He said Mary was the bearer of Christ not God. He could not call a three month child God. So he said that Jesus Christ was two persons, whose only union was a moral one.
406 Jeromes completes the Vulgate
410 Fall of Rome
411 Augustine starts writing against Pelagianism. Pelagius rejected the idea of sin through Adam, original sin, and a sinful nature. Ruled out grace, suggested works was all that was required. Augustine gives birth to Calvinism, ahead of its time. God’s grace is necessary not only to be able to choose to obey God’s commands, but to be able to choose to turn to God initially for salvation.
418 Synod of Carthage: Makes Pelagius a heretic and his teachings an “anathema”
431 Council of Ephesus: Again, forced to rule on Christology. Jesus Christ is one person, contrary to Nestorianism, which held that Christ was two persons, one divine and one human
448 Leo draws on the work of Tertullian and Augustine to define Christology for the church, writes a tome to Flavian (dude in Constantinople)
449 The “Robber Synod”: Declares Christ has only one nature (Eutychianism). Tries to argue that Christ’s nature is unique. Harks back to docetism.
451 Council of Chalcedon: Affirms Leo’s tome, rejects Eutychianism, tosses out Nestorianism (again), decides that “Jesus Christ is “two natures, the Divine of the same substance as the Father (against Arianism), the human of the same substance as us (against Eutychianism), which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably (against Nestorianism)”
455 Vandals sack Rome
476 Odoacer deposes last Roman emperor

Church History 101: A short history of church history from 64 AD to 600 AD (part three)

Continuing where we left off in post one, which was somewhere towards the end of the third century, we are rapidly approaching D-Day for the Christian church. Or Armistice Day. Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, or apparent conversion to Christianity, made Christianity the official state religion, and changed the landscape of the church forever. Being a state religion meant having rigid notions of doctrine in place in order to determine who was being a good citizen, and who was inspiring political unrest through heretical rocking of the boat. Truth became a democratic process, and this period saw a number of councils making significant decisions on doctrine, and the collapse of the Empire, and continuation of the church, brought about several interesting interchanges driven largely by power struggles within the church, or seeking the aid of the church… so lets go back to the end of the third century, having just farewelled Origen and Cyprian…

The Life and Times of Constantine, and the Council of Nicea
The Third Century ends with another bout of persecution under Diocletian. Diocletian split the empire into east and west, appointing Maximian as his co-emperor. Eventually the empire is split again, and Constantinus is basically appointed as co-emperor of the West. Diocletian’s persecution of Christians was particularly mean. He tried to wipe them out to satisfy some oracles. He ordered all scriptures, churches, and Christians to be burned (or just to not meet, but to hand over any copies of the Bible they had). The Christians of the west were ok, because their emperors did not enforce the edicts of Diocletian and Galerius.

Diocletian ends up abdicating in 305 A.D, and a year later Constantinus, Constantine’s father, dies and as a result Constantine is pushed into the role of emperor of the West. Constantine basically goes about reuniting the empire, and by 313 he and one of his relatives, Licinius, issue the edict of Milan – a policy of tolerance for Christians. Licinius eventually renegs on this deal, and Constantine then ousts him and becomes emperor of both sides of the empire. He moves the capital to Constantinople, and is eventually baptised as a Christian – fusing church and state, with Christianity now the official religion of the empire. A pretty massive turnaround in 300 years – from crucifying to worshiping Jesus.

This newfound status in the empire means the church has to thrash out some issues that have been bubbling away under the surface. First cab off the rank is Donatism – the Donatists appeal to Caesar, who rejects their views and banishes them in 316 A.D.

Then Arius starts up. Launching the Arian controversy which needed the Council of Nicea to unanimously (almost, 2 said no) define the Creed for Christian belief- the Nicene Creed. The council settled a bunch of issues, and as a result Constantine sacked any Arian sympathising bishops and exiled them.

At around this time Pachomius establishes a monastic community – a communal home for hermits. Monastries become a cool place to hang out by yourself. Monasticism essentially replaces martydom as the means for Christian sacrificial living.


A brief snapshot of figures from this period

1. Constantine: Control freak, megalomaniac emperor who was shrewd and effective often employing propaganda to get what he wanted – he took control of a fractured empire and ruled it for over twenty years, went from protecting the freedoms of Christians, to becoming one and making Christianity the state religion. Unseparated church and state. Though continued to patronise Roman religions throughout his life.

2. Arius: Ascetic dude who liked pagan philosophers and sparked a massive controversy within the church because of his Stoic interpretations of doctrine. Founded Arianism. Eventually died on the toilet just before being reinstated to the church (after Constantine’s successor revealed a penchant for Arian theology. Reinstated by Constantine in in 328 A.D.

3. Athanasius: The main opponent to Arius, presented the adopted view at Nicea. Taught that since only God is to be worshiped, and the New Testament calls for Christ to be worshiped, that Christ is God. Only God can save, Christ saves, Christ is God. Only somebody who is human and divine can offer eternal life. Only God can pay the debt for sins. Son of God, Son of Man used interchangeably for the one figure. Christ came to restore us to God. Becomes bishop of Alexandria after the Council.

4. Eusebius: Submitted a creed to the council that heavily influenced the final form of the Nicene Creed, wrote a history of the church up until 300A.D.

A brief snapshot of beliefs and events from this period
1. Donatism: Sprang up out of the Diocletian persecution (but came to a head a decade later). Argued that anybody who had complied to Diocletian’s orders was permanently tainted, and anybody who had any contact with them was also permanently tainted.

2. Arianism: Taught that Jesus was the Son of God, but not eternal, that he was in fact created ex nihilo before the creation of the world, Jesus was not human, or god, but was unique – a lesser divinity, not of one substance with the father (like, but different) – Arianism saw Jesus as an event in the life of God, rather than leading the life of God all along.

3. Nicene Council : Rejected Arianism, settled on the Nicene Creed as an appropriate outline of the faith. Took two months to decide on an alternative view. 220 Bishops in attendance, recognised Origen’s three hypostasis – the father, son and spirit. Also recognised Alexandria, Antioch and Rome as important churches with authority over others. Also settled the date of Easter.

Church History 101: A short history of church history from 64 AD to 600 AD (part two)

There’s a likelihood (or perhaps a possibility) that the exam questions tomorrow will ask about the development of the church in the early year’s it’s probably worth covering that off too… The New Testament Church enjoys the benefits of apostolic oversight. Guys like Peter and Paul are running around planting churches, but they’re supported by a bunch of other people (eg Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Erastus, etc), The Council, or “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem can be consulted for major doctrinal decisions (like in Acts 15) – and their word is authoritative. But what of the next generation? Or the generation after that. The so-called Apostolic Fathers were seen as a natural link (and many people think that link established a continuous chain of authority). But obviously, based on looking at some of the primary documents, it didn’t take long for errors to creep in, or disputes to arise. The hotly disputed “Pastoral Letters” (that I still think were written by Paul because the arguments against that are just stupid),1 at the very least, demonstrate that some form of pastoral structures were present in the early church (there were elders, and teachers). There would also be false teachers to watch out for (suggesting that there were a bunch of people jumping on the itinerant preaching bandwagon, or people becoming teachers within a city or town). We know from the New Testament that there were churches scattered far and wide, throughout the Roman world. Developing some form of governing hierarchy became important as heresies began to emerge and spread, throughout the church. Marcion, the gnostics, and the Montanists gained traction across the church, causing the leading intellectuals from the orthodox side of the fence to more carefully define what was right and what was wrong belief. Which meant developing some semblance of a canon. Justin Martyr’s apology outlines the practices of the church a century after the last bits of what we know as our canon are assumed to have been written (unless you’re one of those academic nutbags who thinks they were all written mid second century). But it’s likely that the very diverse spread of the church, and very diverse set of academic, philosophical and social influences on leaders of the early church, meant that there were as many differences in writings and teachings (that were still faithful to the gospel) as there are today. There was much “plundering of Egyptian gold” (as Augustine likes to call it) going on with regard to determining and teaching the truth. Most teachers and apologists whose writings were influential on the church showed a mastery of pagan thought and philosophy, most engaged with Roman law, and with Greek philosophy in their apologies for the Christian faith, and most also had errors creeping in to their theology because of pre-existing commitments to human thought and philosophy. Different philosophical commitments gave rise to different exegetical methods – one man’s passage that required historical reconstruction to point to Jesus was another man’s passage that required allegory to point to Jesus. There was much diversity, but also unity. Approaches to theology from opposite ends of the empire both took the forms of “Apologies for the Christian Faith” directed to the emperor, and showed a love and familiarity for God’s word as contained in the Old Testament, and in the gospels and writings of the apostles. Tertullian’s description of Christian practice, with reference to the early letter between Pliny and Trajan, sounds very much like Justin Martyr’s description of Christian practice, though they were from the east and west sides of the empire. Separated geographically, but united in Christ, and in the way they remembered him. It is likely, based on the way the gospel is presented in works from the period across the empire, that Paul’s creedal confession in 1 Corinthians 15 was normative across the early church. Many prototypical creeds even include reference to Jesus trial before Pontius Pilate, Justin Martyr and Ignatius both make allusions to Pontius Pilate in their definitions of the faith. Ignatius in a letter, and Justin in his First Apology. An element of the gospel message which touches on the other common factor for the church, the Roman Empire, and the challenges that adopting the Lordship of Jesus put in the path of one who was living under the authority of Caesar (or one of them). This unity was encouraged by a continuation of the apostolic tradition of communication between churches (as demonstrated by the letter describing the Martyrdom of Polycarp, sent from one church to another for the purpose of encouragement. Though many modern scholars may seek to liberate early writers from the bonds of heresy, the early church was generally fairly sure of what was orthodox and what was not, though filtering through the philosophical presuppositions of the writers of the early church to find the theological truths leaves much more fool’s gold than real gold in some cases. Redeeming some of the thoughts of minority figures in the early church might be a popular past time, and occasionally baby and bathwater were heaved out together, but in most cases the act of heaving was well worth the effort, and the baby was usually found elsewhere anyway.

Here’s a quick chronology of figures from the early period of the church (up to the third century):
1. Ignatius: “Apostolic Father” lived in the first century, and a little of the second, wrote lots, apparently a disciple of John. Established some sense of rule of order for the church, first to use the phrase “catholic church” to describe the universal church, strongly advocated the real humanity of Christ. Also wrote on the Lord’s Day being Sunday not the Sabbath. Martyred.

“I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.”

2. Polycarp: Also said to be a disciple of John. Martyred spectacularly at a ripe old age, 86 years after becoming a Christian.

3. Clement of Rome: Wrote to Corinth in about 96 A.D to assert the authority of elders and bishops as enshrined by the apostles.

4. Justin Martyr: A philosopher who converted to Christianity and wrote two apologies for Christian belief. Taught that only Christianity was the true philosophy. Converted in 130 A.D.

4. Clement of Alexandria – another philosopher who attempted to convince the gnostics of their error by arguing that only the Scriptures contained true knowledge. Used Platonism to support Christianity. Founded the allegorical method (unless you count Paul’s use of Allegory in Glataians). Born 150 A.D.

5. Tertullian: Also an apologist, differed from Justin in that he didn’t use philosophy to support his case for Christianity, saying “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem. Born in 160 A.D. Helped define the Trinity in Against Praxeus, even though he became a Montanus. Not canonised by the Catholic Church. Father of theology in the Latin West, the first to write in Latin.

6. Origen: Born in 185 A.D. Disciple of Clement of Alexandria, develops his allegorical method, heavily influenced by Platonism. Not canonised by the Catholic Church.

7. Irenaeus: Born early in the 100s, a disciple of Polycarp, Wrote against gnosticism.

8. Cyprian: Bishop of Carthage in the mid third century, hides from Decian persecution rather than objecting to the empire or becoming temporarily apostate, discusses the role of baptism, and the return to the church of heretics. Fights against Roman supremacy of the church,. Doesn’t recognise baptisms by heretical church leaders. Martyred.

Here’s a quick list of beliefs that the church thoroughly rejected in its first hundred years, with very brief descriptions:

1. Docetism – the idea that Jesus only seemed to be human. Rejected by a bunch of people. Quote Ignatius. Who wants people to be sure that Jesus was truly born, truly ate, and was truly crucified. As a man. Jesus can’t save people if he’s not connected to people. Theologically speaking.
2. Marcionism – the idea that there are two gods – the Demiurge (nasty Old Testament God) and the God of the New Testament. Marcion only recognised Paul’s writings as Scripture, and a bit of Luke that he edited himself.
3. Gnosticism – Gnostics claimed to possess certain secret knowledge, again regarding the Demiurge and true God, Jesus was said to be a gnostic teacher, and a bunch of false gospels, or collections of sayings, were produced giving accounts of Jesus gnostic teaching. Gnosticism developed too late to have been addressed by the New Testament, but the church fathers (and even Marcion) attacked it with gusto. Valentinus and Basilides were two gnostic teachers who were fascinated by Christian teaching. They adopted certain elements of the Old Testament as their own heritage, identifying other possessors of the “secret knowledge.”
4. Montanism – Most of the church fathers rejected this teaching outright. Tertullian adopted it. Claimed to be a new “spirit led” movement that superseded the authority of the apostles. It was a “new teaching”… basically a doomsday cult.

1 One of the arguments I hate most is that they were written in a different style, or a different voice, with different idioms. Have none of these scholars ever written an email to a friend? Have none of them then compared the style they employ when writing to a friend with the style they employ when writing a journal? We all use different voices in different contexts. Plus, the arguments regarding theology just make no sense, and the idea that the writings are pseudopigraphal and somehow made it into the canon, slipping past the guys who lived much closer to the fact, and spoke Greek as their actual language… it just stops making sense pretty quickly and becomes easier to dismiss based on potential personal objections to the theology (I don’t think there are many people who don’t think life as a Christian would be easier if the passages about women not being allowed to teach weren’t in the Bible). Anyway. That idea is dumb. I can talk about that later. It’s also possible that language changed in transmission, and the manuscripts we’ve found reflect transmission error – in any case, it takes a pretty low view of God’s sovereignty to suggest that someone posed as Paul, wrote a bunch of letters that made it into the canon, and left us with 2,000 years of error to be cleaned up by some naked academics wearing the emperor’s fanciest new robes.

Church History 101: A short history of church history from 64 AD to 600 AD (part one)

So, I’m fast running out of time to put together my church history trading cards before the exam. Which is a shame. Because I really wanted to cover Origen, who emasculated himself so that he could minister to women and sescaped martyrdom because his mum hid his clothes so he had to stay inside the house naked… and Arius, who died on the public toilet just prior to being readmitted to the church… I’ll try to get around them, but the pre-exam motivation really is the driving force behind getting them up…

Anyway. In order to attempt to get a cohesive picture of the first 550 years of the church I’m going to try to give one rapid fire overview of the significant people and moments from that time.

Kicking off in 64 A.D, Nero was the first Roman emperor to actively persecute Christians. It was a pretty sporadic afair. But he also persecuted Jews, and the temple was destroyed in the Jewish revolt of 66-74 A.D. Nero blamed Christians for a fire in Rome, and used that as an excuse to pursue the church. Domitian was the next emperor to systematically pursue Christians. Domitian also had a big head, at least as far as this statues is reliable…

Second Century
The century turned, and in the second century the gnostic movement took off a little bit, trying to rebrand Jesus as a gnostic teacher who taught secret mysteries. Marcion also sprung up with his little heresy (throwing out the Old Testament, and only keeping a few bits of the new). He was a bad guy. A heretic. The first of his kind (well, the first recognised by the church. But his “canon” caused the early church to put together a real canon. The Apostolic Fathers – Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Didache, were some of the leaders of the church at this point – they were guys who were thought to have had contact with the apostles, thus providing some form of doctrinal continuity. Polycarp was martyred in 155 A.D, and Justin Martyr ten years later – having written his two Apologies for Christian belief to the Roman emperor – demonstrating that the church was still on the outer with Rome. The next cab off the rank, heresy wise, was Montanism. Tertullian came on the scene towards the end of the second century and wrote strongly against gnosticism, and Marcionism, and his own apology for Christian belief (seeking much the same as Justin Martyr – to ahve Christians treated fairly and recognised as a religio licita) but he took up the Montanist cause (which meant that the Catholic church refused to make him a saint. Montanists believed they had a new prophecy, and didn’t much like the veneer of compromise they saw in the church – they also loved martyrdom.

Third Century
Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen and Cyprian were some figures around the beginning of the third century (and at the end of the second). Irenaeus (who studied under Polycarp and Justin Martyr) and Tertullian both got their own trading cards.

Decius, the emperor in the middle of the century kicked off some further persecution of Christians by decreeing that all citizens of the empire were to sacrifice to the emperor in a pledge of allegiance to Rome. They had to do it within a certain time, and they’d get a certificate to prove it. Anybody who refused was a traitor. Many Christians died in the process, luckily Decius was only in power for two years.

Origen was an Alexandrian, and a Christian with a particularly platonic bent. A church council in the sixth century declared him to be a persona non grata – and many of his works were burned as a result. He was a controversial figure and pushed for some sort of hierachy within the trinity (amongst other foibles) – most of which grew from his Platonic philosphy. He wrote lots, learned Hebrew, and put together a parallel translation of the Old Testament. His translations of the Hebrew were discussed in Augustine’s conversation with Jerome (about Jerome’s own translations – Jerome thought following Origen was a good idea, Augustine thought he was a little iffy). His exegetical method was pretty sound, and he only really used allegory as a last resort (and more typographically and Christologically than others). Origen’s exegetical approach, as he looked for hidden meaning in texts, included focusing on the meanings of proper nouns within the OT. He preached through the Old Testament, and while he was into finding hidden meanings in the text, he wasn’t a gnostic (and he wrote against them), he thought historical context wasn’t hugely important, and in a way he was proto-Barthian. He was rigorously committed to the Scriptures, and all his teachings were at least tied to some text or another. He was a theologian (some suggest the world’s first), who was also committed to integrating Christianity with philosophy and ethics. Most of his failings theologically come from this philosophical commitment and arise when his Platonic thoughts about the nature of the soul (for example, that it pre-exists the body) encroach on his theology and exegesis. His ecclesiology was pretty sound. He recognised two churches – the “church of angels” (those in Christ) and the wider church, which also sheltered sinners. A physical church, and a spiritual church. Another pretty Platonic (though correct) idea. His approach to Christian teaching was very similar to Augustine’s, he sought to syncretise the scientific and philosophical understandings of his day with Christian belief. And was committed to his students receiving a broad “liberal arts” education of the classical Roman variety. He wrote against ideas like soul sleep, and Ggnosticism, but his positives, so far as the later church was concerned, were outweighed by his heresies. Origen was tortured as a Christian during the Decian persecution, and he died three years later from the injuries he sustained.

Cyprian was the bishop of Carthage in the mid-third century. His thinking was influenced by Tertullian (both were north Africans, so were from the “Latin West”). He was a trained orator, who taught rhetoric before he became a Christian. He wrote heaps of stuff that has survived – and he was obviously a pragmatist, because while debate was raging within the church about how to handle Roman persecution he bolted. He didn’t stick around for the decision on whether to participate in the sacrifices for Deciu, or to engage in civil disobedience. He ran for the hills, and ruled his church from afar via a messenger. Obviously he wasn’t a complete coward though (which some accused him of being) because he was eventually martyred. Controversially, and somewhat hypocritically, Cyprian didn’t treat other people who avoided persecution by leaving the church very well, or at least he didn’t want to let them straight back in when the persecution ended. He insisted on “earnest repentance,” when some disobeyed him (including a deacon from Carthage) he excommunicated them, and created a bit of a schism. A council of North-African bishops in Carthage sided with Cyprian on the treatment of “lapsed” Christians – and they could only be readmitted to the church on their deathbeds (though this decision was softened somewhat). Church leaders who had sacrificed to the emperor could not be restored to their original posts.

A debate about baptism flared up in 255, where the church believed baptism was ok if done in a church and in the name of the trinity, Cyprian believed any baptisms conducted by heretics were invalid – in this way he was a precursor to Donatism, which emerged later. At this point, his adversary Stephen, Bishop of Rome tried to trump Cyprian’s position on the basis of his geographic situation. Cyprian didn’t like that very much. He said that all bishops were equal. He died bravely in a new bout of persecution under Valerian. Going willingly to his execution

Church History Trading Cards: The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Polycarp was featured earlier in the Trading Cards series. He was an early church father said to have been a disciple of the Apostle John. He lived to a ripe old age, and then was famously martyred having been a Christian for 86 years in a very public setting, with tremendous courage and dignity and as a faithful witness to the end. We know about his martyrdom because of this document – an account sent out by the church of Smyrna to another church, to be passed on to churches around the world. While some of the account may well be historiographical, and even if some of the miracles did not happened, the document provides an insight into the persecution the early church suffered at the hands of Rome, and the way they sought to encourage one another (essentially through the spread of this sort of propaganda (note: not all propaganda is bad)). The letter strongly associates Polycarp’s martyrdom with Christ’s. And paints martyrdom as a desirable thing for the church.

It contains this little gem of a story about Germanicus, another martyr, who having fought off the beasts being used for his execution for a while, made them attack him instead of renouncing Christ:

“Germanicus strengthened the timidity of others by his own patience, and fought heroically with the wild beasts. For, when the proconsul sought to persuade him, and urged him to take pity upon his age, he attracted the wild beast towards himself, and provoked it, being desirous to escape all the more quickly from an unrighteous and impious world.”

This spectacle caused the crowd present to shout for the Romans to find Polycarp, perhaps clamouring to see another old Christian die with such dignity. The letter also tells the story of a guy named Quintus who turned away from Christ to save his own life:

“Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to escape suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do.”

Polycarp hears that people are after him – and he was just going to hang out in the city going about his business, but his friends persuaded him to head to the hills. Which he did. But then a servant gave him up (betrayed just like Jesus). And he was caught, and brought to trial. When the horde of armed soldiers caught him (again, lots of armed soldiers, just like the arrest of Jesus) he fed them, and asked for some time to pray. After he had prayed (and the account says his attitude convicted some of the soldiers that they were doing the wrong thing).

“So when he heard that they had come, he went down and spoke with them. And as those that were present marvelled at his age and constancy, some of them said. “Was so much effort made to capture such a venerable man?” Immediately then, in that very hour, he ordered that something to eat and drink should be set before them, as much indeed as they cared for, while he besought them to allow him an hour to pray without disturbance. And on their giving him leave, he stood and prayed, being full of the grace of God, so that he could not cease for two full hours, to the astonishment of those who heard him, insomuch that many began to repent that they had come forth against so godly and venerable an old man.”

He’s mistreated by the Romans on his way to trial (just like Jesus):

“And the Irenarch Herod, accompanied by his father Nicetes (both riding in a chariot ), met him, and taking him up into the chariot, they seated themselves beside him, and endeavoured to persuade him, saying, “What harm is there in saying, Lord Cæsar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?” But he at first gave them no answer; and when they continued to urge him, he said, “I shall not do as you advise me.” So they, having no hope of persuading him, began to speak bitter words unto him, and cast him with violence out of the chariot”

At his trial he is asked to confirm that he is who he says he is (just like Jesus) and given a chance to recant (just like Jesus) – and he turns their requests against them beautifully. I love this paragraph:

“And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to your old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?””

His approach to his trial, and those trying him, is quite Pauline (he tries to convert the governor).

And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Cæsar,” he answered,

Since you are vainly urgent that, as you say, I should swear by the fortune of Cæsar, and pretend not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them.

The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said,

To you I have thought it right to offer an account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1 But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.

His response to the Proconsul’s threats are fantastic.

“The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast you, unless you repent.”

But he answered,

“Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.”


But again the proconsul said to him, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.”

But Polycarp said,

“You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.”

After hearing his testimony the mob in the stadium call for Polycarp, the father of Christians and the teacher of the province of Asia who taught people not to worship the Roman gods, to be fed to the lions. The governor says the animal shows are finished for the day, but he lets them burn Polycarp to death instead. A task they tackle with relish and gusto. Polycarp complies, the soldiers are going to nail him in place, and he tells them that will be unnecessary:

“Leave me as I am; for He that gives me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.”

Polycarp’s Prayer

” O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before You as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as You, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, have revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen. “

The fire is said not to have had any effect on Polycarp:

“And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour [coming from the pile], as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there.”

And they have to stab him instead, at which point his blood spurts out in the shape of a dove and puts out the flames (or so it is reported). The biography contains a few pieces of anti-Jewish sentiment, including blaming the Jews for preventing the church from receiving Polycarp’s body “lest they start worshipping him instead of Christ” – which the writers say is not possible for the Christian to do.

The Romans, not seeking to make the mistake of letting Polycarp come back to life, instead put his body in the fire, where it burns, and the Christians collect his bones and bury them in a fitting place where they can gather together to celebrate the anniversary of the event and rejoice over Polycarp’s life.

The letter says Polycarp was the 12th martyr in Smyrna. And that it has been sent around the churches in order to encourage them to glorify the Lord.

“Since, then, you requested that we would at large make you acquainted with what really took place, we have for the present sent you this summary account through our brother Marcus. When, therefore, you have yourselves read this Epistle, be pleased to send it to the brethren at a greater distance, that they also may glorify the Lord, who makes such choice of His own servants. To Him who is able to bring us all by His grace and goodness into his everlasting kingdom, through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, to Him be glory, and honour, and power, and majesty, for ever. Amen. Salute all the saints. They that are with us salute you, and Evarestus, who wrote this Epistle, with all his house.”

There’s an online version of the document here.

Church History Trading Cards: The Apology of Justin Martyr

A trading card for an inanimate object. All the great series of cards have them (except any of the NRL cards I collected as a kid. I also collected Phantom cards (and comics). I think they’re under the house at mum and dad’s.

Justin Martyr’s Apology is one of a suite of Apologies written to Roman Emperors seeking improved treatment of Christians.

Here’s an outline of his argument (quite summarised)…

Justin opens with a call for justice, because it is unjust to punish people for the name that they take rather than their deeds. Some had been denying the name of Christ, but keeping the deeds, and escaping punishment. Justin says his document will provide an overview of Christian beliefs for Caesar to put to the test. Next he deals with the charges of atheism – concluding that Christians believe the Roman gods exist, they just think they are wicked demons.

Christians should be punished if they do wrong, but being a Christian itself isn’t wrong. He says that while Christians can deny the name of Christ (by telling a lie) their lives will still show who they are, and that God will judge the wicked, an idea Plato had already suggested. Everybody knows idols are dumb because they’re made by man.

Christians believe that God provides all things, and requires only virtuous living in return. He says that if Christians pursued a seditious earthly kingdom they wouldn’t die for the cause, but rather lie for the cause. He says that Christians are allies in the moral living cause. He appeals to Caesar’s sense of justice and commitment to wisdom. Then he outlines the gospel, and the crucified Christ’s place in the created order (second to the father, with the Spirit third), and shows that the gospel changes lives. He examines Christ’s teaching, pointing to his teaching about the state (render unto Caesar). Then covers the feasibility of the resurrection, overlaps between Christian doctrine and philosophy, and the Old Testament, finally he talks about Christian practice in their gatherings.

Here’s how he describes his purpose (turned into dot points):

And that this may now become evident to you:

  • that whatever we assert in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed; that we claim to be acknowledged, not because we say the same things as these writers said, but because we say true things
  • that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race:
  • before He became a man among men, some, influenced by the demons before mentioned, related beforehand, through the instrumentality of the poets, those circumstances as having really happened, which, having fictitiously devised, they narrated, in the same manner as they have caused to be fabricated the scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions

And here, to save anybody else the hassle of reading the document, are some extended quotes about things that might come up in the exam.

On Justice and the treatment of Christians

Again, if any of the accused deny the name, and say that he is not a Christian, you acquit him, as having no evidence against him as a wrong-doer; but if any one acknowledge that he is a Christian, you punish him on account of this acknowledgment. Justice requires that you inquire into the life both of him who confesses and of him who denies, that by his deeds it may be apparent what kind of man each is.

But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgment, but by passion.


For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.


On idol worship as intellectually unjustifiable:

And neither do we honour with many sacrifices and garlands of flowers such deities as men have formed and set in shrines and called gods; since we see that these are soulless and dead, and have not the form of God (for we do not consider that God has such a form as some say that they imitate to His honour)


For why need we tell you who already know, into what forms the craftsmen, carving and cutting, casting and hammering, fashion the materials? And often out of vessels of dishonour, by merely changing the form, and making an image of the requisite shape, they make what they call a god; which we consider not only senseless, but to be even insulting to God, who, having ineffable glory and form, thus gets His name attached to things that are corruptible, and require constant service. And that the artificers of these are both intemperate, and, not to enter into particulars, are practised in every vice, you very well know; even their own girls who work along with them they corrupt. What infatuation! That dissolute men should be said to fashion and make gods for your worship, and that you should appoint such men the guardians of the temples where they are enshrined; not recognising that it is unlawful even to think or say that men are the guardians of gods.


On the way to serve God (good works)

Justin goes pretty close to suggesting that salvation is dependent on works.

“He accepts those only who imitate the excellences which reside in Him, temperance, and justice, and philanthropy, and as many virtues as are peculiar to a God who is called by no proper name.”


“And we have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, create all things out of unformed matter; and if men by their works show themselves worthy of this His design, they are deemed worthy, and so we have received— of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering.”

“And more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in promoting peace, seeing that we hold this view, that it is alike impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and for the virtuous, to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions.”

On Christ as more effective than human law in restraining the natural human inclination towards sin:

“For the restraint which human laws could not effect, the Word, inasmuch as He is divine, would have effected, had not the wicked demons, taking as their ally the lust of wickedness which is in every man, and which draws variously to all manner of vice, scattered many false and profane accusations, none of which attach to us.”


On Hell as a better motivator for good living:

For those who, on account of the laws and punishments you impose, endeavour to escape detection when they offend (and they offend, too, under the impression that it is quite possible to escape your detection, since you are but men), those persons, if they learned and were convinced that nothing, whether actually done or only intended, can escape the knowledge of God, would by all means live decently on account of the penalties threatened, as even you yourselves will admit.


On Christian hope for heavenly kingdom:


“For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.”


On the reasonable nature of Christian belief:


“What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honour that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him. Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed.”


On the changes the gospel brings:

And thus do we also, since our persuasion by the Word, stand aloof from them (i.e., the demons), and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son — we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all. But lest we should seem to be reasoning sophistically, we consider it right, before giving you the promised explanation, to cite a few precepts given by Christ Himself. And be it yours, as powerful rulers, to inquire whether we have been taught and do teach these things truly. Brief and concise utterances fell from Him, for He was no sophist, but His word was the power of God.


On Christianity and Philosophy


“For while we say that all things have been produced and arranged into a world by God, we shall seem to utter the doctrine of Plato; and while we say that there will be a burning up of all, we shall seem to utter the doctrine of the Stoics: and while we affirm that the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence, we shall seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers”


On the “bodily hope” of the new kingdom, and the danger of punishment

For reflect upon the end of each of the preceding kings, how they died the death common to all, which, if it issued in insensibility, would be a godsend to all the wicked. But since sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up (i.e., for the wicked), see that you neglect not to be convinced, and to hold as your belief, that these things are true.

…and what you repute as oracles, both of Amphilochus, Dodana, Pytho, and as many other such as exist; and the opinions of your authors, Empedocles and Pythagoras, Plato and Socrates, and the pit of Homer, and the descent of Ulysses to inspect these things, and all that has been uttered of a like kind. Such favour as you grant to these, grant also to us, who not less but more firmly than they believe in God; since we expect to receive again our own bodies, though they be dead and cast into the earth, for we maintain that with God nothing is impossible.

Church History 101: Justin Martyr on Plato’s debt to Moses

This little chestnut, that Plato owed his ideas about creation and body and soul, and other such things, to Moses crops up heaps in the writings of the church fathers. They seem particularly keen to own elements of Platonism as Christian, from Justin Martyr to Augustine. Here’s Justin Martyr’s version:

“And that you may learn that it was from our teachers— we mean the account given through the prophets— that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials God at first formed the world, spoke thus: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and it was so.” So that both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses. And that which the poets call Erebus, we know was spoken of formerly by Moses.”

Justin Martyr does point out a difference, in a sense, between the Platonist separation of body and soul. He says part of the Christian hope is that we will be reunited with out bodies in the afterlife. That both are immortal.

Church History 101: Justin Martyr on the “No True Christian” fallacy

Justin Martyr was keen for Christianity to be recognise as legal in the empire. But his argument is that Christianity is not criminal, not that no criminals are Christians. In fact, he says some criminals will be Christian (but the Christian bit shouldn’t be a crime). Do you get what I’m saying he’s saying?

“Some have ere now been arrested and convicted as evil-doers. For you condemn many, many a time, after inquiring into the life of each of the accused severally, but not on account of those of whom we have been speaking. And this we acknowledge, that as among the Greeks those who teach such theories as please themselves are all called by the one name “Philosopher,” though their doctrines be diverse, so also among the Barbarians this name on which accusations are accumulated is the common property of those who are and those who seem wise. For all are called Christians. Wherefore we demand that the deeds of all those who are accused to you be judged, in order that each one who is convicted may be punished as an evil-doer, and not as a Christian; and if it is clear that any one is blameless, that he may be acquitted, since by the mere fact of his being a Christian he does no wrong. “

From the First Apology of Justin Martyr

Chuch History 101: Justin Martyr on Christian Atheists

Justin Martyr’s First Apology is one of the primary documents that we looked at this semester. It’s got this great line about Christian atheists. Christians, because they rejected all the Roman Gods, were accused of atheism in the first century. Which, I think, is why I’ve got a bit of patience for the New Atheists – toparaphrase Justin Martyr (and I believe one of the Jensens said something similar a few years ago) – they simply believe in one God fewer than us, but we both reject many gods.

Here’s what Justin Martyr said somewhere around 150 A.D to an emperor and his sons, whom he hoped to convince that Christianity should be legal.

Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.

From this online version of the Apology.

Church History Trading Cards: Irenaeus

Irenaeus studied under Polycarp, and then under Justin Martyr. A pretty enviable education. He rejected the latter’s fusion of philosophy and Christianity.

Despite serving in a church in the Latin West, Irenaeus was a Greek, born in Smyrna, his work was written in Greek, but the originals have been lost and the oldest copies are Latin translations.


His writings have been described as almost unintelligible to the modern reader. Here’s what someone wrote in the introduction to Book 1 of his most famous work, Against Heresies:

“Not a little of what is contained in the following pages will seem almost unintelligible to the English reader. And it is scarcely more comprehensible to those who have pondered long on the original. “

Irenaeus even makes an apology for his own writing in the introduction.

“Thou wilt not expect from me, who am resident among the Keltæ, and am accustomed for the most part to use a barbarous dialect, any display of rhetoric, which I have never learned, or any excellence of composition, which I have never practised, or any beauty and persuasiveness of style, to which I make no pretensions. But thou wilt accept in a kindly spirit what I in a like spirit write to thee simply, truthfully, and in my own homely way; whilst thou thyself (as being more capable than I am) wilt expand those ideas of which I send thee, as it were, only the seminal principles; and in the comprehensiveness of thy understanding, wilt develop to their full extent the points on which I briefly touch, so as to set with power before thy companions those things which I have uttered in weakness. “

He refuted the Gnostics on the basis that the Church had carried true beliefs from the time of Jesus through to his present time, here’s his summary of Christian belief:

“The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it.” – Against Heresies, Book One, Chapter X

Which stands the test of time.

Church History Trading Cards: Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr was another one of those influential early Christian thinkers who came to Christianity from a background in Greek philosophy, and another guy who was deeply influenced by Platonism, but also had sympathy for Stoic philosophies, and went so far as to call Socrates a Christian because of the truths he recognised in Socratic thought. After his conversion he continued wearing his philosopher’s robe, and wandered around the empire teaching, before settling in Rome. He used his knowledge of philosophy as a string in his evangelistic bow, and wrote an apology for Christianity to the Roman Empire seeking to convince Rome to consider its position on the Christian faith more carefully.


From the Introduction to his Apology

Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless. For not only does sound reason direct us to refuse the guidance of those who did or taught anything wrong, but it is incumbent on the lover of truth, by all means, and if death be threatened, even before his own life, to choose to do and say what is right. Do you, then, since ye are called pious and philosophers, guardians of justice and lovers of learning, give good heed, and hearken to my address; and if ye are indeed such, it will be manifested. For we have come, not to flatter you by this writing, nor please you by our address, but to beg that you pass judgment, after an accurate and searching investigation, not flattered by prejudice or by a desire of pleasing superstitious men, nor induced by irrational impulse or evil rumours which have long been prevalent, to give a decision which will prove to be against yourselves. For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us.

He was another famous martyr – beheaded in Rome during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He was born in Judea, but it is likely that his father was a Greek or a Roman.

His writings recognise many of the books in our New Testament as scripture, and his reading of the Old Testament was influenced by the way the New Testament authors used it to point to Jesus as fulfillment, and by his Stoic predisposition for allegory.

There are some links to a few good articles about Justin Martyr here, and you can read his Apology and other writings here (though it’s in a slightly clunky form presented section by section on separate pages) unless you download this PDF of primary documents of the church fathers (including Justin Martyr) from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Church History 101: Robyn’s Guide To Gnosticism

I don’t want to present Robyn as an expert on heresy… but here’s her third guide to the heresies of the early church…

If you want a proper summary of Gnosticism I suggest you read this article from the online dictionary of philosophy, before reading the wikipedia entry, and then dismiss anything that isn’t also in the textbook.

Church History 101: Robyn’s Guide to Marcionism

Marcionism, the heresy coined by Marcion, holds the dubious honour of being the first heresy identified as such by the church proper. Here’s Robyn’s guide to Marcionism:

Marcion also tossed out the Jewish Scriptures and most of the New. He went with ten chapters of Luke (that he’d edited) and ten of Paul’s epistles.

Some people think Marcionism is similar to Gnosticisim. It really wasn’t. The Gnostics were all about their “secret knowledge” while Marcionism based knowledge on Marcion’s canon. Which prompted the creation of the actual canon.

Marcionisms view of Christ was “docetic” – it denied the humanity of Jesus (and thus denied the Demiurge’s role in the make up of Jesus (the Demiurge was what Marcion called the God of the Old Testament – who he thought existed, but was evil). The Gnostics believed in this Demiurge, but also believed that Jesus was fully human.

In his favour, at least according to Origen, he ruled out the allegorical interpretations favoured by guys like Clement and Augustine, who essentially had the same issues with the Old Testament picture of God (before they allegorised their worries away). Tertullian reckons he was open to allegorical interpretations that suited him.

A guy named Robert Price reckons Marcion was the first to collect Paul’s epistles. This is because Robert Price is an idiot who thinks that Luke, Timothy and Onesimus are fictional characters. And doesn’t think most of the books of the New Testament were written until the second century (if that’s the case you’ve got to wonder why there’s no mention of the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. And why Acts ends where it does. And why John’s letters claim to be written by an eyewitness to Jesus ministry. Yeah. They must have been lying and ignoring some really compelling fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy about the future of the temple, and forgetting that first century philosophical biographies (which Luke-Acts appears to be similar in genre to) normally ended with, or recounted, the death of the person they were writing about.

Church History Trading Cards: Clement of Alexandria

Clement was basically the proto-Augustine. Or, you could argue that he followed in Justin Martyr’s footsteps (and his omission from this series thus far will soon be rectified), and that Justin Martyr was the proto-Augustine. Basically his way of thinking and approaching the Greek school of philosophy was pretty similar to Augustine’s approach, and he, like Justin Martyr before him, and Augustine after him (and also like Philo before Justin) claimed that Plato had plagiarised Moses.

He knew Greek philosophy pretty well, and he sought to integrate it into his preaching of the gospel to a pretty educated audience in Alexandria. A city famous for being well educated and culturally sophisticated. Apollos (as in the Apollos of the Bible, as in “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos” also came from Alexandria).

Clement was a vegetarian, and like most vegetarians he had a moral superiority complex so he assumed that Jesus was a vegetarian too. I reckon Jesus hated vegetables, which is why he cursed the fig tree and hung out with fishermen.

Clement liked Plato, and he also liked Pythagoras. Who was the Pythagoras. The c2=a2 + b2 guy who figured out triangles and invented the self-draining siphon cup to play practical jokes on his greedy friends. Pythagoras was from Samos. The whole point of that paragraph was so that I could post this photo of a triangle in Samos.


From Samos

Clement wrote some pretty cool stuff too. Like everybody else who is famous from back then.

There are some good Clement resources here. And you can read his Exhortation here.

I like the motif he uses for the Gospel, that it’s a song that brings life to stone. He intertwines his systematic introduction to the gospel and appeal for conversion with the Bible in a fairly cohesive way – and he intersects that with Greek mythology and theology. He, like Augustine, was a little prone to allegory. Here are some highlights.

The silly are stocks and stones, and still more senseless than stones is a man who is steeped in ignorance. As our witness, let us adduce the voice of prophecy accordant with truth, and bewailing those who are crushed in ignorance and folly: “For God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham;” and He, commiserating their great ignorance and hardness of heart who are petrified against the truth, has raised up a seed of piety, sensitive to virtue, of those stones–of the nations, that is, who trusted in stones. Again, therefore, some venomous and false hypocrites, who plotted against righteousness, He once called “a brood of vipers.” But if one of those serpents even is willing to repent, and follows the Word, he becomes a man of God.

Others he figuratively calls wolves, clothed in sheep-skins, meaning thereby monsters of rapacity in human form. And so all such most savage beasts, and all such blocks of stone, the celestial song has transformed into tractable men. “For even we ourselves were sometime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” Thus speaks the apostolic Scripture: “But after that the kindness and love of God our saviour to man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.”

Wisdom, the celestial Word, is the all-harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God. What, then, does this instrument–the Word of God, the Lord, the New Song–desire? To open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf, and to lead the lame or the erring to righteousness, to exhibit God to the foolish, to put a stop to corruption, to conquer death, to reconcile disobedient children to their father. The instrument of God loves mankind. The Lord pities, instructs, exhorts, admonishes, saves, shields, and of His bounty promises us the kingdom of heaven as a reward for learning; and the only advantage He reaps is, that we are saved. For wickedness feeds on men’s destruction; but truth, like the bee, harming nothing, delights only in the salvation of men.

Behold the might of the new song! It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts. Those, moreover, that were as dead, not being partakers of the true life, have come to life again, simply by becoming listeners to this song. It also composed the universe into melodious order, and tuned the discord of the elements to harmonious arrangement, so that the whole world might become harmony. It let loose the fluid ocean, and yet has prevented it from encroaching on the land. The earth, again, which had been in a state of commotion, it has established, and fixed the sea as its boundary. The violence of fire it has softened by the atmosphere, as the Dorian is blended with the Lydian strain; and the harsh cold of the air it has moderated by the embrace of fire, harmoniously arranging these the extreme tones of the universe. And this deathless strain,the support of the whole and the harmony of all,–reaching from the centre to the circumference, and from the extremities to the central part, has harmonized this universal frame of things, not according to the Thracian music, which is like that invented by Jubal, but according to the paternal counsel of God, which fired the zeal of David.

This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning, and before the beginning. The Saviour, who existed before, has in recent days appeared. He, who is in Him that truly is, has appeared; for the Word, who “was with God,” and by whom all things were created, has appeared as our Teacher. The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends. He did not now for the first time pity us for our error; but He pitied us from the first, from the beginning. But now, at His appearance, lost as we already were, He accomplished our salvation. For that wicked reptile monster, by his enchantments, enslaves and plagues men even till now; inflicting, as seems to me, such barbarous vengeance on them as those who are said to bind the captives to corpses till they rot together. This wicked tyrant and serpent, accordingly, binding fast with the miserable chain of superstition whomsoever he can draw to his side from their birth, to stones, and stocks, and images, and such like idols, may with truth be said to have taken and buried living men with those dead idols, till both suffer corruption together.

I also like his exhortation to renounce pagan customs and turn to God…

“Let us then avoid custom as we would a dangerous headland, or the threatening Charybdis, or the mythic sirens. It chokes man, turns him away from truth, leads him away from life: custom is a snare, a gulf, a pit, a mischievous winnowing fan.”

Starting by presenting a call from Jesus:

This am I, this God wills, this is symphony, this the harmony of the Father, this is the Son, this is Christ, this the Word of God, the arm of the Lord, the power of the universe, the will of the Father; of which things there were images of old, but not all adequate. I desire to restore you according to the original model, that ye may become also like Me. I anoint you with the ungent of faith, by which you throw off corrup tion, and show you the naked form of righteousness by which you ascend to God. Come to Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.

And then his response:

Let us haste, let us run, my fellowmen–us, who are God-loving and God-like images of the Word. Let us haste, let us run, let us take His yoke, let us receive, to conduct us to immortality, the good charioteer of men. Let us love Christ. He led the colt with its parent; and having yoked the team of humanity to God, directs His chariot to immortality, hastening clearly to fulfil, by driving now into heaven, what He shadowed forth before by riding into Jerusalem. A spectacle most beautiful to the Father is the eternal Son crowned with victory. Let us aspire, then, after what is good; let us become God-loving men, and obtain the greatest of all things which are incapable of being harmed–God and life. Our helper is the Word; let us put confidence in Him; and never let us be visited with such a craving for silver and gold, and glory, as for the Word of truth Himself. For it will not, it will not be pleasing to God Himself if we value least those things which are worth most, and hold in the highest estimation the manifest enormities and the utter impiety of folly, and ignorance, and thoughtlessness, and idolatry. For not improperly the sons of the philosophers consider that the foolish are guilty of profanity and impiety in whatever they do; and describing ignorance itself as a species of madness, allege that the multitude are nothing but madmen. There is therefore no room to doubt, the Word will say, whether it is better to be sane or insane; but holding on to truth with our teeth, we must with all our might follow God, and in the exercise of wisdom regard all things to be, as they are, His; and besides, having learned that we are the most excellent of His possessions, let us commit ourselves to God, loving the Lord God, and regarding this as our business all our life long.