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 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 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.

Church History Trading Cards: Tertullian

Tertullian is one of my favourite, if not my favourite writers from early church history. He writes acerbically with wit and biting sarcasm. There’s just something that resonates with me about the good guys from the Latin West (Augustine is cool too). Tertullian’s Apology is a must read. Check out the Tertullian Project for a batch of Tertullian flavoured resources.

Legend: L = Latin West, A = Apologist, Scroll = Author of primary documents you should read, Thumbs up = Theologically sound (mostly), Thumbs Down = Became a Montanist (which actually stopped him becoming a Catholic Saint, so it might have been worth it).

Here’s a sample from the Apology:

On the Legal Process for charges against Christians

“BUT if it is resolved we must be guilty, pray what is your reason for treating us differently from other criminals ? For it is a rule in law that where the case is the same, there the procedure of court ought to be the same also. But when we and heathens are impeached upon the same articles, the heathen shall be allowed the privilege of the council, and of pleading in person for setting off his innocence, it being against law to proceed to sentence before the defendant has put in his answer; but a Christian is permitted nothing, not to speak what is necessary, either to justify his cause, defend the truth, or prevent the injustice of his judges. On the contrary, nothing is attended to in his trial, but how to inflame the mob, and therefore the question is about his name only, and not the nature of his crime : whereas if you sit in judgment upon another criminal, and he pleads guilty to the indictment, suppose of homicide, sacrilege, incest, or rebellion (to instance the common
heads of your libels against us), upon such confession, I say, it is not your method forthwith to proceed to sentence, but you have patience to examine the nature of the fact in all its circumstances, viz.—the place, the time, the manner, and the accomplices of the action: but in the trial of a Christian, all these forms of justice are overruled.

On the foundation of Common Charges against Christians

…you ought on both sides to be equally severe in the examination of fact, and see to the bottom of those reports, so frequently and so falsely thrust upon us. For instance, to bring in a true list of how many infants every Christian has killed and eaten, what incests committed in the dark, what cooks we had for the dressing these children’s flesh, and what pimping dogs for putting out the candles.

On the response to changes wrought in people’s lives when they become Christians

Thus indeed they praise what they know, but vilify what they know not; they blot the fairest examples of virtue shining in their very eyes, because of a religion they are entirely in the dark about; whereas certainly, by all the rules of reason, we ought to judge of the nature of causes we see not, by the effects we see, and not pre-condemn apparent goodness for principles we understand not. Others, discoursing of some persons, whom they knew to be vagrants, and infamously lewd before they came over to our religion, drop their praises upon them in such a manner, that they stigmatize them with their very compliments; so darkened are they with prejudice that they blunder into the commendation of the thing they would condemn. For (say they) how wanton, and how witty was such a woman ! how amorous and frolicsome was such a young gentleman ! but now they are Christians : thus undesignedly they fix the amendment of their lives upon the alteration of their religion.

On the New Atheists (before they were even invented):

Some others are arrived to that pitch of aversion to the very name of Christian, that they seem to have entered into covenant with hatred, and bargained to gratify this passion at the expense of all the satisfactions of human life, acquiescing in the grossest of injuries rather than the hated thing of Christian should come within their doors.

On the Meaning of the word Christian

“But Christians is a Greek word, and means nothing more than a disciple of Christ, which by interpretation is the Anointed; and when you misname it Chrestian1 (for so far are you from understanding our religion, that as yet you know not our true name), even then it implies nothing worse than a benignity and sweetness of temper; thus outrageous are you at the sound of a name as inoffensive and harmless as those who bear it. But do men use to let loose their passions at this rate against any sect merely from the name of its founder ? Is it a new thing for scholars to be named from their masters? Is it not from hence that philosophers are called Platonists, Epicureans, Pythagoreans, etc.?”

Church History Trading Cards: Marcion the Heretic

Marcion holds the honour of being the first person named and shamed by the church as a heretic. It was after Marcion that heresy hunting became a fun bloodsport for Christian writers and thinkers.

He couldn’t figure out how the Old Testament and New Testament could be reconciled (much like today’s atheists) so he decided to throw away the Old Testament, only accept Luke’s Gospel, and the writings of Paul, and believe in two Gods, the good one of the New Testament, and the Bad “Demiurge” of the old. This prompted a bit of an outcry (the guy was earlier excommunicated by his bishop, who happened to be his father), and Tertullian famously wrote a bunch of books addressing his heresies (you can read them online here). His description of Marcion’s home region, in volume I, and then his statement that as bad as it is, Marcion is the worst thing about it, is a beautiful piece of ad hominem polemic.

Marcion’s heretical understanding of Scripture also proved the catalyst for putting together a formal canon. So that’s another silver lining.

Key: The Spartan Helment – Marcion was from the Greek East, the Thumbs Down – Marcion was a heretic.

Church History Trading Card: Polycarp

Polycarp was a cool dude. The Martyrdom of Polycarp is all about his death. Which is legendarily legendary. The document is a bit effusive in its praise of Polycarp – but it had to combat the way Polycarp was viewed by his contemporaries from around the Roman Empire. Martyrdom, death at the hands of the Roman Empire as a criminal, was pretty shameful – so the document is designed to rebrand Polycarp’s sacrifice as Christ like. A guy named Leonard Thompson wrote a good article about why the Martyrdom of Polycarp is written like it is – its helpful in placing the document in its literary and historical context. Thompson’s article is called ‘The Martyrdom of Polycarp: Death in the Roman Games,’ and it is available on EBSCOHost if you’re a QTC student.

Legend: The Greek helmet means he’s from the Greek East, the cross that he was martyred, the scroll that there’s a primary document about him in our reading list and the thumbs up because he was a good guy.

Church History Trading Cards

Sitting in church history today trying to grapple with the different figures from the early centuries of the church I thought “wouldn’t it be great to have trading cards of figures in church history” I was all set to start blogging them in the lead up to exams, when I decided to google it. It seems someone else has had the idea and is going to actually produce them. They’re doing theologians more broadly.

But I will not be deterred. So coming soon, in the spirit of Ben’s Jane Ayre trading cards, will be the St. Eutychus (and Andrew Bain) guide to historical figures. I’m also going to venn diagram heretical views of the trinity. Because everybody likes a good Venn diagram.