When slippery slopes attack: why abortion is intellectually untenable

I’m not a single issue voter. And I recognise that abortion is a hot-button issue where different worldviews can produce divergent results.

Maybe I feel more strongly about this now that I’m a father, and that I’ve had the experience of watching, via ultrasound, and feeling, via my hands, the development of a baby in the womb. Maybe it’s the experience of watching my daughter’s eyes take in the world around her for the first time… but some recent Australian developments around the issue of terminating pregnancies just makes me sick about the callous nature of modern life.

It makes me despair about the kind of world my daughter will grow up in – where the implications of moving away from a Christian view of human life will start to be truly felt. If we are just a sack of cells, with nothing to distinguish us from the animals, then everything is fair game. There are no checks and balances. No cohesive account of why life is important. Harm based accounts of ethical behaviour are so very arbitrary and will always be decided by the subjective interests of the powerful, or the majority.

As it currently stand there’s such a mish-mash of values being thrown into the moral/ethical/legal pot that something’s got to give. Holding a consistent position beyond valuing all life (or seeing all human life as representing God’s image) just throws multiple spanners into the works. I’ll get to a solution, of sorts, later. Well. I’ll rehash a solution that I’ve posted once before…

Anyway. Here’s a selection of situations in Australia that have prompted my ire.

First, Western Australia is set to join Queensland, in affirming that a wanted fetus is a human.

“Attorney-General Christian Porter is drafting the new laws and will introduce them into State Parliament later this year.

Under present laws, an unborn baby has no legal status and is not recognised by the courts.

But Mr Porter said the new fetal homicide laws would create a new criminal code offence of causing death or grievous bodily harm to an unborn child.

Based on a law already in force in Queensland, it would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Offenders who kill or intend to kill an unborn baby by assaulting a mother will face mandatory life imprisonment – the same as a murder charge in all but exceptional circumstances.”

But here’s the kicker.

“He said he intended to consult further with the groups about the Government’s reforms in the coming weeks, but confirmed the legislation would not in any way affect the law relating to abortion in WA.

“The proposed legislation will be drafted to require an unlawful act to be done to the mother before any penalty can apply,” Mr Porter said. “This ensures these changes will not affect a mother’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy.”

There would be no limit on when an unborn baby was considered to be a human life.”

Here’s the story.

So that’s clearly a little inconsistent. And elevates wantedness to incredible significance when it comes to personhood. Which is just bizarre.

But there’s a precedent at play here in recent Australian history – there was a massive public outcry, which highlighted this inconsistency, when a Melbourne hospital terminated the wrong twin in a bungled abortion last year. Again – the unwanted twin was disabled, and would most likely have not lived long, or have been a burden, on the parents. So “wantedness” became the factor by which a decision about the personhood of this twin was essentially made.

Now here’s the icing on the cake. For years. Pro-life, or anti-abortion, activists have been employing a potentially fallacious slippery slope argument against allowing any abortion. Suggesting that once you allow abortion, to be consistent, you should allow the termination of a newborn baby. Because drawing the line at birth is arbitrary. It’s becoming increasingly arbitrary as the miracles of modern medicine mean the viability date for fetus outside the womb is an increasingly early thing.

Most reasonable thinkers have cautioned this kind of argument as being logically incoherent. In the absence of actual evidence of a slippery slope, these arguments are basically setting up a straw man position and not engaging with your opponents with respect.

But now. The slippery slope has been pointed to by a couple of Australian academics. Ethicists. Who recognise that it is incredibly inconsistent to draw a line under a person’s personhood at birth. They’ve argued, in an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics (PDF), that post birth problem children, who represent an unwanted burden for their parents, should also be terminated. Because they are not morally sentient beings, so therefore not people.

After arguing that children with certain pathologies that would limit a normal life, a reason that would normally constitute grounds for abortion, should also be legitimately terminated after birth, these ethicists go on to suggest that though children with conditions like Down Syndrome can be said to be “happy” – they may present an unfair burden on the parents (the idea that life is to be “fair” is based on some questionable presuppositions).

“Nonetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion.

Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”

This seems like a horrible satire. But it’s published in a legitimate journal.

Lest we be mistaken about what they’re arguing for:

“Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where
abortion would be”

It goes down hill from there…

“Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.”

Here’s where they try to draw a line to define personhood.

“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this
existence represents a loss to her.”

Now. I’m no published ethicist. But having a newborn baby in the house gives me a little bit of perspective on this. My baby, who is two months old, cries when she is hungry. She has done since birth. She stops crying when she is fed. At this point I would argue that her cries are indicative of a desire to keep on living, via being fed. I don’t know how one could establish a definitive sense of loss short of asking the person – which would rule out personhood until a baby is old enough to comprehend his or her existence.

At this point we start to see the problem with a general social shift away from a Christian anthropology. A view that people are special because they are created different to the rest of the animals.

“This means that many nonhuman animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.”

So you can’t kill a functional monkey. But you can kill a disabled baby. The logic here is so thoroughly inconsistent it is staggering.

In applying the logic to themselves – the authors of this study suggest that potentiality is not a valid consideration. You can’t say “well that baby or fetus would have become like us” – because once the decision is made, it’s a moot point.

“If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were fetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist (the ‘us’ whom you are asking the question), which means no one. And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.”

This is where harm based metaethics fall apart. Who decides and defines harm if not the powerful?

The worst bit, I think, is that they rule out adoption as an option – because adoption may cause future psychological harm to the mother, where the decision to coldly and callously end the life of the child will not. In their logic. This is “potential harm” based on some studies done somewhere. Somehow that is more legitimate than speculating about the effect of terminating a living baby on the mother’s emotional well being.

“Accordingly, healthy and potentially happy people should be given up for adoption if the family cannot raise them up. Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone’s right but possibly increase the happiness of people involved (adopters and adoptee)?

Our reply is the following. We have previously discussed the argument from potentiality, showing that it is not strong enough to outweigh the consideration of the interests of actual people. Indeed, however weak the interests of actual people can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people to become actual ones, because this latter interest…

…On this perspective, the interests of the actual people involved matter, and among these interests, we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption. Birthmothers are often reported to experience serious psychological problems due to the inability to elaborate their loss and to cope with their grief.

It is true that grief and sense of loss may accompany both abortion and after-birth abortion as well as adoption, but we cannot assume that for the birthmother the latter is the least traumatic. For example, ‘those who grieve a death must accept the irreversibility of the loss, but natural mothers often dream that their child will return to them. This makes it difficult to accept the reality of the loss because they can never be quite sure whether or not it is irreversible.”

One thing you can be sure of is that terminating the life of a child is irreversible. Another thing you can be sure of is that this article won’t be all that palatable with doctors who have to consider the prospect of ending a viable baby’s life (the Hypocratic Oath would seem to prevent such action). But really – the foundational truth here is that once you move away from viewing all human life as carrying the image of God – which is one of the fundamentally important points of Genesis 1 and 2, ignoring questions of science, you don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to coherently describing why human life is a good thing, and why it should be protected.

While this will be a minority voice at the table when it comes to setting of policies regarding the rights of a fetus – legislation that is very much on the table particularly in the case of Western Australia… one of the things we, as a church, can and should be doing in Australia is speaking out and saying that we do want these children.

Adoption is a policy solution. Especially if we, as Christians who believe in reconciliation, offer mothers the chance to be involved in their children’s lives – a form of reversible adoption. I think what we should be campaigning for, every time we open our mouths about abortion, is a changing of Australia’s horrendously complex adoption laws. This means being radically prepared to add additional mouths at the table in our family homes. But wow. If infanticide is the alternative – which is a label the authors of this ethics paper tried hard to avoid. Then it is part of the Christian witness to step in and uphold the value of life. Doing that was a driver of change in the Roman Empire – where infanticide was a common practice. Unwanted babies were exposed. Left to die. And the church started collecting them. Caring for them. And challenging the established practice.

Here’s a letter from a travelling father to a mother:

“”Know that I am still in Alexandria…. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it.””

Here’s Justin Martyr on the practice of discarding, or exposing, children and the church’s rejection of it (which often took the form of rescuing exposed children lest they end up in lives of prostitution.:

“But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution…

And again [we fear to expose children], lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers.”

And perhaps my favourite, Tertullian, responding to claims that Christian rites involved child sacrifice (which they didn’t).

“But in regard to child murder, as it does not matter whether it is committed for a sacred object, or merely at one’s own self-impulse—although there is a great difference, as we have said, between parricide and homicide—I shall turn to the people generally. How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood,—how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death? As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword. In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth…

You first of all expose your children, that they may be taken up by any compassionate passer-by, to whom they are quite unknown; or you give them away, to be adopted by those who will do better to them the part of parents.”

There’s nothing new under the sun. This sort of callous disregard for human life was something best left in the past, and part of the church’s heritage it should be proud of. And embrace. A cursory glance at Wikipedia’s infanticide article demonstrates the pivotal role we played, through embracing unwanted children, in changing the way western society viewed life. We can do it again. And we should.

The other compelling Christian factor in this argument is that the gospel brings a message of wantedness not just to the discarded or “unwanted” child, but to the mother as well. We value people because Jesus valued us. And because God not only implanted his image in humanity, but calls humans to be his people. We’re adopted into his family. We are wanted by God. That’s the essence of a Biblical anthropology, and its a reality which is heightened for the Christian. Which gives us a precedent to follow, and provides a mandate for us to love and seek the unwanted. This, I think, is the most compelling anthropology going round, and it makes sense of life from conception to death. It only really competes with the view put forward by these ethicists – because they’re right. This is the natural outcome of viewing humanity as a fleshy sack of bones and organs. Only these two options have any sense of cohesion.

That is all.

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 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 Christian Practice – Baptism, the Eucharist, and Sunday gatherings

Justin Martyr provides a bit of a look into how things were done in church in the 150s, and gives his views about what’s going on in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Views that have always been hotly debated (and have since spawned different denominations).

Some modern scholars have suggested the gospels weren’t written until the mid second century. But you can see from the bit on Baptism (where he quotes John) and the bit on the Eucharist (where he quotes Luke, and refers to the gospels) that that’s a bit bollocks.

Baptism
He starts with Baptism, which he treats as a dedication that comes after being made new through Christ, that does have some part in the remission of sins – a pretty confusing view that’s not quite Biblical.

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Isaiah the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness.

And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.

Then he talks about the church service that occurs around a baptism, which leads to a discussion on the Eucharist…

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

The Eucharist
Justin believes Christ is physically present in the elements of the Eucharist, another pretty hotly contested subject that marks a distinction between Catholics and Lutherans (who agree), and other protestants. I’ll get to learn about that later, but since the Reformation I think you basically have to choose between Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. And Calvin is always right. Because I’m a Presbyterian.

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone.

The Weekly Gatherings (on Sunday).
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

From this online copy of the First Apology of Justin Martyr.

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: 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.