RELIGIOUS HISTORY OF EUROPE TO 1500
The Post-Apostolic Period to 193 A.D. - The Christian Synagogue - Introduction Between 60-72 A.D. the church faced a series of crises. In 62 A.D. James was judicially murdered by the Sadducean high priesthood, and then in 66 came the great Jewish revolt. Titus conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., after which the Jewish people turned to the Pharisees, the traditional upholders of religion and nationality. The successions of bishops in Jerusalem were relatively unimportant, and none could rival Rabbis Johanan ben Zakkai, Gamaliel II and Akiba. As a result, Christianity from 70 to 135 A.D. became a religion based largely on the geography and organization of the Hellenistic synagogue, and in this form started its long challenge to the Greco-Roman world.
Features Despite the difficulties of understanding the church in this period, certain features emerge. First, the life, thought and organization of the church can be understood only within the framework of Hellenistic Judaism. The question Christians posed to outsiders, then, was were they the true Israel, bearers of the new covenant, the holy Remnant, or were they rebels and outsiders? Second, as a corollary to this controversy, the expansion of the church was accompanied by counterattacks by orthodox Jews and a pro-Jewish party within the church that left their mark in some of the post-apostolic writings. In short, Jews and Christians were rivals for proselytes in the Gentile world. Third, in the large but disconnected areas where Christianity took root there were disagreements over organization and interpretation of belief. Finally, despite the introspective tendencies of Christianity, Christians slowly but perceptibly impinged upon the life of the empire and come to the notice of the authorities independently of Judaism.
Literature During the 70-135 period several post-Apostolic texts were completed, including the Gospel of Thomas, Didache, I & II Clement, and the Letters of Ignatius, the Letters of Polycarp to the Philippians and the Letters of Barnabas. The churches of the period to which much of the literature was addressed still were regarded as synagogues, whose members prayed three times a day and fasted twice a week. They professed monotheism on the same terms as the Jews, used Hebrew Scriptures and took for granted the messianism, the eschatology and ethics of Judaism for granted. They often continued to think and argue like Jewish counterparts. I Clement, for example, contains "haggadah" on Adam and his sons, and Barnabas, although violently anti-Jewish, advances the case for the messiahship of Jesus in the same way, as a rabbi would have done. The author divided his tract into "haggadah" and "halaka" and included a commentary on the "Two Ways of Light and Darkness," just as one finds in the Jewish Ethiopian book of Enoch and in the sectarian literature of Qumran.
Jewish Christianity To some extent, then, the debate over the importance of "Jewish" Christianity in the post-Apostolic period is misconceived, because all Christianity at this time is "Jewish Christianity." However, the church was "Israel" with a difference. No Jew could have accepted Jesus Christ as "God," but we find in II Clement and the Letters of Ignatius permeated by clear claims that Jesus Christ was "God, as of the Judge of the living and the dead." Second, although Christians expected signs and wonders to herald the return of the Messiah, as did the Jews, it was Jesus Christ whom they awaited. For Christians the New Covenant with Israel and Judah foretold in Jer. 31:31-34 was in force and vastly superior to the old according to the letter to the Hebrews. One can also sense among Christians a spirit of liberation from the law, particular in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, where following a long "haggadah" on faith the writer contrasts the experiences of the Israelites under Mosaic leader-ship with "Mount Zion . . . heavenly Jerusalem . . . innumerable angles" and so forth. This New Covenant was based on the "sprinkled blood" of a sacrifice better than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:18-25). This was an astounding claim, for all examples of righteousness in Israel's salvation history led back to Abel. To tell the philosophic but profoundly patriotic and traditional Jews who read 4 Maccabees that Jesus' sacrifice was infinitely greater than Abel's and ensured the worshiper confidence to enter God's presence (Heb. 10:19) was to challenge orthodox Judaism and provoke swift reaction.
A Clear Break About 100 A.D. the issues between Jews and Christians became more clear-cut. After this time Christians less frequently claimed to be Israel and instead contrasted Christianity and Judaism as separate religions with Christianity as the heir to the universalistic claims of Judaism. This is especially evident in Ignatius's Letters who rejected any identification between the church and Judaism. Yet, it is evident in Ignatius's works that there was a good deal of fluidity between Jewish and Christian communities in Antioch and in the cities of Asia. The climax was Marcion cutting the Gordian knot and denying the relevance of the Old Testament to Jesus' saving work.
The Christian Mission While in the 70-135 period Judaism made a last great but ultimately unsuccessful effort to proselytize the Greco-Roman world, its Christian rival consolidated and moved it program forward. The details of this advance, however, are somewhat obscure. Apparently, Christianity moved to Bithynia-Pontus on the Black Sea coast, for Marcion's father was a "bishop" in the area around 85-95 A.D., which suggests that Christianity moved within and from the radius of Paul's work in Asia Minor. This province emerged as the area where Christianity was the strongest with Ephesus as its center. With the passing of the Apostle John, a final survivor of the Pauline era, the church faced a question: would it settle down as a messianic and mildly reforming movement on the fringes of Judaism content with its existing membership? or would it continue the urgency of Paul and attempt to convince the pagan world that Christianity offered the sole means of salvation? In addition there was a growing rift between those who still expected Christ to return at any moment and those who ceased to believe in that coming at all. Ignatius declared in The Letter to the Ephesians 11.1 that "these are the last times" meaning the second coming was desperately close. The condemnations issued in Revelation 1:4-3:22 show there was foot dragging, apathy, slackness and factional feuding. Further, while the surviving writings of the period picture that faith as surviving in small self-contained and socially stable spiritual communities, we know nonetheless that the Church did advance into areas formerly untouched.
For example, in Syria Antioch became a Christian center. Ignatius claimed to be the third Antiocheen bishop. Christianity moved from there to Edessa, and then by caravan routes to Parthia and into the Jewish-Parthian state of Adiabene. Egypt--There were Christian communities in Egypt before 135 A.D. but practically nothing is known of the details or organization. The Gospel of John circulated there during the reign of Hadrian (117-38 A.D.). Christianity there seems to have developed in several directions with an attempt at philosophical accommodation with Platonism following the example of Philo; and there was a Christian-rabbinic element seemingly in the background of the virulent anti-Jewish rhetoric of Barnabas; and third some Jewish-Christian sects represented by the writer of the Gospel of Egyptians mentioned by Clement of Alexandria and some scraps of the Shepherd of Hermas discovered in a second-century setting in the Fayum. Rome--Rome began to emerge as a leading Christian center. I Clement indicates there were multiple elders in the church rather than a single head, and Hermas suggests that the Roman elders had different tasks with some in charge of hospitality and others charitable works. Italy--Hebrews 13:24 indicates there were Christian communities in Italy as early as 80 A.D. There were Christians in Puteoli and perhaps in Pompeii although that is a matter of debate.
Church and Society Not much is known about the social level and outlook of these early congregations. Except in eastern Syria and Edessa, they were Greek-speaking, although Aramaic works survived in the liturgy, and Greek would remain a binding force in eastern Christianity for centuries. In theory post-Apostolic Christianity contained revolutionary implications, especially in the denunciations of the rich merchants in Rev. 18:11-19, the evident poverty of the church addressed by James and their envy of the wealthy (James 2:2) and Papias's claim as a diligent collector of the sayings of Jesus that Jesus expected social upheaval in society. By implication and attitude, Christianity in this period seemed to conflict with the standard values of the rulers of the Roman Empire and many of its inhabi-tants. It was a poor man's dream. In practice, however, the church was far from being a subversive cult. The church flourished principally in urban areas and enjoyed the real advantages of such circumstances. Within the towns the faith began to attract a number of wealthy converts. Codes of conduct for this period are summed up in Hermas: minister to widows, look after orphans and the destitute . . . be hospitable, . . . practice justice . . . do not oppress poor debtors. Regarding slavery, Ignatius of Antioch urged Polycarp "not to be haughty to slaves," and slaves were to endure slavery "to the glory of God."
Sound Doctrine and Its Opponents What moved the church forward at this time was the lordship of Jesus, His approaching coming, the overthrow of Satan's kingdom and the establishment of a "city to come" (Heb. 13:14). They were a vital part of Christ-ian preaching. The church operated under assumptions made explicit in the Pauline epistles. There was one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Eph. 4:5). Further, there was a "pattern of sound words" (I Tim. 1:19-20) to be followed. So ideally, there was a single faith and an ordered church government. In Polycarp's Smyrna and the Rome of I Clement the admonitions in the Pastoral Epistles regarding the conduct of bishops, the deportment of widows and consideration to be shown to the elderly were still invoked a century later. It appears, then, from Polycarp's Phillippains, II Clement, and Ignatius Christianity was defined by the contents of the Gospels and the Pauline letters. This formed the tradition of the post-Apostolic church. The Law, however, had no binding force, and the OT served merely to confirm the message of the NT. The Christian Scriptures were quoted with such familiarity that it seems they had been in regular use for a long time, so that it is difficult to place the date of the Pauline epistles or the gospels much beyond 80 A.D.
Other Components of "Normative Christianity" In addition to the Gospels and the Pauline material a third source of normative Christianity surfaced. It was a distinct interpretation, a Christian interpretation, of Isaiah, the Wisdom literature, and inter-testamental literature. They had an enormous influence over subsequent Christianity. Throughout the range of Christianity communities there is a ubiquitous exhortation on the moral obligations of the faith set down in exhortatory tones that strongly resemble Proverbs or Ecclesiasticus. In sentiment it was optimistic and viewed the church as a force for order, stability and harmony with little recognition or pressing expectation of coming doom. This third source also viewed Jesus Christ from the standpoint of the messianic prophecies of Isaiah, a view found in I Clement and the Didache.
"Normative Faith" Thus, by 100 A.D. "normative Christianity" had emerged as a distinctive religion in the general cultural framework of Hellenistic Judaism. A body of teaching had been established to which appeal could be made for truth and behavior. Its authenticity was guaranteed by appeal to Christ and the Apostles. Geographically, its strength was in the main seaport towns of the eastern Mediterranean where communications were relatively swift, and in cities such as Phillip that were situated on the main trunk lines of the Empire. Challenges to the faith came from now-dominant Pharisaism in Judaism, and from ideas circulating on the fringes of the Christian community that sought to diminish the humanity of Jesus (Docetism) and to water down the ethical demands of the church. This was known as libertinism or antinomianism. And generally deviation in morals was associated with deviation in doctrine.
Ministry All surviving documents of the post-Apostolic period assume the existence of "bishops, presbyters and deacons," and a regular ministry in which these officers play a part. Ignatius, and less explicitly Polycarp, saw a firm connection between orthodox Christian belief and this sort of orthodox Christian organization, liturgy and conduct. Ignatius posited a mystical connection between Christian bishops and the heavenly high priest, in which the bishop was the essential link between the Christian community and the Lord. Elsewhere, records of the period see two types of ministry left over from Paul's missionary journeys: residential and itinerant ministry. The resident ministers were presbyter-bishops with allotted functions such as teaching and liturgy. As one approaches 100 A.D. the itinerants die off, and the dominant officers are residential bishops such as Polycarp at Smyrna. His congregation had a neatly graded hierarchy centered upon himself with presbyters, deacons, widows and "young men" with their respective duties below him. Why did this happen? All communities witness the emergence of leaders. They were necessary in the church to refute heresy and to administer discipline. And in some quarters, as seen in the Didache, in the Eucharist was the moment when the Lord came and "this world pass away." The celebrant had to be someone in a position of representation between the faithful to Christ and Christ. And there was the tradition of Ignatius of Antioch who grounded his office on his identification with Christ's high priestly duties. Again, it was the Eucharist that provides common ground with Asian Christians. There could be no valid Eucharist, according to Ignatius, without a bishop's authorization, and since bishops were above presbyters and deacons in fulfilling this sacred task, the bishop deserved special honor for being able and qualified to perform this duty.
The Liturgy Literature of this period also speaks of Christian worship, mentioning specifically baptism, the Eucharist and prayer three times a day. Baptism, according to the Didache, "sealed" a convert in his faith, just as a Jewish proselyte was sealed by circumcision. The convert went into the water "dead" and came out "alive," having been mystically identified with Christ. The weekly Eucharist and love feast were reserved for baptized Christians, and the prayers probably followed the pat-tern of the synagogue Sabbath liturgy. Perhaps the formula given in Rev. 1:5-6 indicates that the primary purpose of the Eucharist was to give praise to God and to express thanksgiving. Pliny's letter to Trajan about Bithynian Christians in 112 A.D. indicates that local Christians meet "on a fixed day before daylight," sang psalms or a hymn, read Scripture, and then after dispersal and reassembly took part in a fellowship meal or agape. Thus, church order in the post-Apostolic period, though in form derived from Judaism, was Christ-centered and designed to knit Christians together.
Christians and the Empire In the post-Apostolic period collisions between Christians and the state seem to be rare, although for a group, which forecast the destruction of all humanity except them, it was not easy to evade hostility and charges of hating the human race. The story of conflict with the state is blank from 70-95 A.D. I Peter indicates persecution took place, though it is not mentioned elsewhere. However, in 91 A.D. Domitian's cousin and father of the boys nominated as heirs to the throne, Flavius Clemens, together with the exile of the emperor's niece Falvia Domitilla on charges of "lapsing into Jewish customs" and "atheism" exposed bitter factional struggles at court and perhaps an indicated that some in the family of Domitian, always pathologically suspicious of any deviation from the state cults, had converted to Christianity. In the Apocalypse of Peter (Alexandria c. 120) Rome is described as "the capital of corruption" under whose rule Christians who must expect hardship and suffering. The prophet Hermas depicts the Empire as a devouring dragon, which would eventually be burned up in the realization of the Christian end-of-time scenario. The existing order would experience a violent downfall before the restoration of all things during the millennium. Despite the fervor, expectations and frustrations of a disenfranchised minority, Christianity does not seem to have made much of a dint in Roman mentality except perhaps as indicated above when it may have surfaced in imperial circles. Pliny in 112 found Christians an irritating, obstinate and recalcitrant bunch who deserved punishment, but no worse than swindlers or the careless. Torturing two female slaves who professed this superstition revealed they ate normal food and were nothing more than victims of a "superstition." No need to seek out Christians, Pliny explained to Trajan, but when denounced by others treating Christians as common criminals was appropriate. Trajan and other authorities were beginning to distinguish these Christians from Orthodox Judaism, indicating that Christians had lost their battle for the title "true Israel of God," but had gained the opportunity to proclaim a universal message to the Gentile world free of any handicaps associated with the nationalism and narrow scope of Jewish belief.
The Opposition Cult 135-80 A.D. Simon Bar Kochba failed disastrously to restore the independence of the Jewish people. In 135 A.D. Roman legionaries captured his guerrilla stronghold, Beth-Ter, five miles south of Jerusalem. Hadrian had a statue of a pig set up in front of the Bethlehem Gate. Bar Kochba had been declared "Son of the Star," the promised Messiah and a Jewish warrior and restorer of Judaism by authorities as eminent as Rabbi Akiba. With the destruction of the Academy of Jamnia, the center of Jewish intellectual life shifted to Babylon. For Christians in Palestine the uprising was equally disastrous. Bar Kochba's men harried them, and the city of Aelia Capitolina that arose on the ruins of Jerusalem did not recognize Christian holy places any more than Jewish shrines. Hadrian covered the reputed sites of Calvary and the tomb of Jesus with the temple of Jupiter and Venus.
The second and final defeat of Judaism paralleled in the church a growing disengagement from its Jewish antecedents and a diminution of Messianic urgency. Christians emphasized less and less the church as the true "Israel." In the Preaching of Peter (Alexandria? c. 130?) and Basilides (also Alexandria c. 130) one sees the beginnings of a serious and sustained effort to reconcile Christianity with contemporary Greek philosophy. Pagans such as Justin were converting to Christianity without previous contact with the synagogue. Throughout the second century Christianity gradually and slowly emerged from Judaism with an identity based on the NT, a distinctive liturgy and organization, separate from its Jewish roots, while simultaneously retaining a reputation as a sect with terminology and practices (leaders called "prophets" "lawgiver") reminiscent of Judaism.
The Roman Empire in the Second Century Rome in the second century reached its climax of prosperity and confidence. The age of the "Five Good Emperors," 96-180 A.D. was a time of stability and wise rule. The concept of "Roman" and the "empire" was expanded to the provinces. Within the borders of the empire there was peace and a reasonable guarantee of personal safety. Generally, there was a deep loyalty to emperor and empire based on these benefits of peace and prosperity. The Greco-Roman world of the second century was one of wealthy magnificent city-states that served as power agents in fusing provincial and Roman together into a single Greco-Roman commonwealth. The cities were duplicate Rome's with temples dedicated to Jupiter and Juno, baths, fora, colonnades, temples and amphitheaters that constituted centers of propaganda for Latin civilization. The columns of the buildings pictured the emperor as Zeus destroying the Titans (snake-headed monsters), which meant he could protect the provincials from evil and forces of chaos. Men who believed in order over against chaos and faction (religious included) ruled these cities. They were proud of their Greco-Roman heritage and managed the affairs of the cities without pay and lavished enormous sums on public buildings and benefactions for the amusement and welfare of the population. Despite the existence of subject populations and an exploited peasantry in many places, there is not much record of discontent. The material benefits of Romanization were available to many: buildings, paved roads, public sanitation, more money and more education. As long as the benefits came in, most people viewed this as beneficence from the Emperor in the context of the traditional gods and way of life, and until the disasters of the third century Christianity remained a minor urban sect in the midst of widespread satisfaction.
Intellectual and Religious Life The second century was neither debased nor morally degenerate as civilizations go. The ideal in Rome and the provinces was to be an educated gentleman. Convential pieties were quite strong. Death was known as the "last journey," indicating a poignant and wistful sense of hope that the forces of good would dispel the terrors of death. Or if one was an Epicurean, death was merely dissolution into nothingness. Flavius Agricola, an middle level Italian, put on his tombstone: "mix the wine, drink deep, wreathed with flowers, and do not refuse to pretty girls the sweets of love. When death comes, earth and fire devour everything." Here was a cheerful picture of one content with ordinary pleasures and not very worried about the hereafter, while his wife was a devoted fol-lower of Isis, mother of the gods, who probably had borne most of the hardships of the marriage. Worship of the gods like Isis was deep-rooted in popular faith. Lucian of Samosata (c. 160) describes the feast of the Syrian Goddess at Hieropolis with pilgrims from all over Syria, great festivals, sacrifices, entertainment and priests. Everyone, said the pagan Caecilius in his debate with Octavius (c. 170), is "convinced firmly that there were immortal gods, however uncertain they were of their origin." The second century was, of course, also alive with demons and evil spirits. Only a bold man passed a shrine and did not throw a grain or two of incense on it. In most African cities almost every house had a prophylactic symbol carved on the wall to protect wayfarers from evil spirits. Vine tendrils, mixing bowls and they human eye were favorites because of their alleged potency in warding off the attentions of the evil eye, the bringer of disease and calamity. Horoscopes were quite popular to foretell human fate, including the exact hour of one's death. At Dura-Europos on the Euphrates frontier almost every house had one. Dreams were also a familiar avenue of divine/human contact. Aelius Aristides (c. 160) left a vivid account of horrible dreams. The author of the Gnostic tract The Treatise on the Three Natures depicted one unenlightened by Gnostic teaching as one trapped in intolerable nightmares. Thus, when a prayer for "sweet dreams" was carved on the wall of the villa of Emporium (Ampurias near Gerona), it was not an idle request. To deny that the gods acted in human affairs, then, was blatant "atheism" which justly brought death at the hands of public officials with full public support.
Mystery Cults In the face of such unpleasant spiritual circumstances many people turned to the mystery cults such as Isis, Attis or Mithra, or some celebrated local cult, for salvation. Juvenal described (c. 125) Isis initiates flinging themselves into icy rivers and crawling around her temple on bleeding knees, which as a conversion experience was designed to test their commitment and devotion. In the Golden Ass Apuleius describes Lucius's release from a spell by invoking the aid of Isis who then took him under her protection to protect him from the power of fate. Lucius was sprinkled with water, given elaborate instructions in the cult of Isis and then fasted for ten days, whereupon he received a linen garment, went into the inner chamber of her temple and there witnessed a vision whose contents he could not reveal. He was restored and saved.
Philosophies Initiation into a mystery cult might assure one of salvation by outwitting fate and the astral deities. However, no cult promised knowledge of God or knowledge of self by which one might live virtuously until death. It was avail-able, it was claimed, however, in popular versions of Platonism, Stoicism and Pythagoreanism, all of which had over time moved towards religious concerns. The philosophers viewed the "cosmos" as a harmonious whole, in which conformity to a divinely ordained pattern of existence was the highest goal of human life. In this cosmos the world resided in a fixed location at the center of everything. There was an ordered community between the world of the gods and the world of creatures. Time was seen as cyclical, repeating every event and situation after an infinite number of years. Man was a microcosm of creation, that is he was part of or an imitation of the soul of the world. Within was a spark of divine light whereby man might understand his true nature and so conform himself to the ideal values of the world beyond visible creation. The task of the philosopher was to ask the questions and find the answers that would help individuals toward their goals. Thus, all abstract thought eventually led to practical ethical concerns in which contemplation of the true nature of the universe gave way to an indifference to bodily passions and then to asceticism. Since the body was viewed as a "tomb" from which the immortal should needed to escape, religious conversion was seen as the climax of philosophical quests to the benefit of the soul.
The Goal: Salvation In effect, philosophy guided one to the path of salvation, wherein individuals sought God. Platonists thought this would happen in an ecstatic vision, while others saw it as the result of a life devoted to duty. Each situation in this life became the means of controlling earthly feelings and elevating the soul to God. The Stoics even claimed that knowledge of God was unnecessary to achieve such a good life. Emperor Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations (produced sometime between 170-80 A.D.) wrote extensively about this topic. Aurelius found in Stoicism a way to harmonize his sense of duty to his fellow soldiers with his conviction that the universe formed a harmony governed by a supreme ruler whom he must seek to know. The crucial difference between Stoics such as the emperor and Christians was that the Stoics did not view God in personal terms. Further, in a cyclical preordained time-scheme God could not be active in the lives of individuals or institutions in the universe. Divine providence immanent in the universe was concerned with the harmony of the whole rather than the specific well being of its individual parts. Aurelius was indifferent to speaking of "nature, the gods, Zeus, or God." All meant the same thing. "To live according to nature" for him was to live according to the will of the ruler of the universe, the one God who goes through all things, in a cosmos where there was one sub-stance, one law, and one reason common to all intelligible beings. Yet, Aurelius and the Stoics were not sure of the outcome of all this. His quest for God was unfinished, and unlike Augustine he could not say, "I rest in Thee." By the middle of the second century the various schools seemed to have exhausted the point with endless debates without any possibility of finding an answer. For some it was a joke, but for many others, angry disillusioned individuals as well as plebeians and educated women, Christianity seemed to provide the needed answers.
Three Who Sought Answers: Justin, Tatian, Peregrinus Proteus Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) was one of these unhappy souls who sought answers about the meaning of life. Justin was born to Greek parents in Flavia Neapolis (modern Nablus) in Samaria. Early in life he left home on a quest through the various philosophical systems to discover one that might direct his life and bring him nearest to God. He met and rejected in succession a Stoic, a Peripatetic and a Pythagorean, before finally settling upon a Platonic teacher who spoke of immaterial things and seemed to have some vision of God. Then, Justin met an elderly man on the seashore at Ephesus who evidently had been a "god-fearing" man before becoming a Christian and had an extensive acquaintance with Platonism to be able to point out its weaknesses. He attacked the Platonic idea of reminiscence in which Plato had argued that the soul remembered a vision of God as it passed through various material existences. The old man pointed out that in Platonism there was simply no guarantee that a soul could remember anything about previous existence or visions of God. Direct communion with God then seemed impossible through the doctrine of reminiscence. This shook Justin who then listened as the old man advanced the claims that the Hebrew Scriptures provided true knowledge of God and the answers to the deepest questions posed by philosophy.
Justin's Conversion Justin did not become a Christian immediately; it did come, however, when he witnessed Christians going to martyrdom with serene bravery. Without abandoning his respect for the Stoic ethic and Platonism or philosophy in general, Justin was attracted to Christianity's claim to truth and its inspiration for moral reform. Justin accepted it as the complete revelation of reality. He also found in it a concern for the individual lacking in many philosophical schools. Justin declared Christianity to be the true philosophy, and he attempted, although not altogether successfully, to integrate millenarianism, Christian prophesy, Stoicism and Platonic ideas of creation into a single Christian system.
Justin left Ephesus for Rome and set up a small school from which Justin entered into debates with the local philosophers, Gnostics, Cynics and Marcionites. Finally, an angry rival, the Cynic Crescens, denounced Justin to the authorities, which was presented to Q. Junius Rusticus, convicted of refusing to sacrifice to the gods and marched off unflinchingly to death in 165 A.D.
Tatian Justin had a pupil named Tatian (flor. 160-80 A.D.) who was a very different sort of person. Tatian was uncompromising and totally rejected pagan philosophy. Tatian described him-self as an "Assyrian," one born between the Roman Empire and Parthia. He left home to seek his fortune, traveling to Athens and then to Rome. He hoped to learn something about the wisdom and philosophy of the Greco-Roman world. He was initiated into one of the mystery cults, but in the end became bitterly disillusioned. In Address to the Greeks Tatian indicates he found in Christianity a universality, an apparent simplicity and a directness which compensated for the disappointment he found in Greco-Roman belief systems. At heart Tatian was a rebel, for he not only rejected the philosophy of the empire but also its laws that he claimed were inconsistent and disgraceful. In 165 A.D. Tatian accepted an extreme ascetic (Encratite) version of Christianity that involved rejecting the orthodox moral values of his teacher Justin. Tatian had been attracted to Christianity as a religion of protest against the emptiness, pride and injustice of the Greco-Roman world as he had experienced it. He even had little use for a Christianity that was prepared to live on its own terms with the world. Tatian illustrates the under-lying forces of alienation and discontent that sometimes existed beneath the calm surface of the Greco-Roman city-states in the second century.
Peregrinus Proteus Some of Tatian's radicalism was shared by Peregrinus Proteus, whose life is recounted by Lucian of Samosata in the satirical On the Death of Peregrinus. Born to wealthy parents at Parium on the Asiatic side of the Hellespont, Peregrinus quarreled with his father and left under the suspicion that he had murdered him. Eventually, he arrived in Palestine, fell in with Christians, was converted and became not only a "prophet" but also a "synagogue leaders." He was thrown into prison having achieved the reputation as a "second Socrates," where he received lavish attention from fellow Christians. Upon his release Peregrinus quarreled with his Christian associates over various food taboos upheld by the Christians. Peregrinus tried to get his estates back from the Christians, failed in this, and took off in a huff. He moved to Egypt, took up a very austere life, and eventually became a Cynic. He lived in Italy for a while but was kicked out for a typical Cynic tirade against the Emperor. He moved to Greece and burned himself to death at the end of the Olympiad in 165 A.D. Peregrinus's story is fascinating because it demonstrates the introverted and sectarian outlook of the Christians with whom he communicated. Food laws, probably those laid down by the apostolic council in 48 A.D., were still being observed, and according to Peregrinus the community was still known as a "synagogue." The imprisoned and martyrs were highly honored explaining the lavish treatment he received in prison. The Christians despised death, lived in a universal brotherhood of faith and seemingly practiced a form of property communism. Tradition was so readily accepted that they were susceptible to charlatans like Peregrinus who played on their credulity. Like Tatian Peregrinus found Cynicism akin to Christianity and reverted to Paganism. And like Tatian he had a boiling urge to rebel against authority which surfaced in his absurd anti-imperial activities in Rome and his criticism of Herodes Atticus, a wealthy art patron in Greece. He wasn't a complete fool, however, for Aulus Gellius found him to be a "serious and steadfast person" who had many valuable things to say. Peregrinus's problem was that he could not overcome the questionable relationship he had with his father, which combined with his antipathy towards contemporary society, made first Christianity and then Cynicism attractive "alternative societies" in the apparently changeless world of second century Rome.
Christian Advance Christianity appealed to Justin, Tatian and Peregrinus for different reasons. The overall missionary progress of the church from 135 to 200 A.D. is difficult to describe because of a lack of evidence. At Justin's school in Rome there were no converts. All his disciples were immigrants from Asia, and three had Christian parents. Polycarp at Smyrna disavowed any intention of trying to persuade pagans in the amphitheater. However, by 170 A.D. there were congregations in the Peloponnese and in Thessaly, as well as Athens and Corinth. In the west churches sprang up in the Rhone valley at Lyons and Vienne. In general Christian spread throughout the Greek-speaking world. Marcion tried to take the faith to Nicomedia in Bithynia, Antioch and the Persian frontier. However, despite a steady trickle of Greek converts to the faith, Christianity was not the formidable movement that Mithraism became from 150 A.D. onwards. Celsus, a famous pagan critic of Christianity (c. 170-80) observed that Christians actively sought converts. He claimed their targets were artisans, slaves, women and children in major households. Celsus in general thought the converts were gullible and stupid people. Christians, Celsus noted, went from market to market dressed as beggars, which to Celsus was socially subversion since it suggested that Christians were trying to undermine the authority of masters over slaves and heads of households over families. The targets of Christian teaching were confirmed by Tatian and Athenagoras writing from a different perspective than that of Celsus. It seems then that between 170-80 A.D. a range of less-privileged members of Greco-Roman society was moving towards the new and clandestine religion of Christianity. Personal accounts indicate these converts were attracted to the conduct and ethics of Christians. Further, the Christians claimed to be "brothers" as seen in a letter of Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, who wrote to a colleague, Soter of Rome about 170 A.D., praising the Roman church for sending con-tributions to less-wealthy churches and money for the relief of Christian prisoners condemned to the mines. No one was an out-cast in the Christian communities. Gentile converts found in the practical ethical demands, ideals and sincerity of the faith an experiential fulfillment of the demand for the good life that they had vainly sought elsewhere. Christianity offered them personal salvation based on the ancient revelations of the Hebrew prophets, brought to life in the ministry of Jesus and a living idealism that absorbed and welcomed men and women of all classes.
- Brunt, P.A. "Marcus Aurelius in His Meditations." Journal of Roman Studies 64 (1974): 1-20.
- Chadwick, Owen. "Justin Martyr's Defence of Christianity." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47 (1965): 275-97.
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Acute Hellenization 135-193 A.D. The Antonine era was the time at which Christianity shook off Jewish millenarianism and began to be an almost purely Gentile faith. Gradually, the church was Hellenized as more and more provincials were attracted to it. Gnosticism became during this period a noticeable problem for Christian orthodoxy. The Gnostics accepted Scripture as divine revelation, but they allowed supplements to it, even superseding ideas, drawn from Greek, Iranian and Semitic mythology. On the other end apocalyptic and prophetic tendencies survived in Montanism around 172 A.D. and in small ascetic communities in Egypt. The boundaries, however, between orthodox and unorthodox were not fixed and rigid. Valentinus and Marcion, two Gnostic leaders, spent years among the orthodox community in Rome. In Alexandria the lines were quite fluid, so that by the end of the century orthodox and Gnostic still prayed together. During that time, however, orthodoxy remained basically on the defensive representing tradition against innovation.
The Gnostic Movement The middle years of the second century belong to Gnosticism. Between 130-80 A.D. a series of teachers working mainly from Alexandria dominated Christian intellectual life and spread their influence to Italy and Rome, Asia Minor and even the Rhone Valley. Basilides (c. 130-50), Valentinus (c. 140-60) and Heracleon (c. 170-80) were pioneers of an authentic Gentile Christianity that incorporated all knowledge and experience, pagan and Scriptural alike, into a scheme of salvation that centered upon Christ. It was a striking attempt to fuse all knowledge into a single pattern of truth. Gnostics in Alexandria laid the foundation for much of what became Alexandrian Christian theology for two hundred years, and it influenced Christian Platonism.
Simon Magus Justin Martyr and Irenaeus claimed Gnosticism started with Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-11), the magician mentioned in Acts who tried to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. He lived in Samaria and locally was identified with the "Great Power," a Samaritan term for divinity. Some sources claim Simon had been a disciple of a teacher named Dositheus who at one time had been connected with the Essenes. We also know the religious rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans over the status of Jerusalem and Mt. Gerizim involved an elaborate system of speculation with Jewish, other Semitic and Hellenistic elements. The "Great Power" in this speculation had emanated 'Thought' and then a succession of spiritual beings that had created the universe. They imprisoned their mother, 'Thought,' in a series of female bodies beginning with Helen of Troy and ending with a prostitute in Tyre, also named Helen. Supposedly, Simon had a female companion named "Helen of Troy," who it was alleged emanated from God just as Athena had emanated from Zeus. So, Simon was tied in with an elaborate system that conflated many traditions.
Simon's Successors Simon had a disciple, Menander (c. 60-100), followed by Saturninus (c. 100-20), an Antiochene and contemporary of Ignatius. Perhaps he may be associated with the Jewish and Docetic ideas about Christ which angered Ignatius so much. Menander and Saturninus believed in a Supreme God, "one Father unknown to all," and in creation by angels. Menander, however, believed himself to be a Christ, while Saturninus believed that the world was composed of both good and evil and that Christ had come to free mankind from the nefarious work of the seven angels--one of whom was Yahweh--who had created the universe. Here are two essential tenets of Gnostic thought, namely a dualistic interpretation of reality and the association of the God of the Jews with the creation of an imperfect universe from which mankind must be freed. Christ came to destroy this God and to free those who believed on Him.
Teachings Both Menander and Saturninus taught asceticism--the human body belonged to the evil world of matter, which parallels ideas in the Gospel of Thomas and teachings of the Encratite (ascetic) tradition of Syria and Mesopotamia, represented by Tatian (c. 180) and Bardesanes (Bar Daisan; c. 220). They were trying to integrate Jewish scripture with angelology and speculations about Christ and borrowings from pagan mythology. The Gospel of Thomas circulated in eastern Syria and the Nile Valley, as did another early Christian work known as The Odes of Solomon, which was basically a Christian hymnal. The hymns resemble those of the Psalms of Qumran and so are second century A.D. material, but five hymns from this book were incorporated in the Gnostic Coptic book Pistis Sophia and circulated in eastern Syria. It is interesting to note here that Syria and the Nile Valley share three important things: monasticism, Manicheism and Monophysitism. How the connections were maintained is for future research to puzzle out.
Gnostic Ideas and Christianity The Gnostics certainly had kaleidoscopic and often far-fetched ideas that laid them open to heavy criticism by orthodox leaders. They managed, however, to introduce some novel insights into the Christian community, which appealed to many Christians who were beginning to grapple with moral and intellectual problems from a philosophical perspective. This was in contrast to the preaching of Jesus and Paul, whose teachings were intensely practical and personal, always dealing with the real events of life any ordinary person could readily grasp and understand. And yet, this effort to wrestle with moral and spiritual problems on an abstract level continued in another sense Christian concerns, for Paul had spoken of dualities-flesh and spirit, law and grace, Adam and Christ, and had spoken of salvation from evil astral forces and spirits. The author of Hebrews, perhaps Paul, mentioned Christians being "enlightened," tasting of "the heavenly gift," and "the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come." At the end of the century the author of I Clement spoke of ultimate knowledge:
"Let us consider from what matter we were made, of what sort and who we were when we came into the world, from what tomb and darkness he who formed and made us brought us into the world and prepared his benefits for us before we were born."
Gnostic Elaboration Apparently, then, Gnosticism was consumed with these same ideas and carried them to great extremes. Gnostics wanted to know what was enlightenment and perfection, and how were they achieved? I should add here that Gnosticism is a complex and not easily defined phenomenon with many ideas and emphases, not a single monolithic clearly defined movement. Gnostics did, however, seem to have some ideas in common about the world in which they lived and the means of human salvation. They believed that between God--incomprehensible in our thought but the ultimate cause of everything--and the visible world was an insuperable division and antagonism. The "self" or "I" of Gnosticism, however, clearly belonged to the divine world, because it was pure spirit and a "spark of God." At some point it had fallen into the visible world and had become imprisoned and drugged into slumber by it. The "self" could only be freed by accepting the message of a "Divine Messenger" like Christ. So enlightened and emancipated, the "self" would return to its true and proper heavenly home.
Yahweh According to the Gnostics, Yahweh, Lord of Creation, along with the goddess Fate (Tyche) and astral powers (the Planets, the Sun, the Moon, and the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac), ruled the universe and exercised a baleful influence on humanity. These gods were hostile towards all humanity, but the rulers of the universe could not withstand the grace brought by the Divine Messenger. Through knowledge of the true world of light, a Gnostic convert was a new being equipped to answer the questions troubling mankind: "Where did man come from and what is his destiny?" Such knowledge freed the possessor from Fate, from Error (Plan_) and from Oblivion and the dread chances of reincarnation where one's lot might be that of hapless Lucius in Apuleius's The Golden Ass.
Gnosis "Knowledge" Knowledge had a worthy place in Jewish and early Christian literature. To "know God" meant to acknowledge the Yahweh was the one true God and to recognize His acts in history. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah in 53:11 presented the servant of the Lord as a representative and teacher of knowledge. In the same vein Paul said in Col. 3:10 that a believer had a new nature "which is being renewed in knowledge." In I Cor. 13 knowledge was put on par with prophecy but secondary to faith, hope and love. The Teacher of Righteousness in the Qumran literature was the "expositor of all the words of his servants the prophet." God revealed to him the secrets concerning the final age concealed in prophecies. Thus, knowledge of God invited speculation about what God intended to do in history. Josephus reported in his Antiquities that Seth had been given power to teach the signs of the Zodiac and the stars (I.2.3). The Nag Hammadi library indicates that the Nag Hammadi sectaries were known to some people as Sethites.
Secret Knowledge This sort of knowledge Seth allegedly possessed included speculations about the origins of the universe and the nature of the "knowledge" acquired by Adam in the Garden of Eden. It was this sort of secret knowledge that the Gnostics sought, and it came not through perseverance or moral rectitude but through sudden illumination enabling one to understand the ways of God, the universe, and oneself. This knowledge freed one by revealing the mysteries of truth and thus tearing open the veil concealing how God controlled creation. Thus, Gnostics succeeded where the philosophers failed. "We alone know the unutterable mysteries of the spirit," said the Naasseene ("Snake") sect about 200 A.D. One is also reminded of Apuleius's account of Lucius's initiation into the mysteries of Isis, whose new knowledge of the beyond was also knowledge of himself.
Path to Knowledge The path to this knowledge might turn out to be more conventional than originally imagined. It might take the form of study of both Scripture and ancient religious practices of the Phrygians and Egyptians who were traditionally thought to be endowed with wisdom and religious truth. The goal was to harmonize this knowledge with beliefs associated with Christ. Gnostics tried to prove that ancient pagan religious ideas, expressed in mysterious vocabulary and cult acts, corresponded with the truth that the Gnostics as perfected beings claimed to possess. By assimilating and fusing together all existing religious knowledge, the Gnostics claimed to have discovered the means of perfection that was knowledge of God. This knowledge was only for a spiritual elite. The spiritually illumined (pneumatikoi) were destined for salvation, who had "made themselves free, awakened from drunkenness, returning to themselves." Many others, in a Christian context, were the Psychics (psychikoi) or ordinary Christians, who could receive knowledge. But for most of mankind their fate was to be earthbound, pagans and slaves of matter (hylikoi), who were destined for oblivion and death, in contrast to the illumined soul who through spiritual baptism and the grace of knowledge would wing its way through the seven spheres that surrounded the earth to the Ogdoad, the seat of immortality and perfection.
Organization The Gnostics were organized like mystery sects. Their leaders were teachers. Each sect had its own baptismal ceremony, passwords, sacred meal and final instructions for the dying on how to outwit the powers the soul would encounter in its flight upward. While the sacraments dispensed by orthodox clergy were of limited value, their own rites were fit for the spiritual elite and had to be guarded from the uninitiated. Finally, the Gnostics proclaimed fervently that they were Christians. Many of the Nag Hammadi writings were Christ-centered, but the Gnostic understanding of Christ, the Scriptures and man differed fundamentally from that of the orthodox. Scripture was to the Gnostics a vast forest of mystic and secret teaching comprehensible to the illuminated. In addition, the Gnostics drew quite easily and without inhibition on current philosophy and poetic wisdom. Myth and Scripture alike had secret meaning that awaited discovery. The crypto-grams and number-symbolism of the Pythagoreans, who believed that the mysteries of the universe could be solved by understanding numbers, might also be freely employed. The Gnostics held out the hope that through Scripture or other sources of knowledge initiates like those of the Orphic mysteries would possess "the cold, flowing waters of the Lake of Memory."
Reasons for Gnostic Success How did Gnosticism become so formidable during the second century? First, Gnosticism had been developing since the time of Christ at least, and Basilides, the earliest of the great Alexandria teachers, began his career before the defeat of Bar Kochba. Origin claimed Gnosticism profited from the interest educated Greeks took in the rising force of Christianity. And then there is the religious atmosphere of Alexandria which encapsulated a number of tendencies within paganism and Judaism that existed to some degree or another throughout the Greek-speaking world: aspirations for salvation, the place of humanity in the universe and its destiny in time. The problems that Gnosticism wanted to solve were quite familiar. If God was good, why was there evil in the world, unless the matter from which it had been created was irredeemably bad? If the universe was not governed by Fate, how did one explain calamity, sickness and sudden death? Why try to practice moral excellence when one would be swept away in death? Passages from Plato's Republic(II.379), quotations from Hermetic Asclepius, and dualistic concepts in Mithraism and other Indo-Iranian speculation about the existence of evil, learning and knowledge, deliverance from Fate and salvation conceived as an orderly descent through the successive spheres ruled by the planets to ultimate perfection, demonstrate that in providing illumination to allegedly overcome these problems the Gnostics were in the mainstream of second-century religious speculation.
Gnosticism and Christianity Gnosticism could not have been such a potent force, however, had it been rooted only in pagan religious speculation. It was formidable because it drew deeply from Jewish thought, Palestinian and Hellenistic, in addition to any pagan ideas and values that Gnosticism had absorbed. At Nag Hammadi three copies of The Apocryphon of John describe a vision by the Apostle John in an obviously Jewish setting in which there is a vision of the risen Christ. Christ reveals the secrets of creation and salvation in Valentinian Gnostic terms. Thus, it is impossible to conceive of Gnosticism without considering the background of Wisdom literature, Philo and Jewish preoccupation with speculation about angels, the planets and the Zodiac, and the mysteries associated with the name of Yahweh.
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The Emergence of Orthodoxy 135-193 - A Difficult Task The second half of the second century witnessed the beginning of a philosophical defense of Christianity. It was not an easy task since the church was more inclined through its roots in Pharisaic norms and eschatological hopes to guard tradition rather than encourage speculative thinking. For Christians, Biblical theology was difficult to reconcile with current philosophical schools. A God active in history on behalf of His people had little in common with the god of Stoicism or Platonism who existed but did not come into con-tact with matter, let alone intervene in nature. Further, in NT days Christians linked pagan philosophy with pagan morality. Col. 2:8 described it as "empty deceit" and human tradition. In II Cor. 11:3 Paul had warned readers not to be corrupted by it from their pure devotion to Christ. Acts had nothing nice to say about the Stoics and Epicurans whom Paul met in Athens (Acts 17:18-21). The Apostolic fathers show no change in this attitude. Polycarp thought it abhorrent that Christians could have anything in common with pagans and their ideas. It was within this negative attitude that the theologians of the church approached their task of living in the world.
The Apologist Background The Christian Apologists drew heavily on Jewish models and borrowed the methods but not the ideas of the philosophers. It also had developed a "rule of faith" to be used as a test of orthodoxy, and it built up a set of defenses against its rivals. Against philosophical speculation, orthodox leaders drew upon a tradition of teaching and organization that could demonstrably be traced back to the period just after the Apostles and perhaps to the Apostles themselves. Orthodox churches maintained contact with one another, so that matters of common interests were discussed among many fellowships. In the period 160-70 the main issue discussed, for example, seems to have been the excessively ascetic practices that threatened schism. Further, bishops seem to be able by this communication to act in concert against common threats. Their power developed under the pressure of events. In the same context Rome emerged as an authoritative center of Christianity. From 130 A.D. onwards it was a magnet for Christians of every persuasion. At first it was not conspicuously orthodox. Marcion was well received there, and Valentinus was almost elected bishop suggest-ing an elastic outlook. The church, however, was relatively wealthy. There were shrines marking the actions of Peter and Paul. Since the church had an interest in maintaining the validity of the apostolic tradition, it threw its weight on the side of orthodoxy.
The Apologists With this growing sense of community cemented by communication, liturgy and discipline a set of articulate defenders emerged contemporary with Gnosticism and Marcionism. These so-called Apologists wanted to develop Gentile Christianity and work out its relationship to the old Israel, Greek philosophy and the Roman authorities. Like Gnosticism the Apologist movement had roots in the first century and drawing on a Judaistic legacy before that. Luke and Matthew's Gospels were apologies in their own way, as was Acts. Matthew asserted that Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled the Messianic prophecies. Between 130-200 A.D. the Apologists similarly tried to defend the orthodox faith against gnosticism, Marcion's challenge, continued Jewish hostility and intermittent pagan persecution. They often employed the "open letter" form to address emperors and pagan magistrates, though the real target was literate provincial opinion.
Apologists' Assertions The Apologists asserted that while they rejected idolatry, they were in every way loyal citizens, not secret adherents of illegal or noxious societies. If they were atheists, they were so only in the sense that Socrates was an atheist. Against the claims of Lucian of Samosata who said Christianity was an imposture, the Apologists argued it was instead the "true and natural religion of humanity." They also argued that despite the fact that the religion seemed to be late in time (antiquity was received by the Romans as a favorable quality for a religion), Christianity had been forecast by the Hebrew prophets making it earlier than Greek philosophy and therefore more worthy of belief. The Apologists also argued that God was the God of creation and the church handed down the true tradition of the faith given by Christ to the Apostles over against the claims of the Gnostics and Marcionites.
The writings of five Greek Christian Apologists have survived, as well as the anonymous Letter to Diognetus. They are Aristides (c. 145), Justin Martyr (d. 165), Tatian (d. 180?), Athenagoras (c. 170-80), and Theophilus of Antioch (c. 180-85). In addition fragments of works by Quadratus, Melito of Sardis, and Apollinaris of Hierapolis (c. 170-80), have survived through Eusebius. These writers represent a wide and sometimes conflict-ing spectrum of Christian opinion.
Quadratus of Athens He wrote an open letter to Emperor Hadrian in c. 125 A.D. He offered Jesus' miracles as proof of His divinity and Saviourhood. He faulted Jews for their arrogance. They believed they worshipped God but in fact worshiped angels, while pagans, Quadratus said, "sacrificed to corpses, not gods" and were "carried away by ignorance."
Aristides Aristides' surviving apologia is very Jewish-oriented and favorable to the Jews. He still breathes the world of later Judaism. He dismisses paganism as hopeless error. He accuses the Jews of worshipping angels rather than God, a perspective found also in the anonymous Preaching of Peter. To the contrary Christians alone worshipped God rightly and practiced proper morality.
Letter to Diognetus This letter also attacks paganism. It too follows a Hellenistic-Jewish apologetic. Pagans were ignorant; they worshipped God's creation rather than God. Their idols were dumb, ignorant, and lifeless. The role of Christians in the world was to be the soul of the world. They dwell in it but are not of it. Just as the soul is invisible, so Christians are known to be in the world, but their religion remains unseen. The writer of this letter practiced a type of Hellenistic Christianity based on developing tradition and which had adopted a universalistic role that Judaism had claimed only a generation before. Christianity, while a new religion, was an expression of God's love and proof that He had made the world for humanity's sake and subjected all living things to man. One can see in this letter how an educated Greek who accepted Jewish monotheism, ethics and theology of history but rejected the Torah as non-sense, came to believe Christianity to be the real fulfillment of Judaism.
Justin Martyr In contrast Justin Martyr was inconsistent and not always convincing. He had been a Platonist before he became a Christian, so Justin probably never grasped the essential incompatibilities between Platonism and Christianity. He identified Jesus with the Logos without apparently understanding the consequences of this to the humanity of Christ or His standing in the Trinity. Nonetheless, Justin is of immense importance. He was the first to try to evaluate the role of philosophy in Christian teaching, and in a rather confused way succeeded in marking out the lines along which Christianity would relate to philosophy and the Greco-Roman world, as well as to Judaism and Gnosticism.
Justin's Writings In Trypho (c. 160 A.D.) and in the two Apologies (c. 155-160 A.D. respectively) Justin elaborated upon many of the arguments presented in Diognetus. The cornerstone of Justin's defense of Christianity was its fulfillment of OT prophecies. He identified Christ as the revelation of God in a way analogous to the Stoic "Seminal Word," or principle of growth, which had enlightened humanity throughout history. Thus, all that was good and valuable in the past, whether truths pro-claimed by poets and philosophers or in the OT, was implicitly Christian. In Jesus Christ, however, the Logos or Word was fully revealed. Whatever he found in pagan philosophy which could be harmonized with the OT prophets, Justin retained, but the remainder along with the pagan cultus had to be rejected.
The Other Side of Justin Along side his philosophical arguments Justin showed a strong emotional attachment to an old stratum of Christian eschatology. Christ and His angels will appear suddenly in the clouds after which there would be a resurrection of the dead. This parousia (second coming) entailed the coming of Christ, a renewal of heaven and earth, and a Christian inheritance of New Jerusalem. Justin believed there would be a one thousand year reign of Christ on earth in a rebuilt Jerusalem and a judgment thereafter.
Irenaeus The other major apologist of this period was Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 130-200). Irenaeus had a photographic memory, determination and the ability to put ideas in systematic form. He was very ambivalent towards philosophy. While he admitted he could not get along without it, Ireneaus said he wished he could. Certainly, Plato was not welcomed in Irenaeus' scheme. Clearly, Irenaeus disliked a philosophical approach to Christianity. For him it rested upon revelation, on tradition, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Ireneaus meant "Man of Peace." He was a native of Smyrna who as a young man fell under the spell of Polycarp. He was so well acquainted with Justin's work that some scholars speculate he may have studied with the Martyr. He eventually became the Bishop of Lyons and found himself at odds with a Valentinian Gnostic movement that combined Scripture, Pythagorean number-symbols and mysticism. His five books Against Heresies (c. 180-85) were a reply to this system. They provide a classic statement of orthodoxy in the primitive Greek-speaking church.
Irenaeus against the Gnostics His main argument against the Gnostics and Marcionites was authority. Christianity was a faith "spoken with one voice," based upon tradition handed down to the church by the apostles and accepted by Christians everywhere. It is currently guarded by a succession of elders and contains no hidden mysteries to which the Gnostic leaders could claim access. The Bible along had authority for Christians. Irenaeus was clear in his own mind that God was one and had created everything at one point of time. Man was not the result of creation by an inferior God or by evilly disposed powers. Instead, God made him through divine benevolence and for some great purpose. Like God, human beings were one. Their flesh and souls eventually would be saved. At the same time they had a free will and therefore tendencies towards both carnal and spiritual ends. There was no distinction between a "spiritual man" created by the Invisible God of Gnosticism and a "natural man" made by the Creator God. Man was created in God's image, but the Fall had obscured that image. The image remained, but humans needed the Holy Spirit to regain the likeness forfeited by Adam's disobedience. United to the Holy Spirit humans would be restored to their original state through faith in Christ who was the image of God.
Salvation Salvation then was the result of spiritual rebirth and restoration, not insight into mysteries or recovery of the true self. Instead of Christ suddenly appearing as a messenger of an unknown God, He was an incarnation of the same God of the OT who had revealed His standards there in accordance with man's ability to receive and obey them. So Christ was the climax of an ordered and regular development of humankind whose previous progress to salvation is summed in Christ. Therefore, Christianity fulfilled the history of the Jews point by point. Much of Irenaeus's thought is consciously Pauline. Many of his points of emphasis are also emphasized later in the East Syrian tradition. He loved to emphasize also the settled nature of orthodox faith that was incapable of diminution or addition. In so doing Irenaeus preserved the church's continuity with its Jewish past, despite Marcion's criticisms of the OT with its rape, slaughter, treachery and adultery.
Emergence of Orthodoxy In Irenaeus one sees an exaggerated view of the unity and singleness of the church in the second century. What is important, however, is his expression of a number of tendencies that were coming together to form a pattern of orthodoxy. Christianity in Irenaeus' time was more united that at any time before or since. Statements of belief had become standardized throughout the Christian communities. A recognizably early creedal statement is contained in a Christian papyrus from Der Balyzeh (Dair Balaizeh) in Upper Egypt. Church liturgy had evolved into a fixed pattern. The form of the Eucharist, for example, as described by Justin Martyr had become a binding force for celebrants wherever there were Christians. Avircius Marcellus, a Phrygian merchant who became bishop of Hieropolis about 200 A.D., found the same orthodoxies, the same Eucharist, the same welcome among Christians from Nisibis on the Euphrates frontier to Rome.
Threats to Unit One foundation of this unity was the administrative power of a group of like-minded Greek speaking bishops, whether they resided in Aegean cities or Rome, who communicated to one another by letter or in council. However, among the Marcionites, gnostics and Ebionites many adherents considered themselves to be Christians who posed a challenge to established and mainline bishops. Furthermore, though the bishops had a fixed canon of Scripture arrived at through a process of selection and rejection that gave the church a sacred book different from that of the Jews and in no way dependent upon pagan or Gnostic literature, they could not restrain the tendency for regionalism to divide the church along the lines of older established communities. For example, an Aramaic-based Christianity developed in East Syria and Osrhoene centered in Edessa. Antioch provides evidence of a distinct theological perspective that survived until the fifth century. And lastly, the prophetic movement, never completely silent in Christianity, exploded in Montanism in Phrygia. Not everyone, obviously, was satisfied with the growing official and orthodox interpretation of Christianity in the Greco-Roman urban centers.
Theophilus of Antioch Antioch was the center of a tradition that echoed the ideas of Irenaeus who had contempt for philosophy including the ideas of Plato. Theophilus of Antioch (c. 180) resembled in outlook that of Tatian. Theophilus wrote a letter to the pagan Autolycus which was Hellenistic-Jewish in content and written in a city where Judaism remained a powerful force. Theophilus had nothing but indignation for paganism. He thought Greek literature to be useless and held Plato up to ridicule. His animosity towards Greek paganism drew upon an established tradition of Hellenisitic-Jewish apologetics, especially upon the Sibylline Oracles that he quotes about eighty-six times. Theophilus claims Moses as the chief prophet through whom God delivered the law to the whole world. His quotations from Josephus' Apion, his elaborate chronologies and numerology betray a Jewish origin. Most everything Theophilus said was paralleled in Jewish and Jewish-Christian writings. His doctrine of the Word is definitely Hellenistic-Jewish. The Word for him remained Thought within God as Counselor, Mind and Intelligence. At the moment of creation God spoke the Word that was represented by Spirit, Power, Light and Son, who was Jesus Christ. Eighty years later Paul of Samasota expounded this same distinctive Christology that the Alexandrians denounced as "Jewish."
Clement of Alexandria The real contemporary foil to Theophilus, however, was Clement of Alexandria (ca. 180-203 A.D.) who had been a wandering scholar before his conversion. He attached himself to many different Christian teachers before settling in Alexandria where he became the head of the catechetical school. He tended to push the Hebrew elements of Christianity into the background and work for the greatest possible accommodation with Greek philosophy. In three works, Protrepticus (Exhortation), Paidagogus(Tutor), and Stromata (Miscellanies), he described Christian progression towards perfection, developed a theology which unwittingly substituted Philo's Logos for the Holy Spirit and conceived of Christ almost like contemporary Alexandrain Gnostics. While Theophilus rejected Greek philosophy, Clement argued that it formed an essential part of a Greek convert's grounding. Philosophy was for Greeks what the law was for the Jews, a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. Here was an entirely different interpretation of Christianity that claimed to be orthodox and which gained ground among the orthodox in the leading intellectual center of the Hellenistic world. In fact Greek Christianity had already started to divide itself between Antioch, consumed by Hellenistic Judaism and hostile to the pagan world, and Alexandria, where Greek intellectual values were respected and absorbed into a philosophic Christianity that owed much to Philo.
The Montanists The most immediate threat, however, to Christian unity came from the Montanist movement in Phrygia, a province in Asia Minor. Montanus, perhaps a one-time priest of Cybele, appeared in that area in 172 A.D., accompanied by two companions, Prisca and Maximilla, who claimed to be prophets inspired by the Holy Spirit. They announded that Christ would return to earth quite soon in some villages fifteen miles east of Philadelphia. As these prophets spoke of the millenium, people abandoned homes, families, and work and streamed into the deserted countryside. Past scholars have claimed that Montanism was a revival with the Church of the Phrygian cults of Mon, Cybele and Dionysus; however, other scholars have denied this and argued that Montanism was simply a resurgence of a continuing Jewish-Christian apocalyptic tradition among Christians in Asia Minor illustrated chiefly in the book of Revelation. This situation is complicated by the fact that prophecy, asceticism and martyrdom, all hallmarks of Montanism, were second-century Christian attributes also. But public acknowledgement of sin, especially sexual uncleanliness, and admission of a penalty to be exacted by the gods were part of provincial religion along the borders of Phrygia and Lydia-Mysia where Montanism flourished. Some interconnection seems obvious, but exactly what is hard to determine, since their prolonging fasts until sundown and practicing dry fasts seem to be of Jewish origin while their theology of the Holy Spirit, hopes for martyrdom and millennialism are certainly Johannine.
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