Sunday School – An Appeal to Rome (Justin and Diognetus)

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made ...
Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made by Silanion ca. 370 BC for the Academia in Athens. From the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following last week’s need to be hated by Rome (i.e., World System) we find Christians appealing to Rome for an official status. As Christianity becomes Christianity, and not simply a secondary Judaism, more and more Gentiles are bringing in their customs, traditions, and philosophies. They are also bringing in the need to be more metropolitan.

Word: Apology, a defense. This is the time of Christian Apologetics, when Christians turned to defending Christianity and thus exploring its theological tenets.

Rome respected one thing: antiquity. This is why they stole every the Greeks had done — from the gods and goddesses to the poems. Because they desired to be themselves ancient. When Rome was introduced to Jerusalem, they begrudgingly accepted their quasi-independence because the Jews could point to Moses and say, “He not only preceded Plato, but Plato respected Moses.” Clement of Alexandria who would use this apologetic technique to bring Plato into use for Christian theology later picked this up. He was not the first, of course.

Please keep in mind, this is the barest of histories here. Just some background information.

The first Christian who used Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers to do his bidding was Justin Martyr (guess how he got his last name). Why would he do such a thing? First, the Gospel of John and the Wisdom of Solomon both allow for Hellenistic philosophy based on the use of the words Logos (Word) and Sophia (Wisdom). Justin latched on to this. The Logos of John became the Logos of Heraclitus. Further, Justin and Clement would insist in a God akin to Plato’s Ultimate God.

Second, by aligning Christianity with both Jerusalem and Athens, he gave it a certain antiquity, which was needed to apply for official State status. This would prevent persecution and allowed for other benefits as well.

There are two such writings springing to mind. The first, of course, is Justin’s First Apology. He is quick to defend against charges of atheism. Why would we be charged with atheism? Because our god (Jesus) was new, unless, of course, you account for the Logos:

Why, then, should this be? In our case, who pledge ourselves to do no wickedness, nor to hold these atheistic opinions, you do not examine the charges made against us; but, yielding to unreasoning passion, and to the instigation of evil demons, you punish us without consideration or judgment. For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself. And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. 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.

This entire First Apology is well worth the read — and leaves us wondering what might we sacrifice to have our belief system validated? Or, perhaps this is what Christianity was to Justin — the former philosopher who caught wind of Christ and was thus changed forever. Perhaps his mind say in Christ the only answer to all of the questions asked by all philosophies. Maybe for Justin, Jesus was the answer.

The second person is unknown, although some scholars have placed him as Justin. Like the First Apology, this author writes to the Emperor and like Justin, promotes Christianity as compatible with Rome, or at least not in competition with Rome.

The Epistle of Diognetus contains a passage that has come to mean a great deal to me —

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all ; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

I’ll just leave this here.

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