Christianity’s Criminal History, 106


 Editors’ note: To contextualise these translations of Karlheinz Deschner’s encyclopaedic history of the Church in 10-volumes, Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums, read the abridged translation of Volume I.

 

The hostility to classic culture in early Christian Latin writers

The fact that also ecclesiastical authors imbued with philosophy disqualify or hate the latter is something that is revealed in Marcus Minucius Felix and Tertullian, within the Latin Patristic.

Minucius, a Roman lawyer, who ‘rose from the deep darkness to the light of truth and wisdom’ when he was old enough, fully connects, as regards his dialogue Octavius, probably written around the year 200, with Greco-Roman culture and especially with Plato, Cicero, Seneca and Virgil. However, he abhors most, if not all of it, and especially everything that tends to scepticism. Socrates is for him ‘the crazy attic’, the philosophy itself ‘superstitious madness’, enemy of the ‘true religion’. Philosophers are seducers, adulterers, tyrants. The poets, Homer included, thoroughly mislaid the youth ‘with lies of mere seduction’, while the strength of Christians ‘is not based on words, but on their behaviour’.

Also Tertullian, authentic father of western Christianity (called founder of Catholicism because of his enormous influence on theologians such as Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine; for the Trinitarian doctrine, Christology and doctrine of sin and grace, baptism and penance), mistreats the Greco-Roman culture. And certainly he, who despises the simplices et idiotae does not stop from judging that, when that culture approaches the truth, it is due to chance or plagiarism. Tertullian, in fact, goes back to Moses for the totality of Greek science!

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem, the Academy with the Church?, asks Tertullian, referring to Solomon. If a Christian believes, he no longer wants anything that goes beyond that faith. ‘For this is the first thing we believe: hence there is nothing else that we should believe beyond our faith’. He calls Plato, whose importance for ancient Christianity is barely possible to ponder, ‘spice with which all heretics spice’. He stigmatises the questions about the physical world as impious. By expressly referring to Jesus and Paul, he strongly disapproves of science and art: human teachings of evil spirits, pure tingling for the ears, rejected by the Lord and described by him as madness. ‘We, on the other hand, who read the Sacred Scriptures, are in possession of universal history from the very beginning of the world’. Typical Christian modesty!

At the beginning of the 4th century, Arnobius mounts an attack against classical culture with a controversial writing that covers seven books, Adversus gentes. This happened at the urging of his bishop. His work had to depict, in the metropolitan sceptic, the sincerity of his conversion. Of course, Arnobius does not know well that Christianity in whose defence he writes. He barely quotes the New Testament and mentions Jupiter much more often than Christ.

Arnobius condemns not only all the myths about the gods, but also mythological poetry. With the same resolution he rejects the pantomime, the dramatic and the musical representations linked to the mysteries. He condemns all the conceptual constructions of the Greco-Roman religion and the art where these are embodied. Moreover, he considers all worldly professions to be worthless, any human activity whatsoever. It should not be surprising, then, that this new-birthing Christian, out of respect for the Sacred Scriptures, despises almost all of science, rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, jurisprudence and medicine.

Latin paleo-Christian literature closes ranks more unanimously than the literature in Greek versus classic culture. Dramatic poetry is totally disqualified for religious and moral reasons, as the epic in most cases; also rhetoric, which is usually considered harmful. Philosophy by itself cannot provide any authentically true knowledge. For these authors, Christianity constitutes the only security, the full truth.

Kriminalgeschichte, 66

Sant’Agostino nello studio by Vittore Carpaccio (1502)

 
‘Genius in all fields of Christian doctrine’

[Augustine] often dictated at the same time discussions to several writings: 93 works or 232 ‘books’, he says in the year 427 in his Retractationes (which critically contemplate, so to speak, his work in chronological succession), to which we must add the production of his last years of life, in addition to hundreds of letters and sermons, with which he ‘almost always’ felt dissatisfied.

The intellectual production of Augustine was overrated, particularly from the Catholic side. ‘An intellectual giant like him, only the world offers it once every thousand years’ (Görlich). Maybe from the Catholic world! However, what he calls ‘intellectual stature’ is what serves him, and what serves him is detrimental to the world.

Augustine’s existence precisely reveals it drastically. However, J.R. Palangue praises him as ‘a genius in all fields of Christian doctrine’. And Daniel-Rops goes on to say: ‘If the word genius has any meaning, it is precisely here. Of all the gifts of the spirit that can be fixed analytically, none was missing; he had all, even those that are generally considered mutually exclusive’. Who is startled by such nonsense is called malevolent, malicious, ‘a creeping soul’ (Marrou). However, even the father of the Church Jerome, although out of envy, called his colleague ‘a little latecomer’. In the 20th century, the Catholic Schmaus flatly denies Augustine’s genius as a thinker.

The thought of Augustine? It is totally dominated by ideas of God, partly numbed by euphoria, partly terrified. His philosophy is, basically, theology. From an ontological point of view, it is based on hypotheses without any foundation. And there is a multitude of painful absences.

Augustine, whom Palangue praises saying: ‘With a flap he rises above any superficial objection’ usually is a prodigy of superficiality. Also the ‘professional orator’ of yesteryear (and today!) cheats through rhetorical tricks. He contradicts himself, especially in The City of God, a work with a strong influence of Arnobius that appeared between 413 and 426, his ‘magnum opus’ as he says, where he sometimes equates and others clearly differentiates his own fundamental concepts: ‘Roman Empire’ and ‘Diabolic State’. Or ‘Church’ and ‘God’s State’.

When he was a young Christian, he believed that miracles no longer occur, so that ‘no one is raised from the dead anymore’; when he gets old he believes otherwise. Already in 412 he had the idea of ‘collecting and showing everything that is rightly censured in my books’. And so, three years before his death he begins, since everything was ‘altered’, a complete book with rectifications, Retractationes, without really ‘rectifying’ everything. In any case, he introduced 220 corrections.

However, as many times as Augustine ‘rectified’ something, he refuted others’ work, placing the heading of many of his writings a ‘Contra […]’.

At the end of the 4th century he attacked the Manichaeans: Fortunatus, Adeimantus, Faust, Felix, Secundinus, as well as, in another series of books, Manichaeism: of which he himself was formally a follower for almost a decade, from 373 to 382, although as ‘listener’ (auditor), not as an electus. In three books Against Academics (386) he confronts scepticism. From the year 400 on he criticises Donatism; from 412 Pelagianism, and from 426 semi-Pelagianism. But next to these main objectives of his struggle, he also attacks with greater or lesser intensity the pagans, the Jews, the Arians, the astrologers, the Priscillians and the Apollinarians. ‘All the heretics hate you’ he praises his old rival Jerome, ‘just as they persecute me with the same hatred’.

More than half of Augustine’s writings are apologetics or have a controversial character. On the other hand, while, being a bishop, in thirty years he only once visited Mauritania, the less civilized province, he travelled thirty-three times to the incredibly rich Carthage, where, apparently as compensation for his modest convent diet, he liked copious lunches (for example roasted peacock); talk to important people and spend whole months with colleagues in hectic activity. The bishops already lived near the authorities and in the court, and were themselves courtiers; Augustine’s friend, Bishop Alypius, was arguing in Rome until the saint’s death.

Peter Brown, one of the most recent biographers of the leading theologian, writes: ‘Augustine was the son of a violent father and an inflexible mother. He could cling to what he considered objective truth with the remarkable ingenuity of his quarrelsome character’.

It should be noted that the increasingly violent aggression of Augustine, as manifested in his dispute with the Donatists, could also be a consequence of his prolonged asceticism. Before, as he himself confessed, he had had remarkable vital needs, ‘in lewdness and in prostitution’ he had ‘spent his strength’, and later he had energetically conjured ‘the tingling of desire’. He lived a long time in concubinage, later he took a girl as a girlfriend (she had almost two years to reach the legal age to get married: in girls twelve years) and at the same time a new darling. But for the cleric sexual pleasure is ‘monstrous’, ‘diabolical’, ‘disease’, ‘madness’, ‘rottenness’, ‘nauseating pus’, and so on.

Apart from that, was not he also feeling guilty about his long-time companion, whom he had forced to separate from himself and his son?

______ 卐 ______

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Kriminalgeschichte, 18

Below, abridged translation from the first volume of Karlheinz
Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums

(Criminal History of Christianity)

 

Chapter 4: First attacks against paganism

‘And you, too, Holy Emperor, have the duty of holding and punishing, and it is your duty, by virtue of the first commandment of the Most High, to pursue with your severity and in all possible ways the abomination of idolatry’. —Firmicus Maternus, Father of the Church

‘Two measures interested Firmicus: the destruction of the temples, and the persecution to death of those who did not think like him’. —Karl Hoheisel

 

If from the first moment the Christians fought with ‘holy wrath’ the Jews and ‘heretics’, they showed some moderation before the heathen, called héllenes and éthne by the treatise writers of the 4th century. The concept of ‘paganism’, which was very complex and referred to both religious and intellectual life, excluded only Christians and Jews, and later Muslims. It is not, of course, a scientific notion, but rather theological, coming from the late New Testament period, with obvious negative connotations.

Translated into Latin it gives gentes (arma diaboli, according to St. Ambrose), and then, as the adherents of the old religion were being reduced to rural zones, pagani, pagan. In the meaning that designated non-Christians, this word appears for the first time in two Latin epigraphs of the beginning of the 4th century. In the ordinary sense it meant ‘peasants’ and can also be understood as antonym of ‘military’. For example, the ‘heathen’, that is, those who were not soldiers of Christ, were called in ancient Gothic thiudos, haithns, that in old high German gives heidan, haidano (modern German: Heiden), with the probable meaning of ‘wild’.

We said, then, that the initial treatment given by Christianity to these ‘savages’ was rather mild, a notable behaviour. It preludes the tactics used by the Church during the next long millennium and a half: against the majority, prudence, make oneself be tolerated to survive; then destroy that tactic as soon as possible. If we have the majority, no tolerance! Otherwise, we are in favour of it. That is classic Catholicism, to this day!

At first, the pagans only saw in Christianity a dissident sect of Judaism. This was in line with the negative opinion that the Jews generally deserved, all the more so because, in addition to having inherited the intolerance and religious exclusiveness of them, they did not even represent, like Jewry, a coherent nation. The ancient believers only found ‘impiety’ in those innumerable groups, which also took no part in public life, something that made them suspects of immorality.

In a word, they were despised and made responsible for epidemics and famines, so it was not surprising from time to time the cry of ‘Christians to lions!’ Hence the fathers of the pre-Constantinian period wrote ‘Tolerance’ with capital letters, making it a virtue. They were untiring in their demand for freedom of worship and respect for their beliefs, while making protests of detachment, of virtue, as if they lived on earth but were already walking in heaven; loving all and not hating anyone, not returning evil for evil, preferring to suffer injustices than to inflict them, nor sue anyone, nor steal, nor kill.

If almost all the pagan things seemed to them ‘infamous’, Christians considered themselves ‘righteous and holy’. By 177, Athenagoras explained to the pagan emperors that ‘every one should be allowed to have the gods he chooses’.

Towards the year 200, Tertullian is in favour of freedom of religion; that some pray to heaven and the others to altars; that these worship God and others Jupiter. ‘It is a human right and a natural liberty for all to worship what seems best to them, since with such cults no one harms or benefits others’. Origen still cited a long series of common points among the religion of the pagans and the Christian, to better emphasise the prestige of the latter, and does not want to allow blasphemy against gods of any kind, even in situations of flagrant injustice. It is possible that some Fathers of the Church expressed themselves by conviction; in others it would be nothing but calculation and opportunism.
 

The anti-pagan issue in Early Christianity

But as much as they postulated religious freedom, they attacked the pagans in the same way they did with the Jews and ‘heretics’. That controversy, sporadic or we could almost say casual at first, gained ground since the end of the 2nd century, that is, when they began to feel strong. From the time of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) we know the names of six Christian apologists and the texts of three pieces of apologetics (from Athenagoras, Tatian and Theophilus).

Arnobius of Sicca, who was Lactantius teacher, authored seven pathetically boring mammoths of polemics, Against the pagans, whose gods had sex ‘like dogs and pigs’, ‘shameful members that an honest mouth cannot even name’. He criticises their passions ‘in the manner of unclean animals’, ‘with a frantic desire to exchange the filth of coitus’.

Like many other writers, Arnobius recounts the Olympic loves of Jupiter with Ceres, or with humans such as Leda, Danae, Alcmena, Electra and thousands of maidens and women, not forgetting the Catamite ephebe. ‘Nothing displeases Jupiter, until finally it would be said that the unfortunate was only born to be a seed of crimes, target of insults and common place with all excrement of the sewers of the theatre’: the theatres that, according to Arnobius, deserve to be closed, as well as burned most of the writings and books.

An adulterous god is a thousand times worse than another who exterminates humanity by a flood! Christians judged as ridiculous legends the stories of gods that Homer and Hesiod tell. On the other hand, that the Holy Spirit could make a maiden pregnant without altering her virginity was a very serious thing, as one of the most famous Catholics of the ancient time, Ambrose, demonstrated. That pagans buried the figure of a god and dispensed it funeral honours, and then celebrated their resurrection with feasts, also seemed highly laughable to Christians, even taking as holy their own liturgy of Holy Week and Easter Resurrection.

Just as the superstitious pagans tainted with magical practices, from the first moment the Christians believed that idolatrous cults were of direct diabolical inspiration; some, like Tertullian, also include in that qualification the circus, the theatre, the amphitheatre and the stadium.

It is significant, however, that all these criticisms, these censures and ridicule were not manifested until later; in the beginning, when Christians were still a minority, they had no choice but putting on a brave face to the bad weather. The ancient world was almost entirely pagan and, in front of this supremacy, the Christians acted with prudence and even made compromises if necessary, in order to be able to end it when the time came.

This is also evident in the oldest Christian authors.