Christianity’s Criminal History, 101

 

Editors’ note:

To contextualise these translations of Karlheinz Deschner’s encyclopaedic history of the Church in 10-volumes, Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums, see the abridged translation of Volume I (here).

 

The Christian Book Burning
and the Annihilation of Classical Culture

Where is the wise person? Where is the educated one? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

—St. Paul, I Corinthians 1:20

Charlatanism is initiated among you by the schoolteacher, and as you have divided the science into parts [sacred & profane], you have moved away from the only true one.

—Tatian

After Jesus Christ, all research is already pointless. If we believe, we no longer demand anything that goes beyond our faith.

—Tertullian

If you want to read historical narratives, there you have the Book of The Kings. If, on the contrary, you want to read the wise men and philosophers, you have the prophets… And if you long for the hymns, you also have the psalms of David.

—Apostolic Constitution (3rd Century)

Religion is, therefore, the central core of the entire educational process and must permeate all educational measures.

Lexicon for Catholic Life (1952)

 
Constantine ordered to burn the fifteen books of the work Against the Christians written by Porphyry, the most astute of the opponents of Christianity in the pre-Constantinian era: ‘The first state prohibition of books decreed in favour of the Church’ (Hamack). And his successors, Theodosius II and Valentinian III, condemned Porphyry’s work again to the bonfire, in 448. This happened after Eusebius of Caesarea had written twenty-five books against this work and the doctor of the Church Cyril nothing less than thirty.

Towards the end of the 4th century, during the reign of Emperor Valens, there was a great burning of books, accompanied by many executions. That Christian regent gave free rein to his fury for almost two years, behaving like ‘a wild beast’, torturing, strangulating, burning people alive, and beheading. The innumerable records allowed to find the traces of many books that were destroyed, especially in the field of law and the liberal arts. Entire libraries went to the fire in the East. Sometimes they were eliminated by their owners under the effect of panic.

On the occasion of the assaults on the temples, the Christians destroyed, especially in the East, not only the images of the gods but also the liturgical books and those of the oracles. The Catholic Emperor Jovian (363-364) had the Antioch library destroyed by fire: the same library installed there by his predecessor Julian the Apostate. Following the assault on the Serapis in 391, during which the sinister Patriarch Theophilus himself destroyed, axe in hand, the colossal statue of Serapis carved by the great Athenian artist Bryaxis, the library was consumed by flames.

After the library of the Museum of Alexandria, which already had 700,000 rolls, was consumed by a casual fire during the siege war by Cesar (48-47 BC), the fame of Alexandria as a city possessing the most numerous and precious bibliographic treasures only lasted thanks to the library of the Serapis, since the supposed intention of Antony to give Cleopatra, as compensation for the loss of the library of the museum, the entire library of Pergamum, with 200,000 rolls , does not seem to have come to fruition. The burning of libraries on the occasion of the assault on the temples was indeed something frequent, especially in the East.

It happened once again under the responsibility of Theophilus, following the destruction of an Egyptian sanctuary in Canopus and that of the Marneion of Gaza in 402.

At the beginning of the 5th century, Stilicho burned in the West—with great dismay on the part of the Roman aristocracy faithful to the religion of his elders—the books of the Sibyl, the immortal mother of the world, as Rutilius Claudius Namatianus complained. To him, the Christian sect seemed worse than the poison of Circe.

In the last decades of the 5th century, the libelli found there (‘these were an abomination in the eyes of God’—Rhetor Zacharias)—were burnt in Beirut before the church of St. Mary. The ecclesiastical writer Zacharias, who was then studying law in Beirut, played a leading role in this action supported by the bishop and state authorities. And in the year 562 Emperor Justinian, who had ‘pagan’ philosophers, rectors, jurists and physicians persecuted, ordered the burning of Greco-Roman images and books in the Kynegion of Constantinople, where the criminals were liquidated.

Apparently, already at the borderline of the Middle Ages, Pope Gregory I the Great, a fanatical enemy of everything classical, burned books in Rome. And this celebrity—the only one, together with Leo I, in gathering in his person the double distinction of Pope and Doctor of the Church—seems to have been the one who destroyed the books that are missing in the work of Titus Livy. It is not even implausible that it was he who ordered the demolition of the imperial library on the Palatine. In any case, the English scholastic John of Salisbury, bishop of Chartres, asserts that Pope Gregory intentionally destroyed manuscripts of classical authors of Roman libraries.

Everything indicates that many adepts of the Greco-Roman culture converted to Christianity had to prove to have really moved their convictions by burning their books in full view. Also, in some hagiographic narratives, both false and authentic, there is that commonplace of the burning of books as a symbol, so to speak, of a conversion story.

It was not always forced to go to the bonfire. Already in the first half of the 3rd century, Origen, very close in this regard to Pope Gregory, ‘desisted from teaching grammar as being worthless and contrary to sacred science and, calculating coldly and wisely, he sold all his works of the ancients authors with whom he had occupied until then in order not to need help from others for the sustenance of his life’ (Eusebius).

There is hardly anything left of the scientific critique of Christianity on the part of adherents to classical culture. The emperor and the Church took care of it. Even many Christian responses to it disappeared! (probably because there was still too much ‘pagan poison’ on its pages). But it was the classical culture itself on which the time came for its disappearance under the Roman Empire.
 

The annihilation of the Greco-Roman world

The last emperor of classical antiquity, the great Julian, certainly favoured the adherents of the old culture, but simultaneously tolerated the Christians: ‘It is, by the gods, my will that the Galileans not be killed, that they are not beaten unjustly or suffer any other type of injustice. I declare, however, that the worshipers of the gods will have a clear preference in front of them. For the madness of the Galileans was about to overthrow everything, while the veneration of the gods saved us all. That is why we have to honour the gods and the people and communities that venerate them’.

After Julian’s death, to whom the orator Libanius felt united by faith and friendship, Libanius complains deeply, moved by the triumph of Christianity and by its barbarous attacks on the old religion.

Oh! What a great sorrow took hold not only of the land of the Achaeans, but of the entire empire… The honours of which the good ones participated have disappeared; the friendship of the wicked and unbridled enjoys great prestige. Laws, repressive of evil, have already been repealed or are about to be. Those that remain are barely fulfilled in practice.

Full of bitterness, Libanius continues to address his co-religionists:

That faith, which until now was the object of mockery and that fought against you so fierce and untiring, has proved to be the strongest. It has extinguished the sacred fire, the joy of sacrifices, has ordered to savagely neat [its adversaries] and demolish the altars. It has locked the shrines and temples, if not destroyed them or turned them into brothels after declaring them impious. It has abrogated any activity with your faith…

In that final assault on the Greco-Roman world, the Christian emperors were mostly and for a long time less aggressive than the Christian Church. Under Jovian (363-364), the first successor of Julian, Hellenism does not seem to have suffered major damage except the closure and demolition of some temples. Also the successors of Jovian, Valentinian I and Valens, during whose government appears for the first time the term pagani referring the faithful of the old polytheism, maintained an attitude of relative tolerance toward them.

The Catholic Valentinian with plenty of reasons, because his interest was in the army and needed inner peace, tried to avoid religious conflicts. He still covered the high positions of the government almost evenly, even with a slight predominance of the believers in the gods.

Under Valens, nevertheless, the high Christian officials already constituted a majority before the Hellenes. Yet he fought the Catholics, even using the help of the Hellenes for reasons, of course, purely opportunistic.

Although the emperor Gratian, for continuing the rather liberal religious policy of his father Valentinian I, had promised tolerance to almost all the confessions of the empire by an edict promulgated in 378, in practice soon followed an opposite behaviour, for he was strongly influenced by the bishop of Milan, Ambrose.

Under Valentinian II, brother of Gratian, things really turned around and the relationship between high Christian officials and the adherents of the old culture was again balanced and the army chiefs, two polytheists, played a decisive role in the court. Even in Rome two other Hellenes of great prestige, Praetextatus and Symmachus, exerted the charges of praetorian and urban prefect respectively.

Gradually, however, Valentinian, as his brother once did, fell under the disastrous influence of the resident bishop of Milan, Ambrose. Something similar to what would happen later with Theodosius I. Ambrose lived according to his motto: ‘For the “gods of the heathen are but devils” as the Holy Scripture says; therefore, anyone who is a soldier of this true God must not give proof of tolerance and condescension, but of zeal for faith and religion’.

And indeed, the powerful Theodosius ruled during the last years of his term, at least as far as religious policy was concerned, strictly following Ambrose’s wishes. First, the rites of non-Christians were definitively banned at the beginning of 391. Later the temples and sanctuaries of Serapis in Alexandria were closed, which soon would be destroyed. In 393 the Olympic games were prohibited. The infant emperors of the 5th century [1] were puppets in the hands of the Church. That is why the court also committed itself more and more intensely in the struggle against classical culture, a struggle that the Church had already vehemently fuelled in the 4th century and that led gradually to the systematic extermination of the old faith.

The best-known bishops took part in this extermination, which intensified after the Council of Constantinople (381), with Rome and the East, especially Egypt, as the most notorious battlefields of the conflict between the Hellenes and the Christians.
 
___________

[1] Deschner is referring to emperors Arcadius, Theodosius II and Honorius whose reigns will be described in other translations of his books.

Darkening Age, 5

Celsus and Democritus

Note of the Ed.: Celsus was Christianity’s first great critic. The following is an excerpt from Nixey’s chapter ‘Wisdom is Foolishness’:
 

Celsus did not soften his attack either. This first assault on Christianity was vicious, powerful and, like Gibbon, immensely readable. Yet unlike Gibbon, today almost no one has heard of Celsus and fewer still have read his work. Because Celsus’s fears came true. Christianity continued to spread, and not just among the lower classes. Within 150 years of Celsus’s attack, even the Emperor of Rome professed himself a follower of the religion.

What happened next was far more serious than anything Celsus could ever have imagined. Christianity not only gained adherents, it forbade people from worshipping the old Roman and Greek gods. Eventually, it simply forbade anyone to dissent from what Celsus considered its idiotic teachings. To pick just one example from many, in AD 386, a law was passed targeting those ‘who con­ tend about religion’ in public. Such people, this law warned, were the ‘disturbers of the peace of the Church’ and they ‘shall pay the penalty of high treason with their lives and blood’.

Celsus paid his own price. In this hostile and repressive atmosphere his work simply disappeared. Not one single unadulterated volume of the work by Christianity’s first great critic has survived. Almost all information about him has vanished too, including any of his names except his last; what prompted him to write his attack; or where and when he wrote it. The long and inglorious Christian practice of censorship was now beginning.

However, by a quirk of literary fate, most of his words have survived. Because eighty-odd years after Celsus fulminated against the new religion, a Christian apologist named Origen mounted a fierce and lengthy counter-attack. Origen was rather more earnest than his occasionally bawdy classical adversary. Indeed, it was said that Origen had even taken the words of Matthew 19:12 (‘For there are some eunuchs… which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake’) a little too much to heart and, in a fit of heavenly self-abnegation, castrated himself.

Ironically, it was the very work that had been intended to demolish Celsus that saved him. No books of Celsus have survived the centuries untouched, true—but Origen’s attack has and it quoted Celsus at length. Scholars have therefore been able to extract Celsus’s arguments from Origen’s words, which preserved them like flies in amber. Not all of the words—perhaps only seventy per cent of the original work has been recovered. Its order has gone, its structure has been lost and the whole thing, as Gibbon put it, is a ‘mutilated representation’ of the original. But nevertheless we have it…

In the ensuing centuries, texts that contained such dangerous ideas paid a heavy price for their ‘heresy’. As has been lucidly argued by Dirk Rohmann, an academic who has produced a comprehensive and powerful account of the effect of Christianity on books, some of the greatest figures in the early Church rounded on the atomists. Augustine disliked atomism for precisely the same reason that atomists liked it: it weakened mankind’s terror of divine punishment and Hell. Texts by philosophical schools that championed atomic theory suffered.

The Greek philosopher Democritus had perhaps done more than anyone to popularize this theory—though not only this one. Democritus was an astonishing polymath who had written works on a breathless array of other topics. A far from complete list of his titles includes: On History; On Nature; the Science of Medicine; On the Tangents of the Circle and the Sphere; On Irrational Lines and Solids; On the Causes of Celestial Phenomena; On the Causes of Atmospheric Phenomena; On Reflected Images… The list goes on. Today Democritus’s most famous theory is his atomism. What did the other theories state? We have no idea: every single one of his works was lost in the ensuing centuries. As the eminent physicist Carlo Rovelli recently wrote, after citing an even longer list of the philosopher’s titles: ‘the loss of the works of Democritus in their entirety is the greatest intellectual tragedy to ensue from the collapse of the old classical civilisation’…

Celsus wasn’t merely annoyed at the lack of education among these people. What was far worse was that they actually celebrated ignorance. They declare, he wrote, that ‘Wisdom in this life is evil, but foolishness is good’—an almost precise quotation from Corinthians. Celsus verges on hyperbole, but it is true that in this period Christians gained a reputation for being uneducated to the point of idiotic; even Origen, Celsus’s great adversary, admitted that ‘the stupidity of some Christians is heavier than the sand of the sea.’

Kriminalgeschichte, 23

Editor’s Note: The book of Porphyry, of which the Christians destroyed all the copies and only fragments remain, is worth more than the opus of all Christian theologians together.

Yesterday I sent a message to Joseph Hoffmann, author of Porphyry’s ‘Against the Christians’: The Literary Remains. I asked him if he is willing to republish it in Lulu, as it is out-of-print (I own the copy I purchased in 1994).

Porphyry, a detail of the Tree of
Jesse
, 1535, Sucevița Monastery.

 

______ 卐 ______

 

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

(Criminal History of Christianity)

 
Celsus and Porphyry: the first adversaries of Christianity

Before looking more closely at these new Christian majesties, let us look briefly at two of the first great adversaries of Christianity in antiquity.

Soon the pagans knew how to spot the weak points in the argument of the holy fathers and refute them, when not leading them ad absurdum.

While it is true that the first Christian emperors ordered the destruction of the anti-Christian works of these philosophers, it is possible to reconstruct them in part by cutting off the treatises of their own adversaries. Celsus’ work in particular is derived from a response of eight books written by Origen about 248. The most influential theologian of the early days of Christendom evidently took a lot of work in refuting Celsus, which is all the more difficult because in many passages he was forced to confess the rationale of his adversary.

In spite of being one of the most honest Christians that can be mentioned, and in spite of his own protests of integrity, in many cases Origen had to resort to subterfuges, to the omission of important points, and accuses Celsus of the same practices. Celsus was an author certainly not free of bias but more faithful to the reality of the facts. Origen reiterates his qualification of him as a first-class fool, although having bothered to write an extended replica ‘would rather prove the opposite’ as Geffcken says.

The True Word (Alethés Logos) of Celsus, originating from the end of the 2nd century, is the first diatribe against Christianity that we know. As a work of someone who was a Platonic philosopher, the style is elegant for the most part, nuanced and skilful, sometimes ironic, and not completely devoid of a will to conciliation. The author is well versed in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and also in the internal history of the Christian communities. Little we know of his figure, but as can be deduced from his work he was certainly not a vulgar character.

Celsus clearly distinguished the most precarious points of Christian doctrine, for example the mixing of Jewish elements with Stoicism, Platonism, and even Egyptian and Persian mystical beliefs and cults. He says that ‘all this was best expressed among the Greeks… and without so much haughtiness or pretension to have been announced by God or the Son of God in person’.

Celsus mocks the vanity of the Jews and the Christians, their pretensions of being the chosen people: ‘God is above all, and after God we are created by him and like him in everything; the rest, the earth, the water, the air and the stars is all ours, since it was created for us and therefore must be put to our service’. To counter this, Celsus compares ‘the thinness of Jews and Christians’ with ‘a flock of bats, or an anthill, or a pond full of croaking frogs or earthworms’, stating that man does not carry as much advantage to the animal and that he is only a fragment of the cosmos.

From there, Celsus is forced to ask why the Lord descended among us. ‘Did he need to know about the state of affairs among men? If God knows everything, he should already have been aware, and yet he did nothing to remedy such situations before’. Why precisely then, and why should only a tiny part of humanity be saved, condemning others ‘to the fire of extermination’?

With all reason from the point of view of the history of religions, Celsus argues that the figure of Christ is not so exceptional compared to Hercules, Asclepius, Dionysus and many others who performed wonders and helped others.

Or do you think that what is said of these others are fables and must pass as such, whereas you have given a better version of the same comedy, or more plausible, as he exclaimed before he died on the cross, and the earthquake and the sudden darkness?

Before Jesus there were divinities that died and resurrected, legendary or historical, just as there are testimonies of the miracles that worked, along with many other ‘prodigies’ and ‘games of skill that conjurers achieve’. ‘And they are able to do such things, shall we take them for the Sons of God?’ Although, of course, ‘those who wish to be deceived are always ready to believe in apparitions such as the ones of Jesus’.

Celsus repeatedly emphasises that Christians are among the most uncultured and most likely to believe in prodigies, that their doctrine only convinces ‘the most simple people’ since it is ‘simple and lacks scientific character’. In contrast to educated people, says Celsus, Christians avoid them, knowing that they are not fooled. They prefer to address the ignorant to tell them ‘great wonders’ and make them believe that

parents and teachers should not be heeded, but listened only to them. That the former only say nonsense and foolishness and that only Christians have the key of the things and that they know how to make happy the creatures that follow them… And they insinuate that, if they want, they can abandon their parents and teachers.

A century after Celsus, Porphyry took over the literary struggle against the new religion. Born about 233 and probably in Tyre (Phoenicia), from 263 Porphyry settled in Rome, where he lived for decades and became known as one of the main followers of Plotinus.

Of the fifteen books of Porphyry’s Adversus Christianos (Against the Christians), fruit of a convalescence in Sicily, today only some quotations and extracts are preserved. The work itself was a victim of the decrees of Christian princes, Constantine I and then, by 448, the emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III who ordered the first purge of books in the interest of the Church.

Unfortunately, the conserved references of the work do not give as complete an idea as in the case of Celsus. We may suppose that Porphyry knew The True Word; some arguments are repeated almost verbatim, which is quite logical. As to the coming of Christ Porphyry asks, for example, ‘Why was it necessary to wait for a recent time, allowing so many people to be damned?’

Porphyry seems more systematic than Celsus, more erudite; he excels as a historian and philologist, as well as in the knowledge of the Christian Scriptures. He masters the details more thoroughly and criticises the Old Testament and the Gospels severely; discovers contradictions, which makes him a forerunner of the rationalistic criticism of the Bible. He also denies the divinity of Jesus: ‘Even if there were some among the Greeks so obtuse as to believe that the gods actually reside in the images they have of them, none would be so great as to admit that the divinity could enter the womb of virgin Mary, to become a foetus and be wrapped in diapers after childbirth’.

Porphyry also criticises Peter, and above all Paul: a character who seems to him (as to many others to date) remarkably disagreeable. He judges him ordinary, obscurantist and demagogue. He even claims that Paul, being poor, preached to get money from wealthy ladies, and that this was the purpose of his many journeys. Even St Jerome noticed the accusation that the Christian communities were run by women and that the favour of the ladies decided who could access the dignity of the priesthood.

Porphyry also censures the doctrine of salvation, Christian eschatology, the sacraments, baptism and communion. The central theme of his criticism is, in fact, the irrationality of the beliefs and, although he does not spare expletives, Paulsen could write in 1949:

Porphyry’s work was such a boast of erudition, refined intellectualism, and a capacity for understanding the religious fact, that it has never been surpassed before or since by any other writer. It anticipates all the modern criticism of the Bible, to the point that many times the current researcher, while reading it, can only nod quietly to this or that passage.

The theologian Harnack writes that ‘Porphyry has not yet been refuted’, ‘almost all his arguments, in principle, are valid’.

Kriminalgeschichte, 17

Antonello da Messina
Jerome in his study, ca. 1474-1475
National Gallery, London

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

(Criminal History of Christianity)

 
St. Jerome and his ‘cattle for the slaughter of hell’

To the master Jerome, rich in wealth inherited from a noble Catholic household, we can admit without any doubt his words, ‘I have never respected the doctors of error, and I have always felt as a necessity of the heart that the enemies of the Church were also my enemies’.

And Jerome, in fact, so ardently took up the fight against the heretics that, unintentionally, supplied more than enough ammunition to the pagans, even in a treatise on virginity which he considered very precious. Still immature as in the days of his most ardent youth, the saint dedicated the text to Eustachia, a very young (seventeen-year-old) Roman of nobility, a ‘disciple’ and, in time, also saint: her celebration is commemorated on September 28. Jerome made known to her ‘the dirt and vices of all kinds’, as his modern biographer admits, the theologian Georg Grützmacher, calling it ‘disgusting’.

At the same time that he turns red-hot against the ‘heretics’ and receives, occasionally, the same qualification, Jerome plagiarises to right and left, wanting to be admired for his imposing erudition. He copied Tertullian almost verbatim, without naming him. From the great pagan sage Porphyry he took everything he knew of medicine, without recognising the merit. The ‘repellent mendacity of Jerome’ (Grützmacher) is often manifested.

Coming from such a holy mouth, it seems an exercise in moderation to just call Origen ‘blasphemous’, from whom he also ‘boldly’ copied ‘entire pages’ (Schneider), or when he says of Basilides that he was ‘an ancient master of errors, only notable by his ignorance’, and of Palladium ‘a man of low intentions’. Already in his habitual tone he calls the heretics ‘donkeys in two feet, eaters of thistles’ (of the prayers of the Jews—who according to him is a race unworthy to appear in the human race—he also said that they were heehaws); he compares Christians of other beliefs with ‘pigs’ and asserts that they are ‘cattle for the slaughter of hell’, in addition to denying them the name of Christians, since they are ‘of the devil’: ‘Omnes haeretici christiani non sunt. Si Christi non sunt, diaboli sunt’.

This most holy doctor of the Church, to whom we give special attention in this section (because we have not given him a chapter of his own, unlike the pure theologians such as Athanasius, Ambrose and Augustine), made many enemies even with people of his own party; for example the patriarch John of Jerusalem, whom Jerome persecuted and also his hermits, for many years. And even more violent was his enmity with Rufinus of Aquileia; in all these cases the discussion dealt with the works of Origen, at least apparently.

Origen himself, whose father Leonidas won in 202 the palm of martyrdom, suffered torture under Decius but refused to apostatise, and died in about 254 (he would be about seventy), it is unknown whether as a result of torture. What is certain is that Origen was one of the noblest figures in the history of Christianity.

This disciple of Clement of Alexandria personified in his time all Eastern Christian theology. Even long after his death he would be praised by many bishops, or rather by most of the East among them Basil, Doctor of the Church, and Gregory of Nazianzus, who collaborated in an anthology of the writings of Origen under the title Philokalia. The text was even appreciated by Athanasius, who protected it and quoted it many times. Today Origen is again praised by many Catholic theologians and it is possible that the Church has repented of its condemnation for heresy, too little nuanced, that pronounced against him at the time.

In antiquity the disputes around Origen were almost constant; as is often the case, faith was hardly more than a pretext in all of them. This was especially evident around the year 300, and in the year 400, and again in the middle of the 6th century, when nine theses of Origen were condemned in 553 by an edict of Justinian, adding to this sentence all the bishops of the empire, among whom the Patriarch Menas of Constantinople and Pope Vigilius stand out. The emperor’s decision had political (ecclesial) motives: the attempt to end the theological division between Greeks and Syrians, by uniting them against a common enemy, none other than Origen.

But there were also dogmatic reasons (which, after all, are political reasons too): some ‘errors’ of Origen such as his ‘subordination’ Christology, according to which the Son is less than the Father, and the Spirit less than the Son, which certainly reflects better the beliefs of the early Christians than the later dogma. His doctrine of apocatastasis is also worth mentioning, the universal reconciliation which denied that hell was eternal: a horrible idea that for Origen cannot be reconciled with divine mercy, and finds its origin (as well as the opposite doctrine) in the New Testament.

* * *

The measure of a saint who could so rudely argue against the other fathers was demonstrated by Jerome in a short treatise, Contra Vigilantius, written according to his own confession in a single night. Vigilantius was a Gallic priest from the beginning of the 5th century, who had undertaken such a frank and passionate campaign against the repellent cult of relics and saints; against asceticism in all its forms, and against anchorites and celibacy, and received the support of a few bishops.

‘The mantle of the Earth has produced many monsters’, Jerome begins his outburst, ‘and Gaul was the only country that still lacked a monster of its own… Hence, Vigilantius appeared, or it would be better to call him Dormitantius, to fight with his impure spirit the spirit of Christ’.

‘Then he would call him ‘descendant of highway robbers and people of bad life’, ‘degenerate spirit’, ‘upset dimwit, worthy of the Hippocratic straitjacket’, ‘sleeper’, ‘tavern owner’, ‘serpent’s tongue’ and he found in him ‘devilish malice’, ‘the poison of falsehood’, ‘blasphemies’, ‘slanderous defamation’, ‘thirst for money’, ‘drunkenness comparable to that of Father Bacchus’ and accused him of ‘wallowing in the mud’ and ‘bearing the banner of the devil; not that of the Cross’. Jerome writes: ‘Vigilantius, living dog’, ‘O monster, who ought to be deported to the ends of the world!’, ‘O shame!, they say that he has bishops, even as accomplices of his crimes’ and so on, always in the same tone.

Equally harsh was the polemical tone used by Jerome against Jovinian, a monk established in Rome. Jovinian had moved away from the radical asceticism of bread and water and at that time advocated a more tolerable lifestyle; had many followers who thought that fasting and virginity were not special merits, nor virgins better than married women.

Jerome only dared to launch his two treaties against Jovinian after the latter had been condemned by two synods in the mid-nineties of the 4th century: one in Rome under the direction of Bishop Siricius, and another in Milan presided over by Ambrose, who judged Jovinian’s quite reasonable opinions in the final analysis, as ‘howls of wild beasts’ and ‘barking dogs’. On his behalf, Augustine, sniffing ‘heresy’, appealed to the intervention of the State and to better emphasize his theses he got the monk to be whipped with whips of lead tips and exiled him with his acolytes to a dalmatic island. ‘It is not cruelty to do things before God with pious intent’, Jerome wrote.

Jerome’s ‘main skill’ consisted in ‘making all his opponents appear as rogues and soulless, without exception’ (Grützmacher). This was the typical polemical style of a saint, who, for example, also insulted Lupicinus, the canon judge of general jurisdiction in his hometown of Stridon with whom he had become antagonistic, concluding the diatribe with this mockery: ‘For the ass’s mouth thistles are the best salad’. Or as when he charged against Pelagius, a man of truly ascetic customs, of great moral stature and highly educated. In spite of having once been a friend of Jerome, he describes him as a simpleton, fattened with porridge, a demon, a corpulent dog, ‘a well-primed big animal’ which does more harm with the nails than with the teeth.

That dog belongs to the famous Irish race, not far from Brittany as everyone knows, and must be terminated with a single stroke with the sword of the spirit, as with that Cerberus can of legend, to make him shut up once and for all the same as his master, Pluto.

While dispensing this treatment to a man as universally respected as Pelagius, Jerome advocates asceticism and the anchorite life: the subjects of most of his works, with so many lies and exaggerations that even Luther, in his table talk, protests: ‘I know of no doctor who is as unbearable as Jerome…’

This Jerome, who sometimes slandered without contemplation and praised others with little respect for the truth, who was for sometime advisor and secretary of Pope Damasus and then abbot in Bethlehem; a panegyrist of asceticism that enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages, has been raised with infallible instinct to the university patronage, in particular in the theological faculties. It seems to us that he was short of becoming pope. At the very least, he himself testifies that according to the common opinion, he was deserving of the highest ecclesiastical dignity: ‘I have been called holy, humble, eloquent’.

His intimate relations with various ladies of the high Roman aristocracy excited the envy of the clergy. In addition, the death of a young woman, attributed by the indignant people (perhaps for some reason) to the ‘detestabile genus monachorum’, made him unpresentable in Rome. That is why he fled, followed shortly by his female friends, from the city of his dreams of ambition.

In the 20th century, however, Jerome ‘still shines’ in the great Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche edited by Buchberger, bishop of Regensburg, ‘despite certain negative aspects; for his manliness of good and the elevation of his views, for the seriousness of his penances and the severity towards himself, for his sincere piety and his ardent love for the Church’.

Published in: on October 14, 2017 at 12:33 pm  Comments Off on Kriminalgeschichte, 17  
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Kriminalgeschichte, 12

A month ago I wrote that the oldest Christian texts are a treat if we compare them with the version of Christianity that conquered the United States: the worst Christianity of all times. I also said that it’s the worst precisely because it transmuted the anti-Semitism of the early theologians into the philo-Semitism brought to this continent by the spiritual sons of Cromwell.

Judge it by yourselves. In the first book of his ten-volume Criminal History of Christianity Karlheinz Deschner explains the anti-Judaism in the Church from the 2nd to the 4th centuries:

The increasing hostility against the Jews in times of primitive Christianity is observed in the writings of the iospatres aevi apostolici, that is, of the apostolic fathers, a designation created by the patristics of the 17th century to refer to the authors who lived shortly after the apostles: ‘When the earth was still warm from the blood of Christ’, according to the expression of St. Jerome…

St. Justin, an important philosopher of the second century, was much pleased (as was Tertullian, Athanasius, and others) about the terrible destruction of Palestine by the Romans, the ruin of their cities, and the burning of their inhabitants. All this is judged by the saint as a punishment from heaven, ‘what has happened to you is well deserved… criminal breed, children of harlot.’

And the invectives of the ‘very fine Justin’ (Harnack), whose celebration is attached to the 14th of April by disposition of Leo XIII (who died in 1903), do not end there. The saint devotes many other epithets to the Jews: he calls them sick souls, degenerates, blind, lame, idolaters, sons of bitches and sacks of evil. He states that there is not enough water in the seas to clean them.

This man, who according to the exegete Eusebius lived ‘at the service of the truth’ and died ‘for proclaiming the truth’, affirms that the Jews are guilty of all ‘injustices committed by all other men’, a slander in which did not fall even Streicher, Hitler’s propagandist.

At the beginning of the third century, the Roman bishop Hippolytus, disciple of St Irenaeus and father of the ‘early Catholic Church’, wrote a poisonous pamphlet, Against the Jews. He called them ‘slaves of the nations’ and demanded that the servitude of this people does not last seventy years as the captivity of Babylon, or four hundred and thirty years as in Egypt, but ‘for all eternity.’

St. Cyprian, who was a very wealthy man, rector and bishop of Carthage in the year 248 after divorcing his wife, devoted himself to collecting anti-Jewish aphorisms and thus supplied ammunition to all Christian anti-Semites of the Middle Ages. According to the teachings of this celebrated martyr, characterized by his ‘indulgence and cordial manliness for the good’ (Erhard), the Jews ‘have as father the devil’; exactly what the Stürmer said, the newspaper of agitation for the Hitler SS. The great author Tertullian says that the synagogues are ‘the sources of the persecution’ (fontes persecutionum)…

The Stürmer was the periodical that inspired Andrew Anglin to name his Daily Stormer.

Even the noble Origen thinks that the doctrines of the Jews of his time are only fables and vacuous words; to their ancestors he once again reproaches for ‘the most abominable crime’ against ‘the Saviour of the human race; that is why it was necessary that the city where Jesus suffered was destroyed, and that the Jewish people should be expelled from their homeland’…

With the increase of clergy power in the 4th century, the virulence of anti-Judaism also grew, as the theologian Harnack observed. It was becoming more frequent for the ‘fathers’ to write pamphlets against the Jews. Some of the oldest ones have been lost; our references begin with those of Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, and a number of Church doctors, from St. Augustine to St. Isidore of Seville in the 7th century. Anti-Jewish pamphlets became a literary genre within the Church (Oepke).

Gregory of Nazianzus, even today celebrated as a great theologian, condemned the Jews in a single litany, where he calls them murderers of God and of the prophets; enemies of God, people who hate God, despise the Law, devil’s advocates, race of blasphemers, slanderers, scoundrel of Pharisees, sinners, lapidary men, enemies of honesty, assembly of Satan, etcetera. ‘Not even Hitler made more accusations against the Jews in less words than the saint and bishop of sixteen hundred years ago.’

Deschner devotes a few pages to the anti-Semitic pronouncements of St. Ephrem (306-373), John Chrysostom, St. Jerome and Hilary of Poitiers. Then he tells us:

In 1940, in the middle of the Hitler era, Carl Schneider confesses that ‘rarely in history is anti-Semitism as determined and as uncompromising… as that of those early Christians’.

Compare this primitive Christianity with the standing applause with which all the congressmen, both Democrats and Republicans, received Benjamin Netanyahu—and tell me with a straight face that I am wrong that the worst type of Christianity conquered the most powerful nation in modern history!

Porphyry

The following excerpts are taken from the introduction and epilogue of Joseph Hoffman’s book, Porphyry’s Against the Christians. Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:


wanderer
Persecution is a slippery term in the annals of the early church. An older generation of church historians, using the martyrologies and writings of the church fathers as their sources, believed that the era from Nero to Constantine was one of almost unremitting slaughter of professing Christians. Their opinion was enfeebled somewhat by the certainty that the Romans could have tried a “final solution” to the Christian problem much earlier, if they had wanted, and the fact that along with boasting of their many martyrs, church writers like Origen also bragged that rich folk, high officials, elegant ladies, and illuminati were entering the church in great numbers. The pagan writers tried to counter this trend in their insistence that Christianity was really a religion for the lazy, the ignorant and superstitious, and the lowborn—“women, yokels and children,” Celsus had sneered. But the ploy was ineffective. Diocletian’s persecutions revealed that Christianity had crept into the emperor’s bedroom: his wife, his daughter, their servants, the treasury official Audactus, the eunuch Dorotheus, even the director of the purple dye factory in Tyre, were Christians or Christian sympathizers. Insulting the new converts did not stop the process of conversion. The political solution of the third century, therefore, was an attempt to scare people off—to make being a Christian an expensive proposition. Persecution was the strong-arm alternative to failed polemical tactics by the likes of Celsus, Porphyry and Hierocles.

In 250 Decius decreed simply that Christians would be required to sacrifice to the gods of Rome by offering wine and eating sacrificial meat. Those who refused would be sentenced to death. To avoid this punishment, well-to-do Christians seem to have given up this new religion in substantial numbers, becoming in the eyes of the faithful “apostates,” a new designation derived from the Greek word revolt. The apostates also numbered many bishops, including the bishop of the important region of Smyrna, as well as Jewish Christians who rejoined the synagogue, as Judaism was not encompassed in the Decian order.

In the reign of Valerian (253-260) the focus shifted from the practice of the Christian faith to the church’s ownership of property. In August 257, Valerian targeted the wealth of the clergy and in 258 the riches of prominent Christian lay persons. The tactic was obviously intended to make upper-crust Romans think twice before throwing their wealth in the direction of the “beggar priests” as Porphyry called them.

On 31 March 297, under the emperor Diocletian, the Manichean religion was outlawed. Like Christianity it was an “import” of dubious vintage. More particularly, it was Persian, and Rome was at war with Persia. Holy books and priests were seized and burned without much ado. Professing members of the cult were put to death without trial. The most prominent Roman Manicheans (the so-called honestiores) were spared, but their property was confiscated and they were sent to work in the mines. The process against the Manicheans boded worse things to come for the Christians.

Diocletian published his first decree against the Christians in February 303. The edict to stamp out (“terminate”) the Christian religion was issued. Diocletian had hoped to cripple the movement. Termination would have meant extermination. But the survival tactics of the movement made police work difficult. Christians had become sly. The enthusiasm of martyrdom was now paralleled by accomplished doubletalk.

Executions increased, especially after rumors reached Galerius that plots against the throne were being fomented in Christian circles. New edicts were issued with regularity, each a little more severe than the one before. The fourth edict (304) required that all the people of a city must sacrifice and offer libations to the gods “as a body,” Christians included. Diocletian abdicated, in declining health. Galerius issued an edict of toleration.

Maximinus Daia, who had an active retaining program in place, designed to reeducate lapsed Christians in their pagan heritage. But the life was going out of the movement to repress Christianity. The pagan critics had not succeeded in stemming the popularity of the movement, and the “persecuting” emperors (except perhaps Diocletian himself) had miscalculated both the numbers and the determination of the faithful. The movement was Rome’s Vietnam, a slow war of attrition which had been fought to stop a multiform enemy. Even at their worst under Diocletian, the persecutions had been selective and, in their intense form, short-lived. And (as has been known since the seventeenth century) the number of martyrs was not great.

The goal of the fourth edict against the Christians in 304, in fact, had been to compel loyalty to unpopular rulers, and in 308 the greatly detested Maximinus tried the same tactic, “to offer sacrifices and wine-offerings.” The tactic was ineffectual, Eusebius says, because even the enforcers had lost their heart to impose the penalties and to support the machinery required for the “sacrifice factories” Maximinus tried to set up.

Unhappy with this failure, he sponsored a literary attack, circulating forged gospels and memoirs containing the stock slanders against Jesus. These were posted in public gathering-places and schoolteachers were required to assign portions of them to children as lessons. To substantiate charges against the moral habits of the Christians, Maximinus then hired agents (duces) to round up prostitutes from the marketplace in Damascus. Tortured until they confessed to being Christians, they then signed statements to the effect that the churches routinely practiced ritual prostitution and required members to participate in sexually depraved acts. These statements were also distributed to the towns and cities for public display.

Desperate times, desperate men, desperate measures.

By the time Galerius issued his edict of toleration in favor of the Christians on 30 April 311 three waves of attack had failed: the erratic policies of emperors Nero and Marcus Aurelius; the literary and philosophical attacks, carried on in collusion with imperial sponsors; and the more sustained persecutions of the third century, ending in 311. Paganism was dying. Maximinus’ plan for “reeducating” Christians in the religion of their ancestors had failed.

After Constantine’s conversion—whatever it may have been—only Julian (332-363), his nephew, remained to pick up the baton for the pagan cause. Julian did his best to reestablish the old order. He reorganized the shrines and temples; outlawed the teachings of Christian doctrine in the schools, retracted the legal and financial privileges which the Christians had been accumulating since the early fourth century; wrote polemical treaties against the Christians himself, and—in a clever political maneuver—permitted exiled bishops to return to their sees to encourage power-struggles and dissention within the church. Naturally, the Christians despised him. The distinguished theologian Gregory of Nazianzus had been Julian’s schoolmate in Athens, where both learned a love for the classical writers (but where Julian had been converted to Greek humanism). Cyril of Alexandria wrote a long refutation of Julian’s Adversus Christianos (Against the Christians), parts of which hark back to Porphyry and Hierocles. All in all, this pagan interlude—never really a renaissance—lasted only three years, until Julian’s death in June 363.

In the middle of this period we have just described stands Porphyry of Tyre. Born in 232, Porphyry was eighteen when the persecution broke out under emperor Decius. Twelve years later, his dislike for Christianity was firmly established. Porphyry had heard Origen preach, studied the Hebrew scripture, especially the prophets, and the Christian gospels, and found them lacking in literary quality and philosophical sophistication. He had joined a “school” in Rome (ca. 262) run by the famous neoplatonic teacher, Plotinus, where he remained until about 270. In Sicily, following Plotinus’ death, and back again to Rome, Porphyry developed an intense dislike of popular religion—or superstition, as the Roman intellectuals of his circle preferred to call it, regarding Christianity as the most pernicious form of a disease infecting the empire. In a work titled Pros Anebo he pointed out the defects in the cults. Then he tackled Christian teaching in a work. Popular under the rescript of Galerius in 311, the work was targeted for destruction by the imperial church, which in 448 condemned all existing copies to be burned.

The first thing to say about Porphyry’s fifteen books against the Christians is that they are lost. The exact title is not known, and its popular title, Kata Christianon, can be dated securely only from the Middle Ages. Opinions radically differ over the question whether the books can be substantially restored. A few facts can be stated succinctly, however. First, the church was unusually successful in its efforts to eradicate all traces of Kata Christianon from at least 448. Not only were Porphyry’s books destroyed, but many of the works of Christian writers incorporating sections of Porphyry’s polemic were burned in order to eliminate what one critic, the bishop Apollinarius, called “poison of his thought.”

Second, the ninety-seven fragments gathered by Harnack, half of which were taken from the fourth-century writer Macarius Magnes, are enough—if barely enough—to give us shape of Porphyry’s critique. That Macarius does not name his opponent and sometimes seems to characterize rather than quote his opinions could easily be explained as a strategic decision by a Christian teacher who wished his defense to survive. Naming his adversary—or quoting him too precisely—would have almost certainly guaranteed the burning of Macarius’ defense. Put appositely, anyone wishing to write a defense of the faith in the fourth or fifth century would have been foolhardy to identify the enemy as Porphyry.

[Third], I think we owe it to Porphyry and his “interpreters” to permit them speak to us directly. Having been buried—more or less successfully—since 448, the words should be permitted to breathe their own air.