Christianity’s Criminal History, 104


 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 great Christian ideal:
The inversion of Greco-Roman values

Already at the end of the 4th century and only in the desert regions of Egypt, there were apparently 24,000 ascetics. They were buried in subterranean places, ‘like the dead in their graves’, they dwelt in huts of branches, in hollows with no other opening than a hole to creep up to them. They squatted like troglodytes on large rocks, on steep slopes, in grottos, in tiny cells, in cages, in dens of beasts and in trunks of dry trees, or else they were placed on columns.

In a word, they lived like wild animals because Saint Anthony, the first Christian monk known to history, had ordered ‘to lead an animal life’: a mandate that also the so often praised Benedict of Nursia adopted in his rule. And according to the currency of the ancient ascetics, ‘the true fast consists of permanent hunger’ and ‘the more opulent the body, the more minute the soul; and vice versa’. They limited themselves to picking out a grain of barley from the camel dung with their fingers, remaining, for the rest days or even whole weeks, in total abstinence.

Surely we should not always give credence to what the Christian chroniclers wrote. Some of these saints did not even exist. Some of these stories are of analogous nature of the ‘ancient Egyptian novels adapted to new ideas’ (Amélineau). Other stories, despite their propensity for hyperbole, are touching. Macarius of Alexandria, for example, kills a horsefly on a certain day and punishes himself. For six months he lies on the ground from which he would not move, in a wasteland ‘in which there are big gadflies like wasps, with stingers that pierce the skin of boars. His body is in such a state that when he returns to his cell they all take him for a leper and only recognise the saint by his voice’.

Whatever the degree of veracity of these stories, from them it clearly transcends everything that influenced, mislead and annoyed the Christians of that time and those of subsequent centuries: the sublime ‘ideal’ by which they had to abide. Those lunatics were idolised, celebrated, consulted and they and their peers passed for saints.

The Temptation of St. Anthony
by Matthias Grünewald.

Anthony wandered from one hiding place to another along the Libyan desert, attracting other anchorites, attracting demons and angels, having full visions of lascivious women, earning more and more the fame of sanctity, of the ideal (Christian) hero. Towards the end of his long life his stature literally grows, with so many miracles and visions, to enter heaven.

In relation to all this, the Vita Antonii (Life of Anthony) of that old forger that was Athanasius, exerted a most than nefarious influence. Written in Greek towards 360 and promptly translated into Latin, it became a popular success; even more, a paradigm of Greek and Latin hagiography.

And it is quite possible that, as Hertling praises, this fable of Anthony has been ‘one of those books that decide the fate of humanity’, since, according to Hartnack, ‘no other written work has had a more stunning effect on Egypt, Western Asia and Europe ‘that that despicable product which emerged from the pen of St. Athanasius the Great’, ‘perhaps the most fateful book of all that have ever been written’. That work is ‘the ultimate piece responsible for which demons, miracle stories and all kinds of goblins found their accommodation in the Church’ (Lexicon of Concepts for Antiquity and Christianity).

Throughout those centuries, most authors of primitive Christianity resolutely reject Greco-Roman culture, philosophy, poetry and art. In the face of all this, they maintained an attitude of profound distrust, of declared hostility: an attitude determined both by the resentment and the anti-Hellenic hatred of the more or less cultured Christians.

Darkening Age, 3

In the chapter ‘The Invisible Army’ of The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, Catherine Nixey talks about how, once the Christians seized the Weltanschauung of the Roman Empire, a demonological hysteria arose that led Christians to a state of virtual paranoia.

It is curious how Christians today ignore fundamental aspects of the history of their religion. When not long ago I told a friend about the demons that persecuted St Anthony the Great (251-356), I found out that he knew nothing about the subject: something so popular throughout Christendom that the ‘temptations of St Anthony’ permeated European imagination for centuries.

Saint Anthony was the founding father of the monastic life: one of the most influential men in Christianity. As a teenager I saw images like this painting by Grünewald. I knew that the demons (temptations) that the ascetic fought were sexual thoughts that he, who had taken a vow of chastity, had to fight.

The case of St Anthony, which Nixey details in the first chapter of her book, was not isolated. My ignorant Catholic friend, who did not know the history of this very influential man, could think that all that lies now in the remote past.

Not really. When I was a teenager my mother used to come to my room with holy water while I slept because she thought the devil had gotten into me. My sister was terrified to see, in puberty, the movie The Exorcist on the big screen because she believed that the devil really existed.

Decades later, when my brother wanted to divorce, my father wrote him a letter saying that the devil was hanging around tempting them to divorce. My mother even summoned her children on one occasion to tell us that, recovering from an operation, she had committed the blunder of challenging the devil so that he would not mess with her children, and that the devil had insinuated her presence in front of her. A priest scolded her: the devil should never be challenged: only ignored. More recently, some nuns told my mother that the noises they heard in their monastery were angry demons due to the saintly work of the nuns.

This is not the place to narrate how the Catholicism at home was a fundamental factor in the destruction of my adolescent life. I would just like to point out that, in Nixey’s chapter, it is described how, once the classical culture was destroyed, the Europeans were under perpetual attack by Satan and his fearsome soldiers, the demons. Their aim, in European imaginary, was to drag them all to damnation.

Currently a residue of this paranoia is only seen in the most traditional Christian families.

Published in: on June 15, 2018 at 10:34 am  Comments Off on Darkening Age, 3  
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Kriminalgeschichte, 48

Below, abridged translation from the first
volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte
des Christentums
(Criminal History of Christianity)

 
Other defamations of Athanasius, forgeries and the death of Arius

As he did to the emperor, Athanasius, of course, also attacked and defamed Arius. He constantly talks about Arius’ ‘delirium’, his ‘aberration’, his ‘deplorable and atheist speeches’, his ‘sour attitudes overflowing with atheism’. Arius is ‘the liar’, ‘the impious’, the precursor of the ‘Antichrist’. And likewise he rages against all the other ‘philandering of the Arian nonsense’, the ‘malicious’, the ‘quarrelsome’, the ‘enemies of Christ’, ‘the ungodly who have fallen into thoughtlessness’, ‘in the trap of the devil’.

However, Athanasius also reviled mercilessly, labelling them as ‘Arians’, all his personal adversaries and even, what is historically false, all the Antiochene theology. The one who opposes him he ‘declares without mercy, in a tone of utmost indignation, as a notorious heretic’ (Domes). The holy father of the Church, who boasted saying ‘we are Christians and we know how to appreciate the message of joy of the Redeemer’, says about Christians of different faith: ‘They are the vomit and the stool of the heretics’; he harasses by saying ‘his doctrine induces vomiting’, that they ‘carry it in their pocket like filth and they spit it like a serpent his poison’. The Arians even overcome ‘the betrayal of the Jews with their defamation of Christ’.

Nothing worse can be said. We already know this zeal and this Christian rage against any other faith, which have remained throughout the ages. The fact that Athanasius not only lacks scruples but possibly even believes much of what he preaches, only makes things worse: more dangerous as he encourages bigotry, intolerance, obstinacy and vanity of those who do not doubt never of themselves, perhaps not even of their cause, of their ‘right’.

The scandalous election of the saint led to the establishment of an anti-bishop and in many places to such street riots that the Emperor Constantine, in the year 332, complained in writing to the Catholics of Alexandria, impressed by the painful spectacle of the children of God, saying that they were not one iota better than the pagans.

Athanasius continued with ‘his own policy of pacification’ (Voelkl), beatings, imprisonments and expulsions of the Meletians (recently discovered papyrus epistles show that these accusations are justified). John Arcaph, the successor of Meletius, even claimed that, by order of Athanasius, he had bound Bishop Arsenius to a pillar and had him been burned alive. The saint had to answer for it before the court and in two synods. With the emperor he was acquitted but he did not appear before a synod summoned in the spring of the year 334 in Caesarea, Palestine.

In Constantinople, in the year 336, immediately after being readmitted into the Church, Arius died suddenly and mysteriously on the street, apparently when he was going to take communion, or perhaps on the way back. For the Catholics it was a divine punishment, for the Arians a murder. In a story full of details, Athanasius explains twenty years later that Arius had expired in response to the prayers of the local bishop: that he burst in public toilets and that he disappeared in the dung: an ‘odious legend’ (Kühner), a ‘fallacious story’ (Kraft) ‘which since then remains rooted in popular controversy, but which is revealed to the critical reader as the report of a death by poisoning’ (Lietzmann).[1]

Whoever in this way literally throws an enemy into the mud is capable of everything, not only as a politician of the Church but also as a religious writer. Athanasius did not just adorn his Vita Antonii (Saint Anthony or Antony was a monk who played an important role in the conversion of Augustine; was the archetype of the lives of Greek and Latin saints, and for centuries inspired the monastic life of the East and the West) with increasingly crazy miracles, but he also falsified documents in the worst of styles, so to speak.

In a letter written by Athanasius, after the death of Constantine and written in Constantine’s name, Athanasius wanted to see all those who kept even a writ of Arius, without appeal or clemency, condemned to death.

 
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[1] Note of the Ed.: In his Historia Ecclesiastica, chapter XXXVIII, ‘The Death of Arius’, Socrates of Constantinople writes: ‘Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious haemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died. The scene of this catastrophe still is shown at Constantinople, as I have said, behind the shambles in the colonnade: and by persons going by pointing the finger at the place, there is a perpetual remembrance preserved of this extraordinary kind of death’.

Published in: on December 23, 2017 at 11:34 am  Comments Off on Kriminalgeschichte, 48  
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