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Heathen Religious Feeling And Cu





The Christian religion in the course of the latter part of the second
century began to attract the attention of heathen writers; it became an
object of literary attack. The principal literary opponent of Christianity
was Celsus, who subjected the Christian traditions and customs to a
searching criticism to prove that they were absurd, unscientific, and
false. Lucian of Samosata, does not seem to have attacked Christianity
from any philosophical or religious interest, but treated it as an object
of derision, making sport of it. There were also in circulation
innumerable heathen calumnies, many of the most abominable character.
These have been preserved only by Christian writers. It was chiefly in
reference to these calumnies that the Christian apologists wrote. The
answer to Celsus made by Origen belongs to a later period, though Celsus
represents the best philosophical criticism of Christianity of the latter
part of the second century.


(a) Celsus, The True Word, in Origen, Contra Celsum. (MSG, 11:651
ff.)


The work of Celsus against Christianity, or The True Word,
written about 178, is lost, but it has been so incorporated in the
elaborate reply of Origen that it can be reconstructed without
much difficulty. This Theodor Keim has done. The following
extracts from Origen's Contra Celsum are quotations from Celsus
or references to his criticism of Christianity. For Origen, v.
infra, 43, b.


I, 1. (MSG, 11:651.) Wishing to throw discredit upon Christianity, the
first point Celsus brings forward is that the Christians have entered
secretly into associations with each other which are forbidden by the
laws; saying that "of associations some are public, others again secret;
and the former are permitted by the laws; the latter are prohibited by the
laws."

I, 4. (MSG, 11:661.) Let us notice, also, how he thinks to cast discredit
upon our system of morals as neither venerable nor a new branch of
instruction, inasmuch as it is common to other philosophers.

I, 9. (MSG, 11:672.) He says that "Certain of them do not wish either to
give or to receive reasons for those things to which they hold; saying,
'Do not examine, only believe and your faith will save you!' "; and he
alleges that such also say: "The wisdom of this life is bad, but
foolishness is a good thing."

I, 38. (MSG, 11:733.) He admits somehow the miracles which Jesus wrought
and by means of which He induced the multitude to follow Him as the
Christ. He wishes to throw discredit on them, as having been done not by
divine power, but by help of magic, for he says: "That he [Jesus], having
been brought up secretly and having served for hire in Egypt, and then
coming to the knowledge of certain miraculous powers, returned from
thence, and by means of those powers proclaimed himself a god."

II, 55. (MSG, 11:884.) "Come, now, let us grant to you that these things
[the prediction made by Christ of His resurrection] were said. Yet how
many others are there who have used such wonders to deceive their simple
hearers, and who made gain of their deception? Such was the case, they
say, with Zalmoxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with
Pythagoras himself in Italy. But the point to be considered is, whether
any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you
imagine the statements of others not only are myths, but appear as such,
but you have discovered a becoming and credible termination of your drama,
the voice from the cross when he breathed his last, the earthquake and the
darkness? that while living he was of no help to himself, but when dead he
rose again, and showed the marks of his punishment and his hands as they
had been. Who saw this? A frantic woman, as you state, and, if any other,
perhaps one of those who were engaged in the same delusion, who, owing to
a peculiar state of mind, had either dreamed so, or with a wandering fancy
had imagined things in accordance with his own wishes, which has happened
in the case of very many; or, which is most probable, there was some one
who desired to impress the others with this portent, and by such a
falsehood to furnish an occasion to other jugglers."

II, 63. (MSG, 11:896.) "If Jesus desired to show that his power was really
divine, he ought to have appeared to those who had ill-treated him, and to
him who had condemned him, and to all men universally."

III, 59. (MSG, 11:997.) "That I bring no heavier charge than what truth
requires, let any one judge from the following. Those who invite to
participation in other mysteries make proclamation as follows: 'Every one
who has clean hands and a prudent tongue'; others again thus: 'He who is
pure from every pollution, and whose soul is conscious of no evil, and who
has lived well and justly.' Such is the proclamation made by those who
promise purification from sins. But let us hear whom the Christians
invite. 'Whoever,' they say, 'is a sinner, whoever is devoid of
understanding, whoever is a child,' and, to speak generally, 'whoever is
unfortunate, him will the kingdom of God receive.' Do you not call him a
sinner, then, who is unjust and a thief and a house-breaker and a
poisoner, a committer of sacrilege and a robber of the dead? Whom else
would a man invite if he were issuing a proclamation for an assembly of
robbers?"

VII, 18. (MSG, 11:1445.) "Will they not again make this reflection: If the
prophets of the God of the Jews foretold that he who should come was the
son of this same God, how could he command them through Moses to gather
wealth, to rule, to fill the earth, to put to the sword their enemies from
youth up, and to destroy them utterly, which, indeed, he himself did in
the eyes of the Jews, as Moses says, threatening them, moreover, that if
they did not obey his commands he would treat them as his open enemies;
whilst, on the other hand, his son, the man of Nazareth, promulgating laws
in opposition to these, declares that no one comes to the Father who is
rich or who loves power or seeks after wisdom or glory; that men ought to
be no more careful in providing food than the ravens: that they were to be
in less concern about their raiment than the lilies; that to him who has
smitten them once they should offer opportunity to smite again? Is it
Moses or Jesus who lies? Did the Father when he sent Jesus forget the
things he commanded Moses? Or did he change his mind and, condemning his
own laws, send forth a messenger with the opposite instructions?"

V, 14. (MSG, 11:1201.) "It is folly for them to suppose that when God, as
if he were a cook, introduces the fire, all the rest of the human race
will be burnt up, while they alone will remain, not only those who are
alive, but also those who have been dead long since, which latter will
arise from the earth clothed with the self-same flesh as during life; the
hope, to speak plainly, of worms. For what sort of human soul is it that
would still long for a body gone to corruption? For this reason, also,
this opinion of yours is not shared by some of the Christians,(31) and
they pronounce it exceedingly vile and loathsome and impossible; for what
kind of body is that which, after being completely corrupted, can return
to its original nature, and to that self-same first condition which it
left? Having nothing to reply, they betake themselves to a most absurd
refuge--that all things are possible to God. But God cannot do things which
are disgraceful, nor does he wish things contrary to his nature; nor, if
in accordance with your wickedness you desire something shameful, would
God be able to do it; nor must you believe at once that it will be done.
For God is the author, not of inordinate desires nor of a nature
disordered and confused, but of what is upright and just. For the soul,
indeed, he might be able to provide everlasting life; but dead bodies, on
the other hand, are, as Heraclitus observes, more worthless than dung. So,
then, God neither will nor can declare contrary to reason that the flesh
is eternal, which is full of those things which it is not honorable to
mention. For he is the reason of all things that exist, and therefore can
do nothing either contrary to reason or contrary to himself."


(b) Lucian of Samosata, De morte Peregrini Protei, 11 ff.
Preuschen, Analecta, I, 20 ff.


Ch. 11. About this time he made himself proficient in the marvellous
wisdom of the Christians by associating around Palestine with their
priests and scribes. And would you believe it? In a short time he
convinced them that they were mere children and himself alone a prophet,
master of ceremonies, head of the synagogue, and everything. He explained
and interpreted some of their books, and he himself also wrote many, so
they came to look upon him almost as a God, made him their law-giver and
chose him as their patron. At all events, they still worship that
enchanter [mage] who was crucified in Palestine for introducing among men
this new religious sect.

Ch. 12. Then Proteus was, on this account, seized and thrown into prison,
and this very circumstance procured for him during his subsequent career
no small renown and the reputation for wonderful powers and the glory
which he loved. When, then, he had been put in bonds, the Christians
looked upon these things as a misfortune and in their efforts to secure
his release did everything in their power. When this proved impracticable,
other assistance of every sort was rendered him, not occasionally, but
with zeal. From earliest dawn old women, widows, and orphan children were
to be seen waiting beside the prison, and men of rank among them slept
with him in the prison, having bribed the prison guards. Then they were
accustomed to bring in all kinds of viands, and they read their sacred
Scriptures together, and the most excellent Peregrinus (for such was still
his name) was styled by them a New Socrates.

Ch. 13. Certain came even from the cities of Asia, sent by the Christians
at the common charge, to assist and plead for him and comfort him. They
exhibit extraordinary activity whenever any such thing occurs affecting
their common interest. In short, they are lavish of everything. And what
is more, on the pretext of his imprisonment, many contributions of money
came from them to Peregrinus at that time, and he made no little income
out of it. These poor men have persuaded themselves that they are going to
be immortal and live forever; they both despise death and voluntarily
devote themselves to it; at least most of them do so. Moreover, their
law-giver persuaded them that they were all brethren, and that when once
they come out and reject the Greek gods, they should then worship that
crucified sophist and live according to his laws. Therefore they despise
all things and hold everything in common, having received such ideas from
others, without any sufficient basis for their faith. If, then, any
impostor or trickster who knows how to manage things came among them, he
soon grew rich, imposing on these foolish folk.

Ch. 14. Peregrinus was, however, set at liberty by the governor of Syria
at that time, a lover of philosophy, who understood his folly and knew
that he would willingly have suffered death that by it he might have
acquired glory. Thinking him, however, not worthy of so honorable an end,
he let him go.

Ch. 16. A second time he left his country to wander about, having the
Christians as a sufficient source of supplies, and he was cared for by
them most ungrudgingly. Thus he was supported for some time; at length,
having offended them in some way--he was seen, I believe, eating food
forbidden among them--he was reduced to want, and he thought that he would
have to demand his property back from the city;(32) and having obtained a
process in the name of the Emperor, he expected to recover it. But the
city sent messengers to him, and nothing was done; but he was to remain
where he was, and to this he agreed for once.


(c) Minucius Felix, Octavius, VIII, 3-10. (MSL. 3:267 ff.)


The following passage is taken from an apologetic dialogue
entitled Octavius. Although it was composed by a Christian, it
probably represents the current heathen conceptions of
Christianity and its morals, especially its assemblies, where the
worst excesses were supposed to take place. In the dialogue the
passage is put into the mouth of the disputant who represents the
heathen objection to the new faith. The date is difficult to
determine probably it was the last third of the second century.


Ch. 8. Is it not lamentable that men of a reprobate, unlawful, and
dangerous faction should rage against the gods? From the lowest dregs, the
more ignorant and women, credulous and yielding on account of the
heedlessness of their sex, gathered and established a vast and wicked
conspiracy, bound together by nightly meetings and solemn feasts and
inhuman meats--not by any sacred rites, but by such as require expiation.
It is a people skulking and shunning the light; in public silent, but in
corners loquacious. They despise the temples as charnel-houses; they
reject the gods; they deride sacred things. While they are wretched
themselves, if allowed they pity the priests; while they are half naked
themselves, they despise honors and purple robes. O wonderful folly and
incredible effrontery! They despise present torments, but fear those that
are uncertain and in the future. While they fear to die after death, for
the present life they do not fear to die. In such manner does a deceitful
hope soothe their fear with the solace of resuscitation.

Ch. 9. And now, as wickeder things are advancing more successfully and
abandoned manners are creeping on day by day, those foul shrines of an
impious assembly are increasing throughout the whole world. Assuredly this
confederacy should be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by
secret marks and signs. They love one another almost before they know one
another. Everywhere, also, there is mingled among them a certain religion
of lust; and promiscuously they call one another brother and sister, so
that even a not unusual debauchery might, by the employment of those
sacred names, become incestuous. It is thus that their vain and insane
superstition glories in crimes. Nor, concerning these matters, would
intelligent report speak of things unless there was the highest degree of
truth, and varied crimes of the worst character called, from a sense of
decency, for an apology. I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that
basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion--a
worthy and appropriate religion for such morals. Some say that they
worship the genitalia of their pontiff and priest, and adore the nature,
as it were, of their parent. I know not whether these things be false;
certainly suspicion has place in the case of secret and nocturnal rites;
and he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by
extreme suffering for wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross,
bestows fitting altars upon reprobate and wicked men, that they may
worship what they deserve. Now the story of their initiation of young
novices is as detestable as it is well known. An infant covered with meal,
so as to deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be defiled
with their rites; this infant is slain with dark and secret wounds by the
young novice, who has been induced to strike harmless blows, as it were,
on the surface of the meal. Thirstily--O horror!--they lick up its blood;
eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are confederated, with
the consciousness of this wickedness they are pledged to a mutual silence.
These sacred rites are more foul than any sort of sacrilege. And of their
banqueting it is well known what is said everywhere; even the speech of
our Cirtensian(33) testifies to it. On a solemn day they assemble at a
banquet with all their children, their sisters and mothers, people of
every sex and age. There, after much feasting, when the sense of
fellowship has waxed warm and the fervor of incestuous lust has grown hot
with drunkenness, a dog that has been tied to a chandelier is provoked to
rush and spring about by throwing a piece of offal beyond the length of
the line by which he is bound; and thus the light, as if conscious, is
overturned and extinguished in shameless darkness, while unions of
abominable lust involve them by the uncertainty of chance. Although if all
are not in fact, yet all are in their conscience, equally incestuous;
since whatever might happen by the act of the individuals is sought for by
the will of all.

Ch. 10. I purposely pass over many things, for there are too many, all of
which, or the greater part of them, the obscurity of their vile religion
declares to be true. For why do they endeavor with such pains to conceal
and cloak whatever they worship, since honorable things always rejoice in
publicity, but crimes are kept secret? Why have they no altars, no
temples, no acknowledged images? Why do they never speak openly, never
congregate freely, unless it be for the reason that what they adore and
conceal is either worthy of punishment or is something to be ashamed of?
Moreover, whence or who is he, or where is the one God, solitary and
desolate, whom no free people, no kingdoms, and not even Roman
superstition have known? The sole, miserable nationality of the Jews
worshipped one God, and one peculiar to itself; but they worshipped him
openly, with temples, with altars, with victims, and with ceremonies; and
he has so little force or power that he is enslaved together with his own
special nation to the Roman deities. But the Christians, moreover, what
wonders, what monstrosities, do they feign, that he who is their God, whom
they can neither show nor see, inquires diligently into the conduct of
all, the acts of all, and even into their words and secret thoughts. They
would have him running about everywhere, and everywhere present,
troublesome, even shamelessly inquisitive, since he is present at
everything that is done, and wanders about in all places. When he is
occupied with the whole, he cannot give attention to particulars; or when
occupied with particulars, he is not enough for the whole. Is it because
they threaten the whole earth, the world itself and all its stars, with a
conflagration, that they are meditating its destruction? As if either the
natural and eternal order constituted by the divine laws would be
disturbed, or, when the league of the elements has been broken up and the
heavenly structure dissolved, that fabric in which it is contained and
bound together would be overthrown!





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Previous: The Extension Of Christianity



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