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Moral Ideas In The Post-apostoli





Christians were convinced that their religion made the highest possible
moral demands upon them. They were to live in the world, but remain
uncontaminated by it (cf. supra, 11). This belief even candid
heathen were sometimes forced to admit (cf. Pliny's correspondence with
Trajan, supra, 7). The morality of the Christians and the loftiness of
their ethical code were common features in the apologies which began to
appear in the post-apostolic period (cf. The Apology of Aristides,
infra, 20, a). Christianity was a revealed code of morals, by the
observance of which men might escape the fires of hell and obtain the
bliss of immortality (a) (cf. infra, 30). At the same time there was
developed a tendency toward asceticism, by which a higher excellence might
be obtained than the law required of ordinary Christians (b, c).
This higher morality was not without its compensations; superior merit was
recognized by God, and was accordingly rewarded; it might even be applied
to offset sins committed (d, e). This last idea is to be traced to
the book of Tobit (cf. also James 5:20; I Peter 4:8). The fuller
development is to be found in the theology of Tertullian and Cyprian (v.
infra, 39).


(a) Justin Martyr, Apologia, I, 10, 12. (MSG, 6:339, 342.)


Ch. 10. We have received by tradition that God does not need man's
material offerings, since we see that He himself provides all things. And
we have been taught, have been convinced, and do believe that He accepts
only those who imitate the virtues which reside in Him, temperance and
justice and philanthropy, and as many virtues as are peculiar to a God who
is called by no given name. And we have been taught that He in the
beginning, since He is good, did for man's sake create all things out of
unformed matter; and if men by their works show themselves worthy of His
design, they are deemed worthy, for so we have received, of reigning in
company with Him, having become incorruptible and incapable of suffering.
For as in the beginning He created us when we were not, so we consider
that, in like manner, those who choose what is pleasing to Him are, on
account of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship
with Him. For the coming into being at first was not in our power; and in
order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by
means of the rational faculties with which He has himself endowed us, He
both persuades us and leads us to faith.

Ch. 12. And more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in
promoting peace; for we are of the opinion that it is impossible for the
wicked, or the covetous, or the conspirator, or the virtuous to escape the
notice of God, and that each man goes to eternal punishment or salvation
according to the deserts of his actions. For if all men knew this, no one
would choose wickedness, even for a little time, knowing that he goes to
the eternal punishment of fire; but he would in every respect restrain
himself and adorn himself with virtue, that he might obtain the good gifts
of God and escape punishment. For those who, on account of the laws and
punishments you impose, endeavor when they offend to escape detection,
offend thinking that it is possible to escape your detection, since you
are but men; but if they learned and were convinced that it is not
possible that anything, whether actually done or only intended, should
escape the notice of God, they would live decently in every respect, on
account of the penalties threatened, as even you yourselves will admit.


(b) Didache, 6. Cf. Mirbt, n. 13.


See that no one cause thee to err from this way of the teaching, since
apart from God it teacheth thee. For if thou art able to bear all the yoke
of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou art not able, do what thou
art able. And concerning foods, bear what thou art able; but against that
which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly on thy guard; for it is the
service of dead gods.


(c) Hermas, Pastor, Man. IV, 4.


And again I asked him, saying: "Sir, since you have been so patient with
me, will you show me this also?" "Speak," said he. And I said: "If a wife
or husband die, and the widow or widower marry, does he or she commit
sin?" "There is no sin in marrying again," said he; "but if they remain
unmarried, they gain greater honor and glory with the Lord; but if they
marry, they do not sin. Guard, therefore, your chastity and purity and you
will live to God. What commandments I now give you, and what I am to give
you, keep from henceforth, yea, from the very day when you were intrusted
to me, and I will dwell in your house. And your former sins will be
forgiven, if you keep my commandments. And to all there is forgiveness if
they keep these my commandments and walk in this chastity."


(d) Clement of Rome, Ep. ad Corinthios, II, 4, 16.


Ch. 4. Let us, then, not call Him Lord, for that will not save us. For He
saith: "Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall be saved, but he
that worketh righteousness." Wherefore, brethren, let us confess Him by
our works, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, or speaking
evil of one another, or cherishing envy; but by being continent,
compassionate, and good. We ought also to sympathize with one another, and
not be avaricious. By such works let us confess Him, and not by those that
are of an opposite kind. And it is not fitting that we should fear men,
but rather God. For this reason, if we should do such things, the Lord
hath said: "Even though ye were gathered together to me in my very bosom,
yet if ye were not to keep my commandments, I would cast you off, and say
unto you. Depart from me; I know you not, whence ye are, ye workers of
iniquity."(24)

Ch. 16. So then, brethren, having received no small occasion to repent,
while we have opportunity, let us turn to God, who called us while we yet
have One to receive us. For if we renounce these indulgences and conquer
the soul by not fulfilling its wicked desires, we shall be partakers of
the mercy of Jesus. Know ye not that the day of judgment draweth nigh like
a burning oven, and certain of the heavens and all the earth will melt,
like lead melting in fire; and then will appear the hidden and manifest
deeds of men? Good, then, are alms as repentance from sin; better is
fasting than prayer, and alms than both; "charity covereth a multitude of
sins," and prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death. Blessed
is every one that shall be found complete in these; for alms lighten the
burden of sin.


(e) Hermas, Pastor, Sim. V, 3.


"If you do anything good beyond the commandment of God, you will gain for
yourself more abundant glory, and will be more honored before God than you
would otherwise be. If, therefore, you keep the commandments of God and do
these services, you will have joy if you observe them according to my
commandment." I said unto him: "Sir, whatsoever you command me I will
observe; for I know that you are with me." "I will be with you," he said,
"because you have such a desire for doing good; I will be with all those,"
he said, "who have such a desire. This fasting," he continued, "is very
good, provided the commandments of the Lord be observed. Thus, then, shall
you observe the fast which you intend to keep. First of all, be on your
guard against every evil word and every evil desire, and purify your heart
from all the vanities of this world. If you guard against these things,
your fasting will be perfect. But do thus: having fulfilled what is
written, during the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread
and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day
which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, an orphan,
or to some one in want, and thus you will be humble-minded, so that he who
has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul and pray to
the Lord for you. If you observe fasting as I have commanded you, your
sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and this fasting will be written
down; and the service thus performed is noble and sacred and acceptable to
the Lord."





Next: Period Iii The Critical Period

Previous: Church Discipline



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