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THE CATHOLIC APOLOGY—ST JUSTIN.
A principal fact which may clearly be seen developing from this time forward, is that in the midst of these agitated waves there is a sort of immovable rock, a doctrine between the two extremes, which resists the most diverse attacks, Judeo-Christian 197and Gnostic exaggerations, and constitutes a central orthodoxy which is destined to triumph over all sects. That universal doctrine which laid claim to priority over all particular doctrines, and to go as far back as the apostles, constitutes the Catholic Church in opposition to heresies. Gnosticism, especially an invincible obstacle in that sort of ecclesiastical tribunal, this was a question of life or death for the Christian religion. The extravagant tendencies of the innovators would have been the annihilation of all unity. Now, as nearly always happens, anarchy created authority, and thus it may be said that in the formation of the Catholic Church Gnosticism and Marcionism played the principal part by antithesis.
A man who is very highly esteemed for his profane studies, and his knowledge of the Scriptures—Justin of Neapolis, in Samaria, who had been residing in Rome for several years—taught Christian philosophy and fought energetically for the orthodox majority. He was used to and fond of polemics. Valentinians, Marcionites, Samaritan Jews, heathen philosophers, were in turn the object of his attacks. Justin was not a man of great intellect; he did not know much of philosophy and criticism, and, above all, his exegesis would be looked upon as very defective in our time; but he gives proof of general good sense; he had that sort of mediocre credulity which allows a man to reason sensibly from puerile premisses, and to stop in time so as only to be half ridiculous. His general treatise against heresies, his particular writings against the Valentinians and Marcionites, have been lost, but his works for the general defence of Christianity had an extraordinary success amongst the faithful, and they were copied and imitated; thus, Justin was, in a manner, the first Christian doctor, in the classic sense of the word, whose works have been preserved to no in a relatively complete state.198
Justin, as we have said, had not a strong intellect, but he had a noble and good heart. His great demonstration of Christianity was the persecution of which that doctrine, which was so beneficial in his eyes, was the ceaseless object. The fact that the other sects, the Jews especially, were not persecuted, the joy that the Christians evinced under torture, the calumnies that were spread abroad with regard to the faithful, the number of informers, the peculiar hatred which the princes of this world showed towards the religion of Jesus, a hatred that Justin could only explain to himself by the hatred of evil spirits, all that seemed to him to be a glorious sign of divine truth in favour of the Church. This idea inspired him to take a bold step, to do which he must have been encouraged by the earlier example of Quadratus and Aristides. This was to address himself to the Emperor Antoninus and his two associates, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, in order to obtain redress for a position which he rightly looked upon as unjust and in contradiction to the liberal principles of the government. The Emperor’s great wisdom, the philosophical tastes of one at least of his associates, Marcus Aurelius, who was then twenty-nine years old, inspired him with the hope that such a great injustice would be made good. Such was the occasion of that eloquent petition which begins thus:—
To the Emperor Titus Ælius Hadrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Cæsar; and to his son Verissimus, a philosopher; and to Lucius, a philosopher, son of Cæsar according to nature, and of Pius by adoption, the friend of knowledge; and to the sacred senate; and to the whole Roman people, for a group of men of every race who are hated and persecuted unjustly, I, one of them, Justin, son of Prixus, grandson of Bacchius, citizens of Flavia Neapolis of Syria, Palestine, I have made this pleading and this request.
The two titles of Pius and Philosophus obliged those who bear them only to love what is true, and 199to renounce ancient opinions if they find them bad. The Christians are victims of inveterate prejudice, of calumnies that have been circulated by a united league of all superstitions. They must be punished if they are found guilty of ordinary crimes, but no attention ought to be paid to malevolent rumours. A name in itself is no crime, it only becomes so by the acts that are attached to it. Now the Christians are punished on account of the name they bear, a name that only indicates upright ideas. He who declares that he is not a Christian when he is persecuted, is acquitted without inquiry; he who declares that he is one, is put to death. What is more unreasonable? The life of the confessor and of the renegade ought to be inquired into, to see what good or evil they have done.
The reason for this hatred of the Christians is quite simple: it comes from demons. Polytheism was nothing more than the reign of demons. Socrates was the first who wished to overthrow their worship; the demons succeeded in having him condemned as an atheist and an impious man. What Socrates did amongst the Greeks in the name of reason, Reason itself, clothed in a form become man and called Jesus Christ, did amongst the barbarians. This is why the Christians are called Atheists. They are, if by Atheism is understood the denial of the false gods in which men believe, but they are not so in a true sense, since their religion is the pure religion of the Creator, admitting, in the second rank, the worship of Jesus, the Son of God, and in the third rank the worship of the Prophetic Spirit. They do not expect an earthly kingdom, but a divine one. How is it that the authorities do not see that such a faith is a great aid to them in maintaining order in the world? What stronger barrier can there be against crime than the Christian doctrine?
Here Justin draws a picture of the morality inculcated 200by Christ according to the texts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and especially according to Matthew. He shows how harmless it is, and how useful to the State. There was no school of philosophy which had not taught one or other of the Christian dogmas, and yet those schools had not been persecuted on that account. The title of Son of God was not so unusual as it appears. A crucified God, born of a virgin, was not unheard of before. Greek mythologies, the thousand religions of the world, have said much stronger things. Was there not a personage called Simon, of the little town of Gitton in Samaria, known to have passed for God at Rome, in the reign of Claudius, on account of his miracles, which he performed by the power of demons? Was not a statue erected to him on the island of the Tiber, between the two bridges, with this Latin inscription: SIMONI DEO SANCTO? Nearly all the Samaritans and some other nations adore him as the chief God, and look upon a certain Helen, who was a prostitute in her time, and who followed him everywhere, as his chief Ennoia. Menander, one of his disciples, seduced many in an extraordinary manner at Antioch by demons' arts. Marcion, a native of Pontus, who is alive still, another agent of demons, teaches a large number of disciples to rob the Father of the title of Creator and to transfer it to another pretended God. All those people call themselves Christians, as persons who profess different doctrines are called philosophers. Do they practise the monstrous deeds with which Christians are reproached, overturned lamps, nocturnal embraces, promiscuous intercourse, feasts of human flesh? We do not know, is Justin’s answer; in any case, they are not persecuted for the mere fact of their opinions.
The purity of Christian morals contrasts admirably with the general corruption of the century. The faithful who prohibit marriage live in perfect chastity. 201A striking example of this was seen at Alexandria. A young Christian, as he wished to give a decisive denial to the calumnies that were spread abroad about the alleged obscene mysteries of their nocturnal reunions, requested Felix, Prefect of Egypt, that a physician, whom he should nominate, might be allowed to castrate him. Felix refused; the young man persisted in his virginity, satisfied with the testimony of his own conscience and the esteem of his brethren. What a contrast to the good Antoninus!
The picture of the Christian reunions is chaste and beautiful. First the introduction of those who have just received baptism, that is to say, the “illuminated,” to their place amongst the brethren takes place. Then long prayers are offered up for the whole human race.
When prayers are over we mutually kiss each other. Then the bread, a cup of water, and some wine, is brought to the president. He, taking them into his hands, gives praise and glory to the Father of all things, in the name of his Son and of the Holy Ghost; then he thanks God at some length for those gifts which he has bestowed on us. The people show their assent by saying Amen. Then those who are called deacons amongst or give the bread, the wine, and water over which the prayers have been pronounced, to all those who are present, and take them to those who are absent.
“This food we call the Eucharist. Only those who believe in the truth of our doctrines, and who have been washed in the laver of regeneration for the remission of sins, and who live according to Christ’s precepts, are allowed to participate in it. For we do not take this food as ordinary bread and wine; but as Jesus Christ, our incarnate Saviour, assumed flesh and blood for our salvation by the word of God, no we are taught that the nourishment over which the prayer composed from the words of Jesus has been pronounced with thanksgiving,—we are taught, I say, that this nourishment, by which our blood and our flesh are nourished by assimilation, are the flesh and blood of Christ Incarnate. For the Apostles, in the memoirs which they have written, and which are called Gospels, tell us that Jesus bade them do this. Taking the bread, he gave thanks, and said: “Do this in remembrance of me; This is my body;” likewise taking the cup be gave thanks, and said: “This is my blood; “ and he reserved that dogma for them 202alone. If the same thing takes place in the mysteries of Mithra, it is because evil demons, imitating Christ’s institution, have taught how it is to be done; for you know, or can know, that the bread and the cup full of water, with certain words pronounced over it, form a part of the ceremonies of initiation.
During the days that follow the meetings, we continually remind each other of what has taken place, and those who are able supply the wants of the poor, and we habitually live together. In our oblations we bless the Creator of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. And on the day which is called the Day of the Sun all those who live in towns or in the country assemble in the same place, and the memorials of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as far as time allows. When the reader has finished, the president addresses words of exhortation and admonition to those who are present, to induce them to conform to such beautiful teaching. Then we all rise together, and send up our prayers to heaven, and, as we have already said, when the prayer is ended the bread and the wine and water is distributed, and he who presides prays and gives thanks with all his night, and the people show their assent by saying “Amen.” Then the offerings over which thanksgivings have been pronounced are distributed; each one receives his share, and that of the absent is sent to them by the deacons. Those who are well off and who wish to give, give what they please, each one as he is disposed. The amount of the collection is handed over to the president; he succours the widows and orphans and those who are m distress through sickness or any other reason, those who are in prison, and strangers who may come; in short, he takes care of all those who are in want. We have this general meeting on the day of the Sun, in the first place, because it is the first day, the day on which God, having metamorphosed darkness and matter, made the world; in the second place, because our Saviour Jesus Christ rose from the dead on that day. They crucified him, in fact, on the day which precedes that of Saturn, and, the day that follows that of Saturn—that is to say, the day of the Sun—having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them those things which we have just submitted to your judgment.
Justin finished his pleading by quoting a letter of Hadrian to Minicius Fundanus. Believer as he was, he was naturally astonished that men would not yield to such clear arguments, and his manner proves that he thought he should have converted the Cæsars. Certainly the frivolous Lucius Verus did not touch this solemn writing with the tip of his fingers. Perhaps Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius read it; but were 203they as culpable as Justin believed in not being converted? We cannot pretend to say. Justin had fair game with the immoral fables of Paganism; he demonstrated without difficulty that the Greek and Roman religions were scarcely aught but a tissue of shameful superstitions. But was the unbridled demonology which formed the foundation of all these systems much more reasonable? His confidence in the argument drawn from the prophecies is very artless. Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius did not know the Hebrew literature; if they had known it, they would certainly have found good Justin’s exegesis very trifling. They would have observed, for example, that the 22d Psalm (21) only includes the nails of the Passion by taking the puerile interpretation, contrary to reason, of the Septuagint. The assertion that the Greeks have borrowed all their philosophy from the Jews would have been incredible to them. They would, at best, have found that passage strange, where the pious writer, wishing to prove that the cross is the key to everything, finds this mysterious form in the masts of ships, in the plough and mattock of the labourer, in the workman’s tool, in the human body when the arms are stretched out, in the ensigns and trophies of the Romans, in the attitude of the dead emperors consecrated by apotheosis. The direction in which Herod and Ptolemy Philadelphus are thought to have been contemporaries would also, doubtless, have inspired in them some doubts as to the precision of the statement relating to the Septuagint version, the version which serves as the base for all the Messianic reasonings of Justin. If they had been asked to search in the archives of the Empire for the registers of Zuirinius, the acts of Pilate relating to Jesus, they would have had difficulty in finding them. Indeed, the writings of the Sibyl and Hystaspes would have seemed to them of weak authority. They would have been amazed to learn that demons, afraid 204of the annoyance which these books were going to cause them, had pronounced the penalty of death on these who would read them.
It appears that Justin joined to his pleading some illustrations from these apocryphal apologies, and imagined that they would exercise a decisive influence on the minds of the Cæsars. His hopes went beyond that: he demanded that his request should be communicated to the Senate and the Roman people, especially that the falsity of the divinity of Simon the magician should be acknowledged, and that the statue he had at Rome (a certain half column of Semo Sancus) should be officially cast down.
Justin’s ardent convictions would allow him no rest. He imagined himself responsible for all the errors he did not combat. The Jews who persisted in not becoming Christians, were the perpetual object of his pre-occupations. He wrote against them in dialogue form, perhaps in imitation of Aristo of Pella, a polemical work which may be reckoned among the most curious literary monuments of budding Christianity.
Justin supposes that, in his journey from Syria to Rome, about the time of the war of Bar-Coziba, kept back by an accident in navigation at Ephesus, he walked into the alleys of the Xystus, when an unknown person, surrounded by a group of disciples, was struck by the dress he wore, and, approaching him, said, “Hail, philosopher!” He told him, at the same time, that a Socratic sage, whose lessons he had learned at Argos, had instructed him always to respect the philosopher’s mantle, and to seek to have himself instructed by those who wore it. The conversation took a very literary turn, and he found that the unknown was no other than the Rabbi Tryphon or Tarphon, who had fled from Judea to escape the fury of Bar-Coziba’s war, had taken refuge in Greece, and lived oftenest at Corinth. They spoke 205of God, of Providence, of the immortality of the soul. Justin records how, after having tried all the schools and systems, he has found nothing better than to adhere to Christ. The controversy then becomes lively. Justin accumulates against the Jews the most disdainful reproaches. Not content with having killed Jesus, they would not cease to persecute the Christians. If they did not kill them, it was because power prevented them; but they overwhelmed them with curses, chasing them from the synagogues, and, as often as they could, maltreating, assassinating, and punishing them. The prejudices which the Pagans had against Christianity were inspired by the Jews: they were more guilty of persecutions than even the Pagans who ordered them. They had sent from Jerusalem certain men chosen to spread abroad over the whole world the calumnies with which they sought to crush the Christians. They did worse than that; they mutilated the Bible by cutting out the passages which proved the Messiahship and divinity of Jesus. They repelled the LXX. translation, only because that contained the proofs of that very divinity. In controversies they threw out loud cries against the cavils, and the little details they did not comprehend, and refused to see the force of the whole.
Impartiality compels us to say that if Justin was in those oral disputes such as we see him to be in his book (and unfortunately what we know of his controversies with Cresceus leads us to believe so), the Jews had thoroughly good reason to complain of his inexactness. There never had been a weaker interpreter of the Old Testament. Not only did Justin not know Hebrew, but he had no critical talent; he admitted the most manifest interpretations. His Messianic applications of the texts of the Bible are of the most arbitrary description, and are founded on the errors of the Septuagint. His book certainly 206did not convert a single Jew, but in the bosom of Catholicism he founded the apologetic exegesis. Almost all the arguments of this order have been invented by St Justin, scarcely any have been added since his time.
It is useless to say that the gulf between Judaism and Christianity appears as absolute in this book. Judaism and Christianity are two enemies occupied in doing each other all the evil possible. The Law is abrogated—it has always been powerless to produce justification. Circumcision and the Sabbath not only are abolished things, they were never good things. Circumcision had been imposed by God on the Jews, in foresight of their crimes against Christ and the Christians. “This sign has been given you that you may be separated from other nations and ourselves, and that you should suffer alone that which you now justly suffer, that your country may be rendered desert, your towns delivered to the flames, that strangers may eat your fruits before your eyes, and that no one among you may be able to go up to Jerusalem.” This pretended mark of honour is thus become for the Jews a punishment, a visible sign which marks them out for punishment. The law of the Mosaic precepts has only been instituted because of the iniquities and the hardness of the heart of the people. The Sabbath and the sacrifices have had no other cause. The impossibility which there was for a Jew holding to his old Scriptures, to admit that God had been born and become man, is not even comprehended by Justin. Tarphon would truly have been a most tractable man, if after such controversy he had left his adversary confessing, as Justin pretends, that he had profited much by the discussion.
Conversions, moreover, became more and more rare. Sides were taken. The moment when dispute is organised is usually that in which already each is hardened in his own view. Transfers have been 207numerous, so that Christianity had been a badly defined colony, scarcely separate from Judaism. When it is a complete place, guarded by its fortifications, in face of its metropolis, one can no longer pass from one side to another. The Jew, like the Mussulman, will be the most unconvertible of human beings, the most Anti-Christian.
Justin still lived for some years disputing always against the Jews, the heretics, and the Pagans, writing polemical works without end. An act of juridic severity on the part of Q. Lollius Urbicus, prefect of Rome, will place again the advocate’s pen in his band in the last years of Antoninus' reign. Like nearly all the apologists, he was not a member of the hierarchy. This position without responsibility suits the volunteers of the faith better, and at a pinch allows the Church to disavow them. Justin was always dear to the Catholics. His distance from the sects preserved him from the aberrations which Tatian and Tertullian could not escape. His theology is far from being the orthodox theology of the following ages, but the sincerity of the author made that to be easily shown on his behalf. The Trinity, according to St Justin, was in a state of badly formed embryo; his angels and his demons were conceived in a prodigiously materialistic and infantine fashion; his millenarianism is naive as that of Papias; he systematically grieved St Paul. He believed that Jesus was born in a supernatural fashion, but he knew some Christians who did not admit it. His Gospel differed considerably from some texts held sacred to-day; he made no use of the Gospel called that of John; and the writing that he quotes although approaching most frequently Matthew, sometimes Luke, is not precisely any of the three synoptists. It was probably the Gospel of the Hebrews, called “the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles,” or of Peter, not without analogy with the Gemma 208Marias, or Protevangel of James, and perhaps identical with the Gospel of the Ebionites. Fables, in any case, abounded in these: they were only a few steps from the puerilities which filled the apocryphal Gospels. But a certain correct sense made Justin avoid these extreme errors. His pagan erudition, all adulterated as it was, struck under-educated people. In fact, he was a splendid pleader. All the apologists who followed him were inspired by him.
His admiration for the Greek philosophy could not be to the taste of everyone, but it appeared to be good policy. The time had not yet arrived when insults were hurled against the sages of antiquity: people took the good where they found it; they saw in Socrates a forerunner of Jesus, and in Platonic idealism or sort of pre-Christianity. Justin was as much a disciple of Plato and Philo as he was of Moses and Christ; Moses was older than the Greek sages, and they had borrowed from him their dogmas of natural religion, hence its whole superiority. No theologian had ever opened so widely as Justin the portals of salvation. Revelation, according to him, is a permanent fact in humanity; it is the eternal fruit of the Logos spermaticos, who enlightens naturally the human understanding. All that philosophers and legislators—the Stoics, for instance—ever discovered of good, they owed to the contemplation of the Logos. The Logos is nothing else than reason universally diffused; all who, in whatever country or time they may be, have loved and cultivated reason, have been Christians. Socrates shines in the first rank in this phalanx of the Christians before Jesus. He knew Christ partly. He did not perceive the whole truth, but what he saw was a fraction of Christianity; the combated polytheism, as the Christians do, and be had the honour, like them, to give up his life in the conflict. The Logos descended and resided absolutely 209in Jesus. He is disseminated among the human souls who have loved the truth and practised good; in Jesus, the Logos is absolutely concentrated.
With such an idea of reason, it was natural to admit philosophy as an element in the composition of the Christian dogmas. The traces of Greek philosophy are still weak in St Paul and in the pseudo-Johannic writings. In the gnosis, on the contrary, according to Marcion, according to the author of the psuedo-Clementine romance, according to Justin, the Greek philosophy runs with full stream. It was found quite natural to mingle in the Jewish theory of the Logos ideas of the same kind as were believed to be met in Stoicism. Far from renouncing reason, they pretended to give it its share. They held sound philosophy to be the surest ally for Christianity; the great men of the past were considered as the anticipative disciples of Christ, who had come not to overthrow but to purify, complete, and accomplish their work. They admired Socrates and Plato; they were proud of the courage of their great contemporaries, such as Musonius. They said, with a just and large sentiment of truth: “What has been thought or felt before among the Greeks and barbarians, belongs to us.”
A sort of eclecticism, founded on a mystical rationalism, was the character of this first Christian philosophy. The apologist applied himself to show that the fundamental points of Christianity had not been strange to Pagan antiquity,—that the dogmas on the divine essence, on the Logos, the divine spirit, special providence, prayer, angels, demons, the future life, and the end of the world, might be established by certain profane texts. Even the teaching, most specially Christian, on the birth, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, had analogues in the religions of antiquity. It was maintained that Plato had expressed in the Timæus the doctrine of the Son 210of God. It was remarked that, in all religions, the ceremonies resembled each other—that the morale is the same throughout all. Far from finding in that an objection, they concluded from this universality the existence of a permanent revelation, of which Christianity had been the most brilliant act.
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