Such was Christianity in the eyes of those who witnessed its rise and propagation. . . .
Today we continue Christianity Appears
with a selection by John Henry Newman. The selections are presented in a series of installments for 5 minute daily reading.
Previously in Christianity Appears.
[Continuing passage from Tertullian quoted by Cardinal Newman – jl]
Men of a desperate, lawless, reckless faction,” says the heathen Cacilius, in the passage above referred to, “who collect together out of the lowest rabble the thoughtless portion, and credulous women seduced by the weakness of their sex, and form a mob of impure conspirators, of whom nocturnal assemblies and solemn fastings and unnatural food, no sacred rite but pollution, is the bond. A tribe lurking and light-hating, dumb for the public, talkative in corners, they despise our temples as if graves, spit at our gods, deride our religious forms; pitiable themselves, they pity, forsooth, our priests; half-naked themselves, they despise our honors and purple; monstrous folly and incredible impudence!… Day after day their abandoned morals wind their serpentine course; over the whole world are those most hideous rites of an impious association growing into shape;… they recognize each other by marks and signs, and love each other almost before they recognize; promiscuous lust is their religion. Thus does their vain and mad superstition glory in crimes…. The writer who tells the story of a criminal capitally punished, and of the gibbet (ligna feralia) of the cross being their observance (ceremonias), assigns to them thereby an altar in keeping with the abandoned and wicked, that they may worship (colant) what they merit…. Why their mighty effort to hide and shroud whatever it is they worship (colunt), since things honest ever like the open day, and crimes are secret? Why have they no altars, no temples, no images known to us, never speak abroad, never assemble freely, were it not that what they worship and suppress is subject either of punishment or of shame?
What monstrous, what portentous notions do they fabricate! that that God of theirs, whom they can neither show nor see, should be inquiring diligently into the characters, the acts — nay, the words and secret thoughts of all men; running to and fro, forsooth, and present everywhere, troublesome, restless — nay, impudently curious they would have him; that is, if he is close at every deed, interferes in all places, while he can neither attend to each as being distracted through the whole, nor suffice for the whole as being engaged about each. Think, too, of their threatening fire, meditating destruction to the whole earth — nay, the world itself with its stars!… Nor content with this mad opinion, they add and append their old wives’ tales about a new birth after death, ashes and cinders, and by some strange confidence believe each other’s lies.
Poor creatures! consider what hangs over you after death, while you are still alive. Lo, the greater part of you, the better, as you say, are in want, cold, toil, hunger, and your God suffers it; but I omit common trials. Lo, threats are offered to you, punishments, torments; crosses to be undergone now, not worshipped (adoranda¦); fires, too, which ye predict and fear; where is that God who can recover, but cannot preserve your life? The answer of Socrates, when he was asked about heavenly matters, is well known: ‘What is above us does not concern us.’ My opinion also is, that points which are doubtful, as are the points in question, must be left; nor, when so many and such great men are in controversy on the subject, must judgment be rashly and audaciously given on either side, lest the consequence be either anile superstition or the overthrow of all religion.”
Such was Christianity in the eyes of those who witnessed its rise and propagation — one of a number of wild and barbarous rites which were pouring in upon the empire from the ancient realms of superstition, and the mother of a progeny of sects which were faithful to the original they had derived from Egypt or Syria; a religion unworthy of an educated person, as appealing, not to the intellect, but to the fears and weaknesses of human nature, and consisting, not in the rational and cheerful enjoyment, but in a morose rejection of the gifts of Providence; a horrible religion, as inflicting or enjoining cruel sufferings, and monstrous and loathsome in its very indulgence of the passions; a religion leading by reaction to infidelity; a religion of magic, and of the vulgar arts, real and pretended, with which magic was accompanied; a secret religion which dared not face the day; an itinerant, busy, proselytizing religion, forming an extended confederacy against the State, resisting its authority and breaking its laws. There may be some exceptions to this general impression, such as Pliny’s discovery of the innocent and virtuous rule of life adopted by the Christians of Pontus; but this only proves that Christianity was not in fact the infamous religion which the heathen thought it; it did not reverse their general belief to that effect.
Now it must be granted that, in some respects, this view of Christianity depended on the times, and would alter with their alteration. When there was no persecution, martyrs could not be obstinate; and when the Church was raised aloft in high places, it was no longer in caves. Still, I believe, it continued substantially the same in the judgment of the world external to it while there was an external world to judge of it. “They thought it enough,” says Julian in the fourth century, of our Lord and his apostles, “to deceive women, servants, and slaves, and by their means wives and husbands.” “A human fabrication,” says he elsewhere, “put together by wickedness, having nothing divine in it, but making a perverted use of the fable-loving, childish, irrational part of the soul, and offering a set of wonders to create belief.”
“Miserable men,” he says elsewhere, “you refuse to worship the ancile, yet you worship the wood of the cross, and sign it on your foreheads, and fix it on your doors. Shall one for this hate the intelligent among you, or pity the less understanding, who in following you have gone to such an excess of perdition as to leave the everlasting gods and go over to a dead Jew?” He speaks of their adding other dead men to him who died so long ago. “You have filled all places with sepulchers and monuments, though it is nowhere told you in your religion to haunt the tombs and to attend upon them.” Elsewhere he speaks of their “leaving the gods for corpses and relics.” On the other hand, he attributes the growth of Christianity to its humanity toward strangers, care in burying the dead, and pretended religiousness of life. In another place he speaks of their care of the poor.
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