Angry Fathers

 
On the Viciousness of Early Christians
 
The Emperor Julian (358-363) represented an attempt to return to traditional religions values in the Roman empire – universal religious toleration. His successors – beginning with Jovian – started re-inforcing the monolithic, theocratic state that was to eventually result in the Papacy in the West, and the Orthodox Church in the East (which in the East was for all practical purposes a sub-department in the imperial bureaucracy – so rigidly and closely did it adhere to the emperor’s will).

I don’t understand what it is about Christianity that promotes both un-self-conscious, utterly altruistic, and unconditional love, and bestial violence and hatred. To say the first represents truly Christian behavior and the second is an aberration seems to me to be naive at best (and duplicitous at worse) It’s like trying to say there is a difference between saltiness and the substance salt – the historical record is absolutely clear: the love and hatred go hand in hand.

About the best you can say is that organized religion intersects with spirituality in only a very small space. Most of our cultural “Christianity” is about the world, this life, and the riches you can amass in this life: power, fame, money.

The early church was no exception, in fact, if anything the emotional volume of hatred, scorn, and violence was unchecked by any philosophical idea of restraint or moderation – early Fathers gloried in raising floods of scorn and surfing the resulting tidal waves of mob hatred and riots.

I guess I was shocked by actually reading some of the early Fathers’ sermons, letters, model orations, etc and almost feeling physically sick by the complete absence in the text of empathy, concern, or care – in a word: love.
 
Some examples:
 
Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) late 300’s. In a sermon – some say a model sermon – called On the Jews spoken to prevent Christians from adopting Jewish customs in worshipping God.

Many, I know, respect the Jews and think that their present way of life is a venerable one. This is why I hasten to uproot and tear out this deadly opinion. I said that the synagogue is no better than a theater and I bring forward a prophet as my witness. Surely the Jews are not more deserving of belief than their prophets. “You had a harlot’s brow; you became shameless before all”. Where a harlot has set herself up, that place is a brothel. But the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. Jeremiah said: “Your house has become for me the den of a hyena”. He does not simply say “of wild beast”, but “of a filthy wild beast”, and again: “I have abandoned my house, I have cast off my inheritance”. But when God forsakes a people, what hope of salvation is left? When God forsakes a place, that place becomes the dwelling of demons.

(2) But at any rate the Jews say that they, too, adore God. God forbid that I say that. No Jew adores God! Who say so? The Son of God say so. For he said: “If you were to know my Father, you would also know me. But you neither know me nor do you know my Father”. Could I produce a witness more trustworthy than the Son of God?

(3) If, then, the Jews fail to know the Father, if they crucified the Son, if they thrust off the help of the Spirit, who should not make bold to declare plainly that the synagogue is a dwelling of demons? God is not worshipped there. Heaven forbid! From now on it remains a place of idolatry. But still some people pay it honor as a holy place.

(Chrysostom – On the Jews – Homily I, III.1-4) (from a Medieval Sourcebook Online – here)

A brief biography of John Chrysostom from Wiki (here)

John Chrysostom (c. 347–407, Greek: Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος), Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. After his death (or, according to some sources, during his life) he was given the Greek surname chrysostomos, meaning “golden mouthed”, rendered in English as Chrysostom.
 
The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches honor him as a saint and count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. He is recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church as a saint and Doctor of the Church. Churches of the Western tradition, including the Roman Catholic Church, some Anglican provinces, and parts of the Lutheran Church, commemorate him on 13 September. Some Lutheran and many Anglican provinces commemorate him on the traditional Eastern feast day of 27 January. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria recognizes John Chrysostom as a saint (feast days: 16 Thout and 17 Hathor).
 
John is known in Christianity chiefly as a preacher, theologian and liturgist, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Among his sermons, eight directed against Judaizing Christians remain controversial for their impact on the development of Christian antisemitism. He was also active in destruction of pagan symbols and places of worship, including the temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

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Responses

  1. Well, this is one reason why John ended up exiled and came into conflict with empress Eudoxia since he was a person that was too frank.

  2. You have raised some very good points here. I am writing a biography of Athanasius for children, and it took me months to decide how to depict the violence of those days to young minds. If it’s any consolation, it wasn’t just the Christians, but you are right – there seems to be a huge dichotomy between message and behavior. I wouldn’t blame organized religion per se. In my opinion, it’s a matter of holding to a conviction without hating the rest of the world for not embracing it. It’s not limited to Christianity (see the violence of other religions) nor to religion. It’s a subject that I am actually researching as I write, and it’s fascinating to me.
    Congratulations on your website. I am enjoying it very much!


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