The Church that never fell: Reconsidering the narrative of the Church, 100-400 CE.
In the fall of 312 CE, in the midst of a campaign in northern Italy, Constantine, the would-be Caesar of the Western Roman Empire, saw something strange in the sky. The details of his vision are a bit fuzzy. According to one account, Constantine saw the noonday sky lit up by a bright cross above the sun, accompanied by the words, "by this, conquer." (1) So that's what he did. As legend goes, that very night Jesus himself appeared to Constantine in a dream and commanded him to copy the sign that had appeared in the sky onto the standards that would lead his army into the Battle of Milvian Bridge. (2) When the battle was over, Constantine's rival, Maxentius, was drowned in the Tiber river and Constantine himself was sole emperor of the Roman West, a victory that he attributed in no small part to the God in whose sign he had conquered.
Among Mennonite historians and theologians, Constantine's victory is more often remembered as a defeat, a "fall" of the primitive and comparatively pure early Church into the corruption that accompanies the power of the State. The roots of the notion of the Constantinian "fall of the Church" stretch back to the polemics of the Reformation. (3) In more recent decades, Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder's articulation of the "Constantinian Shift" as a pivotal turning point in the salvation narrative of God's people has received broad acceptance by Mennonite scholars and church leaders. Beyond the wide reach of his prolific writing, Yoder personally taught generations of Mennonite seminarians. His understanding of the Constantinian Shift had a prominent place in his course "Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution," which he taught annually from 1966-1997. (4) Since Yoder's death, many of his students have taken up his mantle, and his arguments, in Mennonite institutions of higher education. (5)
Although he was never a student of Yoder, American historian and missiologist Alan Kreider acknowledges Yoder's role in inspiring him to redirect his energies from researching the English Reformation to the early Church. (6) Over the past three decades, Kreider has emerged as the preeminent authority on Christianity before Constantine in Anabaptist-Mennonite circles. (7) In an essay, Kreider gives the following appraisal of Yoder's rendering of the "Constantinian Shift":
For Yoder, whose thought was shaped in Europe amid the ruins of World War II, a triumphalist progressive reading of Western Christian history simply did not make sense. In this setting, a "Constantinian shift"--a change of direction so fundamental that he used the terms "fall" and "apostasy"--made sense. In hundreds of essays he inhabited this paradigm, frequently discussing its implications. But Yoder never systematically examined the ancient evidence for the "Constantinian shift," so others need to do the historical reality testing. (8)
In the course of the essay that followed, Kreider began to take up just this task. Although he maintained that he did not intend to "defend" Yoder, and echoed several frequent criticisms of his work, (9) Kreider's narrative followed the well-worn topography of Yoder's interpretation of the "fall of the Church." In his own terminology, the conversion of Constantine signaled not a hard break with the past that the Yoderian terms "fall" and "apostasy" would suggest, but a turning point in the gradual transformation of the Church from one historical condition (or, to use Kreider's term, gestalt), that of the early Church, to the emerging gestalt of Christendom. Although Kreider characterized this shift of gestalts as gradual, it was nevertheless radical, nothing short of "a fundamental reorientation in the relationship between church and world." (10)
In his 2016 book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Kreider gives his fullest account yet of the "the shift from the gestalt of early Christianity to the gestalt of Christendom." Amplifying themes developed in his earlier work, Kreider contends that the transformations that resulted in the gradual transition from the early Church to the Christendom gestalt were changes from an ethically superior early period to an ethically inferior later condition. Kreider thus presents the early Church as a morally preferable to the institution that followed, suggesting that the early Church has lessons to teach to a contemporary Church sullied by the failures of Christendom. Concluding his study, Kreider made his purposes clear:
In this book we have traveled from patient ferment to impatient force. This was a slow journey that gained speed in the missional revolution of the late fourth and early fifth centuries ...If we Christians today wish to embody this patience and to claim that our faith is not intrinsically violent, we may find it helpful to converse with the early Christians we have studied. We will not do things precisely as the early Christians did, but the early believers may give us new perspectives and point us to a "lost bequest." (11)
In The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Kreider, like Yoder before him, pins the violence of later Christian history, from Crusaderism to colonialism, on a fall from the Church's superior initial gestalt. This fall was not a fait accompli in Constantine's conversion, but was certainly catalyzed by the events that transpired at the turn of the fourth century. Had the church never entered into partnership with the state, Kreider implies, the entire regrettable history of Christian violence could have been avoided.
In this essay, I will argue that the church never fell. That is, I will suggest that when we interpret the remarkable transformation of Christianity from a marginal sect to the dominant worldview of Late Antique Europe as a fall, we run the risk of minimizing the diversity and complexity of both pre- and post-Constantinian Christian ethics, particularly with regard to violence. The goal of this paper is not to acquit the post-Constantinian church of its ethical failings, but to demonstrate that discourses of legitimate violence have deep roots in the Christian tradition. Drawing on recent research in the field of Early Christian studies, I will highlight three problems with the "fall" interpretation of the Constantinian shift as promoted by Yoder and refined by Kreider. First, I shall argue that the demonstrable diversity of Christianity from its earliest recoverable years until well after the reign of Constantine complicates the narrative of a single, unified Christian church that could be capable of "falling." Next, I will argue that Yoder's narrative of a progressive rapprochement between Church and State, characterized as a devolution or decay of primitive nonviolent Christian ethics, runs aground on the evidence of diverse early Christian attitudes toward Rome and the necessity of the state's violence. In the final section of this essay, I turn my attention to Kreider's thematization of early Christian "patience" in contradistinction to the "impatience" that, he charges, characterized the church of Christendom. Reading Tertullian's De Patientia and Cyprian's De bono patientiae in conversation with contemporary Roman literature, I argue that Kreider's identification of an early Christian "patient tradition" overstates the distinctiveness of early Christian ethics. Moreover, I will show that Kreider's study overlooks justifications of violence present in pre-Constantinian texts, an omission that results in an overly-idealized portrait of early Christian communities. Under the very different political conditions of the late fourth century, these justifications of non-lethal violence were extended to defend recourse to lethal violence as well. At the conclusion of this essay, I will identify some of the potential benefits that a more nuanced and critical engagement with texts composed by Christians both before and after "the Constantinian Shift" may lend to contemporary Mennonite reflections about power, violence, and the relationship between the Church and the State. (12)
THE DIVERSITY OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY
The major challenge presented to anyone who would reconstruct the early history of the Christian movement is the nature of the evidence, both literary and archaeological, that exists for the period prior to the fourth century. Many of our extant sources were transmitted by historians from the fourth century and later, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude, but who also frequently failed to preserve texts that offered alternative versions of the Christian faith than they deemed legitimate.
A key figure in the documentation and interpretation of the early history of the Church for later generations is the early fourth-century bishop of Caesarea Maritima, Eusebius. Eusebius claims to have known Constantine personally and composed two works dedicated to him, the oration In Praise of Constantine and a glowing biography, the Life of Constantine. (13) Frequently dubbed Constantine's "court theologian," Eusebius doesn't get much respect among Mennonites, but his works on Constantine comprise only a tiny fraction of his full literary output. His most-read and most influential work is his ten-volume Church History (Historia Ecclesiastica), a continuous narrative account tracing the story of the Church from the life of Jesus up to the rise of Constantine. In its pages, Church History preserves numerous excerpts of letters and other archival documents that would otherwise have been lost. (14) But the author admittedly cites evidence selectively and with an apologetic intent. (15) In constructing his narrative, Eusebius presents the history of the church as a constant struggle for the preservation of the true, orthodox faith against the threat of novel heresy. (16) From him, we inherit the picture of a single, unified early Church overseen by an unbroken line of bishops stretching from the Council of Jerusalem in the first century to the Council of Nicaea in the fourth. It is as a result of the apologetic choices made by Eusebius that we envision early Christianity as a series of persecutions at the hands of pagans and internal battles against heretics.
The Eusebian narrative has had a profound influence on Christian self-understanding across confessions. But it is also a narrative that contemporary historians of early Christianity, scholars who are increasingly independent of confessional affiliation and increasingly familiar with the social contexts of the Greco-Roman and Near-Eastern worlds, have called into question. (17) The discovery of previously lost texts, including the so-called "Gnostic" writings from Nag Hammadi, combined with interdisciplinary insights won from the fields of ancient history, archaeology, anthropology, classics, and rabbinic studies, have led to an emerging consensus that the world of early Christianity was more diverse, more disorganized, and more susceptible to the unpredictable twists of history, than Eusebius and his successors would have us believe. (18)
The Eusebian claim that orthodoxy is the original form of Christianity, passed from Jesus to the disciples and preserved unbroken through the ages, was first thoroughly critiqued by Walter Bauer's seminal Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im Altesten Christentum, published in 1934. (19) Bauer argued that as the Christian faith spread in the early decades of the movement, it developed characteristic forms of belief and practice in different regions, so that what would by later Christians be deemed "heresy" was in fact the earliest and original form of Christianity in some locales. While the details of Bauer's study are not universally accepted, his basic insight that beliefs and practices denounced as heretical are not necessarily innovations, but may themselves precede those deemed "orthodox," has had a profound influence on the study of early Christianity. (20) In a recent blog post, Judith Lieu, a professor of divinity at Cambridge University, gives the following summary of the current consensus:
More recent study of early Christian origins has moved away from the classic picture dominated by a struggle between "orthodoxy," assumed to be original and continuous, and "heresy," a distortion of the truth emerging after "orthodoxy" and forever adopting new forms. Instead it is recognized that early Christianity was characterized from the start by diversity of belief and practice.... In these terms there never was a monolithic "orthodoxy" that predated deviation or "heresy." (21)
In her book, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic, Lieu elaborates further:
The second century saw the beginnings of the transformation of the term hairesis (heresy) from carrying a relatively neutral designation as a school of opinion, towards its acquisition within Christian discourse of a consistent negative tone applied to "others" who by deception bore "the same name as our doctrine" (Eusebius, Church History 6.7.2). (22)
It is important to recognize that accusations of heresy could be lobbed by all comers; authors deemed by the later tradition to be heretical themselves invoked accusations of heresy to discredit the views of those whom history has deemed "orthodox." (23) As David Brakke incisively notes, "the vehemence with which Justin denounced Marcion and Valentinus as 'heretics' is an indication of their similarity to him as much as their distance." (24)
Beginning in the late second century, some Christians, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Origen, began to claim adherence to a "Rule of Faith" or "Canon of Truth"--a set of beliefs that bound and defined their understanding of true Christianity. Scholars such as Everett Ferguson have pointed to the emergence of the Rule of Faith to argue for an increasing uniformity of Christian belief and practice across the Roman world by the end of the second century. (25) Ferguson admits, however, that the contents of the Rule of Faith varied from Church Father to Church Father through the third century, and that early articulations of the Rule were quite limited in its scope. Moreover, appeals to a common Rule of Faith did not eliminate disagreement. Marcion, Valentinus, Basilides, and their followers certainly would have disagreed with the first term of Irenaeus's Rule, that there is "one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them." We might not consider the doctrines of Marcion, Valentinus, and Basilides to be orthodox, but our theological judgment does not prohibit the possibility that these men and their followers considered themselves to be Christians.
With time, an ordained hierarchy did emerge as a decision-making body for the church. In the Church History, Eusebius elevates the role and the authority of the bishop in each of the major Christian centers, recording lists of bishops for the cities of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Rome that stretch back to the disciples themselves. For Eusebius, the insistence on the continuity of the office of the bishop serves the function of legitimating the power of bishops in his own day. Although the role of "overseer" (episkopos) is familiar already in the Pauline tradition and in the letters of Ignatius and Clement, the power of an individual bishop was initially confined to his own local community. (26) There is evidence that by the late second century, bishops of different cities maintained correspondence with one another, with appeals often made to the bishops of major cities (e.g., Alexandria, Rome) to settle disputes between them. These appeals, however, were not binding, and bishops could fall out with one another, as indeed occurred around 240 CE in the case of Origen's ordination between Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria and his episcopal colleagues, Alexander in Jerusalem and Theoctistus in Caesarea Maritima. (27)
Our modern perceptions of early Christian belief and practice are determined in large part by decisions made subsequent to the conversion of Constantine. Those who had the good fortune of being able to write well and of having their works copied down over the centuries have had the additional benefit of being read subsequently as representatives of the "mainstream position" of the early Church on matters of theology and ethics. The unsettling upshot of this insight is that we as twenty-first century historians are very poorly positioned to be able to determine which Christian beliefs and practices of the second and third centuries were mainstream and which were fringe. We don't know whether the majority of those who considered themselves Christians would have agreed with Irenaeus, the second-century bishop of Lyons, that the Hebrew Scriptures were a necessary inheritance of Christianity, and that the God of the Hebrews was the very same God of Jesus, (28) or whether they agreed with Marcion and rejected both Hebrew Scriptures and Hebrew God. (29) We don't know if the mainstream Christian belief was closer to that of "gnostics" such as Basilides and Valentinus or the teachings of Hippolytus of Rome, who rejected the notion of a special, secret knowledge accessible only to the few. (30) We can't tell if the prominence of sexual renunciation in the Apocryphal Acts (31) indicates that more Christians agreed with Tatian and his fellow Encratites (32) that all sexual conduct was prohibited for the Christian than they did with Clement of Alexandria, who permitted sexual relations between married couples, provided neither felt any lust toward the other. (33) We don't know how many Christ-followers were convinced that the claimed outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla was genuine, although we do know that by the end of his career, the first systematic Christian theologian to write in Latin, Tertullian, was one of them. (34) We don't know how many Christians agreed with Tertullian that, by disarming Peter, Jesus "unbelted" every soldier, but we do know that Tertullian had Christian opponents who saw no contradiction between the Christian life and military service. (35)
Twenty-first century Christians may indeed make judgments for themselves about how closely any of these second-century expressions of Christianity conform to their understanding of the gospel message preached by Jesus as it is preserved in canonical scriptures (which, to be clear, had not yet been decisively determined in the second, or even in the fourth, century). (36) Christians today may choose to reject the positions of any or all of these second-century teachers as heretical on theological grounds. But we simply do not have the evidence to support the claim that any one version of the Christian faith was "mainstream" in the second century, much less that our own preferred version of the faith fits the bill. (37)
THE EARLY DIVERSITY OF CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES TOWARD THE STATE
The attested diversity of Christianity from its earliest decades has implications for our interpretation of the effects of conversion on Constantine and, eventually, the Roman Empire itself. One of those implications is the recognition that there was never a consensus, "mainstream" opinion among Christians concerning the proper attitude of the Christian toward Rome and its civil authorities. In his introduction to John Howard Yoder's The War of the Lamb, Glen Stassen contends that "Constantinianism was not first of all about there being a Christian emperor, but about Christians weakening, thinning, or giving up any ethic that was critical of the emperor's policies and demands for loyalty." (38) Stassen suggests that authentic Christianity is essentially an anti-imperial movement, condemning attempts at accommodation to life within the Roman Empire as a betrayal of Jesus' teaching. His summary echoes Yoder's words, who himself wrote of "the progressive decay of the primitive Christian rejection of Caesar's wars." (39)
Unfortunately, the claim of "progressive decay" of Christian anti-Roman sentiment is not supported by the evidence at hand. It is not clear that followers of Jesus were originally more likely to oppose Rome, becoming less critical of governing authorities as time went on. What the evidence suggests is not the steady relaxation of Christian opposition to the Roman Empire, but a diversity of opinions among Christians about how to live in the world as they anticipated, more or less eagerly, the passing away of the present reality at the eschaton.
Already in the first century we can read Christian texts that counsel quietism and accommodation of the ruling authorities. Although texts such as Jesus' admonition to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (Mk. 12:17 and parallels) and Paul's admonition to "be subject to the governing authorities" (Rom. 13:1-7) have been variously interpreted by contemporary biblical scholars, (40) Christians including Justin Martyr in the second century read these texts as exhortations against resisting imperial rule. (41) Paul's early warnings are echoed by later New Testament writings. The exhortation to Christians in 1 Peter 2:13-17 to "honor the emperor" and the instruction that "supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Tim. 2:1-4) confirm that, already in late first and early second centuries, Christians held ambivalent opinions about the state and its power. Recently, Seyoon Kim has underscored how situational factors influenced early Christian opinions of how best to interact with civic authorities. Contrasting the attitudes of Paul and John the Seer, Kim writes,
With its assessment of the Roman authorities that is diametrically opposed to that of Rev. 13, Rom. 13:1-7, together with the rest of the Pauline writings, suggests that the situation of the Roman Empire in which Paul worked was quite different from that of the time of Revelation.... The gospel was sometimes suspected of an anti-imperial ethos and Christians were charged with political or civic crimes by the local authorities, but the possibility was still open for Paul and other Christians to explain themselves as innocent of such intentions.... Hence [Paul] was not yet inspired to see the Roman Empire as the author of Revelation was to view it later, and to issue a call to resist her as the latter did. (42)
In the second century, the apologist Athenagoras and the anonymous author of the Epistle to Diognetus were eager to demonstrate that Christians posed no threat to the peace of the Roman Empire. (43) These Christians emphasized their reluctance to take up weapons against their enemies, not as a sign of their defiance of Roman militarism, but in order to convince the governing authorities that they posed no threat to the status quo. In his First Apology, addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and his sons Verissiumus and Lucius, Justin Martyr's famous claim that "we who once killed each other not only do not make war on each other, but in order not to lie or deceive our inquisitors we gladly die for the confession of Christ" is made not as a challenge to the bellicose ethics of Rome but to reassure the imperial authorities that they had nothing to fear from the Christians. (44)
By describing the second, third, and fourth centuries as an era of increasing proximity of the church to Roman power, Yoder crafts a teleological arc that ignores the contingency of actual history and overlooks the impact of unexpected events. One such event was the novel demand for all citizens to participate in the sacrificial ritual of the civic cult instituted by the emperor Decius in 250 CE and repeated by Valerian in 257. (45) Responding to political instability exacerbated by the Sassanid military threat, for the first time a Roman emperor required all citizens of the empire to furnish a receipt proving that they had sacrificed to the emperor's genius. (46) Those who refused to sacrifice could be sent into exile or killed. Previous persecutions had been local and short-lived affairs; they could be avoided by flight or by hiding out in the dark corners of a crowded city. The Decian and Valerian demands allowed for no such recourse. In the face of lethal threat, many Christians apostatized.
In 260 CE, the Sassanids captured Valerian. Acting now as sole emperor, Valerian's son, Gallienus, changed course and reversed the policy of imperial persecution, allowing churches the corporate status that permitted them for the first time directly to own property. (47) In the latter decades of the third century, Christians enjoyed a relative peace; their numbers grew, as did their presence in the imperial service. But the late third century was also marked by disunity, as bishops broke communion with each other over the question of whether Christians who had lapsed under persecution ought to be re-admitted to the church. (48) Thus, rather than signaling a gradual decline towards Constantinianism, the mid-century persecutions and the subsequent "peace of the church" under Gallienus and his successors demonstrate both how quickly political winds could change direction, and how diverse Christian responses to persecution could be.
The second unexpected event to have significant consequences on the history of the Church was the conversion of Constantine himself. Just as there was no teleological march towards Constantinianism, from a strictly historical point of view, Christianity could have met an end similar to that of Mithraism or Manichaeism had it not had the benefit of an imperial champion. Constantine rose to power in the first decade of the fourth century, during the first and only empire-wide persecution to target Christians explicitly, (49) instigated by the Emperor Diocletian and supported by his co-emperors in the imperial tetrarchy. (50)
Faced once again with the threat of persecution, many Christians bowed to imperial demands and renounced their faith. (51) But others resisted. In his Lives of the Palestinian Martyrs, (52) Eusebius recounts the martyrdoms of members of his own community, including his teacher and father-figure, Pamphilius. (53) The narratives that Eusebius recounts have a decidedly political edge. The very first martyr of the persecution, a young man named Procopius from the town of Baishan, refused to sacrifice to the four emperors because "the rule of many is not good; let there be one ruler and one sovereign." Eusebius reports that "on account of his answer, which was insulting to the emperors, he, though alive in his conduct, was delivered over to death." (54) Perhaps the most heart-wrenching of the Palestinian Martyr Acts is the story of Apphianus, a youth of not yet twenty years, who studied the scriptures and lived in community together with Eusebius in the house belonging to Pamphilius, their teacher. As Eusebius tells it,
Apphianus, a perfectly holy man, and a witness of the truth, performed an act which surpasses all words. While no one was aware of his purpose; he even concealed it from us who were in the same house with him, he went and drew near to the governor of the place, and stood boldly before him; having also escaped the observation of the whole band that was standing near the governor, for they had not given heed when he approached the governor: and while Urbanus was offering libations, he came up to him and laid hold of his right hand, and held him back from offering the foul libation to idols, endeavoring with an excellent and gentle address and godlike suavity to persuade him to turn from his error, saying to him: That it was not right for us to turn away from the one only God of truth, and offer sacrifice to lifeless idols and wicked devils. (55)
In recompense for his boldness, Apphianus suffers a grotesque martyrdom:
and they struck him on the face, and when he had been thrown down on the ground they kicked him with their feet, and tore his mouth and lips with a bridle. And when he had endured all these things bravely, he was afterwards delivered up to be taken to a dark prison, where his legs were then stretched for a day and a night in the stocks. And after the next day they brought Apphianus, who, although a youth in age, was a mighty man in valor, into the judgment hall, and there the governor Urbanus displayed a proof of his own wickedness and hatred against this lovely youth by punishment and every kind of torture inflicted upon this martyr of God. And he ordered them to lacerate his sides until his bones and entrails became visible: he was also smitten upon his face and his neck to such a degree, that his countenance was so disfigured by the severe blows which he had received, that not even his friends could recognize him. (56)
In To See History Doxologically, J. Alexander Sider evaluates Yoder's account of the early fourth century thusly: "Yoder gives two impressions: 1) that the persecution under Diocletian and Galerius was in fact not terribly consequential for the formation of Christian consciousness in the fourth century, and 2) that the empire conceived of itself as waging an ongoing and losing battle with Christianity." (57) In light of the account we have just read, these claims should give us pause. Yoder's narrative ignores the vehemence of opposition to Roman ritual practice evinced by men like Apphianus through the early fourth century and after the rise of Constantine. His claim that the Christian rapprochement with imperial power was a result of "third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation Christians" who had not "really suffered" for being Christian, is difficult to reconcile with the Martyr Acts. (58) Equally problematic is his claim that "by the early fourth century, this sense of loyalty to the empire as 'not that bad after all' had grown." (59) The early fourth century was precisely the period when Christians suffered the most intense violence they had ever experienced at the hands of Rome. And so when Constantine extended not only an olive branch but an offer of imperial patronage to the Church, many of its leaders were willing, for better or for worse, to accept. (60) For Christians like Eusebius who had lost loved ones, Constantine's conversion to Christianity was proof positive that God was active in history, even in the horror of the persecution. The emperor's conversion and his bestowal of favors on the church provided assurance that the deaths of the martyrs--of Eusebius's friends--had not been in vain. As J. Alexander Sider has intuited, "Yoder's argument for increasing acculturation in the pre-Constantinian church as a slow but perceptible drift into a comfortable relationship with the empire begins to look like an attempt to retell the past in order to furnish it with a suitable denouement." (61)
PATIENT FERMENT AND IMPATIENT FORCE
In contrast to Yoder's acknowledged lack of attention to the details of early Christian history, Alan Kreider has immersed himself in the study of early Christian literature. In this final section, I evaluate the historical claims that Kreider makes in his recent monograph, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. I will argue that Kreider's description of the early Church as characterized by "practices of patience" and the Christendom church as characterized by "impatient force" misses some important continuities between pre- and post-Constantinian expressions of Christianity, resulting in an idealized portrait of the early church. Kreider's interpretation of Christian ethical failures in the wake of the acquisition of increased political power as a tragic rupture from the values and behavior inculcated by earlier Christian communities obscures evidence of early Christian violence and coercion before Constantine. In light of these continuities, I suggest that the Constantinian Shift might be better understood as an ambivalent transformation rather than a decline, one that resulted in Christians being afforded new opportunities to exercise power that generated new ethical dilemmas.
Patient Ferment is Kreider's answer to the question, How did the early Church grow? (62) Collecting strands of his work from over the course of his career, Kreider contends that the early church expanded "patiently"--that is, that early Christians did not pursue intentional evangelistic strategies but that they attracted new converts by modeling an attractively distinctive lifestyle that prized patience as "the highest virtue," "the greatest of all virtues," and the virtue that was "peculiarly Christian." (63) Kreider describes "patient" Christians as "not controlling events, not anxious or in a hurry, and never using force to achieve their ends." (64) The Christian understanding of "patience," he elaborates further, entails the following characteristics: 1) Patience is "rooted in God's character"; 2) "the heart of patience is revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ"; 3) "Patience is not in human control"; 4) "Patience is not in a hurry"; 5) "Patience is unconventional"; 6) "Patience is not violent"; 7) "Patience gives religious freedom"; 8) "Patience is hopeful." (65) This patience was inculcated through the practices of worship and a lengthy period of catechesis, with the end result that Christians acquired a new, distinctive, and attractive habitus, a concept that Kreider adapts from French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
Claiming it as a particularly Christian virtue, patience, Kreider asserts, "was not a virtue dear to most Greco-Roman people." (66) In their praise of patience, Christians demonstrated a marked contrast to "philosophers who were unwilling to recognize patience as a virtue." (67) These claims demand closer scrutiny. In fact, both Greek and Latin philosophers did consider hypomone/patientia to be a virtue. The stoic Cicero's works include the word patientia in its inflected forms thirty-three times. (68) In De Inventions, he defines patientia as "the willing and sustained endurance of difficult and challenging tasks for the sake of an honorable or useful end." Kreider seems to know Cicero's definition, referring to it obliquely in his contention that "at times, people in the upper reaches of the highly vertical Greco-Roman society used patience to indicate a gritty resolve. For these people, patience could connote the attitude of a noble soul who chooses to endure difficulties, resisting inevitabilities as he pursues an honorable cause." But he follows this up with the assertion that
in general, when ancient Latin writers used the term patientia, they didn't have heroes in mind; they were thinking of subordinates and victims. Patience seemed an appropriate attitude for people of no account who were on the receiving end of actions or experiences. For these people--powerless, poverty stricken, and often female--patientia was ignominious. Patience was the response of people who didn't have the freedom to define their own goals or make choices. Notably patience was a response of slaves, for whom it was an inevitability, not a virtue. (69)
Kreider supports his claims about the use of patientia in Latin writers not with evidence drawn from Latin writings themselves, but with a citation of an excellent article by the classicist Robert Kaster. (70) As I have argued elsewhere, (71) Kreider's summary significantly misrepresents Kaster's argument. In his own words, Kaster describes patientia in the following way:
What, exactly, is this trait called patientia, corresponding to dispositions that, in English, might range from "endurance" to "patience" to "forbearance" to "passivity" to "submissiveness" but that Latin denoted with but a single term? It is a term that, more than any other Latin word I know, can be used to express either high praise or grave condemnation.... Most obviously, most literally, and most generally, patientia is the quality entailed in being the recipient, not the generator, of action or experience. That is its simple, etymological sense, as the abstract noun derived from the verb pad. (72)
Kaster goes on to elaborate that the demonstration of patientia, the willingness to endure suffering, could be morally ambiguous in a hierarchical society like Rome that closely associated masculinity with impassibility. As Colleen Conway explains, "from the philosophical sphere to the social, masculinity was understood to be the active, rational, generative principle of the cosmos,... second, and related to the first point, to be active often involved expressing one's dominion over another. To be passive meant to submit to this domination." (73) When used to denote a willing passivity, patientia could indeed carry ignominious overtones.
The construction of masculinity in Greco-Roman society, however, was more complex than the simple rejection of passivity. To be a man required the demonstration of virtus, the Latin word that is often translated as "virtue" but is etymologically equivalent to "manliness" (derived from the Latin word for man, vir). A critical component of virtus was self-control, that is, the capacity to regulate one's behavior in accordance with reason rather than with the passions (anger, lust, envy, etc.). (74) Conway contends, "by the first century and beyond, self-control appears to trump the active/passive binary when it came to defining ideal masculinity." (75) Under the influence of Stoic thought, the ability to regulate one's actions came to displace activity as the first criterion of true manhood. And self-control required patience.
The esteem of patientia is well-attested by an older contemporary of Tertullian, Marcus Aurelius. Famed for combining the vocations of both Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius understood patientia, in the sense of "endurance" or "forbearance," to lie at the heart of virtue. In his Meditations, Marcus praises his predecessor in the purple, Antoninus Pius, for his ability to put patience into practice:
Do everything as a disciple of Antoninus. Remember his constancy in every act which was conformable to reason, and his evenness in all things, and his piety, and the serenity of his countenance, and his sweetness, and his disregard of empty fame, and his efforts to understand things; and how he would never let anything pass without having first most carefully examined it and clearly understood it; and how he bore with those who blamed him unjustly without blaming them in return; how he did nothing in a hurry; and how he listened not to calumnies, and how exact an examiner of manner and actions he was; and not given to reproach people, nor timid, nor suspicious, nor a sophist; and with how little he was satisfied, such as lodging, bed, dress, food, servants; and how laborious and patient. (76)
Although Roman writers could indeed use the word patientia with the submissiveness of women or slaves in mind, when used in relation to men of high status, it was always understood to be virtuous. Robert Kaster writes,
There was one category of free man in whom patientia was regularly praised and upon whom it was unhesitatingly urged, directly or by implication, as a virtue: that was the man whose superior power was beyond question--in a foreign context, a king or a great general, in the Roman context, especially, the princeps--in whom patientia was above all the forbearance that stayed his hand and kept him from reaching out to crush his inferiors. (77)
Patientia, then, is not a quality associated in the Greco-Roman mind only with subordinate social status. In its positive sense, patientia is the ability to actively withstand hardship and offense--an "aggressive passivity," in Raster's words. (78) In its negative sense, patientia connotes willing acquiescence to penetration and humiliation. Whether the demonstration of patientia was honorable or ignominious depended upon both what it is that one was willing to suffer, and who it was that was doing the suffering.
Alan Kreider's definition of patientia thus departs significantly from the term's usual Latin dictionary definition as "the quality of suffering, patience, endurance, or submission." (79) By glossing patientia as "not controlling events, not anxious or in a hurry, and never using force to achieve [its] ends," rather than the endurance of suffering and the forbearance of offense, Kreider suggests that Tertullian and Cyprian had a rather different understanding of the term than its normal usage. This raises a problem because, from my reading, it is not at all clear that they do. Rather, in accordance with normal Latin usage, both Tertullian and Cyprian use the word patientia primarily to indicate the same stalwart endurance of suffering that was also praised by their non-Christian contemporaries.
Let us turn our attention first to Tertullian. De patientia opens with the Carthaginian rhetor bemoaning his own lack of patience. Fortunately, even those who are impatient (like he himself) are able to recognize the good of patientia. Everyone, in fact, praises patience:
The good of [patientia], even they who live outside it, honor with the name of highest virtue. Philosophers indeed, who are accounted animals of some considerable wisdom, assign it so high a place, that, while they are mutually at discord with the various fancies of their sects and rivalries of their sentiments, yet, having a community of regard for patience alone, to this one of their pursuits they have joined in granting peace: for it they conspire; for it they league; in their affectation of virtue, they unanimously pursue it; concerning patience they exhibit all their ostentation of wisdom. Grand testimony this is to it, in that it incites even the vain schools of the world unto praise and glory! (80)
Tertullian's words are difficult to reconcile with Kreider's claim that non-Christians, and philosophers in particular, were unimpressed by patientia. Quite the opposite, even the quarreling philosophical schools can agree that patientia is a noble virtue worthy of pursuit. What distinguished Tertullian's treatise from the accounts of patientia given by contemporary philosophers is neither the high regard he has for the virtue, nor his definition of the term, but the figures he cited as paradigmatic paragons of patience. While the Stoics looked to political figures and the heroes of myth, such as Heracles, as models of patientia, Tertullian pointed to God (in his deferral of punishment of sins), Jesus (whose way of life and death embodied the willing endurance of suffering), and the patriarchs and prophets as his models. (81) Fittingly, Satan, the originator of all sin, is invoked as the embodiment of impatience, whom Tertullian characterizes as "impatiently" bearing God's submission of creation to man instead of himself. Throughout Tertullian's treatise, patientia is used to express "endurance of suffering," while impatientia denotes not "being in a hurry" but the unwillingness to endure hardship. This is seen most clearly in Tertullian's claim at 5.21 that all sin is the result of being "impatient" (that is, not persevering) in being good:
for truly, to get to the point, every sin is ascribable to impatience. Evil is impatience of good. No one is immodest without being "impatient" of modesty; dishonest of honesty; impious of piety; unquiet of quietness, so that each one will become evil if he is not able to persevere in being good. (82)
At the conclusion of his treatise, Tertullian contrasts "Christian" patientia with the patientia practiced by the nations:
This is the rule, this the discipline, these the works of patience which is heavenly and true; that is, of Christian patience, not false and disgraceful, like as is that patience of the nations of the earth. For in order that in this also the devil might rival the Lord, he has, as it were, quite on a par (except that the very diversity of evil and good is exactly on par with their magnitude) taught his disciples also a patience of his own; that, I mean, which, making husbands venal for dowry, and teaching them to trade in panderings, makes them subject to the power of their wives; which, with feigned affection, undergoes every toil of forced agreeableness, with a view to ensnaring the childless; which makes the slave of the belly submit to abusive patronage, in the subjection of their liberty to their gullet. Such pursuits of patience the nations are acquainted with; and they eagerly seize a name of so great goodness to apply it to foul practices: patient they live of rivals, and of the rich, and of such as give them invitations; impatient of God alone. But let their own and their leader's patience look to itself--a patience which the subterranean fire awaits. (83)
In this final paragraph, we see Tertullian join his fellow moralists in acknowledging the ambiguity of patientia. There are some things, like overbearing wives and insolent patrons, which one should not suffer. Although Tertullian attributes this diabolical "patience" to the nations (nationes), venality, pandering, and gluttony were condemned just as ardently by Roman moralists as by Christians. Thus Tertullian's treatise does not provide an objective account of the differences between pagan and Christian ethics; rather, its purpose is to stake a claim to a highly-contested patch of moral high ground on behalf of his own particular version of Christianity.
Echoing Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage opens his treatise on patientia with an acknowledgement that "philosophers also profess that they pursue this virtue," but charges that "in their case the patience is as false as their wisdom also is. For whence can he be either wise or patient, who has neither known the wisdom nor the patience of God?" (84) Cyprian supports his charge of "false patience" not with examples from the writings of particular philosophers themselves, but by invoking a string of scriptural condemnations of "the wisdom of this world." (85) He follows this with the accusation that philosophers, although they praise patientia, fail to display it properly: "it is evident that the patience is not real among them where there is the insolent audacity of an affected liberty, and the immodest boastfulness of an exposed and half-naked bosom." (86) Cyprian claims that philosophical impatience is demonstrated not by a hurried spirit or a need to be in control, but an "audacious" liberty and the immodesty of the philosopher's traditional attire. This line of argumentation should signal to the careful reader that the goal of this treatise is not an objective account of a distinctly Christian patience, but a rhetorically-charged apologia. In De bono patientiae, Cyprian aims not only to assert that patience is "good," but that the Christians of his flock ought to endure hardship rather than to seek vengeance against "those who act harshly or rage against them." The Christians are able to reject vengeance honorably because they have the promise that, ultimately, their sufferings will be avenged by God in the person of Jesus:
But who is this that says that he has held his peace before, and will not hold his peace forever? Surely it is He who was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is without voice, so He opened not His mouth.... This is He who, although He was silent in His passion, yet by and by will not be silent in His vengeance. This is our God, that is, not the God of all, but of the faithful and believing; and he, when He shall come manifest in His second advent, will not be silent. (87)
Kreider contends that this passage, which occurs near the conclusion of Cyprian's treatise, is incongruous with its "main themes" of patience as a virtue that is "expansive and beneficent." (88) As such, he dismisses the final four paragraphs of De bono patientiae as not really relevant to his thesis of the early church's "patient ferment": "It is not the crabbed, judgment-awaiting obedience of chapters 21-24 that explains the church's growth; it is life in 'the way of Christ,' distinctive and hopeful." (89) But the conclusion of Cyprian's treatise should not be discounted so easily. It is entirely consistent with the ambivalent character of patientia that indefinite patience is not, pace Kreider, "self-evidently good." (90) As we have seen, Latin moralists, including Tertullian, agree that there are limits to what one ought to suffer. Thus, it is a sign of God's greatness that he demonstrates patient endurance, but only for so long. (91) The promise of eschatological vengeance undergirds Christians' patience; for Cyprian, the "good" of patience is the ultimate payoff of divine vindication.
A contextual reading of De patientia and De bono patientiae suggests that early Christians used the term patientia primarily to indicate their endurance of suffering, not their willingness to wait, or to give up control. It follows that when Christians urge each other to practice patience, they are not so much encouraging each other to maintain a calm, unhurried, easy-going attitude that will draw the attention of curious friends and neighbors; rather, they are urging each other to suffer well for their faith, until the day when God will avenge them. And so while Kreider correctly observes that Augustine, writing 200 years after Tertullian, is more concerned to distinguish "good patience" from "bad patience" than were his predecessors, the dichotomy he paints between "the patient tradition" of Tertullian and Cyprian, on the one hand, and Augustine's "Roman" culture, on the other, is too stark. Kreider contends that "for early Christians patience had been the 'highest virtue'; for Augustine it has become an ambivalent virtue: it 'might be bad--if not directed to a just cause--or good, if it was." (92) While Tertullian does indeed, with a rhetorical flourish, name patientia the "highest virtue," he also furnishes examples of non-virtuous patientia. Augustine's claim that there are some things that one ought not to suffer, and that, therefore, suffering alone cannot be cited as in and of itself evidence of true patientia, is consistent with both earlier Christian writings and Roman philosophical conceptions of the moral worth of endurance. The distinctive "patient tradition" that Kreider claims for early Christianity begins to look less distinctive when the treatises of Tertullian and Cyprian are read alongside contemporary Latin literature.
It is unfortunate that Kreider does not take into account the occurrences of patientia in martyrological literature, where "patient" suffering defines the behavior of the martyrs. In these texts, patientia fits into a larger web of early Christian discourses that construct Christian identity not in terms of the rejection of violence so much as with the active imitation of Christ's sufferings. In numerous second-century Christian texts, the name "Christian" is reserved especially for the martyr who imitates Christ in his death. (93) By following in the example of Jesus in their willing suffering and death, the martyrs achieve the status of "other Christs." (94) Kreider's study would have been enhanced if it had paid greater attention to the interplay between exhortations to patientia--that is, to endurance--and the valorization of suffering in imitation of Christ that recurs frequently in diverse strands of early Christian thought. What may indeed be distinctive about early Christian attitudes in relation to patientia is their willingness to interpret the humiliation of torture and execution as virtuously patient endurance of hardship.
The counterpart to Kreider's assertion that early Christian communities demonstrated a distinctive and attractive patience is his claim that early Christians rejected violence and coercion, striving to incarnate "ecosystems of peace." (95) But as Michael Gaddis notes, "for the first three centuries of their history, Christians were in little position to employ significant violence either in defense of their faith or in their own internal disputes." (96) In one sphere, however, some early Christians did have the authority to use physical violence to enforce compliance. Christian heads of households were in a position of power to compel Christian practice from their wives, children, and slaves, and there is early evidence to suggest that they did just that. Jennifer Glancy makes the uncomfortable observation that the Acts of the Apostles contains four accounts of "household conversion" in which, following the lead of the head of the household, all of its members are reported to have been baptized. Glancy observes,
scholars debate whether the household baptisms represented in the Acts of the Apostles involved children, but they do not debate whether household baptisms included slaves. They assume and assert that this was the case. Moreover, they do not seem troubled by this assumption. (97)
Outside of the canonical New Testament, there is additional evidence to suggest that Christian heads of household used violence to coerce religious practice and control the behavior of their wives, children, and slaves. The Didache, a text containing material that may pre-date even the canonical gospels, urges its readers, "you shall not take your hand away from your son or from your daughter, but from their youth you shall teach them the fear of God." (98) Nearly 200 years later, Origen appeals to his congregants' experiences as fathers and masters to account for the pain of divine discipline:
It is necessary that you a sinner, attended by God, taste something more bitter so that once disciplined, you may be saved. And just as when you punish the servant or the son, but you do not want simply to torment him, rather it is in order that you convert him by pains, so God, too, disciplines by the pains from sufferings those who have not been converted to the Word, who have not been cured. (99)
Within the domain of the household, Origen expects that a Christian paterfamilias will use violent means to keep the people in his potestas (power) in line. His expectations for Christian household discipline follows the council in 1 Timothy that "the bishop must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way--for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church?" As Craig A. Williams observes, a Roman man was expected to "exercise dominion over his own body and his own desires as well as the bodies and desires of those under his jurisdiction--his wife, children, and slaves--just as the Roman citizenry as a whole ideally dominates most of the rest of the world." (100) The advice of both Origen and the author of the Pastoral letters suggests that at least some Christians shared the broader Roman commitment to proper order enforced by domination. (101)
Although there is ample attestation that many Christians refused to shed blood on behalf of the empire, either as soldiers or as judicial officials, (102) some of those same Christians acknowledged that both war and violent punishment, including capital punishment, remained necessary for the maintenance of order in the state. In his Homily on Exodus 10, Origen noted that when overturning the command in Deuteronomy 19:21 to take "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth," Jesus began his citation with "an eye for an eye." Thus, Origen reasoned, the command to take a life for a life still stands: "we easily understand that 'a life is given for a life,' that is, that what has been committed should be punished by death." (103) Similarly, in his Homily on Jeremiah 12, Origen reasoned,
Let us suppose that it is the appointed task for a judge to create peace and prepare matters beneficial for the people under him. Let there approach a youthful murderer who projects himself to seem personable and good. Let a mother approach who presents reasons for pity to the judge, that he might take mercy on her old age. Let the wife of this worthless man plead with him to be merciful; let his children who surround him cry out in need. In light of these things, what is fitting for the common good: to show mercy or not to show mercy upon this man? If he is shown mercy, he will repeat the same crimes. If he is not shown mercy, he will die, but the common good will be better off. (104)
As a small minority within larger Roman society, Christians could avoid the duty of bearing the sword on behalf of the empire, and there is good evidence to suggest that many (but not all) of them did precisely that. (105) But as Christians came to make up the majority of the empire's populace, they were faced with the ethical challenges of new responsibilities. Some of them argued from the long-accepted necessity for disciplinary violence in the household to legitimize the use of disciplinary violence in the state. This was the position of Augustine who, as Gillian Clark notes, "linked legitimized political violence with legitimized domestic violence. He ascribed both to 'tough love' for those on whom violence was inflicted, just as God, the ultimate loving father, inflicted salutary pain on his children." (106) In a letter to written to the Christian comes (provincial imperial agent) Marcellinus in 412, Augustine counseled against the excesses of torture, but admitted the necessity of some physical chastisement to correct criminals:
Fulfill, Christian judge, the duty of an affectionate father; let your indignation against their crimes be tempered by considerations of humanity... Do not lose now that fatherly care which you maintained when prosecuting the examination, in doing which you extracted the confession of such horrid crimes, not by stretching them on the rack, not by furrowing their flesh with iron claws, not by scorching them with flames, but by beating them with rods--a mode of correction used by schoolmasters, and by parents themselves in chastising children, and often also by bishops in the sentences awarded by them [in episcopal courts]. (107)
While Augustine advocated for limits to disciplinary violence on an individual level, his logic of disciplinary violence was invoked to justify lethal violence enacted on an imperial scale. Gaddis writes,
Whether confronting schismatics, heretics, stubborn pagans, or indeed those who defied laws on secular matters, imperial policy deployed the credible threat of official violence to compel offenders to choose the right path. But at this level, particularly, the distinction between healthy, corrective violence and lethal force could easily blur. (108)
As an examples, Gaddis furnishes the conflict between the Catholics and Donatist schismatics in the middle of the fourth century:
Sometimes authorities could justify for themselves the means by which corrective discipline stumbled its way into lethal force. The church might find itself reluctantly compelled by the necessity of self-defense to ask for military assistance--as the Donatists themselves had done early in the 340s when terrified by the rebellions of Axido and Fasir. Because they were beyond the bishops' power to "correct"--in ecclesia corrigi non posse--it was the duty of Count Taurinus to impose a grim disciplina that left corpses piled around desecrated altars. The Donatists professed eagerness for martyrdom--"suicide" to the Catholics--was intended to serve a deterrent purpose: if you force us into martyrdom, our blood will be on your hands.... Augustine, however, would not be deterred. Charity, he argued, did not allow us to let the possibility of a few deaths prevent us from taking action to save so many others. (109)
To be sure, Augustine's advocacy of judicial violence was not shared by all fourth- and fifth-century Christians; (110) just as before the conversion of Constantine, some Christians argued that followers of Christ must not take up arms on behalf of the state at all. (111) But, as Gaddis cautions, the task of the historian is not to adjudicate which position is most "authentically" Christian, but to
attempt to understand how late antique Christians believed violence to fit within their moral system, whether upholding it or violating it. We must also avoid the essentializing temptation to search for a single and monolithic "authentic Christian tradition" on violence: there were different and hotly contested perspectives, and each side understood its own view to be authentic and firmly grounded on scripture." (112)
Constantine's conversion undoubtedly heralded significant changes in the relationship between ecclesial and civic authorities. While some bishops rejected recourse to the state's violence to enforce their authority, others embraced it. (113) Just as Christians before Constantine could--and did--use violence to discipline their children and their slaves, Christian bishops after Constantine could--and did--use violence to discipline their parishioners. Christians before Constantine could--and did--compel Christian behavior from the people under their authority (their children, their slaves, their wives); likewise, Christian bishops and landlords after Constantine could--and did--compel people under their authority (their parishioners) to exhibit Christian behavior by preventing them from participating in pagan worship. Prior to Constantine, children and slaves were required "patiently" to endure disciplinary violence at the hands of Christian parents and masters. After Constantine, Christian bishops had recourse to call upon the potentially lethal violence of the state to keep extremists from within their fold in check. (114) Discourses that legitimize Christian violence and coercion are not novelties of the post-Constantinian era; they run uncomfortably deep throughout the Christian tradition. (115)
In the preceding pages, I have challenged John Howard Yoder's and Alan Kreider's interpretations of the conversion of Constantine as precipitating, more or less quickly, the "fall" of the early Church. The Church did not fall in the fourth century because the Church never enjoyed a period of initial purity. From its inception, the Church has been composed of diverse people with diverse opinions about the limits of legitimate violence in a creation that still groans towards its salvation.
A more expansive reading of early Christian texts may very well be disquieting for those, like Kreider, who hearken back to the "pre-Christendom" era as a model for today's "post-Christendom" church. And yet, the imperfection of the early Church is all the more reason for us to afford it more than a cursory study. By resisting the urge to idealize the past, we become better able to identify the tensions and temptations that have historically caused Christians to stumble and continue to challenge Christians today. Proclaiming Jesus as king of kings and prince of peace, Christians have always struggled with one another to agree upon the proper role of civic authorities. A contextual reading of the sources, I suggest, may lead us to greater empathy for the many Christians who, in the fourth century, gladly welcomed the patronage of the imperial court, and who sincerely attempted to incarnate the kingdom of God within the Empire of Rome.
Conversely, a more critical evaluation of early Christian attitudes to disciplinary violence, both within the home and within the state, may require us to rethink what we mean when we claim that the Church before Constantine promoted "non-violence." Even today, much writing by Mennonite scholars persists in eliding the difference between pacifism and nonviolence. Pacifists, too, can be violent people. Only recently have Mennonites begun to recognize abuses of power within our own institutions as inimical to the Gospel of Peace. (116) A more careful reading of early Christian sources reveals the deep roots of structural violence in Christian communities, violence that is unrelated to participation in the structures of the state.
A more honest reading would also have to acknowledge the presence within texts like Cyprian's De bono patientiae of ideas and language that have inspired acts of extreme violence--even genocide--by Christians, especially against Jews. While he praises Jesus' patience with "the Jews," Cyprian attributes to them the entire blame for Jesus' crucifixion. He describes Jews as "slayers of the prophets," "those who were always rebellious against God," and as "cruel," describing the crucifixion as "the crime of the Jews" and referring to Jews as an undifferentiated collective as Christ's "murderers." (117) De bono patientiae thus stands near the beginning of a Christian tradition accusing Jews of deicide, a tradition that motivated pogroms in Medieval Europe and continues to inspire violence among anti-Semitic groups today. Cyprian's virulent language against the Jews is just one of many examples of ethically spurious ideas and convictions held by our ancient Christian predecessors. The presence of such problematic ideas does not, in my opinion, render the works of early Christians entirely useless or irrelevant. But our reading of early Christian texts must be both compassionate and critical. There is deep wisdom to be plumbed in the writings of early Christians, but there is also much that is troubling, and much that must be condemned.
JENNIFER OTTO (*)
(*) Jennifer Otto is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Erfurt and the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies.
(1.) Eusebius, Life of Constantine 1.28.--Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, trans. Ernest Cushing Richardson (Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1890), 1.481-559.
(2.) Ibid., 1.29.
(3.) "According to the Anabaptists and other radicals, Constantine the Great had brought about the 'fall' of the apostolic church separate by uniting it with the state. Their attempt to establish a church separate from the state was to follow the ideal of the primitive church."--Harry Loewen, Ink Against the Devil: Luther and His Opponents (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015), 139.
(4.) Yoder's notes for this course have been edited and published as John Howard Yoder, Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution, ed. Theodore J. Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2009). Yoder's account of the early Church can be found on pages 42-74.
(5.) A recent example of this "fall narrative" can be read in A. James Reimer, Christians and War: A Brief History of the Church's Teachings and Practices (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 64-74. The Yoderian "myth" of the fall of the church has been identified and critiqued by J. Alexander Sider in "Constantine and Myths of the Fall of the Church," 172-183, in Constantine Revisited: Leithart, Yoder, and the Constantinian Debate, ed. John D. Roth (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2013). Chapter three of Sider's To See History Doxologically: History and Holiness in John Howard Yoder's Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011) critiques Yoder's reading of the late third and fourth centuries.
(6.) Alan Kreider, "'Converted' but not Baptized," in Constantine Revisited: Leithart, Yoder, and the Constantinian Debate, ed. John D. Roth (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2013), 25-67, 26.
(7.) Kreider is currently a professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. His publications in the field of early Christianity include The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1999) and The Origins of Christendom in the West (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), an edited collection of essays by multiple contributors.
(8.) Kreider, "'Converted' but not Baptized," 25.
(9.) "In my view, [Peter Leithart] makes some valuable points. Leithart gives a detailed account of the persecution under Diocletian, and contends--with some justice, I believe-that Yoder and other Anabaptist writers have paid insufficient attention to the persecutions' horrors and to the gratitude that Christians had when the emperor, Constantine, legalized their existence. Leithart further points out that at times, in current-day Anabaptist circles, the rhetoric of anti-Constantinianism has led to a lack of sympathetic engagement with the European Middle Ages. And he puts his finger on several tendencies in Yoder's writing that I also find distressing. One of these is Yoder's inclination to equate Eusebius and Augustine, whereas, as many scholars have pointed out, Augustine in his mature writings explicitly distances himself from Eusebius. A second occurs in the passage in which Yoder links Constantine with Charlemagne as emperors who required 'that every European must be Christian.' And underlying Leithart's critique of Yoder is a challenge: does Yoder take the details of history seriously, or is he so misled by his pacifist commitments and Anabaptist presuppositions that he cannot understand history?"--Kreider, "'Converted' but not Baptized," 28.
(10.) Ibid., 65.
(11.) Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2016), 293.
(12.) Readers may note some resonances between my argument and Peter Leithart's thorough-going critique of Yoder's interpretation of the Constantinian Shift in Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (Downer's Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2010). While I echo Leithart's criticism of Yoder's reconstruction of the history of the second through fourth centuries, I am unconvinced by Leithart's attempt to rehabilitate Constantine as a model for engaged Christian political leadership today.
(13.) The most recent English edition of In Praise of Constantine is that of Harold A. Drake (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976). A new English translation of the Life of Constantine with extensive commentary appears in the Clarendon Ancient History Series as Eusebius, Life of Constantine, trans. Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
(14.) The most up-to-date English translation is Eusebius, The Church History, trans. Paul L. Maier (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 1999). I use Maier's translation.
(15.) "I have gathered from the scattered memoirs of my predecessors whatever seems appropriate to this project, plucking, as it were, flowers from the literary fields of the ancient authors themselves. I shall incorporate them in a historical narrative, happy to rescue from oblivion at least the most distinguished of the successors of our Savior's apostles in the most famous churches."--Eusebius, Church History, 1.1.
(16.) Eusebius writes that it is his purpose to record "the names, numbers, and ages of those who, driven by love of novelty to the extremity of error, have announced themselves as sources of knowledge (falsely so-called) while ravaging Christ's flock mercilessly, like ferocious wolves."--Eusebius, Church History, 1.1.
(17.) See most recently Marie Verdoner, Narrated Reality: The Historia Ecclesiastica of Eusebius of Caesarea (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2011). See also the essays collected in Sabrina Inowlocki and Claudio Zamagni, Reconsidering Eusebius: Collected Papers on Literary, Historical, and Theological Issues (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
(18.) That is not to say, as has been suggested by scholars beginning with Jakob Burckhardt in 1852, that Eusebius is "a thoroughly dishonest historian," one who routinely and intentionally distorts his sources. Rather, I maintain that Eusebius was himself convinced of the truth of his account. Nevertheless, we must take into account the biases that conditioned Eusebius's worldview and be conscious of the experiences that determined the interpretations Eusebius was capable of drawing from his sources.
(19.) Walter Bauer, Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im Altesten Christentum (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1934).
(20.) Reflecting on the influence of Walter Bauer's thesis, Helmut Koester writes, "However fragmentary the total picture may be, it is nevertheless obvious that the earliest mission and expansion of the new message during the first years and decades after Jesus' death was a phenomenon that utterly lacked unity. On the contrary, great variety was the result of these quickly expanding groups of followers of Jesus."--Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament Vol. II: History and Literature of Early Christianity (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1982, 2000), 102.
(21.) Judith Lieu, "Marcion and the Idea of Heresy," The Bible and Interpretation, October 2015.-www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/10/lie398008.shtml.
(22.) Lieu, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 86. David Brakke notes that Clement of Alexandria, writing at the end of the second century, can still write that "the most accurate gnosis and the truly best hairesis reside in the only true and ancient Church."--Stromateis 126.96.36.199, cited in Brakke, The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 105.
(23.) See, for example, the Valentinian Ptolemy in his Letter to Flora condemning those who hold different understandings of the origin of the Law of Moses from himself (including the position that will come to be recognized as orthodox): "both are completely in error; they refute each other and neither has reached the truth of the matter."--Ptolemy, Letter to Flora, preserved in Epiphanius, Panarion or Medicine Chest Against Heresies, 33.3.1-33.7.10.
(24.) Brakke, The Gnostics, 111.
(25.) Everett Ferguson provides a concise overview of this concept in his short book, The Rule of Faith: A Guide (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2015). Although Ferguson asserts that "from very early on there was a widely shared consensus--at least within those Jesus communities that saw themselves as directly linked to the ministry of the apostles--as to the basic shape of the church's proclamation," his chronological presentation of the Rule of the Faith begins with Irenaeus, who wrote around 180-190 CE. Irenaeus articulates the "Rule of Faith" in a polemically-charged treatise with the explicit intent of delegitimizing the Christianity of the so-called "Gnostics," to which he gives the pointed title, Five Books of Unmasking and Overthrow of the Gnosis Falsely So-Called, better known today as Against Heresies.
(26.) Episkopoi ("overseers" or "bishops") are greeted by Paul in Phil. 1:1; their roles are further elaborated in the deutero-Pauline writings at 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9.
(27.) This conflict is narrated by Eusebius in Church History 6.8.
(28.) See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.10, and discussion in Ferguson, The Rule of Faith, 35-39.
(29.) Marcion of Sinope, the second-century church leader who rejected the identity of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures with the God of Jesus, has attracted renewed interest as of late. In addition to the work of Judith Lieu cited above, see Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Louvain: Peeters, 2014) and Dieter T. Roth, The Text of Marcion's Gospel (Leiden: Brill, 2015).
(30.) Basilides and Valentinus led schools or study circles in the first half of the second century in Alexandria and in Rome and are often considered together as "Gnostics." Their writings are preserved only as fragments in the works of their opponents. For a more considered evaluation of their teachings, see David Brakke, The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010); Karen L. King, What is Gnosticism? (Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2005). For Hippolytus's rejection of Gnosticism, see Refutation of all Heresies, ed. Alexander Roberts. Ante-Nicene Fathers 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885).
(31.) The canonical Acts of the Apostles is only one example of a larger genre chronicling the later adventures of Apostles, including Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, and Phillip. For an introduction to this literature, see Bart Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that did not Make it into the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 92-156.
(32.) The Encratites were a Christian group that rejected sex in all circumstances, including marriage. Their most prominent adherent was Tatian (c. 120-180 CE), who composed a harmony of the four canonical gospels known as the Diatessaron. Charges that Tatian was an Encratite are first leveled by Irenaeus in Against Heresies 1.28.
(33.) Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.7.58.
(34.) Montanism, or the New Prophecy, was a charismatic movement that flourished in the second century, originating in Phrygia (modern central Turkey) and spreading out through the Roman world. For a general introduction to Montanism, see Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority, and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
(35.) Tertullian, De Idolatria, 19.
(36.) The earliest witness to a canon list identical with our New Testament is found in Athanasius's Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter, composed in 367 CE. See David Brakke, "Canon Formation and Social Conflict in Fourth-Century Egypt: Athanasius of Alexandria's Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter," Harvard Theological Review 87.4 (1994), 395-419.
(37.) David Brakke is, again, on this point particularly insightful: "Indeed, except for a small revival movement in the late twentieth century, medieval and modern Christians have been neither Gnostics nor Valentinians nor Marcionites. But neither, we must recognize, have they really been Irenaeans or Justinians or Origenists. No forms of Christianity that existed in the second and third centuries have survived intact today; rather they have all contributed, in greater and lesser ways, to the ongoing development of Christianities."--The Gnostics, 136.
(38.) Glen Stassen, "Introduction" to Yoder, The War of the Lamb, 20.
(39.) Yoder, The War of the Lamb, 45.
(40.) Recent Mennonite readings of these texts have been influenced significantly by the anti-imperial interpretive work of Walter Wink (especially the Powers trilogy) and Ched Meyers, most notably in Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1988). For a more nuanced reading of Paul's political perspective, see Gordon Zerbe, "Politics of Paul: His Supposed Social Conservatism and the Impact of Postcolonial Readings," Conrad Grebe! Review 21 (2003), 82-103.
(41.) "Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment."--Justin Martyr, Apology 1.17. See also Martyrdom of Polycarp 10.2, "for we have been taught to show an honor that does not harm us, as is fitting, to rulers and authorities put in place by God."
(42.) Seyoon Kim, Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 70-71.
(43.) Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 1: "And accordingly, with admiration of your mildness and gentleness, and your peaceful and benevolent disposition towards every man, individuals live in the possession of equal rights; and the cities, according to their rank, share in equal honor; and the whole empire, under your intelligent sway, enjoys profound peace. But for us who are called Christians you have not in like manner cared; but although we commit no wrong--nay, as will appear in the sequel of this discourse, are of all men most piously and righteously disposed towards the Deity and towards your government--you allow us to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted, the multitude making war upon us for our name alone."--Ante-Nicene Fathers 1, trans. B. P. Patten (Buffalo: Christian Publishing Co., 1885). Epistle to Diognetus 5: "[Christians] pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred."--Ante-Nicene Fathers 1, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Buffalo: Christian Publishing Co., 1885).
(44.) Justin, Apol. 1.1. Two paragraphs earlier, Justin wrote, "We are, in fact, of all men your best helpers and allies in securing good order."
(45.) Harold A. Drake, Constantine and the Bishops (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 139.
(46.) Harold Drake explains, "'Sacrifice' involved offering a few grains of incense to the 'genius' of the emperor, his tutelary deity, what today we might call a patron saint. To Romans it was a harmless means of demonstrating loyalty. Refusal to perform this act was tantamount to treason."--Drake, Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 88.
(47.) Ibid., 114.
(48.) This is known as the Novatianist schism, named for the rigorist bishop Novatian. See Eusebius, Church History 6.43.
(49.) Diocletian turned on the Christians in the wake of several events perceived as attempts by Christians to interfere with rituals of divination. For a fuller reconstruction of the events leading up to the Great Persecution, see Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, A Threat to Public Piety: Christians, Platonists, and the Great Persecution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012).
(50.) Tetrarchy, or "Rule of Four," was a system of imperial power-sharing initiated by the Emperor Diocletian. Although intended to lend stability to the empire by avoiding succession struggles on the death of an emperor, the tetrarchy quickly devolved into in-fighting among the four rulers and ended when Constantine defeated Licinius in 324, uniting the empire under his sole rule.
(51.) According to Eusebius, the sight of many of their fellow Christians sacrificing motivated the martyrs Alphaeus, Zacchaeus, and Romanus to renounce the Roman sacrificial system. Conflict between the confessors and the lapsed was to prove the first major challenge to Christian unity during Constantine's reign and lead to the Donatist schism. See Maureen A. Tilley, Donatist Martyr Stories: The Church in Conflict in Roman North Africa (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996).
(52.) The long recension of Eusebius's Lives of the Palestinian Martyrs survives only in a Syriac manuscript. The only published English translation is that by William Cureton, first published in 1861.
(53.) On the community life of Pamphilius's school, see Elizabeth Penland, "Martyrs as Philosophers: The School of Pamphilus and Ascetic Tradition in Eusebius's Martyrs of Palestine," (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2010).
(54.) Eusebius, Martyrs of Palestine, trans. William Cureton (1861), 4.
(55.) Ibid., 14.
(56.) Ibid., 15.
(57.) Sider, History Doxologically, 112.
(58.) Yoder, Christian Attitudes, 52.
(59.) Ibid., 50.
(60.) Many, but not all. Already in the early third century, the breakaway Donatist church in North Africa rejected the favors of Rome. On the Donatist schism, Harold Drake contends, "what the Donatists represent are the fault lines developing out of Christianity's very success. Sociologists who study the development of new religions and cults have observed that a split regularly develops between those members who have achieved some standing in the world outside the church and those who continue to relate to that world as outsiders. The one group will be eager to reduce the tensions that originally separated their organization from the surrounding culture, while the other will continue to define that culture as foreign, hostile, and corrupt."--Constantine and the Bishops, 229. Philipp Melanchthon accused early Anabaptists of reviving the Donatist heresy. See John S. Oyer, Lutheran Reformers Against Anabaptists: Luther, Melanchthon, and Menius and the Anabaptists of Central Germany (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), 174.
(61.) Sider, History Doxologically, 112.
(62.) Kreider's positing of a single cause (namely, an attractively and distinctively patient habitus) to explain the growth of the early Church ignores the implications of his own admission that "I have been too grand in writing about the growth of 'the early church,' for in many places there were competing churches. I am aware of the 'fractionation' of early Christianities in Rome and many other places, and I know that 'heretical' churches continued to exist for centuries."--Patient Ferment, 3. If the early Christian movement was indeed as diverse and dis-unified as Kreider admits, it follows that different Christian groups would have experienced different patterns of growth and decline resulting from different experiences and different evangelistic strategies.
(63.) Ibid., 2.
(65.) Ibid., 35.
(66.) Ibid., 1.
(67.) Ibid., 20.
(68.) "Patientia was considered a very important human virtue by Cicero as well; the word patientia and its inflections appear more than 33 times in his works. Roman history provides us with numerous magna exempla for patientia controlling and governing the animus, and helping to endure pain."--Levante Pap, "Stoic Virtues in Tertullian's Works and Their Relation to Cicero," Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Philologica 6.1 (2014), 7-16, 10.
(69.) Kreider, Patient Ferment, 20. This statement is one of several in Kreider's study that suggest a lack of engagement with non-Christian Greco-Roman writings on the part of the author. This oversight is reflected by the primary sources cited. With one exception, Kreider exclusively cites the writings of Church Fathers. The exception is Lucian's The Passing of Peregrinus, a second-century text in which Christians are mocked for their gullibility in believing the claims of charismatic charlatans. Kreider brings up this text as a "doubtless fictional" (most commentators accept the historicity of Peregrinus and his foray into Christianity), but nonetheless indicative account of early Christian charity. Lucian's text aims, however, not to describe Christian charity but Christian gullibility: "Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succor and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all. So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody, most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them their common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan or trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk."--The Passing of Peregrinus 13, trans. A. M. Harmon, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936).
(70.) Robert A. Kaster, "The Taxonomy of Patience, or When Is Patientia Not a Virtue?" Classical Philology 97 (2002), 133-144.
(71.) See my review of The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, in Conrad Grebel Review 34 (2016).
(72.) Kaster, "The Taxonomy of Patience," 135.
(73.) Colleen Conway, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 22.
(74.) Ibid., 23.
(75.) Ibid., 25.
(76.) Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.30.
(77.) Kaster, "The Taxonomy of Patience," 142-143. In De dementia 1.8.6, the Stoic Seneca urges the Emperor Nero that it is better to be patient, arguing, "whereas private citizens, by enduring the wrongs already received, lie more open to receiving others, yet kings by clemency gain a security more assured, because repeated punishment, while it crushes the hatred of a few, stirs the hatred of all." In his De Ira 3.23.2, Seneca maintains that "if Philip [of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father] possessed any virtues at all, among them was his ability to endure insults--a great help in the maintenance of the throne (nam si qua alia in Philippo virtus, fuit et contumeliarum patientia, ingens instrumentum ad tutelam regni)."
(78.) Kaster, "The Taxonomy of Patience," 136.
(79.) A Latin Dictionary, ed. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (New York: Harper and Bros., 1879).
(80.) Tertullian, De patientia 1, trans. S. Thelwall. Ante-Nicene Fathers 3.
(81.) While Kreider emphasizes the early Christian portrayal of God as patient, Colleen Conway argues that this characterization was adopted by the Christians from the Stoics. Writing in the first century BCE, Cicero claimed, "it is the commonly accepted view of all philosophers that God is never angry, never hurtful."--Off. 3.102. Conway comments, "Clearly, for the Jewish or Christian Greek who knew anything of the biblical portrait of God, this aspect of Greco-Roman masculine ideology presented difficulties."--Conway, Behold the Man, 27.
(82.) lam vero, ut compendio dictum sit, omne peccatum impatientiae adscribendum. Malum inpatientia est boni. Nemo inpudicus non patiens pudicitiae et inprobus probitatis et impius pietatis et inquietus quietis, ut malus unusquisque fiat, si bonus perseverare non poterit! (Translation mine).
(83.) Depatientia 16, trans. Thelwell (modified).
(84.) Cyprian, De bono patientiae 2, Ante-Nicene Fathers 5, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis (Buffalo: Christian Publishing Co., 1885).
(85.) Is. 29:14; Col. 2:8,10; 1 Cor. 3:18-20.
(86.) De bono patientiae, 2.
(87.) Ibid., 23.
(88.) Kreider, Patient Ferment, 30.
(89.) Ibid., 31.
(90.) Ibid, 30.
(91.) The parallel between divine and imperial patientia, as described by Kaster, is instructive: "But if patientia in the great produced admiration, it was admiration born of fear, and the knowledge that forbearance was merely the dormant state of awful power. Hence the impression one receives, from some celebrations of imperial patientia, of men whistling as they walk past the graveyard."--Kaster, "The Taxonomy of Patience," 144.
(92.) Kreider, Patient Ferment, 282.
(93.) See, for example, Ignatius's urging not to hinder his martyrdom in Letter to the Romans 3, "Only pray for power for me, both inward and outward, that I may not only speak, but also may will, so that I not only be called a Christian, but also be found such. For if I be found to be a Christian, I am able also to be called one, and then I am able to be faithful, when I am not visible to the world."
(94.) On endurance in the context of martyrdom see Candida Moss, The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 36-46.
(95.) Kreider, Patient Ferment, 233. Kreider's interpretation of early Christian references to the Greek eirene and the Latin pax suffer from similar semantic prejudices to his reading of patientia. Early Christians usually use the word "peace" to describe the absence of conflict within the local church community and the universal Church as a whole. As Michael Gaddis notes, when Constantine resorts to coercive force to bring the Donatists in Carthage into communion with the Catholics, he does so in the interests of restoring "the peace of the Church." See Gaddis, There is No Crime for Those who have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 59.
(96.) Gaddis, There is No Crime, 23.
(97.) Jennifer Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity, 47. Early affirmation of Christian slave-holding is also found in Col. 4; Eph. 6:1-9; and the book of Philemon. For the second century, see Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 35, "and yet we have slaves, some more and some fewer, by whom we could not help being seen"; and Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp: "Do not be haughty to male slaves or female slaves; yet do not let them be puffed up, but let them rather endure slavery to the glory of God, that they may obtain a better freedom from Christ. Let them not desire to be set free at the Church's expense, that they be not found the slaves of desire."
(98.) Didache 4.9.
(99.) Origen, Horn. Jer. 12.3.3. In Horn. Gen. 4.4, Origen urges the wives in attendance to follow the examples of their faithful husbands: "Let the wives learn from the examples of the patriarchs, let the wives learn, I say, to follow their husbands. For not without cause is it written that "Sara was standing behind Abraham,' but that it might be shown that if the husband leads the way to the Lord, the wife ought to follow. I mean that the wife ought to follow if she sees her husband standing by God."
(100.) Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 142.
(101.) Kreider seeks to excuse the persistence of Christian slave-holding by attributing it to the persistence of "Greco-Roman habitus." He thus criticizes Gregory Thaumaturgos's catechesis, which included the command that "servants to be dutiful to their masters," for reflecting "the dominant values of Pontus society," accusing Gregory of "requiring] little in the way of the formation of a patient habitus." But this instruction is perfectly comprehensible as a gloss of Ephesians 6:5.
(102.) Ronald Sider gathers the relevant literary evidence in The Early Church of Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2012). Two points in relation to this collection are worth noting. First, Sider limits his analysis to those texts that explicitly discuss killing, and does not treat Christian attitudes to "violence" more broadly. Second, Sider does take into consideration the ethical bases on which individual condemnations of killing are grounded. Throughout the study, Sider does not give sufficient attention to the possibility that sacrificial impurity imputed by bloodshed, rather than humanitarian concern, motivates Christian refusal to engage in warfare or capital punishment.
(103.) Origen, Horn. Ex. 10.2
(104.) Origen, Horn. Jer. 12.5.2
(105.) On this issue, Michael Gaddis is once again instructive: "Christian ambiguity toward violence and secular power had always expressed itself in confusion over whether believers could legitimately involve themselves in the military or in public office. Was the sword incompatible with faith? Both before and after Constantine, strict pacifist interpretations coexisted with more realistic views... But even if freed from the taint of idolatry, magistrates still carried blood on their hands in a judicial system that depended upon torture and execution. While state officials may have regarded such unpleasantries as necessary sins, they were sins nonetheless. Delayed baptism, for such men, represented a compromise by which they could avoid addressing these contradictions until they were safely retired."--Gaddis, There is No Crime, 63.
(106.) Gillian Clark, "Desire of the Hangman: Augustine on Legitimized Violence" in Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions and Practices, ed. Harold A. Drake (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 143.
(107.) Augustine, Ep. 133.2 (NPNF). Cited by Gaddis, There is no Crime, 142.
(108.) Gaddis, There is no Crime, 145.
(109.) Ibid., 145-146.
(110.) Gillian Clark reminds us that, while Augustine "agreed that, in a flawed world, violence was necessary to maintain the peace to which everything aspires," he also recognized the moral ambiguity inherent in applying such violence. In a letter to Paulinus of Nola, Augustine wrote, "The whole point is to help the salvation of those we decide to punish or not to punish. And what is the limit of punishment in relation to the kind or the extent of crime and also in relation to the strength of the spirit? What can each one endure, what will he reject, so that he will not fail entirely rather than fail to profit? How difficult and complex it is!"--Clark, "Desire of the Hangman," 145, citing Augustine, Ep. 95.3 (CSEL 34.2: 508-509).
(111.) Augustine developed his position on legitimate violence through debate with his rival North African Donatist Bishop Petilianus. While Petilianus took recourse to the Sermon on the Mount to reject the church's recourse to state violence, Augustine cites Jesus' use of a scourge to drive the money changers from the temple to defend disciplinary violence. For a fuller account of this debate, see Harold A. Drake, "Lambs into Lions: Explaining Early Christian Intolerance," Past and Present 153 (1996), 3-36, 12.
(112.) Gaddis, There is No Crime, 15.
(113.) For a more extensive discussion of disciplinary violence exercised by Christian bishops in the fourth and fifth centuries, see Gaddis, There is No Crime, 131-150. Quoting Judith Shklar's Ordinary Vices (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), Gaddis concludes, "The arrogant zeal of extremists, who sought to impose their own vision of God's will, found its match in the equally arrogant paternalism of establishment authorities, the 'benevolent, medicinal, kindly-meant cruelty' with which they carried out their Christian duty." Gaddis, There is No Crime, 339.
(114.) The limits of time and space prevent a more detailed discussion of how internecine and anti-pagan violence committed by Christian extremists, particularly in North Africa, impacted discourses of legitimate Christian violence in the fourth and fifth centuries. This topic has been extensively researched now by Brent D. Shaw in Sacred Violence: African Christians and Sectarian Hatred in the Age of Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
(115.) The problems inherent in early Christian attitudes toward state violence were recognized, and lamented, already by Jean-Michel Hornus: "Most early Christian writers, it would seem, regarded the state as necessary and even providential. They also believed that it of necessity had to use force, even of a homicidal nature, in order to maintain itself and have its laws respected. They then resolved their contradiction by leaving the execution of this task, which they refused to undertake, to non-Christians." Hornus continues, "Since my approach to the Church's history is one of considered criticism rather than blind commendation, I can say candidly that implicit in this position were great dangers: of hypocrisy, if one rejoiced secretly when something got done which one did not dare do oneself; or of betrayal, if one abandoned concern for what might happen to the world." Still, Hornus maintains that the Constantinian Shift marked a turn for the worse: "But although the fourth-century Christians were right to react against these dangers, they did so unwisely. Overreacting against their former position, they adopted a worse one, ignoring the signs pointing to a different road which they might have taken."--Jean-Michel Hornus, It is not Lawful for me to Fight: Early Christian Attitudes toward War, Violence, and the State, trans. Alan Kreider and Oliver Coburn (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1980), 223. While the "signs pointing to a different road" for fourth-century Christians were clear to Hornus writing more than sixteen centuries later, it is difficult to avoid the dangers of anachronism when observing from the vantage point of hindsight.
(116.) See Rachel Waltner Goossen, "Defanging the Beast: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder's Sexual Abuse" MQR 89 (Jan. 2015), 7-80.
(117.) Cyprian, De bono patientiae, 6-8. In a later section, Cyprian will cite "the Jews," together with Satan, as paradigmatic examples of impatience: "Why was the Jewish people faithless and ungrateful in respect of the divine benefits? Was it not the crime of impatience that they first departed from God? ... they put to death their prophets and all the righteous men, and plunged even into the crime of the crucifixion and blood-shedding of the Lord. Moreover, impatience makes heretics in the Church, and, after the likeness of the Jews, drives them in opposition to the peace and charity of Christ as rebels, to hostile and raging hatred."--De bono patientiae, 19.
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|Publication:||Mennonite Quarterly Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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