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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Calumnies Against the Christians.

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A new society like the Christian Church could not escape misrepresentation. It offended men by presenting a high. er standard of purity than their own, and the secrecy attending portions of its life and worship gave rise to suspicions. Popular credulity was ready to accept every malicious or ignorant tale of horror suggested. Also there was a system of calumny, of which the Jews were the chief propagators.

1. The Agapme, and the more sacred supper at first connected with them, furnished material for some of the more horrible charges. "Thyestian banquets and Eidipodean incest" became bywords of reproach. When they met, it was said, an infant was brought in, covered with flour, and then stabbed to death by a new convert, who was thus initiated in the mysteries. The others then ate the flesh and licked up the blood, and by this sacrifice were bound together (Tertull. Ad. vat. i, 15; Apol. c. 8). Two sources of this monstrous statement may be given:

(a) To drink of human blood had actually been made, as in Catiline's conspiracy, a bond of union in a common crime (Sallust, Catil. c. 22); 'and the blood, it was said, was that of'a slaughtered child (Dio. Cass. xxxvii, 30). Christians were regarded as members of a secret society conspiring for the downfall of the empire's religion and polity, and were supposed to have like rites of initiation.

(b) The language of devout Christians as to the Supper would tend to confirm, if not originate, the belief. It was not common bread or wine which they ate and drank, but flesh and blood.

2. The charge of impurity came next. When the Christians met-men and women it was at night. A lamp gave light to the room, and to its stand a dog was said to be fastened. After supper meat was thrown to the dog, which would overthrow the lamp-stand in struggling to reach it, and then the darkness, it was said, covered a scene of shameless-and unbridled lust, in which all laws of nature were set at nought (Tertull. Apol. c. 8; Ad. Nat. c. 16; Euseb. H. iv, 7-15; Origen, Contrats Cels. vi, 27; Minuc. Felix, c. 9). This calumny, also, we may trace to two main sources:

(a)' In the Bacchanalia and other secret mysteries, it was known that such licentiousness had been but too common.

(b) The name of the Agape, interpreted by men of prurient imaginations, was sure to strengthen the suspicion. They could form no other notion of a "lovefeast" held at night. The terms "holy kiss," and the "kiss of peace" were distorted likewise. The names of "brother" and "sister," by which Christians spoke of each other, were said to refer to incestuous intercourse (Minuc. Felix, loc. cit.) .

(c) It seems probable that in some cases abuses of this kind did actually exist in the Agapae. The language of 2 Peter 2:13, and of Judges 1:12 shows that excesses had occurred. The followers of Carpacretes are said, by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii, 2-4, p. 185) and Eusebius (H. E. iv, 7, 5), to have been guilty in their Agapae of those practices popularly imputed to the Christians at large.

3. The charge of atheism was naturally made against a people who held aloof from all temples and altars; and, though frequently used against them, can hardly be classed as a distinct calumny. Stillless can we place under that head the fact that they worshipped one who had died a malefactor's death, although this, from apostolic times, was a frequent topic of reproach (Tacit. Annal. xv, 63; Justin M. Dialog. c. Tryph. c. 93; Minuc. Felix, p. 86). It was not strange, either, that the reverential use which the Christians of the 2d century made of the sign of the cross led to the notion that they worshipped the cross itself. The most astounding statement is that Christians worshipped their God under the mysterious form of a mall with an ass's head. Tertullian (Apol. c. 16; Ad Nat. c. 11) speaks of a caricature exhibiting such a form, with the inscription "The God of the Christians " (i.e. "assborn"). A picture answering to this description has actually been found on a wall of a palace of the Caesars, on the Palatine Hill. It is to be noted that this was but the transfer to the Christians of an old charge against the Jews, who were said to have been led by:the wild asses of the desert to find water during the Exode (Tacit. Hist. v. 3). (See ONOLATRY).

4. The belief that Christians worshipped the sun had a wider currency and more plausibility. They met together on the day generally known as the Dies Solis. They began at an early period to manifest a symbolic reverence for the East; and these acts, together with references to Christ as the " true light," and to themselves as "children of light," would naturally be interpreted as acts of adoration of the luminary itself. This, however, never rose to the rank of a popular calumny.

5. It was also reported that the members of the new sect worshipped their priests with an adoration which had in it something of a phallic character (" Alii eos ferunt ipsius austititis ac sacerdotis colere genitalia," Minuc. Felix, Octav. c. 8). In this case, as in the charge of immoral excesses, we have probably the interpretation given by impure minds to acts in themselves blameless. Penitents came to the presbytery of the Church to confess their sins, and knelt before them as they sat; and this attitude may have suggested the revolting calumny to those who could see in it nothing but an act of adoration.

6. Over and above all specific charges, there was the dislike which men felt to a society so unlike their own. These persons, who lived apart from the world, were a lucfuga natio. They were infructuosi in nesqotiis. They were guilty of treason because they would not offer sacrifice for the emperors, and looked for the advent of another kingdom. Though ignorant, rude, uncultivated, yet they set themselves up above the wisest sages. They showed a defiant obstinacy in their resistance, even .to death, to the commands of civil magistrates (Marc. Aurel. xi, 3). For a copious list of Latin treatises on these and similar early cavils at Christianity, see Volbeding, Index Program. p. 92 sq.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Calumnies Against the Christians.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/c/calumnies-against-the-christians.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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