Love the Lord with all thy mind

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus Christ himself, is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.

Today we are going to learn about those in the early church who dedicated their minds to Christ. We call them apologists, from the Greek word for “speaking in defense.” The apologists first arose out of necessity: Christians were very literally under attack. Somebody needed to explain Christianity to a world that knew nothing about it, and hopefully convince the emperors that it was not a threat. As time went on, the Church faced the additional threat of heresies. Thinkers were needed to combat this bad theology with good theology.

This was very important to the development of the church. After all, if you really want to become an expert in a subject, the best way is to debate over it with somebody who disagrees with you. They will not be shy about pointing out the holes in your understanding, and will force you to delve deeper and refine your ideas.

Thus, it was out of apologetics that theology was born. In the process of defending Christianity, our early thinkers also engaged in the process of figuring out just what Christianity is. It is from them that we gained our understanding of scripture and even the methods we use to interpret it, and it is thanks to their efforts that we can hope to grasp doctrines like the Trinity.

Justin Martyr (100-165)

Justin was the most famous of the early early apologists. He was not born into a Christian family, but rather spent his early years jumping from philosophy to philosophy looking for the Truth.

Dialog with Trypho:

Philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession, and most honorable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy.
Being at first desirous of personally conversing with one of these men, I surrendered myself to a certain Stoic; and having spent a considerable time with him, when I had not acquired any further knowledge of God (for he did not know himself, and said such instruction was unnecessary), I left him and betook myself to another, who was called a Peripatetic, and as he fancied, shrewd. And this man, after having entertained me for the first few days, requested me to settle the fee, in order that our intercourse might not be unprofitable. Him, too, for this reason I abandoned, believing him to be no philosopher at all. But when my soul was eagerly desirous to hear the peculiar and choice philosophy, I came to a Pythagorean, very celebrated—a man who thought much of his own wisdom. He said, “Are you acquainted with music, astronomy, and geometry?” He dismissed me when I confessed to him my ignorance.

In my helpless condition it occurred to me to have a meeting with the Platonists, for their fame was great. I thereupon spent as much of my time as possible with one who had lately settled in our city,—a sagacious man, holding a high position among the Platonists,—and I progressed, and made the greatest improvements daily. And the perception of immaterial things quite overpowered me, and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my stupidity, I expected forthwith to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy.

In the next few paragraphs, Justin, who is very deep in Platonism at this point, is walking on the beach alone with his thoughts when he meets an old man. This man explains how the philosophers still cannot tell him the whole truth, and directs him to the Jewish prophets.

But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher. Moreover, I would wish that all, making a resolution similar to my own, do not keep themselves away from the words of the Savior. For they possess a terrible power in themselves, and are sufficient to inspire those who turn aside from the path of rectitude with awe; while the sweetest rest is afforded those who make a diligent practice of them. If, then, you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God, you may become acquainted with the Christ of God, and, after being initiated, live a happy life.

Irenaeus (130-202)

Born in a Christian family, he became a priest, and was sent to Rome in 177 with a letter regarding the Montanists. While he was away, a massacre took place in Lyon, and when he returned he succeeded the now-deceased Bishop. Fittingly, he devoted most of his writings to combating heresies, especially the Gnostics.

Against Heresies:

Error is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than the truth itself. One far superior to me has well said, in reference to this point, “A clever imitation in glass casts contempt, on the emerald (which is most highly esteemed by some), unless it come under the eye of one able to test and expose the counterfeit.”

We do not want people snatched away by our fault like sheep by wolves in sheep’s clothing, wolves from whom the Lord warned us to keep away, those who speak like us but think otherwise. Therefore, after reading the commentaries of those who call themselves disciples of Valentinus, and meeting some of them and having fully understood their teaching, I considered it necessary to show you, beloved, their portentous and profound mysteries, which “not all understand” because not all have sufficiently purged their brains. Thus you will know the doctrines and make them manifest to all who are with you and instruct them to avoid the “abyss” of unreason and blasphemy against God.

Origen (184-254)

Born to Christian parents, his father was martyred in 202. Origen wished to follow him, but was prevented from doing so when his mother hid his clothes. The death of his father and subsequent confiscation of their property left his family impoverished, but a wealthy Christian woman took him under her wing and helped finish his education.

He revived the school at Alexandria, which was essentially the first Christian seminary. So he could be completely independent, he sold his library, netting enough for him to live an extremely frugal and ascetic lifestyle on. He devoted himself to the study of scripture, and wrote an absurd amount, including commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible.

On First Principles (De Principiis):

We have found in Proverbs some such instruction for the examination of divine Scripture given by Solomon. He says, “For your part describe them to yourself threefold in admonition and knowledge, that you may answer words of truth to those who question you. ” Therefore, a person ought to describe threefold in his soul the meaning of divine letters, that is, so that the simple may be edified by, so to speak, the body of the Scriptures; for that is what we call the ordinary and narrative meaning. But if any have begun to make some progress and can contemplate something more fully, they should be edified by the soul of Scripture. And those who are perfect are those concerning whom the Apostle says, “Yet among the perfect we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this world or of the rulers of this world, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification.” Such people should be edified by that spiritual Law which has a shadow of the good things to come, edified as by the spirit of Scripture. Thus, just as a human being is said to be made up of body, soul, and spirit, so also is sacred Scripture, which has been granted by God’s gracious dispensation for man’s salvation.

Tertullian (160-225)

Tertullian lived for much of his life as a fairly hedonistic Pagan. He converted at the age of 40 and gave up his former practices. Professionally, he was a lawyer, and his writings, as well as his views toward penance, reflect that. Later on in life, he became a Montanist, though he did not leave the church to do so.

Where other apologists sought to reconcile Greek philosophy and Christianity, Tertullian famously rejected Greek philosophy altogether. The following is perhaps his most famous passage.

Prescription against Heretics:

The same subject-matter is discussed over and over again by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments are involved. Whence comes evil? Why is it permitted? What is the origin of man? and in what way does he come? Unhappy Aristotle! who invented for these men dialectics, the art of building up and pulling down; an art so evasive in its propositions, so far-fetched in its conjectures, so harsh, in its arguments, so productive of contentions–embarrassing even to itself, retracting everything, and really treating of nothing! Whence spring those “fables and endless genealogies,” and “unprofitable questions,” and “words which spread like a cancer?” From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, “See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost.” He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.”

Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our preeminent faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.

Bonus Material

  • Class Materials – As always, the materials used in class are available for download.
  • Apology of Aristedes – Aristedes predates even Justin Martyr. His apology was thought lost until it was rediscovered in the late nineteenth century. It’s fairly short, and worth reading.

Watch it and weep

  • 150,000 Christians are killed every year for their faith. That’s 17 per hour.
  • 80% of all instances of religious persecution in the world are directed against Christians.
  • More Christians were martyed in the past century than in the first 19 centuries combined.
  • Christians face persecution in 2/3 of the world’s nations.

Links – Resurrection & Marriage

  • The Resurrection and the Ending of Mark’s Gospel – Mark Heath
    And one point that is often made by the skeptics is usually presented along the following lines: “Mark’s gospel, which is the earliest, doesn’t actually report the resurrection. The church added that bit on much later.” The implication is that honest Mark tells it like it is – Jesus died and that was that, but Luke and Matthew wanted a happy ending for their story, so they fabricated the story of the resurrection, and someone much later “fixed” Mark by adding a resurrection to that too. To someone not familiar with the gospels this sounds like a major embarrassment for Christians – a coverup of epic proportions. But in fact, this accusation is at best a half-truth.

  • Why Was Jesus Crucified? – Larry Hurtado
    So, however attractive to our own gentle instincts may be the sort of Jesus touted often, a guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly and just wanted everyone to be friends, we have to posit a Jesus who could get himself crucified. And we should do so without caricatured Jewish leaders and Roman governor, and without invoking some legal goof-up. Instead, probably everyone involved knew what they were doing.

  • The Christian Divorce Rate Myth – Glenn T. Stanton
    “Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world!” It’s one of the most quoted stats by Christian leaders today. And it’s perhaps one of the most inaccurate. Based on the best data available, the divorce rate among Christians is significantly lower than the general population.

  • The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage – Meg Jay
    Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect. Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

  • Modern-Day Marcionism – William J. Tighe
    It is not clear from the report whether Ms. Hughes was speaking as a Christian or as an expert in ancient history, but it doesn’t really matter, for she is wrong on both counts. In fact, though, her remarks can be connected loosely with two very old Christian heresies, Marcionism and Montanism, which seem to have undergone something of a revival among trendy religion pundits.

  • ‘Service Religion’ and the Crisis of Cultural Confidence – David French
    Yes, people need mosquito nets, but a lack of netting generations after we figured out how malaria is transmitted (or a lack of clean water, or virtually any other aspect of public health we take for granted) is a symptom, not the cause of multi-generational poverty and suffering in the Third World. To be clear, it’s vitally important that we alleviate these symptoms — and those who labor to alleviate those symptoms are doing heroic work for the “least of these” — but that can only be part of the story.

  • Praeparatio Evangelica – Matthew Anger
    Feser offers the paradox that the old pagan is closer to the faith than the modern agnostic. He refers to the “idea of what Aquinas called the praeambula fidei – the preambles of faith, by which philosophy opens the door for revelation.” But for a few Christians this creates a problem. “Like the Pharisee who scorns the sincere piety and virtue of the Samaritan, some Christians scorn natural theology and natural law as impious or at least questionable. They… despise human nature, and with it any non-Christian understanding of God and morality, as altogether corrupt and without value….”

Canon in front of them

In the last class, we discussed heretics. Now, we come to the church’s primary weapon against heresy: scripture.

It can be troubling at first to realize that the canon was a thing which developed over time, but if you think about it for a while, you will realize that it had to happen this way. You doubtless already knew that the various books of the New Testament were written over the course of several decades after Jesus’ death, rather then by Jesus himself. The church needed to time to gather these writings together in a single volume. Additionally, it had to exercise judgment, as forgeries and false writing were also being created.

We can take comfort in the fact that there was no single person who commandeered the process and decided what the canon would be. Given a shorter timespan, perhaps theological fads or a powerful personality could have influenced the process in an untoward way, but instead the process worked itself out over several centuries. By the time the Council of Carthage formalized the canon, the church had already reached a consensus on its contents for many decades. Time has borne out the wisdom of their selection.

Some Non-canonical Documents

  • Class Materials – Though I like to think that my class materials are both useful and pious, they are very far from being canonical.
  • Shepherd of Hermas – A popular book in the early church. Considered helpful, but not canonical.

    “Hear then,” said he, “with regard to the three forms, concerning which you are inquiring. Why in the first vision did she appear to you as an old woman seated on a chair? Because your spirit is now old and withered up, and has lost its power in consequence of your infirmities and doubts. For, like elderly men who have no hope of renewing their strength, and expect nothing but their last sleep, so you, weakened by worldly occupations, have given yourselves up to sloth, and have not cast your cares upon the Lord. Your spirit therefore is broken, and you have grown old in your sorrows.” “I should like then to know, sir, why she sat on a chair?” He answered, “Because every weak person sits on a chair on account of his weakness, that his weakness may be sustained. Lo! you have the form of the first vision.

    “Now in the second vision you saw her standing with a youthful countenance, and more joyful than before; still she had the skin and hair of an aged woman. Hear,” said he, “this parable also. When one becomes somewhat old, he despairs of himself on account of his weakness and poverty, and looks forward to nothing but the last day of his life. Then suddenly an inheritance is left him: and hearing of this, he rises up, and becoming exceeding joyful, he puts on strength. And now he no longer reclines, but stands up; and his spirit, already destroyed by his previous actions, is renewed, and he no longer sits, but acts with vigor. So happened it with you on hearing the revelation which God gave you. For the Lord had compassion on you, and renewed your spirit, and ye laid aside your infirmities. Vigor arose within you, and ye grew strong in faith; and the Lord, seeing your strength, rejoiced. On this account He showed you the building of the tower; and He will show you other things, if you continue at peace with each other with all your heart.

    “Now, in the third vision, you saw her still younger, and she was noble and joyful, and her shape was beautiful. For, just as when some good news comes suddenly to one who is sad, immediately he forgets his former sorrows, and looks for nothing else than the good news which he has heard, and for the future is made strong for good, and his spirit is renewed on account of the joy which he has received; so ye also have received the renewal of your spirits by seeing these good things. As to your seeing her sitting on a seat, that means that her position is one of strength, for a seat has four feet and stands firmly. For the world also is kept together by means of four elements. Those, therefore, who repent completely and with the whole heart, will become young and firmly established. You now have the revelation completely given you? Make no further demands for revelations. If anything ought to be revealed, it will be revealed to you.”

  • Epistle of Barnabas – Probably not actually written by Barnabas, used in a few early churches but ultimately rejected, for reasons that will become apparent upon reading it:

    Now, in that Moses said, “Ye shall not eat swine, nor an eagle, nor a hawk, nor a crow, nor any fish which has no scales on itself,” he included three doctrines in his understanding. Moreover he says to them in Deuteronomy, “And I will make a covenant of my ordinances with this people.” So then the ordinance of God is not abstinence from eating, but Moses spoke in the spirit. He mentioned the swine for this reason: you shall not consort, he means, with men who are like swine, that is to say, when they have plenty they forget the Lord, but when they are in want they recognize the Lord, just as the swine when it eats does not know its master, but when it is hungry it cries out, and after receiving food is again silent. “Thou shall not,” he says, “eat the hare.” Why? “Thou shall not be a corrupter of boys, nor like unto such.” Because the hare multiplies, year by year, its orifices; for as many years as it lives so many it has. Moreover, “Thou shall not eat the hyena.” He means, “Thou shall not be an adulterer, nor a corrupter, nor be like to them that are such.” Why? Because that animal annually changes its sex, and is at one time male, and at another female. Moreover, he has rightly detested the weasel. For he means, “Thou shalt not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth, on account of their uncleanness; nor shall thou be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth. For this animal conceives by the mouth.”

  • Gospel of Thomas – Neither a Gospel in the sense of being a historical account, nor written by Thomas. This was never well regarded by the early church (or even though of by them much at all), but has become popular to talk about in recent days.

    These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymus Judas Thomas recorded.

    1 And he said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”

    2 Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.”

    3 Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
    When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”

    4 Jesus said, “The person old in days won’t hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live.
    For many of the first will be last, and will become a single one.”

    5 Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.
    For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.

    6 His disciples asked him and said to him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?”
    Jesus said, “Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.”

    7 Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And cursed is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.”

    8 And he said, The person is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish. Among them the wise fisherman discovered a fine large fish. He threw all the little fish back into the sea, and easily chose the large fish. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!

Montanus to the right of them, Marcion to the left of them

Just about everything in this lesson is wrong, for today we learn about heresies! On the one hand, we have the Gnostics, who sought to empty Christianity of its content and replace it with something more congenial to the current thinking. Marcion in particular sought to jettison the entire Old Testament, along with a good portion of the new one. On the other hand, the Montanists went too far with the gift of prophecy, and in some cases fell into the trap of wanting to jettison the New Testament in favor their own personal revelations. The two groups did not err equally, but they did err, and it was up the Church to find a solution to these problems. In the end, the Church responded by strengthening the power of the bishops, and formalizing the canon, which will be discussed in the next lesson