The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great

By Henry Chadwick | Go to book overview

15 Celsus: A Platonist Attack

The first grave conflict between Church and Roman Empire after Pilate's execution of Jesus was the accidental consequence of Nero needing to blame an unpopular scapegoat for fire at Rome in ad 64. But the Christian refusal to acknowledge the gods by whose favour the empire enjoyed fertile crops and wives and secure frontiers, or to take an oath by the genius of the emperor, provoked distrust and fear. The customs and institutions of society involved participation in idolatrous sacrifices. It was accepted that Jews were exempt from these; that was their ancestral religion and justifiable, even if bizarre. But Christians were being converted from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. It could help one to lie low if one was vegetarian, as were a few philosophers mainly in the Pythagorean tradition. Little meat was eaten which had not first been offered at some altar. But soldiers could not avoid being present at polytheistic rites, which enhanced Christian reluctance to serve as army officers. A public stand would end in trial and martyrdom.

The apparently suicidal, almost theatrical impression created by martyrs drew much attention to the Church, where the model of the Maccabees' resistance to Antiochus Epiphanes was closely followed, short of military conflict. In Bithynia the governor Pliny was surprised to discover no secret vices practised at nocturnal assemblies, but reported to the emperor Trajan that the refusal to offer sacrifices was an obstinacy worthy of capital punishment. One governor, confronted by a Christian explaining that simply on ground of conscience he could not co-operate, saw further discussion as a waste of time and ordered immediate execution.

In Rome Justin, soon followed by Tertullian in north Africa, recorded that martyrdoms had the effect of providing huge publicity and attracting converts, notably by offering an obvious refutation of popular accusations of nocturnal vice. In Rome a public disputation between Justin and a pagan philosopher Crescens did nothing to diminish the already substantial community in the city even if it led on to Justin's own trial and death.

In the middle years of the second century the Cynic writer Lucian of Samosata (Syria) composed a witty sketch of a confidence trickster and charlatan, Peregrinus Proteus. Having murdered his father, he deceived a Christian community into making him their leader, so that he received

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The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Church in Ancient Society iii
  • Prefatory Note vi
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The First Followers of Jesus 5
  • 2: The Jewish Matrix 13
  • 3: Jews and Christians Survive Rome's Crushing of Revolts 21
  • 4: The Hebrew Scriptures in the Church 27
  • 5: Interpreting Scripture 32
  • 6: Apostles and Evangelists 43
  • 7: Women Among Jesus' Followers 53
  • 8: 'Barnabas', Jewish Christianity, Trouble at Corinth 56
  • 9: Ignatius of Antioch 65
  • 10: Didache 84
  • 11: Marcion 89
  • 12: Justin 93
  • 13: Irenaeus of Lyon 100
  • 14: The New Testament Text 108
  • 15: Celsus: A Platonist Attack 110
  • 16: Montanism: Perpetua 114
  • 17: Tertullian, Minucius Felix 118
  • 18: Clement of Alexandria 124
  • 19: Julius Africanus 130
  • 20: Hippolytus and Liturgy 132
  • 21: Origen 135
  • 22: Cyprian of Carthage 145
  • 23: Dionysius of Alexandria 161
  • 24: Paul of Samosata 166
  • 25: Mani 170
  • 26: Plotinus, Porphyry 173
  • 27: Diocletian and the Great Persecution; Rise of Constantine 176
  • 28: Constantine 190
  • 29: The Seeds of Reaction 201
  • 30: The Church at Prayer 212
  • 31: Athanasius, Marcellus, and the Gathering Storm 226
  • 32: A Fiasco at Serdica 240
  • 33: Religious Division 254
  • 34: Athanasius' Return 260
  • 35: Constantius' Double Council of Unity 279
  • 36: Julian and the Church 295
  • 37: Damasus, Siricius, Papal Authority, Synesius of Cyrene 314
  • 38: Basil of Caesarea (Cappadocia) 331
  • 39: Ambrose 348
  • 40: Ambrosiaster 379
  • 41: Donatism 382
  • 42: Monks: The Ascetic Life 394
  • 43: Messalians 411
  • 44: Schism at Antioch 415
  • 45: Jerome and Rufinus 433
  • 46: Pelagius, Caelestius, and the Roman See in Gaul and North Africa 446
  • 47: Julian of Eclanum 464
  • 48: Augustine 473
  • 49: John Chrysostom 479
  • 50: Innocent I and John Chrysostom's Honour 499
  • 51: The Christological Debate, I 515
  • 52: The Christological Debate, Ii 538
  • 53: The Christological Debate, Iii 557
  • 54: The Aftermath of the Council of Chalcedon 592
  • 55: Justinian, Origen, and the 'Three Chapters' 612
  • 56: The Ancient Oriental Churches 628
  • 57: The Church and the Barbarian Invasions in the West 633
  • 58: Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) 658
  • 59: Worship After Constantine 675
  • 60: Pilgrims 684
  • 61: Penance 688
  • Further Reading 694
  • Dates of Roman Emperors 714
  • Index 721
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