Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Early Christian Literature: Christ and Culture in the Second and Third Centuries. the Apologies, Apocryphal Acts and Martyr Acts

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Early Christian Literature: Christ and Culture in the Second and Third Centuries. the Apologies, Apocryphal Acts and Martyr Acts

Article excerpt

Early Christian Literature: Christ and Culture in the Second and Third Centuries. The Apologies, Apocryphal Acts and Martyr Acts. By Helen Rhee. [Routledge Early Church Monographs.] (NewYork: Routledge. 2005. Pp. xiv, 266. Paperback.)

Most discussions of the relation between Christianity and the culture of the Roman world focus on the writings of the apologists, figures such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras,Tertullian, or Origen. Their writings respond to criticisms of Christianity and attempt, in varying ways, to show that Christians are not irreligious and respect, at least up to a point, the moral ideals that govern life in society. In the nature of things apologists seek points of intersection between the beliefs of Christians and the larger world around them. Which is to say that the writings of the apologists are a unique literary genre within early Christian literature with specific aims and characteristic features. With some exceptions, notably Tatian, they give us one perspective on the relation between Christ and culture.

The central idea behind this book, a reworking of a dissertation submitted to the Center for Advanced Theological Studies at the School of Theology of FuEer Theological Seminary, is that any assessment of early Christian attitudes toward Greco-Roman culture must take into consideration at least two other bodies of literature. The first is the apocryphal acts of the apostles, e.g. the Acts of Thomas, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, and the Acts of John. These are imaginative expansions of the lives of apostles written to entertain the Christian folk with edifying stories and miraculous tales of fabulous adventures that often stretch the bounds of credulity. The martyr acts, by contrast, have a historical basis and offer narratives of trial and martyrdom of individuals or groups of individuals. Examples are the Acts of Justin, the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity, and the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs.

The sources are treated under three headings, the superiority of Christian monotheism, the superiority of Christian sexual morality, and loyalty to the empire. Rhee, assistant professor of World Christianity at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, shows how differently the three bodies of literature-apologists, acts of the apostles, and martyr acts-address the topics. On the first, monotheism, the apologists attempt to demonstrate the rational foundations of belief in one God and present Christianity as the "true philosophy." Christ comes across first and foremost as a teacher. By contrast the apocryphal acts emphasize the miracles of the apostles and present Christianity as a "true power."The martyr acts contrast devotion to the one God and sacrifice to the many gods of Rome or the "genius" of the emperor. Rhee's phrase for these writings is "true piety. …

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