Early Church Writing

St Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho the Jew on Circumcision and Jesus

When the debate begins, the first question Trypho asks is about circumcision, which was a major stumbling block for Christian converts in the early days of the Church, when many converts were confused on whether they first needed to convert to Judaism before becoming Christian.  Converting to Judaism meant you had to be circumcised.  St Paul in his Epistles famously reassures his Gentile converts that they only needed to be circumcised in their heart.  Not only did Christian converts not need to be circumcised; it was wrong to require that converts be circumcised, and he is quite strident in his exhortations in Galatians in particular. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Slaves in Ancient Greece and Rome, Blog 2

Slavery in the ancient world was not based solely on race like in the Confederate South. Slavery in the ancient world happened to you when your city was conquered or when you were kidnapped by pirates. When a city was defeated the women and children were often enslaved, the men were often slaughtered, though sometimes they were enslaved to work in the mines. Or if you could not pay your bills you could be sold into slavery. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Slaves in the Ancient World, Blog 1, Were Slaves the Employees of the Ancient World?

We are tempted to view slavery as something that went away with the Civil War, that with regards to slavery the modern world is so morally superior to the ancient world. The truth is that there were no employees in the ancient world, that slaves in the ancient worlds did the work that employees are hired to do in today’s world.

To understand the role of slaves in the ancient world we have a totally distorted picture when we only focus on the moral wrong of owning another person, treating servants like talking draft animals. The other aspect of slavery is paying someone such low wages that they cannot feed their family with dignity, that they feel like they live forever on the edge of the abyss, where the slightest crisis could force them to live in the streets. Someone who earns starvation wages is very much a modern-day slave. […]

Seneca

Seneca, Moral Epistles, Blog 7, Precious Stoic Nuggets of Wisdom

Seneca tells us that “we Stoics believe that pleasure is a vice.” Like the Church Fathers, Seneca reminds us that we need to overcome many years past of bad habits with many future years of living a godly life. “We are fettered and weakened by many vices; we have wallowed in them for a long time and it is hard for us to be cleansed.”
Seneca asks, “Why does folly hold us with such an insistent grasp? Primarily because we do not combat our vices strongly enough, we do not struggle towards salvation with all our might, we do not trust and drink in the words of the wise with open hearts,” we are not serious in our struggle against our vices, our efforts at living a godly life are but trifles. […]

Seneca

Seneca, Moral Epistles, Blog 6, Stoicism and the Golden Rule

Seneca warns us not “to trust the countenances of those whom we meet.” Men may appear to be kind smiling kind in their appearances but often men possess souls of brutal beasts in their hearts. The difference is beasts may attack you when they first encounter you from fear or hunger, but once your paths depart beasts will usually not pursue you further. Men, however, scheme and often delight in destroying one another, making each other’s lives miserable. […]

Seneca

Seneca, Stoic Philosopher, Moral Epistles, Blog 5, On the Benefits of Friends and Keeping Score

Seneca says, “Let us avoid being ungrateful, not for the sake of others but for our own sakes.” Likewise, Seneca warns, “evil drinks the largest portion of her own poison.” “When we do wrong, only the least portion flows back upon our neighbor, the worst and densest portion blows back, troubling us instead.” “The ungrateful man tortures and torments himself; he hates his gifts for he must return the favor, he tries to belittle their value, but when he does this he hurts himself instead. What is more wretched than the man who forgets his benefits and clings to his injuries?” […]

Seneca

Seneca, Moral Epistles, Blog 4, Stoic Concepts of Virtue and the Good

What distinguishes the virtuous soul? Seneca says It is “the soul that penetrates the whole world and directs it contemplating gaze upon all its Phenomena, paying strict attention to thoughts and actions, rising above both hardships and flatteries, yielding neither to poverty nor to fortune, rising above all tribulations and blessings, absolutely beautiful, perfectly equipped with grace and strength, unruffled, never dismayed, unmoved by violence, neither exalted or depressed by chance events – a soul like this is virtue itself.” Virtue is not like the house built on sand that is swept away by the first storm, virtue is the house built on the rocks, the house that stands firm against the waves and the storms that crash against the rocks, this house is never moved. Seneca lists the other virtues, “tranquility, simplicity, generosity, constancy, equanimity, endurance.” […]

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Blog 5 Seeing life’s misfortunes through the eyes of our neighbor

Marcus Aurelius tells us that we should always remember that if men do not do right, we should assume that “they do so involuntarily and in ignorance. For as every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth, so also is it unwillingly deprived of the power behaving as it should.”

We should “consider that we also do many things wrong, that we are merely men, that even when we refrain from certain faults, we still have the disposition to commit them, either through cowardice, concern about reputation, or some other mean motive.” […]

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Blog 2, Others will be irritating, but not I!

Marcus Aurelius advises us in Book II to “begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them because they are ignorant of what is good and evil. . . I can neither be injured by any of these, for no one can force me to be ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. […]