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. […]
St Cyprian warns us of the pernicious evils of envy. “What a gnawing worm of the soul envy is, what a plague-spot of our thoughts, what a rust of the heart, to be jealous of another.” How envy gnaws at our soul when we hate our neighbor for their prosperity, their good luck, their inheritance, when we make other people’s glory our penalty, when we allow envy to be the executioner of our soul. When we are consumed by envy, “no food is joyous, no drink is cheerful. The envious are every sighing and groaning and grieving,” our envy torments us day and night. […]
John Chrysostom is the most strident of the early Church writers in his writings opposing the Judaizers where he warned his flock that Christians should not adopt Jewish customs and practices, that Christians needed to celebrate the Church festivals rather than the Jewish festivals, that Christians should not attend services at the synagogue. His work “Against the Judaizers” is so polemic that it is far more anti-Semitic than the writings of Barnabas and St Justin Martyr and many other church fathers, it is painful for us modern readers to read, we who remember the horrific events of the Holocaust. This work is not in the standard collection of the works of the Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, but it was widely read in medieval times and afterward, and unfortunately was used to justify the European and Russian pogroms and persecutions against the Jews.
One scholar who has pondered the problems posed polemic stands against the Judaizers by St John Chrysostom and also St Cyril is Robert Wilken. In this book “John Chrysostom and the Jews,” he explores the history of the early church to better understand the world of the early Church Fathers. We cannot totally excuse the errors in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, but neither can we blindly judge and condemn them for not knowing the lessons of the Holocaust. There is nothing wrong with reading the Church Fathers as they apply to our modern world, but particularly in this case we should also let the Church Fathers in their ancient historical context, we need to do both lest we have a distorted understanding of the history of our faith. […]
After Adam and Eve had eaten of the apple they were ashamed and hid, weaving coverings of fig leaves, a rather itchy leaf. St Irenaeus tells us, “Adam adopted a dress suited for his disobedience, awed by the fear of God,” which is the beginning of wisdom, “waiting for God’s coming.” By his dress he admits to himself, “I by disobedience lost that robe of sanctity which I had from the Spirit, I do now acknowledge that I am deserving” of such uncomfortable dress, which tortures the body. God, who is merciful, clothes them instead in a more comfortable tunics of skins of fur. They were then driven out of Paradise and the Tree of Life because “God pitied them and did not desire that he should continue a sinner forever, nor that his sins become immortal.” God set a limit to his sin by imposing death, “so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live in God.” There would be life in Christ, as St Paul exhorts, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” […]
St Irenaeus elegantly summarizes his refutation of Gnosticism, “If Christ was not born, neither did He die. If Christ did not die, neither did He rise from the dead. If He did not rise from the dead, He did not conquer death and abolish its reign. If Christ did not conquer death, how are we to ascend to the light, we who from the beginning have been subject to death? Those who rob man of redemption do not believe that God will raise man from the dead.” […]
St Irenaeus teaches us, “The redemption depends on the real Incarnation, the real suffering on the Cross, and the real resurrection of the flesh. All three of these are a scandal for Gnosticism. On their view, Mary is not really Mother of God, and Christ did not really suffer, NO, the heavenly Christ escaped before the man Jesus suffered, and there can be no question at all of an actual resurrection of the flesh. Underlying this refusal of the flesh and its saving role in the Incarnation is a confusion between the human spirit (nous) and the divine Holy Spirit.” The Gnostics want to replace the Holy spirit with the human spirit. Irenaeus preaches “the salvific character of the Incarnation of God’s Son and Word.” […]
Justin asks him why he needs philosophy when he can profit from Moses, his lawgiver, and the prophets. Trypho responds, “Why not? Do not the philosophers turn every discourse on God? Do not questions continually arise on God’s unity and providence? Is it not truly the duty of philosophy to investigate the Deity?”
How do the Jewish Scriptures and Greek philosophy relate to the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do they conflict with the Gospel? Can Christians profitably study Jewish Scripture and Greek philosophy? These are the questions this dialogue explores, and St Justin the Martyr was one of the first of apostolic fathers to explore these issues. When you read teachings you have read many times before, remind yourself, you are probably reading the original source. […]
Justin compares Jesus to Socrates, who was accused of the same crimes as the Christians, being accused of atheism and impiety, and of corrupting the youth. The Greeks accused Socrates “of introducing new divinities, and did not consider those to be gods that the state recognized. In the Republic he cast out from the state both Homer and the rest of the poets, and taught men to reject the wicked demons and those who did the things which the poet related.” The early Church Fathers, including Justin, did not deny the existence of the pagan gods, rather they saw them as demons active in the world. But Jesus was mightier than Socrates, whereas “no one trusted in Socrates so as to die for his doctrine,” many willingly believes and are martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. […]
Justin opens his apology, “Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true, declining to follow the opinions of the ancients if these be worthless,” a surprising argument, given the weight that the Romans placed on the ancient traditions. Right belief matters, “the lover of truth should choose to do and say what is right, by all means, and if threatened with death,” be willing to lay down his own life.
Justin quotes Plato, “unless both the rulers and the ruled philosophize, it is impossible to make states blessed.” The ancients believed that to pursue philosophy was to seek to live a godly life. Justin also echoes Plato when he says “rulers should rule in obedience, not to violence and tyranny, but to piety and philosophy,” a somewhat ironic wish since under the rule of the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius he would suffer a martyr’s death. […]
The Shepherd of Hermas, also known as the Pastor of Hermas, was regarded by some early Christians as Scripture. A consensus was reached that only books that were apostolic would be included in the canon, and the Shepherd was written in the generations after the apostles. But it was recommended by many for profitable spiritual reading, and reading this work is profitable still, for the message of Hermas runs counter to the prosperity gospel, condemning luxurious living. He has a vision in Similitude 6 of a false shepherd, “an angel of luxury and deceit,” whose sheep “were feeding luxuriously and riotously, merrily skipping about,” “deceived by wicked desires, forgetting the commandments of the Living God.” Those who are lost in luxurious living, spending their time eating “the richest delicacies and in drunken revels,” cannot “return to life through repentance, because they are adding to their sins, and blaspheming the name of the Lord.” […]