Friday, July 06, 2007

Roman Tabloid Reports on the Early Christians

Most Christians know that there are all-kinds of false stereo-types about Christianity in the world today. Catholics in a special way are used to misrepresentations about history (e.g., the Catholic Church and the "Inquisition"), dogma (e.g., Marian dogmas), and various forms of spirituality (e.g., Opus Dei).

But really the kind of lies spread told about the Church in such works as Dan Brown's Davinci Code have always been spread by enemies of Christianity.

I wanted to make this clear to my JP Catholic students this year and so I pulled out the writings of Minucius Felix, who wrote about what Christians "really" did in the second to third century A.D.

If you have a hard time figuring out where people come up with some of the things said about Catholicism today imagine how the early Christians must have felt when these kind of rumors were being spread in their day.
Minucius Felix, Octavius 9, [2nd or 3rd century]: And now, as wickedness multiplies more quickly, corrupt ways of life are spreading day by day throughout the world, and those most abominable sanctuaries of impious assemblies are growing. This conspiracy must be absolutely eradicated and accursed. They recognize each other by secret marks and signs, and they love one another almost before they become acquainted. Everywhere they mingle together in a kind of religion of lust, indiscriminately calling each other brothers and sisters, with the result that ordinary debauchery, by means of a sacred name, is converted into incest. Thus their vain and demented superstition (vana et demens superstitio) glories in its crimes.

If there were not an underlying basis of truth, shrewd Rumor would not spread about them such a great variety of charges that can hardly be mentioned in polite company. I hear that persuaded by some absurd idea, they consecrate and worship the head of an ass, the lowest of animals. A religion worthy of the sort of practices that gave it birth! Some say that they worship the genitals of their own leader and priest, revering the sexual parts of their own parent. I do not know whether it is false, but certainly a suspicion is attached to secret rites performed at night. Whoever calls the objects of their rituals a man punished with death for his crime and the deadly wood of the cross assigns proper altars to such corrupt and wicked people, with the result that they worship what they deserve.

Now the story about the initiation of novices is as disgusting as it is well known. An infant covered with flour, in order to deceive the unwary, is placed before the one who is to be initiated into their rites. The novice, encouraged by the surface of flour to strike without harm, kills the infant with unseen and hidden wounds. The infant's blood - oh horrible! - they lap up thirstily; its limbs they parcel out eagerly. By this victim they ally themselves with one another; by their complicity in this crime they pledge themselves to mutual silence. These rites are fouler than any sacrifice.

And what happens at their banquets is well known; it is spoken of everywhere. The speech of our friend from Cirta testifies to it. On an appointed day they gather for a feast with all their children, sisters and mothers, people from both sexes and of every age. There after much feasting, when the banquet has inflamed them and they are burning with the drunken heat of incestuous lust, they provoke a dog tied to a lamp to leap forward by tossing a scrap of food beyond the length of the rope to which it is tied. The light, which would have been a witness, is thus turned over and extinguished, and in the shameless darkness, connections of unspeakable desire take place with the uncertainty of chance. All are equally defiled, if not by the deed, nevertheless by their complicity in it, since the will of everyone desires whatever acts might happen to be committed by individuals.


Taylor Marshall said...

I can basically decipher the code (the flour covered "baby" is the transubstantiated bread/Body of Christ). I can't figure out the last paragraph with the incident involving a dog. What's that about?

Michael Barber said...

I'm not sure, but I think it probably comes from a misunderstanding of Matthew 15:26-27: "And he answered, 'It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.' She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.'"

Irenaeus said...

Dr. Barber,

The way the post is worded it sounds as if Minucius Felix is an enemy of Christianity, not an apologist.

Robin L. in TX said...

What are the chances that some of these heinous accusations are rooted in Black Masses of Satanists or pagans, and then accredited to Christians?

I know the early Christians kept to the secrecy of the Temple, but some of these accusations are outrageous....

Josh McManaway said...

Irenaeus - Minucius Felix wasn't a Christian.

Anonymous said...

This gives one pause to think that perhaps we are blessed to have critics today who come much closer to the truth before they twist it or miss it entirely.

The level of blind irrational hatred is about the same in some quarters today, however, even if the fabrications are more sophisticated or artfully done.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, ancient mudslinging. This kind of statement is a fairly typical way to slander a group you didn't like. Similar accusations were made against worshippers of Bacchus. If you prefer to balance the scales, there's St. Gregory's first invective against Julian, which accuses practioners of Mithraism of torture and human sacrifice. Some christians even planted human remains in mithraic temple to make the accusation stick.