EARLY CHRISTIAN THINKERS
SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR (100-165 AD)
-A Christian apologist from Samaria, when Palestine was ruled by the Roman Empire. He studied the most important philosophies and religions of his time to find a doctrine that would satisfy his quest for the ultimate truth. He was satisfied by Christianity and started writing in favour of Christianity. He arrived in Rome during the reign of Antoninus Pious. In Rome he debated with some of the most famous thinkers of that time like Crescens the Cynic. Justin wanted to defend the Christians from the Roman persecutions Since Justin refused to follow the Roman pagan rites, he was accused of being ‘atheist’ by Crescens. As a consequence of this Justin was beheaded by the Roman authorities.
Some historians are doubtful of Crescens role in Justin’s death since most of our knowledge about Crescens comes from Early Christians like Tatian and Eusebius.
-DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO:
A dialogue between Justin and a Jew called Trypho. Trypho asks Justin to talk about philosophy. Justin describes philosophy as the most precious thing for God, but he says that his quest for the truth has not been satisfied by his encounters with the most prestigious schools (stoic, peripatetic, pythagoric, platonic).
Justin says that a Pythagorean teacher told him that geometry, music and astronomy are the most important subjects. These subjects allow the human being to be happy because they separate from the soul the sensible realities while preparing the soul for the understanding of the intelligible realities. The Pythagorean claims that once the soul understands the intelligible realities, he will be able to contemplate Beauty which coincides with the Good.
Justin regrets not having paid much attention to the Pythagorean.
CELSUS (2nd Century AD)
-He was influenced by Platonism and Epicureanism
-Origen describes Celsus as a Greek anti-Christian philosopher. “The True Word” is a lost treatise that Celsus wrote to attack Christianity. We know some of the content of this book because Origen used some quotes in his “Contra Celsum” . Celsus believed Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier and that his miracles were false (magic tricks that Jesus learnt from Egyptian mystics). Celsus was against the religious equality preached by Jesus- in other words Celsus criticised the idea that anyone could be initiated into the Christian faith even if the was not “worthy” of it. For example Celsus believed that grave sinners should not be initiated into Christianity and that Christianity puts too much emphasis on saving the sinners rather than the innocents.
-Celsus disputes the resurrection of Jesus and the virgin birth of Jesus. He also claims Greek philosophy (like platonism) is far superior to Christianity.
-Celsus urges the Christians to be loyal to the Roman Empire (at the time Christians were considered to be disloyal because they would not participate in the Roman pagan festivities).
PORPHYRY (234-305 AD):
-A neoplatonic philosopher born in Tyre (now part of Lebanon, back then under the Roman Empire). Plotinus was his teacher.
-Porphyry’s books that criticise Christianity were censored and burned once Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire.
-In ‘Adversus Christian’ he acknowledges Jesus as having been a pious man, however he criticises his followers and some of the main tenants of Christianity (mainly by using Paul’s letters as a reference).
-He criticised Daniel’s book as a source for prophecies related to the messianic advent of Jesus
-He criticises the idea that ‘baptism’ alone can render a human being spiritually ‘pure’ regardless of whether he was previously a sinner or not.
JULIAN (331-363 AD):
-Roman Emperor, died in battle while fighting against the Sassanid Empire in Mesopotamia
-He was interested in Neoplatonism and in pagan traditions. Some would consider Julian’s belief under the umbrella term of ‘Henotheism’- that is the idea that, while worshipping one God (Mithras being Julian’s God), one also believes in the existence of other sorts of deities. He appeared to be particularly intrigued by the Platonic concept of ‘Henosis’ (‘union’)- the idea of feeling ‘oneness’ with the source of all reality. He wanted to reduce the influence of Christianity in the Roman Empire
-In a fragment cited by Cyril Julian dismisses Jesus and Paul as being “satisfied if they could deceive maid-servants and slaves”. Julian was also suspicious of Christianity because of its Jewish roots and obviously Julian, being a Roman, was well aware of the bloody relationship between the Romans and the Jews.