Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount
& the Christians in the 2nd cent. /

Η Επί του Όρους Ομιλία
& οι Χριστιανοί του 2ου αι.

What, then, did Christianity seek to achieve vis-a-vis Greco-Roman society? Today, we may feel a sense of disappointment that, with heretical exceptions, the church sanctified the status quo in both eastern and western parts of the empire, though maintaining different theories concerning the relations between church and state. Just occasionally, as with Justin's and Clement of Alexandria's pleas against the state raising money from taxes on prostitution, one discerns a glimmer of practical idealism, but such examples are not common. The causes lie partly in the Christian aim of individual salvation, the attainment of which involved avoidance of sin rather than furthering social reform, and partly in attitudes prevalent in the Judaism of the Second Commonwealth era, whence the Christians drew much of the model for their own morality. This involved precise duties, such as seeing to the welfare of widows and orphans, regular giving of alms, and securing a proper burial for the dead. These traditions the Christians continued faithfully, to the admiration of their critics, including the Emperor Julian, but they never added up to a program of social reform, a determination to end extortionate taxation, exploitation of man by man, and corruption in justice. Celsus had been right. Christians in the second century tended to be more Judaistic than they or their successors cared to admit. Tobit rather than Luke proved to be the handbook of early Christian ethics. The Sermon on the Mount was read but in practice ignored. Reform of society, even as a sign of preparation for the Coming proved to be beyond the imagination of the time. To Augustine, the powers that be were "the most authorized" (ordinatissimae) by God, and to desire a change in the status quo was the hallmark of the heretic. For him, to think that his Lord had shown that the Kingdom would be established by destroying many of the moulds accepted by society would have seemed altogether fanciful.

* W. H. C. Frend,
"Early Christianity and Society: A Jewish Legacy in the Pre-Constantinian Era"
["Πρωτοχριστιανισμός και Κοινωνία: Μια Ιουδαϊκή Κληρονομιά στην Προκωνσταντίνεια Εποχή"],
The Harvard Theological Review, Vol./Τόμ. 76, No./Αρ. 1 (Jan./Ιαν., 1983),
p./σ. 71.

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