In this article, we would like to reflect upon the contemporary relevance of the encounter between ancient Roman culture and Early Christianity. There is a reason for choosing this theme. Today, a few heathen cultures (for instance, those of India and China) have become important once again to the history of mankind. Irrespective of what else is said about the cultures of India or China, in the course of this millennium, these two are going to have a significant impact in the world. In the renewed meeting between India and China on the one hand and the western culture on the other, two issues are going to become central once again: (a) how they look at Christianity and Christian cultures and (b) how the western culture has learnt to look at them.
What has Early Christianity to do with the 21st century meeting between cultures? In some senses, everything. The pagan cultures of today, like India and China, raise questions similar to those that the pagan writers from Ancient Rome asked; the heathens of today (from these two cultures) face similar difficulties that intellectuals from Ancient Rome faced. Their predicament too is almost identical: they have difficulties in comprehending the stances of Christianity. We will focus on some of these questions in the course of this paper. However, let us notice something about the probable outcome of this possible dialogue: unlike the Ancients, the Indians and the Chinese of today will not disappear; nor would they be willing to accept the answers that Early Christianity gave. We need to study Early Christianity, if we want to understand the questions the modern-day heathens are asking. Antiquity is our route to the contemporary world. This is only one side of the coin.
There is also a second side to the coin. We suggest that the current understanding of India and China (and of pagan cultures, generally) is largely defined by how Early Christianity described the Roman pagans. That is to say, what the western culture of today thinks it knows about these cultures is directly related to how Early Christianity succeeded or failed in describing pagan cultures. Whether one looks at Christian theology or at a secular field like religious studies or at a discipline like anthropology or in the so-called scientific debates in evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology about religion, the tale is the same: they all tell the same story about Indian and Chinese religions. Not because what is told is ‘the truth’ but because Early Christianity defined both the questions and the answers. It laid the seeds of a particular way of studying ‘other religions’.
These two aspects merely provide the contexts for approaching a study of the interaction between the Ancient Romans and Antique Christianity. Given the length of this article, it will not be possible to elaborate on the above mentioned contexts; it requires a sequel where we hope to pen these issues in detail. For the time being, we will focus mainly on the relationship between the Romans and Antique Christianity.
Before doing so, let us confess to a limitation. We are not classicists and do not know either Greek or Latin very well. Nor, for that matter, are we trained Christian theologians. Yet, we fare in waters where only classicists and theologians dare journey. This attitude does not express pretension or, for that matter, a disregard for the need to know the classical languages; instead, it is symptomatic of the strangeness of the situation we are all caught in. This too has lessons for us all, but even this will not be discussed it in the course of this paper. With these preliminaries out of the way, let us now concentrate on outlining the pagan and Christian debates in ancient Rome, from a contemporary pagan perspective.
To a visitor from another intellectual and cultural world, what is striking about the descriptions of the Roman society a hundred years before the Common Era onwards is this: the extraordinary role played by the multiplicity of associations, of philosophical schools, of cults and cultic practices in the Roman social life. Many of these associations were also the harbingers of political intrigues, as successive emperors were to find out. Regularly, associations of specific professions (butchers, tailors, undertakers, etc.) supported candidates for political power; their activities, in terms of ceremonies and ritual practices, often overlapped partly with those of the cults.
The Roman empire was made up of about 1200 city units, plus a considerable number of ethnic groupings which we label ‘tribes’ and/or ‘client kingdoms’. The divine forces worshipped in each of these units might be seen as similar, analogous, or parallel; one obvious example is the Juno, the cohesive force which gives life to any social unit, whether a family or a city-state. The Romans worshipped not only the Juno who had once belonged to their own kings – Juno Regina – but also the Junones of other states whom the Romans had invited to abandon their original communities and settle at Rome. These Junones were parallel, but not identical, in the same way as the many Jupiters and Zeuses worshipped throughout the empire were parallel but not identical. Each cult honoured its own god.
There is an uncanny parallel between what Wiedemann says about the Junones in the Roman Empire and, say, the multiple Mahabharata’s in India of today. As any student of India knows, the characters from this epic do not have the same weight and importance as one travels along the different regions and among different peoples in India. The Bhima or a Hidimba in the north of India are not quite the same characters when one encounters them in the South: their roles, their relative weights in the epic, their symbolic presence, etc vary enough among the regions for us to speak of ‘parallel’ but not identical Mahabahratas.
Be that as it may, this colorful variety and bewildering profusion in the Roman Empire were supported by a toleration of differences – a toleration that bordered on indifference towards the difference. Even though attempts were often undertaken to suppress the activities of this or that imported cult, a peculiar kind of tolerance permeated the Roman cultural world. For example, the cult of Isis existed for a long time in Rome without being ‘licensed’, and was suppressed thrice in Rome during 60 and 50. Very soon it was tolerated again, enjoying a certain amount of protection under Augustus. We see Agrippa and Tiberius drive it away from the city, only to have it come back and flourish by the time of Nero. Domitian apparently was planning to rebuild its temple after it got burnt down during the period of Titus. One reason for this tolerance, which bordered on a peculiar kind of indifference, at least during those periods when things went well for the emperors and the citizens of a city-state, was the unanswerable question: Who is to say which gods are to be celebrated, which not?
One reason why the question was unanswerable had to do with the fact of diversity. The many flourishing and not-so-prosperous cults; the theories and disputations concerning the nature and existence of gods; the philosophical schools and their differing theories about man and Nature – all these indexed two truths about human beings. First, it is in the very nature of human existence to entertain multiple perspectives; two, because of this, diversity and difference was inevitable in human communities. Minucius Felix, a Christian writer from around 210 C.E., makes Caecilius – the pagan protagonist in The Octavius – express the above thoughts in the following way: “[A]ll things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled, and all things are rather probable than true…And thus all men must be indignant, all men must feel pain, that certain persons…should dare to determine on any certainty concerning the nature at large, and the (divine) majesty, of which so many of the multitude of sects in all ages (still doubt), and philosophy itself deliberates still.”
About some forty years earlier, Athenagoras the Athenian had to enter A Plea for the Christians. This remarkable document, written around 177 C.E., is addressed to the Emperor with the request that the Christians be allowed to practice their worship. The argument for ‘tolerance’, coming as it does from a Christian writer, begins by noticing that diversity is a fact in the Roman Empire.
In your empire…different nations have different customs and laws; and no one is hindered by law or fear of punishment from following his ancestral usages, however ridiculous they may be… In short, among every nation and people, men offer whatever sacrifices and celebrate whatever mysteries they please… And to all of these both you and the laws give permission so to act, deeming, on the one hand, that to believe in no god at all is impious and wicked, and on the other, that it is necessary for each man to worship the gods he prefers….
Those wont to believe in one Supreme God had little problems in respecting those many deities which were part of the Roman landscape. It was never too late for those who celebrated native and familiar deities, to import exotic gods from other cultures and far-off places. Amidst these, certain practices were zealously preserved: residents of cities ‘had to’ participate in the religious practices and ceremonies that celebrated the deities of the cities. We emphasize ‘had to’ and place it in scare quotes because this is a puzzle, surely, for all students of the Roman culture: how was this participation secured? Why was the populace intolerant of those who did not do so?
This issue becomes intriguing when we consider the relation between the intellectuals of this culture and the religious practices of their day. Clearly, there was no dearth of books, tracts, and philosophical schools, decrying, denigrating, and dismissing the importance of gods or even denying their existence. Though dangerous, even individuals dared it: Lucian, the famous satirist from the second century, openly challenged the Cult of Glycon – visiting its chief priest, poking around its shrine, asking questions with a grin on his face. The danger lay in mockery and not so much in the challenge. Even mockery, in so far as it was directed against the credulous, like Plutarch’s De Superstitione (On Superstition ) for instance, was welcome.
We do not need to go further than Cicero to be convinced of this fact. The social, psychological, and epistemic speculations put across in De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) to account for the origin of religion sound very modern even today. The arsenal of arguments which supported the 18th century European intellectuals’ attack against religion came primarily from this work. Yet, Cicero himself was a priest. Though a skeptic and a critic of augury, he retained his membership in the board of augurs of the Republic. Epicurus urged his followers to take part in sacrifices, while participating in the religious festivals of Athens, and was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. His follower, Lucretius, followed the master’s example in venerating ancestral gods. Plutarch, author of the famous essay against superstition, spent his later life as a priest in Delphi composing tracts on divine punishment and evident terrors of the next world. From today’s optic, this curious division between what they said and what they did is beautifully exemplified by Gaius Cotta – the Academic skeptic in Cicero’s dialogue De Natura Deorum:
I, who am a high priest, and who hold it to be a duty most solemnly to maintain the rights and doctrines of the established religion, should be glad to be convinced of this fundamental tenet of divine existence, not as an article of faith merely but as an ascertained fact. For many disturbing reflections occur to my mind, which sometimes make me think that there are no gods at all.
How to understand this almost prototypical Roman phenomenon of participating in religious activities and sacrifices, oftentimes even leading them, and of not believing in the gods and the deities to whom such sacrifices were offered? How could one deny the existence of gods and yet officiate at the religious ceremonials? Here is one answer: whatever their philosophical predilections, the intellectuals from Antiquity did not counterpose their beliefs and doctrines to the religious practices of their day; that is, such was the Roman religio that its practice was indifferent to any given (in the sense of fixed) set of doctrines.
The Roman culture appears to have allowed two distinct things to co-exist: theoretical disquisitions about gods and religio on the one hand, and religious practices on the other. If the former were not the reasons for the latter, how was the participation of the people ensured? What was, or could have been, religion in the Roman world? The participants in Cicero’s dialogue give us the best answer. Cotta, the skeptic:
I am considerably influenced…by the plea that you put forward…when you exhorted me to remember that I am both a Cotta and a pontiff. This is no doubt meant that I ought to uphold beliefs about the immortal gods which have come down to us from our ancestors, and the rites and ceremonies and duties of religion. For my part, I shall always uphold them and have always done so, and no eloquence of anybody, learned or unlearned shall ever dislodge me from the belief…which I have inherited from our forefathers… Balbus…you are a philosopher, and I ought to receive from you a proof of your religion, whereas I must believe the word of our ancestors even without proof.
Though the citation speaks for itself, two points are worth reemphasizing: first, some things are retained because they have been transmitted over generations and this accounts for their legitimacy; second, philosophical argumentation may establish or disprove some opinion, but it is irrelevant to traditional practice. The last point is made even more strongly later:
Although I for my part cannot be persuaded to surrender my belief that the gods exist, nevertheless you teach me no reason why this belief, of which I am convinced on the authority of our forefathers, should be true.
It is important to note how Cotta argues. That Balbus feels a need to prove the existence of gods is used by the skeptic to show that his opponent is looking for wrong things in the wrong place:
You did not really feel confident that the doctrine of the divine existence was as self-evident as you could wish, and for that reason you attempted to prove it with a number of arguments. For my part a simple argument would have sufficed, namely that it has been handed down to us by our forefathers. But you despise authority, and fight your battles with the weapon of reason. Give permission therefore for my reason to join issue with yours.
The permission is given and the battle is joined. Cotta‘s central thesis is that one’s beliefs about the existence or nonexistence of gods are irrelevant to religion because religion is handed down over generations. Not that religion is transmitted among other things as well, but that which is transmitted is religion. As Plutarch puts it in Amatorius:
Our father then, addressing Pemptides by name, said, “You seem to me, Pemptides, to be handling a very big matter and a risky one – or rather, you are discussing what should not be discussed at all, when you question the opinion we hold about the gods, and ask reason and demonstration about everything. For the ancient and ancestral faith is enough, and no clearer proof could be found than itself…it is a common home and an established foundation for all piety; and if in one point its stable and traditional character be shaken and disturbed, it will be undermined and no one will trust it…If you demand proof about each of the ancient gods, laying hands on everything sacred and bring your sophistry to play on every altar, you will leave nothing free from quibble and cross-examination…Do you see, then, the abyss of atheism at our feet, if we resolve each of the gods into a passion or a force or a virtue?
In The Octavius, Caecilius the pagan argues his case thus:
[It is better] as high priest of truth, to receive the teaching of your ancestors, to cultivate the religion handed down to you, to adore the gods whom you were first trained by your parents to fear…not to assert an opinion concerning the deities, but to believe your forefathers...
Religion, then, appears to fall together with tradition – religio is traditio. Continuing a tradition does not require any reason other than itself, viz., what is being continued is tradition itself. That is to say, no theoretical justification was needed to practice and uphold ancestral customs:
The primary test of truth in religious matters was custom and tradition, the practices of the ancients…In philosophical matters one might turn to intellectuals and philosophers, but in religious questions one looked to the past, to the accepted practices handed down by tradition, and to the guarantors of this tradition, the priests.” Ramsay MacMullen makes an analogous remark: “(T)here was very little doubt in people’s minds that the religious practices of one generation should be cherished without change by the next, whether within one’s own community or another’s. To be pious in any sense, to be respectable and decent, required the perpetuation of cult, even if one’s judges themselves worshipped quite other gods.
The intellectuals of the Ancient Roman culture are not dogmatic traditionalists defending this or that particular practice by appealing to the fact that their fathers and forefathers always performed them too. After all, as our history books never tire of mentioning, they pioneered the spirit of scientific enquiry – the spirit of ruthlessly questioning every belief. Yet, there was a sphere, religio, which was not affected by critical questioning, and practiced because it was traditio.
The late republic was an age of rationalism, certainly as far as the Roman nobility was concerned. But this tendency was never taken to its logical conclusion, rejection of traditional religious practice…Such respect for ancestral authority would assure the continuity of traditional ritual, just as the childhood associations, family tradition, and the peculiar nature of pagan beliefs would tend to preserve traditional mental attitudes.
As Cicero puts it at the end of his work De Divinatione : “It is wise and reasonable for us to preserve the institutions of our forefathers by retaining their rites and ceremonies.” Whose tradition is it? Obviously of a people. Which people? Why those that belonged to a city, of course. Consequently, an identifiable people, identified by their relation to a city, with a language and history, had tradition. Different groups would have different traditions: besides practicing their own traditions, however, they had to respect the traditions of the peoples among whom they lived. Of course, this did not mean that the populace was ‘tolerant’ in religious matters as we understand the term today. “Again, because of people’s narrowness of curiosity and loyalty the beliefs of some neighbouring region or city might have no reality; and such indifference could be simply accepted: ‘all men do not worship all gods, but each, a certain one that he acknowledges’.”
There is the following famous passage of Plutarch (67.377) in On Isis and Osiris which, in the words of Molly Whittaker, “would have been acceptable to any religious and educated Pagan, especially to a stoic”:
We do not conceive of the gods as different among different peoples, nor as barbarians and Greek, nor as southern and northern; but just as sun and moon and sky and earth and sea are common to all men, but have different names among different people, so for that one Reason which sets all things in order and for that one Providence which has oversight over them and for the attendant powers, which are set over all, different honours and names have come into being among different peoples according to their customs.
Similar thoughts are expressed by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, the last pagan prefect of Rome. In a justly famous letter to the Emperor, pleading the cause of the pagan cults within the framework of a bellicose and aggressive Christian march to power, Symmachus says:
Grant, I beg you, that what in our youth we took over from our fathers, we may in our old age hand on to posterity. The love of established practice is a powerful sentiment…Everyone has his own customs, his own religious practices; the divine mind has assigned to different cities different religions to be their guardians. Each man is given at birth a separate soul; in the same way each people is given its own special genius to take care of its destiny…If long passage of time lends validity to religious observances, we ought to keep faith with so many centuries, we ought to follow our forefathers who followed their forefathers and were blessed in so doing…And so we ask for peace for the gods of our fathers, for the gods of our native land. It is reasonable that whatever each of us worships is really to be considered one and the same. We gaze up at the same stars, the sky covers us all, the same universe compasses us. What does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for truth? Not by one avenue only can we arrive at so tremendous a secret.
When one looks at religion as tradition, that is, as a set of practices transmitted over generations, then the term appears as a minor variant of our intuitive notion of culture: to have religion is to have culture. Where there is a people with a history, identifying themselves as a people, there traditions exist too. In other words, they have religio too. This is how the pagans appear to have seen the issue. As Balbus the Stoic, comments: “[I]f we care to compare our national characteristics with those of foreign peoples, we shall find that, while in all other respects we are only the equals or even the inferior of others, yet in the sense of religion, that is, in reverence for the gods, we are far superior.” Which ‘national characteristic’ is Balbus referring to? Perhaps he refers to the feature that, whereas each people has its local gods and national rites, the Romans worship all divinities.
According to Caecilius, it even accounted for the supremacy of the Roman Empire:
[The Romans adore all divinities]…in the city of an enemy, when taken while still in the fury of victory, they venerate the conquered deities;…in all directions they seek for the gods of the strangers, and make them their own;…they build altars even to unknown deities…Thus, in that they acknowledge the sacred institutions of all nations, they have also deserved their dominion.
Tolerance of different traditions, ‘respect’ for tradition demonstrated actually by practicing the tradition of the other where and when necessary, appear to characterize the Roman religio. The religiones of the ancient Romans was a continuation of ancestral traditions. It is tradition that distinguishes peoples from each other.
How could one place the earlier prosecution of the Jews and the later persecution of the Christians within the context of such an attitude? Despite the fact that many aspects of an answer to this question will not be touched on, at least one element of the answer is obvious: the fundamental objection will have been that Judaism and Christianity are not religiones, i.e., they are not traditions. Consequently, they refuse to recognize that the traditions of other peoples and places are valid.
The Jews appear to have met this charge in two ways: first, by showing that the Jews were a people with history; second, by laying claims to great antiquity. The many apologetic texts written by the Hellenic and Alexandrian Jews, the most famous of which was written by Philo of Alexandria, attempted to argue that Judaism and Israel were more ancient than the Ancients themselves: Greek legislators, claimed Philo, actually plagiarized the Mosaic Law, and that Heraclitus stole his theory of opposites from Moses “like a thief.” This trend within Judaism to establish its antiquity, we would like to suggest, is nothing other than to show and demonstrate that Judaism was a ‘traditio’. When a group claims exemption from practicing the traditions of others, the most important ‘property’ is its antiquity. The Jews could argue that theirs was the most ancient of all traditions, therefore ‘religio’ a fortiori, which allowed them not to follow the traditions of others in matters of conflicting injunctions.
It is important to recognize the novelty of the Jewish apologetics: with varying degrees of success, they tried to provide theoretical justifications as to why their traditional practice did not allow them to “seek the gods of the strangers”. It was not sufficient to show that the Jews followed an ancient custom given to them by Moses. They had to justify that their ancestral practice forbade them from worshipping the various deities that littered the Roman landscape. That is to say, they had to provide a ‘philosophical’ underpinning to their ancient custom. That is what the apologetic texts attempted: explain why, if the Jews had traditio, they would not venerate the ancestral customs of other peoples. Their explanation, of course, centered around their scripture – more precisely, about its truth.
The uneasy recognition that the Judaic tradition had obtained in the Roman empire can be observed in the way Celsus, one of the first Roman critics of Christianity, speaks about the Jews. Even though he is supposed to have despised many of the Jewish customs, he nevertheless notes:
As the Jews, then, became a peculiar people, and enacted laws in keeping with the customs of their country, and maintained them up to the present time, and observe a way of worship which, whatever be its nature, is yet derived from their fathers, they act in these respects like other men, because each nation retains its ancestral customs, whatever they are, if they happen to be established among them.
Cornelius Tacitus, the Roman historian, is not known for his sympathies towards the Jewish religion either. Speaking of the Jews to whom “all things are profane that we hold sacred”, and who “regard as permissible what seems to us immoral”, he nonetheless acknowledges: “Whatever their origin, these observances are sanctioned by their antiquity.”
Anticipating the end of the world any moment and projecting the second coming of Christ onto the immediate future, the zeal of the Christians tended to ignore the cultural matrix they were functioning in. But, when it became clear that the world would not end so soon, their problem became obvious: they were ‘a people’ without tradition. Porphyry, for example, is said to have alleged that the Christians are guilty of “…the greatest impiety in taking no account of powers so manifest and so beneficent, but directly breaking the laws, which require everyone to reverence ancestral customs, and not disturb what should be inviolable, but to walk orderly in following the religion of his forefathers and not to be meddlesome through love of innovation.”
In the light of what we have said, it is evident that those who had no tradition would have been accused of atheism. Such indeed was the criticism leveled against Christians by the pagans. That is, as the pagans of that period saw it, the early Christians were ‘atheists’ lacking religion. In a long passage, that is supposed to derive from Porphyry, Eusebius summarizes the charges thus:
(H)ow can men fail to be in every way impious and atheistical, who have apostatized from those ancestral gods by whom every nation and every state is sustained? Or what good can they reasonably hope for, who have set themselves at enmity and at war against their preservers, and have thrust away their benefactors? For what else are they doing than fighting against the gods?
And what forgiveness shall they be thought to deserve, who have turned away from those who from the earliest time, among all Greeks and Barbarians, both in cities and in the country, are recognized as gods with all kinds of sacrifices, and initiations, and mysteries by all alike, kings law-givers and philosophers, and have chosen all that is impious and atheistical among the doctrines of men?…
(They have not adhered) to the God who is honoured among the Jews according to their customary rites, but (have) cut out for themselves a new kind of track…that keeps neither the ways of the Greeks nor those of the Jews.
Tatian, in his Oratio ad Graecos, tells his pagan public not to think that he “…(in) aspiring to be above the Greeks, above the infinite number of philosophic inquirers, has struck out a new path, and embraced the doctrine of Barbarians.” In 303 C.E., Diocletian began the final persecution of the Christians. In the early parts of his reign, the mastermind behind such persecutions was Galerius, rather than Diocletian himself. When calamities were coming to an end, Galerius published an edict to finally stop the persecutions, clearly explaining why the Christians were disliked that much – not because they did not worship the gods of Rome, but because they did not have a tradition:
It has been our aim in an especial manner, that the Christians also, who had abandoned the religion of their forefathers, should return to right opinions. For such willfulness and folly had, we know not how, taken possession of them, that instead of observing those ancient institutions, which possibly their own forefathers had established, they, through caprice, made laws to themselves, and drew together into different societies many men of widely different persuasions.
After the publication of our edict, ordaining the Christians to betake themselves to the observance of the ancient institutions, many of them were subdued through the fear of danger, and moreover many of them were exposed to jeopardy; nevertheless, because great numbers still persist in their opinions, and because we have perceived that at present they neither pay reverence and due adoration to the gods, nor yet worship their own God, therefore we, from our wonted clemency in bestowing pardon on all, have judged it fit to extend our indulgence to those men, and to permit them again to be Christians, and to establish the places of their religious assemblies; yet so as that they offend not against good order.
The Christians could not follow the route taken by the Jews, although they had to lay claim to the Judaic tradition. As Christians, they rejected the Mosaic Law; yet, they had to show that they were religio nonetheless. Hence the challenge that the Christians were faced with: they were not Jews; nor were they Romans. The Christians could not, in any straightforward way, see themselves as a people with a history, a tradition, a language – that is, they could not trace themselves back to any particular people. The Jews could; the Romans could; even the Egyptians who “worshipped cats, crocodiles, serpents, asps and dogs” could. But the Christians alone could not. They had to show that Christianity was religio even though their enemies accused them of not being a traditio. And that they set out to do.
However, this pagan challenge to Christianity came embedded in a series of criticisms. Each of these was repeated in multiple ways whenever Christianity met pagan cultures, whether from India or from China. Some of these issues are worth noting in our context because they not only help us understanding the pagan point of view but also in seeing how Christianity finally met the pagan challenge.
(a) One of the greatest problems the pagans faced had to with the Christian God and His relationship to Jesus Christ. Using human predicates and attributing human desires to this entity, Celsus wonders why the ‘supreme being,’ beautiful, good and blessed, would ascend among men and hence, undergo a change from good to evil, from virtue to vice, and from happiness to misery. Only mortals could wish to make such changes; the ‘supreme being’ would never admit of it, certainly not for the worse. The Christian ‘God’ had become a mere immortal in the hands of Celsus. Consequently, he could also judge the deeds of this ‘God’ in human terms. He asks why He who sent his son to mankind with the instruction to worship Him alone also allowed His son to be treated cruelly. What kind of a father would ever be that inhuman? Celsus could not think of ‘God’, who behaved ‘inhumanly’. This is the first gulf separating the Pagans and the Christians, a gulf that tells us about the extent to which the Pagans misunderstood the doctrines of Christianity.
(b) Consequent to this, the pagans also had great difficulties in understanding the refusal of the Christians to indulge in ‘idolatry’. Celsus, for instance, was unable to figure out the Biblical injunctions about idolatry or why it was considered as a sin. By virtue of this failure, the pagans were also quite incensed by the refusal of the Christians to worship the Roman deities.
(c) Consistent with these arguments, Celsus ridicules the Christian hopes for their resurrection. Much the same way he rooted the Christian God in a human anthropology, he founds the Christian hopes for an after-life in human biology and natural processes:
It is folly on their part to suppose that when God, as if He were a cook, introduces the fire (which is to consume the world), all the rest of the human race will be burnt up, while they alone will remain, not only such of them as are then alive, but also those who are long since dead, which latter will arise from the earth clothed with the self-same flesh (as during life); for such a hope is simply one which might be cherished by worms. For what sort of human soul is that which would still long for a body that had been subject to corruption?
(d) Minucius Felix ridicules the Christian dread for idolatry as an expression of their fear of the gods they reject. He also relates it to their hopes for after-life and their ‘ascetic’ contemporaneous existence.
You do not visit exhibitions; you have no concern in public displays; you reject the public banquets, and abhor the sacred contests; the meats previously tasted by, and the drinks made a libation of upon, the altars. Thus you stand in dread of the gods whom you deny. You do not wreath your heads with flowers; you do not grace your bodies with odours; you reserve unguents for funeral rites; you even refuse garlands to your sepulchres—pallid, trembling beings, worthy of the pity even of our gods! Thus, wretched as you are, you neither rise again, nor do you live in the meanwhile. Therefore (…) cease from prying into the regions of the sky, and the destinies and secrets of the world: it is sufficient to look before your feet, especially for untaught, uncultivated, boorish, rustic people: they who have no capacity for understanding civil matters, are much more denied the ability to discuss divine. 
(e) What about the nature of the Christian church or the kind of people invited to their assemblies? Celsus draws a parallel between the people invited to join and participate in the pagan cults and the Christian invitations thus. The striking difference lies in the fact that the Christians invite sinners and thieves: “…let us hear what kind of persons these Christians invite. Every one, they say, who is a sinner, who is devoid of understanding, who is a child, and, to speak generally, whoever is unfortunate, him will the kingdom of God receive. Do you not call him a sinner, then, who is unjust, and a thief, and a housebreaker, and a poisoner, and a committer of sacrilege, and a robber of the dead? What others would a man invite if he were issuing a proclamation for an assembly of robbers?”
(f) Given the above, how would the pagans look at the Christian morality? What could they make out of the relation between ‘being moral’ and attaining salvation by following Jesus Christ? Porphyry, for instance, apparently had this to say about the relationship that the Christians postulated and human moral psychology: ““It is easier for a camel to go through a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” On the one hand, if a rich man, who stayed away from the sins of the flesh—from murder, thievery, adultery, cheating, lying, fornication and blasphemy—was denied any heavenly reward, what use it would be for rich men to be good? On the other, if the poor were destined to reach heaven, what would prevent them for doing anything they liked?” If such is the case, what relationship is there between morality and salvation? Porphyry again: “Who wouldn’t prefer a life of corruption, based on the strength of these [promises]; who would not choose a life of evildoing and unutterable wickedness if he knew in advance that all would be forgiven him if only he believed and was baptized, confident in his heart that the judge of the living and the dead would pardon any offense he had committed.”
(g) Finally, all these considerations militate against the claim to universality, which Christianity put forward. Such a claim cannot be made by any human being or any human group whatsoever. It cannot simply be the result of any kind of human research. St. Augustine summarizes the argument from Porphyry’s De Regressu Animae as follows: “[N]o system of doctrine which furnishes the universal way for delivering the soul has yet been received, either from the truest philosophy, or from the ideas or practices of the Indians, or from the reasoning of the Chaldeans, or from any source whatsoever…” If this is the case, the reign that the Christians envisage is also humanly impossible. Origen paraphrases Celsus’ argument thus: “If it were possible,” implying at the same time that he thought it most desirable, “that all the inhabitants of Asia, Europe, and Libya, Greeks and Barbarians, all to the uttermost ends of the earth, were to come under one law;” but judging this quite impossible, he adds, “Any one who thinks this possible, knows nothing.”
What we see in a consistent fashion in all these criticisms is the following: the pagans looked at Christianity as a doctrine that was analogous to those they were familiar with. And they were familiar with philosophical schools and human doctrines; those that were expressions of a human search for truth, embodiments of human striving to understand the mysteries of Cosmos and society. In doing so, they were unable to comprehend the way Christianity had defined itself from the very beginning, as something that was not authored by any human being but by ‘God’ Himself. In The Epistle to Diognetus, purported to be a reply to the inquiries of an interested pagan, the anonymous writer who called himself Mathetes explains the manner in which the Christians saw themselves:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines…For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and paced among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.
Quite clearly, the pagans of Antiquity were quite blind to how Christianity looked at itself. Consequently, their challenge, namely, how could Christianity be religio when it was manifestly not a traditio of any people, was based not on the self-description and self-identity of Christianity. Instead, the pagans looked at Christianity through the framework and categories of their own world and culture. In doing so, they became blind to the kind of religion that Christianity claimed it was.
As we have seen, one of the fundamental charges against Christianity was its novelty and youth. No nation had ever heard of the Jesus heralded by the Christians; as a religion, Christianity was not blessed as the ancestral custom of a people; they were, as said before, “meddlesome through love of innovation”. During the first five centuries, writer after writer from the Christian church tried to establish the antiquity of Christianity. Here, they followed the lead given by the Hellenic and Alexandrian Jews. Let us look at just exactly how the Christians established the antiquity of their religion, in order to understand the novelty in their attempts. Tatian, for instance, in his Oratio ad Graecos (Address to the Greeks), deems it proper “…to demonstrate that our philosophy is older than the system of the Greeks. Moses and Homer shall be our limits, each of them being of great antiquity…Let us, then, institute a comparison between them; and we shall find that our doctrines are older, not only than those of the Greeks, but than the invention of letters.” Having ‘established’ this to his satisfaction, he goes on further: “But the matter of principal importance is to endeavour with all accuracy to make it clear that Moses is not only older than Homer, but than all the writers that were before him…”
During the second century, Theophilus of Antioch, after an equally thorough exposition of the Biblical chronology, makes it obvious that “…one can see the antiquity of the prophetical writings and the divinity of our doctrine, that the doctrine is not recent, nor our tenets mythical and false, as some think, but very ancient and true.” Such arguments were not limited to one or two names; the roll-call reads like who-is-who of the early church fathers: Justin, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius and, much later, even St. Augustine. Each of them tried to show, as Eusebius says in The History of the Church, that Christianity had long existed as “the first, most ancient, and most primitive of all religions” and, therefore, “shown not to be modern and strange but, in all conscience, primitive, unique, and true.”
There are two things of essential importance to the Christian apologetics regarding the antiquity of Christianity. The pagans challenged the Christians to show that the latter followed ancient and thus venerated customs and practices of their forefathers. The Jews had met this challenge by arguing not only that Moses was ‘older’ than Homer but also that, and this is crucial, they were faithful to their custom. The Christians by contrast, when they appropriated the Jewish apology, did the following: they tried to prove that their doctrines were ancient and therefore true. Instead of showing they were true to ancestral practices, they argued that they accepted doctrines that were ancient. This is the first thing of importance. The second important thing can be formulated as a question: how could adherence to a doctrine be equivalent to following a practice? By focusing on these two issues, we shall also discover how Christianity met the pagan challenge.
As we know, during the first century C.E., Christianity was embroiled in a polemic with Judaism. Christians argued that the Messiah had arrived. The refusal of the Jews to accept this claim, the Christians believed, had to do with their inability to understand and interpret the scriptures properly. God’s promise to His ‘elect’ was fulfilled in the coming of Christ in flesh; but the sons of Israel – who were God’s elect – refused to see Jesus as Christ. The Old Testament made Christianity sensible but the refusal of the Jews to heed ‘their’ scriptures (as Christians interpreted them) threatened to make Christianity senseless.
Consequently, the patristic polemic against Judaism began to represent the latter as religiously moribund. It was argued that Israel “habitually had misunderstood all its prophets, Jesus included.” At the same time, Christianity had to continue representing the Jewish past as its own. It had to find evidence for orthodox Christians throughout the history of Israel: “Judaism, in this view, appeared as erroneous from the start through its congenital ability to heed the Logos while various proto-Christians lay dormant throughout Israel’s history until the time of Jesus.” For the early Christians, the Church had “replaced the Jews as the heirs to God’s promises” and was to be “the covenant partner with God.” Later, Augustine would settle the issue by suggesting that the Jews had to continue to exist so as to “bear witness for us that we have not invented the prophecies concerning Christ” and also to confirm the prophecy that some would refuse to follow Christ and be damned for it. Thus, he added, “when the Jews do not believe in our Scriptures, their own Scriptures are fulfilled in them, while they read them with darkened eyes.”
To some extent, the problematic relation of the early Christians with the Jews is captured in the ambiguity of the Gospels themselves: the conflicting injunctions that one ought to and ought not to preach among the gentiles: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”And further, as instructions to the Apostles: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Or again, as Jesus answered his disciples: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” On the other hand, the same evangelists record Jesus saying: “And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” Reflecting on these ideas, Vermes asks himself: “However did the evangelists manage to record such sayings as these, and at the same time attribute to Jesus the view that the Gentiles were soon to displace the ‘sons of the kingdom’, the Jews, as the elect of God?”
We do not want to embroil myself in this controversy, over which much ink has been spilt. But we do want to draw attention to the conclusion of the discussion: Christians saw their religion as the fulfillment of Judaism. They alone were the followers of the true message of the scriptures. As Ignatius of Antioch, the Apostolic Father, formulated the thought in The Epistle to the Magnesians: “To profess Jesus Christ while continuing to follow Jewish custom is an absurdity. The Christian faith does not look to Judaism, but Judaism looks to Christianity …” The theme of the elect of God survives, but not the way Judaism saw it. The Christians are the elect now because they follow the doctrine. When Christianity entered into polemics with the pagan thinkers, it saw itself as having superseded Judaism as the latter’s fulfillment. Together, the Old and the New Testament formed the Christian scriptures. In so far as these were the most ancient of all doctrines, Christianity was also ancient.
Though it would take a few centuries for our story to take shape, we can follow a straight line to come to the point quickly. In their dispute with the Jews, the Christians had implicitly severed the tie between being a nation and having religion by arguing that Christians were the followers of the ‘true’ doctrines. As a result, their religion was everything that the Jews were waiting for. In their polemic with the pagans, Christians could travel much further along this path. However, now there is an extra sting in the tail of the tale they were to tell: Christian religion was not merely the fulfillment of the Jews but of all peoples. As Ignatius of Antioch continued the sentence in the epistle cited above (ibid.): “¼ [In Christianity], every other race and tongue that confesses a belief in God has now been comprehended.”All that was ‘good’ and ‘noble’ in pagan thought have anticipated and expected the coming of Christ. The Christians were merely announcing the Good Word that the ‘expectation of nations’ had now been met.
Thus, the process of establishing the antiquity of Christianity took a new turn: many early Christian writers tried to show that Socrates, Plato, Virgil, and even the Sibylline Oracles had implicitly anticipated and prepared for the advent of the Gospels. In very simple terms: all human nations and cultures, as Eusebius made it clear, were merely Praeparatio Evangelica. Once Christ came in flesh, the preparatory work was finished once and for all: Christianity was the religion of the humankind.
Such a claim must have shocked the Roman sensibilities doubly: first, though manifestly no traditio of any nation, Christians claimed that they were religio; second, as ‘religio’ of all peoples (a contradiction in terms, if our claim about religio and traditio is correct), Christians claimed exemption from following the traditions of the cities because they alleged that all of them were wrong. That is to say, the Christians opposed their practices to the time-honored traditions of all peoples: Christianity was religio because it was not a traditio – the way all other human traditions are. The pagans challenged Christianity to show how it could be religio, when it was not a traditio of any people. Christianity met this challenge by reversing its terms and opposing traditio to religio: Christianity was religio precisely because it was not traditio.
How could they show this? The first move in answering this question was by opposing their beliefs, i.e., their theology to the prevalent practices. That is, Christians countered religion to tradition. From its very inception and in its polemic with Judaism, Christianity was forced to emphasize its doctrinal loyalty and purity. The Christians were the only true followers of the doctrines, whereas the Jews were not. This attitude towards doctrines was carried forward, when challenged by the pagan milieu. The antiquity of Christianity was ‘demonstrated’ on grounds of the age of the Christian doctrine. Consequently, an extraordinary emphasis was placed on written texts and to their correct interpretations: “This attachment to written texts was remarkable in itself, even if it did not penetrate far down the social scale; there was little or nothing in Roman culture as a whole to induce such a development, and many features in this highly traditional society in fact worked against it.”
In order to make their claims stick, Christians had to build a respectable theology. Moreover, because of the emphasis laid on the doctrines, they had to enter into disputes with ‘philosophers’. Unfortunately though, Christians were hardly the intellectual equals of their opponents. In the early stages, Celsus charged, the Christians avoided all debates and discussions with intellectuals: “We see that those who display their trickery in the market-places and go about begging would never enter a gathering of intelligent men, nor would they dare to reveal their noble beliefs in their presence; but whenever they see adolescent boys and a crowd of slaves and a company of fools they push themselves in and show off.” Celsus’ charge appears extremely plausible: the early Christian converts did not come from intellectual circles. As such, they could hardly take on the theoretical might of Graeco-Roman World, as Chadwick also pointed out: “Latin-speaking Christianity in the West did not acquire a philosophical mind of any considerable quality before the middle of the fourth century, with the conversion of the Roman Neoplatonist Marius Victorianus, to whose difficult and reputedly obscure writings Augustine was to owe a little in constructing his own synthesis of Christianity and Platonism.”
For our purposes, Chadwick’s assessment is a side issue. The important point is that the Christian religion, in its polemic with the Jews and pagans alike, counterposed its doctrines to the prevalent customs. When such great store is set on beliefs, two things are inevitable: growth of different interpretations, and a critique of the tenability of these beliefs. The so-called ‘heresy’ is a phenomenon that grew along with Christianity itself. Already during the first three hundred years of its existence, Christianity knew of the following heretic offshoots: Paulicianism, Arianism, Montanism, Marcionism, Apollinarianism, Origenism, Gnosticism, etc. Persecution and liquidation are also the ineluctable outgrowths of such a religion only when and where it is unable to show its strength against its intellectual opponents: Porphyry’s books were burnt; heretics and others liquidated.
Be that as it may, we are now in a better position to understand what was entailed by the Christian transformation of the pagan question. Christianity was ancient not because it was the practice of any nation but because of its doctrines.
However, as noted already, a problem comes to the fore: How could adherence to a doctrine be equivalent to following a practice? It would be, if the practice embodies or expresses the doctrine in question. That is to say, if the practice of the Christians expresses the teachings they accept; if the teachings they accept are “primitive, unique, and true”, it follows that their practices are also likewise. If the beliefs they held were ancient, so too were the practices which embodied them. This was the second move involved in countering religion to tradition.
With this in mind, if we look at either the Christian defense in the face of persecutions during the first three centuries C.E., or if we look at their criticisms of ‘paganism’ then and in the centuries to follow, at least one odd thing is striking. The criticisms were directed at pagan practices, but what were criticized were the pagan beliefs. As is well-known, criticisms of neither beliefs nor practices were new to the intellectuals from the Antiquity. In fact, the early (or late) Christian critique of paganism did not go much beyond the pagan critiques of their religio. The criticism of the Roman intellectuals, as has been noted already, did not challenge traditio; it merely restrained superstitio, i.e., it functioned as a constraint on the excesses of human practice. The tradition handed down was not to be supplanted by ‘reason’, but to be held in check whenever practices threatened to run wild.
What Christianity did then, and was to repeat the same feat centuries later during the Reformation, was to criticize practice by criticizing beliefs. That is to say, it postulated a link between practices and beliefs of a type that was unknown in the Antiquity: practices express or embody the beliefs that human beings entertain. In this manner, Christianity further reduced religio to ‘religion’. The former became a variant of the latter: paganism was an expression of a set of false or corrupt beliefs.
As we have seen above, Christians claimed that their religion followed the most antique of all doctrines. The Jews as well as all other nations on earth had anticipated the coming of Christ. By saying this, the Christians began the process of constructing the history of humanity itself. In appropriating the Old Testament, they also appropriated the past of the humankind. The Old Testament was not just the past of humanity as the Jews envisaged it, but a true chronicle of events on earth. The real or imaginary past of the Jews became the framework for describing the history of humanity itself.
Of course, the Jews also treated the Old Testament as a historical chronicle. With Christianity though, we see the emergence of an additional dimension: the coming of Christ in flesh gave a greater concreteness and determination to human history; it was the fulfillment of God’s promise. As a result, a philosophy of history came into being too: not merely in the sense that chronicles which traced and rediscovered the truth of Biblical events on earth were penned, but also in the sense that the Christians experienced the worldly happenings as the execution of the divine plan. ‘Human history’ supposedly embodied this divine plan.
What happened was not just an appropriation of the “past and the future” by the present.  Rather, it was an appropriation of the multiple pasts and histories of peoples on earth within the framework of one past of one people. This single history exhibited an order and pattern because God’s promise was fulfilled in the present. In this process, the direction of the future was also clearly indicated. Let us tell the simplest version of a story that was to masquerade as nothing short of human history. There was once a religion, the true and universal one, which was the divine gift to all humankind. A sense or spark of divinity is installed in all races (and individuals) of humanity by the creator God himself. During the course of human history, this sense did not quite erode as it got corrupted. Idolatry, worship of the Devil (i.e., of the false God and his minions) was to be the lot of humankind until God spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and led their tribe back onto the true path.
For our current purposes, two implications of this story are important. We have already come across the first: the ‘best’ among the pagans, by anticipating and preparing the advent of the Gospels, were now a part of the world history as the Christians wrote it. The second implication is this: within the broad framework of the Christian (and Old Testament) philosophy of history, the religiones of the Romans became manifestations of the false religions on earth. If this could be shown to be true, the Christian opposition between religion and tradition would begin to carry weight.
How could this be ‘demonstrated’? The Old Testament story was pressed into service here as well; not merely to explain the ‘errors’ of the gentiles but also to give them a permanent place within the Christian philosophy of history. The pagans were seduced into accepting false beliefs as true. Seduced by whom or what? By the Devil and his machinations, of course. The Devil and his minions tempt people into worshipping the false god. (After all, that is why the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made His appearance in the Arabian Desert.) Consequently, the Roman deities were absorbed into the Christian framework as ‘demons’, and their worship was nothing but idolatry. From the innumerable writings of the early Church fathers about this issue, a citation at random:
“There are some insincere and vagrant spirits degraded from their heavenly vigour by earthly stains and lusts. Now these spirits, after having lost the simplicity of their nature by being weighed down and immersed in vices, for a solace to their calamity, cease not, now that they have ruined themselves, to ruin others; and being depraved themselves, to infuse into others the error of their depravity; and being themselves alienated from God, to separate others from God by the introduction of degraded superstitions. The poets know that those spirits are demons; the philosophers discourse of them; Socrates knew it, who, at the nod and decision of a demon that was at his side, either declined or undertook affairs. The Magi, also, not only know that there are demons, but, moreover, whatever miracle they affect to perform, do it by means of demons; by their aspirations and communications they show their wondrous tricks, …These impure spirits…consecrated under statues and images, lurk there, and by their status attain the authority as of a present deity;…Thus they weigh men downwards from heaven, and call them away from the true God…and constrain men to worship them.”
That is why, the Christians argued, it was of primordial importance to follow the true doctrines in matters of faith. The ‘antiquity’ of a practice, in most matters, cloaked erroneous doctrines and seduced men into travelling false paths. Therefore the antiquity of a custom was no authority in so far as religion was concerned. Consequently, all pagan cults with their multitude of practices, ceremonies and rituals, all these others, became mere exemplifications of another religion, viz., a false religion, which worshipped the prince of darkness.
In so far as their doctrines were true, it also meant that the story of their scriptures was not mythical but factual. In turn, this implied that the pagan religio – which was at odds with Christianity – was false: it merely expressed the false beliefs of the gentiles. That is why paganism was an expression of a set of false/corrupt beliefs.
To the pagans, as we have seen already, religio had to do with following ancient practices. The philosophers and the philosophical schools disputed about all kinds of doctrines: including the existence and nonexistence of gods, their nature, and so forth. Irrespective of such disputations (or even because of them), one continued the traditional practices because of their forefathers. Variations in such ancestral customs among nations were not only recognized, but were also seen as inevitable, because they were human products. As Symmachus said so long ago, “…quid interest qua quisque prudentia verum requirat? uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum” (“What does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for truth? Not by one avenue only can we arrive at so tremendous a secret”).
If religion has to do with practicing the true doctrine, then there can only be one avenue because there can only be one true doctrine. Everything that deviates from it can only be false. And that is what the Christians maintained.
When looked at this way, we can see something very un-Hellenic about the ‘Hellenization’ of Christianity. Christianity and Judaism felt compelled to do what their religious rivals, viz., the cults never did. The pagan religions were also parts of the very same Hellenic milieu in which Christianity grew. Yet, it was the latter and not the pagan cults that developed a theology to justify practices. Pagans never felt compelled, even when under attack, to develop a theology of the Isis cult; a kerygma of the Sibylline oracles; or whatever else.
Tatian the Greek, when he became a Christian, did indeed “aspire to be above the Greeks”. His religion did what the pagans never thought of doing: inscribe ‘philosophical’ disputations (or theology) into the very heart of religious practice. Only thus, and no other way, could Christianity become a religion. To understand how the Christians were answering a transformed question, notice the well-known fact that no Greek or Roman thinker defended his theory on the grounds of its antiquity. Neither Plato nor Aristotle, leave alone lesser luminaries, ever suggested that their philosophical doctrine ought to be accepted because it was “ancient, most unique, and therefore true”. But the Christians, in their battle to establish themselves as religio did precisely that.
One inevitable outcome of this transformation of the question is reflected in the parallel shift in both the reference and the meaning of the concept of ‘tradition’. By the time Christianity could carry bite, there were already disputes and discussions about the apostolic tradition itself. Here, ‘tradition’ referred to the line and process of transmission of the messages by the Apostolic Fathers. The Gnostic tendency within the Christian religion fed itself precisely on this pivotal issue: Was there a ‘truer’ doctrine, which the Apostolic Fathers entrusted only to a chosen few? Consequently, when one talks of the Catholic, Christian, or even the apostolic tradition, the reference is to the transmission of some or another set of doctrines.
That a shift in the reference and meaning of religio also led to a similar movement with respect to traditio is a further indicator, we submit, of the fact that these terms were coextensive within the Roman milieu. It is the transformation of the pagan question which enabled the Christians to raise two further problems, which must have sounded like absolute nonsense to the pagan ears: Is your religio true? Is your traditio true? Using an anachronistic example and terminology, we can try to understand how Christians would have shocked the pagan sensibilities. In effect, this is our example, the Christians asked, ‘Do green ideas sleep furiously?’ That is, and this is our terminology, they were committing a fundamental category mistake. A pagan could understand the question: Are you faithfully following your ancestral practice? But no pagan could answer the charge that his ancestral practice itself was false. How could tradition be true or false? Neither of these two predicates is applicable to traditio or religio. But that the Christians nevertheless thought so, after having absorbed the pagan ‘other’ into a Christian philosophy of history, surely tell us of the gulf separating the pagan world from the Christian one.
Let us summarize this long article and, in doing so, return to the concerns that were expressed at the beginning. In the pagan milieu of ancient Roman culture and in the pagan milieus of today’s world, similar ideas carry weight: traditions live on because they are sanctioned by ancestral practices. The Romans called it ‘religio’ and the Indians and the Chinese use different terms from different languages for the same. The reason to practice a tradition lies in its nature: something is practiced because it is a tradition. Most of our contemporary notions of ‘religion’ need to use the notion ‘doctrines’, when speaking about Indian and Chinese traditions. This, we would submit, is a Christian understanding of what ‘religion’ is. Such notions make human practices into expressions of beliefs and imply that religions are candidates for truth values. This too is a Christian inheritance. The claim that Christianity makes with respect to its ‘antiquity’ lives on today, we would submit, in the unproven assertion that, in all known cultures and all known human communities, religion has always existed. As far as the pagans are concerned, whether of yesteryears or today, the way Christianity opposed a tradition of a people in order to become the ‘religion of humankind’ remains a category mistake. While we believe each of these points has enormous ramifications for the future of religious studies, analyzing these will have to wait for other times and other places.
 However, see the following two books, which capture the nature of the debates between Christianity and the pagan cultures, Japan and India, for example. George Elison, Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan. Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1988; Richard Fox Young, Resistant Hinduism: Sanskrit Sources on Anti-Christian Apologetics in Early Nineteenth-Century India. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981.
 See: Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1776, 1952); E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965); Ramsay MacMullen, Paganism in the Roman Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981); Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (London: Viking Books, 1986).
 Thomas Wiedemann, “Polytheism, Monotheism, and Religious Co-existence: Paganism and Christianity in the Roman Empire,” in Religious Pluralism and Unbelief: Studies Critical and Comparative, ed. Ian Hamnet (London: Routledge, 1990), 69.
 See W.H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965), 104-126.
 Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” V. Cited from: Minucius Felix. “The Octavius,” in Fathers of the Third Century, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 4 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Grand Rapids (Michigan): Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 175.
 Athenagoras the Athenian, Presbeia, I. Cited from: Athenagoras. “A Plea for the Christians,” In Fathers of the Second Century, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 2 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Grand Rapids (Michigan): Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 129.
 A.D. Nock, Conversion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), 66-76.
 Modern-day writers are reluctant to explain the religious intolerance of pagan Rome in political terms. They are also unable to agree upon the legal grounds for religious ‘persecution’. Apparently, there is some controversy among legal scholars. See about the existence or nonexistence of religious crime in Roman law: Simeon L. Guterman, Religious Toleration and Persecution in Ancient Rome (London: Aiglon Press Ltd, 1951); G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, “Why were the Early Christians Prosecuted?,” Past and Present 26 (1963): 6-38; G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, “Why were the Early Christians Prosecuted? – A Rejoinder,” Past and Present 27 (1964): 28-33; A.N. Sherwin-White, “Why Were the Early Christians Prosecuted? – An Amendment,” Past and Present 27 (1964): 23-27; A.N. Sherwin-White, The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), 772-787; Timothy Barnes, “Legislation Against the Christians,” Journal of Roman Studies 58 (1968): 32-50; J.F. Janssen, “‘Superstitio’ and the Persecution of the Christians,” Vigiliae Christianae 33(2) (1979): 131-159; P. Keresztes, “The Imperial Roman Government and the Christian Church. I. From Nero to Severi,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der Neuren Forschung, 23.1, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1979), 247-315. Most scholars notice that (a) Roman criminal law does not appear to have made any provision for testing when such an offence has been committed; (b) the lack of competence of the religious tribunals; (c) the theory implied by the words of Tiberius, “the gods avenge their own wrongs”; and (d) the apparent absence of trials in cases of suppression (Guterman, “Religious Toleration and Persecution in Ancient Rome,” 47).
 Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire, (A. D. 100-400) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 15.
 Cicero, “De Natura Deorum,” I, xxii, 61; our italics. Cited from: Cicero. “De Natura Deorum,” in Volume XIX of Cicero in Twenty-eight Volumes, trans. H. Rackham. The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann Ltd. and Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933, 1967), 61.
 Cicero, “De Natura Deorum,” III, ii, 5; our italics. Cited from: Cicero, “De Natura Deorum,” in H. Rackham, 289, 291.
 Ibid., III, iii, 7; our italics. Cited from Cicero, “De Natura Deorum,” in H. Rackham, 293.
 Ibid., III, iv, 9-10; our italics. Cited from Cicero, “De Natura Deorum,” in H. Rackham, 295.
 Plutarch, “Amatorius,” 13. Cited from: T.R. Glover, The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire (London: Methuen and Co., 1909).
 Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” VI; our italics. Cited from: Minucius Felix. “The Octavius,” in Fathers of the Third Century, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 4 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Grand Rapids (Michigan): Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 176.
 Wilken, “The Christians as the Romans Saw Them,” 62.
 MacMullen, “Paganism in the Roman Empire,” 2.
 J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, Continuity and Change in Roman Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 31-32.
 Cicero, “De Divinatione,” II, lxxii, 148. Cited from: Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, Vol. 1: The Rise of Modern Paganism (London: Wildwood House, 1973), 155.
 MacMullen, “Christianizing the Roman Empire,” 12.
 Molly Whittaker, ed., Jews and Christians: Graeco-Roman Views (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 268.
 Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Relatio III; our italics. Cited from R.H. Barrow, trans., Prefect and Emperor: The Relationes of Symmachus. A.D. 384 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1973), 37-41.
 Cicero, “De Natura Deorum,” II, iii, 9; our italics. Cited from: Cicero, “De Natura Deorum,” in H. Rackham, 131.
 Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” VI. Cited from: Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 177.
 Though this is not the only one; see B.Wardy, “Jewish Religion in Pagan Literature during the Late Republic and Early Empire,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der Neuren Forschung, 19.1, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1979), 592-644.
 See H.A. Wolfson, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 2 Volumes (Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard University Press, 1947).
 Origen, “Contra Celsum,” V, xxv; our italics. Cited from Origen. “Origen against Celsus,” in The Fathers of the Third Century, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 4 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Grand Rapids (Michigan): WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 553-554.
 Cornelius Tacitus, “The Histories,” V, 4.
 Cornelius Tacitus, “The Histories,” V, 4.
 Cornelius Tacitus, “The Histories,” V, 5; our italics. Cited from Cornelius Tacitus, The Histories, trans. Kenneth Wellesley (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964, 1975, 1986), 273.
 See Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (New Haven: Yale University Press1988).
 See Hill 1992 for a very good analysis of early Christian chiliasm: Charles E. Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Future Hope in Early Christianity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).
 Eusebius, “Praeparatio Evangelica,” IV, i; our italics. Cited from Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, trans. E. H. Gifford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903), 141-142. See also W. Den Boer, “A Pagan Historian and His Enemies: Porphyry against the Christians,” Classical Philology, 69(3) (1974): 198-208.
 See: R.M. Grant, “Porphyry among the Early Christians,” in Romanitas et Christianitas, ed. W. den Boer, P. G. van der Nat, C. M. J. Sicking, and J. C. M. van Winden (Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company, 1973), 181-187; Stephen Benko, “Pagan Criticism of Christianity During the First Two Centuries A. D.,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der Neuren Forschung, 23.2, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 1055-1118; Stephen Benko, Pagan Rome and the Early Christians (London: E. T. Batsford Ltd, 1985); A. Meredith, “Porphyry and Julian Against the Christians,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der Neuren Forschung, 23.2, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 1119-1149. Benko (1980, 1064) notes that the hatred of the human race (odium humanis generis) with which Tacitus charges the Christians is nearly the same expression previously used to describe the Jews in Histories. Therefore, argues Benko, the great fire in Rome was not the main cause of the persecution. Rather, the cause resided in the anti-social tendencies displayed by the Christians – in their odium humanis generis, to which also Celsus and Caecilius referred. However, much like Celsus, Tacitus clearly mentions that the Jews were vindicated, regardless of their hatred for mankind. The Jews, too, separated themselves from the rest of humanity and refused to participate in Roman practices. Yet, the Jews had a tradition of not taking part in such practices and were, so to speak, ‘licensed atheists’ (see de Ste. Croix, “Why were the Early Christians Prosecuted?,” 25).
 As Wilken, “The Christians as the Romans Saw Them,” 156 surmises.
 Eusebius, “Praeparatio Evangelica,” I, ii; our italics. Cited from Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, trans. E. H. Gifford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903), 5-6.
 Tatian, “Oratio ad Graecos,” 35; our italics. Cited from Tatian. “Address to the Greeks,” in Fathers of the Second Century, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 2 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Grand Rapids (Michigan): Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 80.
 Galerius cited in Lactantius, “De Mortibus Persecutorum,” 34; our italics. Cited from
Lactantius. “Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died – Addressed to Donatus,” in Fathers of the Third and the Fourth Centuries, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 7 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 315.
 See Origen, “Contra Celsum,” IV, 14; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 502.
 See Origen, “Contra Celsum,” IV, 41; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 654.
 See Origen, “Contra Celsum,” IV, 62; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 636.
 See Origen, “Contra Celsum,” V, 14; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 549.
 Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” XII. Cited from: Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 179.
 “[T]he following are the rules laid down by them [the followers of Christ]. Let no one come to us who has been instructed, or who is wise or prudent (for such qualifications are deemed evil by us); but if there be any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence. By which words, acknowledging that such individuals are worthy of their God, they manifestly show that they desire and are able to gain over only the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.” See Origen, “Contra Celsum,” III, 44-45; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 481-482, see also 484, 486, 578.
 Origen, “Contra Celsum,” III, 59; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 487.
 See R. Joseph Hoffmann, Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains (New York: Prometheus Books,1994), 44.
 Hoffman, “Porphyry’s Against the Christians,” 81.
 Augustine, “City of God,” X, 32. Cited from Augustine. “The City of God,” in Augustine: City of God, Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, vol. 2 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody (Massachusetts): Hendrickson Publishers, reprinted in 1995), 202.
 Origen, “Contra Celsum,” VIII, 72; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 667.
 Mathetes, “The Epistle to Diognetus,” V; our italics. Cited from Mathetes. “Epistle to Diognetus,” in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Grand Rapids (Michigan): WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 26-27.
 For a broader context, see: C.A. Contreras, “Christian Views of Paganism,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur im Spiegel der Neuren Forschung, 23.2, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, 974-1022 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980); R.P.C. Hanson, “The Christian Attitude to Pagan Religions up to the Time of Constantine the Great,” in Temporini and Haase, 910-973; Robert L. Wilken, “Toward a Social Interpretation of Early Christian Apologetics,” Church History, 39 (1970): 437-458.
 Tatian, “Oratio ad Graecos,” 31; our italics. Cited from Tatian, “Address to the Greeks,” Roberts and Donaldson, 77.
 Tatian, “Oratio ad Graecos,” 31; our italics. Cited from Tatian, “Address to the Greeks,” Roberts and Donaldson, 81.
 Theophilus of Antioch, “Ad Autolycum,” xxix; our italics. Cited from Theophilus of Antioch. “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 2 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. American Reprint of the Edinburgh Edition (Grand Rapids (Michigan): Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted in 1989), 120.
 Eusebius, The History of the Church, trans. G. A. Williamson (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965), 47,49.
 See Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1971); David Rokeah, Jews, Pagans and Christians in Conflict (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1982).
 Phillips, C. Roberts, “The Sociology of Religious Knowledge in the Roman Empire to A.D. 284,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der Neuren Forschung,16.3, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1986), 2470).
 Ibid.: 2471. On this issue, see also Rosemary Ruether, Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (New York: Wipf &Stock, 1974) and Marcel Simon, Versus Israel: étude sur les relations entre chrétiens et juifs dans l’empire romain (135-425) (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1964).
 Judith Lieu, “History and Theology in Christian Views of Judaism,” in The Jews among Pagans and Christians: In the Roman Empire, ed. Judith Lieu, John North and Tessa Rajak, 79-96 (London: Routledge, 1992).
 Augustine, “The City of God Against the Pagans, ed. and trans. R.W. Dyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 891-892.
 The Holy Bible, King James’ version, Matthew 7.6.
 The Holy Bible, King James’ version, Matthew 10.6-7.
 The Holy Bible, King James’ version, Matthew 15.24.
 The Holy Bible, King James’ version, Luke, 13.29; see also The Holy Bible, King James’ version, Matthew 8.11-12.
 Geza Vermes, Jesus and the World of Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 54-55.
 Maxwell Staniforth, trans., Early Christian Writers: The Apostolic Fathers (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), 90.
 Ibid., 90.
 E.g., see chapter 3 in Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).
 Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse. Sather Classical Lectures, vol. 55 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 110; our italics.
 Eric Osborn, The Beginning of Christian Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
 Origen, “Contra Celsum,” III, 50; cited in Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 484. See also Ibid., 486.
 Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition: Studies in Justin, Clement, and Origen (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1966), 3.
 Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind: In Greek Philosophy and Literature (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1982); David Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy (London: New English Library, 1976).
 Amos Berry Hulen, Porphyry’s Work Against the Christians: An Interpretation (Scottdale: Mennonite Press, 1938).
 See Benko, “Pagan Rome and the Early Christians” and Keresztes, “The Imperial Roman Government and the Christian Church. II. From Gallienus to the Great Persecution,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der Neuren Forschung, 23.1, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, 375-386 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1979).
 Arnalda Momigliano, “Pagan and Christian Historiography in the Fourth century A. D.,” in The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. Arnalda Momigliano, 79-99 (Oxford: Clarendon Press,1963).
 See Kenneth Scott Latourette, “The Christian Understanding of History” in God, History, and Historians: Modern Christian Views of History, ed. McIntire, 46-67 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Christopher Dawson, “The Christian View of History,” in Ibid., 28-45.
 As Cameron explains the issue, see “Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire,” 116-117.
 Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” XXVI-XXVII. Cited from: Minucius Felix, “The Octavius,” in Roberts and Donaldson, 189-190.
 Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Relatio III. Cited from R.H. Barrow, “Prefect and Emperor,” 37-41.
 E.g. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984).
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