Monday, May 14, 2012

A Major New Find for Early Christianity

An unusual early Christian manuscript was offered for sale on the Istanbul flea market last week. Scholars identify the papyrus, which apparently survived in excellent condition after being hidden in what was once a summer palace in ancient Turkish Galatia, as shedding important light on the frustrations facing the campaign of the early Christian church to oppose all vestiges of paganism following the accession of the Emperor Constantine, and his decrees increasingly favoring Christians beginning in A.D. 313. The manuscript appears to be a letter from a former Christian church missionary in northern Galatia written to Archbishop Eudoxius of Constantinople in A.D. 360-61, just after that patriarch had assumed office. 
The letter is surprisingly contemporary in tone, and uses different-colored inks and lettering to make its points in a style not seen before in early papyri. It reflects the considerable difficulties its author had encountered -- particularly among younger people -- in asking them to put aside their polytheistic and pagan ways and to become followers of Jesus Christ. Of significance is that it was written right about the time that Julian the Apostate assumed the emperorship on the death of Constantius II, in November 361. The latter, as a Christian, had issued several decrees against pagans, including closing their temples and banning sacrifices.  The former earned the title "Apostate" because he tried to take the Roman Empire back to paganism. The author of the manuscript seems to believe that strategies such as Constantius' were harming the early Church, and favored moves such as those adopted by Julian upon his ascension. He (or she) also cites two anti-Christian polemics of the day by a certain Mercutius Leucippus, an author previously unknown to scholars.

A preliminary and unofficial translation, based on the work of author, scholar and speaker Rachel Held Evans, and using a typographical scheme to convey the different lettering styles, is as follows: 

When we ask our audiences, after telling them we are followers of Jesus Christ the Messiah, what words or phrases best describe us, the most frequent response among the younger ones is that we are “anti-pagan.” For a staggering ten cities in a row, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for eight out of ten people we met on the road. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too rigid.”) 
In a book written against our teachings, titled unChristian, Mercutius Leucippus writes: 
“The pagan issue has become the ‘causa maxima, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimension that most clearly demonstrates the unchristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward pagans...has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.”
Later inquiry, documented in Leucippus' You Lost Me, reveals that one of the top reasons six out of ten of our recent converts have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their Apollo-worshipping friends.  Eight thousand twenty-somethings have left the church, and this is one reason why. 
In my experience, all the anecdotal evidence backs up the surveys. 
When I speak at academies, I often take time to talk to students in the cenatio.  When I ask them what issues are most important to them, they consistently report that they are frustrated by how the Church has treated their pagan Hellenistic friends Some of these students would say they most identify with what groups like the Jesus-Jupiter Network term “Side A” (they believe pagan temples and ceremonies have the same value as Christian liturgies in the sight of God). Others better identify with “Side B” (they believe the Holy Eucharist  is God’s eventual intent -- but only after many years of patient and brotherly dialogue -- for pagans and Christians alike).  But every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to paganism. 
Most have close Latin- and Greek-speaking friends. 
Most feel that the Church’s response to pagansm is partly responsible for high rates of depression and suicide among their Greek and Roman friends, particularly those who are both multilingual and Christian. 
Most are highly suspicious of ministries that encourage men and women with pagan attractions to marry fully practicing Christians in spite of their feelings. 
Most feel that the church is complicit, at least at some level, in anti-pagan bullying.
And most...I daresay all...have expressed to me passionate opposition to legislative action against polytheism, such as that first introduced by the Emperor Constantine. 
“When apostolicals turn their anti-pagan sentiments into a political campaign,” one college senior on her way to the Vestal Virgins school told me, “all it does is confirm to my Latin-speaking friends that they will never be welcome in the church. It makes them bitter, and it makes me mad too.  This is why I never refer to myself as a Christian, except as necessary to get an imperial scholarship. The whole central idea -- that Christ was nailed as a criminal on a tree for everyone's so-called sins -- is a huge stumbling block to anyone's acceptance of it. Ugh. I’m embarrassed to be part of that group.” 
I [the author] can relate. 
When Bythnia's ruler amended his previous decrees by banning pagan-Christian marriage (even though it was already illegal under Roman law), members of my church at the time put signs in the agora declaring support for the initiative. From my perspective, the message this sent to the entire community was simple: EVERYONE BUT PAGANS WELCOME. 
Marcus and I left the church soon afterwards. 
Which brings me to North Galatia and Decretus Unum. 
Despite the fact that in North Galatia, as in all Roman provinces, the law since Constantius Secundus has stated that marriage in the eyes of state is only between a Christian man and a Christian woman (since churches will not marry pagans), a proposal permanently to ban mixed (pagan-Christian) marriage in the region's churches was put to the plebiscite. The decree doesn’t appear to change anything on a practical level (though some are saying it may have unintended negative consequences on Christian relationships), but seems to serve primarily as an ideological statement expensive, destructive, and impractical ideological statement. 
Freemen in North Galatia—who you would think would be more opposed to tampering with religious laws—supported the proposal, and last week it passed. Religious leaders led the charge in support of the amendment, with 93-year-old Gulielmus Grammicus taking out multiple inscriptions supporting the proposal in fora across the state. 
As I cast my urim and thummim last night in the caupona, the reaction among my friends fell into an imperfect but highly predictable pattern. Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning.  Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that Gulielmus Grammicus inscription: You’re losing us
I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’ll say it again...(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening): 

My generation is tired of the Christian-pagan culture wars. 

We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for. 
And when it comes to paganism, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the Greek and Latin communities to consider polytheism a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Decretus Unum hurts like hell. 
Regardless of whether you identify most with Side A or Side B (or with one of the many variations within those two broad categories), it should be clear that proposals like these needlessly offend Greeks and Romans, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and pagan—from the Church. 
So my question for those apostolicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it? 
Is a political “victory” really worth losing hordes of more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?
Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as pagan?
Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that apostolical Christians are at war with Jupiter- and Juno-worshippers?
And is a political “victory” worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks—what if we get this wrong? 
Too many Christian leaders seem to think the answer to that question is “yes,” and it's costing them.  
Because young Christians are ready for peace.
We are ready to lay down our arms. 
We are ready to start washing feet instead of waging war.  
And if we cannot find that sort of peace within the Church, I fear we will look for it elsewhere. 
* * *
[End of unofficial translation.] There is no indication of whether Eudoxius ever replied to this letter -- shortly after it was written, his main problem became disagreements over Arianism. Indeed, the location where it was found -- upper Galatia, which is not known to have been visited by Eudoxius -- may be an indication that, for whatever reason, the letter was never sent.


  1. So that's where it all started. If Eudoxius had just lived into the tension and entered into a listening process then all of our problems would have never happened.

    Of course we would all be worshipping at the Temple of Diana, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

  2. Whoa!! It was like the lectures we had when I was a juvenile delinquent here in Texas. And then the Kumbayah Days...oh! the wafting odor of BO and weed, the lice and public health visits. The sitting with "friends" during a hard landing from LSD, or some overdose of meth-based allergy medicine...Dexamyl comes to mind.
    How does a person say "Been there, done that in Classical Turkish?
    Please understand, I am not a Obama ship, paralleling the anointed one. My drugs in those days were cigarettes and coffee. Never smoked, never inhaled anything more than tobacco.
    Took two "dex's", but we used them to stay awake, while doing an 'overnighter' on term papers or studying. Stopped when my friend and I had simultaneous identical hallucinations. Cured me forever. Still take only aspirin, fish oil, and vitamin d, only. And that was 50 years ago!
    The Undergrond Pewster says all I have said, but more eloquently. I concur and agree.

    It is petty, but El Gringo Viejo is going to direct his posse to the the Rev. Curmudgeon's blog, so that they can be assured that there is value in receiving spiritual and historical guidance from sources other than Father O'bamaham. I still do not think the Nazarene would really want the rich man to give his money to Health and Human Service Secretary Morticia Sebelius.
    Will return to read over both of the most recent posts with more deliberation!
    Thanks for everyones time and patience.
    El Gringo Viejo

  3. Hah! You had me going there for a bit, Curmudgeon! Can't quite put my finger on what gave the game away.

    Anyway, good wisdom from another "Old Book," as C.S. Lewis used to recommend!

  4. @Allen Lewis,

    My suspicions were aroused when I read three things [emphasized by me in bold] in close juxtaposition:

    • "unusual early Christian manuscript

    • "offered for sale on the Istanbul flea market last week

    • "Scholars identify the papyrus…

    Had this been a real event, we'd have seen word of it from a number of locations, even without the obviously contemporary preliminary and unofficial translation. The Istanbul flea market raised serious questions, but the short time frames suggested for tasks that are exceedingly non-trivial was the clincher for me.

    It is, nevertheless, a very clever piece by our esteemed host.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  5. Interesting how Rachel Held Evans disabled the comment section of her piece because she wants to keep it a 'safe place for conversation.' Ha ha. A safe place for the type of conversation that she wants to have, I think she means. Irony, irony.

    Evans must be a lot like the rector of the church my family used to attend here in Holly Springs, Mississippi: on the surface, he gave the pretense of being an affable, open to discussion type of person.

    However, my former rector was really a bully at heart, and we saw it on full display every Sunday. Instead of hearing about the 'good news,' we heard some of the most outrageous claims that I have ever heard in a sermon...things about global warming and capitalism that most Democrats and mainline liberals won't least on camera.

    Here is my point:

    My wife and I felt bullied on Sunday mornings not because we hadn't heard such stupid, uninformed nonsense before. After all, I was completing a Ph.D. program at a big university, so we saw and heard this sort of stuff all the time. I also once went to a conference where a nice couple did their presentation on 'sustainability,' and I watched them (it was actually rather funny) read stuff they had printed off from Think Progress and other far-left websites...their naivety was cute: they thought that stuff was real. ;-)

    No, the reason we felt bullied in church was because we were listening to a lot of stuff we knew was not true (about the Texas state education board treatment of Thomas Jefferson, etc.), but we were sitting in a format (a church sermon) where we could not (for various reasons) respond. Our former rector had a near-literal 'bully pulpit.'

    I've asked God to help me forgive this man, and one thing I tell myself is that perhaps he is unaware that he is bullying. In fact, if no one ever tells him otherwise, how can he know?

    And yet, Evan's desire to put her scream of a blog post (with all of its stupid assumptions), and then disable all comments or responses, makes me question my earlier assertion if indeed people like her and my former rector are truly unaware that they are using their speaking/writing venues to bully others.

    Think about it. At the conference, once the couple had finished their presentation, they were SLAMMED: gently but critically by conservative-leaning people like me (I said nothing, but others did), and then slammed HARD by liberal-leaning people like my colleague who was sitting next to me. She was mad as hell and did not hold back.

    However, in a sermon or a blog, these same people can rant their bile nonsense out, and not have to worry about a response from the rest of the proletarian abyss. That might be the very reason that progressive-minded people, who seemed to me to show little interest in religion back in the 1990s, seem interested now. They have the speech-venue that they have always wanted.

    Now, a few other things.

  6. First of all, when someone begins to talk about his/her views in terms of 'we,' our cynicism button should automatically turn on: if it doesn't, you need to unplug yourself out of your state of Orwellian 'thought control'.

    Secondly, almost anyone who speaks in terms of 'we' when discussing his age group or her 'generation,' especially "The Youth," etc., is lying or at least distorting the truth.

    The problem with her argument is that I am 33 years old, not one of these 'old farts,' and I don't agree with anything she...Rachel Held Evans...says. (Not that she cares anyway.)

    Thirdly, people such as Evans are stuck in some sort of demographic rut, which shows what we already knew anyway...that her main inspiration for her theological intuitions was never Revelation through Holy Scripture, prayer, discernment, or the Blessed Sacraments, but was instead caused by her preoccupation with sociopolitical fashions of the day.

    If Evans had for one moment eased her grip on the theory she depends on to prescribe her interpretations, she would have to somehow deal with contradictions such as this: there are many Christians such as myself, young fathers and mothers who have graduate degrees, who have lived with this 'culture war' that she is tired of (because her side lost this battle...but I digress), who do not agree with her.

    Most of these people I know are like me: they try to read the Bible at least once a day, and they have lots of books in their library and next to their beds about the Christian faith and what it means to live that life. They are responsible, have families and jobs (not living in their parent's basement at age 28), are active in their communities, are compassionate people who care for others.

    Also, all of them attend a local church (Episcopalian/Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, nondenominational, etc.) at least weekly, and usually during the week as well; they are very involved in their church community, and give lots of their time, money, and effort to it. (They stand out in stark contrast to some of the 'young Christians' Evans discusses, most of whom might 'feel spiritual,' but can't be bothered too often to get out of bed an hour or two early on Sunday to be part of a church community...even when the church has EVENING SERVICES!)

    Bottom line, there is no demographic question here when it comes to Christians of any age group who don't want to be bothered with living out their faith, or Christians who do not want to be troubled with understanding the true nature and personality of the God with whom they claim to be in a covenant, or Christians who are ashamed of their faith because it calls for them (at times) to go against some of the fashions of our times.

    THEY ARE JUST BAD CHRISTIANS, period. Or they are uninformed, ignorant, or their faith hit a snag somewhere and it has failed to blossom and grow as God wants it to. The age demographic has nothing to do with it. Old and young people have this problem.

    There are lots of people (and God bless them because we might start here in the beginning) who are in touch with the 'pathos' of their faith, the feelings that come with being in contact with God. However, they are ignorant of the 'ethos' and 'logos' that pertain to their faith. They are like we all once were...immature Christians. However, spiritual immaturity is not like physical immaturity, and it can...and has...reached all age levels.

    Speak for thee, Rachel Held Evans, and not for me!

  7. All of my GLTG friends? All my "gay" friends? They never really seem gay...they seem angry, petty, mean, jealous, and in all things difficult.They are consumed with matters of being homosexual and suffering homosexuality. I have known 9 homosexuals during my long stay on this particular asteroid. Six of them never made it to the age of 45. They died of AIDs, or some other form of septic contamination, or in two cases, commited suicide. A tenth who was not a friend or colleague murdered his "friend" in cold blood and left the country. They know that homosexuality is an abomination, and they need to blame someone for their curse; someone other than they themselves.

    We are accused, but in the great main, we are innocent. Almost all, if not all, the Man/Woman Marriage cohort that I know are followers of the notion that we must love the sinner and hate the sin. I know of no practicing Christian who proposed physically or even emotionally challenging a homosexual. There are three more homosexuals awaiting the noose, to-night as we speak, in Tehran.
    El Gringo Viejo feels sadness for the people who cannot understand that they are misleading themselves about the Christian religion. It is painful that they would be so easily misled by people who hate love, and who love hate. They are the people who hate beauty and love hideousness.
    SPECIAL AND AFFIRMED KUDOS FOR "The Reformed Reinhart","Martial Artist","Allen Lewis","The Underground Pewster", and the Rt. Rev. Anglican Curmudgeon. Beacons in the Storm, all.