Early Christians Amish?


#1

By the title of this thread I don’t mean to presume that the first Christians were really Amish; but, in reading many of the early Christian works, I am struck by the frequency of adverse comments concerning images, statues, altars, incense, sacrafices, Jewish observances, etc.

Now, I understand that, as the early Christians were surrounded by garish Gentile and Jewish ceremonies, many of which were absurd and contrary to a faith of the heart, that the Christians felt obliged to combat these “superstitions.” However, I am a bit concerned because, when I look at the feast days of the Catholic Church, the Mass, the vestments, the incense, etc., I cannot help but wonder if these early Christians would have condemned these.

Just recently I finished reading the Octavius of Minucius Felix, which was written about 200 A…D. He mentions, among other things, that Christians don’t have altars. This confuses me, since I thought that the ancient Mass has always had an altar upon which the priest offers the Sacrafice of the Mass.

Could someone who has read the early works of the Church please tell me what they think about these early Christian aversions to what we now accept as almost essential to the Catholic faith? Why did the Christians condemn the use of incense, but now it is used in the present Mass at times? :confused:


#2

[quote=Madaglan]Just recently I finished reading the Octavius of Minucius Felix, which was written about 200 A…D. He mentions, among other things, that Christians don’t have altars.
[/quote]

I’m not really sure what to make of this statement. Did you ***really ***read this work? Did you ***never ***realize it is a mock conversation between Octavius (a Christian) and Caecilius, a pagan (written in a style similar to the Socratic)?

The statements made about “Christians having no altar” were made by the (hypothetical) Caecilius, who had *no *authentic knowledge of Christianity. His views reflected common pagan misconceptions of the time, owing in large part to the fact that Christians conducted their worship in secret (due to frequent persecution) and thus the details of their ceremonies were subject to much speculation and rumor among the pagans.

NOTHING that “Caecilius” said can be considered accurate. He was speaking from a postion of complete ignorance (though he was eventually converted in the dialouge - in contrast to Socrates, where the hearer often went away ignorant but the reader understood the point).

In this particular instance, “Caecilius” was contrasting Christians with Jews, who, at least, had altars known to the general public - but, of course, Jews enjoyed special religious sanctions which were not extended to early Christians.

It is quite obvious, though, from the writings of the Early Fathers, that Christians, of course, DID have altars. For example, in 110 AD, St. Ignatius of Antioch (said to have been a hearer of the Apostle John) wrrote:

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. [Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter V]


#3

[quote=Madaglan]By the title of this thread I don’t mean to presume that the first Christians were really Amish; but, in reading many of the early Christian works, I am struck by the frequency of adverse comments concerning images, statues, altars, incense, sacrafices, Jewish observances, etc.

Now, I understand that, as the early Christians were surrounded by garish Gentile and Jewish ceremonies, many of which were absurd and contrary to a faith of the heart, that the Christians felt obliged to combat these “superstitions.” However, I am a bit concerned because, when I look at the feast days of the Catholic Church, the Mass, the vestments, the incense, etc., I cannot help but wonder if these early Christians would have condemned these.

Just recently I finished reading the Octavius of Minucius Felix, which was written about 200 A…D. He mentions, among other things, that Christians don’t have altars. This confuses me, since I thought that the ancient Mass has always had an altar upon which the priest offers the Sacrafice of the Mass.

Could someone who has read the early works of the Church please tell me what they think about these early Christian aversions to what we now accept as almost essential to the Catholic faith? Why did the Christians condemn the use of incense, but now it is used in the present Mass at times? :confused:
[/quote]

First you have to understand the differences of the meaning of words. An “Altar” in early writings usually referred to the place where pagan offerings were made to the gods. Early Christians avoided these terms because they represented something to be avoided, instead they referred to the “Lord’s Table” etc. The same goes for incense. Early Christians went to their deaths for refusing to offer incense to the gods or emperor. So using incense was not really something they wanted to do.

Octavius of Minucius Felix, He may have wrote about what he believed Christians believed or did. I do not find him in the Patrology. There is a Felix that St. Augustine refuted who gave rise to the heresy of Manichaeum but that was in the early 400’s.


#4

Originally Quoted by DavidFilmer:

I’m not really sure what to make of this statement. Did you ***really ***read this work? Did you ***never ***realize it is a mock conversation between Octavius (a Christian) and Caecilius, a pagan (written in a style similar to the Socratic)?

Thank you for your thoughts. I fully realize that it is a mock conversation (just like Justin and Tryppho) and that Minucius Felix, the writer of the work, is putting absurd words into Caecilus’ mouth to show the unfounded basis of pagan charges against Christians.

However, in answering Caecilus’ charges of wrongdoing against Christians, Octavius says the following:

“But do you think that we conceal what we worship, if we have not temples and altars? And yet what image of God shall I make, since, if you think rightly, man himself is the image of God? What temple shall I build to Him, when this whole world fashioned by His work cannot receive Him?..” (Octavius of Minucius Felix, XXXII)

Taken alone, the first sentence might be read as a declarative and positive statement: You think that we conceal what we worship since we do not have (says you; and whether you are right or not is not yet evident) temples and altars.

However, in the following lines and in response to the pagan belief that Christians do not congregate near public temples or altars, but instead close their doors in small places of worship, Octavius seems to suggest that the Christians do not need temples or altars because God is essentially everywhere, and most especially in the Christian’s heart, and therefore should not be confined to a building or location.

It seems, in context, that the altar refers mostly to the Jewish altar, where animals were offered up to God. So, perhaps the problem is not as great as I originally conceived it.

In any case, I wonder, when did certain “pagan” and “Jewish” words and ceremonial objects re-enter the Christian’s comfort level in liturgical worship and apologetics? I notice that there is much mention of incense in the Liturgy of St. James and (I think) St. Mark, too.

It just seems that the early Christians strongly things like incense, images, statues, altars, temples, etc. I underestand that, in their environment, they naturally opposed these, since they were widely used by pagans. But how did these objects become acceptable over time? Was it only after the majority of the Roman Empire had become Christians? Is the early Christian dislike of these objects only temporal and based in relation to objective wrongs perpetrated by the pagans?

I’m interested in how the shift of opinion took place :yup:


#5

Bro. Rich,

The Octavius of Minucius Felix was supposedly written by Minucius Felix, a Roman convert to Christianity, who had once been an “advocate” in Rome (a lawyer? a lobbyist?).

He is believed to have written the work sometime in the early 3rd century, although some believe he could have written it in the late 2nd century. According to the ANF volume I am reading, there is (or was, since the 10-volume ANF collection is a reprint of the original edition, which is 19th century) some debate as to whether Minucius borrowed from Tertullian or Tertullian from Minucius. This debate leads to varying opinions concerning the year in which the work was written.

I personally did not find anything heretical about the work, although one finds in his work a certain aversion to Greek philosophy, an aversion shared by many early Christians it seems, but which was later adopted into theological speculation.


#6

Great question! :slight_smile:

Remember first of all that the Ante-Nicene fathers, as valuable and authoratative as they are, are not infallible. The Second Council of Nicaea (an Ecumenical Council) in its decrees against those who deny the place of images, icons, and statues in the Chuch is. Before doubting the validity of icons in the Christian Church, I would read the writings of St. John of Damascus (8th century), the decrees of Second Nicebne Council, the Second Vatican Council, and most of all, the Old Testament’s descriptions of the Tabernacle, Solomonic Temple, and Herodian Temple, all of which were lavishly adored with divinely-approved, cultic/religious, graven imagery.

That being said, I point you to several facts. First of all, the Early Christian writers that speak against the place of imagery in the Church do not represent the univeral conviction of the early Church. The disciples worshipped on the courts of the imagery-laden first temple in the book of Acts. The Catacombs are full of Christian engravings, frescoes and statuettes from the Ante-Nicene period (earliest examples date to about AD 200). The earliest Christian Church yet excavated (in Dura-Europas, c. AD 250) is covered wall-to-wall in religious images and portraits. Therefore, be careful to avoid calling their opinions “universal” by any stretch of the imagination.

Rather, Catholics acknowledge their opinions to be misinterpetations of the commandment against graven images, one shared by many in contemporary Judaism (again not universally). It is, however, a failed thesis: often raised, always finally condemned by the Church. Tertullian, for example, was forced to allegorically interpret the Old Testament descriptions of the Old Testament Temple decorations in order to deny their literal veracity, again, a flawed conclusion. But, it is a thesis that often arises when Christanity is forced to distinguishitself from its surroundings.

The Early Christian rejection of images was encouraged, as noted above, by a deep-seated desire to distinguish themselves from the pagan world, especially in imperial apologies. They attempted to present themselves as utterly above paganism, and so they may have exaggerated their claims to sharpen the distinction. Or, they may smply have been mistaken. The former desire was the motivation behind Byzantine iconoclasm in the 8th century (wanting to appease Islam), Protestant iconoclasm in Europe (wanting to create a “pure” faith, uncorrupted by “paganism”), and Anabaptist/Amish iconocasm (trying to escape this “wicked world”), among others. In each case,it has bred a conviction that cannot be substantiated theologically, and represents a mistaken and inconsistent interpretation of the Biblical view of images (again, reading the above defenses of the Catholic/Orthodox use of icons is of inestimable value).

The same applies to “temple, altars, and incense.” The Church may establish temples and lavishly decrate them as the Jews built synagogues and Temples. Simply because the Church, as an illegal sect, was not legally allowed to construct many churches in the Ante-Nicene period does not mean that Chritianitis to be championed as the anti-Temple religion (an exaggerated claim of these writers).

Usually these positions were also adavanced by a will to champion Christianity as the “spriritual” religion over and against the “material, base” practices of paganism. However, the Church has sharply condemned similar views which at their base are Manichaean: rejecting the value of the material. No, the material as well as the spiritual are to be embraced, as exemplified by the Incarnation. Incense need not be prayer alone, but literal incense may fill our churches as a symbol of prayer and honorific sign of worship. The spiritual nature of Christian worship does not mean we are anti-literal-altar (Ignatius of Antioch uses the term to describe the Eucharistic table, as do other Ante-Nicene fathers). Although we are aware (as the Latin rite liturgy states) that there is an altar in heaven, that does not mean that the Eucharistic table on earth, which supports the Eucharistic sacrifice is not also a spiritual altar.

In short, with the Ante-Nicene fathers, be aware that they are not infallible, and had polemical reasons for making claims that the entire Church would not have endorsed. Don’t let that dampen their view of them, I believe in most cases, these were honest mistakes, or perhaps they were phrasing their positions in ways that are actually being misread today. Either way, I have had to deal with the same issues on my road to conversion… I wish you well in your studies.

  • Hugo

#7

Originally Quoted by adventistnomore:

The Catacombs are full of Christian engravings, frescoes and statuettes from the Ante-Nicene period (earliest examples date to about AD 200). The earliest Christian Church yet excavated (in Dura-Europas, c. AD 250) is covered wall-to-wall in religious images and portraits. Therefore, be careful to avoid calling their opinions “universal” by any stretch of the imagination.

It is interesting that you mention the Catacombs. Often I come across apologetic articles online that use the Catacombs as an example that the early Christians accepted images. However, I wonder as to the validity of the assertion that, since the Catacombs are filled with Christian images, the early Church (c. 200) endorsed religious imagery. I see several potential problems.

For one, as I perfectly agree with your point that the early Christian writers are not infallible, I believe that this mode of thinking should also be employed to these catacomb excavations. Does the existence of Christian images in Christian tombs mean that images were endorsed by the entire Church? Not necessarily in my opinion. The Christians to whom the tombs belong could have been quasi-orthodox (many early Christian tombs, so I hear, also have pagan images on the flip side–just in case Christianity was false). Also, images in one church or one area does not imply Church acceptance of images worldwide.

What do you think of this?

Usually these positions were also adavanced by a will to champion Christianity as the “spriritual” religion over and against the “material, base” practices of paganism. However, the Church has sharply condemned similar views which at their base are Manichaean: rejecting the value of the material. No, the material as well as the spiritual are to be embraced, as exemplified by the Incarnation.

This is a very fine point you make. I have a good friend who once told me that he believes the body to be evil. :frowning:

It’s scary how many Protestant groups reject the material altogether, therefore rejecting an apostolic sacramental understanding.

Anyhow, I think it’s great how you link the cooperation of spiritual and material with the Incarnation.

In short, with the Ante-Nicene fathers, be aware that they are not infallible, and had polemical reasons for making claims that the entire Church would not have endorsed. Don’t let that dampen their view of them, I believe in most cases, these were honest mistakes, or perhaps they were phrasing their positions in ways that are actually being misread today. Either way, I have had to deal with the same issues on my road to conversion… I wish you well in your studies.

While I agree that the Ante-Nicene fathers were not infallible, I am a little wary of believing certain recurring thoughts among the early Fathers as “errors.” I see their views in the context of the pagan world in which they lived; therefore I understand that many of their common views were probably God’s way of presserving Christianity early on. One thought that has been on my mind is how Christians have reappropriated creation to God. This idea struck me when I read Timothy Ware’s the Orthodox Way, and although this is an Orthodox idea, it is also a Catholic one, I think.

Do you know if there is any understanding of the transformation of belief as one conditioned by the potential of reappropriation to Christian belief? Do you think that perhaps the early Christians were right (for the most part) concerning the prohibition of admitting Jewish and pagan rituals into Christian practice, but that the post-Nicenes were also right due to the fact that they now had the power to transform Jewish and pagan rituals into ones of Christian meaning, without mingling the essence of foreign religions into Christianity?
Thanks! :yup:


#8

[quote=Madaglan]However, in the following lines and in response to the pagan belief that Christians do not congregate near public temples or altars, but instead close their doors in small places of worship, Octavius seems to suggest that the Christians do not need temples or altars because God is essentially everywhere, and most especially in the Christian’s heart, and therefore should not be confined to a building or location.
[/quote]

Once the early Christians were kicked out of the Jewish temples, they usually met in someone’s home. They had no “altar” - they used whatever furnature was suitable (probably the dining table). This sort of thing is still done today. You may visit a mission area and ask to see the church and the altar, and you would be told they had none of these things (even though they have Mass every Sunday).

I don’t think the early Christians had any such aversions (and I cannot find this generally supported by written or archeological evidence). If possible, I believe Christians would have built temples and constructed altars from the very beginning.


#9

#10

[quote=adventistnomore]Great question! :slight_smile:

. The Catacombs are full of Christian engravings, frescoes and statuettes from the Ante-Nicene period (earliest examples date to about AD 200). The earliest Christian Church yet excavated (in Dura-Europas, c. AD 250) is covered wall-to-wall in religious images and portraits. Therefore, be careful to avoid calling their opinions “universal” by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Hugo
    [/quote]

any of these images show bearded gents and ladies in bonnets driving horse and buggy?


closed #11

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