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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
ATHENAGORAS: Chapter XXXII.—Elevated Morality of the Christians.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXXII.—Elevated Morality of the Christians.

It is, however, nothing wonderful that they should get up tales about us such as they tell of their own gods, of the incidents of whose lives they make mysteries. But it behoved them, if they meant to condemn shameless and promiscuous intercourse, to hate either Zeus, who begat children of his mother Rhea and his daughter Koré, and took his own sister to wife, or Orpheus, the inventor of these tales, which made Zeus more unholy and detestable than Thyestes himself; for the latter defiled his daughter in pursuance of an oracle, and when he wanted to obtain the kingdom and avenge himself. But we are so far from practising promiscuous intercourse, that it is not lawful among us to indulge even a lustful look. “For,” saith He, “he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.” 820 Those, then, who are forbidden to look at anything more than that for which God formed the eyes, which were intended to be a light to us, and to whom a wanton look is adultery, the eyes being made for other purposes, and who are to be called to account for their very thoughts, how can any one doubt that such persons practice self-control? For our account lies not with human laws, which a bad man can evade (at the outset I proved to you, sovereign lords, that our doctrine is from the teaching of God), but we have a law which makes the measure of rectitude to consist in dealing with our neighbour as ourselves. 821 On this account, too, according to age, we recognise some as sons and daughters, others we regard as brothers and sisters, 822 and to the more advanced in life we give the honour due to fathers and mothers. On behalf of those, then, to whom we apply the names of brothers and sisters, and other designations of relationship, we exercise the greatest care that their bodies should remain undefiled and uncorrupted; for the Logos 823 again says to us, “If any one kiss a second time because it has given him pleasure, [he sins];” adding, “Therefore the kiss, or rather the salutation, should be given with the greatest care, since, if there be mixed with it the least defilement of thought, it excludes us from eternal life.” 824


Footnotes

146:820

Matt. v. 28.

146:821

Otto translates: “which has made us and our neighbours attain the highest degree of rectitude.” The text is obscure, but the above seems the probably meaning; comp. Matt. xxii. 39, etc.

146:822

[Hermas, p. 47, note, and p. 57, this volume; Elucidation, ii.]

146:823

[The Logos never said, “it excludes us from eternal life:” that is sure; and the passage, though ambiguous, is not so interpreted in the Latin of Gesner. Jones remarks that Athenagoras never introduces a saying of our Lord in this way. Compare Clem. Alexandrin. (Pædagogue, b. iii. cap. v. p. 297, Edinburgh Series), where he quotes Matt. v. 28, with variation. Lardner (cap. xviii. sec. 20) gives a probable explanation. Jones on The Canon (vol. i. p. 436) is noteworthy. Kaye (p. 221) does not solve the puzzle.]

146:824

Probably from some apocryphal writing. [Come from what source it may, it suggests a caution of the utmost importance to Americans. In the newer parts of the country, the practice, here corrected, as cropped out among “brothers and sisters” of divers religious names, and consequent scandals have arisen. To all Christians comes, the apostolic appeal, “Let it not be once named among you.”]


Next: Chapter XXXIII.—Chastity of the Christians with Respect to Marriage.

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