Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
ATHENAGORAS: Chapter I.—Injustice Shown Towards the Christians.
Chapter I.—Injustice Shown Towards the Christians.
In your empire, greatest of sovereigns, 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 these may be. A citizen of Ilium calls Hector a god, and pays divine honours to Helen, taking her for Adrasteia. The Lacedæmonian venerates Agamemnon as Zeus, and Phylonoë the daughter of Tyndarus; and the man of Tenedos worships Tennes. 699 The Athenian sacrifices to Erechtheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites and celebrate mysteries in honour of Agraulus and Pandrosus, women who were deemed guilty of impiety for opening the box. In short, among every nation and people, men offer whatever sacrifices and celebrate whatever mysteries they please. The Egyptians reckon among their gods even cats, and crocodiles, and serpents, and asps, and dogs. And to all 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, in order that through fear of the deity, men may be kept from wrong-doing. But why—for do not, like the multitude, be led astray by hearsay—why is a mere name odious to you? 700 Names are not deserving of hatred: it is the unjust act that calls for penalty and punishment. And accordingly, with admiration of your mildness and gentleness, and your peaceful and benevolent disposition towards every man, individuals live in the possession of equal rights; and the cities, according to their rank, share in equal honour; and the whole empire, under your intelligent sway, enjoys profound peace. But for us who are called Christians 701 you have not in like manner cared; but although we commit no wrong—nay, as will appear in the sequel of this discourse, are of all men most piously and righteously disposed towards the Deity and towards your government—you allow us to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted, the multitude making war upon us for our name alone. We venture, therefore, to lay a statement of our case before you—and you will team from this discourse that we suffer unjustly, and contrary to all law and reason—and we beseech you to bestow some consideration upon us also, that we may cease at length to be slaughtered at the instigation of false accusers. For the fine imposed by our persecutors does not aim merely at our property, nor their insults at our reputation, nor the damage they do us at any other of our greater interests. These we hold in contempt, though to the generality they appear matters of great importance; for we have learned, not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak. But, when we have surrendered our property, they plot against our very bodies and souls, 702 pouring p. 130 upon us wholesale charges of crimes of which we are guiltless even in thought, but which belong to these idle praters themselves, and to the whole tribe of those who are like them.
There are here many varieties of reading: we have followed the text suggested by Gesner.129:700
We here follow the text of Otto; others read ἡμῖν.129:701
[For three centuries the faithful were made witnesses for Jesus and the resurrection, even unto death; with “spoiling of their goods,” not only, but dying daily, and “counted as sheep for the slaughter.” What can refuse such testimony? They conquered through suffering.
The reader will be pleased with this citation from an author, the neglect of whose heavenly writings is a sad token of spiritual decline in the spirit of our religion:—
“The Lord is sure of His designed advantages out of the sufferings of His Church and of His saints for His name. He loses nothing, and they lose nothing; but their enemies, when they rage most and prevail most, are ever the greatest losers. His own glory grows, the graces of His people grow; yea, their very number grows, and that, sometimes, most by their greatest sufferings. This was evident in the first ages of the Christian Church. Where were the glory of so much invincible love and patience, if they had not been so put to it?” Leighton, Comm. on St. Peter, Works, vol. iv. p. 478. Wests admirable edition, London, Longmans, 1870.]
Next: Chapter II.—Claim to Be Treated as Others are When Accused.
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