Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mark Minucius Felix: 2nd Century

Mark Felix’s “Octavius”
Mark Minucius Felix, (130-215 A.D.), a Roman Lawyer who converted to Christianity.  These first following paragraphs are quotes of Caecilius’ argument against Octavius, during a debate by the sea. Caecilius later converted to Christianity as the result of the debate.  You can read his own confession at the end, chapters forty-one and forty-two.  This work is very profitable, because it provides a world view of Christianity and how that view was formed; as well as what genuine Christianity was like.  I suggest reading the entire debate at the online Christian Classic Ethereal Library or download it from there as a PDF and print it out to read.

Caecilius speaking:

They despise the temples as dead-houses, they reject the gods, they laugh at sacred things; wretched, they pity, if they are allowed, the priests; half naked themselves, they despise honours and purple robes. Oh, wondrous folly and incredible audacity! they despise present torments, although they fear those which are uncertain and future; and while they fear to die after death, they do not fear to die for the present.  (Chapter 8)

But the Christians, moreover, what wonders, what monstrosities do they feign!—that he who is their God, whom they can neither show nor behold, inquires diligently into the character of all, the acts of all, and, in fine, into their words and secret thoughts; that he runs about everywhere, and is everywhere present: they make him out to be troublesome, restless, even shamelessly inquisitive, since he is present at everything that is done, wanders in and out in all places, although, being occupied with the whole, he cannot give attention to particulars, nor can he be sufficient for the whole while he is busied with particulars.  (Chapter 10)
What! because they threaten conflagration [that everything will be destroyed with fire] to the whole world, and to the universe itself, with all its stars, are they meditating its destruction?—as if either the eternal order constituted by the divine laws of nature would be disturbed, or the league of all the elements would be broken up, and the heavenly structure dissolved, and that fabric in which it is contained and bound together would be overthrown. (Chapter 10)

Deceived by this error [the resurrection], they [the Christians] promise to themselves, as being good, a blessed and perpetual life after their death; to others, as being unrighteous, eternal punishment.  (Chapter 11)

Neither do you at least take experience from things present, how the fruitless expectations of vain promise deceive you.  Behold, a portion of you—and, as you declare, the larger and better portion—are in want, are cold, are labouring in hard work and hunger; and God suffers it, He feigns; He either is not willing or not able to assist His people; and thus He is either weak or inequitable.  (Chapter 12)

Thou, who dreamest over a posthumous immortality, when thou art shaken by danger, when thou art consumed with fever, when thou art torn with pain, dost thou not then feel thy real condition? Dost thou not then acknowledge thy frailty? Poor wretch, art thou unwillingly convinced of thine infirmity, and wilt not confess it? But I omit matters that are common to all alike. Lo, for you there are threats, punishments, tortures, and crosses; and that no longer as objects of adoration, but as tortures to be undergone; fires also, which you both predict and fear. Where is that God who is able to help you when you come to life again, since he cannot help you while you are in this life?  (Chapter 12)

But you in the meantime, in suspense and anxiety, are abstaining from respectable enjoyments. You do not visit exhibitions; you have no concern in public displays; you reject the public banquets, and abhor the sacred contests [games].  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 [flowers] to your sepulchers [graves].  (Chapter 12)

Thus, wretched as you are, you neither rise again, nor do you live in the meanwhile. (Chapter 12)
The judge of the debate [Mark Minucius Felix] speaking:

“Restrain,” said I, “your self-approval against him; for it is not worthy of you to exult at the harmony of your discourse, before the subject shall have been more fully argued on both sides; especially since your reasoning is striving after truth, not praise.  (Chapter 14)

And in however great a degree your discourse has delighted me by its subtile variety, yet I am very deeply moved, not concerning the present discussion, but concerning the entire kind of disputation—that for the most part the condition of truth should be changed according to the powers of discussion, and even the faculty of perspicuous eloquence. This is very well known to occur by reason of the facility of the hearers, who, being distracted by the allurement of words from attention to things, assent without distinction to everything that is said, and do not separate falsehood from truth; unaware that even in that which is incredible there is often truth, and in verisimilitude falsehood. Therefore the oftener they believe bold assertions, the more frequently they are convinced by those who are more clever, and thus are continually deceived by their temerity.  (Chapter 14)

They transfer the blame of the judge to the complaint of uncertainty; so that, everything being condemned, they would rather that all things should be left in suspense, than that they should decide about matters of doubt [contemplating matters that are unclear].  (Chapter 14)

For those who are carelessly credulous are deceived by those whom they thought worthy; and by and by, by a kindred error, they begin to suspect every one as wicked, and dread even those whom they might have regarded as excellent. Now therefore we are anxious—because in everything there may be argument on both sides; and on the one hand, the truth is for the most part obscure; and on the other side there is a marvellous subtlety, which sometimes by its abundance of words imitates the confidence of acknowledged proof—as carefully as possible to weigh each particular, that we may, while ready to applaud acuteness, yet elect, approve, and adopt those things which are right [true].  (Chapter 14)

"Does truth change merely because of the eloquence of the speaker or the power of the delivery? I fear that most listeners are swayed by the beauty or power of words rather than by their truth. Something can sound very logical and still be false. Or something may sound unbelievable and be true. Unfortunately, people tend to accept something as true simply because it's boldly asserted. So they are deceived both by the cleverness of the speaker and by their own foolhardiness. Others would rather leave all questions unanswered, instead of pondering over matters that aren't clear. But surely we don't want to become like them and reject all teaching. Nor do we want to end up hating and distrusting everyone. For those who are gullible are often deceived by those they trusted. Once they realized this, they begin to suspect that everyone is a deceiver. They then reject people they would have otherwise viewed with respect. It's important that we carefully weigh everything that's said so that we approve and adopt the things that are true. For their are two sides to every argument and truth is sometimes hard to discern. Furthermore, the abundance of words can sometimes appear to be solid proof, but it really isn't."  

Octavius speaking:  

Neither do I refuse to admit what Cæcilius earnestly endeavoured to maintain among the chief matters, that man ought to know himself, and to look around and see what he is, whence he is, why he is; whether collected together from the elements, or harmoniously formed of atoms, or rather made, formed, and animated by God. (Chapter 17)

Nor can you well perform your social duty unless you know that community of the world which is common to all, especially since in this respect we differ from the wild beasts, that while they are prone and tending to the earth, and are born to look upon nothing but their food, we, whose countenance is erect, whose look is turned towards heaven, as is our converse and reason, whereby we recognise, feel, and imitate God, have neither right nor reason to be ignorant of the celestial glory which forms itself into our eyes and senses. For it is as bad as the grossest sacrilege even, to seek on the ground for what you ought to find on high.  (Chapter 17)

Who does not perceive that people of unsound mind, and of weak and degraded apprehension, are foolish in these things, and that the very multitude of those who err affords to each of them mutual patronage? Here the defence of the general madness is the multitude of the mad people [that is, their only defense is that the majority is doing it.  Octavius is referring to pagan religious practices].  (Chapter 24)  

Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for.1815 You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned?  (Chapter 29)

To us it is unlawful to either see or hear of killing [humans].  (Chapter 30)

But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all. We practise sharing in banquets, which are not only modest, but also sober: for we do not indulge in entertainments nor prolong our feasts with wine; but we temper our joyousness with gravity, with chaste discourse, and with body even more chaste (divers of us unviolated) enjoy rather than make a boast of a perpetual virginity of a body.  (Chapter 31)

Neither do we at once stand on the level of the lowest of the people, if we refuse your honours and purple robes; and we are not fastidious.  (Chapter 31)

Thus, in short, we do not distinguish our people by some small bodily mark, as you suppose, but easily enough by the sign of innocency and modesty. Thus we love one another, to your regret, with a mutual love, because we do not know how to hate [each other]. Thus we call one another, to your envy, brethren: as being men born of one God and Parent, and companions in faith, and as fellow-heirs in hope. You, however, do not recognise one another, and you are cruel in your mutual hatreds; nor do you acknowledge one another as brethren, unless indeed for the purpose of fratricide.  (Chapter 31)

And I am not ignorant that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, rather desire than believe that they shall be nothing after death; for they would prefer to be altogether extinguished, rather than to be restored for the purpose of punishment. And their error also is enhanced, both by the liberty granted them in this life, and by God’s very great patience, whose judgment, the more tardy it is, is so much the more just.  (Chapter 34)

There the intelligent fire1828 burns the limbs and restores them, feeds on them and nourishes them. As the fires of the thunderbolts strike upon the bodies, and do not consume them; as the fires of Mount Ætna and of Mount Vesuvius, and of burning lands everywhere, glow, but are not wasted; so that penal fire is not fed by the waste of those who burn, but is nourished by the unexhausted eating away of their bodies. But that they who know not God are deservedly tormented as impious, as unrighteous persons, no one except a profane man hesitates to believe, since it is not less wicked to be ignorant of, than to offend the Parent of all, and the Lord of all. And although ignorance of God is sufficient for punishment, even as knowledge of Him is of avail for pardon. (Chapter 35)

But that many of us are called poor, this is not our disgrace, but our glory; for as our mind is relaxed by luxury, so it is strengthened by frugality. And yet who can be poor if he does not want, if he does not crave for the possessions of others, if he is rich towards God? He rather is poor, who, although he has much, desires more.  (Chapter 36)

Therefore, as he who treads a road is the happier the lighter he walks, so happier is he in this journey of life who lifts himself along in poverty, and does not breathe heavily under the burden of riches.  (Chapter 36)

And yet even if we thought wealth useful to us, we should ask it of God. Assuredly He might be able to indulge us in some measure, whose is the whole; but we would rather despise riches than possess them: we desire rather innocency, we rather entreat for patience, we prefer being good to being prodigal; and that we feel and suffer the human mischiefs of the body is not punishment—it is warfare. For fortitude is strengthened by infirmities, and calamity is very often the discipline of virtue; in addition, strength both of mind and of body grows torpid [sluggish] without the exercise of labour.  (Chapter 36)

And thus God is neither unable to aid us, nor does He despise us, since He is both the ruler of all men and the lover of His own people. But in adversity He looks into and searches out each one; He weighs the disposition of every individual in dangers, even to death at last; He investigates the will of man, certain that to Him nothing can perish. Therefore, as gold by the fires, so are we declared by critical moments.  (Chapter 36)

How beautiful is the spectacle to God when a Christian does battle with pain; when he is drawn up against threats, and punishments, and tortures; when, mocking the noise of death, he treads under foot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his liberty against kings and princes, and yields to God alone, whose he is; when, triumphant and victorious, he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced sentence against him! For he has conquered who has obtained that for which he contends. What soldier would not provoke peril with greater boldness under the eyes of his general?  (Chapter 37)

Yet boys and young women among us treat with contempt crosses and tortures, wild beasts, and all the bugbears of punishments, with the inspired patience of suffering. And do you not perceive, O wretched men, that there is nobody who either is willing without reason to undergo punishment, or is able without God to bear tortures?  (Chapter 37)

Unless, perhaps, the fact has deceived you, that those who know not God abound in riches, flourish in honours, and excel in power. Miserable men! in this respect they are lifted up the higher, that they may fall down lower. For these are fattened as victims for punishment, as sacrifices they are crowned for the slaughter. Thus in this respect some are lifted up to empires and dominations, that the unrestrained exercise of power might make a market of their spirit to the unbridled licence that is characteristic of a ruined soul. For, apart from the knowledge of God, what solid happiness can there be, since death must come? Like a dream, happiness slips away before it is grasped.  (Chapter 37)

Are you a king? Yet you fear as much as you are feared; and however you may be surrounded with abundant followers, yet you are alone in the presence of danger. Are you rich? But fortune is ill trusted; and with a large travelling equipage the brief journey of life is not furnished, but burdened. Do you boast of the fasces and the magisterial robes? It is a vain mistake of man, and an empty worship of dignity, to glitter in purple and to be sordid in mind. Are you elevated by nobility of birth? do you praise your parents? Yet we are all born with one lot; it is only by virtue that we are distinguished.  (Chapter 37)

We therefore, who are estimated by our character and our modesty, reasonably abstain from evil pleasures, and from your pomps and exhibitions, the origin of which in connection with sacred things we know, and condemn their mischievous enticements.  (Chapter 37)

In the scenic games also the madness is not less, but the debauchery is more prolonged: for now a mimic either expounds or shows forth adulteries; now nerveless player, while he feigns lust, suggests it; the same actor disgraces your gods by attributing to them adulteries, sighs, hatreds; the same provokes your tears with pretended sufferings, with vain gestures and expressions. Thus you demand murder, in fact, while you weep at it in fiction.  (Chapter 37)

We despise the bent brows of the philosophers, whom we know to be corrupters, and adulterers, and tyrants, and ever eloquent against their own vices. We who1838 bear wisdom not in our dress, but in our mind, we do not speak great things, but we live them; we boast that we have attained what they have sought for with the utmost eagerness, and have not been able to find. Why are we ungrateful? why do we grudge if the truth of divinity has ripened in the age of our time? Let us enjoy our benefits, and let us in rectitude moderate our judgments; let superstition be restrained; let impiety be expiated; let true religion be preserved.  (Chapter 38)
Below are the chapters concluding the debate and Caecilius’ confession
While, therefore, I was silently turning over these things in my own mind, Cæcilius broke forth:  “I congratulate as well my Octavius as myself, as much as possible on that tranquillity in which we live, and I do not wait for the decision. Even thus we have conquered: not unjustly do I assume to myself the victory. For even as he is my conqueror, so I am triumphant over error. Therefore, in what belongs to the substance of the question, I both confess concerning providence, and I yield to God; and I agree concerning the sincerity of the way of life which is now mine. Yet even still some things remain in my mind, not as resisting the truth, but as necessary to a perfect training of which on the morrow, as the sun is already sloping to his setting, we shall inquire at length in a more fitting and ready manner.”  (Chapter 40)
“But for myself,” said I, “I rejoice more fully on behalf of all of us; because also Octavius has conquered for me, in that the very great invidiousness of judging is taken away from me. Nor can I acknowledge by my praises the merit of his words: the testimony both of man, and of one man only, is weak. He has an illustrious reward from God, inspired by whom he has pleaded, and aided by whom he has gained the victory.”  After these things we departed, glad and cheerful: Cæcilius, to rejoice that he had believed; Octavius, that he had succeeded; and I, that the one had believed, and the other had conquered.  (Chapter 41)

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“Reason dictates that persons who are truly noble and who love wisdom will honor and love only what is true. They will refuse to follow traditional viewpoints if those viewpoints are worthless...Instead, a person who genuinely loves truth must choose to do and speak what is true, even if he is threatened with death...I have not come to flatter you by this written petition, nor to impress you by my words. I have come to simply beg that you do not pass judgment until you have made an accurate and thorough investigation. Your investigation must be free of prejudice, hearsay, and any desire to please the superstitious crowds. As for us, we are convinced that you can inflict no lasting evil on us. We can only do it to ourselves by proving to be wicked people. You can kill us—but you cannot harm us.” From Justin Martyr's first apology 150 A.D. Martyred A.D. 160