The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Church Fathers

We will now proceed to look at some early Christian personalities who played important roles in the formation of the church and its theology. These are men who have gone down in ecclesiastical history with titles such as fathers of the church, doctors of the church and saints. Our task in this section is clear: were these people everything popular imagination expect them to be? Were they loving, saintly and intelligent men? Let us have a look:

Our brief survey of some prominent Christians throughout history shows them to be very little different from the bulk of the early Christians we considered earlier. These prominent Christians share the same characteristics: they were intolerant of other beliefs or differing opinions; they had a morbid sadistic need to imagine their enemies suffering in hell; most of them have the masochistic need to hurled themselves at the enemy to achieve martyrdom; and one, we saw, was even willing to mutilate himself for the sake of his belief.

Saint Ignatius

The first person we will be considering is St. Ignatius (c35-c110), bishop of Antioch. We know next to nothing about this man's life. All we know is that, around the year 110 he was taken under guard from Antioch to Rome to be sentenced to death. On this journey, Ignatius wrote at least seven letters to the various churches, exhorting them to remain in the faith and to accept the authority of their bishops. [1]

But it is his letter to the church in Rome that we are, for our present purposes, most interested in. Apparently the church, or some members in it, had some political clout and was trying to get Ignatius acquitted of the charges against him. Instead of thanking that effort, his reply was to implore these people to stop trying to take his martyrdom away. Let us hear Ignatius' plea:

Ignatian Epistles: Romans 4
For my part, I am writing to all the churches and assuring them that I am truly in earnest about dying for God - if only you put no obstacles in my way. I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am his wheat, ground fine by the lion's teeth to be made the purest bread for Christ. Better still, incite the creatures to become a sepulchre for me; let them not leave the smallest scrap of my flesh, so that I need not be a burden to anyone after I fall asleep. When there is no trace of my body left for the world to see, then I shall truly be Jesus Christ's disciple. [2]

Even a cursory reading of the above passage will convince the reader that Ignatius was eagerly awaiting his martyrdom. His expressions on what he wants the lion to do to him can only be described as morbidly passionate. Some modern theologians have even admitted that the behavior of Ignatius, one of the early Christian saints, betrays a "pathological or neurotic strain." [3]

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Tertullian

The next famous early Christian on our list is Tertullian (c160-c225), the African church father. Tertullian was a prolific writer of theological and apologetic treatises. In one of his works, Apologeticum (c197), he appealed for the toleration of Christians and Christianity. [4] While he pleaded with the authorities to tolerate his beliefs and fellow believers, he never intended to reciprocate that toleration to those who did not share his beliefs. The passage below, written by Tertullian, should suffice to show his contempt for non believers:

You are fond of spectacles, expect the greatest of all spectacles, the last and eternal judgement of the universe. How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, and fancied god, groaning in the lower abyss of darkness; so many magistrates, who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in red-hot flames with the deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal of Christ ...[5]

One can see that Tertullian's attitude of anti-intellectualism clearly in his description of the suffering that he predict will befall the sage philosophers and poets. One can almost sense the glee of Tertullian in writing down the above description of the suffering that he believed, and wished, will befall his enemies.

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Origen

Another well known early Christian personality was Origen (c185-254). Origen was famous for his work on the Hexapla which was a mammoth edition of the Old Testament with the Hebrew text, the same text transliterated into Greek, and the four different Greek versions all placed in parallel columns. Two of his devotional works Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayers were extremely popular among the early Christians. [6]

Like all "good" Christians of his time, Origen wanted to die a martyr's death. He almost got his chance when there was a persecution in Alexandria in the year 202. But his mother, through a thoughtless act of impiety, hid his clothes. Origen, unclothed, was forced to stay indoors, missing his chance of a glorious death. [7]

Origen was very zealous in his faith, always eager to do what God commanded. One day he came to reflect upon the passage below, a saying attributed to Jesus by the gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 19:12
For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."

Origen, at eighteen and in the fullness of his youth, castrated himself as a result of the above passage. [8] Origen's hatred of sexuality probably stems from his New Testament readings of passages like the above (See Matthew 5:8; 10:42) and Paul's exhortation to Christians to remain single and to avoid fornication (See I Corinthians 7:1; 7:29; II Corinthians 6:16). This hatred even extends to his commentary on the Old Testament. In his commentary on the Song of Songs, he cautioned his readers not to read the book until all their sexual desire had been fully eliminated. [9]

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Saint Augustine

St. Augustine (354-430) bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church, was one of the most well known and influential theologians in Christian antiquity. His most celebrated works are the Confessions (397) and City of God (426). [10] His output was prolific, amounting to a total of thirty three books between 395 and 410. [11]

Like his predecessors, Augustine had very morbid views of sex and sexual intercourse. He taught that sex is intrinsically evil and that the original sin of Adam and Eve was transmitted via sexual intercourse. Marriage, to Augustine, was no more than a means to produce children and as a safety valve for undesirable sexual urges. [12]

Also like his spiritual ancestors, Augustine had no toleration for those who disagreed with him. After failing to reconcile the Donatists, a schismatic African sect, to the Roman Church, he endorsed the use of force by the now Christian Roman Empire to repress heresies. As a result of his influence in AD412 an imperial edict ordered the dissolution of the Donatist church. Later in his life, he wrote a treatise which supported the state's right to suppress heretics. He argued that the main justification for this use of force on non-believers was in the interest of their own spiritual development. Augustine's argument was a very influential rationale for the medieval Inquisition. [13]

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Saint Thomas Aquinas

The last famous Christian we will look at here is the medieval theologian and Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). We are already familiar with his work from earlier. Aquinas was subsequently given the title "Angelic Doctor" by the Roman Catholic Church. Like all his predecessors, the morbid sadomasochistic streak did not elude him. He imagined that one of the rewards of heavenly bliss is to be able to witness the suffering of the damned in hell. In his own words:

That the saints may enjoy their beatitude more fully, a perfect sight is granted them of the punishment of the damned. [14]

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References

1.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p255
2.Armstrong, The First Christian: p170-171
3.Niell & Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament: p55
4.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p504
5.Gibbon, Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire: p160
6.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p371
7.Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai: p191
8.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p261
9.Armstrong, The First Christian: p122
10.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p41
11.Strauss, The Catholic Church: p44
12.Knight, Honest to Man: p122
Strauss, The Catholic Church: p45-46
13.Ibid: p45
14.Phyllis, The Jesus Hoax: p55
Knight, Honest to Man: p51

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