Editors’ note: To contextualise these translations of Karlheinz Deschner’s encyclopaedic history of the Church in 10-volumes, Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums, read the abridged translation of Volume I.
The oldest Christianity is hostile to education
Jesus himself had suppressed the aura of the ideal of the wise. At any event, the New Testament warns against the wisdom of this world: philosophy (1 Cor. 1, 19ff, 3, 19, Col. 2, 8), affirming that in Christ there reside ‘all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2, 3). It is true that the gospel was, to a great extent, interspersed with philosophy on the part, above all, of Justin, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. But until the 2nd century the opponents of philosophy—among them Ignatius, Polycarp, Tatian, Theophilus and Hermas—were in Christianity more numerous, producing endless attacks against the ‘charlatanism of the foolish philosophers’, their ‘mendacious fatuity’ and ‘absurdities and deliriums’.
In this regard, Paul was gladly referred to, who was supposedly confronted by Epicureans and Stoics in Athens and who on numerous occasions had warned against the false preaching of certain lost teachers, eager to unify Greco-Roman philosophy and Christianity, as well as teaching: ‘Where is the sage, Where is the lawyer? Where is the disputant of the things of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?’ or ‘Look let no one deceive you with fallacious and vain philosophies, founded on human traditions’.
This Paleo-Christian hostility against education based on the authority of the Christ, the Synoptics and Paul, went hand in hand with various factors of a religious nature. On the one hand, the primitive Christian belief in the end of time—although its effects were weakening with the passage of time—was incompatible with culture and the world in general. Whoever waits for the irruption of the end, who is not of this world, does not care about philosophy, science or literature.
Christ does not propagate them or mention them with a single word. It is clear that for him only one thing is necessary. Hence, when someone praises the magnificence of the Jerusalem temple before him, he limits himself to the opinion that there will be no stone left over from it: probably his only manifestation about art. Art that hardly played any role in their cultural environment, by virtue of the Mosaic prohibition, ‘You will not make carved images, or any figuration…’
That hostility of early Christianity also derived from the close interweaving of the entire cultural world of antiquity with the Greco-Roman religion against which Christianity maintained, and also against any other religion, an attitude of strangeness and animosity as a result of its hybrid pretension of absolute validity and its Old Testament exclusivity and intolerance.
Clothed with an unprecedented arrogance, Christians called themselves the ‘golden part’, the ‘Israel of God’, the ‘chosen gender’, the ‘holy people’ and ‘tertium genus hominum’ (third type of human), while they denounced the Greco-Romans as impious, as overflowing with envy, lies, hatred, bloodthirsty spirit, and decreeing that all their world was ripe for annihilation ‘by blood and fire’.
That hostility is also related to the social composition of the Christian communities, which were recruited almost exclusively from the lower social strata. It is considered, even by Catholics, that numerous testimonies show that, ‘during the first centuries the vast majority of Christians belonged, both in the East and in the West, to the lower popular strata and only in a few cases enjoyed a higher education’ (Bardenhewer).
It is certainly no accident that a Clement of Alexandria has to be on guard against believers who claim that philosophy is the devil’s thing, nor that ancient Christians are so often exposed to the reproach of ‘being fools’ (stulti). Tertullian himself unambiguously recognises that idiots are always in the majority among Christians. The cultural hostility of the new religion is always among the main objections of the non-Christian polemicists. The apology Ad pagans rejects no less than thirty times the denomination of stulti applied to the Christians.
Celsus, the great adversary of the Christians of the 2nd part of the century, succeeds in the essential when he labels the new doctrine ‘simple’ and when he writes that Christians ‘flee in a hurry from educated people, for they are not accessible to deception, but they try to attract the ignorant’: an attitude that is certainly enforced among the Christian sects of our time! Celsus continues:
Let no cultured man approach us, no wise or sensible. Those are not recommended people in our eyes. But if someone is ignorant, obtuse, uneducated and simple, come intrepid to our ranks! Insofar as they consider people to be worthy of their God, they show that they only want, and can persuade, those subject to guardianship; the vile and obtuse as well as the slaves, the little women and the children.
With vehemence even superior to that of the secular clergy, the monks despised science by seeing in it, with all reason, an antagonist of the faith. With the same consequence they encouraged, therefore, ignorance as the premise of a virtuous life.