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 hostility to the classic culture of the first Greco-Christian writers
We already showed above how decidedly, with what resolutely rude expressions, Tatian, the ‘philosopher of the barbarians’, the self-proclaimed Herald of Truth, about the year 172 and against everything that had rank and renown in Greco-Roman culture vilified philosophy, poetry, rhetoric and the school.
The writer Hermas inserts at the very beginning of his jibe of the non-Christian philosophers the words of Paul, ‘The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God’ without allowing another truth to prevail than that of the Gospel. In a rather coarse way, ignorant of any deep and superficial sense, Hermas describes philosophy as ‘lacking in foundation and utility’, of ‘pure adventurous, absurd, chimerical and abstruse speculation’, even though he only knows his victims through mere readings of compendiums.
The same with the majority of Christian authors. Ignatius of Antioch, a fanatical adversary of Christians from other orientations to his (‘beasts with human figure’) and first in using the term ‘catholic’, repudiates almost the entire teaching school, and any contact with Greco-Roman literature, which he apostrophises as ‘ignorance’, ‘foolishness’, its representatives being ‘rather lawyers of death than of truth’. And while he affirms that ‘the end of time has come’, ‘nothing of what is visible here is good’ and sarcastically asks, ‘where is the boasting of those who are called wise?’, he affirms that Christianity has overcome all this and has ‘eradicated ignorance’. He is considered ‘one of the great peaks of early Christian literature’ (Bardenhewer).
Towards 180, Bishop Theophilus of Antioch decrees in his three books Apologia ad Autolycum (Apology to Autolycus) that all the philosophy and art, mythology and historiography of the Greeks are despicable, contradictory and immoral. Moreover, he rejects in principle all worldly knowledge and refers to the Old Testament praiseworthy, ‘lacking in science, shepherds and uneducated people’. Incidentally, Theophilus, who did not become a Christian and a bishop until he was an adult, owed his education to the classical world. That world whose representatives, of course, ‘have raised and continue to falsely pose the questions when, instead of speaking of God, they do it about vain and useless things’; authors who, not possessing ‘an iota of truth’ are all of them possessed by evil spirits. It is evident, then, that ‘all others are in error and that only Christians possess the truth, having been indoctrinated by the Holy Spirit, who spoke through the prophets and announced everything in advance’.
Apart from Tatian, Ignatius and Theophilus of Antioch, also Polycarp and the Didache radically repudiate ancient literature. The Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Letter of Barnabas and the Letters to Diognetus do not mention it. The Syrian Didascalia (complete title: Catholic Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles and Holy Disciples of our Redeemer), falsified by a bishop, says: ‘Get away from all the writings of the pagans, for what have you to do with foreign words and laws?… What do you miss in the word of God, that you throw yourself to devour those stories by pagans?’
Only the Father of the Church Irenaeus and the ‘heretic’ Origen, among Christians who write in Greek during the first centuries, lend almost full recognition to all branches of knowledge. However, Irenaeus disapproves almost the totality of Greek philosophy, to which he does not grant a single true knowledge. And Origen, who precisely makes very wide use of it, rejects the rhetoric as useless. All the Greco-Christian writers agree, however, on one point: all place the New Testament far above all the literature of Antiquity.