How the early Christians were different

How the early Christians were different

I’ve been making my way through early Christian texts.  Listen to the description of the early Christians by one Aristides, an Athenian philosopher who converted to Christianity, it seems, in the first half of the 2nd century A.D.:

“And their oppressors they appease and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies. And their women…are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful sexual union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a reward to come in the other world.”

He continues:

“Further, if one of them has manservants or maidservants or children, through their ongoing love for such servants they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brothers or sisters without any distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go about their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them. They love one another, and they do not withhold their esteem from widows; they deliver the orphan from anyone who treats him harshly. And the one who has gives to the one who does not—without any boasting. And when they see a foreigner, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother; for Christians do not refer to others as “family” according to genealogical descent, but according to the Spirit [who gives life to all humans] and in God [who created all humans].

“And whenever one of their poor passes from this world, each one of them honors him according to his ability [i.e., not according to his social standing] and carefully sees to his proper burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them eagerly minister to his needs; if it is possible to release him by paying a fine, they will gather funds in order to set him free. And if there are any who are truly destitute among them, if they have no extra food to offer to such persons, they will fast two or three days in order to supply them with food.

“They follow the commands of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly just as the Lord their God commands them. Every morning and indeed every hour they give thanks and offer praise to God for His unfailing love toward them; they even offer thanksgiving to Him for their food and their drink.”

– from The Apology of Aristides, ch. 15

Undoubtedly Aristides is writing something of an encomium (or acclamation) of Christianity (he writes as a Christian).  Nevertheless, he writes as a Christian convert, one who was attracted to Christianity because of this very different lifestyle.  In my mind Christian community will always be the single greatest “apologetic” for–and against–Christianity.

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