Oppressing the Oppressed: Two Early Christian Letters on Evil Men

Letters of Ignatius, To the Smyrneans 8.6

“Learn the truth of those who render false the grace that has come to us from Jesus Christ, how they are truly opposite to the judgment of God. They don’t care about love, about the widow, about the orphan, the oppressed, the people in chains, those who have been set free, or the hungry, or the orphans.”

καταμάθετε δὲ τοὺς ἑτεροδοξοῦντας εἰς τὴν χάριν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τὴν εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐλθοῦσαν, πῶς ἐναντίοι εἰσὶν τῇ γνώμῃ τοῦ θεοῦ. περὶ ἀγάπης οὐ μέλει αὐτοῖς, οὐ περὶ χήρας, οὐ περὶ ὀρφανοῦ, οὐ περὶ θλιβομένου, οὐ περὶ δεδεμένου ἢ λελυμένου, οὐ περὶ πεινῶντος ἢ διψῶντος.

Barnabas, Epistle 20

“The path of the dark one is crooked and curse-filled. For it is the path of endless death with punishment—on it are those things which destroy the soul: idolatry, arrogance, glorification of power, duplicity, adultery, murder, theft, hubris, transgression, lying, wickedness, insolence, drugs, magic, and not fearing God.

This road is filled with those who persecute good people, who hate the truth, who delight in lying, who do not understand the reward of justice, who are not curbed by good or righteous judgment, who do not defend the widow and the orphan, who do not have a sense of reverence for God but instead for wickedness—meekness and kindness are very distant from these men.

They delight in what is empty and pursue profit—they do not pity the poor or work for the oppressed. They do not recognize who has formed them—they are murderers of children, destroyers of God’s creation. They turn their backs on the man in need, they further oppress the oppressed and are partisans of the wealthy. They sit as judges of the poor without law, these men of total sin.”

1.Ἡ δὲ τοῦ μέλανος ὁδός ἐστιν σκολιὰ καὶ κατάρας μεστή. ὁδὸς γάρ ἐστιν θανάτου αἰωνίου μετὰ τιμωρίας, ἐν ᾗ ἐστὶν τὰ ἀπολλύντα τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτῶν· εἰδωλολατρεία, θρασύτης, ὕψος δυνάμεως, ὑπόκρισις, διπλοκαρδία, μοιχεία, φόνος, ἁρπαγή, ὑπερηφανία, παράβασις, δόλος, κακία, αὐθάδεια, φαρμακεία, μαγεία, πλεονεξία, ἀφοβία θεοῦ·

διῶκται τῶν ἀγαθῶν, μισοῦντες ἀλήθειαν, ἀγαπῶντες ψεῦδος, οὐ γινώσκοντες μισθὸν δικαιοσύνης, οὐ κολλώμενοι ἀγαθῷ, οὐ κρίσει δικαίᾳ, χήρᾳ καὶ ὀρφανῷ οὐ προσέχοντες, ἀγρυπνοῦντες οὐκ εἰς φόβον θεοῦ, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ τὸ πονηρόν, ὧν μακρὰν καὶ πόρρω πραΰτης καὶ ὑπομονή, ἀγαπῶντες μάταια, διώκοντες ἀνταπόδομα, οὐκ ἐλεοῦντες πτωχόν, οὐ πονοῦντες ἐπὶ καταπονουμένῳ, εὐχερεῖς ἐν καταλαλιᾷ, οὐ γινώσκοντες τὸν ποιήσαντα αὐτούς, φονεῖς τέκνων, φθορεῖς πλάσματος θεοῦ, ἀποστρεφόμενοι τὸν ἐνδεόμενον, καταπονοῦντες τὸν θλιβόμενον, πλουσίων παράκλητοι, πενήτων ἄνομοι κριταί, πανθαμάρτητοι.

Image result for medieval manuscript barnabas letter

Some words:

μισοβάρβαρος: “foreigner-hating”
μισοδημία: “democracy-hating”
μισοδημότης: “commonwealth-hating”
μισόθριξ: “hair-hating”
μισόκοσμος: “universe-hating”
μισόνοθος: “bastard-hating”
μισοξενία: “guest-hating”
μισόπαις: “child-hating”
μισοπάτωρ: “father-hating”
μισόφιλος: “friend-hating”
μισότεκνος: “child-hating”

Charlatans With Unjustified Confidence and Unmeasured Words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE)

“I believe that a lack of experience and learning is completely preferable in all arts to partial experience and incomplete education. For one who knows that he has no experience in an art tries less and fails less thanks to that. In fact, such hesitation limits arrogance. But whenever anyone uses knowing something lightly as expertise he makes many mistakes because of false confidence.

So, people claim that it is better to never taste Philosophy than to sample it lightly, as it is said, with just the lips. Those men turn out to be the most malicious kind, who travel to a discipline’s entrance and turn away rather than going completely inside. It is still possible in other arts that you can play a part for a while and seem experienced in what you do not know. But in how to choose and arrange words, one shines through immediately when he cannot provide any words but those that show his ignorance of them, that he judges them poorly, provides them rashly, and cannot know either their usage or their strength.”

1. Omnium artium, ut ego arbitror, imperitum et indoctum omnino esse praestat quam semiperitum ac semidoctum. Nam qui sibi conscius est artis expertem esse minus adtemptat, eoque minus praecipitat; diffidentia profecto audaciam prohibet. At ubi quis leviter quid cognitum pro comperto | ostentat, falsa fiducia multifariam labitur. Philosophiae quoque disciplinas aiunt satius esse numquam adtigisse quam leviter et primoribus, ut dicitur, labiis delibasse, eosque provenire malitiosissimos, qui in vestibulo artis obversati prius inde averterint quam penetraverint. Tamen est in aliis artibus ubi interdum delitescas et peritus paulisper habeare quod nescias. In verbis vero eligendis conlocandisque ilico dilucet, nec verba dare diu quis1 potest, quin se ipse indicet verborum ignarum esse, eaque male probare et temere existimare et inscie contrectare, neque modum neque pondus verbi internosse.

 

Image result for Head of Mercury Pompeii wall painting
Fresco, Mercury (Pompeii)

 

Oppressing the Oppressed: Two Early Christian Letters on Evil Men

Given presidential flirtations with biblical themes, it is only appropriate to share some words from some early Church leaders.

Letters of Ignatius, To the Smyrneans 8.6

“Learn the truth of those who render false the grace that has come to us from Jesus Christ, how they are truly opposite to the judgment of God. They don’t care about love, about the widow, about the orphan, the oppressed, the people in chains, those who have been set free, or the hungry, or the orphans.”

καταμάθετε δὲ τοὺς ἑτεροδοξοῦντας εἰς τὴν χάριν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τὴν εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐλθοῦσαν, πῶς ἐναντίοι εἰσὶν τῇ γνώμῃ τοῦ θεοῦ. περὶ ἀγάπης οὐ μέλει αὐτοῖς, οὐ περὶ χήρας, οὐ περὶ ὀρφανοῦ, οὐ περὶ θλιβομένου, οὐ περὶ δεδεμένου ἢ λελυμένου, οὐ περὶ πεινῶντος ἢ διψῶντος.

Barnabas, Epistle 20

“The path of the dark one is crooked and curse-filled. For it is the path of endless death with punishment—on it are those things which destroy the soul: idolatry, arrogance, glorification of power, duplicity, adultery, murder, theft, hubris, transgression, lying, wickedness, insolence, drugs, magic, and not fearing God.

This road is filled with those who persecute good people, who hate the truth, who delight in lying, who do not understand the reward of justice, who are not curbed by good or righteous judgment, who do not defend the widow and the orphan, who do not have a sense of reverence for God but instead for wickedness—meekness and kindness are very distant from these men.

They delight in what is empty and pursue profit—they do not pity the poor or work for the oppressed. They do not recognize who has formed them—they are murderers of children, destroyers of God’s creation. They turn their backs on the man in need, they further oppress the oppressed and are partisans of the wealthy. They sit as judges of the poor without law, these men of total sin.”

1.Ἡ δὲ τοῦ μέλανος ὁδός ἐστιν σκολιὰ καὶ κατάρας μεστή. ὁδὸς γάρ ἐστιν θανάτου αἰωνίου μετὰ τιμωρίας, ἐν ᾗ ἐστὶν τὰ ἀπολλύντα τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτῶν· εἰδωλολατρεία, θρασύτης, ὕψος δυνάμεως, ὑπόκρισις, διπλοκαρδία, μοιχεία, φόνος, ἁρπαγή, ὑπερηφανία, παράβασις, δόλος, κακία, αὐθάδεια, φαρμακεία, μαγεία, πλεονεξία, ἀφοβία θεοῦ·

διῶκται τῶν ἀγαθῶν, μισοῦντες ἀλήθειαν, ἀγαπῶντες ψεῦδος, οὐ γινώσκοντες μισθὸν δικαιοσύνης, οὐ κολλώμενοι ἀγαθῷ, οὐ κρίσει δικαίᾳ, χήρᾳ καὶ ὀρφανῷ οὐ προσέχοντες, ἀγρυπνοῦντες οὐκ εἰς φόβον θεοῦ, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ τὸ πονηρόν, ὧν μακρὰν καὶ πόρρω πραΰτης καὶ ὑπομονή, ἀγαπῶντες μάταια, διώκοντες ἀνταπόδομα, οὐκ ἐλεοῦντες πτωχόν, οὐ πονοῦντες ἐπὶ καταπονουμένῳ, εὐχερεῖς ἐν καταλαλιᾷ, οὐ γινώσκοντες τὸν ποιήσαντα αὐτούς, φονεῖς τέκνων, φθορεῖς πλάσματος θεοῦ, ἀποστρεφόμενοι τὸν ἐνδεόμενον, καταπονοῦντες τὸν θλιβόμενον, πλουσίων παράκλητοι, πενήτων ἄνομοι κριταί, πανθαμάρτητοι.

Image result for medieval manuscript barnabas letter

Some words:

μισοβάρβαρος: “foreigner-hating”
μισοδημία: “democracy-hating”
μισοδημότης: “commonwealth-hating”
μισόθριξ: “hair-hating”
μισόκοσμος: “universe-hating”
μισόνοθος: “bastard-hating”
μισοξενία: “guest-hating”
μισόπαις: “child-hating”
μισοπάτωρ: “father-hating”
μισόφιλος: “friend-hating”
μισότεκνος: “child-hating”

Research Advice: Exercise. Then Read and Write in Turns

Seneca, Moral Epistles 84

“I believe that these journeys which remove my languor are good for both my strength and my researches. How they profit my health is clear: my love of literature makes me lazy, neglectful of my body. On a journey, I may exercise incidentally.

I can show you how this helps my research too. But I in no way take a break from reading. My reading, I believe, is necessary: first, it ensures I will not be satisfied with myself as I am; second, once I have understood what others have learned, I may judge what has been discovered and what still must be thought out.

Reading feeds the mind and replenishes it when it is worn from studying—even though it is not without work itself. We should not restrict ourselves to writing or to reading:  endless writing saps our strength and then exhausts it. Too much reading can puff up or dilute our ability. Most commendable is to take them in their turn, to mix one with the other, so that the seeds of one’s reading may be grown anew with the pen.”

Itinera ista, quae segnitiam mihi excutiunt, et valitudini meae prodesse iudico et studiis. Quare valitudinem adiuvent, vides: cum pigrum me et neglegentem corporis litterarum amor faciat, aliena opera exerceor; studio quare prosint, indicabo: a lectionibus nihil recessi. Sunt autem, ut existimo, necessariae, primum ne sim me uno contentus; deinde ut, cum ab aliis quaesita cognovero, tum et de inventis iudicem et cogitem de inveniendis. Alit lectio ingenium et studio fatigatum, non sine studio tamen, reficit. Nec scribere tantum nec tantum legere debemus; altera res contristabit vires et exhauriet, de stilo dico, altera solvet ac diluet. Invicem hoc et illo commeandum est et alterum altero temperandum, ut quicquid lectione collectum est, stilus redigat in corpus.

I was reminded of this passage while contemplating Paul Holdengraber’s regular injunction not to read bad writing:

Seneca offers good advice for anyone working on a long project, but especially for graduate students or anyone working on a thesis.  As we have mentioned before, this resonates with Leonardo de Bruni’s warning about reading trash. Of course, the statement should probably be tempered by Pliny the Elder’s suggestion that “no book is so bad it doesn’t have something to offer”.

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The Eternal Autumn of Your Smile: A Love Note

Philostratus, Letters 51

To Kleonide*,

“Sappho adores the rose and always adorns the flower with praise, even comparing beautiful girls to it. And she also likens it to the arms of the Graces when they are bare up to the elbows.

The rose, even if it is the most beautiful of the flowers, has but a brief season—for it follows other flowers which blossom in the spring.

But your charm is always in bloom—this is how the autumn of your beauty still smiles like the spring in your eyes and on your cheeks.”

Κλεονίδῃ

Ἡ Σαπφὼ τοῦ ῥόδου ἐρᾷ καὶ στεφανοῖ αὐτὸ ἀεί τινι ἐγκωμίῳ τὰς καλὰς τῶν παρθένων ἐκείνῳ ὁμοιοῦσα, ὁμοιοῖ δὲ αὐτὸ καὶ τοῖς τῶν Χαρίτων πήχεσιν ἐπειδὰν ἀποδύσῃ σφῶν τὰς ὠλένας. ἐκεῖνο μὲν οὖν, εἰ καὶ κάλλιστον ἀνθέων, βραχὺ τὴν ὥραν, παρέπεται γὰρ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐννεάσαν τῷ ἦρι. τὸ δὲ σὸν εἶδος ἀεὶ τέθηλεν· ὅθεν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἐμμειδιᾷ καὶ παρειαῖς οἷόν τι ἔαρ τὸ μετόπωρον τοῦ κάλλους.

*One MS glosses the addressee as πόρνῃ (a prostitute) others merely as γυναικί (a woman)

 

Add_ms_20698_f073r
 Bruges, 1475, Add MS 20698, f. 73r

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

An Awkward Letter about Not Getting Letters

In our day and age, this might instead be a text message or a tweet to someone in a position of authority. But this letter is from Libanius to Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor and our personal (anti-?)hero:

Ep. 86

“Even if you don’t send me letters, I still dine on your words. For whenever someone else gets one, we hear about it and immediately read it, either by persuading or overpowering the unwilling recipient. So, my profit is no less than theirs even though it is only their right to be honored. I would also ask for honor, for some love-token from you. For, clearly, if you would honor me in any way, you wouldn’t do it without love.”

Ἀλλ᾿ εἰ καὶ μὴ πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἐπιστέλλεις, ἡμεῖς γε τοῖς σοῖς ἑστιώμεθα γράμμασιν. ὅταν γὰρ ὅτι τις ἔλαβε μάθωμεν, εὐθὺς ἡμεῖς πλησίον καὶ ἢ πείσαντες ἢ κρατήσαντες ἀκόντων ἀνέγνωμεν.τὸ μὲν οὖν κέρδος οὐχ ἧττον ἡμῶν ἢ ᾿κείνων, τὸ τετιμῆσθαι δὲ παρ᾿ ἐκείνοις μόνοις. ἐρῶμεν δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ τιμῆς, ἐπειδὴ καὶ φίλτρου τοῦ παρὰ σοί. δῆλον γὰρ ὡς, εἴ τι τιμήσεις, οὐκ ἄνευ γε τοῦ φιλεῖν τοῦτο ποιήσεις.

Image result for Julian the Apostate