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the basic principles that would go hand in hand along with Christendom through the new ages to come, underpinning and redefining its core. As it were, Christianity started off in equal terms with the rest of the cults that also flourished in that era in the Mediterranean basin and that followed the same scheme of redemption/punishment along with the Sacramental intake of wine and bread. The idea that a plant could purge the human soul and heal men from their own sins goes well back into Greece, where this ritualistic pattern had already been celebrated for centuries. Wine and bread connected the ancient Coptic Christian rituals with the same Sacramental rites that regarded them as gifts passed on to mortal men by Demeter and Dionysus some centuries ago. The trend was now to look on the Eucharist as a symbolic ritual where disease was transferred to a scapegoat as a way to release individuals of private guilt. In no other circumstances could a cross-which is a torturing and killing device-erect itself as a symbol of a church that would promise the redemption of human sins by the sacramental killing of its own God–AGNVS DEI. The idea behind was to suppress those elements of natural religion that would prevent early Christians from claiming its privileged position in dealing with both celestial maters and human affairs. This is precisely the trend that gave rise to a variety of rigorously abstemious cults-such as the Marcionites, Tatians or Aquarians-that opposed to ritualistic drinking or eating and regarded wine as an incubus or impersonation of Lucifer. By the age of Augustus’ rule Palestine was a Roman province but the Hellenistic influence over the territory-as well as in Rome itself and the rest of Roman provincesproved itself to be as strong as it were in times well before the arrival of Roman armies. In the new ages to come many shall regard Constantine’s conversion as the conclusive downfall of the Roman culture, but the changes that overcome Rome after Caesar successfully crossed the Rubicon were of a deeper importance than those still to come with the inauguration of Christendom and its civil religion. If Rome did not forget its gods before the arrival of Christianity was not due lack of will, but because of difficulties in finding other alternatives to take over from the worn-out ones. Respected though it was, the Greek Parthenon was still regarded as “that part of the Greek influence” that was not totally overcome with the killing of Rome’s republican senate and the divinisation of Augustus. Christian ideals settled in just because they did not oppose to the projective or transference rituals that was commonplace in Roman religion at that time. Roman religion suffered from the very same affections that led the Greek fleet to kill Iphigenia-Agamemnon’s daughter-to appease Artemis before putting out to Troy. And this is also the reality that pervades Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic that legitimized Augustus’s rule by showing how the gods helped Aeneas in setting out for Rome and establish his rule over the Latin peoples. In this sense, Virgil’s Aeneid is not so more an Epic as a Metaphysics, for it makes clear to us the mechanisms by which godly powers would intercede with human affairs or have men fulfil their destinies. The idea that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross would redeem human sin for its own sake goes well with a faith that has in its practice and rituals the means it needs to intercede with the gods and foretell a likely future to come. Roman religion, as later Christians did, always put the stress on procedure, the ritualistic practice intended to draw God’s favours onto our side.
The idea that one’s self could possibly become receptacle of punishment-as natural religion claimed-, or that the gods would not interfere with human affairs, was foreign to Roman religion, but it constitutes the humus or substratum in which later Christian philosophy germinates, and separates itself from. This concern is shown in Lactantius and other Christian apologetics that set out ferocious attacks on Epicurus due its idea of an undisturbed God that would not interfere with the course of the world. According to Lactantius: … if God confers nothing good on any one, if He repays the obedience of His worshipper with no favour, what is so senseless, what so foolish, as to build temples, to offer sacrifices, to present gifts, to diminish our property, that we may obtain nothing?1 As a cult that was established well before the Homeric age and the classical heroes, the Mysteries of Eleusis represented a halfway, a bridge between natural religion and the civil one. In accordance with all cults that followed a shamanistic pattern, Eleusis had its own Sacramental beverage or kykeon, but preserving at the same time a well defined corpus of hierophants or ecclesiastic doctors that took care of the Mysteries, only to be found in civil religion2. Initiation in these cults did not require learning a fixed set of rules or principles, as it would have been expected from a civil religion, for it was not up to natural religion to tell about, but to show the epoptés-or initiatesthe true nature of the gods. At the end of the forth century, St Jerome, another Christian apologetic, would say a poet of such talent as Lucretius was driven mad by a philtre or love-potion3, criticising therefore that part of Epicureanism that went deep back in its roots into shamanism. In Lucretius’ Rerum Natura we can read: …but as with children, when physicians try to administer rank wormwood, they first touch the rims about the cups with the sweet yellow fluid of honey, that unthinking childhood be deluded as far as the lips, and meanwhile drink up the better juice of wormwood, and though beguiled be not betrayed, but rather by such a means be restored and regain health…4 This paragraph draws upon the same spirit that pervades natural religion and its preference for the utilization of one’s body as a Sacramental vehicle over other solutions that project sins into third parties or participate in different schemes of redemption/condemnation. The visionary flight always has an initial moment of delight that in turn would turn into fear when the taste of honey wears off and all that remains there is pain and sorrow. This is the same fear that would lead men to take on wrong maps of the world or believe in the wrong gods; an attitude in science that would produce in turn its own monster-like masterpieces. For these, as Cicero would claim in his On the Nature of Gods, the world can have any shape, things can be anyhow, for they lack a true
On The Anger of Gods, Chap. 8 A Brief History of Drugs; Park Street Press 1999, p 17, lin 22-33 3 Chron. P 149 Helm. 4 De Rerum Natura, 1. 932-957
paradigm to measure the true world with. What bricks and mortar, would ask Cicero, what tools, strings and levers?5 We can find the same utilization of these elements in Diogenes de Oinoanda, an Epicurean scholar from the second century CE, who said all men suffered from the same disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and compared philosophy with medicine, which is “the philtre that brings salvation”: ... These medicines we have put fully to the test; for we have dispelled the fears that grip us without justification, and, as for pains, those that are groundless we have completely excised, while those that are natural we have reduced to an absolute minimum, making their magnitude minute.6 Imperial Rome would oppose against the Hellenistic influence of the Republic due its idea that a heavenly place could possibly be achieved by human deeds; at the end of the day, the machinery that triggers off Pronoia-or Providence’s powers. Since the edict against the Bacchanals in 186 BCE by consul Spurius Postumus, there is an identifiable trend in Rome to favour the scapegoat scheme of redemption/condemnation over the Hellenistic point of view. No Christian philosopher would assume a doctrinaire position that compels human beings to ascertain the true nature of the world against their own will. In 1 Corinthians 10 27-29 we can read: If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions or conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice” then do not eat it, both for the sake who told you and for conscience’ sake (for “the earth is the Lord and everything in it”) –the other man consciousness, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s consciousness?7 In its pretension to heal men from false notions and preconceptions, Lucretius poetry conceals a bait that in turn could turn out as opposed to the reader. The possibilities between sanity and mental illness would depend on the individual’s capacity to assimilate what the gods have to say instead of fighting against it. In this sense, poetic diction draws upon the healing power of philtres and other simples to help man purge its own vices and rise above, over the abodes of the gods. Drugs would speak sweet to the ear at the very beginning but its true effects must be felt upon as sheer poison. As if it were to remind St Agustine of his own response towards paganism, who would refer to the sect he came from before embracing Christendom as “that tribe of loathsome mushroom eaters”, Lucretius foresees Memmius’ fears in this poem8 and say: You will yourself one day or other seek to fall away from us, overborne by the terrific utterances of the priests.9
De Natura Deorum; book I, sections 8 through 20 Diogenes de Oinoanda; frag 3 7 Bold is mine 8 The person the poem is addressed to, to be believed the politician and patron of poets Memmius Gaius 9 DRN 1, 102-103
In early Christian cults is easy to find the same elements that would agglutinate and give sense to Epicurus doctrines, but arranged in different ways. It is no wonder that the very same excuses that were taken into account by Imperial Rome to ban those cults that went deep into Hellenism will be used by Christians to oppose Epicureanism later on. In order to be able to understand what it is that is rejected in the new scheme proposed by later Christians, and what it is that separates Christendom from Epicureanism, we should focus on the intervals between the Old and New Testament and the inclusion of faith, which will be regarded as a revolution of thought in the new ages to come. Some scholars will look onto this paradigmatic revolution as the necessary outcome after the Greek scepticism upon Jewish culture and, most particularly, due the influence of the scientific materialism defended by Epicurus, whose disciples ridiculed Paul’s prediction of the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.10 When Paul speaks against pagan feasts in 1 Corinthians 10 14-22 his intention is not so more to criticize certain vehicles of ecstasy as to draw the reader’s attention onto the right use of wine and bread: Consider the people of Israel: do not those who eat sacrifices participate in the altars? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, and I do not want you to participate with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? What Paul is criticizing here is the pagan utilization of the ecstasic sacramental vehicles so common in the Hellenistic era. In a further consideration Christianity might be looked onto as an agreement between Judaism and the Coptic cult; a solution that integrates faith, miracles and the activity of Pronoia into a cult that bore in the past a clear reminisce of the Hellenistic era.
St. Paul And Epicurus; Norman Wentworth Dewitt; University of Minnesota (1954)
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