Justin And Christian Manhood

Justin's petition to the emperor represents the Christians as innocent victims of an out-of-control, unjust, and bloodthirsty regime, a project he shared with other second-century Christian apologists and with the authors of the acts of the martyrs. The choice to employ sexualized language to clinch his argument may have been entirely predictable—after all, charging Christians with nearly identical "bad" behavior and sexual-ized invective was standard in ancient polemic—yet the vivid depiction of the sexual immorality of the gods and their devotees, accompanied by the juxtaposition of reason (the rulers refuse to follow it) and passion (the rulers are enslaved by it) accomplished something else as well: these arguments regendered the Christian as "male" and insisted that Christians, men and women alike, were the very opposite of the "slavish" idolaters. Challenges to Christian status and gender in the arena and in the vituperative arguments of their critics may partially account for this turn to the commonplaces of sexualized invective. An emphasis on the chastity of the Christians, contrasted with dramatic descriptions of the depravity of outsiders, also imitated the rhetorical strategies of earlier Christian authors, including Paul and his later interpreters. Still, by addressing the emperor and the imperial court, Justin added something new: his "appeal to the emperor" demonstrated the injustice of specific "tyrants," the current imperial regime. Those who dared to accuse the Christians were portrayed as licentious, irascible, and effeminate.

Though questions of audience can never be entirely settled, I fully agree with those recent scholars who view the "apologies," including Justin's prosphonesis to the emperor, as in-group documents. These apologies "were another means by which Christianity represented itself as a community of the persecuted and suffering,"100 they offered a justification of an increasingly unpopular position to those who viewed themselves as under attack,101 and, I would add, they helped to maintain group boundaries by enforcing a sexualized definition of "Christian virtue." According to Justin, "true Christians" are characterized by sophrosyne, and they worship a God who demands full self-mastery. Homoerotic sex was forbidden, as was prostitution, adultery, incest, and all sexual intercourse outside of marriage. According to these writers, Christians never look with lust at another, and they marry only once or not at all. Christian self-mastery is offered as a proof of Christian "manliness," and the failed self-mastery of the "demons" and their "slaves" denied manliness to pagan targets. "Apologetic" argument depicts Christians as innocent sufferers; it also suggests that Christian "virtue" necessarily included sexual self-control.

Having defined Christian belief and practice in these terms, Justin turns briefly to Christians he deemed false. These Christians, Justin claims, probably are guilty of the sort of gross sexual misconduct associated with all the followers of Christ by some of their critics. Justin exhorted "you" to investigate the bad behavior of these traitors and to put them to death (i Apol. 27). Apparently, Justin's anti-imperial rhetoric—his resistance to imperial claims regarding the virtue of the current rulers and their gods— could also be employed against fellow Christians, real or imagined. Once again, sexualized invective serves several purposes at once: outsiders are pushed further away, insiders are policed, and morality is both constituted and defined as "Christian." The next two chapters address in-group, antiChristian rhetoric such as is briefly found in Justin's First Apology. If sexual vice is the problem and Christ is the cure, what better way to eliminate a claimant to the title "Christian" than to accuse him or her of sexual misbehavior? Moreover, by associating outsiders with desire, demons, and sexual license, insiders can be efficiently disciplined—banned or warned that they will be banned—if they fail to conform to the superior standard this discourse recommends. Claims about superior Christian morals may have provided a needed defense of Christian legitimacy. They made possible a Christian resistance to social conventions and the exigencies of Roman imperial power, even as Christian authors relied upon shared beliefs about masculine self-mastery to make their arguments. As we shall see, these claims also provided an excellent weapon for attacking an enemy within.

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