behaviour led to Christians being characterised as atheists and often charged with criminal impiety or sacrilege.1
The late second-century apologist Marcus Minucius Felix portrays such Christian effrontery in a (probably fictional) dialogue between the pagan Caecilius and the Christian Octavius. Caecilius claims that Christians despise temples, spit on the gods' images, sneer at pagan rites, treat priests with contempt and scorn the purple robes of public office.2 Octavius proves him right by characterising polytheism as gullible, naive, and simple minded - the creation of long-dead mortals who elevated ordinary human beings to divine status, and then crafted worthless statues of them on which birds might nest, or spiders hang webs. He goes on, ridiculing pagan rituals, making fun of their priests, and flatly stating that only the superstitious or deranged would participate in such a religion. He contrastingly describes his Christian God as 'too bright for sight', ungraspable, immeasurable and an unnameable boundless infinity.3 Other early Christian writers shared these views, including Minucius Felix's African contemporary, Tertullian, who condemns most of Roman culture as essentially idolatrous, including attending the games or theatre, wearing fashionable clothing, drawing up contracts, or teaching literature. Above all, Tertullian regards making images of foolish 'nonentities', who neither see, smell, hear nor feel but yet are deemed gods, as an utterly depraved activity. By contrast, he describes the Christian God as invisible, indescribable and inconceivable, and yet manifest in everything and known in every historical event. Moreover, this God will curse and condemn anyone who would either make or worship an idol.4
There were, however, certain groups within the surrounding culture who might have shared Octavius' view of the pagan gods or their images, or thought Tertullian's condemnation justified. Paul had been arguing in the synagogue with devout Jews and addressed his speech on the Areopagus to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. In contrast to traditional Roman polytheists, such groups may have been well disposed to the proclamation of a transcendent, singular and invisible god, who had neither image nor shrine. The Stoics, for example, opposed the making of divine images, following the teachings of their founder Zeno, who was known for his opposition to temples and statues.5 And Christian apologists often noted that Christian teaching was
1 Justin, 1 Apol. 6; 13; 25; Tert. Apol. 10; Athenagoras, Leg. 4; M. Polyc. 9; Arnobius, Adv. nat.
4 Tert. Idol. passim.
5 For example, see Cic. N.D. 1.36.101-2; cited in Balch, 'Areopagus speech', 59-79.
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