World Without Love The Greco Roman World and Early Christianity

Gerhard Uhlhorn, in his magisterial three-volume study of the history of Christian charity, described the Greco-Roman context for Christianity as ''a world without love.'' Uhlhorn (1826-1901) was motivated to undertake his study by a conversation with Theodor Fliedner (1800-1864), the ''father'' of the modern deaconess movement and a leader in the development of social welfare. Fliedner had urged Uhlhorn to write the history of Christian charity in order to awaken and increase contemporary works of love in the context of the social ills of the Industrial Revolution. Given Uhlhorn's intent to present the history of Christian love, his judgment of the Greco-Roman world may appear both harsh and suspect. His point, however, was not that pre-Christian Greeks and Romans had no inkling of love but that their understanding of love did not envision love beyond one's own circle or status for the well being of others.

The Roman dramatist, Plautus (c.254-184 bce) wrote: ''A man is a wolf to a man whom he does not know.'' Aid to the poor was seen as useless because it could not elevate them to the level of the rich and thereby grant happiness. Indeed, it was said that assistance to the poor is not only a waste of effort but is no favor to the poor because it only extends their miserable lives. Plautus, again: ''What is given to the poor is lost.'' And: ''He deserves ill of a beggar who gives him food and drink. For that which is given is thrown away, and the life of the beggar is protracted to his misery.'' Plato's ideal state according the Republic has no room for the poor; beggars are to be expelled. If a worker is ill, there is no obligation to assist him; if he can no longer work, he is a drain on the state and his life has no value.

Greek and Roman attitudes shared a general disdain for the ''least'' in society, for women, the weak, and the marginalized. The Roman city-state did, however, strive to inculcate a sense of civic responsibility and social stability through contributions from the wealthy. The supremacy of the emperor and the well-being of the upper class depended at least to some extent upon the loyalty of the populace, and that loyalty in part at least rested upon received or anticipated benefits. Nobles, office-holders, and priests were to provide support for buildings, feasts, grain doles, and entertainments. The expectation of beneficence was supported by the promise of honor. If one did not give when expected, the consequence was infamia, that is, disgrace, dishonor. Fama, on the other hand, was the favorable public reputation, even glory, that the noble person strove for and that was attainable through that gift-giving so important to ancient culture. As countryman points out, ''It is not surprising, under the circumstances, that the fundamental motive for philanthropy was philotimia, 'love of public recognition.'''

While honor is an evident motivation for the ''philanthropy'' of the wealthy, there is little evidence of pity or compassion for the poor in ancient culture. In the ancient world, one gave in order to get. As mentioned earlier, eudaemonism is a perspective that defines the ethical life in relation to happiness or personal well-being. In Plato's Symposium, eudaemonism is the love-impelled ascent toward the good and immortality. But even with Plato's refined eudaemonism, the chief benefit of such love is always one's own benefit. As developed by Aristotle, the point of friendship and generous benevolence is the decorous conduct worthy of a noble person. Classical Greco-Roman understanding of ''charity'' focused only upon those of equal status with a view to advantage. The Aristotelian view was that wealth is useful in securing friendships not in just being amassed. The point of view was the reciprocity of the do ut des principle, ''I give that you may give.'' This principle of quid pro quo that posited an equivalent return could be conceived as a contract in which each party gives and receives an equivalent. Hence, the Greek historian Polybius (c.205-c.123 bce) stated that ''nobody ever gives anything of his own willingly to anybody.'' The do ut des principle, according to Kudlein, formed with individual nuances the basis of pre-Christian teaching and praxis of friendship. Thus the physician, according to the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (c.4 bce-65 ce), could be conceived as the ''friend'' of the patient, but could never be conceived of as the ''friend'' or ''benefactor'' of the poor. The explicit ''physician of the poor'' has its roots in the philoptochla, the amor pauperum, ''love of the poor,'' of early Christianity. Thus early Christendom was particularly attractive to the poor. Nock emphasized that ''a poor man must have gained a great sense of security'' through belonging to a Christian community.

Benevolence gained honor, friendship, and business. Hence the Roman statesman, Cicero (106-43 bce) remarked that most people are generous for the sake of honor: ''What is given to friends is outside fortune's grasp.'' The inscriptions of the ancient world testify to Cicero's point. Hands' volume, Charities and Social Aid in Greece and Rome, provides examples. A second-century-BCE inscription celebrates Apollonius, son of Hierokles of Miletus, a doctor who served ''the people freely during the six month period of office; and in as much as he did this with his heart set upon honor ...he is awarded an encomium to encourage further service, also an olive wreath . . . [and an inscription] on a stone which is to be placed in the temple of Poseidan and Amphritite.'' An inscription of about the same time speaks of another doctor, Menokritos, who continued ''his energetic service in his love of honor.'' Around 100 bce, Theopompos, ''maintaining the good relations with the people inherited from his ancestors, and seeking further to increase his right-dealing with gods and men, having zealously pursued the life of virtue and honour from his earliest youth... [leaves] an imperishable memorial for all time of his noble spirit and goodwill for the people . . . the purchase of [anointing] oil for the gymnasium____'' Theopompos as a result was awarded ''a gold crown and two bronze statues with honorary inscription; the decree itself to be inscribed on two stone monuments; public proclamation of these honours at festivals of Dionysos and of Artemis; inscriptions also to be added to the statues of sons and daughters set up by Theopompos.'' Even more explicit is the intention expressed by a wealthy man of the second century ce: ''I wish my gift and favour... to be published on three marble pillars; of these, one should be set up ...in the market before my house, and one should be erected in the Caesereum, set close by the gates of the temple, and one in the gymnasium, so that to both the citizens of Gytheion, and to the non-citizens, my philanthropic and kindly act may be clear and well-known to all____My idea is to achieve immortality in making such a just and kindly disposal

[of my property] and, in entrusting it to the city, I shall surely not fail in my aim.'' The Roman orator, Pliny the Younger (c.62-c.114 ce) asked what could be greater than glory and praise for all eternity. To which question Tertullian (c.160-c.225 ce), the African church father and first major theologian to write in Latin, retorted: ''You pour forth statues and inscribe sculptured images and have your honorary epitaphs, reading 'to the eternal memory of...' Why, as far as it lies in your power, you yourselves provide a kind of resurrection for the dead.''

The historian de Ste. Croix has argued that ''the graeco-roman world was obsessively concerned with wealth and status____But wealth was by far the most important determinant of status. Ovid put it beautifully... 'it is property that confers rank'____'' Ste. Croix goes on to point out that classical socio-economic vocabulary was weighted with moral values that portrayed the wealthy and powerful as good and the lower classes as bad. ''The Roman governing class was as thoroughly devoted to property as the most wealth-conscious of the Greeks. No surviving Greek writer was as thoroughly devoted to the over-riding importance of property rights as

Cicero____'' Biblical language turned these values upside down by often associating the poor and marginalized with moral virtues and the wealthy and powerful with corruption. The early church also reversed the Greco-Roman view of wealth. According to Tertullian, among others, ambition and desire for glory were vices; the drive for social recognition was in strict opposition to Christian humility, and the goal of social recognition is a typical mark of the social-climber mentality.

The poor obviously did not have such means to the honor and fame their society prized, and thus were often scorned. Cicero called the poor ''the scum of the city'' who, he said, should be skimmed off and sent to the colonies. Since, to the Romans ''property confers rank,'' their devotion to property rights granted an owner the right not only to the use of his property - including slaves - but also to its abuse or even destruction. Since wealth was an important determinant of status, Greek vocabulary began giving moral weight to socioeconomic terminology. Words for property-owning - rich, fortunate, distinguished, well-born, influential - also had moral connotations of the good, the best, upright, fair-minded. Words for the lower classes of people - the poor, the mob, the populace - had negative moral connotations. In classical antiquity there was no pity for the destitute. The reigning ideology was that the gods love the wealthy.

Education and health care depended upon philanthropy. civic support of education and health care was limited to soldiers and their families. There may perhaps have been free medical treatment at the temples of Aescaplius, the god of physicians, but there were no hospitals in the ancient world. ''Public service doctors'' in ancient Greece meant only certification by the polis not that there was free medical attention. Those with long-term illness, the deformed, the handicapped, and ''surplus'' children were not considered worthy of care by society. Plato, for example, had little patience for the chronically ill; medical resources should be for those who can return to a productive life.

In his pioneering study on the early spread of christianity, Adolf von Harnack attributes the expansion of christianity in the early centuries to its faith being active in love; the christians not only had a new vocabulary of love, they lived it. ''The new language on the lips of Christians was the language of love. But it was more than a language, it was a thing of power and action. . . . The gospel thus became a social message.'' Even the Greek satirist and scoffer of all time, Lucian of Samosata (c.120-c.200), while ridiculing Christian beliefs in Jesus, conceded their love of one another to the extent of sparing no expense.

In the early church, worship, liturgy, and love for the neighbor were seen as inseparable. The exercise of love to the neighbor was intrinsic to every Christian community that desired to remain true to the gospel. Again Harnack: ''Broth-erliness is love on a footing of equality; ministering love means to give and to forgive, and no limit to this is to be recognized. Besides, ministering love is the practical expression of love to God.'' Of the numerous writings testifying to this connection Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) and Tertullian provide representative examples. Justin, who literally lost his head for love, was one of the first Christian thinkers to defend the faith to the emperor and the Roman Senate. He described the weekly liturgy of scripture readings, sermons, sacrament, and offering. The offering is voluntary: ''And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president [i.e., bishop], who succors the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.''

Tertullian linked worship and love of neighbor in contrast to his culture: ''Though we have our treasure chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price [i.e., we don't have to pay to worship]. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety's deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's

Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. But it is mainly the deeds of love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. 'See,' they say, 'how they love one another,'____'' In response to the charge that Christianity was eroding the old cults, Tertullian responded: ''[Y]ou say, the temple revenues are falling off [due to the growth of the church]: how few now throw in a contribution! In truth, we are not able to give alms both to your human and your heavenly mendicants; nor do we think that we are required to give to any but to those who ask for it. Let Jupiter then hold out his hand and get, for our compassion spends more in the streets than yours does in the temples.''

Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215), who became head of the famous Catechetical School there, wrote in his Paedagogus, a tract on Christian life: ''Even as such wells as spring up, rise to their formal level even after they have been drained, so that kindly spring of love to men, the bestowal of gifts, imparts its drink to the thirsty, and is again increased and replenished.'' Love to the neighbor is not dependent upon the neighbor's character but that person's needs. Chrysostom (c.347-407), bishop of Constantinople, stated that ''alms are to be given, not to the way of life, but to the human being; we must have compassion, not because the poor are virtuous, but because they are needy.'' The clarity of Chrysostom's preaching led to his exile and death.

All Christians were called upon to assist ''the least'' in society. In this respect fasting or choosing less expensive food such as fish was recommended as a means to save expenses in order to provide assistance to those in greater need. As the examples illustrate, the early church did not think its works of love were limited to personal almsgiving. A church fund, literally a ''common chest,'' arca in Tertullian's Latin, associated charity very closely with worship and the church leaders, bishops and deacons. The bishop is among other things to be a

''lover of the poor.'' The deacons are to ascertain who are in distress and not exclude them from a share in the church funds. The gifts of money and in kind (bread, wine, oil, cheese, olives, fruits, vegetables - even flowers) were brought to the worship service and entrusted to the bishop, by whom they were placed on the altar and thus consecrated to God. All these goods were understood as nothing else than the gifts of God which should be distributed to the needy. Hence, the recipients received these gifts from the hand of God. Recipients were designated by the bishop with the advice of the deacons who were expected to be familiar with local needs. The deacons were responsible for distributing the money and goods both at the close of worship and to the homes of the needy. The office of the deacon since the second century was twofold: assisting the bishop in the liturgy of the Lord's Supper, and extending that worship in a ''liturgy after the liturgy'' in service to the needy. Through the mediation of the deacons daily life was moved to the center of worship and worship was extended into daily life.

A memorable story of one of those deacons is that of St. Laurence, a Roman deacon. A tradition stemming from St. Ambrose (c.339-397) presented Laurence (d. 258) as the exemplar for selling the church's liturgical art and treasure in order to provide for the poor. When confronted by the Roman prefect who demanded Laurence turn over the church's treasure, he assembled the poor of his parish to whom he had distributed the church's wealth, and explained that the poor were the true treasure of the church. The Roman official was not amused, and legend has it that Laurence was slowly roasted to death on a gridiron. That Laurence was probably beheaded instead does not diminish the point that Laurence illustrated the Christian conviction that God's love is active toward the least of society. The action of Laurence was a model of love for others: Ambrose, bishop of Milan (c.339-397), and also Deogratias, archbishop of Carthage (454-477), used church wealth to redeem captives after the collapse of the Pax Romana, as did also St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354-430). St. Cyril (c.315-386), bishop of Jerusalem, sold liturgical art to provide food for the poor. Riquet cites Ambrose: ''The goods of the Church are the patrimony of the poor. Tell me, if you can, what prisoners the pagan temples have ransomed, what poor folk they have fed, what exiles they have supported?'' Rudolph provides an historical overview of these actions into the Middle Ages including the story of a monk who sold his only possession, a copy of the Gospels, in order to feed the poor, ''thus selling the Word which commanded him to sell all and give to the poor.''

It was common in the early centuries to follow the worship service with what we might today call a potluck meal. Significantly, for our discussion, it was called a love feast, an agape meal. Some of the aspersions that Romans cast on Christianity focused on the agape meal with claims that it was an occasion for immorality. Tertullian asks why there should be any surprise that people in love should eat in common. After all, he wrote, the Greek Socrates and the Roman Cato shared their wives with their friends!

O noble example of Attic wisdom, of Roman gravity - the philosopher and the censor playing pimps! What wonder if that great love of Christians towards one another is desecrated by you! For you abuse also our humble feasts, on the ground that they are extravagant as well as infamously wicked____Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you... but as it is with God himself, a peculiar respect is shown to the lowly____As an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste. They say it is enough, as those who remember that even during the night they have to worship God; they talk as those who know that the Lord is one of their auditors.

As if to contrast the agape feast with Plato's Symposium, Tertullian concludes: ''We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet.''

Harrison notes that the ''Church's care for the needy, for foundlings, widows, the poor, although it had Jewish roots, was new and striking affirmation of a common humanity shared by all, rich and poor, in the traditionally hierarchic context of late antique society.'' The Christians' love for the poor exhibited through the charity of the church made a deep impression in the Roman Empire and contributed to the growth of the church. This is clearly seen in the action of the Emperor Julian (332-363), known as Julian the Apostate because upon becoming emperor in 360 he renounced the Christian faith in which he was reared and embarked upon a campaign to reinstate worship of the old gods of the empire. Rejecting open persecution of the church, Julian strove to displace it by co-opting its social concern. One of Julian's letters, provided by Kidd, noted that Christianity was spreading because of its love for the neighbor. ''I think the impious Galileans [i.e., Christians] have observed this fact [pagan neglect of the poor] and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy in the worst of their deeds through the credit they win for such practices____[T]he

Galileans also begin with their so-called love-feast [''the agape''], or hospitality, or service of tables - for they have many ways of carrying it out, and hence call it by many names - and the result is that they have led very many into atheism [i.e., rejection of the gods of Hellenism].'' Julian, as Pontifex Maximus, High Priest of the Empire, wrote to the High Priest of the province of Galatia: ''If our religion does not make the progress we could wish, the blame lies with those who profess it. The gods have done great things for us, . . . But is it right that we should be satisfied with their favors, and neglect those things that the impiety of the Christians has cultivated, their hospitality to strangers, their care of the graves, their holiness of life? We should earnestly seek all these things.'' ''The godless Galileans,'' Julian went on, ''see that the [pagan] priests neglect the poor, and then immediately take the opportunity for charity.'' Julian noted that the Christians did not limit their social work to their own communities but served the whole society. ''For it is disgraceful, when there is not a beggar among the Jews, and when the godless Galileans support our poor as well as their own, that our people should be without our help.'' Julian not only exhorted his priests but himself moved to establish care for the poor and needy including for the first time the construction of alms-houses and hospitals. Julian thus attempted to imitate Christian social action in order to deprive the Christians of the effective power of their love for others.

Eusebius of Caesarea described not only care of the poor but of the sick. In his The History of the Church, he described responses to a plague from a letter by Dionysius of Alexandria.

Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves____Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life . . . for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors. . ..The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease;...

Bolkestein notes that whereas in the East, including Israel and Egypt, the support of the poor, especially widows and orphans, was characterized as the greatest responsibility, it was nearly never mentioned or praised in pre-Christian Greek and Roman culture. The Greco-Roman temples of the classical age did not promote any sense of care for others. The rich had no ethical responsibility to the poor. There were no lack of admonitions to the rich, but the emphasis was that the wealthy should acquire and use their fortunes in an honorable manner, and not pride themselves on their wealth. That they should give of their wealth to the poor was not asked of them. That is, the philosophies of the elite focused on eudaemonism and the Greco-Roman religions made little or no connection with ethics. In this sense, Uhlhorn echoes the assessment of Lactantius (c.240-c.320), ''the Christian Cicero,'' who emphasized that the pre-Christian era had no ''charity'' in the sense of love of the neighbor.

The worship of the Greco-Roman gods and, later by the time of the Christian era, emperor worship and cults, were integral to Roman public life and citizenship. The religious acts of the offering of sacrifice, prayer, and dedications, essential aspects of Roman religion, were characterized by the term pietas. Pietas meant ''duty'' and did not carry the connotations of our modern term ''piety.'' Religious activities took place at the shrines of the particular deities and were the province of the professional priests associated with the shrines.

The Roman cultus was primarily directed to maintaining peaceful relations with the gods, the pax deorum. Contributions in money and goods to the priesthood and ritual performance was consumed by cultic performances or held as assets for times of catastrophe to expiate the gods. Cult ritual therefore had an end in itself: maintaining good relations with the gods. When Tertullian stated that Christians give more on the streets than pagans in their temples, he was demarcating the Christian faith from the religions of Rome. Tertullian, Ambrose, and others claimed that their faith engaged and alleviated the needs of the culture whereas in Rome's religions all money flowed into the cult alone. In the Roman cults there was not divine worship in any communal sense; rather the cultic performances were a sort of spectator sport where, if interested, people could watch - in silence! - the priests. There were no divine mandates or ethical expectations, but rather a kind of contract between the divinity in question and the person or persons making the sacrifice and prayers; a striking of a bargain. Since it was not intended that the good will of the gods would be gained by ethical conduct, the HellenisticRoman forms of religion were not conducive to love of the neighbor.

The well-known Greco-Roman liberalitas (liberality) was an aristocratic virtue exercised toward friends and fellow-citizens, but not toward the needy. The responsibility of ''noblesse oblige'' that led to the construction of public works such as public baths and roads may have benefited more than the friends of the benefactor, but the motivation was fame, honor, and esteem. These achievements were then memorialized in monuments - not quite the children of immortality Diotima extolled in her speech to Socrates in the Symposium, but ''stone children'' would do if you were not a poet. Humanitarian works for the poor did not merit monuments and inscriptions. There were also the ''bread and circuses'' -state-supported distributions of grain and sports events both in Rome and the provinces. Uhlhorn sums up civic welfare, such as it was: ''It was an offering brought to vanity, to avarice, or to policy; it was a ransom which wealth paid to poverty in order not to be disturbed by it.''

Uhlhorn further argues: ''The ethics of the Greeks and Romans did not advance beyond a more or less refined eudai-monism. The chief principle of action is always one's own benefit. Even with Plato it is not otherwise, a fact which makes us wonder how it is that in the case of this best representative of the ancient world a naked egoism so frequently comes to the fore.'' Aristotle, too, in speaking of friendship assumes a selfish basis for generosity. ''For all this generosity and benevolence springs not from love, but from the reflection that such conduct is decorous and worthy of a noble man.''

Uhlhorn's evaluation of the Greco-Roman understanding of love sounds remarkably like Nygren's description of eros. Indeed, in an article critical of Nygren's analysis, Lowell Streiker agrees. Nygren's description of eros ''pretty well summarizes Plato's teaching of love as it is found in the stages-of-ascent account of the Symposium and the love-as-the-rewinging-of-grounded-souls palinode of the Phaedrus.'' ''As characterized by Plato, love is not a divine experience, i.e., the gods have no need to love, for they lack nothing. Love, the desire for what one does not have and the 'upward' movement toward it, is exclusively a human activity.'' But Streiker goes on to argue that Plato does not reduce the love of another to selfishness, and that Platonic eros has a legitimate use within Christian theology, as is clear in the case of Augustine. ''In his understanding of love, Augustine is at once with Plato. Philosophy is the search for happiness, a quest for the good. This search, both Augustine and Plato would agree, can never end in finite, sensible objects. It can only reach fruition in the Eternal. In this way, Eros is truly man's quest for God. And without this quest, the so-called way of God to man would remain a trivial and irrelevant doctrine.''

Thus it is to Augustine that we next turn to see how he related apparently conflicting views of love.

Chapter 4

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