Ethos and Logos: A Second-Century Debate Between “Pagan” and Christian Philosophers

in Vigiliae Christianae
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This essay analyses the most significant sources—some overlooked so far—on the debate on ethos and logos that was lively between “pagan” and Christian philosophers in the second century ce. Epictetus’s attribution of a behaviour based on ethos to the Christians should not be regarded as utterly negative, but should rather be connected with his teacher Musonius’s high appreciation of ethos, even over logos. Marcus Aurelius’s and Celsus’s negative attitude toward Christianity as an obstinate, irrational habit can be explained by the possible influence of Montanism, while the Syriac apology to Marcus ascribed to Melito reacts to anti-Christian accusations of irrationality by attaching logos to the Christians and a behaviour based on a bad ethos to “paganism”—the same as was done by Clement of Alexandria, one of the Christian intellectuals most committed to demonstrating the rationality of Christian belief. Literary problems related to the apology are tackled, and parallels are pointed out with both Justin and Bardaisan, two other Christian Platonists who attempted to construe Christianity as philosophy.

Galen’s judgment about the Christians shows interesting parallels with, and differences from, that of Epictetus. For both intellectuals an engagement with Christian doctrines of creation is argued for (this is usually admitted in the case of Galen, but not in that of Epictetus). Another second-century anti-Christian accusation of the lack of logos is the charge of onolatry. Lucian’s attitude toward the Christians is showed to be less simplistic than generally believed: he allowed for the ascription of logos and a certain intellectual development to Christianity and its founder. But for Christians to claim that the Logos was on their side, they had to develop a theology of the Logos, which identified Jesus Christ with God’s Logos. This operation, anticipated by Philo and Hellenistic Judaism, started from the Prologue of John and was continued by Justin, most Valentinians, Clement, and especially Origen, and then by the Patristic philosophy which depended on Origen. Thanks to Origen, who was deeply respected by “pagan” philosophers too, Christianity could no longer be charged with being a religion for irrational people.

Ethos and Logos: A Second-Century Debate Between “Pagan” and Christian Philosophers

in Vigiliae Christianae




M. Spanneut‘Epiktet’ in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum5 (1962) 599-681 esp. 628-629.


See C.E. Lutz“Musonius Rufus, the Roman Socrates,” Yale Classical Studies 10 (1947) 3-147; I. Ramelli Musonio Rufo (Milan 2001); Eadem Stoici romani minori (Milan 2008) 689-943; with the review by G. Reydams-Schils Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009 (; G. Reydams-Schils The Roman Stoics. Self Responsibility and Affection (Chicago 2005); V. Laurand Stoïcisme et lien social: enquête autour de Musonius Rufus (Paris 2014).


See at least W. SchröderAthen und Jerusalem. Die philosophische Kritik am Christentum in Antike und Neuzeit (Stuttgart-Bad Canstatt: Frommann-Holzboog2011).


See I. Ramelli‘Montanismo e Impero Romano nel giudizio di Marco Aurelio,’ in Fazioni e congiure nel mondo anticoed. M. Sordi (Milan 1999) 81-97.


See I. Ramelli“Constantine: The Legal Recognition of Christianity and its Antecedents,” Anuario de Historia de la Iglesia 22 (2013) 65-82. The historicity of the s.c. but without the support of the Porphyrian fragment was accepted e.g. by E. Volterra “Di una decisione del Senato romano ricordata da Tertulliano” in Scritti in onore di Contardo Ferrini 1 (Milan 1947) 471-488; M. Sordi “I primi rapporti tra lo Stato romano e il Cristianesimo” Rendiconti dell’Accademia dei Lincei 12 (1957) 58-93; Eadem “L’apologia del martire Apollonio” Rivista di Storia della Chiesa in Italia 18 (1964) 169-188; M. Sordi The Church and the Roman Empire: Il Cristianesimo è Roma Bologna (1965); W.H.C. Frend Classical Review 17 (1967) 196; the historicity of the s.c. is also accepted with reference to my studies by A. Socci La guerra contro Gesù (Milan 2011) 1 nn. 210-218 and passim and I. Navarra “Tiberius emperor” in Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity ed. A. Di Berardino (Downers Grove il 2014) 788-789 esp. 789. On the identification of Macarius’ polemicist with Porphyry or somebody else inspired by him more or less closely see e.g. O. Munnich “Recherche de la source porphyrienne dans les objections ‘païennes’ du Monogénès: l’enjeu des citations scripturaires” in Le traité de Porphyre contre les chrétiens. Un siècle de recherches nouvelles questions ed. S. Morlet (Paris 2011) 75-104 who argues that Macarius reworked materials that may or may not come from Porphyry himself; R. Goulet “Porphyre et Macarios de Magnésie sur la toute-puissance de Dieu” ibid. 205-230 who thinks that Macarius transmits anti-Christian objections by Porphyry though these cannot be considered literal “fragments” but testimonies.


Cf. I. Ramelli“Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Re-Thinking the Christianisation of Hellenism,” Vigiliae Christianae 63 (2009) 217-263.


See I. Ramelli“Origen Patristic Philosophy” 217-263; W. Löhr “Christianity as Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives of an Ancient Intellectual Project” Vigiliae Christianae 64 (2010) 160-188.


See B. Ehrman“The Theodotians as Corruptors of Scripture,” Studia Patristica 15 (1993) 46-51; Walzer Galen 75-86. Other sources are Hippolytus Ref. 7.35 and Epiphanius Pan. 53.1-3.


On Justin’s school: T. Georges“Justin’s School in Rome—Reflections on Early Christian ‘Schools’,” Zeitschrift für antikes Christentum 16 (2012) 75-87; J. Ulrich “What Do We Know about Justin’s School in Rome?” Zeitschrift für antikes Christentum 16 (2012) 62-74.


See e.g. Richard Goulet“Porphyre et Macarios de Magnésie sur la toute-puissance de Dieu,” in Le traité de Porphyre contre les chrétiens. Un siècle de recherches nouvelles questionsed. S. Morlet (Paris 2011) 205-230.


On him see M.-O. Goulet-Cazé“Peregrinus surnommé Proteus,” in Dictionnaire des philosophes antiquesed. R. Goulet 5/1 (Paris 2012) 199-230.


D. Fields“The Reflections of Satire: Lucian and Peregrinus,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 143 (2013) 213-245acknowledges Lucian’s criticism of Peregrinus’s striving for fame and exhibitionism at the same time intriguingly suggesting that this criticism applied to himself as well. “Lucian uses the figure of Peregrinus to call attention to the shortcomings and hypocrisies of his own authoritative satirical position and to comment on the culture of agonistic self-promotion in which both men take part [. . .] Peregrinus as portrayed in this text ultimately serves as a mirror (albeit a distorted one) for Lucian’s own professional persona [. . .] he takes aim at an additional target: an elite culture where competition and performance pervade all aspects of public life one which ties esteem to fame and therefore to the approval of the masses” (215 227 245).


TabberneeProphets98; D.E. Wilhite Tertullian the African (Berlin 2007). One should however note Tertullian’s divergence from the “Great Church” with regard to its institutional authority at least in the twenties of the third century when he wrote De Pudicitia: “After the person of Peter this faculty (of binding and loosing) will belong to the spiritual people. . . . It is therefore the case that the Church will forgive sins but the Church that is Spirit by means of a person animated by the Spirit and not the Church that consists in the sum total of the bishops” ecclesia spiritus per spiritalem hominem non ecclesia numerus episcoporum (Pud. 21).


L. Pernot“Christianisme et sophistique,” in Papers on Rhetoric4 ed. L. Calboli Montefusco (Rome 2002) 126-142.


Pernot“Christianisme” 142.


J. Kloppenborg“Literate Media in Early Christian Groups: The Creation of a Christian Book Culture,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 22 (2014) 21-59quotation from 59. One second-century example of material evidence suggesting that literacy was already valorised in Christian groups is the Roman probably Valentinian inscription of Flavia Sophe: see H.G. Snyder “The Discovery and Interpretation of the Flavia Sophe Inscription: New Results” Vigiliae Christianae 68 (2014) 1-59.


YoungGod’s Presence35.


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