Galen on the Early Christians

All this recent talk of Rapture and Mormons leads me to wonder aloud: “What did non-Christians think of the early Christians in the Roman Empire? What was their rep?

The Roman doctor and philosopher Galen coincided with these early years. Living in the late second century, he was surgeon to the gladiators and later personal physician to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, also a philosopher. Galen systematized medicine to such an extent that he was the single authority on human anatomy and diseases until the Renaissance.

Living in Rome in that period, he would have seen — and heard about — Christians. And he did. His medical writings make four references to this young sect, as well as a few to Jews.

On the negative tip, Galen thought Christians were too quick to accept ideas on faith rather than through reason and experiment, probably because they were not sufficiently smart and/or educated:

Most people are unable to follow any demonstrative argument consecutively, hence they need parables, and benefit from them, just as now we see the people called Christians drawing their faith from parables.

And yet, these Christians were not merely credulous. There was something admirable about the way they lived:

They include not only men but also women who refrain from cohabiting all through their lives; and they also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.

Am I the only one who thinks a good analogy to the way the Romans viewed early Christians is the way modern Americans view Mormons?


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