|A modern Orthodox icon of St. Aristides.|
Aristides, a most eloquent Athenian philosopher, and a disciple of Christ while yet retaining his philosopher's garb, presented a work to Hadrian at the same time that Quadratus presented his. The work contained a systematic statement of our doctrine, that is, an Apology for the Christians, which is still extant and is regarded by philologians as a monument to his genius.The Eastern Orthodox proclaim Aristides as a martyr, saying that he was hung in Athens on September 13 of AD 134 (or 120), but there doesn’t seem to be any near contemporary documentation supporting this. His Apology was known in antiquity and the early Middle Ages, but was thought lost for a thousand years until it was rediscovered in Armenian and Syriac translations in the 19th century.
“Because of these stories, O king, much evil has befallen the race of men who are at this present day, since they imitate their gods, and commit adultery, and are defiled with their mothers and sisters, and in sleeping with males: and some of them have dared to kill even their fathers. For if he, who is said to be the head and king of their gods, has done these things, how much more shall his worshipers imitate him! And great is the madness which the Greeks have introduced into their history concerning him: for it is not possible that a god should commit adultery or fornication, or should approach to sleep with males, or that he should be a parricide; otherwise he is much worse than a destructive demon.”In contrast, here is how Saint Aristides describes the belief of the Christians:
“…They know and believe in God, the Maker of heaven and earth, in whom are all things and from whom are all things…they do not commit adultery nor fornication, they do not bear false witness, they do not deny a deposit, nor covet what is not theirs: they honor father and mother; they do good to those who are their neighbors, and when they are judges they judge uprightly; and they do not worship idols in the form of man; and whatever they do not wish that others should do to them, they do not practice towards any one, and they do not eat of the meats of idol sacrifices, for they are undefiled: and those who grieve them they comfort, and make them their friends; and they do good to their enemies: and their wives, O king, are pure as virgins, and their daughters modest: and their men abstain from all unlawful wedlock and from all impurity, in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world…For truly great and wonderful is their teaching to him that is willing to examine and understand it….And I have no doubt that the world stands by reason of the intercession of Christians.”Reading the above, one can not help but be struck by how Aristides's words apply to our own time. Prof. Benjamin Wiker recently made the case that the scandals rocking the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of boys and the softening of teachings on matters of sexual immorality more generally by Church leaders represent nothing short of the repaganization of West. To use Prof. Wiker’s own words in his article, From a Moral-Historical Perspective, This Crisis is Worse Than You Realize:
“The very men most authoritatively charged with the evangelization of all the nations are full-steam ahead bringing about the devangelization of the nations. In doing so, these priests, bishops, and cardinals at the very heart of the Catholic Church are acting as willing agents of repaganization, undoing 2,000 years of Church History.”When considered in the light of Saint Aristides’s words above, some 21st century bishops certainly seem to behave more like courtiers of Hadrian than colleagues of the ancient martyrs, and are indeed more enamored with the “great madness” of the Greeks than the “truly great and wonderful” teaching of the Christians. The prayer of Aristides which closes his Apology is also quite relevant to the travails of our time:
“Let the tongues of those now be silenced who talk vanity, and who oppress the Christians, and let them now speak the truth….Let them, therefore, anticipate the dread judgment which is to come by Jesus the Messiah upon the whole race of men.”To read the whole Apology of Saint Aristides, click here.
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The Letter to Diognetus is included in the brand new book, I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources which will soon be available from Arx Publishing. Check it out!