Virtuous pagan

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Virgil. Fresco from the Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow. VirgilMoscow.jpg
Virgil. Fresco from the Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow.

Virtuous pagan is a concept in Christian theology that addressed the problem of pagans who were never evangelized and consequently during their lifetime had no opportunity to recognize Christ, but nevertheless led virtuous lives, so that it seemed objectionable to consider them damned. It is thus analogous to that of the "righteous gentile" in Judaism and Hanifs in Islam. A modern Catholic rendering of this is known as "Anonymous Christianity" in the theology of Karl Rahner.

Christian theology is the theology of Christian belief and practice. Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis and argument. Theologians may undertake the study of Christian theology for a variety of reasons, such as in order to:

Paganism non-Abrahamic religion, or modern religious movement such as nature worship

Paganism is a term first used in the fourth century by early Christians for people in the Roman Empire who practiced polytheism. This was either because they were increasingly rural and provincial relative to the Christian population, or because they were not milites Christi. Alternate terms in Christian texts for the same group were hellene, gentile, and heathen. Ritual sacrifice was an integral part of ancient Graeco-Roman religion and was regarded as an indication of whether a person was pagan or Christian.

Virtue Positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good

Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The opposite of virtue is vice.

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Prominent examples of virtuous pagans are Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Trajan, and Virgil. Dante Alighieri, in his Divine Comedy , places a number of virtuous pagans in the first circle of Hell (analogous to Limbo), including Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan.

Heraclitus pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, and a native of the city of Ephesus, then part of the Persian Empire. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom. From the lonely life he led, and still more from the apparently riddled and allegedly paradoxical nature of his philosophy and his stress upon the heedless unconsciousness of humankind, he was called "The Obscure" and the "Weeping Philosopher".

Parmenides Ancient Greek philosopher

Parmenides of Elea was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia. Parmenides has been considered the founder of metaphysics or ontology and has influenced the whole history of Western philosophy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, which also included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Zeno's paradoxes of motion were to defend Parmenides' view.

Socrates classical Greek Athenian philosopher

Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates' lifetime, though a fragment of Ion of Chios' Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates' youth.

Intriguingly, the Muslim champion Saladin is also counted among the ranks of virtuous non-Christians due to his reputation for chivalry, despite the prevalent view among Christians that Muslims were schismatic adherents of a heretical Christology; whereas Muhammad himself was consigned to the ninth ditch of the eighth circle of hell, reserved for schismatics.

Saladin Kurdish leader. First Sultan of Egypt and Syria, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty

An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known as Salah ad-Din or Saladin, was the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Sunni Muslim of Kurdish ethnicity, Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Upper Mesopotamia, the Hejaz, Yemen and other parts of North Africa.

Medieval Christian views on Muhammad

During the Early Middle Ages, Christendom largely viewed Islam as a Christological heresy and Muhammad as a false prophet. By the Late Middle Ages, Islam was more typically grouped with heathenism, and Muhammad was viewed as inspired by the devil. A more relaxed or benign view of Islam only developed in the modern period, after the Islamic empires ceased to be an acute military threat to Europe. See Orientalism.

Muhammad Founder of Islam

Muhammad was an Arab political, social and religious leader and the founder of Islam. According to Islamic doctrine, he was a prophet, sent to present and confirm the monotheistic teachings preached previously by Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. He is viewed as the final prophet of God in all the main branches of Islam, though some modern denominations diverge from this belief. Muhammad united Arabia into a single Muslim polity, with the Quran as well as his teachings and practices forming the basis of Islamic religious belief. He is referred to by many appellations, including Messenger of Allah, The Prophet Muhammad, Allah's Apostle, Last Prophet of Islam and others; there are also many variant spellings of Muhammad, such as Mohamet, Mahamad, Muhamad and many others.

Meanwhile, Dante placed the pagan emperor Trajan in Paradise and Cato, a suicide, with Statius in Purgatory, while Virgil, whose poetry was thought to prophesy the Christian epoch, he consigned to Limbo. It is clear that these portrayals reflect Dante's impressionistic assessments of each figure's true character rather than the application of doctrinal rigor to their cases.

Trajan Roman emperor from 98 to 117

Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117. Officially declared by the Senate optimus princeps, Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, leading the empire to attain its maximum territorial extent by the time of his death. He is also known for his philanthropic rule, overseeing extensive public building programs and implementing social welfare policies, which earned him his enduring reputation as the second of the Five Good Emperors who presided over an era of peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean world.

Cato the Younger Roman statesman, general and writer (95 BC – 46 BC)

Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, commonly known as Cato the Younger to distinguish him from his great-grandfather, was a statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy. A noted orator, he is remembered for his stubbornness and tenacity, as well as his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his famous distaste for the ubiquitous corruption of the period.

Statius Roman poet of the 1st century AD (Silver Age of Latin literature)

Publius Papinius Statius was a Roman poet of the 1st century AD. His surviving Latin poetry includes an epic in twelve books, the Thebaid; a collection of occasional poetry, the Silvae; and an unfinished epic, the Achilleid. He is also known for his appearance as a guide in the Purgatory section of Dante's epic poem, the Divine Comedy.

Francis A. Sullivan believes that early Christian writers "did not preclude virtuous pagans from possibly attaining salvation", but he "agrees that it is possible that the patristic Fathers, had they been asked directly, may have denied that pagans and Jews could become partakers of eternal life." [1]

Francis A. Sullivan American Jesuit theologian

Francis A. Sullivan, S.J. is an American Catholic theologian and a Jesuit priest. He is best known for his research in the area of ecclesiology and the magisterium.

Yet certain of the Church Fathers are known to have taken a more broadly inclusive view as to the participation of non-Christians in divine wisdom. In Chapter 46 of his First Apology, Justin Martyr went so far as to claim all logos-inspired pagans as Christians, even those who espoused nontheistic philosophies:

The First Apology was an early work of Christian apologetics addressed by Justin Martyr to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. In addition to arguing against the persecution of individuals solely for being Christian, Justin also provides the Emperor with a defense of the philosophy of Christianity and a detailed explanation of contemporary Christian practices and rituals. This work, along with the Second Apology, has been cited as one of the earliest examples of Christian apology, and many scholars attribute this work to creating a new genre of apology out of what was a typical Roman administrative procedure.

Justin Martyr 2nd century Christian apologist and martyr

Justin Martyr was an early Christian apologist, and is regarded as the foremost interpreter of the theory of the Logos in the 2nd century. He was martyred, alongside some of his students, and is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

<i>Logos</i> Philosophical concept

Logos is a term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse". It became a technical term in Western philosophy beginning with Heraclitus, who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.

We have been taught that Christ is the First-born of God, and we have suggested above that He is the logos of whom every race of men and women were partakers. And they who lived with the logos are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and people like them." [2]

"Virtuous paganism" became relevant to Romanticism with its interest in North European mythology or enthusiasm for the rediscovered pagan ethos of the Icelandic sagas. Tom Shippey argues that the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien is significantly based on such a concept of virtuous paganism:

Tolkien was "rather disturbed by [an Armageddon which the wrong side wins (Ragnarök)]: he saw that the ethos it represented could be used by either side, as indeed it was in the deliberate cultivation of Götterdämmerung by the Nazi leadership a few years later. Nevertheless it did provide an image of heroic virtue which could exist, and could be admired, outside the Christian framework. In some respects (as you can see in his 1936 Beowulf lecture, see Essays, 24–25) the Old Norse 'theory of courage' might even be regarded as ethically superior to the Classical if not to the Christian world-view, in that it demanded commitment to virtue without any offer of lasting reward. . . . He also felt that Old Norse mythology provided a model for what one might call 'virtuous paganism,' which was heathen; conscious of its own inadequacy, and so ripe for conversion; but not yet sunk into despair and disillusionment like so much of 20th-century post-Christian literature; a mythology which was in its way light-hearted." [3]

See also

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Modern Paganism New religious movements influenced by or derived from the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe, North Africa and the Near East

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References

  1. Canaris, Michael M. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J. and Ecclesiological Hermeneutics. pp. 118–119. ISBN   978-90-04-32684-2 via Google Books.
  2. Martyr, Justin (1997). Barnard, Leslie William (ed.). The First and Second Apologies. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN   978-0-8091-0472-7., p. 55.
  3. Shippey, Tom. "Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy". Roots and Branches. pp. 191–192. Archived from the original on March 4, 2007.

Further reading