Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cyril of Alexandria: Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian. Book 2 (beginning)

Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian. Book 2 (beginning)


Book II

1. We thought that it was by no means unjustified, that it was even useful and necessary to say before all what is the chronological sequence of the characters, and also what idea each has of God: therefore we have carried out with much precision the exposition of these details.

We could be reproached for this by saying: "Why then, having undertaken to defend Christian doctrines and taking in mind to oppose a victorious argumentation to the blasphemies of Julian, did you not decide to engage from the start in that way? Why on the contrary have you diverted the energy which began your exposition into a different goal, to launch into genealogies and to undertake a study of Hebraic and Greek doctrines?"

So let us remove the objections that have been made to us about this choice, by affirming that we intentionally directed our matter towards this digression. Indeed, (Julian), following the example of the Babylonian Rhapsaces, doesn't hesitate to utter in unrestrained language his mocking remarks against the glory of God, and after tossing impious vociferations against our holy religion he quotes the wise ones of Greece unceasingly, crowns their condemnable opinions with all possible praise, desperate to attack the crowned teachings of the Church, to smile at the books of Moses and to put in the dock all these holy people; therefore we were fully justified in accumulating, before passing to the refutation, material which enables us to show in a clear way that the works of the greatest of all, Moses, were prior to those of the wise Greeks, and, moreover, that the Christian faith as it has been transmitted, appears incomparably superior to their dogmatic positions. It was thus, and not differently, that next books could avoid too long digressions and avoid appearing to deviate sometimes very far from the the subject. But enough now on this point.

2. It is now necessary to come to (Julian's) own book. We will reproduce his text word for word, and will oppose our own arguments to his lies in the appropriate order, because we realize that it is necessary to firmly neutralize them. But, as I said, from his open mouth without reserve he spreads every kind of calumny against our common Saviour Christ, and pours against him ill-sounding remarks: I will abstain from responding with similar details, and, advising the wise party to ignore that in his words which risks dirtying the spirit by simple contact, I will endeavour to combat this (method of) 'combat', by denouncing on all occasions his habit of scoffing which speaks wrongly and irrelevantly without ever being able to arrive at saying a true thing.

It also should be known that in his first book he handles a great mass of ideas and does not cease turning and turning over the same arguments in every direction; some developments which are found at the beginning of his work, he also advances in the body of the book and at the end: he thus reveals a kind of disorder in the articulation of his discussion, and, fatally, those who want to argue against what he says seem constantly to be repeating themselves instead of finishing them once for all. We will thus divide his text according to an appropriate classification, we will gather his ideas by categories and will face each of them not on several occasions, but only once, the with appropriate explanations and following the rules of the art (of speaking). Thus, at the beginning of his book against us, he says:


It is, I think, expedient to set forth to all mankind the reasons by which I was convinced that the fabrication of the Galilaeans is a fiction of men composed by wickedness. Though it has in it nothing divine, by making full use of that part of the soul which loves fable and is childish and foolish, it has induced men to believe that the monstrous tale is truth.


3. By 'Galilaeans', he means the Holy Apostles, I think, and by a 'fantastic account' the writings of Moses, the predictions of the holy saints and their declarations inspired by God. However, without his knowledge --- let us say rather: not without intervention of the divinity --- he has made this idea the basis of his own superstition!

In fact there are two Galilees, one in Judaea, the other on the borders of the Phoenician country; and it is written indeed in the Gospels about our common Saviour Christ that it is while walking on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, of Lake Tiberias, that he recruited his disciples. However God said by means of one of the holy prophets: "What are you to me, Tyre and Sidon, and you Galilee, entirely populated with foreigners?" In the same way the divine Isaiah exclaims: "Country of Zabulon, land of Nephtalim, and all you others who live by the edge of the sea, Galilee of the Gentiles! The people sitting in shadow saw a great light..."

So in Judaea, one cannot just imagine the presence of Galilaeans, since there are also all the Gentiles there: 'Galilee of the Gentiles', says Isaiah. It cannot well or clearly be seen which adversaries the book of Julian aims at in all suitability and veracity: is it us, or himself in company with the believers in the stupid superstition that he loves? Because this is also Galilaean! Well indeed, it can't be doubted for one moment that the direction of the expressions employed by Julian agrees with the nonsense of the Greeks.

4. Where indeed to find all such an apparatus of fables, those vain words, this tasteless and irresponsible jumble of fads of every kind, if not among them and them only, who, twisting their subtle inventions, try to give to falsehood the colours of truth? So strong, so widespread among them is the turpitude that the elite of their spirits, the men cracked to philosophize extremely appropriately on the world which surrounded them, have raised loud cries against the undivine transports of their poets, and affirmed openly that they should abandon their charlatanism. In fact, Plato does not approve those poems, i.e. the homeric poems, which display the gods and goddesses convicted of libidinous passions, abused by quite human cupidities, and in addition prone to tears, deploring the death of those of their blood and breaking out like pansies in 'Woe is me!' because they want to save someone from death and are unable to do so, humbling themselves on the contrary before the fates, and yielding to Destiny, apparently more powerful than the Master of the gods, he that they call 'supreme Zeus'!

But I will not delay in saying all that I could still say on this subject; not wanting to appear to allow myself to be diverted from what is suitable, I will return to the point which my subject designates.

5. If there is a plot, it is a plot of the Greeks: it is they who undertook to use the fantastic to guarantee the truth, and not in all simplicity of spirit, but indeed with impious intentions and the satisfaction of wrongdoing! It is they who gathered against the inexpressible glory of all-powerful God this hateful 'fiction', which set up this 'deception', like some trap aimed at simple souls.

They have in effect mislaid the whole earth by pretending that the sky and the elements in general were God. As the very wise Paul writes: "While calling themselves wise, they fell into madness, and altered the glory of imperishable God by giving him the appearance of perishable man, birds, quadrupeds, and animals."

However, to run with his ideas, we will not throw against others the criticisms which he formulated and will indeed let them attack the Holy Apostles, even the very wise Moses himself and the holy prophets; but when he comes to the bar, will he clearly show what is this 'fiction implemented by malice', of what nature is this 'fantastic account' about which he speaks, in what consists the 'fondness for a fable, the puerile side' of the Christian religion! Did Moses write for us tales, when he professed one God by nature and in truth, unbegotten, eternal, imperishable, without quantity, invisible, immutable, imperceptible, God who is life and who gives life, who is science and power, creator, King and Lord of the universe? Did he deviate from the truth, the word of the holy prophets, who stick step by step to the doctrines of Moses? Will we find a teaching different in the holy Apostles? Certainly not!

6. And then, how can he affirm that the beliefs of Galilaeans do not have in them anything divine, that they are in addition hazardous fables, monstrous fictions? Who would refuse to admit that there can nothing better for men than to know clearly and without error the Craftsman and Lord of the world, one in nature and in truth? Our adversaries themselves, I know, would affirm that the most beautiful remarkable part of philosophy is contemplative philosophy: thanks to it, the spirits which their wisdom considers the best even to see go to great pains, and as much as is possible for men to do, to grasp the divine nature. Since he says that he himself is persuaded of this, would he teach us from where and from whom he obtains this certainty? Because finally it is not necessary that he flatters himself to be the only one with knowledge. If he was convinced of it himself, if that is enough for him to show without possible dispute — as at least he thinks and affirms --- that Christianity is not worth anything, I will not hesitate to say that this is pure drivel in him, and that he just amuses himself to attack us alone! We will not submit ourselves to such a hostile judge! If on the other hand he considers that the declarations of the critics against anyone must be founded in truth and without lies, then, that he does not say that this is just his conviction; he argues with facts!

However it is indeed he himself, and not us, who he must hand over to justice for the invention of fables, and he is extremely likely to be convicted! What he said will persuade some of us: let us let him speak:


7. Now since I intend to treat of all their first dogmas, as they call them, I wish to say in the first place that if my readers desire to try to refute me they must proceed as if they were in a court of law and not drag in irrelevant matter, or, as the saying is, bring counter-charges until they have defended their own views. For thus it will be better and clearer if, when they wish to censure any views of mine, they undertake that as a separate task, but when they are defending themselves against my censure, they bring no counter-charges.


So it is necessary for those who you put on trial to be dumb? You require that the defendant be condemned without being able to break silence, and, without saying a word about your arguments, agrees to confirm the charge against himself! However, to refuse us the right to say anything of your theses is the act of a man who fears the controversy and is not unaware of the unpleasant weakness of his position. If our man, in examining the Christian religion, does not approve it on all points and decrees the crown of the supreme honours to the Greek superstition, I admit that he treats both equally; but if he takes pleasure in the speeches which he allows against us and gives the palm to his erroneous designs while opposing to us, as higher than ours, the Greek religion, how can he ask us to keep silence on and not to make any allusion to this religion, when, in our desire to defend the cause of our own beliefs, it is of that subject precisely that we speak?

8. If, renouncing the right to attack what you write, I had adopted the intention to mention only Greek realities, I could affirm: "His book on this subject is acceptable, and remains within the limits of probability"; but when would we defend ourselves, when we make a point of answering each one of its declarations, how does he still have the right to reproach us for our efforts to plead the cause of our religion while exposing the infamous impiety of the Greeks? Colours can be seen more clearly when there is contrast. "The light is seen in darkness", it is written, and in the same way, I believe, the beauty attached to the virtues appears to simple souls only through the ugliness of their opposites. What inclines to me to give to the Good the palm of victory is the hideousness of the Evil: and for this reason (Julian) has indeed reason to fear the arguments of his own camp, and refuses shamefully the right to produce it on the day, going so far as to impose silence on those which he puts on trial in this lawsuit! Here now is how he opposes other objections to us:


9. It is worth while to recall in a few words whence and how we first arrived at a conception of God; next to compare what is said about the divine among the Hellenes and Hebrews; and finally to enquire of those who are neither Hellenes nor Jews, but belong to the sect of the Galilaeans, why they preferred the belief of the Jews to ours; and what, further, can be the reason why they do not even adhere to the Jewish beliefs but have abandoned them also and followed a way of their own. For they have not accepted a single admirable or important doctrine of those that are held either by us Hellenes or by the Hebrews who derived them from Moses; but from both religions they have gathered what has been engrafted like powers of evil, as it were, on these nations----atheism from the Jewish levity, and a sordid and slovenly way of living from our indolence and vulgarity; and they desire that this should be called the noblest worship of the gods.


The same man who poured out his smear against us to the readers, that if they wanted to contradict him, they must "must proceed as if they were in a court of law and not drag in irrelevant matter, or, as the saying is, bring counter-charges" promptly sets himself to compare the views of the Greeks and the Hebrews on the divine! But this technique of comparing and opposing, at what does it aim? What can be Julian's aim, when he brings together the disagreements between the Hebraic or Christian beliefs and the Greek ones?

10. We can't pretend that he is giving up his accusation, and his need to smear, in order to submit himself to the equitable judgement of his readers, so far as to want to take from them the definition of the best and the worst! In his position, it seems, the only way to find partisans for his ideas about the divinity is to abuse the Christian religion by giving it the worst of it in a confrontation with Greek religion. But such a defeat is impossible for those who know the weakness of error and the force of truth. But we must be on our guard: in telling the legislators to impose silence on us, and to prohibit the least remark about his own cause when we speak about ours, he falls victim to his own prohibitions.

Since he cross-examines us, and wants to know what on earth made us give up the Greek religion for that of the Hebrews, well then, let's ask him back the same question! "Why have you yourself given up the Christian religion, and run away from the truth to embrace a lie? Why did you stupidly give preference to the most appalling superstition -- I mean that of idol-worshippers -- over a precise and certain teaching, and then think that you decided well when you have in fact drawn on yourself the final infamy? Does he want to know the real reason which made us give the Greek religion in order to hold in honour that of the Hebrews? We will borrow his own words to reply to him. Here's what he actually writes:


11. Now it is true that the Greeks invented their myths about the gods, incredible and monstrous stories. For they said that Kronos swallowed his children and then vomited them forth; and they even told of lawless unions, how Zeus had intercourse with his mother, and after having a child by her, married his own daughter, or rather did not even marry her, but simply deflowered her and then handed her over in marriage to another. Then too there is the legend that Dionysus was rent asunder and his limbs joined together again.... This is the sort of thing described in the myths of the Greeks!


What a defense to present! So what's the point of making a lot of noise and pretending to correct us when we have almost kicked out of existence the babbling of the Greeks, so ugly and improbable, and accorded preference to the truth? The divine Moses and after him the chorus of the holy prophets, the Apostles and the Evangelists, they sing the glory of God, one by nature and in truth; they invite us to imitate them by ripping away the myths from ourselves --- all the unbelievable forms and sleazy ideas -- and involving us in a way of life which attracts admiration. Nothing of what they say is invented, nothing in their ideas demands an incredible explanation. It is a fact that our beliefs agree with the preaching of Moses and with those of the holy prophets, and that the direction of the evangelical and apostolic teaching coincides with the ideas of our predecessors: at the proper time we will give some plain proofs of this.

12. But since (Julian) asserts -- on what head I don't know! ... -- that there is nothing serious or useful in our beliefs, well! let him prove it! Surely he isn't going to leave his assertion bare and without proof? Because anyway, how can there NOT be something serious in our beliefs? Don't we find precision and meticulousness in how Christians talk about God and the creation of the world? Don't the holy scriptures supply us with impeccable and irreproachable morality? Moreover, how can we not be struck by this obvious truth, that no other way, to my knowledge, is able to rightly address the supreme philosophy? Whether it is contemplative or even practical, our philosophical reflexion can claim every kind of praise, and the followers of Greek wisdom themselves admire it. It is thus not true that "the Hebraic doctrines taught us atheism" -- that's exactly what he wrote! --- what is true to say, is that the Scripture inspired by God has enabled us to condemn Greek ignorance. Moreover atheism is rather more a description of their beliefs, which do not know the God who is one by nature and in truth: how isn't this evidence on both sides? He also claims that "we took with Greek unconcern to a way of dissolute and nonchalant life", by calling our custom to eat of all without prohibition and to abstain from no food the "careless insouciance" of the Greeks. So these people present as the supreme act of piety, and compare it to the perfection of all virtues, the refusal to consume this or that food!

13. Well! how can they make these things the criterion of purity? Everything comes from God; is perforce good which has its Being from kindness, and he that is most holy and pure could not have created anything that would soil us. And in fact what effect could a food have on those who consume it? What sort of stain could it introduce in them? I believe that what we need to condemn is that which is likely to contaminate someone -- and, very generally, the things that can produce such an effect are the things that we must condemn; adulteries, fornications, scandalmongerings, lies, smears, greed, etc. But the Greeks -- who didn't take any notice of vice of this sort, however -- affect temperance at the table, sometimes renouncing this meat or that, without denying themselves any extravagance! Further, they enjoy honouring soverign Zeus by voluntarily giving themselves the same appetites as his, and they honour the sovereignty of Aphrodite.


(Julian) reproaches us for innumerable things, but mainly he has a go at the most wise Moses, by attacking his writings without moderation. He affirms that when composing the book about the creation of the world, everything he said was untrue and that he was satisfied just to gather old fairystories, that he paid no attention to things that seemed to deserve full attention, and finally that he just wrote poor centos, while imagining that he was saying things which were wise and good to hear. Yet Julian is paralysed with amazement before the ideas of the learned Greeks in this field, and, more than very other, he crowns with acclamations and applause the doctrines of Plato.

14. He throws insults immoderately, but still let's pass over that for the moment! On the other hand, I will try to establish, as much as I can, that he is badly wrong to take up such grand airs in connection with Greek chatterings.

It is necessary, I believe, to present afresh, by extracting them from the works of the Greeks, the various doctrines which they have judged good to profess about the creation of the world, and to oppose the cosmogony of Moses to them: the readers will thus see the verbose subtlety and drivel of these thinkers, as well as the pure source of truth which is in the writings of Moses.

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