Sunday, March 10, 2013

Crucifixion the Bodily Support - The Acuta Crux in Patristic Writings (17)

Alexamenos Graffito. Vivat Crux is visible behind it,
if viewed in certain browsers. 

(Part 7q of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)

Part 1        Part 2      Part 3       Part 4
Part 5a     Part 5b    Part 5c     Part 5d
Part 5e     Part 5f     Part 5g     Part 6a
Part 6b     Part 6c    Part 6d     Part 6e
Part 7a     Part 7b    Part 7c     Part 7d
Part 7e     Part 7f     Part 7g      Part 7h
Part 7i      Part 7j     
Part 7k      Part 7l

Part 7m    Part 7n   Part 7o      Part 7p

Minucius Felix.

Minucius Felix (flourished betw. 160 and 300 CE) addresses the charge that Christians worshiped a criminal and his execution pole (crux) by denying it completely in a refutation of a string of sexual misconduct and atrocity charges.

First, the charges: the antagonist Cæcilius brings out the indictments: that they worship a suspended (hanged and impaled) criminal and even the instrument of his execution, they worship the head of an ass (donkey), and even the nature of their priest or pontiff. Moreover, they initiate those they recruit by the slaughter and blood of an infant, and engage in indiscriminate intercourse following their Agape Meal. To wit:

Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes. Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were at the bottom of it.
I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion—a worthy and appropriate religion for such manners. Some say that they worship the virilia of their pontiff and priest, and adore the nature, as it were, of their common parent. I know not whether these things are false; certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve. 
Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily— O horror!— they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness of wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence. Such sacred rites as these are more foul than any sacrileges
And of their banqueting it is well known all men speak of it everywhere; even the speech of our Cirtensian testifies to it. On a solemn day they assemble at the feast, with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of every sex and of every age. There, after much feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervour of incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness, a dog that has been tied to the chandelier is provoked, by throwing a small piece of offal beyond the length of a line by which he is bound, to rush and spring; and thus the conscious light being overturned and extinguished in the shameless darkness, the connections of abominable lust involve them in the uncertainty of fate. Although not all in fact, yet in consciousness all are alike incestuous, since by the desire of all of them everything is sought for which can happen in the act of each individual.
Minucius Felix, Octavius 9 1

The first charge is that the Christians, by calling each other brothers and sisters, by virtue of such, turn even what Romans would call tame debaucheries into incestuous congresses. The second charge is the worship of the head of an ass, that is, a donkey. This is seen in the Alexamenos above, assuming, of course, that the person being mocked for his religion was a Christian. 2 The third charge is that they worship the virilia of their priest and pontiff: the nature of their common "parent," and it is clear that the argument is referring to the veneration of their clergy's genitalia: in short, cock-worship.

This leads into the fourth charge, that one "who explains of [the Christians'] ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the crossappropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve."  (Et qui hominem summo supplicio pro facinore punitum et crucis ligna feralia eorum caerimonias fabulatur, congruentia perditis sceleratisque tribuit altaria, ut id colant quod merentur 3)

The fourth charge sets up the fifth and sixth charges, where Cæcilius indicts the Christians of having an initiate sacrifice a hidden infant and consuming it in a Thysteam Banquet (rite of cannibalism), and describes the Chriatians' periodic Agape meals as a gathering together for a feast followed by the dousing of a lamp and engagement by all in indiscriminate intercourse with all.

Now, the rebuttals: Minucius Felix' protagonist Octavius asserts that not only are the Christians falsely accused of sacrilege, indecency, sexual promiscuity and infanticide, but also the non-Christian Romans themselves are giulty of the same or even worse crimes. He first addresses the second and third charges:
Thence arises what you say that you hear, that an ass's head is esteemed among us a divine thing. Who is such a fool as to worship this? Who is so much more foolish as to believe that it is an object of worship? Unless that you even consecrate whole asses in your stables, together with your Epona, and religiously devour those same asses with Isis. Also you offer up and worship the heads of oxen and of wethers, and you dedicate gods mingled also of a goat and a man, and gods with the faces of dogs and lions. Do you not adore and feed Apis the ox, with the Egyptians? And you do not condemn their sacred rites instituted in honour of serpents, and crocodiles, and other beasts, and birds, and fishes, of which if any one were to kill one of these gods, he is even punished with death. These same Egyptians, together with very many of you, are not more afraid of Isis than they are of the pungency of onions, nor of Serapis more than they tremble at the basest noises produced by the foulness of their bodies. 
He also who fables against us about our adoration of the members of the priest, tries to confer upon us what belongs really to himself. (Ista enim impudicitæ eorum forsitan sacra sint, apud quos sexus omnis membris omnibus prostat, apud quos iota impudicitia vocatur urbanitas; qui scortorum licentiæ invident, qui medios viros lambunt, libidinoso ore inguinibus inhærescunt, homines malæ linguæ; etiam si tacerent, quos prius tædescit impudicitiæ suæ; quam pudescit.) Abomination! They suffer on themselves such evil deeds, as no age is so effeminate as to be able to bear, and no slavery so cruel as to be compelled to endure.
Minucius Felix, Octavius 28 1
First Octavius throws the charge of ass's head worship back at Cæcilius with examples of Greco-Roman and Egyptian gods. Then the charge of the worship of the gentials of the  Christians' pontiff and priests by accusing the Romans of doing the same, and what naturally follows after (fellatio = dick sucking). Unfortunately, New Advent has been charitable enough to the sensibilities of the most easily offended of Christians, and the fears of others that an 'impressionable' teenage male would be automatically encouraged to do what is described therein if he understood it, as to leave the important part untranslated. So here I translate it: "Namely, those gross indecencies of them perhaps may be sacred rites, in the presence of all sexes he offers himself for sale to all with 'members', among those with an iota of same-sex promiscuity he is called urbane; those who refuse the liberty of prostitutes, who lick men's middles, with a wanton mouth they become 'stuck' onto the privy parts, men of an evil tongue, but if yet again they remain silent, one is at first offended at his own sexual impurity, which makes one ashamed." And he finishes up with "which no age could be so effeminate to bear, nor condition of slavery so cruel to compel." (quod nec aetas potest pati mollior nec cogi servitus durior) From this coda Octavius goes on to address the next charge: that Christians worship a criminal and his execution pole.

And how does Minucius Felix' Octavius deal with the charges of the worship of a criminal, and the execution stake and frame that he was impaled upon? By denying everything!
These, and such as these infamous things, we are not at liberty even to hear; it is even disgraceful with any more words to defend ourselves from such charges. For you pretend that those things are done by chaste and modest persons, which we should not believe to be done at all, unless you proved that they were true concerning yourselves.
For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God. Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on mortal man, for all his help is put an end to with the extinction of the man. The Egyptians certainly choose out a man for themselves whom they may worship; him alone they propitiate; him they consult about all things; to him they slaughter victims; and he who to others is a god, to himself is certainly a man whether he will or no, for he does not deceive his own consciousness, if he deceives that of others. Moreover, a false flattery disgracefully caresses princes and kings, not as great and chosen men, as is just, but as gods; whereas honour is more truly rendered to an illustrious man, and love is more pleasantly given to a very good man. Thus they invoke their deity, they supplicate their images, they implore their Genius, that is, their demon; and it is safer to swear falsely by the genius of Jupiter than by that of a king.
Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it.
Minucius Felix, Octavius 29 1
First, Octavius summarizes the previous charges he's addressed, the present charge he is addressing, and the remaining charges he will address, as a collection of infamous things (propudia: infamous or shameful acts or deeds) that Christians are not even at liberty to hear, let alone defend against them with words. 4 And one of those infamous things is the worship of a man (even if he was a Godman, both fully God and fully man) and the crux he was attached to.

Concerning the Cross, Octavius asserts that it was far from the neighbourhood of the truth for Caecilius to charge Christians with the worship of a noxious criminal and his torture-stake! 5 

He refutes such charges that the Christians worship a criminal, not in asserting that the man was God, or that it was right and proper that He should be crucified even though it would be received as a scandal by the Jews and Roman alike, but by using an example from Egypt how the Egyptians worshiped their Pharoahs (apparently it was not safe to explicitly cite the imperial cult!) but once they passed on, they were of no more benefit to their worshippers; and moreover, such worship is a disgraceful flattery, a caressing and a puffing up of leaders, which inevitably appeals to their egos.  

Roman tropaea.
And the Cross itself? That Octavius throws back at Caecilius, noting that the Romans' standards, their banners, their flags and even their trophies of victory (tropaea victricia) were all based on the schematic of a simple cross crucis simplicis: which in these cases, was (usually) a pole with a crossarm. And of the last, the dressed trophy (tropaeum) resembled not only a crux simplex 5, but also one with a man affixed to it.  Now in these two examples of the Roman tropaeum, it is the decor that makes the object resemble a utility pole ~ or a cross ~ with a man attached to it, or because the Roman or enemy armor was placed around the frame, impaled on it. Either way, Octavius' rejoinder indicates that there could have been an accepted convention at the time that a criminal attached to such a device was himself considered a human trophy! After this, he goes on to cite several examples of how a figure of cross can be seen in everyday objects and situations, and also in nature.

Minucius Felix's protagonist finishes up by adressing the charges of the sacrifice of an infant, of Thystean Banquets, and that the Agape meal consisted of a feast followed by indiscriminate intercourse in total darkness. First with the infanticide and the cannibalism:
And now I should wish to meet him who says or believes that we are initiated by the slaughter and blood of an infant. Think you that it can be possible for so tender, so little a body to receive those fatal wounds; for any one to shed, pour forth, and drain that new blood of a youngling, and of a man scarcely come into existence? No one can believe this, except one who can dare to do it. And I see that you at one time expose your begotten children to wild beasts and to birds; at another, that you crush them when strangled with a miserable kind of death. There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth.
And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your gods. For Saturn did not expose his children, but devoured them. With reason were infants sacrificed to him by parents in some parts of Africa, caresses and kisses repressing their crying, that a weeping victim might not be sacrificed. Moreover, among the Tauri of Pontus, and to the Egyptian Busiris, it was a sacred rite to immolate their guests, and for the Galli to slaughter to Mercury human, or rather inhuman, sacrifices. The Roman sacrificers buried living a Greek man and a Greek woman, a Gallic man and a Gallic woman; and to this day, Jupiter Latiaris is worshipped by them with murder; and, what is worthy of the son of Saturn, he is gorged with the blood of an evil and criminal man. I believe that he himself taught Catiline to conspire under a compact of blood, and Bellona to steep her sacred rites with a draught of human gore, and taught men to heal epilepsy with the blood of a man, that is, with a worse disease. They also are not unlike to him who devour the wild beasts from the arena, besmeared and stained with blood, or fattened with the limbs or the entrails of men. To us it is not lawful either to see or to hear of homicide; and so much do we shrink from human blood, that we do not use the blood even of eatable animals in our food.
Minucius Felix, Octavian 30 1

The protagonist states that it is the non-Christians who subject their younglings to cruel and atrocious deaths; moreover, it is the bloodthirsty gods of the non-Christians who gave them the ideas who do such things. But for the Christians, states Octavius, it is not even lawful for them to hear of homicide and they are so squeamish about human blood, that they do not even consume the blood of animals that are fit to consume as food. The refutation doesn't say the Christians shrink back from all human blood except the blood of Christ, but rather they shrink back from all human blood, period, to the point of abstaining from the blood of edible animals (edulium percorum, "edible livestock").

Finally Octavius addresses the charge of indiscriminate intercourse that is metaphorically upgraded to incest by the Christians' calling each other Brother and Sister:

And of the incestuous banqueting, the plotting of demons has falsely devised an enormous fable against us, to stain the glory of our modesty, by the loathing excited by an outrageous infamy, that before inquiring into the truth it might turn men away from us by the terror of an abominable charge. It was thus your own Fronto acted in this respect: he did not produce testimony, as one who alleged a charge, but he scattered reproaches as a rhetorician. For these things have rather originated from your own nations. Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime.
But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all. We practise sharing in banquets, which are not only modest, but also sober: for we do not indulge in entertainments nor prolong our feasts with wine; but we temper our joyousness with gravity, with chaste discourse, and with body even more chaste (various of us unviolated) enjoy rather than make a boast of a perpetual virginity of a body. So far, in fact, are they from indulging in incestuous desire, that with some even the (idea of a) modest intercourse of the sexes causes a blush.
Neither do we at once stand on the level of the lowest of the people, if we refuse your honours and purple robes; and we are not fastidious, if we all have a discernment of one good, but are assembled together with the same quietness with which we live as individuals; and we are not garrulous in corners, although you either blush or are afraid to hear us in public.
And that day by day the number of us is increased, is not a ground for a charge of error, but is a testimony which claims praise; for, in a fair mode of life, our actual number both continues and abides undiminished, and strangers increase it. Thus, in short, we do not distinguish our people by some small bodily mark, as you suppose, but easily enough by the sign of innocency and modesty. Thus we love one another, to your regret, with a mutual love, because we do not know how to hate. Thus we call one another, to your envy, brethren: as being men born of one God and Parent, and companions in faith, and as fellow-heirs in hope. You, however, do not recognise one another, and you are cruel in your mutual hatreds; nor do you acknowledge one another as brethren, unless indeed for the purpose of fratricide.
Minucius Felix, Octavian 31 1

And Minucius Felix's protagonist argues along the same line of reasoning: not only do the Christians not engage in 'incestuous' intercourse, but they even refrain all but marital intercourse, with only one wife, for procreative purposes only. Even the mere idea of ordinary intercourse causes some among them to blush, he says. Yet on the other hand the non-Christians glory in incest in their plays, their stories, and the religious myths of their gods. And the non-Christians practice incest unawares, too, because they expose their children to the mercy of others and there fore it is inevitable that they should commit incest with their own when they visit a brothel!

So we have some conclusions about Minucius Felix's understanding of the Roman crux from the charges that Caecilius makes and Octavius refutes, based on its nesting in other indecent and atrocious charges and countercharges:

Caecilius' charges:

  1. Christians by calling each other Brother and Sister upgrade normal intercourse to incest.
  2. Christians worship the head of an ass (donkey).
  3. Christians worship the virilia of their pontiff and priest; i.e., engage in cock-worship.
  4. Christians worship an executed criminal and his crux.
  5. Christians sacrifice a newborn infant and eat it in a Thystean Banquet.
  6. Christians have a wild, indiscriminate orgy at the end of their Agape Meal.

Octavius' countercharges:

  1. Non-Christians worship animal-human hybrids as gods (ex.: Pan)
  2. Non-Christian men offer themselves for sale, they lick other men's middles, and perform oral sex on them. 
  3. Non-Christians worship their monarchs.
  4. Non-Christian have their own worship of the cross in the imperial religions. They even worship the simulacrum of a crucified man in the form of a tropaeum.
  5. Non-Christians subject infants, toddlers, and even fetuses to cruel deaths.
  6. Non-Christians celebrate incest in the myths of their gods and even unknowingly commit incest with their own that they had set out for exposure years before.

Now with the juxtaposition of the charge, denial and countercharge of the worship of a cross, or more accurately, crux (some kind of execution pole), in between those of cock-worship / fellatio and killing of infants and fetuses, it appears that at the time Octavius was written Roman crucifixion was at widely understood as both an obscenity linked with or resembling a same-sex sexual act and an atrocity. Such an understanding also appears to be held by Minucius Felix, with his wholesale denial that Christians worshipped the Cross that according to the gospel story, Jesus was crucified on. Such an understanding makes more sense if Roman crucifixion not only consisted of a limb suspension from a crossarmed pole, but also a rectal penetration on a sharpened stake that rose upward and projected outward so that it kept the person from falling off, even when he pushed upwards from his heels to relieve straining of the shouders, and impaled him deeply when he slumped down from his wrists when his leg muscles cramped and failed.

Like with this poor bugger. Only he was in an arena, with his sedile a more elaborate construction resembling Priapus' uncircumcised penis with an anal thorn on top, midway out from the main pole.


1. New, Minucius Felix, Octavius. Latin text at The Latin Library: note the English chapter titles are not present in the Latin.
2. Then again, Alexamenos could have been a devotee of Typhon-Seth: see the 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia, "Ass-Worship."
3. Lit: "And he who would speak of their ceremonies [by reference to] a man punished for an outrageous deed with the height of punishment, and the lethal timbers of the torture-stake, attribute altars congruent to utterly lost and wicked people  so that they may worship the very thing which they deserve." 
4. Haec et huiusmodi propudia nobis non licet nec audire, etiam pluribus turpe defendere est: ea enim de castis fingitis et pudicis, quae fieri non crederemus, nisi de vobis probaretis. (These, and infamous deeds of this sort for us it is not permissible, not even to hear, likewise it is shameful [polluted] with any more   
to defend [ourselves]: namely you guys make up such things with regard to chaste and modest people, which to be done [by such] I cannot believe to be true, except concerning your own you demonstrate [to be true].)
5. It is abundamtly clear from the phrase Tropaea vestra victricia non tantum simplicis crucis faciem, verum et adfixi hominis imitantur (Your tropaea [trophies] not only have the shape of a crux simplex [simple cross], but also is made to resemble the actuality of a man attached to it.) that Minucius Felix's understanding of the crux simplex was expansive enough to include those frames now covered by Justus Lipsius' terms crux commissa (T cross or St Anthony's cross) and crux immissa. (Latin cross).

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