The Church in the face of fanaticism. The example of the early Christians

by Philippe Henne

Salvator, 208 p., 20 €

Religions are often accused of being intolerant and sources of fanaticism. Christianity is not immune to criticism. However, since its earliest days, it has stood up against certain fanatic practices. This is shown by the Dominican Philippe Henne, a specialist in the Fathers of the Church to whom he has already devoted numerous works (Hilaire de Poitiers, Leon the Great, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory the Great…). For this, he studies three major themes: martyrdom, bodily asceticism and sexual relations.

If there have been attitudes and excesses in these different areas that today seem unbearable to us, the examination of the texts shows that these behaviors come from abuses which were never decreed by the ancient Church but rather criticized, even sometimes condemned, by it. A certain number of these behaviors come moreover from very precise groups which very quickly put themselves outside the great Church and thus formed the first heresies, opposed by the Fathers of the Church, starting with the Lyonnais Irénée in West: Gnosis, Montanism then Arianism and Donatism.

The historical investigation also shows that the early Christians, unlike the Islamist terrorists of today, never sought martyrdom, death for itself and never pursued, of course, the aim to cause death to anyone! Neither did our ancestors in the faith seek suffering, especially physical, for itself. «The body itself was not the object of hatred since God had created and kneaded it with his divine hands ” and asceticism is neither the enjoyment of suffering, nor ” a sport is a means of directing the passions of the flesh into a new energy for the service of others and the love of God », Writes the Dominican. The risk denounced by the popes of the time, ” it is the daily routine that risks making you forget the essential, the encounter with God (…) Asceticism, far from being an additional test, became a chance to discover the essential ».

Philippe Henne also examines the reproaches made to some great figures of ancient Christianity. Thus Tertullian, whom he qualifies as ” relentless champion of verbal violence “, Did not speak thus to crush his adversaries wickedly but only conformed to the” world of lawyers of the time experienced in public speaking », Explains the author. Origen, contrary to what Eusebius of Caesarea might have said two centuries later, was not castrated. Finally, faced with the atrocious violence of circumcellions at the height of the Donatist crisis, Augustine was not ” the bloodthirsty executioner of poor religious separatists », As we still present it too often today. No, concludes the patrologist, “ it was not the heresy he wanted to crush, it was the violence he wanted to contain. It was not the monopoly of the Church that he wanted to defend, it was peace in the cities and the countryside that he wanted to see reestablished.. »

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