The Moral World Before Christianity

João Scognamiglio Clá Dias FAITH Magazine July-August 2010

The South American Founder of the Heralds of the Gospel, an International Association of Pontifical Right, has written a thorough-going response to the recent media attack upon the Church. Mgr Clá Dias' full text can be seen on their website. Below are extracts on the theme that "it was the Catholic Church that freed the world from immorality". Other parts of the piece argue that "it is because the world is rejecting the Church that it has once again sunk into the mire from which it was rescued."

The Pagan World

Before Our Lord Jesus Christ preached the Good News of the Gospel among men, the world was submerged in a prolonged and terrible night, in which moral licentiousness, egoism, cruelty, inhumanity and oppression reigned, as history illustrates.

From this picture, it cannot be surmised that all Romans, Greeks, and "barbarians" were profligates. There were minorities at variance with that situation, and they were prepared to receive the evangelical preaching with the eagerness of a castaway who finds a lifeline. Hence the rapid expansion of the Catholic Church through the Roman world, and, finally, the conversion of the Empire in the year 313 of the Christian era.

[... The Pagan] gods formed a fearful and violent band of miscreants. They were adulterers, liars, thieves, oppressors and murderers guilty of patricide, matricide and fratricide. They were cruel, selfish, treacherous, slothful, false, shameless and incestuous, and included fornicators, degenerates, and paedophiles. Zeus (the Jupiter of the Romans), the chief deity of this crew, was not only a brute who practised cannibalism, devouring one of his daughters and murdering other close relatives, but he was also an uncontrollable adulterer who victimised many single and married "gods", violated his sisters and daughters-in-law, ravished his own daughter and even his mother, and who, moreover, kept a young boy whom he had abducted as a lover.

Accounts of these infamies were retold in texts used for the instruction of children in grammar, rhetoric, and poetry in the schools of that era, as pointed out by Christian apologists in their epoch.

Cruelty, Immorality, Oppression

Slavery was such an accepted institution in the ancient world that slaves commonly made up the majority of the population. ...

In Roman law there were clauses concerning slaves that sparked great cruelties. ...

In Antiquity, killing was viewed with indifference, as being a natural happening in the life of peoples. The massacre of a population of a city caused neither surprise nor indignation....

In Rome, the spectacle most prized by the people was that of men dying, and the gladiator fights in Rome were occasions of pitiless slaughters. "In the morning, says Seneca, men are thrown to the lions and bears; after mid-day, they are thrown [at will] to the spectators [... which] helps us "to understand the pleasure-seeking ferocity with which the Romans vented themselves in anti-Christian persecutions," observes Daniel-Rops, ... "very rare, were spectators who manifested their disapproval." ...

In that pagan environment, the situation of women was appalling. In general they had almost no rights, and were practically considered slaves of their husbands, that is, when they had the privilege of being married.

The religions themselves, even the most elevated ones, led women - and naturally men as well - into great depravity. That of the Chaldeans, for example, was sinister and corrupt, featuring lubricious practices in the temples. The Phoenician religion also incited the degradation of women.

... Once a year, Athens and other cities held an event in which an enormous phallic sculpture was borne in procession. Men and women went through the streets, singing, leaping and dancing around this idol.

Feminine honour was being damaged by the custom of polygamy which was generalised in many regions, while, in other places, polyandry was in force. Equally degrading was incest, especially common in Persia, but also in Greece.

In India, among the cruel pagan practices spanning millennia, custom demanded that the widow be burned alongside the body of her husband.

... In Athens, to prevent partiality toward daughters in questions of inheritance, the law fell into an even greater aberration in encouraging incest to resolve such problems, even demanding the destruction of two already constituted homes, if need be.

In Rome, during the era in which the Good News of Jesus Christ was being preached, the institution of the family found itself in a grave crisis. Abortion and child abandonment reached shocking proportions. The birth-rate decreased. Wealthy men preferred to remain single and surround themselves with innumerable slave women rather than subject themselves to the inconveniences of marriage.

Children Before the Ail-Powerful State

... The Greco-Roman family was also totalitarian from certain perspectives. Thus, Roman law gave a dictatorial power to the pater familias. In Greece, similar laws were in vigour. The father had the right to reject his newborn son, or to sell him as a slave. He could also condemn his wife, son, daughter, or any other dweller in his house to death - the sentence being executed without delay; the State authorities did not interfere.

In Sparta, comments Coulanges, "the State had the right not to tolerate that its citizens be deformed or ill-constituted. It therefore ordered the father to whom such a child was born, to make it die." According to the same author, this law was equally found in the ancient codes of Rome and even Aristotle and Plato included this practice in their legislative proposals.

In Carthage and Phoenicia, children were offered in sacrifice to the idols; ... "children belong less to their parents than to the city." [Plato]

What is denominated by today's press as paedophilia was largely practised in the ancient world, under the protection of law, through the influence of the pagan religions.

In Greece, the sexual corruption of boys, more precisely called pederasty, was carried out as a legalised practice. Every adult male who was not a slave, had the right to practise it. Such was the custom in Persia and in other places, where it was maintained for centuries. Rome also became contaminated by the Grecian evil, to the point that many emperors procured male adolescents as lovers.

Boys who were considered comely, if they had been made prisoners of war, or had been abducted or sold by their parents, were mutilated for the purpose of feeding the trafficking of eunuchs. Not even sons of the nobility escaped.

In Greece - especially Athens - the victims of pederasty were not only prisoners of war, the abducted, or slaves. Any boy could become the target of the infamous desires of adult men, and the custom was to yield. If a father, endowed with a remnant of moral sensibility, desired to spare his sons this tragedy, he had to act before it happened, employing slaves, who would watch over the son like hawks. ... The schools - the highly acclaimed Academies - were places where students, from the age of 12 or even younger, became the prey of the masters. The Athenian laws went so far as to protect and encourage this practice, even regulating flirtation and "love-making" between men and boys.

Greeks such as Solon, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Xenophon, Thucydides, Aeschines and Aristophanes, famous in the world of literature, the arts, philosophy and politics, practised and extolled pederasty.

Greek philosophy reached the point of debating this infamous practice, without ever completely condemning it. Even Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were not exempt from this evil.

... The Greeks stooped to consider the natural relationship between man and woman as inferior to the relationship between man and boy.

... Saint Justin, in his Apologetics, ... vituperates the custom of rejected children - boys and girls - being made slaves for prostitution.

The Arrival of Gospel Values

The message of Jesus Christ threw the worm-eaten ancient world off balance. It censured libertinism and cruelty, and upheld the freedom to practice the good, chastity, virginity, innocence, conjugal fidelity, love of enemies, charity, abnegation, goodness toward the weak, and dignity for all human beings, created in the image and likeness of God.

A particular horror of the sin of paedophilia was instilled in souls by our Divine Master, with words of extreme severity: "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea" (Mt 18:6).

Paganism could not remain indifferent faced with the sublimity of the Gospel. Only two reactions remained to it: that of becoming enchanted by and submitting to the gentle yoke of God, or of hating and persecuting. Not a few converted. ...

Paganism needed, then, to make use of another weapon to try to reverse the situation: defamation and calumny. As the Christian apologists of those first centuries observe, the pagans began accusing the Christians of the very wrongs committed by paganism.

It is noteworthy that one of the accusations was that of paedophilia aggravated by incest. Saint Justin comments: "The things which you do openly and with applause, ... these you lay to our charge."

A Civilisation Governed by the Gospel

The Catholic Church finally won out, by virtue of the intrinsic strength of the good. And, little by little, aided by divine grace which never fails, she took the Greco-Latin decadents and the Germanic barbarians, converted them and educated them, and inspired the building up of a brilliant civilisation whose apex, hitherto unattained, occurred in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

In this epoch, according to Pope Leo XIII, "States were governed by the philosophy of the Gospel". Then, "the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations of civil society."

It was during this time that the Church developed scholasticism, built the Gothic cathedrals (with their stained-glass windows and monuments), created the universities and the hospitals, encouraged the sciences and technical progress, perfected international relations between states, abolished slavery, advanced social progress and raised the condition of women, in such a way that, in the fourteenth century, Europe had far surpassed all the other continents.

As a scholar of medieval technical progress of that epoch illustrates, "it was the building, for the first time in history, of a complex civilisation which rested, not on the backs of sweating slaves or coolies, but primarily on non-human power."

By João Scognamiglio Clá Dias

Faith Magazine