ETHICS

The early Fathers were deeply interested in the moral implications of the Christian faith, starting with the familiar morals of the Apostolic Fathers and the public defense of the apologists. Among Greek Fathers, Clement of Alexandria resolves various pressing problems and gives detailed advice, Basil prescribes the behavior of the monk and Chrysostom preaches ethics to his congregations. Among Latin Fathers, Tertullian is a rigorist who exaggerates situations, Lactantius formulates the basic principles of law and Ambrose follows the model of Cicero in a moral treatise. Ancient tendencies are summed up in Augustine who, as a Platonist and a Westerner, joins them all together. At first, private matters remained central; later, the Christian state added wider problems. Ethical exhortation is formulated in various literary forms: the Apostolic Fathers use those found in the NT: the two ways of life and death, catalogs of virtues and vices, family codes, proverbs, letters and parables. This variety grows in later writings. Clement of Alexandria provides a manual for daily life and an appeal for spiritual perfection, Basil formulates a Rule in two forms, which had lasting influence, while Chrysostom prefers to rely on his sermons. Tertullian writes on specific questions; Lactantius inserts moral principles into a doctrinal context; and Ambrose systematically treats of the virtues. Augustine deals with general principles and concrete problems in letters, sermons and treatises of various kinds.

Recurrent themes include freedom, justice and love. Freedom is the condition of moral action; determinism is constantly opposed. Ethics begin and end in Christology. Clement of Rome links divine justice with the order of the universe 1 Cor. 40. The perfection of every virtue is love, without which no one can please God 1 Cor. 49-50. Christians must be disciples, following and imitating those who have gone before them 1 Cor. 63. Ignatius insists on the imitation of Christ and the Christian’s close communion with his Lord Eph. 1; Rom. 4, 6, 7; Phil. 7. Martyrdom is the crown the Christian athlete aspires to Pol. 2; Rom. 4, 6. Hermas makes a last appeal for justice to a church that has betrayed its past Vis. 2, 2. Rigorism and asceticism mark the path of highest rectitude. Every act that brings pleasure is an act of self-indulgence, but it is not wrong to indulge in doing good Sim. 6, 5. Christian justice obeys the divine precepts: it is the way of love for God, for neighbors and for enemies Didache 1.

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