Christian Intellectuals and the Roman Empire

From Justin Martyr to Origen

By (author) Jared Secord

Hardback - £79.95

Publication date:

15 September 2020

Length of book:

214 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271087078

Early in the third century, a small group of Greek Christians began to gain prominence and legitimacy as intellectuals in the Roman Empire. Examining the relationship that these thinkers had with the broader Roman intelligentsia, Jared Secord contends that the success of Christian intellectualism during this period had very little to do with Christianity itself.

With the recognition that Christian authors were deeply engaged with the norms and realities of Roman intellectual culture, Secord examines the thought of a succession of Christian literati that includes Justin Martyr, Tatian, Julius Africanus, and Origen, comparing each to a diverse selection of his non-Christian contemporaries. Reassessing Justin’s apologetic works, Secord reveals Christian views on martyrdom to be less distinctive than previously believed. He shows that Tatian’s views on Greek culture informed his reception by Christians as a heretic. Finally, he suggests that the successes experienced by Africanus and Origen in the third century emerged as consequences not of any change in attitude toward Christianity by imperial authorities but of a larger shift in intellectual culture and imperial policies under the Severan dynasty.

Original and erudite, this volume demonstrates how distorting the myopic focus on Christianity as a religion has been in previous attempts to explain the growth and success of the Christian movement. It will stimulate new research in the study of early Christianity, classical studies, and Roman history.

“This book is a welcome addition to a growing movement by classicists and ancient historians to examine early Christian authors within the horizons of Roman imperial culture (the so-called Second Sophistic). Secord brings to the task an unusually strong command of the scholarship and the Christian texts, married to a firm grasp of the history and non-Christian intellectual trends of the first three centuries CE. Scholars who work with equal comfort on both sides of the pagan-Christian divide are rare; this is a book that scholars in both disciplines will read with profit.”

—Kendra Eshleman, author of The Social World of Intellectuals in the Roman Empire: Sophists, Philosophers, and Christians