«Wealth is like a Snake»: Money, Martyrdom, Apostasy and Struggle for Power in Early Christian Tradition (1st – early 4th century)

Aleksey Dmitrievich Panteleev phd in history, associate professor, Saint Petersburg State University, Institute of History (7/9 Universitetskaya nab., Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia)
a.panteleev@spbu.ru

Panteleev A. V. «Wealth is like a Snake»: Money, Martyrdom, Apostasy and Struggle for Power in Early Christian Tradition (1st – early 4th century), Religiya. Tserkov’. Obshchestvo. Issledovaniya i publikatsii po teologii i religii [Religion. Church. Society: Research and publications in the field of theology and religious studies], Saint-Petersburg, 2023, vol. 12, pp. 180–201.

doi: 10.24412/2308-0698-2022-11-174-193

Language: Russian

The article is devoted to the consideration of questions about how Church writers of the 1st – beginning of the 4th century perceived wealthy Christians, place of the rich Christians in the life of the community, and what dangers were associated with the possession of wealth. Main sources for analysis are the writings of the New Testament, the «Shepherd» of Hermas, the works of Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian and Eusebius of Caesarea. The accusation of rich Christians of a tendency to apostasy, both during persecution and tranquility, is studied. For all these authors, the possession of wealth is a problem. In peace time, wealth distracts from the salvation of the soul and weakens faith, creating the illusion of well-being and security, and forces you to communicate with pagans beyond measure. In times of persecution, wealth tempts you to defect. This attitude is based on their personal practical experience. But apostasy was not the only cause of concern for church hierarchs and intellectuals. The rich Christians could disrupt the normal course of community life, demand special treatment for themselves because of the benefits they provided. There was also a second reason for dissatisfaction with the rich within the community — insubordination to the church authorities. If a rich layman was not satisfied with his position, he could strive for leadership by taking on the role of a priest, or move to a heretical group where it was easier to achieve the desired position. Finally, he could simply loosen his ties with the church without severing them completely.

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Key words: early Christianity, Roman Empire, wealth, poverty, persecution, apostasy

URL: http://rcs-almanac.ru/en/en-panteleev-2023/

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