Angela and I recently watched the movie, Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic (1978). Why? Don’t ask. But, I must say, it offered an interesting look at the patterns of Christian faith in 19th Century England, everything from Sir William Gladstone’s moral crusades to Benjamin Disraeli’s nominal Anglicanism. All of these examples caused me to think about the biblical vision for Christian life in terms of what we should strive toward. If you’re looking for an example of this pattern from church history, here is a helpful one from Theophilus of Antioch (c. 120 – c. 200).
Theophilus was the influential bishop of Antioch in Syria in the middle of the second century.1 Little is known of his early life, but he seems to have been converted to Christianity as an adult through the careful study of Scriptures. He lived under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and his son Commodus, during a period of dramatic transition in the Roman world—a time of great ambivalence and intense antagonism between the Church and the state. His only surviving work, “To Autolychus,” is an apologetic essay that replied to objections to Christianity raised by pagan intellectuals. Theophilus tells Autolychus how Christians differ from the world around them and ought, therefore, to be the standard for all people.
Christians exhibit temperance, exercise self-control, preserve monogamy, guard chastity, cast out unrighteousness, root out sin, care for righteousness, live [according to] the law, practice godliness, confess God; with Christians truth arbitrates, grace is maintained, peace shelters, the holy word guides, wisdom teaches, life arbitrates, God rules.2
1 Eusebius, Church History, 4.20 and 4.24.
2 Theophilus, “To Autolycus, 3.15,” Inheriting Wisdom: Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers, ed. Everett Ferguson (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 210.