restricted access Conclusion: A Pious and Civilized Christian in the Roman Empire
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205 CONCLUSION A Pious and Civilized Christian in the Roman Empire R eading the Pastoral Epistles, especially 1 Timothy, among ancient, analogous rhetorical uses of piety allows modern readers to appreciate the polyphonic resonances of the Pastorals’ claims to piety. These resonances, in turn, attune modern ears to the cultural significance and polemic that attended the author’s appeal to piety, which ancient audiences would have recognized . Although our untrained ears have been deaf to such tones, given modern assumptions about the relative triteness of claims to piety among “religious” groups and texts, the analysis given here helps modern interpreters of the Bible to hear how the author of the Pastorals may have strategically deployed piety in his attempt to undercut prejudicial perceptions of Christians that saw them as promulgators of a foreign and seditious superstitio, to correct and establish the status and authority of benefactors in the ekklēsia, to build confidence in and solidarity around the legitimacy of his vision of the ideal ekklēsia over against competing interpretations of the Pauline tradition, and to differentiate truly pious insiders from “heterodox” outsiders. What is at stake for the author’s claim to piety is nothing less than the shape of the ecclesiology and theology of the ekklēsia and the viability of this ekklēsia to navigate its existence within the Roman Empire until the return of Christ. The Pastorals’ rhetoric of piety was informed by and evoked contemporaneous appeals to pietas and εὐσέβεια operative in intersecting and mutually informing imperial, civic, and philosophical cultural 206 Civilized Piety domains. By emphasizing the rhetoric of piety, this study has been less interested in defining the meaning of piety in the Pastorals or in tracing its discursive genealogy—­ that is, in determining whether the author was ultimately influenced by Hellenistic Jewish or Pagan sources as other scholars have explored. Rather, this study has been concerned with detailing how appeals to piety advanced sociopolitical aims and reinforced cultural values and ideological assumptions for contemporaries of the author in order to better understand what claims to piety were doing in the Pastorals, especially 1 Timothy. Coins celebrating the pietas of the imperial households of Trajan and Hadrian, monumental inscriptions commemorating the εὐσέβεια of Salutaris and other benefactors and benefactresses in Ephesus and broadly across the Roman provinces of Asia Minor, and the writings of Philo and Plutarch provide evidence that claims to piety rhetorically functioned to naturalize hierarchies of power and social orders, recognize the honorable status of citizens and subjects, authorize claims to knowledge about the divine, and delineate insiders from outsiders. Such strategic tactics aimed at legitimating and reinforcing social and political authority were made possible by the cultural prestige or symbolic capital that claims to piety carried—­ a prestige that is suggested by the prevalence of appeals to piety among the intersecting cultural domains that communicated imperial power, civic status, and philosophical expertise. By presenting Christians as the bearers of one of the most culturally significant and esteemed virtues of their time, the author constructs a Christian identity that embodies what it means to be a civilized, honorable, and loyal participant in the Roman social order. In the decades and century following the Pastoral Epistles in the later second and third centuries c.e., a number of early Christian apologists , including Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Origen, would also strategically deploy the virtue of piety in a manner similar to, if not derivative of, the Pastorals in their apologetic defense of the loyalty and participation of Christians in civic life. Not only does each author reference 1 Timothy 2:2 as evidence of how Christians are instructed to pray in behalf of the emperor, but they also turn to the language of εὐσέβεια in order to make their case that Christians are the most Conclusion 207 loyal and useful subjects of the Roman Empire.1 For example, Athenagoras of Athens (fl. 175–­ 180 c.e.) closes his Plea for the Christians by arguing that the prosperity of the Roman Empire is most ensured by the prayers of “pious” (θεοσεβεῖς) Christians, who only seek to lead “a quiet and peaceable life” (Leg. 37). In his Apology, Tertullian (ca. 160–­ 225 c.e.) asks why Christians are considered enemies and non-­ Romans (Apol. 36) when their prayers in behalf of the emperor (Apol. 31–­33) befit the attitudes of loyal subjects and are indicative of Christians’ exemplary “religious attitude and piety toward the emperor” (religione atque pietate Christiana in imperatore; Apol. 33).2 Tertullian quips that the...