Sarcastic Quotes and Use of Sarcasm
in Early Church History
This a collection of sarcastic quotes or comments about the use of sarcasm in addressing error and heresy in early Christianity.
The early Christians were quite, well, expressive in their denunciation of heretics. It would seem a sin not to delight you with these stinging denunciations of the purposeful rejection of God.
This is not for the faint of heart, but I include these sarcastic quotes on the Christian History for Everyman site, not only because they're interesting, but also because sarcasm is Biblical. Consider these two comments concerning those who preach circumcision from the apostle Paul's own hand:
Beware of dogs! Beware of evil workers! Beware of the mutilated! (Php. 3:2)
I wish those who were upsetting you would cut themselves off. (Gal. 5:12)
Various translations of the New Testament render that last quote as "mutilate themselves" (NASB) or "castrate themselves" (Bible in Basic English, and the German Neue Evangelistische Übersetzung).
Sarcastic Quotes and Comments about Sarcasm from the Early Christians
Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 107 to 116
For some are in the habit of carrying about the name in wicked guile, while they still practice things unworthy of God. You must flee these as you would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom you must be on your guard, since they are men who can scarcely be cured. (Letter to the Ephesians 7)
Irenaeus of Lyons, A.D. 183 - 186
Sorry this one is so long. I thought you might like to see the whole context. I highlighted some of the more colorful sections.
There is … a renowned teacher among [the gnostics], who … has explained the primary Tetrad as follows:
There is a certain Proarche who existed before all things, surpassing all thought, speech, and nomenclature, whom I call Monotes [unity]. Together with this Monotes there exists a power, which again I term Henotes [oneness]. This Henotes and Monotes, being one, produced, yet not so as to bring forth, the beginning of all things, an intelligent, unbegotten, and invisible being, which "beginning language" terms Monad.
With this Monad there co-exists a power of the same essence, which again I term Hen [One]. These powers then … produced the remaining company of the ∆ons.
Iu, Iu! Pheu, Pheu! Well may we utter these tragic exclamations at such a pitch of audacity in the coining of names as he has displayed without a blush, in devising a nomenclature for his system of falsehood. … It is apparent that he himself is the one who has had sufficient audacity to coin these names, so that, unless he had appeared in the world, the truth would still have been destitute of a name.
But, in that case, nothing hinders anyone else … to affix names in such a fashion as the following:
There is a certain Proarche, royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced—and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves—a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which "fruit language" calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers—the Gourd, Utter Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon—brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus.
After all, if it is fitting that that language which is used respecting the universe be transformed to the primary Tetrad, and if any one may assign names at his pleasure, who shall prevent us from adopting these names, as being much more credible, as well as in general use, and understood by all? (Against Heresies I:11:3-4)
Prior to Valentinus, those who follow Valentinus had no existence. Nor did those from Marcion exist before Marcion. Nor, in short, did any of those malignant-minded people, whom I have listed above, have any existence previous to the initiators and inventors of their perversity. (Against Heresies III:4:3)
This next quote from Irenaeus is not so much sarcasm as particularly blunt. Notice that he pulls a quote from Jeremiah to establish that this is the way the Scripture speaks of those who reject the ways of God.
But those who do reject the Spiritís counsel, who are the slaves of fleshly lusts, lead lives contrary to reason, and who, without restraint, plunge headlong into their own desires, having no longing after the Divine Spirit, live like pigs and dogs. The apostle very properly terms these men carnal because they have no thought for anything except carnal things. For the same reason, too, do the prophets compare them to irrational animals, on account of the irrationality of their conduct, saying, "They have become like horses raging for the females, each one of them neighing after his neighbour's wife" [Jer. 5:3]. (Against Heresies V:8:3-4)
Clement of Alexandria, c. A.D. 190
But let our diet be light and digestible, and suitable for keeping awake, unmixed with diverse varieties. Nor is this a point which is beyond the sphere of discipline ... sufficiency presides over a diet measured in due quantity, treats the body in a healthy way, and distributes something from its resources to those near us.
But the diet which exceeds sufficiency injures a man, deteriorates his spirit, and renders his body prone to disease. ... Appropriate designations of such people as so indulge are flies, weasels, flatterers, gladiators, and the monstrous tribes of parasites. The one class surrenders reason, the other friendship, and the other life, for the gratification of the belly. They crawl on their bellies, beasts in human shape after the image of their father, the voracious beast. (The Instructor II:1)
Tertullian, c. A.D. 210
Tertullian is the master of sarcastic quotes. Surely only Martin Luther could compete with this north African (Carthage) lawyer for not only dripping sarcasm, but for being exceptionally poignant as well.
There's lots more coming!
He has inhibited discussion by designating admonition as the method of dealing with a heretic— and the first method, too, because he is not a Christian. This is so that he would not seem to require correction again and again and before two or three witnesses as though he were a Christian. He ought to be corrected for the very reason that he is not to be disputed with.
In addition, this is said because a controversy over the Scriptures can, clearly, produce no other effect than help to upset either the stomach or the brain. (Prescription Against Heretics 16)
Now then, you dogs, whom the apostle puts outside and who yelp at the God of truth, let us come to your various questions. (Against Marcion II:5)
Although I must postpone all discussion and be content at the moment with mere exposition, still, wherever any scandalous feature shall seem to require a castigation, it must be attacked by every means, if only with a passing thrust. Let the reader regard it as the skirmish before the battle. It will be my drift to show how to wound rather than to inflict deep gashes.
If in any instance mirth be excited, this will be quite as much as the subject deserves. There are many things which deserve refutation in such a way as to have no gravity expended on them. Vain and silly topics are met with especially appropriately with laughter. Even the truth may indulge in ridicule because it is jubilant; it may play with its enemies because it is fearless. Only we must take care that its laughter is not unseemly and so itself be laughed at; but wherever its mirth is decent, there it is a duty. (Against the Valentinians 6)
Origen, A.D. 225-250
I am often led to wonder when I consider the things that are said about Christ, even by those who are earnest in their belief in Him. ... But when they come to the title Logos [Word], and repeat that Christ alone is the Word of God, they are not consistent, and do not, as in the case of the other titles [for Jesus], search out what is behind the meaning of the term "Word." I wonder at the stupidity of the general run of Christians in this matter. I do not mince matters; it is nothing but stupidity. (Commentary on John. Bk. I. Ch. 23.)
Firmilian, Bishop of Caesarea, A.D. 256
How carefully has Stephen [bishop of Rome] fulfilled these salutary commands and warnings of the apostle, keeping in the first place lowliness of mind and meekness! For what is more lowly or meek than to have disagreed with so many bishops throughout the whole world, breaking peace with each one of them in various kinds of discord: at one time with the eastern churches, as we are sure you [Cyprian of Carthage, to whom the letter was written] know; at another time with you who are in the south, from whom he received bishops as messengers sufficiently patiently and meekly not to receive them even to the speech of an ordinary conference; and even more, so mindful of love and charity as to command the entire fraternity, that no one should receive them into his house, so that not only peace and communion, but also a shelter and entertainment, were denied to them when they came! This is to have kept the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, to cut himself off from the unity of love, and to make himself a stranger in all respects from his brethren, and to rebel against the sacrament and the faith with the madness of contumacious discord! (Epistles of Cyprian 74:25, as numbered in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V)
Athanasius, A.D. 325 - 370
While [the Arians], like men sprung from a dunghill, truly "spoke from the earth" [Jn. 3:31], the bishops [of Nicea], not having invented their phrases for themselves, but having testimony from their fathers, wrote as they did. For ancient bishops, of the great Rome and our city [i.e., Alexandria, Egypt, where Athanasius was bishop], some 130 years ago, wrote and censured those who said that the Son was a creature and not consubstantial with the Father. (Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa 6)
Martin Luther, 1538 – 1539
As stated above, Martin Luther is the major competitor with Tertullian for most sarcastic famous Christian in history. Luther often went way over the line into crudeness, whereas Tertullian, a lawyer, had significantly more prudeness.
[The papists] ought to have sympathy with us weak, poor Christians, and not condemn us or make fun of us because we are learning so childishly to toddle along the benches, nay, to creep in the mire, and cannot skip and dance, on such light feet and legs, over and outside of Godís commandments, as they do, the strong heroes and giants ... God forbid that we should! (On the Councils and the Church)
N.T. Wright, 1997
[Albert] Schweitzer thus carved out his own path through the first half of this century, a lonely and learned giant amidst the hordes of noisy and shallow theological pygmies. (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 14)