Document Type

Book Chapter


Author's Final Manuscript

Publication Title

Prophets and Profits: Ancient Divination and Its Reception

Publication Date



Delphi, one of the most important sanctuaries of the classical world, presented the Early Church Fathers with an interesting challenge. Although it continued to be an institution of local importance, by their time, the Oracle had long since been a provincial backwater, requiring Imperial patronage, at times, which revived the sanctuary temporarily, but not to its former glory and importance. It was not the actual institution that presented hindrance to the advancement of Christianity, nevertheless the Early Church Fathers attacked it with arguments ranging from the irreverent to the obscene. The interesting fact is that none of these indictments were original to the Early Church Fathers: they were already found in the pagan (reverent or skeptical) literary tradition about the Delphic Oracle. The Early Church Fathers, then, assaulted the Delphic Oracle using the literary tradition that had developed around it (“the Delphi of the Mind”) rather than merely calling for the destruction of the physical site or institution of the Oracle (“the Delphi of Fact”), which they knew had fallen into obsolescence. To them, the Delphic literary tradition of the Classical and Hellenistic periods was a lever with which to extirpate a the deep roots of the Greco-Roman religion that had grown into minds of many of the ancients and had outlasted the seed from which they had grown, “the Delphi of Fact,” by several centuries. Their struggle was truly “not against flesh and blood”; it was against a tradition that was as real and living to the ancients.