Teresa Morgan explains how morality looked different to Christians than to Greeks and Romans.
Christian morals are related to Greek and Roman morals in a very interesting way, I think. Just as the rich and the poor share a lot of ethical ideas, but think of them in slightly different ways, it’s also true of Greeks and Romans and Christians – that they share a lot of ethical ideas but they think about them in slightly different ways.
So, for instance, Greeks and Romans think of the gods as sometimes loving human beings. And they think of the gods sometimes as sponsoring love between human beings. But for Christians, God absolutely always loves human beings, and God absolutely always requires human beings to love God in return, and to love each other, because out of the love that God and humanity have for each other.
Justice is given to human beings by Zeus or Jupiter in Greek and Roman thinking; in Christian thinking, God is also a god of justice, but the difference is that for Christians God is absolutely, reliably, always a God of justice. God never chooses to be unjust, whereas Zeus could choose to be unjust on a bad day. And because God always gives justice to human beings, God demands justice always of human beings, and God demands that human beings are always just to each other.
There are one or two things that Christians think of rather differently from Greeks and Romans, and piety is an interesting example. Greeks and Romans are very keen on piety, piety towards the gods is very important in order to get the gods on side and have them favour you. For Christians, God is always on side. God always loves humanity and forgives humanity and wants the best for humanity, so you don’t need to cultivate God in quite the same way with piety. But what Christians are asked to practise is holiness, and holiness is really the response, the gratitude of human beings to the generosity of God. So holiness is an expression of human gratitude to God for all God’s gifts. And joy, similarly – joy is not a virtue for Greeks and Romans, really, but it is for Christians, because it is the appropriate response to hearing the good news of salvation.