A category used to identify those who were never evangelized while they lived but who however lived lives that seemed unworthy of condemnation and damnation.
Examples? Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Trajan, Virgil.
More recently Karl Rhaner has coined the virtuous pagan as an anonymous Christian.
Have you heard the gospel? This begs questions about what it means to hear, and what the gospel is, and you know that I ask them.
There is a group who claim to have heard the good news. This is bold. I hope, by the time my energy is spent, that I will be counted among the virtuous pagans. It would be counted an honor to have lived well even without the benefits of the good news as it is so boldly called.
It is to the credit of that portion of the church which recognizes the category of the virtuous pagan. What better way to say “we recognize the limitation of what we have done so far, how good the news is that we have spread, and how much more valuable the living is than the talking, the actions more than the words.” Oh. But that is not what the portion of the church who uses the phrase means. They only mean to recognize those, prior to the coming of the good news, and maybe those who never heard. They normally consider those of us who have read some English words in a book called the Bible, or especially those of us who have heard vocal expression by “evangelists” or “pastors” or “priests” of the terms “good news” and “Jesus” or “Christ” as having sufficiently heard, and if rejected, no longer in qualifiaction for virtuous pagan status.
How silly. As if the proclaiming of insight into deepest reality (otherwise known the Christian world as the coming of the kingdom of God) is sufficient for “having heard” the good news. The problem, dear Christian, it that there has been a plethora of proclaiming by both those who would take advantage through lying AND those who sincerely think they have found the kingdom of God but are mistaken. Note that those categories are separate. How, oh Christian, am I to verify what you say (because saying is cheap and easy)?
In response the Christian usually begins to speak of “faith”. It is generally conceived of as a “bet” that the deepest reality of the universe is “over hear” rather than “over there”. This will not due. I see as much of the mundane over here as over there. “Betting” is a commodity that should be spent wisely.
I tell you what: you bet your way and I will bet mine. You bet that you have found the kingdom of God and that access to it is a matter primarily of sayings and thinkings (so cheap are they). I will bet that the kingdom of God is worth seeking and finding and I will commit to seeking, but I will not say “found” until I find righteousness, purity and virtue. These latter commodities are not cheap. They are costly. In fact I have found that one must endure something approaching death in their pursuit. One must lie down. One must die to self. A kind of suicide. I have not performed it in toto. But there is time and the search continues. I leave you to your kingdom. Leave me to my seeking. It will not be long before we know who’s bet was worth more.
The sage Jesus says to seek and ye shall find. If you seek membership in a club form whom words (sayings and thinkings) are the currency. Enjoy. I will seek membership in the club whose currency is righteousness, a commodity I value far higher than words.
To seek transformation and real life and to recognize real life in virtue or righteousness is everything. That such is sought is evidence of something. It is evidence that something has been communicated to someone which implies a communicator. It implies that a better has been communicated to a worse which is near miraculous. How the better can be heard by the worse is beyond comprehension to me. And yet…that you know not from whence the wind blows should not be evidence against its blowing. This is everything.
And to put words to all of this is innocent and good. But, to then value the words over the reality is death. Woe to you…woe to me.