Gnosticism, a highly intellectual second-century movement (the word ‘gnostic’ comes from the Greek word for ‘knowledge’) that was later declared heretical, didn’t help. Heretics were intellectual therefore intellectuals were, if not heretical, then certainly suspect. So ran the syllogism. Intellectual simplicity or, to put a less flattering name on it, ignorance was widely celebrated. The biography of St Antony records with approval that he ‘refused to learn to read and write or to join in the silly games of the other little children’. Education and silly games are here bracketed together, and both are put in opposition to holiness. Instead of this, we learn, Antony ‘burned with the desire for God’. That this wasn’t quite true – Antony’s letters reveal a much more careful thinker than this implies – didn’t much matter: it appealed to a powerful ideal. No need to read: give up both books and bread and you will win God’s favour. Even intellectuals were susceptible to this pretty picture: it was hearing about how the simple, unlettered Antony had inspired so many to turn to Christ that led Augustine to start striking himself on the head, tearing his hair and asking, ‘What is wrong with us?’ Ignorance was power.
Catherine Nixey The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World