Christian Cyclopedia

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1. The classical period of Christian apology is the 2d c., a period of widespread persecution of Christians by Romans. The apologists defended Christianity against various charges: (a) that Christianity was irrational since the leaders continually repeat, “Only believe”; (b) that Christians were immoral when they gathered for worship and the agape; (c) that Christians sacrificed innocent children when they ate the body and drank the blood of the son of God (pais theou); (d) and that Christians were disloyal to the Roman authority, since they followed another king, Jesus. Christians were also forced to define their relationship to the Jew. Christians were easily confused with the Jews since they used the same Bible and their soc. attitudes were similar. Since the Jews were a rebellious people in the empire esp. after the middle of the 1st c., Christians tried to dissociate themselves from Jewish activities in the eyes of the Romans. But this was fraught with danger; it was only because Christians were confused with Jews (most of the earliest Christians were circumcised), that they were allowed under Roman law to propagate their views as freely as they did.

2. The 1st Christian who wrote specifically to the Romans in defense of the faith was Quadratus*.

3. Aristides* presented his Apology to Antoninus Plus, emperor 138–161; some say to Hadrian ca. 125 (e.g. Euseb., HE, IV, iii, 3). After the revolt of the Jews (132) Christians pleaded to the Romans that they were not Jews. Aristides pointed out how Christianity is different not only from Judaism but also from other religions. See also Incarnation, 5.

4. The apology that many consider to be the greatest was presented during the reign of Pius by Justin* Martyr, 150. The Roman rhetorician Fronto had presented an Oration against Christians accusing them of all the crimes listed above. Justin refutes these charges point for point. Justin was from Samaria and was martyred under Marcus Aurelius, 166. The son of heathen parents, he received a Hellenistic educ. and, he claims, sought for truth among the current systems of philosophy. He finally embraced Platonism, which seemed to bring him near the coveted goal—the vision of God and the eternal verities. At this juncture, however, while walking in silent meditation by the seashore, he encountered a venerable old Christian who, engaging him in conversation, shook his confidence in all human wisdom and directed him to the Prophets and Apostles as true teachers come from God. He also came to realize that Christians could not be lovers of pleasurable practices if they were willing to die for their religion. The ardent young Platonist became a Christian and, retaining his philosopher's mantle, devoted his life to the spread and vindication of Christianity. An unordained lay preacher, he traveled from place to place, combating heathen, Jews, and heretics. Besides, he wielded a vigorous, if unpolished, pen. His principal works are his two Apologies, the Dialog with Trypho the Jew, not to mention doubtful or spurious works under his name. The central idea in Justin's theology, strongly biased by Platonic and Stoic speculation, is his Logos doctrine. The Logos, or universal Reason, familiar to the thought of the Stoa and the Academy, Justin boldly identifies with the historic Christ, in whom the divine Reason became incarnate. He interprets Christ in terms of heathen philosophy. Indeed, Christianity is to Justin the true philosophy and the highest reason. Moreover, the preincarnate Logos scattered seeds of truth, not only among the Jews, but among Greeks and barbarians as well. “The footsteps of the Logos are to be traced throughout the ages, faintly luminous among the Greeks, brighter among the Hebrews, shining with full effulgence only at the advent of our Savior.” Thus Socrates, Heraclitus, and others, according to Justin, were Christians in fact, if not in name. On the practical side, Christianity is to Justin essentially a new law.

5. Many apologies were written during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161–180) and immediately thereafter, the result of a number of added factors: (a) Some Christians seemingly participated in the revolutionary activities of Avidius Cassius (176) and were consequently accused of being unpatriotic; (b) In the 2d c. the Roman legions were on the defensive on all fronts and pestilence ravaged many areas of the Empire. The superstitious Romans seemingly blamed the Christians for these reversals; (c) A number of very able pagan intellectuals, including Celsus (On the True Word, 178) and the physician and metaphysical thinker Galen, addressed remarks against the Christians suggesting that if they desired to be recognized they should defend themselves in traditional philosophical patterns.

6. Athenagoras* wrote Plea Concerning Christians (ca. 177), attempting to show that Christians were simply another school of philosophical inquiry and favorably disposed toward the Roman intellectual (not religious) traditions. He also wrote On the Resurrection in the Gk. tradition of demonstrating the natural immortality of the soul through rational arguments.

7. Melito* bishop of Sardis, wrote a Petition (only fragments exist in Eusebius, HE, IV, xxvi, 5–11) sometime after 176, suggesting that since the birth of Christ and the birth of Augustus took place at the same time these two forces, the religious and the political, ought to work together in building imperial destiny for the betterment of mankind. Melito also wrote works in other areas of theology but they are extant only in fragmentary form.

8. A disorganized work delineating the precise areas where Romans and Christians stand on common ground as well as those where they differ was To Autolycus by Theophilus,* bishop of Antioch, written sometime after 180. Theophilus may have been attempting to correct misconceptions created by the Oration of Tatian* the Syrian (ca. 177).

9. Apologies by Claudius Apollinaris,* Aristo* of Pella, and Miltiades* (2d c.) have not survived. The Epistle to Diognetus* may be from this period.

10. These earlier apologies were written in Greek. Lat. apology began in the 3d c. Minucius* Felix wrote the apologetic dialogue Octavius ca. 200; it was patterned after similar philosophical dialogues by Cicero. Tertullian* (d. ca. 220) defended Christianity intellectually in The Apology, socially in many works dealing with various aspects of Christian living, and politically in letters to Roman officials.

11. The last of the classical Gr. apologists and perhaps the greatest was Origen,* who wrote 8 books Against Celsus (ca. 248). He refutes Celsus' attacks on the reliability of Scripture and the disciples as reporters of what happened, proceeds to defend the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and concludes by showing that the Christians are loyal in their own way to the Roman ideals. WWO

See also Christian Church, History of the I 2; Lactantius Firmianus.

J. Otto, Corpus Apologetarum, 9 vols. (Jena, 1847 to 1872); P. Carrington, Christian Apologetics of the Second Century in Their Relation to Modern Thought (London, 1921); ANF, I–IV; J. Quasten, Patrology, I (Westminster, Maryland, 1950); E. J. Good-speed, Index Apologeticus (Leipzig, 1912); J. Geffcken, Zwei griechische Apologeten (Leipzig, 1907); “The Apology of Aristides on Behalf of the Christians,” Syr. text ed. J. R. Harris, with appendix with Gk. text ed. J. A. Robinson, in Cambridge Texts and Studies, I, No. 1 (1891); Origen, Contra Celsum, tr. and ed. H. Chadwick (Cambridge, Eng., 1953); R. Grant, “Studies in the Apologists,” Harvard Theological Review, LI (1958), 123–134; MPG, 2, 1159–86 (Diognetus); 6 (Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus); 11, 641–1632 (Origen, Contra Celsum); MPL, 3, 201–672 (Minucius Felix); see also bibliography under Origen and Tertullian.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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