Defenders of the Faith (Part 7): The Greek Apologists

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Editor’s note: The following comprises the seventh chapter of Defenders of the Faith: The Christian Apologists of the Second and Third Centuries, by the Rev. Frederick Watson. M.A. (published 1879).


The Greek Apologists

As we have already observed, the Christian Apologists of the second century wrote in Greek, those of the third century in Latin.[1] This difference of language and of time implies, of course, other differences also. The Greek Apologists spoke as Greeks; the Latin Apologists, though not Italians but Africans, spoke as citizens of the Roman empire. By the Greek Apologist the world is divided into two classes, Greeks and Barbarians. It is the Greek mythology which is exposed, the Greek philosophy which is refuted, the Greek writings which are compared with the Hebrew and Christian. But when we get to the Latin Apologists, the Romans everywhere appear as masters of the world. Roman history is appealed to, and Roman authors quoted. Moreover, Christianity was scarcely known to the authorities of the Empire when the first Apologists wrote. The Emperor was a Christian (so to speak) by conviction, though not by baptism, before the last. Many mistakes had been rectified in the mean time. No one thought at the beginning of the fourth century that the Christians were monsters of immorality. In the second century this was the popular belief. On the other hand, no one imagined at first that the Christians would ever be able to accomplish their purpose of supplanting all the religions of the gods. They were considered by the authorities at that time to be a troublesome but not a dangerous people. In the third century the State found out they were far too powerful to be despised and ignored, and that there really was a probability that they might succeed in their efforts to subvert the State religion. The general feeling was, that, when the State religion fell, the State would fall too, so closely were the two things connected together. So the political charge took a prominent place. Of course the Apologists recognized this altered condition of things, and suited their defence to the attack. The charge of immorality appears in all the Greek Apologists except Clement of Alexandria, but only in two of the Latin, and those the earliest in date. In the Greek Apologists, the political charges are very little touched upon ; in the Latin, they are reckoned to be worthy of the chief attention. In the Greek Apologists, the charge of atheism is refuted; in the Latin, the charge of forsaking the worship of the gods. And, besides this, the characteristics of the literature of Greece and Rome are to be discerned in either class. “On the one side there is universality, freedom, large sympathy, deep feeling; on the other, there is individuality, system, order, logic. The tendency of one mind is towards truth ; of the other, towards law.”

Or, quoting the same author, “The Greek Apologists show in what way Christianity was the satisfaction of all the deepest wants of humanity, the sum of all knowledge; it was reserved for the Latin Apologists to apprehend its independent claims, and establish its right to supplant, as well as to fulfil, what was partial and vague in earlier systems.” This last remark cannot be better illustrated than by comparing the relations of Justin and Tertullian with the heathen philosophy. Attention has been already drawn to this point in Chapter V. Justin reckons the philosophers, or at least some of them, to be Christians before Christ. Tertullian will have nothing to do with the teaching of the poets and philosophers. He is willing to let it be granted that there is nothing in heathen writers which a Christian approves.

We proceed now to consider the separate “Apologies,” and their writers. Sometimes we shall give abstracts of, or striking passages in, the writings, sometimes incidents in the lives and deaths of the writers.


The earliest extant “Apologies” are those of Justin. He was born early in the 2nd century, and suffered martyrdom during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, A.D. 165. His life gives us valuable information on the relations of Christianity with the philosophers and the Roman State. He himself studied several philosophical systems before his con version, and after it, in the philosopher’s dress, he preached the word of God. The account which he gives us of his studies in philosophy, and his subsequent conversion, is very interesting and instructive. To be led and to be approved by God, seems to have been the object of all his studies, and, knowing no better guide, he chose philosophy. It was the duty, he thought, of philosophy to investigate the Deity, and with this notion he tried the different schools in turn. First he put himself under the instruction of a Stoic. When he had spent a considerable time with him, he was disappointed at finding that he had gained no certain knowledge of God. His master told him that he himself knew nothing of the subject, and that indeed such knowledge was unnecessary. Leaving him in consequence, Justin went to a Peripatetic, a man who was a shrewd teacher in his own estimation. He, after a few days, asked for a fee, that their intercourse might not be without profit. This very unphilosophic request disgusted Justin, and he at once sought for another teacher. Still eager, he went to a Pythagorean, a very celebrated man, who prided himself greatly on his wisdom. But when Justin applied for admission to the number of his hearers and disciples, he was asked, “Are you acquainted with music, astronomy, and geometry? Do you expect to comprehend those things which conduce to a happy life, without being first informed on those points, which wean the soul from objects of sense to the contemplation of intellectual objects, so that it may be able to discern the things which are essentially honourable and good?” Dismissal followed a confession of ignorance, and Justin was much cast down, for he had a high opinion of this teacher, and thought it would be far too tedious a business to acquire a knowledge of these necessary preliminaries. Lastly, he tried a Platonist sage. With him he improved and made rapid advance daily, and the Platonic conception of immaterial things captivated him, and its theory of ideas furnished his mind with wings, so that in a little time he supposed that he had be come wise, and, such was his folly, hoped shortly to see God — the end of Plato’s philosophy. Whilst thus disposed, wishing to be quiet and alone, he was one day walking in a field by the seaside ; an old man by no means contemptible in appearance, but of venerable and meek manners, followed him at a little distance. The following conversation followed : —

Old Man. Why are you here?

Justin. I delight in such walks, because my attention is not distracted; such places are most fit for the study of philology.

O. M. Are you, then, a philologian (i.e. a lover of words), but no lover of deeds or of truth?

J. What greater work could one accomplish than to show the reason which governs all; and having laid hold of it, and being supported by it, to look down on the errors of others. Without philosophy and right reason none would possess prudence. Therefore it is necessary to philosophize, and account it the greatest and most precious of gains, all other things being reckoned in comparison of second or third-rate importance.

O. M. Does philosophy, then, confer happiness?

J. Assuredly; and it alone.

O. M. What, then, is philosophy? and what is happiness?

J. Philosophy is the knowledge of that which is, and the discernment of the truth ; and happiness is the reward of this knowledge of wisdom.

O. M. What do you define God to be?

J. That which is ever one and the same, and the cause of being to all other creatures, — that is God.

The old man is pleased at this answer, and asks, — “Is not knowledge a term common to different things? For whoever is skilled in any of the arts is said to have knowledge of it. But this cannot be said equally well of divine and human things. Is there any science, for instance, which gives us the know ledge of things divine and human, and likewise of the divinity and righteousness in them?”

J. Certainly there is.

O. M. What ! can we know God and man in the same way as we may know music, arithmetic, astronomy, and the like ?

J. By no means.

O. M. Of some things we have knowledge by study or application, of others by sight. If any were to tell you that an animal exists in India of a nature unlike all others, you would not know it before you saw it, or until you had heard from one who had seen it ?

J. Certainly not.

Now comes the crucial question. He wants to show Justin that philosophy cannot give knowledge of God, or, according to Justin’s own definition, “That which is.” Philosophers cannot know that which they have not seen, so he asks, —

“How, then, do philosophers know God, or speak the truth about Him, when they have neither seen Him at any time, nor heard Him?”

J. God is not to be discerned by the eyes, but by the mind, so Plato teaches, and so I believe.

Now the object of the old man is to show that God cannot be discerned by the unassisted mind, so he asks, —

“How is it that the mind can see God ?”

J. From its nature, and relationship to God.

Then the old man’s object is to show that it is not natural to man to comprehend God, i.e., that man cannot by searching find out God. So he drives Justin to admit that the comprehension of God is not a characteristic common to all minds; some have it, and some have it not. He makes him confess that the philosophers cannot tell him what the soul of man really is. He convinces him that the soul has nothing which it has not received, and at last induces Justin to ask, “Whom, then, shall a man take as his master? or whence shall he derive any instruction if the truth is not with these philosophers?” And now the old man has got to the point he wished. In order to attain to the knowledge of God, man wants a Divine teacher. He cannot see God with his eyes, as Justin allows. He cannot naturally comprehend God with his mind, as he has been compelled to admit; but God reveals Himself to men, and in this way: —

“There once lived men,” the old man says, “called prophets, who were anterior to any of those who are considered philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God. These spoke by the Holy Ghost, and foretold what would happen hereafter, and what is now taking place. These alone knew and taught the truth, neither regarding nor fearing any man, nor being themselves carried away by the love of glory, but declaring those things alone which they saw and heard, when filled with the Holy Ghost. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them will derive much instruction about the first principles and the ends of things, together with all those matters that a philosopher ought to know after he has believed them. They have not indeed given demonstrations in their writings, for they, in fact, as faithful witnesses of the truth, are above all demonstration; but the events which have happened already, and those which are taking place even now, compel you to receive their testimony. Even, indeed, for the miracles which they performed are they worthy of belief, and especially since they glorified God the Father and Maker of all things, and taught concerning Christ His Son who was sent by Him, which the false prophets, who were filled with a spirit of falsehood and uncleanness, neither did nor do; but these presume to perform certain wonders to astonish mankind, and set forth the praises of lying spirits and devils. But do you, above all things, pray that the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things are not to be seen or comprehended, except by him to whom God and His Christ give the grace of understanding.”

When the old man had said this and many other things, he went away, and Justin never saw him again. But straightway a fire was kindled in his soul, and a love of the prophets and the friends of Christ possessed him; and when he had considered the matter, he found the Christian philosophy alone safe and profitable. It became his desire and aim that others should become as he was. He endeavoured to persuade others to give credence to the Saviour’s words, to become acquainted with the Christ of God, and, being initiated, lead a happy life.

We have described Justin’s conversion at great length, because it describes so plainly the difference between philosophy and Christianity. On the one side there was human reasoning, on the other Divine revelation; on the one side there was demonstration of truth, on the other witnesses to truth; on the one side there was nature, on the other grace.

Probably, Justin would not have been thus easily converted, had not Christians by their deaths already recommended their doctrines to his mind. He had seen how Christians could die before he knew what Christianity was. He had already come to the conclusion that the popular slanders were utterly false. “I myself,” he says, “when I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato, and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of death, and of all other things which are counted fearful, perceived that it was impossible they could be living in wickedness and pleasure.” He laughed at the wicked disguise which evil spirits had thrown round the divine doctrines of the Christians, and then, being instructed by the old man, he strove with all his strength to be come a Christian, and endeavoured in his turn to lead others to Christ. Of course, being thus eager in the Christian cause, he ran the greatest risks. He was quite aware of this. He tells us that he expected to be entrapped and affixed to the stake by some of his heathen opponents. He mentions especially one Crescens, a Cynic philosopher, who was a lover of noise and boasting, a false and ignorant accuser of the brethren, in order to please the multitude. Justin had publicly refuted him in argument, and so incurred his hatred. These expectations were fulfilled; Crescens did bring about his martyrdom at Rome. He was brought before the prefect Rusticus along with others. He refused to offer libations to vain idols. He confessed he was a Christian. He was asked scoffingly whether he supposed that if he was scourged and beheaded, he would ascend into heaven, He answered that he did not suppose, but was fully persuaded of it. All threats were in vain. Sentence was pronounced. “Let those who have refused to do sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the Emperor, be scourged, and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws.” The holy martyrs then glorified God, and “went out to the accustomed place. They were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Saviour. Some of the faithful having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.”

Three undisputed works of Justin, all of them of an Apologetic character, are now extant; namely, the two Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho. All of them contain remarkable passages, and all of them are deficient in order, and method, and logic. Much that is most valuable to us seems unsuitable for the object for which it was written. Of course, this latter fault was a very natural one to fall into, especially under the particular circumstances. To know the arguments which will influence men of principles wholly diverse from your own, is a rare gift in every age. And Justin was treading on well- nigh unknown ground. Later Apologists were able to use his materials, and, in some measure, to avoid his mistakes.

Justin’s first Apology was addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and his sons, the Sacred Senate, and the whole Roman people. He calls it a petition on behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, he himself being one. Rumour had spread certain charges against the Christians. He asks for an investigation. He appeals to the piety and philosophy of the rulers whom he addresses. They are guardians of justice and lovers of learning, and he demands justice at their hands. A mere name proves nothing one way or another. The name Christian, so far as it goes, is an argument in favour of the people who bear it. “We are (by name) most excellent people. To hate what is excellent is unjust. Granted that some called Christians have ere now been arrested and convicted as evil-doers, you must not allow the evil deeds of some to discredit the character of all. Under the one name of philosopher are banded together many who do nothing worthy of their profession: many of diverse opinions and teachings; some who have even taught atheism. You discriminate between philosophers, you ought to discriminate between Christians. Remember, to our credit, that it is very easy for us to avoid your persecution; you condemn us for our mere name; you acquit us if we are willing to deny our name. Why is it that we refuse so to do? It is because we would not live by telling a lie.”

The charges he mentions as brought against the Christians are Atheism and Immorality; there is also a reference to a Political charge. In answer to these he remarks, that although atheists with respect to the demon-gods of the heathen, the Christians have a God whom they serve. Him they worship, but not with sacrifices and libations, for they have been taught that God, the provider of all things, needs no material offerings at the hands of men, and that the service He accepts is the imitation of the excellences which dwell in Him. Him they serve, because they desire to live with Him in His kingdom, because they fear everlasting fire. And as this system of rewards and punishments is divine, and therefore perfect, it necessarily has a much greater influence on their conduct than any human and imperfect system. How can they lead wicked lives when they know they cannot escape punishment? It is quite true the Christians look for a kingdom, but the kingdom is not human, it is with God. If it were human, they would deny Christ in order that they might not be slain; for death would cut them off from the fulfilment of their hopes.

He then gives the source of Christian teaching. Their doctrine has been taught them by the Word of God, Jesus Christ, who was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judaea in the times of Tiberius Caesar.

In forcible language Justin describes the change which this doctrine has wrought on the lives of those who have received it. “Since our persuasion by the Word,” he says, “we stand aloof from the demons, and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son; we, who formerly delighted in fornication, now embrace chastity alone; we, who formerly used magi cal arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we, who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now turn what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need; we, who hated and destroyed one another, and would not even use the same hearth or fire with the men of a different tribe, on account of their different manners, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God.”

Lest Justin should appear to be reasoning sophistically, he gives at great length the teaching of Christ on matters of life and conduct. He shows how Christ taught His disciples to be chaste even in thought, to love even their enemies, to lay up treasure in heaven and not on earth, to be patient under injuries, to swear not at all. His system is such a practical one, that it is not believing a certain set of opinions, but acting them out in the life, which constitutes a Christian. He taught them to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, so that they are necessarily obedient subjects. All these precepts the Christians are duly carrying out, and if any break them, then they cease, ipso facto, to be Christians, and will be deservedly punished.

He then endeavours to show that the Christian doctrines of the Immortality of the Soul, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Incarnation of the Deity, are not, a priori, incredible to a heathen, for his own mythology contains similar doctrines. The arguments he adduces here seem to be of a very doubtful and fanciful character.

The Analogy of Nature furnishes him with an additional argument in favour of the Resurrection. He asks whether it is more difficult to believe that the body of a man sown in the earth should, in God’s appointed time, rise again and put on incorruption, or to believe that from a small drop of seed, bones, and sinews, and flesh should be formed in human shape. We should not have believed the latter, had not experience convinced us. We have no right to deny the possibility of the former, though hitherto beyond our experience.

Justin now states the three points which he wishes to prove.

(1.) That the Christian doctrine is alone true, and that it is to be received, not because of its resemblance to heathen doctrine, but on its own authority.

(2.) That Jesus Christ is the only Son of God — being His Word, and First Begotten, and Power.

(3.) That the demons have enabled the poets and others to anticipate the facts of His life.

To prove the first point (c. 24-29), Justin remarks that the heathen themselves are at variance as to the proper objects of worship. Some of them worship lifeless objects, some irrational animals; the things which some esteem gods, others esteem wild beasts. If any one goes back to their ancient mythology, he finds their gods perpetrating crimes too base for men to mention: those cannot be gods who are slaves to human passions. To come later down, the heathen have esteemed even magicians worthy of divine honours. The practical result of these doctrines is, that they expose their children, or rear them for shameful uses; that immorality and unnatural crimes are legalized, and that crimes are perpetrated under the title of religious mysteries. Surely, a religion so uncertain in its objects of worship, whose gods are so despicable either from their vices or from their weakness, whose votaries lead such immoral lives, cannot but be false. Him whom the heathen esteem a god, the Christians call the devil, who will hereafter be sent, along with his worshippers, to eternal punishment. This punishment has been delayed simply because of God’s regard for the human race. The Christians, on the other hand, live continently; they worship a God who delights in virtue, who made the human race with the power of thought, and choosing the truth, and doing what is right.

To prove the second point (c. 30-53), Justin meets, at the outset, the objection that Christ worked His wonderful works by magical art, and thus appeared to be the Son of God. The Christ of prophecy can have been no magician. The books which tell of Him are no cunningly devised fables, framed after the event; they were translated for a heathen king hundreds of years before He of whom they spoke appeared upon earth. They do not exist in rare copies, but are in the possession of all Jews throughout the world. They are not the longings of one mind and one age, but in the succession of generations during 5,000 years, prophets after prophets arose. They are no ambiguous oracles, giving doubtful and shadowy information, but they tell of his age, nation, tribe, miraculous conception, place of birth, miraculous powers, character, and death, together with numerous circumstances of His life. It is not isolated expressions, on which coincidences might be hung, which point to Him, but whole chapters together. No man before Him has ever realized the predictions, for they foreshadow one who should be more than man. It must not, however, be supposed that “whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand.” The balancings of a man between good and evil, and the very existence of good and evil, prove this. The same Spirit which foretold future events thus taught, — “Behold, before thy face are good and evil; choose the good.” It was not to be believed that men who lived before the birth of Christ were left without instruction. The coming Word cast its light before it, and shone on all races of men, as well on barbarian as on Greek, on Socrates as on Abraham.

As independent evidence of the fulfilment of prophecy, Justin adduces the case of the Jews. The desolation of Jerusalem was prophesied, and this very day guards are set, that no one may dwell there. All prophecy is not as yet fulfilled, but the past fulfilments are an earnest of the future, the First Advent is an earnest of the Second. It was not to the Jews alone that Christ came. He was no local national deliverer, but one whom the prophets declare will have more followers among the Gentiles than among the Jews.

To prove the third point (c.54-64), Justin brings forward the legend of Bacchus, the horse of Bellerophon, the strength of Hercules, the miracles of Aesculapius, and the works of Plato, in which he sees manifest plagiarisms from the sacred writers. One thing, however, the demons did not understand, and that was the Crucifixion; and yet the form of the cross lies at the basis of all things in the world.

He traces the sign of the cross in the sail of a ship, in the plough, in the tools of diggers and mechanics, and in the human form. “The human form,” he says, “differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross.” The power of the cross he tells the heathen, is shown by their own symbols on the banners and trophies; in their state processions they use it unwittingly as the insignia of their power and government. With this form they consecrate the images of their emperors when they die. After these remarks, which it is difficult to take seriously, Justin thinks he has proved this part of his case so well, that he is blameless if men still disbelieve.

The demons were not satisfied with anticipating the facts of the Incarnation; after Christ’s appearance they put forth men like Simon Magus, who did mighty works by means of magic, and deceived many. It is they who cause persecution. It is they who put forward heretics like Marcion, who denied that God is the creator of heaven and earth.

As the Christian assemblies had been asserted to be immoral, Justin then gives a simple account of their meetings for worship and the administration of their sacraments; and he concludes by appealing to the Emperor to act as his father Hadrian had done, and to do this, not on the ground of Hadrian’s decision, but on the ground of justice.

It may not be amiss to add here the decree of Hadrian referred to. It is quoted by Eusebius in his ‘Ecclesiastical History,’ and is undoubtedly genuine. It throws considerable light on the relations of the common people to the Christians.

Hadrian’s Epistle to Minuaus Fan damts, Proconsul of Asia, circa 124.

“I have received an epistle written to me by the most illustrious Serenius Granianus, whom you have succeeded. I do not wish that his communication should be passed over without examination, lest men should be disturbed, and occasion be given to informers for practising villainy. Accordingly if the people of your province will so far sustain this petition of theirs as to accuse the Christians in some court of law, they may pursue this course, but they are not to proceed by mere petitions and outcries. It is far more seemly, if any one should wish to make an accusation, that you should examine it. If, therefore, any one makes an accusation and proves these men to be acting contrary to the laws, decide the case according to the heinousness of the offence. But if any one, by Hercules, should put forward an accusation for mere calumny’s sake, investigate the case according to its criminality, and take care that you inflict due punishment.”

Justin’s Apology is said to have elicited an epistle of the Emperor Antoninus Pius to the Common Assembly of Asia. Its authenticity is doubtful, for the Emperor contrasts disadvantageously the heathen with the Christians. The heathen neglect the worship of God, and persecute those who do serve Him. The Christians are to be unmolested, unless they attempt anything against the Roman Government; they are not to be punished simply on the ground of their religion. Whether this epistle is genuine or not, it is certain Antoninus Pius issued some decrees in favour of the Christians. Melitce, in the fragment of his Apology (A.D. 170) preserved by Eusebius, distinctly states this.

Passing over Justin’s second Apology as not requiring separate attention, we come next to his Dialogue with Trypho. It differs fundamentally in character from the other Apologies; it is a defence of Christianity against the Jews, and it is based upon the prophecies of the Old Testament. It does not aim at proving that the Christians are worthy of toleration, but that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the Mosaic Law is abrogated.

In the introductory part of the work, we have that interesting account of Justin’s studies previous to his becoming a Christian, and of the circumstances of his conversion, already quoted at length. In the actual argument, Trypho admits the groundlessness of the charges of immorality brought against the Christians, and confesses the wonderful character of the precepts of the Gospel; so wonderful, indeed, are these, that he suspects no man can keep them. The objections that he brings against the Christians are, that, although they profess to be so pious, they observe no festivals or sabbaths, they do not practise the rite of circumcision, and the y rest their hopes on a man who was crucified.

Justin’s argument in reply is, — that the Mosaic Law is now abrogated; that a new covenant has been made, as the prophets foretold; that righteousness does not consist in observing the Jewish rites, but in the circumcision of the foreskin of the heart, the baptism of the soul, the fast from sin, the purging oneself from the deeds of the old leaven. He considers that the Mosaic laws were instituted only because of the weakness and wickedness of the Jewish nation. Circumcision was a sign of separation from the rest of the world, that so God’s punishments might be inflicted on the Jews, and on them alone. They were enjoined to offer sacrifices to God, in order that they might not offer them to idols. They were commanded to abstain from certain meats, lest they should wax fat and kick. Sabbaths were instituted, because of their unrighteousness and the unrighteousness of their fathers. That the Jewish rites were not necessary to salvation, is proved by the fact, that they were not enjoined on any from Adam to Moses, and never on any but the Jews themselves. His remarks show plainly enough, that in his days no one had conceived the notion of what is now called the Christian sabbath. He speaks of circumcision, sabbaths, and feasts, as alike enjoined, because of the hardness of the hearts of the Jews, and as alike done away with in the new covenant. When Trypho quotes against him the well-known passage in Isaiah, lxviii. 13, 14, concerning the sabbath, he replies, that the observance was re-enjoined by the prophets for the same reason that it had originally been enjoined by Moses.

The remainder of the Dialogue is mainly taken up with Justin’s proofs, —

(1.) That Jesus is the Christ.
(2.) That Christ is God.

He rests his arguments entirely upon the prophecies of the Old Testament.

It is difficult for anyone with Western modes of thought to estimate the force with which Justin’s arguments would fall upon one of his own race or time. His arguments rarely appear complete. There is always something wanting in the connection, — at least to a matter-of-fact Western mind. Resemblances, analogies, and direct prophecies seem with him to have an equal cogency. He sees and expects Trypho, an unbelieving Jew, to see in the two goats of the day of Atonement, the two Advents of Christ; in the twelve bells of the high priest, the twelve apostles; and in the Theophanies to Abraham, the doctrine of the Trinity. The wood of the cross is clearly symbolized by the rod of Moses; the tree cast into the waters of Marah, the rod which Jacob put into the water-troughs; Aaron’s rod which budded, “the rod and the staff” of which David speaks in the twenty- third Psalm, and in the stick which Elisha cast into the Jordan, that the iron might swim. Leah and Rachel represented the Jews and Gentiles; for both of them, Christ, typified by Jacob, became a servant. The speckled and many-spotted sheep, Jacob’s allotted hire, were the various and many-formed races of mankind which Christ purchased by His blood. Leah was weak-eyed, and the eyes of the souls of the Jews were excessively weak. Rachel stole Laban’s gods, and has hid them to this day, and the Christians have lost their ancestral gods of wood and stone. Justin, in dealing with the prophecies of the Old Testament, seems to start with the assumption that every sentence may be severed from its context, and interpreted according to pleasure; that any allusion or coincidence thus obtained to the life, teaching, or nature of Jesus, proves either the passage to be a prophecy, or Jesus to be the Christ. It is hardly to be wondered at that he thus failed in dealing with the evidence of prophecy. The subject was in itself exceedingly difficult. No sound rules for his guidance had been laid down; he does not seem to have had any special qualifications for his task; his judgment seems to have been faulty, and his imagination excessive.

The death upon the cross was the great stumbling-block to Trypho. He made no great difficulty in admitting the doctrine of a suffering Messiah, but he could not believe that He would be shamefully crucified. It is impossible to suppose that his difficulties would in any way be removed by Justin’s enumeration of those passages of the Old Testament in which he thought the cross was typified, — doubtful allusions, at the very best, they could have no argumentative force to an unbeliever. When confronted by the text, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” Justin replies very differently to some in the present day. He allows that Christ was cursed, not, however, by God, but by the Jews, who cursed both Him and those that believed on Him.

As a defence of Christianity against the Jews, Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho is of little value to us. Its chief value consists in the view it gives of the principles of interpretation prevalent at the time, and in the testimony it gives that the story of Christ’s life, then current, was substantially the same as that contained in the Gospels. It is obvious that a work like this has very little in common with the other Apologies.


There is something melancholy in considering Tatian’s address to the Greeks; for this defender of the faith ultimately made shipwreck of his own, and founded an heretical sect. He rejected marriage as impure, and refused the meats which God created to be received with thanksgiving. His heresy appears to have been similar to that condemned by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians. “Touch not, taste not, handle not,” would seem to have been one of his principles. He is said to have composed a harmony of the four Gospels, and to have left out all the parts that related to the Incarnation and the true manhood of Christ.

Tatian writes as a barbarian to Greeks, and he scoffs at the Greek pride, and the Greek philosophy, and the Greek religion. He had been a great proficient in their wisdom, and had been admitted to their mysteries. He had examined their religious rites, and found they sanctioned wickedness. Disgusted with all, he retired by himself to discover the truth; and, he says, “While I was giving my most earnest attention to the matter, I happened to meet with certain Barbaric writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of the Greeks, and too divine to be compared with their errors; and I was led to put faith in these by the unpretending cast of the language, inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centred in one Being; and my soul being taught of God, I discerned that the former (Greek philosophy) set of writings leads to condemnation, but that these put an end to the slavery that is in the world, and rescue us from a multiplicity of rulers and ten thousand tyrants; while they give us, not indeed what we had not before received, but what we had received, but were prevented by error from retaining (c. 30). Therefore, being initiated and instructed in these things, I wish to put away my former errors as the follies of childhood.”

The Greek religion is regarded by Tatian as demon-worship (c. 8, 10). The demons have reduced men to slavery, and perverted their minds from heavenly things by a deceptive display of power; they are the examples of all crime (c. 16, 17). The depravity of man is the secret of their strength, for they minister to men’s lusts (c. 17, 19). He rejects the Greek philosophy on account of its arrogant, unpractical, and indefinite nature (c. 2, 3), and because of the vices, errors, and quarrels of the philosophers. He speaks bitterly throughout (c. 25, 27). His Christianity had not made him a happy man (c. 32). The shadow of his apostasy seems to be cast before. Gnostic tendencies can be traced in his Apology (c. 1 2, 13, 15, 16); but inasmuch as he believed that the world was created by the Word (c. 5), that the body would rise again (c. 6), and that no distinction was to be made between Christians (c. 32), it cannot be said that these tendencies had attained as yet a high degree of development.


Athenagoras next claims our attention. He, like Justin, when he became a Christian, did not cease to be a philosopher. He styles himself Christian and philosopher, in the title of his Apology. If we may believe a tradition of the 5th century, he was converted to Christianity whilst presiding over the Academic School at Alexandria. It was his object, like Celsus, to write against the Christians. For this purpose he studied the Divine Scriptures, and while thus engaged, he was himself caught by the All-Holy Spirit, so that, like Paul, he became a teacher of the faith which once he persecuted. He addressed his “Embassy” for the Christians, about the year 177 A.D., “to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, conquerors of Armenia and Sarmatia; and more than all, philosophers.” His opening words are remarkable, and show the grounds on which he claimed toleration.

“In your empire,” he says, “greatest of sovereigns, different nations have different customs and laws; and no one is hindered by law or fear of punishment from following his ancestral usages, however ridiculous these may be. A citizen of Ilium calls Hector a god, and pays divine honours to Helen, taking her for Adrasteia. The Lacedaemonian venerates Agamemnon as Zeus, and Phylonoe the daughter of Tyndarus, and the men of Tenedos worship Tennes. The Athenian sacrifices to Erectheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites and celebrate mysteries in honour of Agraulus and Pandrosus, women who were deemed guilty of impiety for opening the box. In short, among every nation and people, men offer whatever sacrifices, and celebrate whatever mysteries, they please. The Egyptians reckon among their gods, even cats, and crocodiles, and serpents, and asps, and dogs. And to all these, both you and the laws give permission so to act; deeming, on the one hand, that belief in no god at all is impious and wicked; and on the other, that it is necessary for each man to worship the gods he prefers, in order that through the fear of the deity, man may be kept from wrong-doing.”

Why, he goes on to ask, is a mere name odious to you? Names are not deserving of hatred; it is the unjust act that calls for punishment. Throughout the empire all enjoy equal rights and profound peace; all, except the Christians. Not that they had committed any wrong. Nay! as he will show, they are of all men most piously and righteously disposed toward God and the rulers of the State, and yet it was allowed to the multitude to harass, plunder, and persecute them simply for their name. He ventures to lay a statement of their case before the emperors. If any can convict them of a crime, be it great or small, they do not ask to be excused from judgment (c. 2); but if the accusations relate only to the name, if they rest only on popular talk, then it behooves the emperors to take legal measures for the removal of this despiteful treatment. Three charges, he says, were brought against the Christians, Atheism, Thyestean Feasts, Aedipodean intercourse (c. 3). If they are true, destroy us, root and branch, with our wives and children. If they are only idle tales and empty slanders, you ought to make inquiries concerning our life, our opinions, and our loyalty, and grant us the same rights as our persecutors.

Athenagoras then proceeds to defend the Christians on the three charges. The Christians were not atheists; they worshipped one God, and there could not be more than one. They did not worship images, for they distinguished God from material substances. They did not worship nature, they reckoned it to be only God’s house, and they looked beyond to Him who made it. They did not worship the gods of the heathen, for they were but of yesterday, they had bodily form and fleshly desires. Poets and philosophers agreed with Christians here. It was the evil spirits, greedy of sacrificial odours and the blood of victims, who had seduced the ignorant to worship gods like these.

The stories of impious feasts had, he says, been made up, to justify the popular hatred, to terrify the Christians themselves, and to induce the ruler to deal harshly with them. He remarks that it has always been common for vice to make war on virtue. But the emperors, who excel in intelligence, must know, that that life which is directed towards God as its rule, is likely to be the most pure. The Christians’ account is not with human laws, which a bad man can evade. They know that they are liable to God for the looks of their eyes, and the very thoughts of their hearts. Oh, what a difference there is between them and the heathen, with their impurities, and unnatural crimes, and their gladiatorial contests! The accusations brought are an example of the proverb, “The harlot reproves the chaste.” The Christians will not even look upon murders in the games, how, then, is it likely that they will themselves commit murder? They believe in the resurrection of the dead, how is likely that they should make themselves tombs for bodies that will rise again ? He concludes with the following appeal : —

“And now do you, who are entirely in everything, by nature and by education, upright, and moderate, and benevolent, and worthy of your rule, now that I have disposed of the several accusations, and proved that we are pious, and gentle, and temperate in spirit, bend your royal head in approval; for who are more deserving to obtain the things that they ask, than those who, like us, pray for your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son from father, and that your empire may receive increase and addition, all men becoming subject to your sway ? And this is also for our advantage, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, and may ourselves readily perform all that is commanded us.”

The “Embassy” of Athenagoras is a model apology. Its author had a clear conception of the arguments likely to attain his end j he knew how far to go, and when to stop. There was no danger in attacking the heathen religion and mythology in a work addressed to a philosopher like Marcus Aurelius; philosophers before him had done the same thing. Athenagoras studiously endeavours to place the Christians on the same footing with them; he uses their writings to show the reasonableness of Christian doctrine, and he is very sparing in his censure of them. On the other hand, he does not enter into minute discussion of Christian doctrines, or detailed accounts of Christian ceremonies, like Justin. He was simply endeavouring to deliver the Christians from persecution by clearing them from the charge of impiety and immorality, and all his statements have reference to this. His object is, to show that the Christian religion is at least as worthy of toleration as many others which the State tolerated without difficulty. The moderation, and elegance, and judgment, with which he states his case, are worthy of all praise.


The Epistle to Diognetus is a very interesting anonymous fragment. Its first chapter gives us some of the points in Christian life and character which specially attracted the attention of the heathen, and led them to be curious about the Christians’ God and the Christian religion.

Diognetus had observed that the Christians looked down upon the world, and despised death. He had noticed that they neither reverenced the Greek gods, nor held to the Jewish religion. He saw also that they cherished a remarkable affection amongst themselves. In consequence he inquired very earnestly and carefully in what God they trusted, and what religion they observed, and why it had been so late in entering into the world. The author cordially welcomes this desire, and prays God that he may speak to edification.

The author realizes very vividly the wretched state of the world before the coming of the Word. The heathen were worshipping images of wood and stone. The Jews were worshipping the true God in a wrong way. The doctrines of those philosophers deemed trustworthy, were vain and silly. God appeared to neglect men, and to have no care for them. He permitted them to be borne along by unruly impulses. Then, when it was manifest that we in ourselves were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, when our wickedness had reached its height, and punishment and death were impending over us — the one love of God did not remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering and bore with us. “He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the Holy One for transgressors, the Blameless One for the wicked, the Righteous One for the unrighteous, the Incorruptible One for the corruptible, the Immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single Righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors. Having, therefore, convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour, who is able to save even those things which it was impossible to save, — by both these facts God desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious about food or clothing.”

We do not often meet with passages like this in the Apologies. In fact, this letter is rather an exhortation than an apology. It makes no allusion to the charges brought against the Christian.


The three letters of Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, to Autolycus, a heathen, may be passed over with a very slight notice. We know little of Theophilus himself; but it is worth noticing that he, too, owed his conversion to the reading of the Scriptures. He met with the writings of the prophets, and studied the prophecies, and believed (i. 14). Perhaps it is in consequence of this that he gives, in great detail, the Old Testament history, and lays great stress on the accurate and ancient information therein contained. His object seems to be to induce Autolycus to enter upon the same study (ii. 4-8). He contrasts the discordant and foolish statements of the poets and philosophers with the consistent, and harmonious, and God-inspired utterances of the long line of Hebrew prophets (ii. 9). Along with these he classes the Greek Sibyl, and he quotes from her at length an exhortation to forsake the worship of images, and to worship the one Supreme God, the Maker of heaven and earth (ii. 36). He rebuts the usual accusations in the usual way.


Clement of Alexandria’s address to the Greeks is quite as much hortatory as apologetic. He attacks the heathen religion, but does not defend the Christians from accusation. He endeavours to attract to Christianity by a description of the beauty of its doctrines. The spirit of the whole work is best illustrated by its opening chapter.

In the Greek legends certain minstrels were renowned for the power of their song. Amphion of Thebes had allured fishes, Arion of Methymna had surrounded Thebes with walls, by the power of music. The Thracian Orpheus had tamed wild beasts and transplanted trees, by the might of his song. “Do you believe,” says Clement, “all these vain fables, and are you only incredulous concerning the Truth? Let us bring down from heaven, Truth, with Wisdom in all her brightness, and the sacred prophetic choir. Let her cast her rays all round on those sitting in darkness. Let all men cease to listen to their old, deceiving, demon-inspired hymns, and listen to the new, and immortal, and divine songs. Those minstrels were all deceivers, unworthy of the name, by their songs and incantations corrupting human life under the pretence of poetry, possessed with a spirit of sorcery for the purposes of destruction, celebrating crime, enticing to idols, bringing into bondage the free citizens of heaven. Not such is my song. It has come to loose, and that speedily, the bitter bondage of the tyrant demons, and to lead us back to the mild and loving yoke of piety; it recalls to heaven those who have been cast prostrate to the earth. It alone has tamed men, the most intractable of animals. Men were like the beasts, nay, were like the stocks and stones in their stupidity, like the serpents in their deceitfulness, like the wolves in their rapacity. But all such most savage beasts, and all such blocks of stone, the heavenly song has transformed into tractable men. Behold the might of the new song! It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts. The dead, even, have heard it, and have become partakers of the true life. The universe has been composed by it into melodious order, the discord of the elements has been tuned, so that the whole world has become harmony. This deathless strain has reached from pole to pole, and has harmonized all things according to the paternal counsel of God. On man himself, composed of body and soul, a microcosm, an instrument of many strings, tuned by the Holy Spirit, the Word of God makes melody. A beautiful breathing instrument of music the Lord made man. He is God’s lute and harp, and to Him he sings accordant. The Celestial Word is also Himself the melodious holy instrument of God. He is the New Song, This instrument of God loves mankind. Many are the tones in in which He speaks to them. Sometimes He upbraids, sometimes He threatens, some men He mourns over, some men He cheers with His melody To all He speaks, and calls them to salvation, and rescues them from the wicked tyrant who binds them fast.”

The whole exhortation is only an expansion of the ideas contained here. We have an exposure of the heathen mythology, the opinions of philosophers, and the fables of the poets. At the same time it is con fessed that Plato and others touched the truth. The Scriptures (in which term he includes the Sibyl) alone present us with the appliances necessary for the attainment of piety. Devoid of outward beauty and embellishment, they raise up humanity strangled by wickedness, to despise the casualties of life. The prophets form one harmonious choir under one leader and teacher — The Word. They attain to and rest in the same truth, and cry, Abba, Father. Clement pictures the great blessings offered to the world by Christ. He describes Him as inviting all to come to Him. He urges all to hasten to accept the invitation.

It will thus be seen that this work of Clement, though commonly included amongst the Apologies, is really an exhortation to the heathen to become Christians. Its idea cannot be better expressed than in the words of a modern hymn : —

Come, weary souls, for Jesus bids you come:
And through the dark, its echoes sweetly ringing,
The music of the Gospel leads us home.

ORIGEN. 185-255 A.D.

Origen’s life is far too vast a subject to deal with in a paragraph, and so we shall leave it untouched, and confine our attention to the Apology which he wrote. In one respect this is unique amongst early Apologies. It is not a general but a particular defence. It is an answer to a book written by a philosopher called Celsus, seventy years before. Origen’s method is to take and refute seriatim the different accusations brought by him.

As we have already seen, Celsus was not a formidable antagonist. He knew many things about, but not much of, Christianity. He was well acquainted with the Gospel narrative, the Old Testament Scriptures, and the many legends which popular rumour, the malice of the Jews, and the unrestrained imagination of the heretics, had invented concerning Christians and their religion. But he had no notion of Christianity as a whole. He attacks particular points in it without considering them as parts of a system. He makes no consistent attack. His idea seems to be, that if he throws enough mud some of it will be sure to stick. He brings the ordinary accusations against the Christians, but with this difference, he endeavours to trace them home to the spirit of Christianity. Like others he charges them with immorality (iii. 59, 64, 73, 74), and this is natural enough, for the worst of men are invited to their society (i. 62, 63). He charges them foolishness, and what are they always saying, but ” Do not ex amine, but believe” (i. 9. 13). “The wisdom of this world is foolishness.” He charges them with impiety, and, confounding them with the Gnostic heretics called Ophites, he declares it is part of their belief to execrate the Creator of the world.

Origen’s defence necessarily took its form from the attack. He takes each statement of Celsus and investigates it separately. He clears away misrepresentations. He distinguishes between Catholics and Heretics, and he adduces the evidences of prophecy and miracles. Probably the extracts from Celsus are to us the most valuable part of Origen’s work. There are extant many early Apologies for Christianity, but no complete early attack. It is important that we should be able to realize what appearance Christianity presented to the heathen of those early times, and this Origen’s extracts effect for us in some measure.


[1] There is only one exception — Origen — to this rule.

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Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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