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§ 29. Literary Opposition to Christianity.


Besides the external conflict, which we have considered in the second chapter, Christianity was called to pass through an equally important intellectual and literary struggle with the ancient world; and from this also it came forth victorious, and conscious of being the perfect religion for man. We shall see in this chapter, that most of the objections of modern infidelity against Christianity were anticipated by its earliest literary opponents, and ably and successfully refuted by the ancient apologists for the wants of the church in that age. Both unbelief and faith, like human nature and divine grace, are essentially the same in all ages and among all nations, but vary in form, and hence every age, as it produces its own phase of opposition, must frame its own mode of defense.

The Christian religion found at first as little favor with the representatives of literature and art as with princes and statesmen. In the secular literature of the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second, we find little more than ignorant, careless and hostile allusions to Christianity as a new form of superstition which then began to attract the attention of the Roman government. In this point of view also Christ’s kingdom was not of the world, and was compelled to force its way through the greatest difficulties; yet it proved at last the mother of an intellectual and moral culture far in advance of the Graeco-Roman, capable of endless progress, and full of the vigor of perpetual youth.

The pious barbarism of the Byzantine emperors Theodosius II. and Valentinian III. ordered the destruction of the works of Porphyrius and all other opponents of Christianity, to avert the wrath of God, but considerable fragments have been preserved in the refutations of the Christian Fathers, especially Origen, Eusebius, Cyril of Alexandria (against Julian), and scattered notices of Jerome and Augustin.


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