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§ 37. The Apologetic Literature of Christianity.



I. The sources are all the writings of the Apologists of the second and third centuries; particularly Justin M.: Apologia I. and II.; Tertull.: Apologeticus; Minucius Felix: Octavius; Origen: Contra Celsum (κατὰ Κέλσου) libr. VIII. Aristidis, Philosophi Atheniensis, Sermones duo, Venetiis 1878. (From an Armenian translation). Complete editions of the Apologists: Apologg. Christ. Opp. ed. Prud. Maranus, Par. 1742; Corpus Apologetarum Christianorum seculi secundi, ed. Th. Otto, Jenae, 1847 sqq. ed. III. 1876 sqq. A new ed. by O. v. Gebhardt and E. Schwartz, begun 1888.

II. Fabricius:Dilectus argumentorum et Syllabus scriptorum, qui veritatem Rel. Christ. asseruerunt. Hamb. 1725.

Tzschirner: Geschichte der Apologetik. Lpz. 1805 (unfinished).

G. H. Van Sanden: Gesch. der Apol. translated from Dutch into German by Quack and Binder. Stuttg. 1846. 2 vols.

Semisch: Justin der Mürt. Bresl. 1840. II. 56–225.

W. B. Colton: The Evidences of Christianity as exhibited in the writings of its Apologists down to Augustine (Hulsean Prize Essay, 1852), republ. in Boston, 1854.

Karl Werner (R.C.): Geschichte der apologetischen und polemischen Literatur der christl. Theologie. Schaffhausen, 1861–’65. 5 vols. (vol. I. belongs here).

James Donaldson: A Critical History of Christian Literature and Doctrine from, the Death of the Apostles to the Nicene Council. London, 1864–66. 3 vols.

Adolf Harnack: Die Ueberlieferung der Griechischen Apologeten des zweiten Jahrhunderts in der alten Kirche und im Mittelalter. Band I. Heft 1 and 2. Leipz. 1882.


These assaults of argument and calumny called forth in the second century the Christian apologetic literature, the vindication of Christianity by the pen, against the Jewish zealot, the Grecian philosopher, and the Roman statesman. The Christians were indeed from the first "ready always to give an answer to every man that asked them a reason of the hope that was in them." But when heathenism took the field against them not only with fire and sword, but with argument and slander besides, they had to add to their simple practical testimony a theoretical self-defence. The Christian apology against non-Christian opponents, and the controversial efforts against Christian errorists, are the two oldest branches of theological science.

The apologetic literature began to appear under the reign of Hadrian, and continued to grow till the end of our period. Most of the church teachers took part in this labor of their day. The first apologies, by Quadratus, bishop of Athens, Aristides, philosopher of Athens, and Aristo of Pella, which were addressed to the emperor Hadrian, and the later works of Melito of Sardis, Claudius Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Miltiades, who lived under Marcus Aurelius, were either entirely lost, or preserved only in scattered notices of Eusebius. But some interesting fragments of Melito and Aristides have been recently discovered.9191    See on the works of these Apologists, lost and partly recovered, Harnack, l.c. pp. 100 sqq.; 240 sqq.; and Renan, L’egl. chrét. p. 40 sqq. We shall refer to them in the chapter on Christian literature.0 More valuable are the apologetical works of the Greek philosopher and martyr, Justin (d. 166), which we possess in full. After him come, in the Greek church, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, and Hermias in the last half of the second century, and Origen, the ablest of all, in the first half of the third.

The most important Latin apologists are Tertullian (d. about 220), Minucius Felix (d. between 220 and 230; according to some, between 161 and 200), the later Arnobius and Lactantius, all of North Africa.

Here at once appears the characteristic difference between the Greek and the Latin minds. The Greek apologies are more learned and philosophical, the Latin more practical and juridical in their matter and style. The former labor to prove the truth of Christianity and its adaptedness to the intellectual wants of man; the latter plead for its legal right to exist, and exhibit mainly its moral excellency and salutary effect upon society. The Latin also are in general more rigidly opposed to heathenism, while the Greek recognize in the Grecian philosophy a certain affinity to the Christian religion.

The apologies were addressed in some cases to the emperors (Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius) or the provincial governors; in others, to the intelligent public. Their first object was to soften the temper of the authorities and people towards Christianity and its professors by refuting the false charges against them. It may be doubtful whether they ever reached the hands of the emperors; at all events the persecution continued.9292    Orosius, however, relates in big Hist. vii. 14, that Justin M., by his Apology, made the emperor Antoninus Pius "benignum erqa Christianos."1 Conversion commonly proceeds from the heart and will, not from the understanding and from knowledge. No doubt, however, these writings contributed to dissipate prejudice among honest and susceptible heathens, to spread more favorable views of the new religion, and to infuse a spirit of humanity into the spirit of the age, the systems of moral philosophy and the legislation of the Antonines.

Yet the chief service of this literature was to strengthen believers and to advance theological knowledge. It brought the church to a deeper and clearer sense of the peculiar nature of the Christian religion, and prepared her thenceforth to vindicate it before the tribunal of reason and philosophy; whilst Judaism and heathenism proved themselves powerless in the combat, and were driven to the weapons of falsehood and vituperation. The sophisms and mockeries of a Celsus and a Lucian have none but a historical interest; the Apologies of Justin and the Apologeticus of Tertullian, rich with indestructible truth and glowing piety, are read with pleasure and edification to this day.

The apologists do not confine themselves to the defensive, but carry the war aggressively into the territory of Judaism and heathenism. They complete their work by positively demonstrating that Christianity is the divine religion, and the only true religion for all mankind.



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