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§ 40. The Positive Apology.


The Christian apology completed itself in the positive demonstration of the divinity of the new religion; which was at the same time the best refutation of both the old ones. As early as this period the strongest historical and philosophical arguments for Christianity were brought forward, or at least indicated, though in connection with many untenable adjunct.

1. The great argument, not only with Jews, but with heathens also, was the prophecies; since the knowledge of future events can come only from God. The first appeal of the apologists was, of course, to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, in which they found, by a very liberal interpretation, every event of the gospel history and every lineament of our Saviour’s character and work. In addition to the Scriptures, even such fathers as Clement of Alexandria, and, with more caution, Origen, Eusebius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustin, employed also, without hesitation, apocryphal prophecies, especially the Sibylline oracles, a medley of ancient heathen, Jewish, and in part Christian fictions, about a golden age, the coining of Christ, the fortunes of Rome, and the end of the world.109109    Comp. Dr. Friedlieb:Die Sibyllinischen Weissagungen vollständig gesammelt, mitkritischem Commentare und metrischer Übersetzung. Leipz. 1852. Another edition with a Latin version by C. Alexandre, Paris 1841, second ed. 1869, 2 tom. We have at present twelve books of χρησμοί σιβυλλιακοίin Greek hexameter, and some fragments. They have been critically discussed by Blondel (1649), Bleek (1819), Volkmann (1853), Ewald (1858), Tübigen (1875), Reuss, and Schürer (see Lit. in his N. T. Zeitgesch. p. 513). The Sibyl figures in the Dies Irae alongside with King David (teste David cum Sibylla), as prophesying the day of judgment.08 And indeed, this was not all error and pious fraud. Through all heathenism there runs, in truth, a dim, unconscious presenti-ment and longing hope of Christianity. Think of the fourth Eclogue of Virgil, with its predictions of the "virgo" and "nova progenies" from heaven, and the "puer," with whom, after the blotting out of sin and the killing of the serpent, a golden age of peace was to begin. For this reason Virgil was the favorite poet of the Latin church during the middle ages, and figures prominently in Dante’s Divina Comedia as his guide through the dreary regions of the Inferno and Purgatorio to the very gates of Paradise. Another pseudo-prophetic book used by the fathers (Tertullian, Origen, and apparently Jerome) is "The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, "written by a Jewish Christian between a.d. 100 and 120. It puts into the mouth of the twelve sons of Jacob farewell addresses and predictions of the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, and the preaching of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.110110    Best edition by Robert Sinker from the Cambridge MS., Cambridge, 1869, and an Appendix, 1879; an English translation by Sinker, in the "Ante-Nicene Library," vol. XXII. ( Edinb. 1871). Discussions by Nitzsch (1810), Ritschl (1850 and 1857), Vorstmann (1857), Kayser (1851), Lücke (1852), Dillmann (in Herzog, first ed. XII. 315), Lightfoot (1875), and Warfield (in "Presbyt. Review," York, January, 1880, on the apologetical value of the work for its allusions to various books of the N. T.).09

2. The types. These, too, were found not only in the Old Testament, but in the whole range of nature. Justin saw everywhere, in the tree of life in Eden, in Jacob’s ladder, in the rods of Moses and Aaron, nay, in every sailing ship, in the wave-cutting oar, in the plough, in the human countenance, in the human form with outstretched arms, in banners and trophies—the sacred form of the cross, and thus a prefiguration of the mystery of redemption through the crucifixion of the Lord.111111    Apol. l.c, 55; Dial. c. Tryph. c. 91.10

3. The miracles of Jesus and the apostles, with those which continued to be wrought in the name of Jesus, according to the express testimony of the fathers, by their contemporaries. But as the heathens also appealed to miraculous deeds and appearances in favor of their religion, Justin, Arnobius, and particularly Origen, fixed certain criteria, such as the moral purity of the worker, and his intention to glorify God and benefit man, for distinguishing the true miracles from Satanic juggleries. "There might have been some ground," says Origen, "for the comparison which Celsus makes between Jesus and certain wandering magicians, if there had appeared in the latter the slightest tendency to beget in persons a true fear of God, and so to regulate their actions in prospect of the day of judgment. But they attempt nothing of the sort. Yea, they themselves are guilty of the most grievous crimes; whereas the Saviour would have his hearers to be convinced by the native beauty of religion and the holy lives of its teachers, rather than by even the miracles they wrought."

The subject of post-apostolic miracles is surrounded by much greater difficulties in the absence of inspired testimony, and in most cases even of ordinary immediate witnesses. There is an antecedent probability that the power of working miracles was not suddenly and abruptly, but gradually withdrawn, as the necessity of such outward and extraordinary attestation of the divine origin of Christianity diminished and gave way to the natural operation of truth and moral suasion. Hence St. Augustin, in the fourth century, says: "Since the establishment of the church God does not wish to perpetuate miracles even to our day, lest the mind should put its trust in visible signs, or grow cold at the sight of common marvels."112112    On the other hand, however, St. Augustin lent the authority of his name to some of the most incredible miracles of his age, wrought by the bones of St. Stephen, and even of Gervasius and Protasius. Comp. the treatise of Fr. Nitzsch (jun.) on Augustin’s Doctrine of Miracles, Berlin 1865; and on the general subject J. H. Newman’s Two Essays on Biblical and Ecclesiastical Miracles, third ed. London 1873; and J. B. Mozley’s Bampton Lectures On Miracles. Oxford and Lond. (1865), fifth ed. 1880, Lect. VIII. which treats of false miracles.11 But it is impossible to fix the precise termination, either at the death of the apostles, or their immediate disciples, or the conversion of the Roman empire, or the extinction of the Arian heresy, or any subsequent era, and to sift carefully in each particular case the truth from legendary fiction.

It is remarkable that the genuine writings of the ante-Nicene church are more free from miraculous and superstitious elements than the annals of the Nicene age and the middle ages. The history of monasticism teems with miracles even greater than those of the New Testament. Most of the statements of the apologists are couched in general terms, and refer to extraordinary cures from demoniacal possession (which probably includes, in the language of that age, cases of madness, deep melancholy, and epilepsy) and other diseases, by the invocation of the name of Jesus.113113    They are analogous to the "faith-cures, " real or pretended, of our own age.12 Justin Martyr speaks of such cures as a frequent occurrence in Rome and all over the world, and Origen appeals to his own personal observation, but speaks in another place of the growing scarcity of miracles, so as to suggest the gradual cessation theory as held by Dr. Neander, Bishop Kaye, and others. Tertullian attributes many if not most of the conversions of his day to supernatural dreams and visions, as does also Origen, although with more caution. But in such psychological phenomena it is exceedingly difficult to draw the line of demarcation between natural and supernatural causes, and between providential interpositions and miracles proper. The strongest passage on this subject is found in Irenaeus, who, in contending against the heretics, mentions, besides prophecies and miraculous cures of demoniacs, even the raising of the dead among contemporary events taking place in the Catholic church;114114    Adv. Haer. II. 31, (S) 4: Ἢδη δὲ καὶ νεκροὶ ἠγέρθ̓σαν καὶ παρέμεινον σὺν ἡμῖν ἱκανοῖς ἕτεσι. These two passages can hardly be explained, with Heumann and Neander, as referring merely to cases of apparent death.13 but he specifies no particular case or name; and it should be remembered also, that his youth still bordered almost on the Johannean age.

4. The moral effect of Christianity upon the heart and life of its professors. The Christian religion has not only taught the purest and sublimest code of morals ever known among men, but actually exhibited it in the life sufferings, and death of its founder and true followers. All the apologists, from the author of the Epistle to Diognetus down to Origen, Cyprian, and Augustin, bring out in strong colors the infinite superiority of Christian ethics over the heathen, and their testimony is fully corroborated by the practical fruits of the church, as we shall have occasion more fully to show in another chapter. "They think us senseless," says Justin, "because we worship this Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as God next to the Father. But they would not say so, if they knew the mystery of the cross. By its fruits they may know it. We, who once lived in debauchery, now study chastity; we, who dealt in sorceries, have consecrated ourselves to the good, the increate God; we, who loved money and possessions above all things else, now devote our property freely to the general good, and give to every needy one; we, who fought and killed each other, now pray for our enemies; those who persecute us in hatred, we kindly try to appease, in the hope that they may share the same blessings which we enjoy."115115    Apol. l.c. 13 and 14.14

5. The rapid spread of Christianity by purely moral means, and in spite of the greatest external obstacles, yea, the bitter persecution of Jews and Gentiles. The anonymous apologetic Epistle to Diognetus which belongs to the literature of the Apostolic Fathers, already thus urges this point: "Do you not see the Christians exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of his manifestation."116116    Ad Diogn. c. 7.15 Justin Martyr and Tertullian frequently go on in a similar strain. Origen makes good use of this argument against Celsus, and thinks that so great a success as Christianity met among Greeks and barbarians, learned and unlearned persons in so short a time, without any force or other worldly means, and in view of the united opposition of emperors, senate, governors, generals, priests, and people, can only be rationally accounted for on the ground of an extraordinary providence of God and the divine nature of Christ.

6. The reasonableness of Christianity, and its agreement with all the true and the beautiful in the Greek philosophy and poesy. All who had lived rationally before Christ were really, though unconsciously, already Christians. Thus all that is Christian is rational, and all that is truly rational is Christian. Yet, on the other hand, of course, Christianity is supra-rational (not irrational).

7. The adaptation of Christianity to the deepest needs of human nature, which it alone can meet. Here belongs Tertullian’s appeal to the "testimonia animae naturaliter Christianae;" his profound thought, that the human soul is, in its inmost essence and instinct, predestined for Christianity, and can find rest and peace in that alone. "The soul," says he, "though confined in the prison of the body, though perverted by bad training, though weakened by lusts and passions, though given to the service of false gods, still no sooner awakes from its intoxication and its dreams, and recovers its health, than it calls upon God by the one name due to him: ’Great God! good God!’—and then looks, not to the capitol, but to heaven; for it knows the abode of the living God, from whom it proceeds."117117    Tert. Apolog. c. 17. Comp. the beautiful passage in De Testim Animae, c. 2: "Si enim anima aut divina aut a Deo data est, sine dubio datorem num novit, et si novit, utique et timet .... O testimonium veritatis, quae apud ipsa daemonia testem efficit Christianorum."16

This deep longing of the human soul for the living God in Christ, Augustin, in whom Tertullian’s spirit returned purified and enriched, afterwards expressed in the grand sentence: "Thou, O God, hast made us for thee, and our heart is restless, till it rests in thee."118118    Aug. Confess. I. 1: "Fecisti nos ad Te, et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in Te."17




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