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§ 11. Christian Apologists and Polemics.


I. The Greek Apologists: Eusebius Caes.: Προπαρασκευὴ εὐαγγελική(Preparatio evang.), and Ἀπόδειξις εὐαγγελική(Demonstratio evang.); besides his controversial work against Hierocles; and his Theophany, discovered in 1842 in a Syriac version (ed. Lee, Lond. 1842). Athanasius: Κατὰτῶν Ἑλλήνων(Oratio contra Gentes), and Περὶ τῆς ἐνανθρωπήσεως τοῦ Λόγου(De incarnatione Verbi Dei): two treatises belonging together (Opera, ed. Bened. tom. i. 1 sqq.). Cyril of Alex.: Contra impium Julianum libri X (with extracts from the three books of Julian against Christianity). Theodoret: Graecarum affectionum curatio (Ἑλληνικῶν θεραπευτικὴ παθημάτων), disput. XII.

II. The Latin Apologists: Lactantius: Instit. divin. l. vii (particularly the first three books, de falsa religione, de origine erroris, and de falsa sapientia; the third against the heathen philosophy). Julius Firmicus Maternus: De errore profanarum religionum (not mentioned by the ancients, but edited several times in the sixteenth century, and latterly by F. Münter, Havn. 1826). Ambrose: Ep. 17 and 18 (against Symmachus). Prudentius: In Symmachum (an apologetic poem). Paul. Orosius: Adv. paganos historiarum l. vii (an apologetic universal history, against Eunapius and Zosimus). Augustine: De civitate Dei l. xxii (often separately published). Salvianus: De gubernatione Dei l. viii (the eighth book incomplete).


Comp. in part the apologetic literature at § 63 of vol. i. Also Schrökh: vii., p. 263–355. Neander: iii., 188–195 (Engl. ed. of Torrey, ii., 90–93). Döllinger (R.C.): Hdbuch der K. G., vol. I., part 2, p. 50–91.K. Werner (R.C.): Geschichte der Apolog. und polem. Literatur der christl. Theol. Schaffh. 1861–’65, 4 vols. vol. i.

In the new state of things the defence of Christianity was no longer of so urgent and direct importance as it had been before the time of Constantine. And the theological activity of the church now addressed itself mainly to internal doctrinal controversy. Still the fourth and fifth centuries produced several important apologetic works, which far outshone the corresponding literature of the heathen.

(1) Under Constantine we have Lactantius in Latin, Eusebius and Athanasius in Greek, representing, together with Theodoret, who was a century later, the close of the older apology.

Lactantius prefaces his vindication of Christian truth with a refutation of the heathen superstition and philosophy; and he is more happy in the latter than in the former. He claims freedom for all religions, and represents the transition standpoint of the Constantinian edicts of toleration.

Eusebius, the celebrated historian, collected with diligence and learning in several apologetic works, above all in his “Evangelic Preparation,” the usual arguments against heathenism, and in his “Evangelic Demonstration” the positive evidences of Christianity, laying chief stress upon the prophecies.

With less scholarship, but with far greater speculative compass and acumen, the great Athanasius, in his youthful productions “against the Greeks,” and “on the incarnation of the Logos” (before 325), gave in main outline the argument for the divine origin, the truth, the reasonableness, and the perfection of the Christian religion. These two treatises, particularly the second, are, next to Origen’s doctrinal work De principiis, the first attempt to construct a scientific system of the Christian religion upon certain fundamental ideas of God and world, sin and redemption; and they form the ripe fruit of the positive apology in the Greek church. The Logos, Athanasius teaches, is the image of the living, only true God. Man is the image of the Logos. In communion with him consist the original holiness and blessedness of paradise. Man fell by his own will, and thus came to need redemption. Evil is not a substance of itself, not matter, as the Greeks suppose, nor does it come from the Creator of all things. It is an abuse of freedom on the part of man, and consists in selfishness or self-love, and in the dominion of the sensuous principle over the reason. Sin, as apostasy from God, begets idolatry. Once alienated from God and plunged into finiteness and sensuousness, men deified the powers of nature, or mortal men, or even carnal lusts, as in Aphrodite. The inevitable consequence of sin is death and corruption. The Logos, however, did not forsake men. He gave them the law and the prophets to prepare them for salvation. At last he himself became man, neutralized in human nature the power of sin and death, restored the divine image, uniting us with God and imparting to us his imperishable life. The possibility and legitimacy of the incarnation lie in the original relation of the Logos to the world, which was created and is upheld by him. The incarnation, however, does not suspend the universal reign of the Logos. While he was in man, he was at the same time everywhere active and reposing in the bosom of the Father. The necessity of the incarnation to salvation follows from the fact, that the corruption had entered into human nature itself, and thus must be overcome within that nature. An external redemption, as by preaching God, could profit nothing. “For this reason the Saviour assumed humanity, that man, united with life, might not remain mortal and in death, but imbibing immortality might by the resurrection be immortal. The outward preaching of redemption would have to be continually repeated, and yet death would abide in man.”120120   De incarn. c. 44 (Opera ed. Bened. i. p. 86). The object of the incarnation is, negatively, the annihilation of sin and death; positively, the communication of righteousness and life and the deification of man.121121   Ὁ Λόγος ἐνανθρώπησεν, ἲνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν. The miracles of Christ are the proof of his original dominion over nature, and lead men from nature-worship to the worship of God. The death of Jesus was necessary to the blotting out of sin and to the demonstration of his life-power in the resurrection, whereby also the death of believers is now no longer punishment, but a transition to resurrection and glory.—This speculative analysis of the incarnation Athanasius supports by referring to the continuous moral effects of Christianity, which is doing great things every day, calling man from idolatry, magic, and sorceries to the worship of the true God, obliterating sinful and irrational lusts, taming the wild manners of barbarians, inciting to a holy walk, turning the natural fear of death into rejoicing, and lifting the eye of man from earth to heaven, from mortality to resurrection and eternal glory. The benefits of the incarnation are incalculable, like the waves of the sea pursuing one another in constant succession.

(2) Under the sons of Constantine, between the years 343 and 350, Julius Firmicus Maternus, an author otherwise unknown to us,122122   It is uncertain whether he was the author of a mathematical and astrological work written some years earlier and published at Basel in 1551, which treats of the influence of the stars upon men, but conjures its readers not to divulge these Egyptian and Babylonian mysteries, as astrology was forbidden at the time. If he were the author, he must have not only wholly changed his religion, but considerably improved his style. wrote against heathenism with large knowledge of antiquity, but with fanatical zeal, regarding it, now on the principle of Euhemerus, as a deification of mortal men and natural elements, now as a distortion of the biblical history.123123   The Egyptian Serapis, for instance, was no other than Joseph, who, being the grand-son of Sara, was named Σαρᾶς ἀπό. At the close, quite mistaking the gentle spirit of the New Testament, he urges the sons of Constantine to exterminate heathenism by force, as God commanded the children of Israel to proceed against the Canaanites; and openly counsels them boldly to pillage the temples and to enrich themselves and the church with the stolen goods. This sort of apology fully corresponds with the despotic conduct of Constantius, which induced the reaction of heathenism under Julian.

(3) The attack of Julian upon Christianity brought out no reply on the spot,124124   Though Apollinaris wrote a book “Of the Truth” against the emperor and the heathen philosophers, of which Julianis reported to have said sneeringly: Ἀνέγνων, ἔγνων, κατέγνων:“I have read it, understood it, and condemned it.” To which the Christian bishops rejoined in like tone: Ἀνέγνως, ἀλλ̓ αὐκ ἔγνως , εἰ γάρ ἔγνως οὐκ ἄν κατέγνως: “You have read, but not understood, for, had you understood you would not have condemned.” So says Sozomen: v. 18. Comp. Schröckh: vi. 355. but subsequently several refutations, the chief one by Cyril of Alexandria († 444), in ten books “against the impious Julian,” still extant and belonging among his most valuable works. About the same time Theodoret wrote an apologetic and polemic work: “The Healing of the Heathen Affections,” in twelve treatises, in which he endeavors to refute the errors of the false religion by comparison of the prophecies and miracles of the Bible with the heathen oracles, of the apostles with the heroes and lawgivers of antiquity, of the Christian morality with the immorality of the heathen world.

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