We're making big changes. Please try out the beta site at beta.ccel.org and send us feedback. Thank you!



The Apologists. -- During the second century the interest taken by various emperors in all matters of philosophy or religion tempted many thoughtful converts to Christianity to write apologies for their faith. Some of these treatises have perished, but we possess the Apology of Aristides addressed to Hadrian in 125 (or possibly to Antoninus Pius), the two Apologies of Justin Martyr, one addressed to Antoninus Pius about 152, the other addressed a little later to the Roman Senate and less directly to Marcus Aurelius, his Dialogue with Trypho a Jew written about 155, Tatian's Discourse to the Greeks about 160, Athenagoras's Plea for the Christians about 177, and Theophilus's treatise To Autolycus about 180. The Octavius of Minucius Felix was perhaps written in the second century, but may be later. It is in the Latin language, but in spirit closely agrees with the writings of the Greek Apologists. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, the great writers who defended the faith at the end of the second century, represent a later development of thought and must be considered separately.

The intention of the Apologists was to present Christianity in such a form as to remove all suspicions against the morality and the loyalty of Christians, and thus to secure toleration, and, if possible, converts. Their views were influenced by the philosophy of the day, and they depict the Christian faith as a true and simple moral philosophy revealed by God through Jesus Christ. In opposition to the philosophy of the 'Hellenes' (a word which was already becoming synonymous with 'pagans') 49 they extol what they call 'the barbaric (i.e. non-Hellenic) philosophy.' At the same time, the Apologists do not regard the philosophy of the Greeks as entirely false. On the contrary, Justin boldly says, 'Whatsoever things have been said nobly by all men, belong to us Christians.' He regards all truth as one, and the same teaching is found very plainly in Minucius Felix and Clement.

The Doctrine of God the Father in the Apologists. -- The Apologists regard God the Father as the Creator, Designer, and Lawgiver of the universe. In opposition to Gnosticism and some forms of paganism, the Source of physical life is represented as the Source of moral truth. Sometimes the idea of God is inclined to be shadowy and abstract, and seems to be in contact with the Neo-Platonic doctrine that God is 'beyond intelligence and being.' The reason for this tendency is obvious. The Apologists are strongly protesting against the popular pagan worship and mythology, and this worship was offered to gods 'of like passions with ourselves.' They show us that Greek art had been used to glorify scenes and persons of the foulest character. In hatred of such anthropomorphism the Apologists occasionally use almost Agnostic language. Justin declares that in himself God is nameless, for it would be blasphemous to limit by a name a God who has no more ancient being from whom to receive a name. He apparently thinks that the Father cannot come into immediate contact with the world. Minucius Felix shows an equally decided dislike of limiting God by names. But both these and other Apologists do attach a real meaning to the Fatherhood of God. Aristides is content with saying that God is 'immortal and without needs, above all passions . . . unchangeable and invisible.'

The Doctrine of the Logos in the Apologists. -- This doctrine is of the highest importance. It was elaborated for two purposes: (a) In order to give a convincing reason for the Christian worship of Jesus Christ; (b) In order to show how the unseen God acts upon the material world. Thus it is asserted that Jesus is that divine Word who is an epitome of the consciousness of God, He is the expression of God's own thought. This 50 divine Word was not created, He is identical in essence with God. When Tatian calls him 'the first-begotten work of the Father,' 11   Ad Groecos, 5.the context shows that he uses the word 'work' in the sense of product or expression. Through this Word the Father maintains the life of the world and reveals himself to the world. Justin, with his conception of a distant divine Father, denies that it was the Father who appeared to the Jewish patriarchs; it was His Word.

The fact that the Greek term Logos fignifies both Reason and Word caused the Apologists to think that there were two distinct stages in the existence of the Son before His incarnation. At first He was 'immanent ' in the Father, says Theophilus, then when creation was to begin, He became 'uttered' from the Father.22   Cf . Tert. adv. Prax. 5, where God is called both rationalis and sermonalis, having first a Thought and then a Word. These phrases had been used in Stoic philosophy and were adopted again by Marcellus of Ancyra in the fourth century. On the whole, the Apologists do not keep together the idea of the personality of the Son and the idea of His eternity. They say that He was 'put forth' from the Father, and that He is nevertheless not cut off from God so as to be separate from Him. They say that He was 'begotten by the Father's will,' a phrase which was afterwards perversely used by the Ariaus to insinuate that the Son was created and not begotten. But their language more than once suggests that the Son was not begotten and was not strictly personal until God intended to create the universe by Him. Nevertheless, the Apologists have no doubt that the Logos is truly divine, and Justin calls Him 'another God,' a phrase obviously open to criticism, but a phrase which certainly was not meant by Justin to teach that there is more than one God.

The unity of nature which exists between the Son and the Father is illustrated in Justin by the simile of a thought and the reason which produces it, and a flame with the fire from which it is derived. Justin thinks that the relation of a ray to the sun is not adequate to illustrate the relation of the Son to the 51 Father, but Tatian uses this simile to describe the relation between the Spirit and the Father.11   For similar illustrations see Tertullian, who compares the Father and the Son to a root and its bush, a spring and its stream, the sun and its ray. The Apologists employ Trinitarian phrases, e,g, Justin speaks of 'the Creator, the Teacher in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third position.' Theophilus is the first known writer who uses the Greek word for 'Trinity.' He speaks of 'types of the Trinity, God, and His Word, and His Wisdom.' Here, as in their allusions to the earthly life of Christ, these writers show themselves in close connection with the tradition of the Church. For instance, both Aristides and Justin assert that Christ was born of a virgin. During the period in which they flourished, the canonical collection of New Testament books was being gradually made. Tatian regarded our four Gospels as the exclusively authentic Gospels. His teacher Justin used all our Gospels, but apparently also quotes from certain Apocryphal Gospels. The exact position which he gave to the latter class of writings cannot be determined.

In conclusion, it should be noticed that modern writers are too prone to criticise the Apologists (a) as if they were making a full statement of Christian doctrine; (b) as if their writings proved that the creed of the early Church was loose and chaotic.

These criticisms are hardly fair. Writing under the circumstances which then prevailed, the Apologists naturally laid more stress upon certain aspects of Christian doctrine than others; for instance, the Divinity of Christ is explained more carefully than the atonement. Moreover there is a great foundation of unity under these explanations of the faith, although they occur in books which represent not so much the past traditions of the Church as new efforts to meet the needs of the present. And so far as we can trace the official teaching of the Church during this period, it appears to have been of a thoroughly apostolic type. We must seek for this official teaching, not in the apologies of laymen like Justin and Tatian, but in the writings of bishops like Ignatius, Poly carp, and Irenaeus.


Montanism.-- About A.D. 157 Montanus, formerly a mutilated priest of Cybele, headed a strange religious revival which has had several parallels during the nineteenth century, more espeially among Irvingites and the Mormons. He pretended to possess a gift of prophecy, and was joined by two women named Prisca and Maximilla who also professed to prophesy. They proclaimed that the reign of the Paraclete, foretold in St. John's Gospel, had now truly arrived, that the heavenly Jerusalem would descend, and that Christ would speedily return. Pepuza in Phrygia was to be the favoured spot chosen for the new city of God.

Montanism spread rapidy through Asia Minor, and from thence to Thrace, Rome, Gaul, and North Africa, where it secured an ardent advocate in the great Tertullian. It is evident that it owed some of its sucess to the conservative elements which it retained. The Montanists maintained a stringent discipline at a time when merely nominal Christianity was not uncommon. They strongly opposed Gnosticism, which wsa one of the most serious forces arrayed against the Church. They forbade flight under persecution, and were eager to suffer for the Christian faith. The 'recognition of spiritual gifts,' suh sa prophecy, a recognition on which the Montanists particularly prided themselves, had not only been common during the apostolic age, but the Catholics of the second centurey frequently testify to the existence of such gifts in their own day. Why, then, did the Church oppose Montanism? The chief reasons were these:--

(1) The Montanists organised schismatical communities, an treated the Church sa a second-rate institution, now superseded. (2) The Montanists held that mortal sin committed after baptism must not be forgiven by the Church, but could only be wiped out by martyrdom. (3) The Montanist prophecy was a 'new prophecy.' It was chiefly on this ground that the Catholics criticised the Montanists. It was new both in matter and in form. The Montanists said that 'the Holy Spirit was in the apostles, but not the Paraclete, and that the Paraclete said more things in Montanus than Christ uttered in the Gospel -- and not only more, but even better and greater.' 53 These sayings were delivered in a state of frenzy. Thus Montanus said that he was in a state of sleep and passive like a lyre when the Lord made him prophesy, and Miltiades, a Catholic opponent of Montanism, affirmed that 'a prophet ought not to speak in an ecstasy.' These ecstati frenzies led to the wildest blasphemy. Montanus spoke of himself as 'the Father and the Son and the Paraclete,' and Prisca said that Christ had appeared to her in a female form.

Some Montanists came to deny the doctrine of the Trinity. The sect was persecuted by Justinian, and nearly two hundred years later, in A.D. 722, the surviving Montanists burnt themselves alive rather than submit to orthodox baptism.

St. Irenaeus. -- St. Irenaeus became bishop of Lyons, in Gaul, after the martyrdom of his aged predecessor, Pothinus, in 177. Just previously he had visited Eleutherus, bishop of Rome, and consulted him with regard to Montanism. Irenseus is the most important figure in the Church history of the second century. He had known Polycarp, the pupil of St. John, and his testimony to the authenticity of the fourth Gospel and of the synoptic Gospels is of unique value. He was acquainted with Christian life and thought in Asia Minor, Rome, and Gaul, and his evidence as to the traditions of the Church therefore rests upon a threefold foundation. His writings are largely directed against Gnosticism, but give us information about other important heresies.

The theology of Irenseus is profoundly Christian. His writings are more imbued with the spirit of the Gospel than those of the Apologists, although he seems to have been influenced by the Apologists. There is much in his books which reminds us of the writings of St. Ignatius and St. John and of the more developed Christology of St. Paul. Opposition to Gnosticism has caused him to reflect upon and define the faith of the Church.

The Doctrine of God in Irenseus. -- Against the Gnostics who denied that the Creator is the same as the God revealed in Christ, Irenseus insists that the Creator is the Redeemer. There is one omnipotent God, not two Gods who limit each other's action, or one God with a train of 54 emanations attached to Him. This one God is an omnipresent, active Spirit; everything originates with Him and is what it is through His will -- 'the substance of all things is the will of God.'11   Adv. Haer, ii. 30. 9. The justice and goodness of God, instead of being incompatible, as Marcion held, involve each other. Man needs communion with this good God. 'For this is the glory of man to persevere and abide in the service of God,' and again, 'the life of man is the vision of God.'

The Doctrine of the Word in Irenaeus. -- The Son, who is also the Word, 'is ever co-existing with the Father ' He is 'the measure of the Father,' who alone fully knows and reveals the Father. There is an identity of nature between the Father and the Son. The Word is the Creator as truly as the Father is the Creator; it is He who revealed the Father to the angels, and appeared to the patriarchs (so the Apologists). The manner of His generation from the Father cannot be declared by man.

The Word is known to us through the historical life of Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, the new Eve. Why did God thus become man? The answer of Irenaeus is clear and unmistakable: 'On account of His boundless love He became what we are, in order that He might make us what He is himself.' In Irenaeus the doctrine of the incarnation of God is as fundamental as the doctrine of the unity of God. 'Without God we cannot know God.' Christ is the centre of theology, not because He is a Teacher, but because He is both God and Man. 'He united man with God.' Man was destined to resemble God; the development of this resemblance was broken by the fall of Aaam, but restored by Christ Irenseus loves to dwell upon the thought that Christ is the second Adam who 'recapitulates' mankind (cf. Eph. i. 10). Jesus Christ is the first who realised the true destiny of mankind in His own person. He is the Teacher who reforms mankind, but He is above all the Giver of incorruptibility, which consists in the sight and the service of God and in a communion with His nature. 'Those 55 who see God partake of life: and therefore the Unseen made himself seen and comprehended and contained by the faithful.

An attempt has been made to prove that Irenaeus, in spite of his vigorous opposition to the Gnostics, borrowed from the Gnostics the theory that Christ had two distinct natures. But the doctrine of Irenaeus is quite different from that of the Gnostics. Irenaeus is true to the doctrine of St. Paul, who teaches in Phil ii. that Christ, who had from eternity 'the form' or nature of God, condescended to take 'the form' or nature of a slave, and yet remained essentially divine. The Gnostics, on the contrary, denied that Jesus Christ was essentially or truly human. They preferred to say that there was a 'Jesus' who suffered, and that on this Jesus descended a 'Christ' who could not suffer. Irenaeus opposes this heresy in the most explicit terms; he declares that Jesus is the Christ, and that Jesus Christ suffered and rose again, and that Jesus Christ is 'truly man, truly God.'

We should finally observe that Irenaeus has a distinct conception of the personality of the Holy Spirit, and that he brushes aside the notion of some of the Apologists that the Word was not from all eternity the Son of God.11   Adv. Haer, ii. 30. 9. He teaches that the Word is not only eternal, but also eternally personal. His idea of the gradual development of the human race is also remarkable. In fact, Irenaeus has a deeper insight into the truths involved in the incarnation than some of his most eminent successors, and the language in which he explains the Christian faith is often as felicitous as it is religious. Tertullian. -- The writings of Tertullian are stepping-stones from the theology of the second century to the theology of the third. His writings extend over thirty years, beginning about 195. He appears to have been acquainted both with the Greek Apologists and with the Christian doctrine taught in Rome and Asia Minor. He wrote against paganism, Monarchianism (see next chapter), and Gnosticism. He had enjoyed a lawyer's training, and the influence of this training is shown in 56 his practical nature, in his keen arguments, and in his juristic representation of the divine persons of the Trinity and of man's reconciliation with God. He was a thorough Western, interested less in Christian speculation than in Christian life and discipline. The latter fact induced him to welcome the rigid disciplinary rules of the Montanists and to ahandon the Catholic Church. He was much influenced by the philosophy of the Stoics, and, like them, speaks of 'nature' and 'reason' as guides of life. He appeals to 'the witness of the soul naturally Christian.' He possessed the same mastery over the strong and fervid Latin of Africa as Luther possessed over the simple and vigorous High German of the sixteenth century. The consequence was that both his dialect and his ideas had an immense influence over Western Christianity.

The Doctrine of the Trinity in Tertnllian. -- One peculiarity of Tertullian's teaching is that he holds the Stoic doctrine that 'the soul is a body' and the corresponding doctrine that God is in some sense corporeal.11   Adv. Prax. 7. Against Marcion he asserts that the same God is both just and good. 'Nothing is so worthy of God as the salvation of man.' Tertullian is the first writer to use the Latin word 'Trinity.' He uses the phrases which became so familiar in later theology-- 'the Unity in Trinity' -- 'one substance' in which different 'persons' share. Tertullian thinks that the unity of God, the one dominatio (monarchia) or sovereign power, is secured by the fact that the plenary divine power which is exercised by the Son and the Spirit is derived from the one Father. He is sometimes guilty of speaking of the Son and the Spirit as if they were only administrators temporarily acting for the Father. Such a theory secures neither the doctrine of the Unity nor that of the Trinity. For the doctrine of the Unity is impaired if we regard the Father as delegating His authority, and the doctrine of the Trinity is impaired if we regard the Trinity, not as the life of God, but as an 'arrangement' for the benefit of the world.

The fact seems to be that Tertullian is hampered by 57 his legacy, direct and indirect, from Stoicism and Neo- Platonism.

(a) He regards the Son as a delegate of the Father, because the Son is only 'a portion of the Father's substance' and he calls the Son a 'portion' because he regards the Father as 'the total substance,' i.e, a person who has all the divine attribiites, some of which cannot enter into a human life.

(b) He retains the idea, found in the Apologists, that there were two stages in the existence of the Word before the incarnation. The result is that while he lays peculiar stress on the Sonship of the Word, he denies that He was always Son, and represents the Trinity as only a gradual development in the life of the Deity.

In making this criticism I have purposely called attention to the unsatisfactory elements in Tertullian's doctrine. But even here Tertullian displays great genius. If he had only seen with Irenaeus and Origen that the Son was from eternity truly Son as well as Word, and had developed his own statements about the unity of the 'Three cohering,' his vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity would have been of the very highest order.

The Doctrine of the Incarnation in Tertullian. -- Tertullian expounds the doctrine of the incarnation with such clearness and precision, that when we read his words we might easily imagine that we were reading the statements written by St. Leo in the fifth century. Christ is 'God and man,' and 'we see a double existence (status), not confused but joined together, in one person, the God and man Jesus,' and 'the peculiar character (proprietas) of each substance was preserved.' One interesting link with earlier writers is to be found in the fact that he uses the word 'Spirit' to signify the Divinity of the Son, and the word 'spiritual' to signify divine. While strongly insisting that Jesus is God and that 'God was crucified,' he carefully denies that there was a 'transfiguration,' or, as we should say, transfor- mation, of the Word into flesh. He took a true human body and true human soul. Tertullian quaintly says that the invisible Father is, 'so to speak, the God of 58 the philosophers' hut that in Christ 'God was found little' that man might hecome exceeding great.'

Consistently with his clear view of the two natures in one person, Tertullian brings the atonement into the foreground. He calls the death of Christ 'the whole weight and fruit of Christianity,' and says 'our death could not be destroyed except by the passion of the Lord.' But in spite of the value which he attaches to the sufferings of Christ his idea of the atonement is less rich than that of Irenaeus. He does not develop as thoroughly as Irenaeus the thought of man being made 'at one' with God through communion with the second Adam, who alone made humanity perfectly acceptable to the Father. Tertullian speaks of men 'making satisfaction to God,' and uses language which suggests the notion of our purchasing forgiveness from God by meritorious actions. It is probable that the less scriptural phrases of this description are merely metaphorical.


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |