Defending the Faith
In the first few centuries of the church there came forth Christians who articulated a defense of Christianity against the pagan society of Rome; they were known as the apologist. Educated in Greek philosophy, they used commonalities to bridge the gap in understanding, showing that Christians worshiped the true and only God. At this early point in Christianity, many false assumptions where made about the new Christian faith. At first Rome believed they were just a branch or sect of Judaism and as such offered to them some relative peace in worship of their own God. Judaism had gained that exclusive privilege largely due to their history of rebellion to any suggested blasphemy and the Roman government had rather let them be instead of forcing the worship of other gods upon them as was the requirement of any other religion. However, when Rome realized the Jews hated the Christians it moved them into a new category of religion and that privilege was revoked. Soon rumors of indecency, cannibalism, and taboo rites begun to circulate from an ignorance of Christian doctrine and added to the fuel of persecution throughout the empire. The apologist rose to combat these false reports.
The earliest known of these apologists was Aristides of Athens. Aristides contrasted other religions against the Christian faith to show how that it is superior to all others and is the only true religion.
Another early but unknown apologist wrote what is known as the Epistle of Diognetus. (click here to read earlier post on this work) Like Aristides, this work contrasted pagan idol worship and morals to present the Christian life as the only true way. He also used examples of persecution as evidence of this faith.
Athenagoras, a philosopher turned Christian, used his previous knowledge and understanding of Greek philosophy to articulate a defense Christianity against accusations of Atheism and for the foolishness of polytheism. He appeals to reason in his writing, “A Plea for the Christians” as can be seen here in part as he states, “it would be irrational for us to cease to believe in the Spirit from God, who moved the mouths of the prophets like musical instruments, and to give heed to mere human opinions.”
Another important apologist of this era was Theophilus, the bishop of Antioch. He also made strong use of Greek philosophy in his writing making cases such as in Chapter 4 of his book II, about the “absurd opinions of the philosophers concerning God.”
Finally the most well-known of the apologist was the skilled man named Justin Martyr. Justin wrote two apologies and another work called a “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” that we still have access to today. Justin’s philosophical apologies took aim at the pagan high-society, the empire, Judaism and heretics who misrepresented the Christian faith. He drew a distinction between Christian morals and those of the pagans as well as pulled from prophesy to prove out the truth of God.
Common between these early apologists was the doctrine of the Logos. The Logos (the Word) was a concept understood by Greeks and afforded the opportunity to convince them of the true Logos; Jesus Christ. The Logos represented wisdom in the Greek understanding and allowed the skilled apologist to connect the wisdom of the Greek philosophers and everything that was good in them to the incarnate Logos, Jesus Christ as illustrated in this passage from Athenagoras, “the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being–I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say “His Logos”], for we acknowledge also a Son of God.”
Leaving a Legacy of Defense
We must give thanks to the early work of these apologists; many of who were killed for contending for voicing the truth. These early fathers of the faith show us how we today can combat the false accusation and heresies of twenty-first century and beyond by contrasting the truth of scripture and the false world-view of man pointing the hearer to the glory of God and His salvation for man.