Church History Tuesday: The Apologists

Justin Martyr IconIn the second century, Christians faced persecution; they had to deal with the possibility of martyrdom, but also with intellectual scrutiny.  The pagan society believed all sorts of rumors about Christians.  There were several ridiculous rumors about the actual practice of the Christian faith; such as the Christian services were actually orgies and sibling married.  There were also rumors that the Eucharist was a horrid ritual of cooking a baby in a loaf of bread, then making a new initiate cut the bread (the initiate would then be too horrified with his actions to not keep the secret) allowing the other Christians to eat the bread and flesh of the baby.  This rumor started because the Christians said they eat the body and blood of Jesus and Christians would tell stories about Jesus’ birth and refer to his as a little child; so some how that became Jesus is a little child and they eat his flesh.  These rumors where easy to dispel, because they were so ludicrous.

The criticisms against Christianity, which were much hard to refute were more subtle.  Many pagans claimed the teachings of the Christians to be contradictory, intellectually wanting, and based on a barbarous religion, Judaism.  There was also a deep rooted class prejudice against the Christians.  The class problems had to do with the people who the Christians preached to and who converted to the Christian faith.  The Christians ministered to the orphans and the widows, who were usually the first to convert to Christianity, so they also preached to other women and societal outcasts.  So pagans like Celsus, complained mocked that if you wanted to learn about the perfect life you should go to the women’s quarters, the cobbler’s shop, or the tannery, to learn from the least sophisticated of society.

The pagans also ridiculed the Christians for their beliefs.  They said the Christian God was ridiculous because he was omnipotent, high above all creatures. Yet Christians also depicted him as a busybody who was constantly delving into human affairs.  The pagans also believed the worship of the Christian God destroyed the fabric of society, because they had to abstain from most social activities.  The social activities had to do with pagan gods and so participating in them would be tantamount to worshiping false gods.  Which sounded silly because if they claimed they were false yet still feared them as if they were real.  The other problem was with Jesus, the pagans remembered him as a criminal executed by the Roman authorities.

Some of the more educated and philosophically minded Christians took up the fight against these claims, writing apologies for the Christian religion.  The main apologists were Justin (remembered as Justin Martyr), Tatian, Theophilus (bishop of Antioch), Origen, Minucius Felix, and Tertullian.  Reading these Christians works reveals what the major arguments against Christianity were and how they were defended against.  The apologists are also credited with developing Christian theology because they came up with answers to theological, cultural, and practical questions and problems in the Christian religion.

Question:  What are some criticisms you have heard against Christianity, did/do you have an apology for those claims?

About Jesse

I am a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Arts in Theology focusing on Church History. I am a Third Order Benedictine monk, in the Company of Jesus. I am married to a wonderful woman, we just had a baby Michaela Rose. You can follow me and be alerted of new blog post by following me on Twitter @jtalexanderiv. Or following this blog.
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