1. Who were apologists and polemicists and how did they respectively approach their task of defending the Christian faith through writing? What was the difference in approach between the Eastern and Western apologists?
The apologists were Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-A.D. 165), Aristides of (A.D. 140-A.D. 150), Tatian of (A.D. 110- A.D. 180), Athenagoras of A.D. 177, Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 180), Tertullian (A.D. 160-A.D. 225), Minucius Felix (A.D. 200), and Cyprian (A.D. 200-c. A.D. 258); While the polemicists were Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.
These two groups wrote to and for the leaders of the Roman government or to the internal heretics hoping to bring them back to the truth of Holy Scripture.
The apologists used the pagan written form of the dialogue and the legal form of the apologia. By so doing, the apologists confronted a hostile Roman government which they tried to win over with their written arguments. They tried to convince the powers that be that Christianity did not deserve persecution. They had a positive and negative side to their writing. The negative part was to condemn the false charges of atheism, cannibalism, incest, and antisocial behavior that were made by their pagan neighbors and writers such as Celsus. The positive part was the elevating of Christianity as superior to Judaism, pagan religion, and state worship.
These apologies, as these writings were called, made logical appeals to the pagan leaders and in the process made an intelligent understanding of Christianity; and they removed legal shortcomings from it. They showed that the false charges made against Christianity were unwarranted. Christianity had a right to civil tolerance under Roman law.
The apologists were writing as philosophers, not theologians. They emphasized that Christianity was the oldest religion and philosophy because the Pentateuch dated way before the Trojan Wars, and what truths that were in Greek philosophy were in fact borrowed from Christianity or Judaism. The apologists made much of the pure life, death, and resurrection of Christ, Christ’s miracles, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ which proved Christianity is the highest philosophy. These writers were already learned in Greek philosophy before accepting Christianity. They used Greek philosophy as a tool to bring people to Christ. They used the New Testament more than the apostolic fathers did.
While the polemicists directed their attentions to the condemnation of internal heresy; Those polemicists of the late 2nd-early 3rd centuries A.D. sought to condemn the false doctrines of heretics. The Eastern and Western Churches had different approaches to confronting heresy and formulating theologically sound Christian truth. The Eastern Church used speculative theology and thought through things metaphysically. The Western Church was concerned with problems in church polity and sound practical solutions to problems in this area.
Unlike the apologists (as converts from paganism) who addressed the external threats of persecution from the Roman state, the polemicists (as ones with a Christian cultural background) addressed internal heresies that were threatening the internal peace, purity, and unity of the Christian church. Unlike the apologists who heavily emphasized the Old Testament, the polemicists heavily emphasized the New Testament as source for Christian doctrine. The polemicists condemned through argument false doctrines. This was different from the apologists who explained Christianity to pagan culture and rulers.
The difference in approach between the Eastern and Western apologists are evidenced in the thyme of their different writing.
Example, the Eastern apologists like Aristides (A.D. 140-A.D. 150) who offered an apology to Emperor Antoninus Pius. The first fourteen chapters presented Christian worship as superior to Chaldean, Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish worship. The last three chapters offer a clear view of early Christian customs and morals. And Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-A.D. 165) the greatest apologist of the 2nd century A.D. who later started a Christian school in Rome. Not long after A.D. 150, he (Justin Martyr) wrote his First Apology to Emperor Antoninus Pius and his adopted sons. He urged the Roman emperors in this writing to look at the charges made against Christians (chapters 1-3) and to free them from punishment if they were innocent. Christians were proved not to be atheists or idolaters (chapters 4-13). The heart of the work (chapters 14-60) involves a discussion of the morals, dogmas, and Foundation of Christianity. Christ’s superior life and morality had been foretold in the Old Testament. Demons were the cause of error and persecution. The last chapters (chapters 61-67) explained Christian worship. Justin Martyr proved that Christians were blameless and should be free of persecution.
Within his Second Apology he (Justin Martyr) cited cruelty and injustice toward Christians; he pointed out while comparing Christ to Socrates that goodness in people was the result of Christ.
Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho attempted to convince Jews of the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. He allegorized Holy Scripture and emphasized prophecy.
Tatian (c. A.D. 110-c. A.D. 180), in his writing, wrote Address to the Greeks after the mid 2nd century A.D. It condemned Greek pretensions to cultural superiority in the form of an apology. This was addressed to a whole people, the Greeks. Christianity was superior to Greek religion and philosophy, and it should be given a fair shake. The second part (chapters 5-30) deals with comparing Christian teaching with Greek mythology and philosophy. In the next part (chapters 31-41) Christianity was shown to be older than Greek thought and religion because Moses predated the Trojan Wars. He also gave a unique explanation of the Greek statuary that he had seen in Rome (chapters 33-34). Tatian also compiled the Diatessaron which was the earliest harmony of the Gospels.
Athenagoras (Around A.D. 177) in his own writing wrote Supplication for the Christians. The beginning chapters laid out the charges against Christianity. He next condemned the charge of atheism by showing that the pagan deities are just human creations (chapters 4-30). Those pagan deities were guilty of the same immoral acts as their human worshipers (chapters 31-34). Since Christians are not guilty of incest or eating their children in sacrificial feasts (chapters 35-36), the Roman emperor should grant clemency.
Theophilus of Antioch wrote Apology to Autolycus presented as logical argument. In his first book, Theophilus considered the nature and superiority of God. In the second book, he compared the weaknesses of pagan religion to Christianity. In the final book, he treated the objections of Autolycus to Christianity. He was the first to use the word trias when writing about the Trinity.
While the Western apologists were concerned more about the distinctions and finality of Christianity than the similarities with pagan religions and philosophies; Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-A.D. 225) has rational Latin mind and he was dedicated to the creation of a sound Western theology and the demise of all false philosophies and paganism that were opposed to Christianity.
Tertullian’s Apology was directed to the Roman governor of his province. He condemned the old charges against Christians and maintained that they were loyal citizens of the Roman Empire. He wrote that persecution was a failure because the Christian church always grew in spite of the persecution. Evidencing his legal education, he stated that the state was persecuting the Christian church on uncertain legal pretexts because the doctrines and morals of Christians were higher and nobler than their pagan neighbors.
Around A.D. 200 Minucius Felix wrote a dialogue called Octavius. This was an apology intended to win over his pagan friend Caecilius to Christianity.
2. Who was the greatest apologist? Who was the greatest polemicist?
Justin Martyr was the greatest of the apologists, and Irenaeus was the greatest of the polemicists.
3. What were the two polemical schools of Christian thought and what were their respective approaches to formulating Christian theology?
The two polemical schools of Christian thought were the Alexandrian School and the Carthaginian School.
Their respective approaches to formulating Christian theology were as follows:
The Alexandrian School: this was a school founded in Alexandria Around A.D. 185 to teach catechism (the doctrines of Christianity) to new pagan converts. The leaders of this school wanted to create a systematic Christian theology by using philosophy. These men had been trained in classical literature and philosophy, and they thought that these things could be used to form Christian theology.
Rather than stressing a historical-grammatical Biblical hermeneutic, they came up with an allegorical hermeneutic that has arguably harmed Christianity ever since that time. This hermeneutic is founded on the idea that Scripture has more than one meaning. Using the analogy of a human being’s body, soul, and spirit, they maintained that Scripture had a literal, historical meaning that correlated with the human body; a secret moral meaning that correlated with the soul; and a deeper spiritual meaning that only the more spiritually advanced Christian could grasp. This hermeneutic was used by Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, who attempted to join Judaism with Greek philosophy. Instead of being concerned with the intent of the author and his audience when Scripture was written and its practical application to present situations, this school always sought hidden meanings. This hermeneutic has arguably done much harm to sound Biblical hermeneutics, and it has arguably led to weird and most of the time unscriptural theological notions.
Clement one of the leader of the school wanted to be a Christian philosopher. His knowledge of Greek philosophy could be used to see that Christianity was the great and final philosophy. He knew well Greek pagan literature, and he quoted around five hundred authors in his writings.
In his writing called Protrepticus, or Address to the Greeks, that he wrote in about A.D. 190, Clement showed the superiority of Christianity as the true philosophy so that the pagans might choose to accept it. In Paidagogos, or the Tutor, he treated morals for young Christians. Christ is the true teacher who has given rules for the Christian life. In Stromata, or Miscellanies, Clement revealed his knowledge of the pagan literature of his day. Book I reveals Christianity as true knowledge and the Christian as the true Gnostic. He believed that Greek philosophy borrowed the truth it had from the Old Testament, and this was a preparation for the Good News. Book II revealed Christian morality to be superior to pagan morality. Book III dealt with Christian marriage. Books VII and VIII, possibly the most interesting, revealed the development of the Christian’s religious life.
Clement of Alexandria preferred Greek knowledge, but Scripture came first for him and ideally for every Christian. Yet since all truth comes from God, truth that did exist in Greek knowledge should be used for God’s service.
Clement’s student and successor as leader of this school was Origen (c. A.D. 185-A.D. 254). Origen was so capable and well educated that in A.D. 202 or A.D. 203, at age eighteen, he was selected as Clement’s successor as leader of this school, a post he held until A.D. 231.
Origen could be likened to Augustine in the scope of his work. The earliest beginnings of textual criticism of the Scriptures could go back to the Hexapla wherein several Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament were arranged in parallel columns. In this writing, Origen wanted to establish a Scripture text that Christians can be confident that it is indeed a correct representation of the original Scripture text. This textual interest led him to do more exegetical writing than any other person before the Reformation. Against Celsus was Origen’s statement and a response to the charges made by the Platonist Celsus against Christians in the latter’s writing True Discourse. Origen responded to Celsus’ accusations concerning the irrationality of Christians and the lack of apparent historical foundations for Christianity by stressing the change in behavior that Christianity fosters as opposed to paganism; the open-minded investigations of truth by Christians; and the purity and influence both of Christ, the leader of the Christians, and Christ’s followers.
Origen’s greatest writing was De Principiis (A.D. 230. This writing was the first Christian treatise of systematic theology. In the fourth book, Origen refined his allegorical hermeneutics which has arguably done much damage to the hermeneutics of Scripture. Origen viewed Christ as “eternally generated” by the Father. Christ was subordinate to the Father. He also believed in the preexistence of the soul, the final restoration of all spirits, and Christ’s death as a ransom to Satan. Origen rejected a physical resurrection.
The Carthaginian School: The Carthaginian School mentality was more concerned with practical involving church polity and doctrines relating to the church rather than speculative theology. This difference can be seen in contrasting the writings of Origen with the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian of North Africa.
Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-A.D. 225) wrote well on many subjects though he did do it many times in an intolerant way. He wrote apologies, and he wrote about practicalities. In special pamphlets he stressed simplicity of dress and ornament for women and begged Christians to separate themselves from pagan amusements, immorality, and idolatry. Tertullian’s greatest work was as a theologian. He started Latin theology, and he was the first to state the theology of the Trinity and to make use of that term to describe that doctrine. This was done in Against Praxeas (chapters 2-3) which was written around A.D. 215. He probably stressed a distinction between the persons of the Father and the Son. In De Anima, he considered the soul. He stressed the traducian doctrine of the transmission of the soul from the parents to the child in the reproductive process. In Of Baptism, he greatly stressed the sacramental ordinance of baptism. He felt sins committed after baptism were mortal sins, and he opposed infant baptism.
Cyprian (c. A.D. 200-c. A.D. 258) received a good education in law and rhetoric. He became a successful teacher of rhetoric, but he was not satisfied in his soul until he became a Christian around A.D. 246. Around A.D. 248 be became bishop of Carthage, the office he held until his martyrdom around A.D. 258. He was good at organization and administration. He rejected the claims of Stephen, bishop of Rome, to supremacy over all bishops.
Cyprian looked up to Tertullian as his master, but as Jerome tells Cyprian was calm whereas Tertullian was passionate. Cyprian’s greatest writing was De Unitate Catholicae Ecclesiae, (chapter 4), which was addressed to the schismatic followers of Novatian. Cyprian made a clear distinction between bishop and elder and stressed the bishop as the core of unity in the Christian church and the sure insurance against schism. He did not advocate the supremacy of Peter’s episcopal in Rome, but he did advocate the preeminence of honor of Peter in drawing the line of apostolic succession down through the early history of the Christian church. Just like Tertullian did with the doctrine of the Trinity, Cyprian gave the earliest expression of the doctrines of apostolic succession and the primacy of honor of the Roman bishop in the Christian church.
Cyprian viewed clergy as sacrificing priests in offering up Christ’s body and blood in the sacramental ordinance of the Holy Eucharist.
Yours in Him,
Ikpenwa, Chizoba Gabriel