Apologetics in the Roman Empire

This tag is associated with 7 posts

Ancient Apologetics: Justin Martyr, Tatian, The Epistle to Diognetus, and More

Frances Young’s chapter, “Greek Apologists of the Second Century,” found in “Apologetics in the Roman Empire,” is a study of many of the earliest Christian apologists.

Justin Martyr (100-165) is the first to be treated, and his First and Second Aoplogy are among the earliest Christian apologetic treatises in existence. Writing from Rome, Justin addresses a number of charges made against Christians as though they were on trial (82-83). His first goal is to demand a fair hearing for Christianity, calling on those Romans who were pious to look upon Christian piety and those who were philosophers to love the truth and hear it from Justin. Then, he offers a challenge to the practice of condemning Christians for their beliefs while also trying to show the superiority of Christian ethics and beliefs (83).

Tatian (120-180) was a pupil of Justin Martyr and was from the East, though thoroughly Hellenized (85). Tatian follows his tutor in offering a plea in his Oration to the Greeks for fairness to Christians, but he includes in his own apology an attack on idolatry. He is among the first who argued that the good found in Greek philosophy, mythology, and the like were, in fact, derived from Moses, whom Tatian argued came before Moses. While Justin offered a kind of supersessionist view of Judaism, Young argues that Tatian did the same with regards to Hellenism.

The Epistle to Diognetus is difficult to place regarding time and authorship, having been spuriously assigned to Justin Martyr. After a survey of the possible origins of the work, Young notes that it is worth reviewing because it offers reasons for inquirers to understand “why Christians reject ‘the deities revered by the Greeks'” while also going so far as to “make light of death itself” (88). It is less a defense of these beliefs than it is a call to join in joyful acceptance of these beliefs as truths.

A major aspect of the defenses these early works offered was to argue that Christianity had robust ties with the ancient past, rather than being an entirely new faith. Thus, many Greek apologists argued the Hebrew Scriptures were more ancient and correct than the writings of Homer and other classics, even while dismissing Judaism as superstition or as something completely replaced by Christianity. This reflects the importance of tailoring the message of Christianity to one’s audience. At the time, any new belief was seen as deeply suspicious, while ancient beliefs were better established and more likely to be true. Regardless of whether or not these apologists were correct, they knew their context and offered an apologetic that suited it.

In our own time, it is easy to see some of these apologetics works as simplistic or useless–what has Rome to do with us? But it is worth seeing the major theme of exhortation tied into these early works. Justin Martyr called on philosophers of his time to truly act as though they were lovers of truth, which would mean they had to at least give a hearing to beliefs they might otherwise have rejected outright. In our own time, Christianity is sometimes dismissed for scientific or ethical reasons, but could we not take insight from Justin Martyr and others by offering a similar exhortation? We might say, “If you are lovers of knowledge, how can you reject even the chance of finding some new truth?”

Questions

  1. What insights might these early apologists have for us today?
  2. In what ways can the Christian apologist tailor their defense of Christianity to the needs of their time and place? How might we do so now, where we are at?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ancient Apologetics: Apologetics in the Roman Empire

The book “Apologetics in the Roman Empire” is a fascinating study of apologetics not just from Christians, but also from Jews and various other faiths in the Roman Empire (the period covered in the book is from 31 BC to 337 AD). It is an important read because it helps place Christian apologetics in its context at the time, which helps readers understand some of the specific issues and topics covered, as well as why they were addressed in the ways they were addressed.

In the introduction, the editors note that, though “we might have expected [Christians] to have presented themselves simply as carriers of a novel faith, in fact [they] articulated a complex relationship to earlier traditions” (4). The authors claim that the New Testament books were not written “specifically to convinced outsiders of the veracity of the Christian religion…” but rather were almost entirely for convincing “small groups committed to Christ of the plausibility of the step they had taken” in already committing to Christianity (ibid).

Because of this, the earliest Christian apologists had two major boundaries with which to wrestle: they had to interact with Jewish traditions, hashing out the “continuity between the Jewish Scriptures and the beliefs and practices of Christianity” while also navigating the other religious traditions of the environment from which Christianity sprung, largely religions of the Greeks (5-6).

Loveday Alexander’s chapter is entitled “The Acts of the Apostles as an Apologetic Text,” and in it, she argues that Acts may be the book most particularly aimed at any kind of apologetic for Christianity. She notes that there are several ways that apologetic can be taken, especially in the context in which Acts was written: was it an internal apologetic that defended Paul against other theological interests (16)? Was it a self-defense against Judaism? Was it addressed to the Greeks in order to evangelize? Perhaps it was self-defense of Christianity against political charges from Rome, or as a way to legitimize or self-define Christianity.

Alexander notes that while Acts is not an apologetic discourse, specifically, it can be seen as part of the literary apologetic tradition, in which the stories therein function as legitimization and self-definition for the group, while also offering defenses aimed at some of the goals noted above (21-24). Ultimately, then, Alexander sees strands of all of these forms of apologetic in Luke. It functions to try to bring unity to Christianity, legitimizes Paul against those who would downplay or undermine his importance and theology, and offers a way to see Christianity as a legitimate religion in the Roman context.

Our next look at Ancient Apologetics will examine several early Christian apologists and their interactions with the world around them.

Questions:

  1. Are there any books of the New Testament that you see as oriented towards apologetics? If so, in what ways are they related to apologetics? To whom are they directed?
  2. How might acknowledging the context in which the early Christians lived help us to understand their apologetic?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Apologetics in the Roman Empire” edited by Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price

apologetics-romanApologetics in the Roman Empire is a collection of essays centered around apologetic interaction between Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the first through fourth centuries. The essays cover a wide range of topics, from Pagan attempts to defend Hellenism to the apologetic writings of Eusebius.

The value of this book is found primarily in a survey of the interplay between Pagan, Jewish, and Christian apologists during this time period, but from these interactions, readers can find a number of applications. The apologetic styles early Christians used allow readers to seek to apply them to their own reasoning. Some of the early arguments Pagans made against Christians have been reiterated in our own time, and the responses Christians gave can be integrated and updated in reply.

Each individual essay has a virtual treasure trove of content that gives insight into how apologetics was done but also in how it might be done into today. I found every essay to be compelling and insightful. Unfortunately, the editors themselves argued early on that few people would be interested in a study like this beyond learning about the time period being discussed (I briefly look at this quote and claim here). I disagree vehemently. This is a book from which anyone interested in apologetics will glean much.

I cannot recommend Apologetics in the Roman Empire highly enough. Its broadness of application is far beyond the seemingly obscure appeal to those specifically interested in this period. Whether one is looking into how to approach apologetic styles, how Christian thinkers of the past dealt with certain objections, or how debates which occurred in the first few centuries of Christianity impact our thought today, readers are treated to a wealth of research and information which will bear fruit in their thought.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover these enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Rhetoric as Apologetic- Can we learn from ancient apologetics?

apologetics-romanIn the ancient world, rhetoric was a major field of study. Briefly, classical rhetoric is the practice of discourse as a means to motivate, inform, persuade. It is hard to pin down to an exact degree what rhetoric is, but here we will use the term as broadly defined above.

Ancient Rhetoric in Apologetics

Mark Edwards, in “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius,” (cited below) examines the way these ancient apologists used rhetoric in their defense of the Christian faith. This involved demonstrating that Christians were educated over and against the notion that Christians were all slaves and fools. It also involved showing that Christians were the paragons of (Roman) society rather than people who overthrew society. They presented Christianity as an alternative way of thinking–a whole system which was to overthrow the Pagan thought of the time.

These different aspects of rhetoric in apologetics were specifically aimed at the audience of the time of Lactantius and Arnobius. Perhaps we can learn from their example.

Rhetoric in Apologetics Today

There are a number of ways we may apply rhetoric to apologetics today. One may argue that the use of memes is one (lowbrow) way of utilizing rhetoric in apologetics–making brief points in a provocative manner that brings forth further thought. How might we best use memes in apologetics? Are they even appropriate? These are questions that I will not delve into, but I think they are worth trying to work out for those involved in apologetics or interested in doing the same.

Another aspect of rhetoric which may be integrated into today’s apologetic is the continued deflection of charges from non-Christians against the faith. Specifically, some allege that Christians are stupid. Like Lactantius and Arnobius, we may feel free to flourish the names of Christian scholars through time and into today. Christians cannot truly be classified as necessarily stupid or foolish when they continually work in the highest levels of academia.

Rhetoric in apologetics seems as though it may necessarily be focused on the “low hanging fruit” like the examples given above. I’m not convinced this is the case, nor am I convinced that this is a valid objection to its use. Regarding the latter point, surely if charges are made against Christians necessarily being foolish or lacking education, a valid response is to demonstrate how this is false. The use of memes is frequently effective, though we must be wary of their tendency to oversimplify.

Regarding the former point–that rhetoric is not necessarily focused on “low hanging fruit,” I would note that in many ways, a convincing case depends on how it is presented. Moreover, as Christians we are called to present our case in a way that will put us above reproach in character. If we’re able to eloquently present a case, then perhaps more will consider the case itself. I’m not suggesting we try to obfuscate, but we should try to work to present our case in a winsome manner that utilizes the best scholarship, the most current language, and integrates the fewest possible errors (and this includes typos and spelling errors–something of which I am guilty, I’m sure).

Moreover, Lactantius and Arnobius were both clearly concerned with the imminent attacks on Christianity. They weren’t seeking to anticipate and shoot down future problems so much as they were dealing with the current attacks on their faith. Perhaps we can take this as a call to focus on the issues which face Christianity today ourselves. Like them, we need to confront the most popular of our naysayers and utilize the best scholarship in order to refute criticisms of Christianity.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover the enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Mark Edwards, “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius” in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

On the Alleged Atheism of Early Christians

apologetics-romanIt is interesting to note that modern atheists of the internet-infidel variety share much with Pagan counterparts in the first few centuries after Christ. “How can this be?” one might ask. Well, the charge of atheism against Christians is shared both by the common internet-infidel comment that “We’re all atheists, I [the atheist] just take it one god further” and Pagans in the Roman Empire. Oddly, some atheists have gone so far as to suggest that the Pagan accusation is somehow evidence for their position.

The early Christians, it is true, were accused of being atheists. However, to suggest that this is somehow synonymous with contemporary usage of the term “atheist” is ahistorical and anachronistic. Frances Young notes several facets of the charge of atheism leveled against Christians:

What the charge [of atheism leveled against Christians] really amounted to was an expression of dismay and distaste over the fact that people were abandoning conventional ritual practices… The charge of atheism against Christians focused on their refusal after conversion to continue to participate in traditional religious customs… Religion, embedded in the ethnic cultures, was a matter not of belief but of loyalty. (99, 101, cited below)

The charge against Christians, then, was that they were abandoning the ways of the Romans. They were outsiders, outcasts, and, by extension, atheists. By refusing to worship the gods of Rome, they became targets. The fact that the Christians did this conscientiously–they intentionally abandoned the gods–led to the charge of atheism. It was a charge related not to belief in deity, but rather to rejection of shared societal practice, with a culturally charged impetus for making it.

In fact, others who yet believed in the gods were also charged with atheism. The Epicureans were accused of atheism, despite believing that the gods existed:

It is significant that these ‘atheists’ [Epicureans] did not question the existence of the gods. Rather, they liberated people from religion by suggesting that the blessed immortals were not the slightest bit interested in what goes on among human beings… (ibid, 100)

Thus, when modern atheists continue to perpetuate the claim that “we’re all atheists,” and then move on to argue that Christians should agree with them because, after all, Christians were considered ‘atheists’ by the Romans, it is difficult to take them seriously. The Pagan charge was made for cultural reasons, and is tied up in the notion of rejection of the societal norms of the time. It was also made even against those who acknowledged those gods existence. This last point is very important, because one attempted rebuttal I have seen from the modern atheist is that “You are an atheist to other religions.” Well, according to ancient Pagans, you could even be an atheist to your own religion! Of course, the point is that Christians are not atheists, but theists.

The word “atheism” was used back then as a damning charge of societal blasphemy–rejecting the ethnic practices of your own society in pursuit of another’s. Now, modern atheists attempt to forcibly include others in atheism with this kind of pithy phrase. The historical charge is interesting, but clearly entirely different from the modern one. Either charge, however, is inaccurate. Christians, by definition, are not atheists–theists cannot be atheists. The ancient cultural charge is of interest for its historical implications, but it is hardly evidence for the modern use of the charge of atheism against Christians.

I suspect that this post won’t silence many who will continue to persist in saying Christians are atheists. At that point, I suggest to others the following: the people who persist in this mislabeling should be written off as being just as irrelevant as the ancient Pagans with whom they share at least this part of their worldview.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

On the statement that “We are all atheists”– I evaluate the claim that atheists make which say that “we are all atheists.” I evaluate it from a philosophical point of view here.

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover these enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Frances Young, “Greek Apologists of the Second Century” in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The Gospels and Contemporary Biography

apologetics-romanEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Gospels and Contemporary Biography

The question of the genre of the Gospels and whether they are to be considered to have historical content is clearly one which is central for Christians. One way we can explore this question is by looking at writings which are contemporary with the Gospels. Simon Swain, in his essay “Defending Hellenism,” which itself shows how various first century Pagans used apologetics against Christians, provides some interesting insight into this issue:

Philostratus has… a biographical aim. In the Roman imperial period, biographical records came to function as vehicles of belief systems, pagan and Christian. (180, cited below)

Swain is specifically discussing a work by Philostratus, In Honour of Apollonius. He notes that the aim of this work is to provide not so much a modern understanding of biography, but a “way of life of that individual…” The genre of Bioi, first century biographies, were both filled with historical teachings but also served a[n]–apologetic–purpose. This is not to say that the documents themselves are false or that anything contained therein is a fabrication. Instead, it is to acknowledge certain aspects of writing in the ancient world which differ from our own understanding of how biographies should work. For the study of the Gospels, then, it provides a way to avoid limiting them to wooden reports of what happened and allow us to see the theological thrust of the writers.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Simon Swain, “Defending Hellenism: Philostratus In Honour of Apollonius” in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Ancient Apologetics and the Disinterest of the Modern Age

apologetics-romanEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Ancient Apologetics and the Disinterest of the Modern Age

After getting a recommendation from… I don’t remember whom/which book, I picked up Apologetics in the Roman Empire to explore some of the early controversies with apologetics from the perspectives of Pagans, Jews, and Christians. The book is a collection of essays centered around these apologetic controversies. I was struck however, by the editors’ note on the disinterest of the modern age in these works as actual apologetics. After tracing the use of ancient apologetics from the earliest period through the Reformation and into our times, the editors note that these ancient works have fallen out of most people’s interest:

[T]he style of the ancient apologists has estranged them further from practical apologetic than their contents did in any previous century… The only modern scholars, therefore, to whom the [ancient] apologists [like Justin Martyr, Josephus, Tatian, and the like] mean anything are those who take a sympathetic interest in the culture and the interplay of religious traditions in the Roman Empire… (13, cited below)

Thus, according to the editors of this volume, the “only” reason that anyone would be interested in these works in the modern era is because they wish to explore the cultural understanding of the religious traditions in Ancient Rome.

That makes me quite sad, to be honest! As one who is deeply interested in the study of historical apologetics, it seems clear that much of what is discussed in this volume is actually of interest to modern apologists, those interested in church history, and many others. Of course the editors are perhaps merely speaking only of the interest which they have found for their subject, which speaks of the sorry state of how we modern apologists have abandoned our historic roots. Perhaps these words can serve as a rallying cry to raise us from our stupor of historical ignorance and realize the vast, untapped wealth of historical apologetics.

I have written to that end in a post in which I discuss the lost defenses of Christianity. Explore, take, and read!

The book itself has much appeal for those interested in historical apologetics. I’m about halfway through right now and have found it to be quite excellent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover these enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

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