Athenagoras of Athens


Athenagoras of Athens

Athenagoras (ca. 133-190) was a Christian apologist who lived during the second half of the 2nd century of whom little is known for certain, besides that he was Athenian (though possibly not originally from Athens), a philosopher, and a convert to Christianity. There is some evidence that he was a Platonist before his conversion, but this is not certain.

Work and writings

Although his work appears to have been well-known and influential, mention of him by other early Christian apologists, notably in the extensive writings of Eusebius, is strangely absent. It may be that his treatises, circulating anonymously, were for a time considered as the work of another apologist, or there may have been other circumstances now lost. There are only two mentions of him in early Christian literature: several accredited quotations from his "Apology" in a fragment of Methodius of Olympus (died 312) and some untrustworthy biographical details in the fragments of the "Christian History" of Philip of Side (circa 425). While Philip of Side's claim that Athenagoras headed the Catechetical School of Alexandria is probably incorrect, his note that Athenagoras converted to Christianity after initially familiarizing himself with the Scriptures in an attempt to controvert them is intriguing.

His writings bear witness to his erudition and culture, his power as a philosopher and rhetorician, his keen appreciation of the intellectual temper of his age, and his tact and delicacy in dealing with the powerful opponents of his religion. Thus his writings are credited by some later scholars as having had a more significant impact on their intended audience than the now better-known writings of his more polemical and religiously-grounded contemporaries.

Of his writings, of which there were likely many, there have been preserved but two: his "Apology" or "Embassy for the Christians", and a "Treatise on the Resurrection".

The "Apology", the date of which is fixed by internal evidence as late in 176 or 177, was not, as the title "Embassy" (presbeia) has suggested, an oral defence of Christianity, but a carefully written plea for justice to the Christians made by a philosopher, on philosophical grounds, to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, whom he flatters as conquerors, "but above all, philosophers". He first complains of the illogical and unjust discrimination against the Christians and of the calumnies they suffer, and then meets the charge of atheism (a major complaint directed at the Christians of the day was that by disbelieving in the Roman gods, they were showing themselves to be atheists). He establishes the principle of monotheism, citing pagan poets and philosophers in support of the very doctrines for which Christians are condemned, and argues for the superiority of the Christian belief in God to that of pagans. This first strongly-reasoned argument for the unity of God in Christian literature is supplemented by an able exposition of the Trinity. Assuming then the defensive, he justifies the Christian abstention from worship of the national deities on grounds of its absurdity and indecency, quoting at length the pagan poets and philosophers in support of his contention. Finally, he meets the charges of immorality by exposing the Christian ideal of purity, even in thought, and the inviolable sanctity of the marriage bond. The charge of cannibalism is refuted by showing the high regard for human life that leads the Christian to detest the crime of abortion.

The treatise on the "Resurrection of the Body", the first complete exposition of the doctrine in Christian literature, was written later than the "Apology", to which it may be considered as an appendix. Athenagoras brings to the defence of the doctrine the best that contemporary philosophy could adduce. After meeting the objections common to his time, he demonstrates the possibility of a resurrection in view either of the power of the Creator, or of the nature of our bodies. To exercise such powers is neither unworthy of God nor unjust to other creatures. He shows that the nature and end of man demand a perpetuation of the life of body and soul.

References

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*Catholic

External links

* [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/athenagoras.html Athenagoras at EarlyChristianWritings.com]
* [http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/basil_litterature00.htm Apologetics of Athenagorus, Basil, Clement]


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