The men who followed the Apostolic Fathers in the 2nd, 3rd and early 4th centuries fought many important battles for the orthodox Christianity passed to them from Jesus Christ through the apostles and the apostolic fathers. The writings of these brave men are important for modern Christian apologists to read because the battles they fought are similar to what we fight today. Plus, we can learn from the deep devotion they presented in both their lives and ministries.
In our last study we began looking at the apologetic ministry of Justin Martyr. Justin was born about 100 AD and died a martyr about 65 years later. Two of Justin’s best-known writings are the Apologies (Defenses). He addressed his First Apology to Emperor Antoninus Pius, the emperor’s sons, and the Roman Senate. Justin argued that Christianity had been grossly misrepresented and that it should be treated as a legal religion. He also argued that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman Empire.
We turn now to Justin’s Second Apology which he addressed to the Roman Senate for the purpose of exposing what was really behind persecution of Christians under Urbicus and the irrationality of the allegations being leveled against Christ’s followers.
Quintus Lollius Urbicus was Governor of Roman Britain during the reign of Emperor Antonius Pius, who was the emperor Justin addressed in his First Apology. Urbicus had served as a commander in the Roman Army before becoming a member of the Senate and a governor. He later returned to Rome and became praefectus urbi (city administrator). Urbicus presided at the trial of Ptolemaeus, a woman accused by her husband of being a Christian. She admitted being a Christian and was sentenced to die. Justin wrote his Second Apology to address the government’s “evil” treatment of Christians –
“ROMANS, the things which have recently happened in your city under Urbicus, and the things which are likewise being everywhere unreasonably done by the governors, have compelled me to frame this composition for your sakes, who are men of like passions, and brethren, though ye know it not, and though ye be unwilling to acknowledge it on account of your glorying in what you esteem dignities. For everywhere, whoever is corrected by father, or neighbour, or child, or friend, or brother, or husband, or wife, for a fault, for being hard to move, for loving pleasure and being hard to urge to what is right (except those who have been persuaded that the unjust and intemperate shall be punished in eternal fire, but that the virtuous and those who lived like Christ shall dwell with God in a state that is free from suffering,–we mean, those who have become Christians), and the evil demons, who hate us, and who keep such men as these subject to themselves, and serving them in the capacity of judges, incite them, as rulers actuated by evil spirits, to put us to death. But that the cause of all that has taken place under Urbicus may become quite plain to you, I will relate what has been done.” Roberts-Donaldson English Translation: Second Apology, Chapter I
Justin’s Second Apology also introduces us to Crescens, a Cynic philosopher known to attack Christians as being “atheists and impious” –
“I too, therefore, expect to be plotted against and fired to the stake, by some of those I have named, or perhaps by Crescens, that lover of bravado and boasting; for the man is not worthy of the name of philosopher who publicly bears witness against us in matters which he does not understand, saying that the Christians are atheists and impious, and doing so to win favour with the deluded mob, and to please them. For if he assails us without having read the teachings of Christ, he is thoroughly depraved, and far worse than the illiterate, who often refrain from discussing or bearing false witness about matters they do not understand. Or, if he has read them and does not understand the majesty that is in them, or, understanding it, acts thus that he may not be suspected of being such [a Christian], he is far more base and thoroughly depraved, being conquered by illiberal and unreasonable opinion and fear. For I would have you to know that I proposed to him certain questions on this subject, and interrogated him, and found most convincingly that he, in truth, knows nothing. And to prove that I speak the truth, I am ready, if these disputations have not been reported to you, to conduct them again in your presence. And this would be an act worthy of a prince. But if my quesions and his answers have been made known to you, you are already aware that he is acquainted with none of our matters; or, if he is acquainted with them, but, through fear of those who might hear him, does not dare to speak out, like Socrates, he proves himself, as I said before, no philosopher, but an opionative man; at least he does not regard that Socratic and most admirable saying: “But a man must in no wise be honoured before the truth.” But it is impossible for a Cynic, who makes indifference his end, to know any good but indifference.” ibid, Chapter III
Christian historian Eusebius wrote years later that Crescens eventually caused Justin’s death.
Justin also addressed those who said that Christians should kill themselves and pass on to God –
“I will tell you why we do not so, but why, when examined, we fearlessly confess. We have been taught that God did not make the world aimlessly, but for the sake of the human race; and we have before stated that He takes pleasure in those who imitate His properties, and is displeased with those that embrace what is worthless either in word or deed. If, then, we all kill ourselves, we shall become the cause, as far as in us lies, why no one should be born, or instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race should not exist; and we shall, if we so act, be ourselves acting in opposition to the will of God. But when we are examined, we make no denial, because we are not conscious of any evil, but count it impious not to speak the truth in all things, which also we know is pleasing to God, and be cause we are also now very desirous to deliver you from an unjust prejudice.” ibid, Chapter IV
Second Apology is shorter than the First Apology, but includes much instruction in Christian theology and apologetics. In addition to what we have already read, Justin addressed the following –
- How the angels transgressed
- The names of God and Christ and their meaning and power
- God preserves the world for the sake of Christians
- Eternal punishment is not a mere threat
- How Christians view death
- Christians proved innocent by their contempt for death
Justin concluded his brief Second Apology this way –
“And I despised the wicked and deceitful doctrine of Simon of my own nation. And if you give this book your authority, we will expose him before all, that, if possible, they may be converted. For this end alone did we compose this treatise. And our doctrines are not shameful, according to a sober judgment, but are indeed more lofty than all human philosophy; and if not so, they are at least unlike the doctrines of the Sotadists and Philaenidians, and Dancers, and Epicureans and such other teachings of the poets, which ali are allowed to acquaint themselves with, both as acted and as written. And henceforth we shall be silent, having done as much as we could, and having added the prayer that all men everywhere may be counted worthy of the truth. And would that you also, in a manner becoming piety and philosophy, would for your own sakes judge justly!” ibid, Chapter XV
Insights To Early Christianity
Before we leave the writings of Justin Martyr, it’s helpful as modern Christian apologists to learn what we can about early apologetic arguments and how the early apologists lived out their beliefs concerning Christianity. The writings of early apologists often address Christian practices for the purpose of demonstrating the reasonableness of the religion, especially in refutation of spurious allegations made against them –
“But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” Roberts-Donaldson English Translation: First Apology, Chapter LXV
“And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.” ibid, Chapter LXVI
“And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.” ibid, LXVII
The power of early Christianity is both in their orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It is vital we understand that the true Christian apologetic is what we believe and how we live.
In the next part of our study we will look at the life and apologetic writings of Irenaeus of Lyons.