Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Theology of the Apologists

The "Apologists" is the name given to the group of about 12 Christian writers in the second century AD who wrote public works to pagan audiences defending and explaining Christianity. Here's a selection of some of my notes on what a few Patristics scholars have to say about the writings of the Apologists.

Harnack, History of Dogma writes: The moralistic view, in which eternal life is the wages and reward of a perfect moral life wrought out essentially by one’s own power, took the place of first importance at a very early period.

2.4.3 The essential content of revealed philosophy is viewed by the Apologists ... as comprised in three doctrines. First, there is one spiritual and inexpressibly exalted God, who is Lord and Father of the world. Secondly, he requires a holy life. Thirdly, he will at last sit in judgment, and will reward the good with immortality and punish the wicked with death. The teaching concerning God, virtue, and eternal reward is traced to the prophets and Christ; but the bringing about of a virtuous life (of righteousness) has been necessarily left by God to men themselves; for God has created man free, and virtue can only be acquired by man’s own efforts. The prophets and Christ are therefore a source of righteousness in so far as they are teachers. But as God, that is, the divine Word (which we need not here discuss) has spoken in them, Christianity is to be defined as the Knowledge of God, mediated by the Deity himself, and as a virtuous walk in the longing after eternal and perfect life with God, as well as in the sure hope of this imperishable reward. By knowing what is true and doing what is good man becomes righteous and a partaker of the highest bliss. To the gift of imperishability God, however, attached the condition of man’s preserving... the knowledge of God and maintaining a holy walk in imitation of the divine perfection. This demand is as natural as it is just; moreover, nobody can fulfil it in man’s stead, for an essential feature of virtue is its being free, independent action. Man must therefore determine himself to virtue by the knowledge that he is only in this way obedient to the Father of the world and able to reckon on the gift of immortality.

...moral goodness consists in letting oneself be influenced in no way by the sensuous, but in living solely, after the Spirit, and imitating the perfection and purity of God. Moral badness is giving way to any affection resulting from the natural basis of man. The moral law of nature of which the Apologists speak, and which they find reproduced in the clearest and most beautiful way in the sayings of Jesus, calls upon man to raise himself above his nature and to enter into a corresponding union with his fellow-man which is something higher than natural connections. [In the Apologists' view:] Christ has also made special provision for the spread of the truth and is himself an unequalled exemplification of a virtuous life, the principles of which have now become known in the whole world through the spread of his precepts. These statements exhaust the arguments in most of the Apologies; and they accordingly seem neither to have contemplated a redemption by Christ in the stricter sense of the word, nor to have assumed the unique nature of the appearance of the Logos in Jesus. Christ accomplished salvation as a divine teacher, that is to say, his teaching brings about the [change] and [return] of the human race, its restoration to its original destination.

2.4.I [According to the Apologists] the redemption merely enables us to redeem ourselves
Here's a few other scholars on the subject:
"[The Apologists] are unanimous that man is endowed with free-will." (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine, 166)

"Undoubtedly the principal purpose of the incarnation… strikes him [Justin Martyr] as having been didactic. Having forgotten the truth and having been inveigled into ignorance and positive error by the demons, men desperately need the restoration of the light they have lost. As ‘the new law giver’ or again, ‘the eternal, final law, the faithful covenant which replaces all laws and commandments’, Christ imparts this saving knowledge. It was to bestow such illumination, in particular the realization of the oneness of God and the belief in the moral law, and to restore men by it, that the Logos in fact became man." (Kelly, 168-169)

"We have already noted the popularity of redemption as enlightenment among the Apostolic Fathers. It reappears in the Apologists..." (Kelly, 169)

"[In the Apologists] his chief vocation as Savior was to teach men the truth about monotheism and the moral life." (Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 100-600AD, 153)

"The Apostolic Fathers. We can hardly overstress the importance in their writings of the idea of Christ the Teacher. Indeed it appears to be their principle contribution to the doctrine of Redemption... The Apologists take up the same theme." (Turner, The Patristic Doctrine of Redemption, 43-44)

"It is clear, then, that... we are on firm ground in treating the concept of Christ the Example, Teacher, and Illuminator as the starting-point in our study of the patristic doctrine of Redemption..." (Turner, 46)


Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Since Harnack is well known for re-inventing the historical Jesus as a 19th century German gentleman, it is hardly surprising that his picture of the apologists is similar.

Blogger Andrew said...

I haven't read Harnack on Jesus. But if you are unconvinced that the description he gives of the theology of the Apologists accurately depicts their views, then I am happy to sift through my notes for some further quotes from numerous other scholars saying the same thing... (It's not like anyone else actually says anything different to Harnack. I find the funniest scholars writing on early Christian doctrine to be those who have strong pro-Reformation views who spend all their time whinging about the bad doctrine of the early church.)

I would have thought, however, that my earlier quotes from Justin Martyr (generally considered the primary writer of the Apologists) demonstrated that Harnack's comments are well-founded in primary sources.


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