Vol. 2, Chapter III.: Literary Contest of Christianity with Judaism and Heathenism

28. Literature

I. Sources

Tacitus (Consul 97, d. about 117): Annal. xv. 44. Comp. his picture of the Jews, Hist. v. 1-5.

Plinius (d. about 114): Ep. x. 96, 97.

Celsus (flourished about 150): Ἀληθής λόγος. Preserved in fragments in Origen’s Refutation (8 books Κατὰ Κέλσου); reconstructed, translated and explained by Theodor Keim: Celsus’ Wahres Wort, Aelteste wissenschaftliche Streitschrift, antiker Weltanschauung gegen das Christenthum, Zürich 1873 (293 pages).

Lucian (d. about 180): Περὶ τῆς Περεγρίου τελευτῆς c. 11-16; and Ἀληθής ἱστορία I. 30; II. 4, 11.

Porphyrius (about 300): Κατὰ Χριστιανῶν λόγοι. Only fragments preserved, and collected by Holstein, Rom. 1630. His most important works are lost. Those that remain are ed. by A. Nauck, 1860.


II. Works

Nath. Lardner: Collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Religion (Lond. 1727-’57) in the VI. and VII. vols. of his Works, ed. by Kippis, London, 1838. Very valuable.

Mosheim: introduction to his Germ. translation of Origen against Celsus. Hamb. 1745.

Bindemann: Celsus und seine Schriften gegen die Christen, in Illgen’s “Zeitschr. für hist. Theol.” Leipz. 1842. N. 2, p. 58-146.

Ad. Planck: Lukian u. das Christenthum, in the “Studien u. Kritiken,” 1851. N. 4; translated in the “Bibliotheca Sacra,” Andover, 1852.

F. Chr. Baur: Das Christenthum der 3 ersten Jahrh. Tueb. secd. ed. 1860 (and 1863) pp. 370-430.

Neander: General History of the Christian Religion and Church; Engl. trans. by Torrey, vol. I., 157-178. (12th Boston ed.)

Richard von der Alm: Die Urtheile heidnischer und jüdischer Schriftsteller der vier ersten Jahrh. über Jesus und die ersten Christen. Leipz. 1865. (An infidel book.)

H. Kellner (R.C.): Hellenismus und Christenthum oder die geistige Reaction des antiken Heidenthums gegen das Christenthum. Koeln 1866 (454 pp.)

B. Aubé: De l’ Apologétique chrétienne au IIe siécle. St. Justin, philosophe et martyr, 2nd ed. Paris 1875. By the same: Histoire des Persecutions de l’église. The second part, also under the title La polémique païenne à la fin du IIe siécle. Paris 1878.

E. Renan: Marc-Aurèle (Paris 1882), pp. 345 (Celse et Lucien), 379 sqq. (Nouvelles apologies).

J. W. Farrar: Seekers after God. London, 1869, new ed. 1877. (Essays on Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, compared with Christianity.)

Comp. the Lit. quoted in § 12, especially Uhlhorn and Keim (1881), and the monographs on Justin M., Tertullian, Origen, and other Apologists, which are noticed in sections treating of these writers.


29. Literary Opposition to Christianity

Besides the external conflict, which we have considered in the second chapter, Christianity was called to pass through an equally important intellectual and literary struggle with the ancient world; and from this also it came forth victorious, and conscious of being the perfect religion for man. We shall see in this chapter, that most of the objections of modern infidelity against Christianity were anticipated by its earliest literary opponents, and ably and successfully refuted by the ancient apologists for the wants of the church in that age. Both unbelief and faith, like human nature and divine grace, are essentially the same in all ages and among all nations, but vary in form, and hence every age, as it produces its own phase of opposition, must frame its own mode of defense.

The Christian religion found at first as little favor with the representatives of literature and art as with princes and statesmen. In the secular literature of the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second, we find little more than ignorant, careless and hostile allusions to Christianity as a new form of superstition which then began to attract the attention of the Roman government. In this point of view also Christ’s kingdom was not of the world, and was compelled to force its way through the greatest difficulties; yet it proved at last the mother of an intellectual and moral culture far in advance of the Graeco-Roman, capable of endless progress, and full of the vigor of perpetual youth.

The pious barbarism of the Byzantine emperors Theodosius II. and Valentinian III. ordered the destruction of the works of Porphyrius and all other opponents of Christianity, to avert the wrath of God, but considerable fragments have been preserved in the refutations of the Christian Fathers, especially Origen, Eusebius, Cyril of Alexandria (against Julian), and scattered notices of Jerome and Augustin.


30. Jewish Opposition. Josephus and the Talmud

The hostility of the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees to the gospel is familiar from the New Testament. Josephus mentions Jesus once in his archaeology, but in terms so favorable as to agree ill with his Jewish position, and to subject the passage to the suspicion of interpolation or corruption. His writings, however, contain much valuable testimony to the truth of the gospel history. His “Archaeology” throughout is a sort of fifth Gospel in illustration of the social and political environments of the life of Christ. His “History of the Jewish War,” in particular, is undesignedly a striking commentary on the Saviour’s predictions concerning the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, the great distress and affliction of the Jewish people at that time, the famine, pestilence, and earthquake, the rise of false prophets and impostors, and the flight of his disciples at the approach of these calamities.

The attacks of the later Jews upon Christianity are essentially mere repetitions of those recorded in the Gospels — denial of the Messiahship of Jesus, and horrible vituperation of his confessors. We learn their character best from the dialogue of Justin with the Jew Trypho. The fictitious disputation on Christ by Jason and Papiscus, first mentioned by Celsus, was lost since the seventh century. It seems to have been a rather poor apology of Christianity against Jewish objections by a Jewish Christian, perhaps by Aristo of Pella.

The Talmud is the Bible of Judaism separated from, and hostile to, Christianity, but it barely notices it except indirectly. It completed the isolation of the Jews from all other people.


31. Pagan Opposition. Tacitus and Pliny

The Greek and Roman writers of the first century, and some of the second, as Seneca, the elder Pliny, and even the mild and noble Plutarch, either from ignorance or contempt, never allude to Christianity at all.

Tacitus and the younger Pliny, contemporaries and friends of the emperor Trajan, are the first to notice it; and they speak of it only incidentally and with stoical disdain and antipathy, as an “exitiabilis superstitio” “prava et immodica superstitio,” “inflexibilis obstinatio.” These celebrated and in their way altogether estimable Roman authors thus, from manifest ignorance, saw in the Christians nothing but superstitious fanatics, and put them on a level with the hated Jews; Tacitus, in fact, reproaching them also with the “odium generis humani.” This will afford some idea of the immense obstacles which the new religion encountered in public opinion, especially in the cultivated circles of the Roman empire. The Christian apologies of the second century also show, that the most malicious and gratuitous slanders against the Christians were circulated among the common people, even charges of incest and cannibalism, which may have arisen in part from a misapprehension of the intimate brotherly love of the Christians, and their nightly celebration of the holy supper and love-feasts.


Their Indirect Testimony to Christianity

On the other hand, however, the scanty and contemptuous allusions of Tacitus and Pliny to Christianity bear testimony to a number of facts in the Gospel History. Tacitus, in giving an account of the Neronian persecution, incidentally attests, that Christ was put to death as a malefactor by Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; that he was the founder of the Christian sect, that the latter took its rise in Judaea and spread in spite of the ignominious death of Christ and the hatred and contempt it encountered throughout the empire, so that a “vast multitude” (multitudo ingens) of them were most cruelly put to death in the city of Rome alone as early as the year 64. He also bears valuable testimony, in the fifth book of his History, together with Josephus, from whom he mainly, though not exclusively takes his account, to the fulfilment of Christ’s prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Jewish theocracy.

As to Pliny’s famous letter to Trajan, written about 107, it proves the rapid spread of Christianity in Asia Minor at that time among all ranks of society, the general moral purity and steadfastness of its professors amid cruel persecution, their mode and time of worship, their adoration of Christ as God, their observance of a “stated day,” which is undoubtedly Sunday, and other facts of importance in the early history of the Church. Trajan’s rescript in reply to Pliny’s inquiry, furnishes evidence of the innocence of the Christians; he notices no charge against them except their disregard of the worship of the gods, and forbids them to be sought for. Marcus Aurelius testifies, in one brief and unfriendly allusion, to their eagerness for the crown of martyrdom.


32. Direct Assaults. Celsus

The direct assault upon Christianity, by works devoted to the purpose, began about the middle of the second century, and was very ably conducted by a Grecian philosopher, Celsus, otherwise unknown; according to Origen, an Epicurean with many Platonic ideas, and a friend of Lucian. He wrote during the persecuting reign of Marcus Aurelius.

Celsus, with all his affected or real contempt for the new religion, considered it important enough to be opposed by an extended work entitled “A True Discourse,” of which Origen, in his Refutation, has faithfully preserved considerable fragments. These represent their author as an eclectic philosopher of varied culture, skilled in dialectics, and familiar with the Gospels, Epistles, and even the writings of the Old Testament. He speaks now in the frivolous style of an Epicurean, now in the earnest and dignified tone of a Platonist. At one time he advocates the popular heathen religion, as, for instance, its doctrine of demons; at another time he rises above the polytheistic notions to a pantheistic or sceptical view. He employs all the aids which the culture of his age afforded, all the weapons of learning, common sense, wit, sarcasm, and dramatic animation of style, to disprove Christianity; and he anticipates most of the arguments and sophisms of the deists and infidels of later times. Still his book is, on the whole, a very superficial, loose, and light-minded work, and gives striking proof of the inability of the natural reason to understand the Christian truth. It has no savor of humility, no sense of the corruption of human nature, and man’s need of redemption; it is full of heathen passion and prejudice, utterly blind to any spiritual realities, and could therefore not in the slightest degree appreciate the glory of the Redeemer and of his work. It needs no refutation, it refutes itself.

Celsus first introduces a Jew, who accuses the mother of Jesus of adultery with a soldier named Panthera; adduces the denial of Peter, the treachery of Judas, and the death of Jesus as contradictions of his pretended divinity; and makes the resurrection an imposture. Then Celsus himself begins the attack, and begins it by combating the whole idea of the supernatural, which forms the common foundation of Judaism and Christianity. The controversy between Jews and Christians appears to him as foolish as the strife about the shadow of an ass. The Jews believed, as well as the Christians, in the prophecies of a Redeemer of the world, and thus differed from them only in that they still expected the Messiah’s coming. But then, to what purpose should God come down to earth at all, or send another down? He knows beforehand what is going on among men. And such a descent involves a change, a transition from the good to the evil, from the lovely to the hateful, from the happy to the miserable; which is undesirable, and indeed impossible, for the divine nature. In another place he says, God troubles himself no more about men than about monkeys and flies. Celsus thus denies the whole idea of revelation, now in pantheistic style, now in the levity of Epicurean deism; and thereby at the same time abandons the ground of the popular heathen religion. In his view Christianity has no rational foundation at all, but is supported by the imaginary terrors of future punishment. Particularly offensive to him are the promises of the gospel to the poor and miserable, and the doctrines of forgiveness of sins and regeneration, and of the resurrection of the body. This last he scoffingly calls a hope of worms, but not of rational souls. The appeal to the omnipotence of God, he thinks, does not help the matter, because God can do nothing improper and unnatural. He reproaches the Christians with ignorance, credulity, obstinacy, innovation, division, and sectarianism, which they inherited mostly from their fathers, the Jews. They are all uncultivated, mean, superstitious people, mechanics, slaves, women, and children. The great mass of them he regarded as unquestionably deceived. But where there are deceived, there must be also deceivers; and this leads us to the last result of this polemical sophistry. Celsus declared the first disciples of Jesus to be deceivers of the worst kind; a band of sorcerers, who fabricated and circulated the miraculous stories of the Gospels, particularly that of the resurrection of Jesus; but betrayed themselves by contradictions. The originator of the imposture, however, is Jesus himself, who learned that magical art in Egypt, and afterwards made a great noise with it in his native country.

But here, this philosophical and critical sophistry virtually, acknowledges its bankruptcy. The hypothesis of deception is the very last one to offer in explanation of a phenomenon so important as Christianity was even in that day. The greater and more permanent the deception, the more mysterious and unaccountable it must appear to reason.

Chrysostom made the truthful remark, that Celsus bears witness to the antiquity of the apostolic writings. This heathen assailant, who lived almost within hailing distance of St. John, incidentally gives us an abridgement of the history of Christ as related by the Gospels, and this furnishes strong weapons against modern infidels, who would represent this history as a later invention. “I know everything” he says; “we have had it all from your own books, and need no other testimony; ye slay yourselves with your own sword.” He refers to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, and makes upon the whole about eighty allusions to, or quotations from, the New Testament. He takes notice of Christ’s birth from a virgin in a small village of Judaea, the adoration of the wise men from the East, the slaughter of the infants by order of Herod, the flight to Egypt, where he supposed Christ learned the charms of magicians, his residence in Nazareth, his baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove and the voice from heaven, the election of disciples, his friendship with publicans and other low people, his supposed cures of the lame and the blind, and raising of the dead, the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the principal circumstances in the history of the passion and crucifixion, also the resurrection of Christ.

It is true he perverts or abuses most of these facts; but according to his own showing they were then generally and had always been believed by the Christians. He alludes to some of the principal doctrines of the Christians, to their private assemblies for worship, to the office of presbyters. He omits the grosser charges of immorality, which he probably disowned as absurd and incredible.

In view of all these admissions we may here, with Lardner, apply Samson’s riddle: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”


33. Lucian

Edd. of Lucian’s works by Hemsterhuis and Reiz (1743 sqq.), Jacobitz (1836-39), Dindorf (1840 and 1858), Bekker (1853), Franc. Fritzsche (1860-’69). The pseudo-Lucianic dialogue Philopatris (φιλόπατρις, loving one’s country, patriot) in which the Christians are ridiculed and condemned as enemies of the Roman empire, is of a much later date, probably from the reign of Julian the Apostate (363). See Gesner: De aetate et auctore Philopatridis, Jen. 1714.

Jacob: Charakteristik Lucians. Hamburg 1822.

G. G. Bernays: Lucian und die Cyniker. Berlin. 1879.

Comp. Keim: Celsus, 143-151; Ed. D. Zeller: Alexander und Peregrinus , in the “Deutsche Rundschau,” for Jan. 1877; Henry Cotterill: Peregrinus Proteus (Edinb. 1879); Ad. Harnack in Herzog (ed. II.), VIII. 772-779; and the Lit. quoted in § 28.

In the same period the rhetorician Lucian (born at Samosata in Syria about 120, died in Egypt or Greece before 200), the Voltaire of Grecian literature, attacked the Christian religion with the same light weapons of wit and ridicule, with which, in his numerous elegantly written works, he assailed the old popular faith and worship, the mystic fanaticism imported from the East, the vulgar life of the Stoics and Cynics of that day, and most of the existing manners and customs of the distracted period of the empire. An Epicurean, worldling, and infidel, as he was, could see in Christianity only one of the many vagaries and follies of mankind; in the miracles, only jugglery; in the belief of immortality, an empty dream; and in the contempt of death and the brotherly love of the Christians, to which he was constrained to testify, a silly enthusiasm.

Thus he represents the matter in an historical romance on the life and death of Peregrinus Proteus, a contemporary Cynic philosopher, whom he make the basis of a satire upon Christianity, and especially upon Cynicism. Peregrinus is here presented as a perfectly contemptible man, who, after the meanest and grossest crimes, adultery, sodomy, and parricide, joins the credulous Christians in Palestine, cunningly imposes on them, soon rises to the highest repute among them, and, becoming one of the confessors in prison, is loaded with presents by them, in fact almost worshipped as a god, but is afterwards excommunicated for eating some forbidden food (probably meat of the idolatrous sacrifices); then casts himself into the arms of the Cynics, travels about everywhere, in the filthiest style of that sect; and at last about the year 165, in frantic thirst for fame, plunges into the flames of a funeral pile before the assembled populace of the town of Olympia, for the triumph of philosophy. This fiction of the self-burning was no doubt meant for a parody on the Christian martyrdom, perhaps with special reference to Polycarp, who a few years before had suffered death by fire at Smyrna (155).

Lucian treated the Christians rather with a compassionate smile, than with hatred. He nowhere urges persecution. He never calls Christ an impostor, as Celsus does, but a “crucified sophist;” a term which he uses as often in a good sense as in the bad. But then, in the end, both the Christian and the heathen religions amount, in his view, to imposture; only, in his Epicurean indifferentism, he considers it not worth the trouble to trace such phenomena to their ultimate ground, and attempt a philosophical explanation.

The merely negative position of this clever mocker of all religions injured heathenism more than Christianity, but could not be long maintained against either; the religious element is far too deeply seated in the essence of human nature. Epicureanism and scepticism made way, in their turns, for Platonism, and for faith or superstition. Heathenism made a vigorous effort to regenerate itself, in order to hold its ground against the steady advance of Christianity. But the old religion itself could not help feeling more and more the silent influence of the new.


34. Neo-Platonism

I. Sources

Plotinus: Opera Omnia, ed. Oxf 1835, 3 vols.; ed. Kirchhoff, Lips. 1856; ed. Didot, Par. 1856; H. F. Mueller, Berlin 1878-80.

Porphyrius: Κατὰ χριστιανῶν λόγοι (fragments collected in Holstein: Dissert. de vita et scriptis Porphyr. Rom. 1630). His biographies of Pythagoras, Plotinus, and other works were ed. by A. A. Nauck, 1860.

Hierocles: Λόγοι φιλαλήθεις πρὸς χριστιανούς (fragments in Euse b.: Contra Hierocl. lib., and probably also in Macarius Magnes: Ἄποκριτικός ἡ Μονογενής Par. 1876).

Philostratus: De Vita Apollonii Tyanensis libri octo (Greek and Latin), Venet. 1501; ed. Westerman, Par. 1840; ed. Kayser, Zürich, 1853, 1870. Also in German, French and English translations.


II. Works

Vogt: Neuplatonismus u. Christenthum. Berl. 1836.

Ritter: Gesch. der Philos. vol. 4th, 1834 (in English by Morrison, Oxf. 1838).

Neander: Ueber das neunte Buch in der zweiten Enneade des Plotinus. 1843. (vid. Neander’s Wissenschaftl. Abhandlungen, published by Jacobi, Berl. 1851, p. 22 sqq.)

Ullmann: Einflusz des Christentums auf Porphyrius, in “Stud. u. Krit.” 1832.

Kirchner: Die Philosophie des Plotin. Halle, 1854.

F. Chr. Baur: Apollonius von Tyana u. Christus. Tueb. 1832, republ. by Ed. Zeller, in Drei Abhandlungen zur Gesch. der alten Philosophie U. ihres Verh. zum Christenthum. Leipzig, 1876, pp. 1-227.

John H. Newman: Apollonius Tyanaeus. Lond. 1849 (Encycl. Metropol. Vol. X., pp. 619-644).

A. Chassang: Ap. de T., sa vie, ses voyages, ses prodiges, etc. Paris, 1862. Translation from the Greek, with explanatory notes.

H. Kellner: Porphyrius und sein Verhaeltniss zum Christenthum, in the Tübingen “Theol. Quartalschrift,” 1865. No. I.

Albert Réville: Apollonius of Tyana, the Pagan Christ of the third century, translated from the French. Lond. 1866.

K. Mönkeberg: Apollonius v. Tyana. Hamb. 1877.

Fr. Ueberweg: History of Philosophy (Eng. transl. N. York, 1871), vol. I. 232-259.

Ed. Zeller: Philosophie der Griechen, III. 419 sqq.



More earnest and dignified, but for this very reason more lasting and dangerous, was the opposition which proceeded directly and indirectly from Neo-Platonism. This system presents the last phase, the evening red, so to speak, of the Grecian philosophy; a fruitless effort of dying heathenism to revive itself against the irresistible progress of Christianity in its freshness and vigor. It was a pantheistic eclecticism and a philosophico-religious syncretism, which sought to reconcile Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy with Oriental religion and theosophy, polytheism with monotheism, superstition with culture, and to hold, as with convulsive grasp, the old popular religion in a refined and idealized form. Some scattered Christian ideas also were unconsciously let in; Christianity already filled the atmosphere of the age too much, to be wholly shut out. As might be expected, this compound of philosophy and religion was an extravagant, fantastic, heterogeneous affair, like its contemporary, Gnosticism, which differed from it by formally recognising Christianity in its syncretism. Most of the NeoPlatonists, Jamblichus in particular, were as much hierophants and theurgists as philosophers, devoted themselves to divination and magic, and boasted of divine inspirations and visions. Their literature is not an original, healthy natural product, but an abnormal after-growth.

In a time of inward distraction and dissolution the human mind hunts up old and obsolete systems and notions, or resorts to magical and theurgic arts. Superstition follows on the heels of unbelief, and atheism often stands closely connected with the fear of ghosts and the worship of demons. The enlightened emperor Augustus was troubled, if he put on his left shoe first in the morning, instead of the right; and the accomplished elder Pliny wore amulets as protection from thunder and lightning. In their day the long-forgotten Pythagoreanism was conjured from the grave and idealized. Sorcerers like Simon Magus, Elymas, Alexander of Abonoteichos, and Apollonius of Tyana (d. a.d. 96), found great favor even with the higher classes, who laughed at the fables of the gods. Men turned wishfully to the past, especially to the mysterious East, the land of primitive wisdom and religion. The Syrian cultus was sought out; and all sorts of religions, all the sense and all the nonsense of antiquity found a rendezvous in Rome. Even a succession of Roman emperors, from Septimius Severus, at the close of the second century, to Alexander Severus, embraced this religious syncretism, which, instead of supporting the old Roman state religion, helped to undermine it.

After the beginning of the third century this tendency found philosophical expression and took a reformatory turn in Neo-Platonism. The magic power, which was thought able to reanimate all these various elements and reduce them to harmony, and to put deep meaning into the old mythology, was the philosophy of the divine Plato; which in truth possessed essentially a mystical character, and was used also by learned Jews, like Philo, and by Christians, like Origen, in their idealizing efforts and their arbitrary allegorical expositions of offensive passages of the Bible. In this view we may find among heathen writers a sort of forerunner of the NeoPlatonists in the pious and noble-minded Platonist, Plutarch, of Boeotia (d. 120), who likewise saw a deeper sense in the myths of the popular polytheistic faith, and in general, in his comparative biographies and his admirable moral treatises, looks at the fairest and noblest side of the Graeco-Roman antiquity, but often wanders off into the trackless regions of fancy.

The proper founder of Neo-Platonism was Ammonius Saccas, of Alexandria, who was born of Christian parents, but apostatized, and died in the year 243. His more distinguished pupil, Plotinus, also an Egyptian (204-269), developed the NeoPlatonic ideas in systematic form, and gave them firm foothold and wide currency, particularly in Rome, where he taught philosophy. The system was propagated by his pupil Porphyry of Tyre (d. 304), who likewise taught in Rome, by Jamblichus of Chalcis in Coelo-Syria (d. 333), and by Proclus of Constantinople (d. 485). It supplanted the popular religion among in the educated classes of later heathendom, and held its ground until the end of the fifth century, when it perished of its own internal falsehood and contradictions.

From its love for the ideal, the supernatural, and the mystical, this system, like the original Platonism, might become for many philosophical minds a bridge to faith; and so it was even to St. Augustin, whom it delivered from the bondage of scepticism, and filled with a burning thirst for truth and wisdom. But it could also work against Christianity. Neo-Platonism was, in fact, a direct attempt of the more intelligent and earnest heathenism to rally all its nobler energies, especially the forces of Hellenic philosophy and Oriental mysticism, and to found a universal religion, a pagan counterpart to the Christian. Plotinus, in his opposition to Gnosticism, assailed also, though not expressly, the Christian element it contained. On their syncretistic principles the Neo-Platonists could indeed reverence Christ as a great sage and a hero of virtue, but not as the Son of God. They ranked the wise men of heathendom with him. The emperor Alexander Severus (d. 235) gave Orpheus and Apollonius of Tyana a place in his lararium by the side of the bust of Jesus.

The rhetorician Philostratus, the elder, about the year 220, at the request of Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, and a zealous patron of the reform of paganism, idealized the life of the pagan magician and soothsayer Apollonius, of the Pythagorean school, and made him out an ascetic saint, a divinely inspired philosopher, a religious reformer and worker of miracles, with the purpose, as is generally assumed, though without direct evidence, of holding him up as a rival of Christ with equal claims to the worship of men.

The points of resemblance are chiefly these: Jesus was the Son of God, Apollonius the son of Jupiter; the birth of Christ was celebrated by the appearance of angels, that of Apollonius by a flash of lightning; Christ raised the daughter of Jairus, Apollonius a young Roman maiden, from the dead; Christ cast out demons, Apollonius did the same; Christ rose from the dead, Apollonius appeared after his death. Apollonius is made to combine also several characteristics of the apostles, as the miraculous gift of tongues, for he understood all the languages of the world. Like St. Paul, he received his earlier education at Tarsus, labored at Antioch, Ephesus, and other cities, and was persecuted by Nero. Like the early Christians, he was falsely accused of sacrificing children with certain mysterious ceremonies. With the same secret polemical aim Porphyry and Jamblichus embellished the life of Pythagoras, and set him forth as the highest model of wisdom, even a divine being incarnate, a Christ of heathenism.

These various attempts to Christianize paganism were of course as abortive as so many attempts to galvanize a corpse. They made no impression upon their age, much less upon ages following. They were indirect arguments in favor of Christianity: they proved the internal decay of the false, and the irresistible progress of the true religion, which began to mould the spirit of the age and to affect public opinion outside of the church. By inventing false characters in imitation of Christ they indirectly conceded to the historical Christ his claim to the admiration and praise of mankind.


35. Porphyry and Hierocles

See the Lit. in § 34.

One of the leading Neo-Platonists made a direct attack upon Christianity, and was, in the eyes of the church fathers, its bitterest and most dangerous enemy. Towards the end of the third century Porphyry wrote an extended work against the Christians, in fifteen books, which called forth numerous refutations from the most eminent church teachers of the time, particularly from Methodius of Tyre, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Apollinaris of Laodicea. In 448 all the copies were burned by order of the emperors Theodosius II. and Valentinian III., and we know the work now only from fragments in the fathers.

Porphyry attacked especially the sacred books of the Christians, with more knowledge than Celsus. He endeavored, with keen criticism, to point out the contradictions between the Old Testament and the New, and among the apostles themselves; and thus to refute the divinity of their writings. He represented the prophecies of Daniel as vaticinia post eventum, and censured the allegorical interpretation of Origen, by which transcendental mysteries were foisted into the writings of Moses, contrary to their clear sense. He took advantage, above all, of the collision between Paul and Peter at Antioch (Gal_2:11), to reproach the former with a contentious spirit, the latter with error, and to infer from the whole, that the doctrine of such apostles must rest on lies and frauds. Even Jesus himself he charged with equivocation and inconsistency, on account of his conduct in Joh_7:8 compared with Joh_7:14.

Still Porphyry would not wholly reject Christianity. Like many rationalists of more recent times, he distinguished the original pure doctrine of Jesus from the second-handed, adulterated doctrine of the apostles. In another work on the “Philosophy of Oracles,” often quoted by Eusebius, and also by Augustin, he says, we must not calumniate Christ, who was most eminent for piety, but only pity those who worship him as God. “That pious soul, exalted to heaven, is become, by a sort of fate, an occasion of delusion to those souls from whom fortune withholds the gifts of the gods and the knowledge of the immortal Zeus.” Still more remarkable in this view is a letter to his wife Marcella, which A. Mai published at Milan in 1816, in the unfounded opinion that Marcella was a Christian. In the course of this letter Porphyry remarks, that what is born of the flesh is flesh; that by faith, love, and hope we raise ourselves to the Deity; that evil is the fault of man; that God is holy; that the most acceptable sacrifice to him is a pure heart; that the wise man is at once a temple of God and a priest in that temple. For these and other such evidently Christian ideas and phrases he no doubt had a sense of his own, which materially differed from their proper scriptural meaning. But such things show how Christianity in that day exerted, even upon its opponents, a power, to which heathenism was forced to yield an unwilling assent.

The last literary antagonist of Christianity in our period is Hierocles, who, while governor of Bythynia, and afterwards of Alexandria under Diocletian, persecuted that religion also with the sword, and exposed Christian maidens to a worse fate than death. His “Truth-loving Words to the Christians” has been destroyed, like Porphyry’s work, by the mistaken zeal of Christian emperors, and is known to us only through the answer of Eusebius of Caesarea. He appears to have merely repeated the objections of Celsus and Porphyry, and to have drawn a comparison between Christ and Apollonius of Tyana, which resulted in favor of the latter. The Christians says he, consider Jesus a God, on account of some insignificant miracles falsely colored up by his apostles; but the heathens far more justly declare the greater wonder-worker Apollonius, as well as an Aristeas and a Pythagoras, simply a favorite of the gods and a benefactor of men.


36. Summary of the Objections to Christianity

In general the leading arguments of the Judaism and heathenism of this period against the new religion are the following:

1. Against Christ: his illegitimate birth; his association with poor, unlettered fishermen, and rude publicans: his form of a servant, and his ignominious death. But the opposition to him gradually ceased. While Celsus called him a downright impostor, the Syncretists and Neo-Platonists were disposed to regard him as at least a distinguished sage.

2. Against Christianity: its novelty; its barbarian origin; its want of a national basis; the alleged absurdity of some of its facts and doctrines, particularly of regeneration and the resurrection; contradictions between the Old and New Testaments, among the Gospels, and between Paul and Peter; the demand for a blind, irrational faith.

3. Against the Christians: atheism, or hatred of the gods; the worship of a crucified malefactor; poverty, and want of culture and standing; desire of innovation; division and sectarianism; want of patriotism; gloomy seriousness; credulity; superstition, and fanaticism. Sometimes they were charged even with unnatural crimes, like those related in the pagan mythology of Oedipus and his mother Jocaste (concubitus Oedipodei), and of Thyestes and Atreus (epulae Thyesteae). Perhaps some Gnostic sects ran into scandalous excesses; but as against the Christians in general this charge was so clearly unfounded, that it is not noticed even by Celsus and Lucian. The senseless accusation, that they worshipped an ass’s head, may have arisen, as Tertullian already intimates, from a story of Tacitus, respecting some Jews, who were once directed by a wild ass to fresh water, and thus relieved from the torture of thirst; and it is worth mentioning, only to show how passionate and blind was the opposition with which Christianity in this period of persecution had to contend.


37. The Apologetic Literature of Christianity

Comp. Lit. in § 1 and 12.

I. The sources are all the writings of the Apologists of the second and third centuries; particularly Justin M.: Apologia I. and II.; Tertull.: Apologeticus; Minucius Felix: Octavius; Origen: Contra Celsum (κατὰ Κέλσου) libr. VIII. Aristidis, Philosophi Atheniensis, Sermones duo, Venetiis 1878. (From an Armenian translation). Complete editions of the Apologists: Apologg. Christ. Opp. ed. Prud. Maranus, Par. 1742; Corpus Apologetarum Christianorum seculi secundi, ed. Th. Otto, Jenae, 1847 sqq. ed. III. 1876 sqq. A new ed. by O. v. Gebhardt and E. Schwartz, begun 1888.

II. Fabricius:Dilectus argumentorum et Syllabus scriptorum, qui veritatem Rel. Christ. asseruerunt. Hamb. 1725.

Tzschirner: Geschichte der Apologetik. Lpz. 1805 (unfinished).

G. H. Van Sanden: Gesch. der Apol. translated from Dutch into German by Quack and Binder. Stuttg. 1846. 2 vols.

Semisch: Justin der Märt. Bresl. 1840. II. 56-225.

W. B. Colton: The Evidences of Christianity as exhibited in the writings of its Apologists down to Augustine (Hulsean Prize Essay, 1852), republ. in Boston, 1854.

Karl Werner (R.C.): Geschichte der apologetischen und polemischen Literatur der christl. Theologie. Schaffhausen, 1861-’65. 5 vols. (vol. I. belongs here).

James Donaldson: A Critical History of Christian Literature and Doctrine from, the Death of the Apostles to the Nicene Council. London, 1864-66. 3 vols.

Adolf Harnack: Die Überlieferung der Griechischen Apologeten des zweiten Jahrhunderts in der alten Kirche und im Mittelalter. Band I. Heft 1 and 2. Leipz. 1882.

These assaults of argument and calumny called forth in the second century the Christian apologetic literature, the vindication of Christianity by the pen, against the Jewish zealot, the Grecian philosopher, and the Roman statesman. The Christians were indeed from the first “ready always to give an answer to every man that asked them a reason of the hope that was in them.” But when heathenism took the field against them not only with fire and sword, but with argument and slander besides, they had to add to their simple practical testimony a theoretical self-defence. The Christian apology against non-Christian opponents, and the controversial efforts against Christian errorists, are the two oldest branches of theological science.

The apologetic literature began to appear under the reign of Hadrian, and continued to grow till the end of our period. Most of the church teachers took part in this labor of their day. The first apologies, by Quadratus, bishop of Athens, Aristides, philosopher of Athens, and Aristo of Pella, which were addressed to the emperor Hadrian, and the later works of Melito of Sardis, Claudius Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Miltiades, who lived under Marcus Aurelius, were either entirely lost, or preserved only in scattered notices of Eusebius. But some interesting fragments of Melito and Aristides have been recently discovered. More valuable are the apologetical works of the Greek philosopher and martyr, Justin (d. 166), which we possess in full. After him come, in the Greek church, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, and Hermias in the last half of the second century, and Origen, the ablest of all, in the first half of the third.

The most important Latin apologists are Tertullian (d. about 220), Minucius Felix (d. between 220 and 230; according to some, between 161 and 200), the later Arnobius and Lactantius, all of North Africa.

Here at once appears the characteristic difference between the Greek and the Latin minds. The Greek apologies are more learned and philosophical, the Latin more practical and juridical in their matter and style. The former labor to prove the truth of Christianity and its adaptedness to the intellectual wants of man; the latter plead for its legal right to exist, and exhibit mainly its moral excellency and salutary effect upon society. The Latin also are in general more rigidly opposed to heathenism, while the Greek recognize in the Grecian philosophy a certain affinity to the Christian religion.

The apologies were addressed in some cases to the emperors (Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius) or the provincial governors; in others, to the intelligent public. Their first object was to soften the temper of the authorities and people towards Christianity and its professors by refuting the false charges against them. It may be doubtful whether they ever reached the hands of the emperors; at all events the persecution continued. Conversion commonly proceeds from the heart and will, not from the understanding and from knowledge. No doubt, however, these writings contributed to dissipate prejudice among honest and susceptible heathens, to spread more favorable views of the new religion, and to infuse a spirit of humanity into the spirit of the age, the systems of moral philosophy and the legislation of the Antonines.

Yet the chief service of this literature was to strengthen believers and to advance theological knowledge. It brought the church to a deeper and clearer sense of the peculiar nature of the Christian religion, and prepared her thenceforth to vindicate it before the tribunal of reason and philosophy; whilst Judaism and heathenism proved themselves powerless in the combat, and were driven to the weapons of falsehood and vituperation. The sophisms and mockeries of a Celsus and a Lucian have none but a historical interest; the Apologies of Justin and the Apologeticus of Tertullian, rich with indestructible truth and glowing piety, are read with pleasure and edification to this day.

The apologists do not confine themselves to the defensive, but carry the war aggressively into the territory of Judaism and heathenism. They complete their work by positively demonstrating that Christianity is the divine religion, and the only true religion for all mankind.