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ATHENAGORAS AND HIS APOLOGY.
been cast in those evil days? The religion of Jesus Christ, considered in itself, is the same in all ages--yesterday, to day, and for ever-it is only the state of society around us, and the forms of government, that are changed. If you ask me what it was that animated the Christians of those days with the spirit of martyrdom, and led them to prefer death to apostacy, I answer, it was the love which they had to Christ and his salvation. Viewing themselves in the light in which the Gospel describes all the human race to be, in consequence of the fall, guilty, lost, helpless, undone, they found Jesus to be exactly such a Saviour as suited their case—they were made happy by the knowledge of Him—they found in Him all their salvation and all their desire—and consequently they not only gave a decided preference to his cause and kingdom above the gifts of providence, the good things of this world, but they could cheerfully sacrifice their personal ease, reputation, and even life itself; and, if we have not the same value for Christ and his salvation, it must arise from ignorance of our own character and state : from our not having the same exalted views of him—the same faith in him--the same sense of obligation to him. These things will always be found to go hand in hand ; and there cannot be an instance of greater folly and presumption than for us to be flattering ourselves with the hope that all is right merely because it has been our lot to be born in what is termed a Christian country.
Between the times of Justin Martyr and those of Tertullian--that is to say, during the latter half of the second century, the annals of Ecclesiastical History present us with the names of several of the fathers of the Christian church whose piety, zeal, and talents entitle them to at least a brief notice in these Lectures, and I purpose to devote the present to the discharge of this duty. The persons to whom I more particularly refer are Athenagoras, Hegesippus, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Minucius Felix.
ATHENAGORAS is said to have flourished under the reign of the emperors Adrian and Antoninus Pius. He was originally a heathen, and appears to have studied philosophy at Athens-for in two of his publications he is styled "an Athenian and a philosopher.” According to Philip Sidites, who flourished in the beginning of the fifth century, Athenagoras sat down to compose a treatise against the Christians ;. but while examining the Scriptures, in order to make his work more complete, he found the subject too hard for him-his mind was overpowered by the proofs of their divine authority, and he cordially embraced Christianity. We have two of his pieces still extant; one is an Apology for Christianity, and the other a treatise on the Resurrection. The former, according to Dr. Lardner, was drawn up in the year 178, and addressed to the emperor Marcus Antoninus. He is styled a polite writer, and his Greek is said to be Attic. He complains, in his Apology, that while other subjects of the Roman government were freely permitted to worship their gods, according to their own voluntary choice, Christians alone, whose worship was pure, simple, and worthy of the Deity, were not only denied this privilege, but most unjustly calumniated, slandered, and persecuted. He vindicates them from the charge of atheism, brought against them by their heathen adversaries, and refutes the calumny of their being cannibals, and also the atrocious charge that they indulged in impure and even unnatural connexions, by showing the holy tendency of the Gospel, as being a doctrine according to godliness, and avouching for the purity and innocence of their lives.
The invincible prejudices of the heathen, it seems, had at this time rendered the very name of Christian a “bye-word and a reproach.” Adverting to this fact, Athenagoras asks, “Why should you be offended at our very name ? surely the bare name does not deserve your hatred; it is wickedness alone that merits punishment. If we are convicted of any crime, less or more, let us be punished, but not merely for the name of Christian ; for no Christian can be a bad man unless he acts contrary to his profession. We are accused “that we do not worship the same gods as your cities do, and offer them sacrifices. But, consider, O emperor, that the Creator and Governor of this world stands in no need of blood and sweet smelling incense; he derives his happiness from himself alone-nothing is wanting in him. The sacrifice he demands is a rational and acceptable service.”
“There is an infamous report,” says Athenagoras, “ that we [Christians) are guilty of three great crimes—impiety against the gods, feeding upon murdered infants, and incest. If these
THE APOLOGY OF ATHENAGORAS.
charges can be made good against us, spare neither age nor sex -punish us, with our wives and children ; extirpate us from the face of the earth, should any among us be found to live as beasts, though even the beasts of the field do not these abominable things. But, if any man be baser than a beast to commit such wickedness, let him be punished for it. If these, however, be false and scandalous charges against us, let them be noticed as such. Inquire into our lives, our sentiments, our obedience to authority, our concern for your person and government; allow us only that common justice and equity which you grant your enemies, and we ask no more, being assured of the victory, and we are even willing to lay down our lives for the truth.”
Defending the Christians against the charge of Atheism, he says, “ I have sufficiently shown that we are not Atheists; we who hold one God, unbegotten, eternal, invisible, not subject to suffering, incomprehensible, not circumscribed by place, conceived only by the mind and reason, surrounded by ineffable light and beauty, and Spirit and Power, by whom through his Word every thing was made and adorned, and is preserved. We acknowledge also a Son of God : and let no one think it ridiculous that there should be a Son of God. For we deem not of God and the Father, or of the Son, as the poets fable, who represent the gods as no better than men. The Word of the Father is the Son of God, in idea and operation ; for “ by Him and through Him were all things made”—the Father and the Son being one ; the Son being in the Father, and the Father in the Son, by the unity and power of the Spirit. The mind and word of God is the Son of God.”
Again : “ That we are not Atheists,” says he, “we can convince you by the principles we hold, which are not of human invention, but delivered and taught by God. What then are our maxims, in which we are instructed ? 'I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,'” Matt. v. 44, 45. Thus quoting our Lord's sermon on the Mount, from which he makes various other extracts.
Further : in vindicating their manner of life, Athenagoras thus VOL. 1.
proceeds :-“ Who among those who analyse syllogisms, and resolve ambiguities, and explain etymologies, and define hononymes, and categories, and axioms, and the subject, and the predicate, and profess that by such instructions they can make their hearers happy,--who among them are so purified in their souls, as, instead of hating, to love their enemies; as, instead of doing that which is even deemed a mark of the greatest moderation, viz., retorting evil language-to bless their calumniators, and even to pray for those who are laying snares against their life? The heathen teachers of knowledge, on the contrary, are ever forming some forbidden scheme against their adversaries, and desiring to do them injury-making their profession a mere flourish of words and not a rule of practice. But among us the meanest day-labourers, and even aged women, though not able to dispute about their religious profession, can nevertheless demonstrate its usefulness by their lives and good works. They do not indeed critically weigh their words, and recite elegant orations, but they manifest honest and virtuous actions, while, being buffeted, they strike not again, nor sue those at law who spoil and plunder them: they deal out liberally to those that ask, and love their neighbour as themselves. Thus we act, because we are assured that there is a God who superintends human affairs, who made us and the whole world, and to whom we must ultimately give an account of all the actions of our lives.”*
I mentioned that Athenagoras had also written a treatise on the Resurrection, in which he refers in a very pointed manner to 1 Cor. xv. He argues at great length against the disadvantages that must attend the practice of virtue, upon the supposition that there was no resurrection of the dead. Indeed the apostle Paul had done the same thing when he said, “ If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” For, take away all consideration of a life to come, and the men who have their portion in this world have a great advantage over the Christian. He observes that many of the best men endure in this life vexation and sorrow, reproaches and calumnies : and then goes on to say, that, if there be no retribution, virtue must be a senseless thing to pursue sensual plea
* Athenagoras’ Legatio pro Christianis, cap. iv. .
SOME ACCOUNT OF HEGESIPPUS.
sure must be to seek the greatest good, and that this ought to be the common maxim and law of all, which is admired by the voluptuous and wicked, “ Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."* But, leaving you to indulge your own reflections on this noble defence of Christianity from the pen of Athenagoras, I shall proceed to--
HEGESIPPUS, who was originally a Jew, but converted to the Christian faith. He was born about the beginning of the second century and died during the reign of the emperor Commodus, A. D. 180 to 193. He composed a History of the Affairs of the Church from the period of the resurrection of Christ to his own times. Jerome, speaking of this work, says, “he collected together a great variety of matters for the benefit of his readers, which he wrote in five books in a plain and simple manner, conforming as much as possible to the style of the evangelists, thereby, doubtless, intimating that his narrative was remarkable for its plainness and simplicity; but, unfortunately, we have only a few fragments of them remaining, and these are preserved partly by Eusebius and partly by Photius. Hegesippus came to Rome, it appears, at the time that Anicetus was bishop of the church there, and continued to the time of Eleutherus, that is, from about 168 to 192; for between these two bishops Soter had intervened.
In a fragment of his writing we have an account of the death of the apostle James (the writer of the epistle) at Jerusalem, concerning which Dr. Lardner remarks that the narrative is drawn up very much in the style of the New Testament Scriptures. According to his account the apostle was cast down from a battlement of the temple by his adversaries, and, as this did not immediately deprive him of life, they began to stone him: but he kneeling down put up this prayer in their behalf, “ I beseech thee, O Lord God the Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
In another of the fragments of Hegesippus we have an account of the emperor Domitian's inquiry after the posterity of David. That emperor, it appears, like Herod, who put to death the children at Bethlehem, was led to entertain fears lest some
* De Resurrectione, p. 62.