Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Presenting....The Apologists. AKA Defending Christianity: You're doing it right!

While my colleagues on this blog have offered commentary on liturgy and contemporary events in the church, I have decided to delve into the church's past for my posts in the next few weeks, and to a subject very close to my heart.

My honours thesis was written on a range of early Christian texts, but the one genre that caught my attention was that of apologia. The word apologia is Greek for 'to defend', and the genre was utilized by such ancient writers as Apuleius and Plato, whose Apology is a version of the speech Socrates made in his own defence when placed on trial in Athens.

A number of Church Fathers followed in the footsteps of Plato and also wrote apologies. These texts were ostensibly addressed to authority figures in Roman government such as provincial governors and the emperors; however, their actual audience were more likely to be Christians who, when faced with having to defend their actions, needed to explain their faith.
As a convert myself, I've had to defend my faith on a few occasions; as a result, the apologetic texts, despite being centuries old, still struck a chord with me.

Over the next few posts I make, I would like to cover five apologists of the Ante-Nicene church: Justin Martyr, Athenagoras of Athens, Tertullian, Minucius Felix and Lactantius. If any readers are interested in reading the works of these men, a simple Google search will bring up a number of websites where you can read the complete works online. The first apologist I would like to discuss here is Justin, hopefully in the next week or so.

In the meantime, the grounding for the Christian apologetic is not only found in the works of Plato (more on this in the post on Justin...), but in the New Testament too. The trial of Paul in Acts 24-26 is the foremost example of a defence of Christianity in the NT, and a section that I would highly recommend for reading. Convincing both the procurator and the tetrarch of Judaea that he has committed no wrongdoing, Paul's speeches are a prototype for the apologetic genre, and illustrate how a successful defence of the faith could be made to an audience who stood a chance of being in the same situation as Paul.

That concludes today's post- from the early example of Paul, a shift occurs in such a way where the early Christian defence speech goes from being part of a larger narrative to being the actual subject itself. It's from this viewpoint that I'll be discussing Justin.

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