Apologetics in the Early Christian Fathers

by Robert Paul Vicars IV

Christian apologetics as a discipline that provides arguments in defense of the faith as well as positive arguments in support of the faith, of course, is not novel. And from the very beginning, proponents of the faith have engaged in apologetics. In fact, if not for the apologetic motivations of early Christian Fathers, one could argue that much of Christian doctrine would not be as clearly defined or explicit.

Frederick Copleston, in the 1960s published a multi-volume work titled A History of Philosophy. Volume II is subtitled, Medieval Philosophy From Augustine to Duns Scotus. However, Copleston doesn’t begin to tackle Augustine until chapter 3. In the second chapter he reviews the patristic period and provides summaries of many well-known and not-so-well-known Church Fathers (Chapter one was the introduction). He states, “The influence of apologetic on the growth of Christian philosophy was clearly due primarily to a cause external to Christianity, namely hostile attack; but there was also another reason for this growth which was internal, independent of attacks from the outside. The more intellectual Christians naturally felt the dessire to penetrate, as far as it was open to them to do so, the data of revelation and also to form a comprehensive view of the world and human life in the light of faith.” [1] His review of the apologetic contributions of Church Fathers is interesting. Below is a brief summary of the Fathers that Copleston contends defended the faith from external attack.

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Marcianus Arristides [2]
Marcianus Aristides also known as the “Philosopher of Athens” wrote a letter ca. AD 140. He attacks the pagan gods of Greece and Egypt and provides arguments for the Christian God reasoning from design, order and the fact of motion. From these arguments he concludes that the God of Christianity is eternal, perfect, incomprehensible, wise and good.

Flavius Justinus (Justin Martyr) [3]
Flavius Justinus came to Christianity as a convert. He had transitioned several times between varying pagan philosophies before being introduced to Christianity. Copleston says of Justin, “He prized [Platonic Philosophy’s] doctrine of the immaterial world and of the being beyond essence, which he identified with God, though he became convinced that the sure and safe and certain knowledge of God, the true ‘philosophy’, is to be attained only through the acceptance of revelation.” [4] He made no clear distinction between theology and philosophy and believed that there is one true philosophy that is revealed in Christ, and the elements of truth that exist in pagan philosophy did so only in the power of logos

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