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In Defence of Christianity

Early Christian Apologists

Series:

Edited By Jakob Engberg, Anders-Christian Jacobsen and Jörg Ulrich

In Defence of Christianity examines the early Christian apologists in their context in thirteen articles divided in four parts. Part I provides an introduction to apology and apologetics in antiquity, an overview of the early Christian apologists, and an outline of their argumentation. The nine articles of Part II each cover one of the early apologists: Aristides, Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, the author of the Letter to Diognetus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Minucius Felix. Part III contextualises the apologists by providing an English translation of contemporary pagan criticism of Christianity and by discussing this critique. Part IV consists of a single article discussing how Eusebius depicted and used the apologists in his Ecclesiastical History.
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Athenagoras

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Anders-Christian Jacobsen

This article focuses on the apologetic themes and strategies in Athenagoras’ work, Legatio pro Christianis (hereafter referred to as Legatio).1 However, I will start by commenting on Athenagoras’ person, education and literary output, as well as on the content and structure of his Legatio.

1. Who was Athenagoras?

Athenagoras’ identity is uncertain because neither his own works nor other ancient sources provide any information about him. The oldest manuscript containing Athenagoras’ works, Codex Parisinus 451 from 914 AD, states that Athenagoras was a philosopher from Athens. A later 14th-century manuscript includes a text from historian, Philip of Side, who lived in the fifth century, which states that Athenagoras was the first head of the Catechist School in Alexandria. However, Philip is often an unreliable source. The year of Athenagoras’ birth and death are also unknown.2

Legatio shows signs of the author’s relatively high level of education. He reveals close familiarity with classical philosophy, especially the Platonic tradition. The manuscript’s remark that Athenagoras was a philosopher is probably based on the scribe’s assessment of the philosophical content of his works. Athenagoras most likely had some form of philosophical training. Scholarly assessment of his philosophical ability ranges from the view that he was simply familiar with a few philosophical compendia, to the view that he followed a systematic curriculum and had independent philosophical thought.3 I believe Athenagoras had deeper familiarity with parts of Plato’s philosophy, and that he was...

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