This fall I have the opportunity to teach a graduate course on the apologists of the early church. I am really looking forward to working more closely with these primary sources throughout the semester.
We will begin reading through Robert Grant’s work: Greek Apologists of the Second Century, which is the best introduction to the history and theology of the apologists. (This text is out-of-print now, but I am grateful that WJK was willing to run a special printing just for the students in our course!)
Grant opens the volume with a brief summary of the cultural tension these ancient apologists faced and surveys some of their primary objectives:
Apologetic literature emerges from minority groups that are trying to come to terms with the larger culture within which they live. Apologists do not completely identify themselves with the broader society, but they are not advocates of confrontation or revolution. They address their contemporaries with persuasion, looking for links between the outside world and their own group and thus modifying the development of both. … His [the apologist’s] primary goal is to interpret his own culture –religious, philosophical, or artistic, as the case may be –to the broader group. Some apologists simply try to vindicate their own culture and religion in relation to the surrounding culture and religion and usually try to prove that theirs is more ancient, more authentic, and more expressive of common values.
Grant continues explaining that the success of the apologists is limited, though their works were used and read throughout the tradition. The era of the apologists is an interesting period of the early church when the Christian community lived on the margins of society, yet at the same time eagerly engaged the culture and reasoned with various intellectuals and authorities. They clarified Christian doctrine and practice for the outsiders and dispelled rumors and myths about the faith.
Below I offer the basic reading list for our course:
- Robert M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century
- Aristides, Apology
- Athenagoras, Embassy for the Christians, The Resurrection of the Dead
- Epistle of Diognetus
- Justin Martyr, The First Apology, The Second Apology, Dialogue with Trypho
- The Letter of the churches of Lyons and Vienne
- The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas
- Melito of Sardis, On Pascha
- Tatian, Address to the Greeks
- Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus
After working through Grant and surveying the Greco-Roman context of the second century, we will work systematically and chronologically through the primary sources. Along the way we will highlight the common threads of the apologetic testimony and the uniqueness of each contribution. This includes the various theological and philosophical debates, as well as the performance of scripture in each account. We will also read a few martyrdom accounts as an extension of the early church’s apologetic testimony. Since I will be engrossed in these works, I suspect there will be few more posts about the apologists in the coming months.