Athenagoras Athenagoras is a virtually unknown apologist. He is not even mentioned in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, which preserves more of early Christian history than any other work. Are you enjoying this site? We have several books with great reviews from readers.

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Chapter 1. Injustice Shown Towards the Christians. In your empire, greatest of sovereigns, different nations have different customs and laws ; and no one is hindered by law or fear of punishment from following his ancestral usages, however ridiculous these may be.

A citizen of Ilium calls Hector a god, and pays divine honours to Helen, taking her for Adrasteia. The Athenian sacrifices to Erechtheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites and celebrate mysteries in honour of Agraulus and Pandrosus, women who were deemed guilty of impiety for opening the box. In short, among every nation and people, men offer whatever sacrifices and celebrate whatever mysteries they please. The Egyptians reckon among their gods even cats, and crocodiles, and serpents, and asps, and dogs.

And to all these both you and the laws give permission so to act, deeming, on the one hand, that to believe in no god at all is impious and wicked , and on the other, that it is necessary for each man to worship the gods he prefers, in order that through fear of the deity, men may be kept from wrong-doing. But why — for do not, like the multitude, be led astray by hearsay — why is a mere name odious to you? Names are not deserving of hatred : it is the unjust act that calls for penalty and punishment.

And accordingly, with admiration of your mildness and gentleness, and your peaceful and benevolent disposition towards every man, individuals live in the possession of equal rights; and the cities, according to their rank, share in equal honour ; and the whole empire, under your intelligent sway, enjoys profound peace.

But for us who are called Christians you have not in like manner cared; but although we commit no wrong — nay, as will appear in the sequel of this discourse, are of all men most piously and righteously disposed towards the Deity and towards your government — you allow us to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted , the multitude making war upon us for our name alone. We venture, therefore, to lay a statement of our case before you — and you will deem from this discourse that we suffer unjustly , and contrary to all law and reason — and we beseech you to bestow some consideration upon us also, that we may cease at length to be slaughtered at the instigation of false accusers.

For the fine imposed by our persecutors does not aim merely at our property, nor their insults at our reputation , nor the damage they do us at any other of our greater interests.

These we hold in contempt, though to the generality they appear matters of great importance; for we have learned, not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak.

But, when we have surrendered our property, they plot against our very bodies and souls , pouring upon us wholesale charges of crimes of which we are guiltless even in thought, but which belong to these idle praters themselves, and to the whole tribe of those who are like them.

Chapter 2. If, indeed, any one can convict us of a crime, be it small or great, we do not ask to be excused from punishment, but are prepared to undergo the sharpest and most merciless inflictions. But if the accusation relates merely to our name — and it is undeniable, that up to the present time the stories told about us rest on nothing better than the common undiscriminating popular talk, nor has any Christian been convicted of crime — it will devolve on you, illustrious and benevolent and most learned sovereigns, to remove by law this despiteful treatment, so that, as throughout the world both individuals and cities partake of your beneficence, we also may feel grateful to you, exulting that we are no longer the victims of false accusation.

For it does not comport with your justice , that others when charged with crimes should not be punished till they are convicted, but that in our case the name we bear should have more force than the evidence adduced on the trial, when the judges, instead of inquiring whether the person arraigned have committed any crime, vent their insults on the name, as if that were itself a crime. But no name in and by itself is reckoned either good or bad; names appear bad or good according as the actions underlying them are bad or good.

You, however, have yourselves a clear knowledge of this, since you are well instructed in philosophy and all learning. For this reason, too, those who are brought before you for trial, though they may be arraigned on the gravest charges, have no fear , because they know that you will inquire respecting their previous life, and not be influenced by names if they mean nothing, nor by the charges contained in the indictments if they should be false: they accept with equal satisfaction, as regards its fairness, the sentence whether of condemnation or acquittal.

What, therefore, is conceded as the common right of all, we claim for ourselves, that we shall not be hated and punished because we are called Christians for what has the name to do with our being bad men? It is thus that we see the philosophers judged. None of them before trial is deemed by the judge either good or bad on account of his science or art, but if found guilty of wickedness he is punished, without thereby affixing any stigma on philosophy for he is a bad man for not cultivating philosophy in a lawful manner, but science is blameless , while if he refutes the false charges he is acquitted.

Let this equal justice , then, be done to us. Let the life of the accused persons be investigated, but let the name stand free from all imputation. I must at the outset of my defense entreat you, illustrious emperors, to listen to me impartially: not to be carried away by the common irrational talk and prejudge the case, but to apply your desire of knowledge and love of truth to the examination of our doctrine also.

Thus, while you on your part will not err through ignorance , we also, by disproving the charges arising out of the undiscerning rumour of the multitude, shall cease to be assailed. Chapter 3. Charges Brought Against the Christians. But if these charges are true , spare no class: proceed at once against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they also recognise those from whom they receive benefits.

If any one, therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure shall be deemed adequate to such offenses? But, if these things are only idle tales and empty slanders , originating in the fact that virtue is opposed by its very nature to vice , and that contraries war against one another by a divine law and you are yourselves witnesses that no such iniquities are committed by us, for you forbid informations to be laid against us , it remains for you to make inquiry concerning our life, our opinions, our loyalty and obedience to you and your house and government, and thus at length to grant to us the same rights we ask nothing more as to those who persecute us.

Chapter 4. As regards, first of all, the allegation that we are atheists — for I will meet the charges one by one, that we may not be ridiculed for having no answer to give to those who make them — with reason did the Athenians adjudge Diagoras guilty of atheism , in that he not only divulged the Orphic doctrine, and published the mysteries of Eleusis and of the Cabiri, and chopped up the wooden statue of Hercules to boil his turnips, but openly declared that there was no God at all.

But to us, who distinguish God from matter, and teach that matter is one thing and God another, and that they are separated by a wide interval for that the Deity is uncreated and eternal , to be beheld by the understanding and reason alone, while matter is created and perishable , is it not absurd to apply the name of atheism? If our sentiments were like those of Diagoras, while we have such incentives to piety — in the established order, the universal harmony, the magnitude, the color, the form, the arrangement of the world — with reason might our reputation for impiety, as well as the cause of our being thus harassed, be charged on ourselves.

But, since our doctrine acknowledges one God , the Maker of this universe , who is Himself uncreated for that which is does not come to be, but that which is not but has made all things by the Logos which is from Him, we are treated unreasonably in both respects, in that we are both defamed and persecuted.

Chapter 5. Testimony of the Poets to the Unity of God. Poets and philosophers have not been voted atheists for inquiring concerning God. Euripides, speaking of those who, according to popular preconception, are ignorantly called gods, says doubtingly:— If Zeus indeed does reign in heaven above, He ought not on the righteous ills to send. But speaking of Him who is apprehended by the understanding as matter of certain knowledge , he gives his opinion decidedly, and with intelligence, thus:— Do you see on high him who, with humid arms, Clasps both the boundless ether and the earth?

Him reckon Zeus, and him regard as God. Reckon this Zeus. Him therefore, from whom proceed all created things, and by whose Spirit they are governed, he concluded to be God ; and Sophocles agrees with him, when he says:— There is one God , in truth there is but one, Who made the heavens, and the broad earth beneath.

Chapter 6. Opinions of the Philosophers as to the One God. Philolaus, too, when he says that all things are included in God as in a stronghold, teaches that He is one, and that He is superior to matter. Lysis and Opsimus thus define God: the one says that He is an ineffable number, the other that He is the excess of the greatest number beyond that which comes nearest to it.

So that since ten is the greatest number according to the Pythagoreans, being the Tetractys, and containing all the arithmetic and harmonic principles, and the Nine stands next to it, God is a unit — that is, one.

For the greatest number exceeds the next least by one. Then there are Plato and Aristotle — not that I am about to go through all that the philosophers have said about God , as if I wished to exhibit a complete summary of their opinions; for I know that, as you excel all men in intelligence and in the power of your rule, in the same proportion do you surpass them all in an accurate acquaintance with all learning, cultivating as you do each several branch with more success than even those who have devoted themselves exclusively to any one.

But, inasmuch as it is impossible to demonstrate without the citation of names that we are not alone in confining the notion of God to unity, I have ventured on an enumeration of opinions. Plato , then, says, To find out the Maker and Father of this universe is difficult; and, when found, it is impossible to declare Him to all, conceiving of one uncreated and eternal God.

And if he recognises others as well, such as the sun, moon, and stars, yet he recognises them as created: gods, offspring of gods, of whom I am the Maker, and the Father of works which are indissoluble apart from my will; but whatever is compounded can be dissolved.

If, therefore, Plato is not an atheist for conceiving of one uncreated God , the Framer of the universe , neither are we atheists who acknowledge and firmly hold that He is God who has framed all things by the Logos , and holds them in being by His Spirit. The Stoics also, although by the appellations they employ to suit the changes of matter, which they say is permeated by the Spirit of God , they multiply the Deity in name, yet in reality they consider God to be one.

Chapter 7. Superiority of the Christian Doctrine Respecting God. Since, therefore, the unity of the Deity is confessed by almost all, even against their will, when they come to treat of the first principles of the universe , and we in our turn likewise assert that He who arranged this universe is God — why is it that they can say and write with impunity what they please concerning the Deity, but that against us a law lies in force, though we are able to demonstrate what we apprehend and justly believe , namely that there is one God , with proofs and reason accordant with truth?

For poets and philosophers , as to other subjects so also to this, have applied themselves in the way of conjecture, moved, by reason of their affinity with the afflatus from God , each one by his own soul , to try whether he could find out and apprehend the truth ; but they have not been found competent fully to apprehend it, because they thought fit to learn, not from God concerning God , but each one from himself; hence they came each to his own conclusion respecting God , and matter, and forms, and the world.

But we have for witnesses of the things we apprehend and believe , prophets , men who have pronounced concerning God and the things of God , guided by the Spirit of God. Chapter 8. Absurdities of Polytheism. As regards, then, the doctrine that there was from the beginning one God , the Maker of this universe , consider it in this wise, that you may be acquainted with the argumentative grounds also of our faith. If there were from the beginning two or more gods, they were either in one and the same place, or each of them separately in his own.

In one and the same place they could not be. For, if they are gods, they are not alike; but because they are uncreated they are unlike: for created things are like their patterns; but the uncreated are unlike, being neither produced from any one, nor formed after the pattern of any one.

Hand and eye and foot are parts of one body, making up together one man: is God in this sense one? And indeed Socrates was compounded and divided into parts, just because he was created and perishable; but God is uncreated, and, impassible, and indivisible — does not, therefore, consist of parts.

But if, on the contrary, each of them exists separately, since He that made the world is above the things created, and about the things He has made and set in order, where can the other or the rest be? For if the world, being made spherical, is confined within the circles of heaven, and the Creator of the world is above the things created, managing that by His providential care of these, what place is there for the second god, or for the other gods?

For he is not in the world, because it belongs to the other; nor about the world, for God the Maker of the world is above it. But if he is neither in the world nor about the world for all that surrounds it is occupied by this one , where is he? Is he above the world and [the first] God? In another world, or about another? But if he is in another or about another, then he is not about us, for he does not govern the world; nor is his power great, for he exists in a circumscribed space.

But if he is neither in another world for all things are filled by the other , nor about another for all things are occupied by the other , he clearly does not exist at all, for there is no place in which he can be. Or what does he do, seeing there is another to whom the world belongs, and he is above the Maker of the world, and yet is neither in the world nor about the world?

Is there, then, some other place where he can stand? But God , and what belongs to God , are above him. And what, too, shall be the place, seeing that the other fills the regions which are above the world? Perhaps he exerts a providential care? If, then, he neither does anything nor exercises providential care, and if there is not another place in which he is, then this Being of whom we speak is the one God from the beginning, and the sole Maker of the world.

Chapter 9. The Testimony of the Prophets. If we satisfied ourselves with advancing such considerations as these, our doctrines might by some be looked upon as human. But, since the voices of the prophets confirm our arguments — for I think that you also, with your great zeal for knowledge , and your great attainments in learning, cannot be ignorant of the writings either of Moses or of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the other prophets , who, lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the Divine Spirit, uttered the things with which they were inspired, the Spirit making use of them as a flute-player breathes into a flute — what, then, do these men say?

The Lord is our God ; no other can be compared with Him. And again: I am God , the first and the last, and besides Me there is no God. Chapter That we are not atheists , therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God , uncreated, eternal , invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos , and set in order, and is kept in being — I have sufficiently demonstrated.

Nor let any one think it ridiculous that God should have a Son. For though the poets, in their fictions, represent the gods as no better than men, our mode of thinking is not the same as theirs, concerning either God the Father or the Son.


Cliff Notes: Athenagoras’ Plea for Christians and On the Resurrection

In your Empire, Your Most Excellent Majesties, different peoples observe different laws and customs; and no one is hindered by law or fear of punishment from devotion to his ancestral ways, even if they are ridiculous. A citizen of Troy calls Hector a god, and worships Helen, taking her for Adrasteia. The Athenian sacrifices to Erechtheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites and celebrate mysteries in honor of Agraulus and Pandrosus, whom they imagine guilty of impiety for opening the box.



Chapter 1. Injustice Shown Towards the Christians. In your empire, greatest of sovereigns, different nations have different customs and laws ; and no one is hindered by law or fear of punishment from following his ancestral usages, however ridiculous these may be. A citizen of Ilium calls Hector a god, and pays divine honours to Helen, taking her for Adrasteia. The Athenian sacrifices to Erechtheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites and celebrate mysteries in honour of Agraulus and Pandrosus, women who were deemed guilty of impiety for opening the box. In short, among every nation and people, men offer whatever sacrifices and celebrate whatever mysteries they please.


Plea for the Christians

It may be that his treatises, circulating anonymously, were for a time considered as the work of another apologist, or there may have been other circumstances now lost. There are only two mentions of him in early Christian literature: several accredited quotations from his Apology in a fragment of Methodius of Olympus died and some untrustworthy biographical details in the fragments of the Christian History of Philip of Side c. Philip of Side claims that Athenagoras headed the Catechetical School of Alexandria which is probably incorrect and contradicted by Eusebius [2] and notes that Athenagoras converted to Christianity after initially familiarizing himself with the Scriptures in an attempt to controvert them. His writings bear witness to his erudition and culture, his power as a philosopher and rhetorician, his keen appreciation of the intellectual temper of his age, and his tact and delicacy in dealing with the powerful opponents of his religion. Thus his writings are credited by some later scholars as having had a more significant impact on their intended audience than the now better-known writings of his more polemical and religiously-grounded contemporaries. On the Resurrection of the Body. The Embassy for the Christians, the date of which is fixed by internal evidence as late in or , was a carefully written plea for justice to the Christians made by a philosopher, on philosophical grounds, to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus , whom he flatters as conquerors, "but above all, philosophers".


Athenagoras of Athens

He wrote around AD. Are you missing anything else of possible importance? Chapter one says that Christians refuse to go to court against those who rob them and that they turn the other cheek. Chapter two emphasizes that a Christian is known by his good works i.

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