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A plea for the Christians by Athenagoras the Athenian: philosopher and Christian to the emperors Marcus Aurelius Anoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus.
shown towards the Christians.
1. 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.
2. A citizen of
Ilium calls hector a god, and pays divine honors to helen, taking her for
adrasteia. The Lacedaemonian venerates agamemnon as Zeus, and phylonoe the
daughter of tyndarus; and the man of Tenedos worships tennes. The Athenian
sacrifices to erechtheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites
and celebrate mysteries in honor 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.
For be not, like the multitude 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.
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 honor;
and the whole empire, under your intelligent sway, enjoys profound peace.
7. But for us who
are called Christians you have not cared in like manner; but although we commit
no wrong--nay, as will appear in the sequel of this discourse, we of all men are
most piously and righteously disposed towards the Deity and towards your
government; yet you allow us to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted, the
multitude making war upon us for our name alone.
8. We venture,
therefore, to lay a statement of our case before you, and you will learn 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 at
length may cease 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.
10. 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
11. 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 talkers themselves, and to the whole
tribe of those who are like them.
· Claim to be treated as others are
12. 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.
14. 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.
15. When the
judges, instead of inquiring whether the person arraigned have committed any
crime, vent their insults on the name, as if that itself were 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
dear knowledge of this, since you are well instructed in philosophy and all
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
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.
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?).
20. But be tried on
any charges which may be brought against us, and either be released on our
disproving them, or punished if convicted of crime--not for the name (for no
Christian is a bad man unless he falsely profess our doctrines), but for the
wrong which has been done.
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.
24. Thus, while you
on your part will not err through ignorance, we also, by disproving the charges
arising out of the undiscerning rumor of the multitude, shall cease to be
brought against the Christians.
1. Three things
are alleged against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts, Edipodean intercourse. 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
recognize those from whom they receive benefits.
3. If any one,
therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure
shall be deemed adequate to such offences? 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.
4. 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
information 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.
5. And thus at
length to grant to us the same rights (we ask nothing more) as to those who
persecute us. For we shall then conquer them, unhesitatingly surrendering, as we
now do, our very lives for the truth's sake.
The Christians are not atheists, but
acknowledge one only God.
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?
8. 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
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.
· Testimony of the poets to the unity
10. 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."
11. But speaking of
Him who is apprehended by the understanding as matter of certain knowledge, he
gives his opinion decidedly, and with intelligence, thus: - "Sees thou on
high him who, with humid arms, Clasps both the boundless ether and the earth?
Him reckon zeus, and him regard as God."
12. For, as to
these so-called gods, he neither saw any real existences, to which a name is
usually assigned, underlying them ("zeus," for instance: "who
zeus is I know not, but by report"), nor that any names were given to
realities which actually do exist (for of what use are names to those who have
no real existences underlying them?).
But Him he did
see by means of His works, considering with an eye to things unseen the things
which are manifest in air, in ether, on earth. 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."
Opinions of the philosophers as to
the one God.
14. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. And if he
recognizes others as well, such as the sun, moon, and stars, yet he recognizes
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."
19. 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.
again, and his followers, recognizing the existence of one whom they regard as a
sort of compound living creature speaks of God as consisting of soul and body,
thinking His body to be the space and the planetary stars and the sphere of the
fixed stars, moving in circles;
21. But His soul,
the reason which presides over the motion of the body, itself not subject to
motion, but becoming the cause of motion to the other. 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.
22. For, if God is
an artistic fire advancing methodically to the production of the several things
in the world, embracing in Himself all the seminal principles by which each
thing is produced in accordance with fate.
23. And if His
Spirit pervades the whole world, then God is one according to them, being named
Zeus in respect of the fervid part of matter, and Hera in respect of the air and
called by other names in respect of that particular part of matter which He
of the Christian doctrine respecting God.
therefore, the unity of the Deity is confessed by almost all, even against their
will, when they come to treat the first principles of the universe, and we in
our turn likewise assert that He who arranged this universe is God.
2. 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?
3. 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
4. But they have
not been found competent to fully apprehend it, because they thought it fit not
to learn, 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.
5. But we have the
things we apprehend for witnesses and believe, prophets, men who have pronounced
concerning God and the things of God, guided by the Spirit of God.
And you too
will admit, excelling all others as you do in intelligence and in piety towards
the true God that it would be irrational for us to cease to believe in the
Spirit from God, who moved the mouths of the prophets like musical instruments,
and to give heed to mere human opinions.
· Absurdities of polytheism.
As regards the
doctrine that from the beginning there was one God, the Maker of this universe,
consider it in this wise, that you may be acquainted with the argumentative
grounds of our faith also. 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
8. 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.
9. 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 He is
above the created things, 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
12. 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?
13. 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
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? No, by no
And yet, unless
he does so, he has done nothing. 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.
The testimony of the prophets.
17. 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?
19. 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." In like manner:
"Before Me there was no other God, and after Me there shall be none; I am
God, and there is none besides Me."
20. And as to His
greatness: "Heaven is My throne, and the earth is the footstool of My feet:
what house win ye build for Me, or what is the place of My rest?" But I
leave it to you, when you meet with the books themselves, to examine carefully
the prophecies contained in them, that you may on fitting grounds defend us from
the abuse cast upon us.
· The Christians worship the Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost.
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.
acknowledge also a Son of God. 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.
23. But the Son of
God is the Logos (Word) of the Father, in idea and in operation; for after the
pattern of Him and by Him were all things made, the Father and the Son being
one. And, the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and
power of spirit, the understanding and reason of the Father is the Son of God.
24. But if, in your
surpassing intelligence, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by the Son, I
will state briefly that He is the first product of the Father, not as having
been brought into existence (for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal
mind had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos.
inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material
things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the
grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter.
26. The prophetic
Spirit also agrees with our statements. "The Lord," it says,
"made me, the beginning of His ways to His works." The Holy Spirit
Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of
God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun.
27. Who, then,
would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their
distinction in order, called atheists?
Nor is our
teaching in what relates to the divine nature confined to these points; but we
recognize also a multitude of angels and ministers, whom God the Maker and
Framer of the world distributed and appointed to their several posts by His
Logos, to occupy themselves about the elements, and the heavens, and the world,
and the things in it, and the goodly ordering of them all.
moral teaching of the Christians repels the charge brought against them.
1. If I go
minutely into the particulars of our doctrine, let it not surprise you. It is
that you may not be carried away by the popular and irrational opinion, but may
have the truth clearly before you. For presenting the opinions themselves to
which we adhere, as being not human but uttered and taught by God, we shall be
able to persuade you not to think of us as atheists.
2. What, then, are
those teachings in which we are brought up? "I say unto you, Love your
enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that persecute you; that ye
may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven, who causes His sun to rise on
the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust."
3. Allow me here
to lift up my voice boldly in loud and audible outcry, pleading as I do before
philosophic princes. For who of those that reduce syllogisms, and clear up
ambiguities, and explain etymologies, or of those who teach homonyms and
synonyms, and predicaments and axioms, and what is the subject and what
promised their disciples by these and such like instructions to make them happy:
who of them have so purged their souls as, instead of hating their enemies, to
love them; and, instead of speaking ill of those who have reviled them (to
abstain from which is of itself an evidence of no mean forbearance), to bless
them; and to pray for those who plot against their lives?
contrary, they never cease with evil intent to search out skillfully the secrets
of their art, and are ever bent on working some ill, making the art of words and
not the exhibition of deeds their business and profession.
But among us
you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are
unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit
the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse
speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when
robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love
their neighbors as themselves.
· Consequent absurdity of the charge
then, unless we believed that a God presides over the human race, thus purge
ourselves from evil? Most certainly not.
8. But, because we
are persuaded that we shall give an account of everything in the present life to
God, who made us and the world, we adopt a temperate and benevolent and
generally despised method of life, believing that we shall suffer no such great
evil here, even should our lives be taken from us, compared with what we shall
there receive for our meek and benevolent and moderate life from the great
9. Plato indeed
has said that Minos and Rhadamanthus will judge and punish the wicked; but we
say that, even if a man be Minos or Rhadamanthus himself, or their father, even
he will not escape the judgment of God. Are, then, those who consider life, to
be comprised in this, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die?
And who regard
death as a deep sleep and forgetfulness to be accounted pious; while men who
reckon the present life of very small worth indeed, and who are conducted to the
future life by this one thing alone, that they know God and His Logos.
What is the
oneness of the Son with the Father, what the communion of the Father with the
Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of these three, the Spirit, the Son,
the Father, and their distinction in unity; and who know that the life for which
we look is far better than can be described in words, provided we arrive at it
pure from all wrong-doing.
12. Who moreover,
carry our benevolence to such an extent, that we not only love our friends
("for if ye love them," He says, "that love you, and lend to them
that lend to you, what reward will ye have?" ),--shall we, I say, when such
is our character, and when we live such a life as this, that we may escape
condemnation at last, not be accounted pious?
13. These, however,
are only small matters taken from great, and a few things from many, that we may
not further trespass on your patience; for those who test honey and whey, judge
by a small quantity whether the whole is good.
· Why the Christians do not offer
But, as most of
those who charge us with atheism, and that because they have not even the
faintest conception of what God is, and are doltish and utterly unacquainted
with natural and divine things, and such as measure piety by the rule of
sacrifices, charges us with not acknowledging the same gods as the cities, be
pleased to attend to the following considerations, O emperors, on both points.
15. And first, as
to our not sacrificing: the Framer and Father of this universe does not need
blood, nor the odor of burnt-offerings, nor the fragrance of flowers and
incense, forasmuch as He is Himself perfect fragrance, needing nothing either
within or without; but the noblest sacrifice to Him is for us to know who
stretched out and vaulted the heavens, and fixed the earth in its place like a
centre, who gathered the water into seas and divided the light from the
darkness, who adorned the sky with stars and made the earth to bring forth seed
of every kind, who made animals and fashioned man.
16. When, holding
God to be this Framer of all things, who preserves them in being and
superintends them all by knowledge and administrative skill, we "lift up
holy hands" to Him, what need has He further of a hecatomb? "For they,
when mortals have transgressed or failed to do aright, by sacrifice and prayer,
Libations and burnt-offerings, may be soothed."
17. And what have I
to do with holocausts, which God does not stand in need of? --Though indeed it
does behooves us to offer a bloodless sacrifice and "the service of our
· Inconsistency of those who accuse the Christians.
Then, as to the
other complaint, that we do not pray to and believe in the same gods as the
cities, it is an exceedingly silly one. Why, the very men who charge us with
atheism for not admitting the same gods as they acknowledge, are not agreed
among themselves concerning the gods.
19. The Athenians
have set up as gods Celeus and Metanira: the Lacedaemonians Menelaus; and they
offer sacrifices and hold festivals to him, while the men of Ilium cannot endure
the very sound of his name, and pay their adoration to Hector.
20. The Ceans
worship Aristaeus, considering him to be the same as zeus and apollo; the
Thasians Theagenes, a man who committed murder at the Olympic games; the Samians
Lysander, notwithstanding all the slaughters and all the crimes perpetrated by
him; Alcman and Hesiod Medea, and the Cilicians Niobe; the Sicilians Philip the
son of Butacides; the Amathusians Onesilus; the Carthaginians Hamilcar.
Time would fail
me to enumerate the whole. When, therefore, they differ among themselves
concerning their gods, why do they bring the charge against us of not agreeing
with them? Then look at the practices prevailing among the Egyptians: are they
not perfectly ridiculous?
For in the
temples at their solemn festivals they beat their breasts as for the dead, and
sacrifice to the same beings as gods; and no wonder, when they look upon the
brutes as gods, and shave themselves when they die, and bury them in temples,
and make public lamentation.
23. If, then, we
are guilty of impiety because we do not practice a piety corresponding with
theirs, then all cities and all nations are guilty of impiety, for they do not
all acknowledge the same gods.
Christians distinguish God from matter.
1. But grant that
they acknowledge the same. What then? Because the multitude, who cannot
distinguish between matter and God, or see how great is the interval which lies
between them, pray to idols made of matter.
2. Are we
therefore, who do distinguish and separate the uncreated and the created, that
which is and that which is not, that which is apprehended by the understanding
and that which is perceived by the senses, and who give the fitting name to each
of them, --are we to come and worship images?
matter and God are the same, two names for one thing, then certainly, in not
regarding stocks and stones, gold and silver, as gods, we are guilty of impiety.
But if they are at the greatest possible remove from one another--as far asunder
as the artist and the materials of his art--why are we called to account?
For as is the
potter and the clay (matter being the clay, and the artist the potter), so is
God, the Framer of the world, and matter, which is subservient to Him for the
purposes of His art. But as the clay cannot become vessels of itself without
art, so neither did matter, which is capable of taking all forms, receive, apart
from God the Framer, distinction and shape and order.
And as we do
not hold the pottery of more worth than him who made it, nor the vessels or
glass and gold than him who wrought them; but if there is anything about them
elegant in art we praise the artificer, and it is he who reaps the glory of the
Even so with
matter and God --the glory and honor of the orderly arrangement of the world
belongs of right not to matter, but to God, the Framer of matter. So that, if we
were to regard the various forms of matter as gods, we should seem to be without
any sense of the true God, because we should be putting the things which are
dissoluble and perishable on a level with that which is eternal.
· The Christians do not worship the
without doubt is the world, excelling, as well in its magnitude as in the
arrangement of its parts, both those in the oblique circle and those about the
north, and also in its spherical form. Yet it is not this, but its Artificer,
that we must worship.
8. For when any of
your subjects come to you, they do not neglect to pay their homage to you, their
rulers and lords, from whom they will obtain whatever they need, and address
themselves to the magnificence of your palace.
9. But, if they
chance to come upon the royal residence, they bestow a passing glance of
admiration on its beautiful structure: but it is to you yourselves that they
show honor, as being "all in all." You sovereigns, indeed, rear and
adorn your palaces for yourselves;
But the world
was not created because God needed it; for God is Himself everything to Himself,
--light unapproachable, a perfect world, spirit, power, reason.
the world is an instrument in tune, and moving in well-measured time, I adore
the Being who gave its harmony, and strikes its notes, and sings the accordant
strain, and not the instrument.
For at the
musical contests the adjudicators do not pass by the lute-players and crown the
lutes. Whether, then, as Plato says, the world be a product of divine art, I
admire its beauty, and adore the Artificer; or whether it be His essence and
body, as the Peripatetics affirm.
We do not
neglect to adore God, who is the cause of the motion of the body, and descend
"to the poor and weak elements," adoring in the impassible air (as
they term it), passable matter; or, if any one apprehends the several parts of
the world to be powers of God, we do not approach and do homage to the powers,
but their Maker and Lord.
14. I do not ask of
matter what it has not to give, nor passing God by do I pay homage to the
elements, which can do nothing more than what they were bidden; for, although
they are beautiful to look upon, by reason of the art of their Framer, yet they
still have the nature of matter.
15. And to this
view Plato also bears testimony; "for," says he, "that which is
called heaven and earth has received many blessings from the Father, but yet
partakes of body; hence it cannot possibly be free from' change."
16. If, therefore,
while I admire the heavens and the elements in respect of their art, I do not
worship them as gods, knowing that the law of dissolution is upon them, how can
I call those objects gods of which I know the makers to be men? Attend, I beg,
to a few words on this subject.
· The names of the gods and their
images are but of recent date.
17. An apologist
must adduce more precise arguments than I have yet given, both concerning the
names of the gods, to show that they are of recent origin, and concerning their
images, to show that they are, so to say, but of yesterday.
however, are thoroughly acquainted with these matters, since you are versed in
all departments of knowledge, and are beyond all other men familiar with the
ancients. I assert, then, that it was Orpheus, and Homer, and Hesiod who s gave
both genealogies and names to those whom they call gods.
19. Such, too, is
the testimony of Herodotus. "My opinion," he says, "is that
Hesiod and Homer preceded me by four hundred years, and no more; and it was they
who framed a theology for the Greeks, and gave the gods their names, and
assigned them their several honors and functions, and described their
of the gods, again, were not in use at all, so long as statuary, and painting,
and sculpture were unknown; nor did they become common until Saurias the Samian,
and Crato the Sicyonian, and Cleanthes the Corinthian, and the Corinthian damsel
21. When drawing in
outline was invented by Saurias, who sketched a horse in the sun, and painting
by Crato, who painted in oil on a whitened tablet the outlines of a man and
woman; and the art of making figures in relief was invented by the damsel, who,
being in love with a person, traced his shadow on a wall as he lay asleep.
22. And her father,
being delighted with the exactness of the resemblance (he was a potter), carved
out the sketch and filled it up with clay: this figure is still preserved at
Corinth. After these, Daedalus and
Theodorus the Milesian further invented sculpture and statuary.
23. You perceive,
then, that the time since representations of form and the making of images began
is so short, that we can name the artist of each particular god. The image of
Artemis at Ephesus, for example, and that of Athena (or rather of Athela, for so
is she named by those who speak more in the style of the mysteries; for thus was
the ancient image made of the olive-tree called).
24. And the sitting
figure of the same goddess, were made by Endoeus, a pupil of Daedalus; the
Pythian god was the work of Theodorus and Telecles; and the Delian god and
Artemis are due to the art of Tectaeus and Angelio; Hera in Samos and in Argos
came from the hands of Smilis, and the other statues were by Phidias; Aphrodite
the courtesan in Cnidus is the production of Praxiteles; Asclepius in Epidaurus
is the work of Phidias.
In a word, of
not one of these statues can it be said that it was not made by man. If, then,
these are gods, why did they not exist from the beginning? Why, in sooth, are
they younger than those who made them?
26. Why, in sooth,
in order to their coming into existence, did they need the aid of men and art?
They are nothing but earth, and stones, and matter, and curious art.
gods themselves have been created, as the poets confess.
1. But, since it
is affirmed by some that, although these are only images, yet there exist gods
in honor of whom they are made; and that the supplications and sacrifices
presented to the images are to be referred to the gods, and are in fact made to
the gods; and that there is not any other way of coming to them.
2. Since it is
hard for man to in person meet a visible god;" and whereas, and this being
the fact, they adduce the energies possessed by certain images,
and so let us examine into the power attached to their names.
3. And I beseech
you, greatest of emperors, before I enter on this discussion, to indulge me
while I bring forward the true considerations; for it is not my design to show
the fallacy of idols, but, by disproving the calumnies vented against us, to
offer a reason for the course of life we follow.
May you, by
considering yourselves, be able to discover the heavenly kingdom also!
For as all things are subservient to you, father and son, who have
received the kingdom from above (for "the king's soul is in the hand of
God," saith the prophetic Spirit).
So to the One
God and the Logos proceeding from. Him, the Son, apprehended by us as
inseparable from Him, all things are in like manner subjected. This then I beg
you to consider carefully, the gods as they affirm that they were not from the
beginning, but every one of them has come into existence just like ourselves.
6. In this they
all agree. Homer speaks of "old ocean, the sire of gods, and Tethys;"
and Orpheus who, moreover, was the first to invent their names, and recounted
their births, and narrated the exploits of each, is believed by them to treat
divine things with greater truth than others of whom Homer himself follows in
most matters, especially in reference to the gods - he, too, has fixed their
first origin to be from water: - Oceanus (the ocean) being the origin of
7. For, according
to him, water was the beginning of all things, and from water mud was formed,
and from both was produced an animal, a dragon with the head of a lion growing
to it, and between the two heads there was the face of a god, named heracles and
generated an egg of enormous size, which, on becoming full, was, by the powerful
friction of its generator, burst into two, the part at the top receiving the
form of heaven, and the lower part that of earth.
9. The goddess ge,
moreover, came forth with a body; and ouranos, by his union with ge begat
females, clotho, lachesis, and atropos; and males, the hundred-handed cottys,
gyges, briareus, and the Cyclopes brontes, and steropes, and argos, whom also he
bound and hurled down to Tartarus, having learnt that he was to be ejected from
his government by his children; whereupon ge, being enraged, brought forth the
gala bore to ouranos sons who are known by the name of Titans, because they took
vengeance on ouranos, glittering majesticly with his starry crown.
· The philosophers agree with the
poets respecting the gods.
Such was the
beginning of the existence both of their gods and of the universe. Now what are
we to make of this? For each of those things to which divinity is ascribed is
conceived of as having existed from the first.
12. For, if they
have come into being, having had no previously existence, as those say who speak
of the gods, that they do not exist. For
a thing is either uncreated and eternal, or created and perishable. Nor do I
think one thing and the philosophers another. What is that which always is and
has no origin; or that what is which has been originated, yet never is?"
13. Discoursing the
intelligible and the sensible, Plato teaches that - that which always is, the
intelligible, is un-originated, but that which is not, the sensible, is
originated, beginning to be and ceasing to exist.
14. In like manner,
the Stoics also say that all things will be burnt up and will again exist, the
world receiving another beginning. But if, although there is, according to them,
a twofold cause, one active and governing, namely providence, the other passive
and changeable, namely matter.
It then is
nevertheless impossible for the world, even under the care of Providence, to
remain in the same state, because it is created—and how then can the
constitution of these gods remain that are not self-existent, but have been
16. And in what are
the gods superior to matter, since they derive their constitution from water?
Yet not even water, according to them, is the beginning of all things.
What could be constituted from simple and homogeneous elements?
matter requires an artificer, and the artificer requires matter. For how could
figures be made without matter or an artificer? Neither, again, is it reasonable
that matter should be older than God; for the efficient cause must of necessity
exist before the things that are made.
the angels and giants.
1. What need is
there, in speaking to you who have searched into every department of knowledge,
to mention the poets, or to examine opinions of another kind? Let it suffice to
say thus much. If the poets and philosophers did not acknowledge that there is
one God, and concerning these gods were not of opinion.
2. Some that they
are demons, others that they are matter, and others that they once were men,
there might be some show of reason for our being harassed as we are, since we
employ language which makes a distinction between God and matter, and the
natures of the two.
3. For, as we
acknowledge a God, and a Son his Logos, and a Holy Spirit, united in essence,
the Father, the Son, the Spirit, because the Son is the Intelligence, Reason,
Wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit an effluence, as light from fire; so also
do we apprehend the existence of other powers, which exercise dominion about
4. And by means of
it, and one in particular, which is hostile to God: not that anything is really
opposed to God, like strife to friendship, according to Empedocles, and night to
day, according to the appearing and disappearing of the stars (for even if
anything had placed itself in opposition to God, it would have ceased to exist,
its structure being destroyed by-the power and might of God), but that to the
good that is in God, which belongs of necessity to Him, and that co-exists with
Him, as color with body, without which it has no existence (not as being part of
it, but as an attendant property co-existing with it, united and blended, just
as it is natural for fire to be yellow and the ether dark blue).
5. To the good
that is in God, I say, the spirit which is about matter, who was created by God;
just as the other angels were created by Him, and entrusted with the control of
matter and the forms of matter, is opposed. For this is the office of the
angels, --to exercise providence for God over the things created and ordered by
Him; so that God may have the universal and general providence of the whole,
while the particular parts are provided for by the angels appointed over them.
6. Just as with
men, who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not
either honor the good or punish the bad, unless vice and virtue were in their
own power; and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them by you, and
others faithless), so is it among the angels.
agents, you will observe, such as they were created by God, continued in those
things for which God had made and over which He had ordained them; but some
outraged both the constitution of their nature and the government entrusted to
them: namely, this ruler of matter and its various forms, and others of those
who were placed about this first firmament (you know that we say nothing without
witnesses, but state the things which have been declared by the prophets), these
fell into impure love of virgins, and were subjugated by the flesh, and he
became negligent and wicked in the management of the things entrusted to him.
Of these lovers
of virgins, therefore, were begotten those who are called giants. And if
something has been said by the poets, too, about the giants, be not surprised at
this: worldly Wisdom and divine differ as much from each other as truth and
plausibility: the one is of heaven and the other of earth; and indeed, according
to the prince of matter, - "We know we oft speak lies that look like
The poets and philosophers have
denied a divine providence.
9. These angels,
then, who have fallen from heaven, and haunt the air and the earth, and are no
longer able to rise to heavenly things, and the souls of the giants, which are
the demons who wander about the world, perform actions similar, the one (that
is, the demons) to the natures they have received, the other (that is, the
angels) to the appetites they have indulged.
10. But the prince
of matter, as may be seen merely from what transpires, exercise a control and
management contrary to the good that is in God:- "Often times this anxious
thought has crossed my mind, whether it is chance or deity that rules the small
affairs of men; and, spite of hope as well as justice, drives to exile some
stripped of all means of life, while others still continue to enjoy
11. Prosperity and
adversity, contrary to hope and justice, made it impossible for Euripides to say
to whom belongs the administration of earthly affairs, which is of such a kind
that one might say of it, "How, while seeing these things, can we say there
is a race of gods, or yield to laws?"
The same thing
led Aristotle to say that the things below the heaven are not under the care of
Providence, although the eternal providence of God concerns itself equally with
us below. "The earth, let willingness move her or not, must produce herbs,
and thus sustain my flocks."
13. And it
addresses itself to the deserving individually, according to truth and not
according to opinion; and all other things according to the general constitution
of nature are provided for by the law of reason. But because the demoniac
movements and operations proceed from the adverse spirit these produce
14. And moreover
move men, in one way and another, as individuals and as nations, separately and
in common, in accordance with the tendency of matter on the one hand, and of the
affinity for divine things on the other, from within and from without,--some who
are of no mean reputation have therefore thought that this universe is
constituted without any definite order, and is driven here and there by an
15. But they do not
understand, that of those things which belong to the constitution of the whole
world there is nothing out of order or neglected, but that each one of them has
been produced by reason, and that, therefore, they do not transgress the order
prescribed to them; and that man himself too, so far as He that made him is
concerned, is well ordered, both by his original nature.
16. Which has one
common character for all, and by the constitution of his body, which does not
transgress the law imposed upon it, and by the termination of his life, which
remains equal and common to all alike; but that, according to the character
peculiar to himself and the operation of the ruling prince and of the demons his
followers, he is impelled and moved in this direction or in that,
notwithstanding that all possess in common the same original constitution of
· The demons allure men to the worship
17. They who draw
men to idols, then, are the aforesaid demons, who are eager for the blood of the
sacrifices, and lick them; but the gods that please the multitude, and whose
names are given to the images, were men, as may be learned from their history.
18. And that it is
the demons who act under their names, is proven by the nature of their
operations. For some castrate, as rhea; others wound and slaughter, as artemis;
the tauric goddess puts all strangers to death. I pass over those who lacerate with knives and scourges of
bones, and shall not attempt to describe all the kinds of demons; for it is not
the part of a god to incite to things against nature.
19. "But when
the demon plots against a man, He first inflicts some hurt upon his mind."
But God, being perfectly good, is eternally doing good. That, moreover, those
who exert the power are not the same as those to whom the statues are erected,
and to this very strong evidence is afforded by Troas and Parium.
20. The one has
statues of neryllinus, a man of our own times; and parium of Alexander and
Proteus: both the sepulcher and the statue of Alexander are still in the forum.
The other statues of neryllinus, then, are a public ornament, if indeed a city
can be adorned by such objects as these; but one of them is supposed to utter
oracles and to heal the sick, and on this account the people of the Troad offer
sacrifices to this statue, and overlay it with gold, and hang chaplets upon it.
21. But of the
statues of alexander and proteus (the latter, you are aware, threw himself into
the fire near Olympia), that of proteus is likewise said to utter oracles; and
to that of alexander- "wretched Paris, though in form so fair, thou slave
of woman" - sacrifices are offered and festivals are held at the public
cost, as to a god who can hear.
Is it, then,
neryllinus, and proteus, and alexander who exert these energies in connection
with the statues, or is it the nature of the matter itself? But the matter is
brass. And what can brass do of itself, which may be made again into a different
form, as Amasis treated the footpan, as told by Herodotus? And neryllinus, and
proteus, and alexander, what good are they to the sick? For what the image is
said now to effect, it effected when neryllinus was alive and sick.
of the demons.
1. What then? In
the first place, the irrational and fantastic movements of the soul about
opinions produce a diversity of images from time to time: some they derive from
matter, and some they fashion and bring forth for themselves; and this happens
to a soul especially when it partakes of the material spirit and becomes mingled
with it, looking not at heavenly things and their Maker, but downwards to
earthly things, wholly at the earth, as being now mere flesh and blood, and no
longer pure spirit.
irrational and fantastic movements of the soul, then, give birth to empty
visions in the mind, by which it becomes madly set on idols. When, too, a tender
and susceptible soul, which has no knowledge or experience of sounder doctrines,
and is unaccustomed to contemplate truth, and to consider thoughtfully the
Father and Maker of all things, gets impressed with false opinions respecting
Then the demons
who hover about matter, greedy of sacrificial odors and the blood of victims,
and ever ready to lead men into error, avail themselves of these delusive
movements of the souls of the multitude; and, taking possession of their
thoughts, cause to flow into the mind empty visions as if coming from the idols
and the statues; and when, too, a soul of itself, as being immortal, moves
comfortably to reason, either predicting the future or healing the present, the
demons claim the glory for themselves.
· Confutation of the other charges
brought against the Christians.
But they have
also made up stories against us of impious feasts and forbidden intercourse
between the sexes, both that they may appear to themselves to have rational
grounds of hatred, and because they think either by fear to lead us away from
our way of life, or to render the rulers harsh and inexorable by the magnitude
of the charges they bring.
5. But they lose
their labor with those who know that from of old it has been the custom, and not
in our time only, for vice to make war on virtue. Thus Pythagoras, with three
hundred others, was burnt to death; Heraclitus and Democritus were banished, the
one from the city of the Ephesians, the other from Abdera, because he was
charged with being mad; and the Athenians condemned Socrates to death.
6. But as they
were none the worse in respect of virtue because of the opinion of the
multitude, so neither does the undiscriminating calumny of some persons cast any
shade upon us as regards rectitude of life, for with God we stand in good
7. Nevertheless, I
will meet these charges also, although I am well assured that by what has been
already said I have cleared myself to you. For as you excel all men in
intelligence, you know that those whose life is directed towards God as its
rule, so that each one among us may be blameless and irreproachable before Him,
will not entertain even the thought of the slightest sin.
8. For if we
believed that we should live only the present life, then we might be suspected
of sinning, through being enslaved to flesh and blood, or overmastered by gain
or carnal desire; but since we know that God is witness to what we think and
what we say both by night and by day.
9. And that He,
being Himself light, sees all things in our heart, we are persuaded that when we
are removed from the present life we shall live another life, better than the
present one, and heavenly, not earthly (since we shall abide near God, and with
God, free from all change or suffering in the soul, not as flesh, even though we
shall have flesh, but as heavenly spirit).
10. Or falling with
the rest, a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of
burden, a mere by-work, and that we should perish and be annihilated. On these
grounds it is not likely that we should wish to do evil, or deliver ourselves
over to the great Judge to be punished.
· Elevated morality of the Christians.
It is, however,
nothing wonderful that they should get up tales about us such as they tell of
their own gods, of the incidents of whose lives they make mysteries. But it
behooves them, if they meant to condemn shameless and promiscuous intercourse,
to hate either zeus, who begat children of his mother rhea and his daughter
kore, and took his own sister to wife.
inventor of these tales, which made zeus more unholy and detestable than
thyestes himself; for the latter defiled his daughter in pursuance of an oracle,
and when he wanted to obtain the kingdom and avenge himself.
13. But we are so
far from practicing promiscuous intercourse, that it is not lawful among us to
indulge even a lustful look. "For," saith He, "he that looks on a
woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart."
Those, then, who are forbidden to look at anything more than that for which God
formed the eyes, which were intended to be a light to us, and to whom a wanton
look is adultery, the eyes being made for other purposes, and who are to be
called to account for their very thoughts, how can any one doubt that such
persons practice self-control?
14. For our account
lies not with human laws, which a bad man can evade (at the outset I proved to
you, sovereign lords, that our doctrine is from the teaching of God), but we
have a law which makes the measure of rectitude to consist in dealing with our
neighbor as ourselves.
15. On this
account, too, according to age, we recognize some as sons and daughters, others
we regard as brothers and sisters, and to the more advanced in life we give the
honor due to fathers and mothers.
16. On behalf of
those, then, to whom we apply the names of brothers and sisters, and other
designations of relationship, we exercise the greatest care that their bodies
should remain undefiled and uncorrupted; for the Logos again says to us,
17. "If any
one kiss a second time because it has given him pleasure, [he sins];"
adding, "Therefore the kiss, or rather the salutation, should be given with
the greatest care, since, if there be mixed with it the least defilement of
thought, it excludes us from eternal life."
The vast difference in morals
between the Christians and their accusers.
1. But though such
is our character. But why should I speak of things unfit to be uttered? The
things said of us are an example of the proverb, "The harlot reproves the
2. For those who
have set up a market for fornication and established infamous resorts for the
young for every kind of vile pleasure,--who do not abstain even from males,
males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and
comeliest bodies in all sorts of ways, so dishonoring the fair workmanship of
3. These men, I
say, revile us for the very thing which they are conscious of themselves, and
ascribe to their own gods, boasting of them as noble deeds, and worthy of the
adulterers and pederasts defame the eunuchs and the once-married, while
themselves live like fishes; for these gulp down whatever falls in their way,
and the stronger chases the weaker: and, in fact, this is to feed upon human
flesh, to do violence in contravention of the very laws which you and your
ancestors, with due care for all that is fair and right, have enacted.
5. So that not
even the governors of the provinces sent by you suffice for the hearing of the
complaints against those, to whom it even is not lawful, when they are struck,
not to offer themselves for more blows, nor when defamed not to bless: for it is
not enough to be just (and justice is to return like for like), but it is
incumbent on us to be good and patient of evil.
Christians condemn and detest all cruelty.
6. What man of
sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are
murderers? For we cannot eat human flesh till we have killed some one. The
former charge, therefore, being false, if any one should ask them in regard to
the second, whether they have seen what they assert, not one of them would be so
barefaced as to say that he had.
7. And yet we have
slaves, some more and some fewer, by whom we could not help being seen; but even
of these, not one has been found to invent even such things against us. For when
they know that we cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly;
who of them can accuse us of murder or cannibalism?
Who does not
reckon among the things of greatest interest the contests of gladiators and wild
beasts, especially those which are given by you? But we, deeming that to see a
man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles.
How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and
pollution, can we put people to death?
9. And when we say
that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion to commit murder, and will
have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we
commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very
fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God's care, and
when it has passed into life, to kill it.
10. And not to
expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with
child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it. But
we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason,
and not ruling over it.
· Bearing of the doctrine of the
resurrection on the practices of the Christians.
then, that believes in a resurrection, would make himself into a tomb for bodies
that will rise again?
For it is not the part of the same persons to believe that our bodies will rise
again, and to eat them as if they would not; and to think that the earth will
give back the bodies held by it, but that those which a man has entombed in
himself will not be demanded back.
12. On the
contrary, it is reasonable to suppose, that those who think they shall have no
account to give of the present life, ill or well spent, and that there is no
resurrection, but calculate on the soul perishing with the body, and being as it
were quenched in it, will refrain from no deed of daring.
But as for
those who are persuaded that nothing will escape the scrutiny of God, but that
even the body which has ministered to the irrational impulses of the soul, and
to its desires, will be punished along with it, it is not likely that they will
commit even the smallest sin.
But if to any
one it appears sheer nonsense that the body which has smothered away, and been
dissolved, and reduced to nothing, should be reconstructed, we certainly cannot
with any reason be accused of wickedness with reference to those that believe
not, but only of folly; for with the opinions by which we deceive ourselves we
injure no one else.
15. But that it is
not our belief alone that bodies will rise again, but that many philosophers
also hold the same view, it is out of place to show just now, lest we should be
thought to introduce topics irrelevant to the matter in hand, either by speaking
of the intelligible and the sensible, and the nature of these respectively.
16. Or by
contending that the incorporeal is older than the corporeal, and that the
intelligible precedes the sensible, although we become acquainted with the
latter earliest, since the corporeal is formed from the incorporeal, by the
combination with it of the intelligible, and that the sensible is formed from
hinders, according to Pythagoras and Plato, that when the dissolution of bodies
takes place, they should, from the very same elements of which they were
constructed at first, be constructed again. But let us defer the discourse
concerning the resurrection.
· Entreaty to be fairly judged.
18. And now do you,
who are entirely in everything, by nature and by education, upright, and
moderate, and benevolent, and worthy of your rule, now that I have disposed of
the several accusations, and proved that we are pious, and gentle, and temperate
in spirit, bend your royal head in approval.
19. For who are
more deserving to obtain the things they ask, than those who, like us, pray for
your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son
from father. And that your empire
may receive increase and addition, all men becoming subject to your sway?
20. And this is also for our advantage, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, and may ourselves readily perform all that is commanded us.