1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Athenagoras

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15691751911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2 — Athenagoras

ATHENAGORAS, a Christian apologist of the 2nd century A.D., was, according to an emendator of the Paris Codex 451 of the 11th century, a native of Athens. The only sources of information regarding him are a short notice by Philip of Side, in Pamphylia (c. A.D. 420), and the inscription on his principal work. Philip—or rather the compiler who made excerpts from him—says that he was at the head of an Alexandrian school (the catechetical), that he lived in the time of Hadrian and Antoninus, to whom he addressed his Apology, and that Clement of Alexandria was his pupil; but these statements are more than doubtful. The inscription on the work describes it as the “Embassy of Athenagoras, the Athenian, a philosopher and a Christian concerning the Christians, to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, &c.” This statement has given rise to considerable discussion, but from it and internal evidence the date of the Apology (Πρεσβεία περὶ Χρίστιανῶν) may be fixed at about A.D. 177. Athenagoras is also the author of a discourse on the resurrection of the body, which is not authenticated otherwise than by the titles on the various manuscripts. In the Apology, after contrasting the judicial treatment of Christians with that of other accused persons, he refutes the accusations brought against the Christians of atheism, eating human flesh and licentiousness, and in doing so takes occasion to make a vigorous and skilful attack on pagan polytheism and mythology. The discourse on the resurrection answers objections to the doctrine, and attempts to prove its truth from considerations of God’s purpose in the creation of man, His justice and the nature of man himself. Athenagoras is a powerful and clear writer, who strives to comprehend his opponents’ views and is acquainted with the classical writers. He used the Apology of Justin, but hardly the works of Aristides or Tatian. His theology is strongly tinged with Platonism, and this may account for his falling into desuetude. His discussion of the Trinity has some points of speculative interest, but it is not sufficiently worked out; he regards the Son as the Reason or Wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit as a divine effluence. On some other points, as the nature of matter, the immortality of the soul and the principle of sin, his views are interesting.

Editions.—J. C. Th. Eg. de Otto, Corpus Apol. Christ. Saec. II. vol. vii. (Jena, 1857); E. Schwartz in Texte und Untersuchungen, iv. 2 (Leipzig, 1891).

Translations.—Humphreys (London, 1714); B. P. Pratten (Ante-Nic. Fathers, Edinburgh, 1867).

Literature.—A. Harnack, Gesch. der altchr. Litt. pp. 526-558, and similar works by O. Bardenhewer and A. Ehrhard; Herzog-Hauck, Realencyk.; G. Krüger, Early Chr. Lit. p. 130 (where additional literature is cited). In 1559 and 1612 appeared in French a work on True and Perfect Love, purporting to be a translation from the Greek of Athenagoras; it is a palpable forgery.