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Athenagoras

  1. Paul Hartog

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0099

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Hartog, P. 2011. Athenagoras. The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

Abstract

Athenagoras was a late 2nd century Christian apologist. A manuscript ascription line describes him as “Athenagoras the Athenian, philosopher and Christian,” although corroborating evidence of his provenance is lacking. Methodius of Olympus briefly refers to Athenagoras in his discourse on the resurrection (1.7); the 5th century biographical material found in Philip of Side is suspect. Athenagoras' most famous work is entitled a Plea on Behalf of Christians (alternatively known as the Supplicatio or Legatio). This apology was written around 177 ce and addressed the three anti-Christian accusations of atheism, cannibalism (“Thyestean feasts”), and incest (“Oedipean intercourse”). Most of the work is a refutation of the first indictment, and Athenagoras cites materials from pagan philosophers and pagan poets in support of the reasonableness of monotheism. He seems to manifest a rather thorough knowledge of Greek literature, although scholars have debated how many of his citations came from secondary florilegia. Athenagoras briefly responds to the remaining accusations by highlighting the irreproachable character (at least ideally) of Christian morality in contrast with pagan morality. The most renowned passages in the Plea are the “incipient” Trinitarian explanations of the Godhead (chapters 10 and 12). The Arethas Codex (914 ce), which contains the Plea, also contains a work entitled On the Resurrection, which it attributes to Athenagoras as well. Some modern scholars have challenged this attribution, although others have defended Athenagoran authorship by highlighting the genre, audience, occasion, and topic of the treatise (thus attempting to explain the vocabulary and conceptual dissimilarities with the Plea). On the Resurrection argues in a two-pronged fashion. Beginning with the character of God, the work argues that God desires to resurrect the body and he is able to do so, so the task will certainly be accomplished. The treatise then reasons that since humans act as both body and soul, the body must be resurrected in order that reunified persons may be judged for their present actions performed in the body.

Keywords:

  • athenagoras, christian apologist;
  • “athenagoras, athenian, philosopher, christian”;
  • plea on behalf of christians;
  • three anti-Christian, accusations of atheism;
  • “incipient” trinitarian explanations of Godhead;
  • on the resurrection, a two-pronged fashion