The Patristic (Latin—Father) era of the Church historically describes the times and writings of the “Church Fathers”. During this time we see the end of the Apostolic age (i.e., Christ’s apostles) and one where their first disciples make a mark on their generation. Dulles points out that the main apologetic focus during this era tackled both the political and religious venues.
APOLOGISTS OF THE SECOND CENTURY [pp.24-31]
First, there was the Preaching of Peter, an apocryphal fragment that exalts Biblical monotheism and ridicules idolatry. This fragment differentiates between Jesus’ miracles and magic because Christians didn’t want their faith confused with pagan religions. [pp. 24-25]
Second, we have Aristedes, who was the most important apologist before Justin Martyr. In his Apology addressed to the Emperor Hadrian (125 AD), Aristedes focuses on five groups of humanity in a sort of comparative religion excursion, these are; Barbarians, Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, and Christians. When coming to Christians, he asserts that they surpass all the above because of their worship of the one true God, and their moral pure conduct. This is a powerful apology for its brevity and cogency. [P.25]
Third, we have Justin Martyr [pp.25-27] who wrote several apologies. In his First Apology, Justin addresses the Emperor Antoninus Pius and Lucius Commodus and argues that Christians should not be condemned based solely on their name. However, if they deserve condemnation for wrong acts, so be it. In his Second Apology, much like in the first apology, Justin seeks to defend his brethren from unjust condemnations and in some parts he alludes to pagan philosophies that achieved similar insights Christians believe because of divine revelation.
In Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, he attempts to show that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament, that the New Covenant has abrogated the Old Covenant and that only Christians are in a position to properly interpret the Hebrew text, not the Jews.
The value of his writings consists of his sincere character, his frank and open esteem of pagan philosophers, and his respect for Jewish Theologians.
Fourth, there’s Tatian a disciple of Justin Martyr [p.27] who wrote a bitter polemic against the Greeks deploring: their immoral Olympian gods; the absurdities of their myths; the indecency of their public religious festivals; and the vices and contradictions of the philosophers. Then, he advances the superiority of Christianity in his search for truth through the prophetic writings which superior to those of their philosophers. He would take Moses’ writings over Homer’s texts any day.
Fifth, there’s Athenagoras of Athens [pp.27-28] who Johannes Quasten calls ‘unquestionably the most eloquent of the early Christian apologists’. In his Embassy for the Christian, he pleads with the Emperors Lucius Aurelius Commodus and Marcus Aurelius (176-180) for civil toleration of Christians. He demonstrates that the charges against Christians (E.g., atheism, cannibalism and promiscuity) were misguided. He also produced an apologetic work On the Resurrection of the Dead.
Sixth, there’s Theophilus the Syrian Bishop of Antioch is impressed with Moses’ wisdom and of the creation account of Genesis as the only reliable guide to the origins of the universe. For Theophilus, God is manifest to the soul who is open to the Spirit’s light, but God is hidden to the man who loves darkness. [P.28]
Seventh, in a Letter to Diognetus, whose author is unknown, is a text considered by many critics to be the pearl of early Christian apologetics. The letter’s aim is: respond to what sort of cult Christianity is, to answer why Christians love each other so much, to answer why Christianity came about so late in the world’s history. The letter reveals that the author was a brilliant rhetorician and that early Christendom was serious [pp.28-29]
There are however several Weaknesses of the Apologists [pp.30-31]. The following examples: they demonstrated certain excesses in exegesis; they exaggerated the Bible’s antiquity; they lacked any consistent view of classical literature’s value; unfortunately they too rapidly rejected Judaism (although at times it is warranted). Moreover, they make too little of the Character of Jesus in their apologetic, they were often unclear between the relationship of reason and revelation. Given that the church emerged from the catacombs, what the apologists did cover is to be lauded and their strength is worthy to be emulated.