Chapter 2 Summary: The Patristic Era_Part 2_THE ALEXANDRIAN’S OF THE THIRD CENTURY [Pgs. 31-38]


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We now turn to Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 214) who after much searching for the truth converted to Christianity and succeeded the Sicilian apologist Pantaenus, at the catechetical school in Alexandria (about 200 AD)  [Pp.31-34].  His Principal Works are The Protrepticus (Converter) the focus of which is an apologetic exhortation to conversion.  In its literary form, it resembles Aristotle’s Protrepticus and Cicero’s Hortensius. He also wrote The Paedogogus (Tutor) and The Stromata (Miscellanies).

In His arguments Clement resembles Justin Martyr’s and other 2nd century apologists.  The difference however is that they are more polished given his literacy of Greek mythology, philosophy, and mystery cults.  For him Greek music is lauded for its ability to strengthen and give peace to the soul.  Yet Christ is the minstrel who imparts harmony to the universe making music to God.

Clement contrasts the Greek mystery religions with their mythic stories of the gods, and idol worship as truly atheistic, but not Christianity.  And even though Greeks did receive light of the truth, Clement held that it’s incomparable with the revelation of the Old Testament and the New Testament ultimately exemplified in the Word (Logos).

His acumen is revealed in his work which is well ordered; combined both with variety and with symmetry.  Clement is a Christian Humanist who combines piety with the highest values of ancient culture.  And his body of work focused on Christ as the Incarnate Word who works in all men’s souls, so they can experience his true presence.

Another Alexandrian apologist is Origin (born about 184) who while still a boy, lost his father to martyrdom.  How that event shaped Origin, is for another time to reflect, but perhaps it did play a vital role in turning him into a man given to a life of study and one of the Church’s first expository preachers of Holy Scripture. [Pp.34-38]

His Major Work is Contra Celsum, where he defends core Christian doctrines like the Virgin Birth, Miracles, Deity of Christ, Reliability of Scripture, etc.

First, Celsus attacks the Virgin Birth account by affirming what so many in Jesus’ day held—that he was born of fornication.  Today, for many, this is not a big deal, but in that day it was a disgrace.  How could anyone claim to come from God if they were an illegitimate bastard child?

Second, Celsus held that the miracles of Jesus and his alleged wonders were performed through magic arts learned in Egypt.  Interestingly, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons (miracle) by Satan’s power, but Jesus put that notion to rest quickly.

Third, there’s a denial of the historicity of the Resurrection.  Celsus, like so many today, held that this account was nothing more than a fabricated lie.

Fourth, Celsus denied the Deity of Jesus.  Of the many reasons advanced, the clincher for him was the disciples’ disbelief and reaction to the crucifixion.  Their reaction “proved” Christ was not divine.  Added to these objections, Celsus held that “faith” was irrational because it could not be verifiably true in history; the Bible was not a reliable source of information but instead is full of legends and childish doctrines.  Moreover, the exclusive claims of Christianity left no room for pluralism and he thus saw it as intolerant.  And when it came to Christendom’s ethical teachings, Celsus was not impressed since these teachings are also found among other philosophers.

In Contra Celsum Origin responds to several charges:  First, biblical faith is not based on philosophical arguments but on the Spirit’s power (1 Cor.2:4) and even if Christians are not educated, it does not then follow that they despise wisdom; they only despise the wisdom which leads to destruction.

Second, in light of Jesus’ Character, it’s actually incredible to hold that he would have made up the story of the virgin birth.

Third, as far as Jesus’ miracles or those of the apostles, the power behind said phenomena was not fraudulent magic, which rather than bringing them wealth and fame earned them public shame martyrdom.

Fourth, the Bible’s historicity is selectively chosen by Celsus, for the Moses in whom he professes to believe, is far harder to prove historically than Jesus of Nazareth.

Fifth, Origin argued for Christ’s Deity by using messianic prophecies to show he was the Messiah along with his miracles, which allegedly was present in Origen’s contemporary Christianity.

Sixth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection accounts could not have been a fabrication for the disciples gave their lives to preaching the risen Lord.  Moreover, the resurrection was no fantasy, nor hallucinations, for these things happen not to sane people.

Seventh, regarding Ethics, just because similarities obtain among Greeks and Christians, does not mean that our Scriptures are not revelation.

 Final Thoughts: Contra Celsum ranks high as an apologetics classic as this letter reveals the first apologist who is very prepared for battle.  It is however very ad hominem. Nevertheless, it reveals how there’s nothing new under the sun.  Some of the objections raised against Christianity’s truth claims by Celsus have been repeated over and again throughout history.  It’s encouraging to know many stalwarts intellectually and spiritually have dealt with the same objections we encounter and gave us a model to consider for our day and era.

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