Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought


The Apologetic Movement. Celsus, Justin Martyr.

Today I want to start with something which can rightly be called the birthplace of a developed Christian theology, namely the apologetic movement. Christianity needed apologetics for different reasons. Apologeisthai means replying, answering, to the judge in the court, if somebody accuses you. You remember Socrates’ apologia, his answer to those who accused him. In the same sense, Christianity expressed itself in terms of answers, of apologia. The people who did this systematically are called the apoligists.

The necessity to answer was brought about because of a double accusation against Christianity : 1) that Christianity is a danger to the Roman Empire. This was the political accusation, that it undermines the structure of this empire. 2) that, philosophically speaking, Christianity is nonsense, a superstition mixed with philosophical fragments.

These two attacks supported each other. The philosophical attack was taken over by the authorities and used in their accusations. In this way these philosophical attacks became dangerous even in terms of political consequences. And so Christianity had to defend itself against both. The most important representative of these attacks was the physician and philosopher CELSUS. It is very important to listen to him in order to see how Christianity looked at that time to an educated Greek philosopher and scientist. For Celsus, Christianity is a mixture of fanatic superstition and philosophical piecemeal. The historical reports, according to him, are contradictory and are uncertain in their evidence. Here we have, for the first time, something which has repeated itself again and again: historical criticism of the Old and New Testament – but we have it here with hate, by an enemy. Later we have, in the 18th century, the beginning of historical criticism with love, namely with a love towards the Reality which lies behind these reports. Even today many people confuse the original way in which historical criticism was done – with hate – and react with hate against. it, while Christian theologians for more than two centuries now, have worked – -mostly with the same arguments as the enemies – but with love, in order to understand what really is in the Old and New Testaments. So we should not confuse this. But it is interesting that the first criticism came from outside, from enemies, in terms of hate and not love.

Now a few of Celsus’ arguments: One of the main points which is always discussed between critical historians and traditional theologians is the resurrection of ‘Jesus. Celsus says that this event which is so important was observed only by adherents, and originally even only by a few ecstatic women. His deification is nothing else than processes of deification which occurred in many other cases which we know from history. Good old Euhemeros, the philosopher of religion, has given sufficient examples of the way in which a human being, a king or a hero, was deified. Then he says that the Christians do something which is especially disgusting, ,namely, when the stories become extremely incredible – as many of them in the Old Testament – then they are explained away,. allegorically. (All these things were actually done.) ln this criticism, especially of the Old Testament miracle stories, a slight element ‘of anti-Judaism is visible, and this is understandable because some of Celsus’ criticism hit, the Jews as much as the Christians. … He says that the descent of God contradicts the unchangeable character of God which is also emphasized so strongly by the Christian writers. But if the Divine Being has descended to earth, why did this happen in a despised corner of the world, and why did it happen only once? Especially disgusting – and here again we have anti-Judaistic feeling – is the fight between the Jews and Christians as to whether the Messiah has or has not appeared.

This is particularly disgusting to the educated pagan. Very stupid, also, was the much used argument of that time from prophecy to fulfillment. He is historically educated enough to see that the prophet did not mean the fulfillment in the terms in which the fulfillment happened. And I would say this is an especially sore spot in all Church history, something where the idea of universal preparatory revelation – which is a sound idea – has been distorted in the mechanism of “foreseeing” events, and then they “happened”. He sees this weakness with great clarity.