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.