Χριστιανοί απολογητές ονομάσθηκαν οι εκκλησιαστικοί συγγραφείς που ασχολήθηκαν με την απολογητική της χριστιανικής θρησκείας, δηλαδή με την υπεράσπιση των χριστιανικών δοξασιών και της αξίας των ιερών γραφών. Οι απολογητές έγραψαν υπερασπίζοντας τον Χριστιανισμό απευθυνόμενοι τόσο προς Εθνικούς όσο και προς Ιουδαίους.
Ο όρος αυτός χρησιμοποιείται συγκεκριμένα για τους χριστιανούς συγγραφείς του 2ου αιώνα αν και αυτός ο χρονικός προσδιορισμός αμφισβητείται λόγω μη επαρκών ιστορικών στοιχείων, αλλά και με μια ευρύτερη έννοια συνεχίζει να περιλαμβάνει ομοίως και συγγραφείς κατά τον Μεσαίωνα, τη Μεταρρύθμιση έως και σήμερα..
Όσον αφορά τους Χριστιανούς συγγραφείς των πρώτων αιώνων μ.Χ., όλοι έγραψαν απολογίες για να αποκρούσουν τις διάφορες κατηγορίες και συκοφαντίες των Εθνικών κατά των Χριστιανών, όμως συνήθως γίνεται διάκριση ανάμεσα σε αυτούς που έγραψαν απολογίες στην ελληνική γλώσσα και αυτούς που έγραψαν στη λατινική.
Απολογητές που έγραψαν στην ελληνική
Επιφανέστεροι στον 2ο μ.Χ. αιώνα ήταν οι Αθηναίοι Κοδράτος, Αριστείδης ο Αθηναίος και Αθηναγόρας, οι Παλαιστίνιοι Αρίστων από την Πέλλα και Ιουστίνος ο Μάρτυρας, οι Σύροι Τατιανός και Θεόφιλος Αντιοχείας, οι Μικρασιάτες Κλαύδιος Απολινάριος Ιεραπόλεως και Μελίτων ο Σάρδεων, αλλά και ο Ερμείας, που έγραψε το έργο "Διασυρμός των έξω φιλοσόφων". Επίσης, οι Κλήμης ο Αλεξανδρεύς, Κύριλλος Αλεξανδρείας, Ευσέβιος ο Καισαρείας, Αθανάσιος Αλεξανδρείας (ο Μέγας), και Ωριγένης, του οποίου το έργο Κατά Κέλσου αποτελεί την εγκυρότερη και πληρέστερη υπεράσπιση του Χριστιανισμού, με αριστοτεχνική επιχειρηματολογία και διαλεκτική δύναμη.
Απολογητές που έγραψαν στη λατινική
Κυριότερος εκπρόσωπός τους υπήρξε στα τέλη του 2ου μ.Χ. αιώνα ο Μινούκιος Φήλιξ, με το έργο του Οκτάβιος. Τον 3ο αιώνα διακρίθηκε ο Τερτυλλιανός, με τα έργα του Απολογητικόν (Apologeticum) και Προς τα Έθνη (Ad Nationes). Την ίδια εποχή έδρασε ο Κυπριανός ο Καρχηδόνιος. Τον 4ο αιώνα αναδείχθηκε ο Αρνόβιος, με το έργο του Κατά των Εθνών, και ο μαθητής του Λακτάντιος, με κύριο έργο το Περί Θείων Θεσμών.
Οι χριστιανοί απολογητές του 2ου αιώνα υπερασπίστηκαν την Χριστιανοσύνη μέσω τεσσάρων θεμελιωδών επιχειρημάτων:
1. Η επίδραση που ασκεί η Χριστιανοσύνη στην ηθική των ακολούθων της. Η χριστιανική ελεημοσύνη, η κοινοκτημοσύνη, η αυτάρκεια, η απομάκρυνση από το μίσος ήταν ορισμένα από τα ηθικά οφέλη που τονίζονταν.
2. Οι προφητικές προβλέψεις που προέρχονται από τον Ιησού Χριστό και τους Προφήτες.
3. Οι αποδείξεις από την αρχαιότητα. Δινόταν έμφαση στην συνοχή και την ενότητα της Παλαιάς και της Καινής Διαθήκης, καθιστώντας φανερό ότι ο Χριστιανισμός δεν ήταν μια νέα ή πρόσφατη θρησκεία αλλά μια θρησκεία που έφτανε ως τον Μωυσή, ο οποίος προηγήθηκε από τους Έλληνες ποιητές και σοφούς[εκκρεμεί παραπομπή].
4. Τα θαύματα του Ιησού Χριστού. Αυτό το επιχείρημα χρησιμοποιήθηκε λιγότερο καθώς εκείνη την εποχή υπήρχε πληθώρα περιφερόμενων μάγων και ψευδόχριστων (ψευδομεσσίες), οι οποίοι εμφανίζονταν να εκτελούν θαύματα.
Αξιολόγηση του έργου των Απολογητών
Οι απολογητές, που χαρακτηρίζονται «φιλοσοφούντες θεολόγοι», θεωρείται ότι έπαιξαν μεγάλο ρόλο στη διάδοση του Χριστιανισμού. Κατά κύριο λόγο ασχολήθηκαν με τους διανοούμενους εθνικούς της εποχής τους, καθώς και οι ίδιοι ήταν διανοούμενοι. Η θεολογία που εκφράζουν δεν είναι πλήρης, καθώς «ενδιαφέρθησαν δι’ όσα στοιχεία ήτο εύλογον ότι θα εγένοντο αποδεκτά από τους συνομιλητάς των, τα στοιχεία εκείνα τα οποία σήμερον θεωρούμεν ως περιεχόμενον της λεγομένης φυσικής θεολογίας». Παρουσιάζουν μια «σύνθεση της ελληνικής φιλοσοφίας με τη διδασκαλία του Χριστιανισμού» καθώς χρησιμοποιούν την ελληνική φιλοσοφία για να υπερασπίσουν τη νέα θρησκεία.
35 b. Ignatius. His letters to churches and to Polycarp are widely quoted in the early church
51 The Jewish persecution of Christians in Rome becomes so disruptive that the Jews are expelled from the city
60 b. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor. "He was a man of long ago and the disciple of one ‘John’ and a companion of Polycarp," according to Irenaeus
64 Emperor Nero blames the fire that destroys much of Rome on the Christians. He persecutes the church ruthlessly, and uses Christians as candles to light his garden. It is likely that both Peter and Paul were executed during this persecution
68 The end of Nero’s reign
69 b. Polycarp, in Smyrna. He was a strong defender of the faith in Asia Minor combating the Marcionites and the Valentinians. Irenaeus reported that Polycarp had communication with John the Apostle and ‘others who had seen the Lord’
81 Domitian becomes Emperor. As Emperor, he persecuted both Jews and Christians
96 The end of Domitian’s reign
96 d. Clement of Rome. He wrote influential epistles to Corinth
98 Trajan becomes Emperor. Trajan eventually instituted a policy toward Christians that stayed in effect until the time of Aurelius. His policy was not to seek Christians out, but if they were brought before the authorities they were to be punished, usually executed, for being Christians
By the end of the first century it is possible to document congregations in almost every city that Paul visited on his three missionary journeys. There are also a few churches in Egypt and along the coast of Northern Africa
107 Ignatius led to Rome and martyred
115 b. Ireneaus, the first great Catholic theologian and author of Against Heresies, a treatise against the gnostics
130 d. Papias
130 Conversion of Justin Martyr. Justin loved philosophy, and had studied many philosophies and pagan religions in his search for truth. He was an apologist, and taught that the seeds of truth (logos) could be found in all religions, but that only Christianity taught the whole truth
144 Marcion excommunicated for rejecting the Old Testament, rejecting most of the New Testament, and teaching that Christ only appeared to be human (Docetism). His challenge helps the church realize the necessity of formally recognizing the canon
150 b. Clement of Alexandria. He was an apologist who used Plato to support Christianity, and tried to reach gnostics by showing that only the Christian had real "gnosis." He helped establish the allegorical method of interpreting scripture. His works make up a large proportion of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II
155 Polycarp was martyred in Smyrna by being burned to death. Polycarp declared, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" The only known writings to survive are parts of letters he wrote to the Philippians
156 Possibly the beginning of the Montanist movement. They were an aescetic movement with apocalyptic visions. They claimed the Spirit spoke directly through their prophets and prophetesses
160 b. Tertullian. He objected to Justin’s use of philosophy to defend Christianity, saying "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?." Late in life he became a Montanist and wrote Against Praxeas, which helped the church understand the Trinity
161 Marcus Aurelius becomes emperor. He abandoned Trajan’s passive approach and actively sought Christians to persecute them throughout the empire
165 Justin is martyred
180 The end of Aurelius’s reign
185 b. Origen. Pupil of Clement of Alexandria, he further develops the allegorical method. This and his desire to relate to the Neoplatonists in Alexandria led him away from orthodoxy in some matters. But he is still important to the church. On First Principles is the first systematic theology
202 Septimus Severus tries to unite the empire under one religion, the worship of the Unconquered Sun. Both Jews and Christians refuse and are vehemently persecuted
202 Irenaeus is martyred(?)
202 Clement of Alexandria flees to Syria until his death in 215
216 b. Mani, founder of Manichaeism. He fused Persian, Christian, and Buddhist elements into a major new heresy
225 d. Tertullian
245 Conversion of Cyprian
247 Cyprian becomes Bishop of Carthage
249-251 The reign of Decius. He ordered everyone in the empire to burn incense to him. Those who complied were issued a certificate. Those who did not have a certificate were persecuted. Many Christians bought forged certificates, causing a great controversy in the church
Cyprian went into hiding during the persecution and ruled the church by letters
251 b. Anthony. One of the earliest monks. He sold all his possessions and moved to the desert. Athanasius later wrote his biography
254 d. Origen
The Novatian schism develops concerning the treatment of the lapsed. (The Novatians, or Cathari, last until about 600. Read the Catholic view of the schism.) Cyprian refuses to accept the validity of baptism by schismatic priests. The church in Rome is critical of Cyprian’s view, and sends him scathing letters. Carthaginian Councils
258 Cyprian is martyred before the issue is settled
263 b. Eusebius of Caesarea. He was the first church historian. Many works of the early church survive only as fragments in Eusebius’s writing
284 The beginning of the Diocletian persecution
286 b. Pachomius, Egyptian pioneer of cenobitic (communal rather than solitary) monasticism
297/300 b. Athanasius, the defender of Orthodoxy during the Arian controversy of the fourth century.
305 The end of the Diocletian persecution
310 b. Apollinaris, the heretic who said that Jesus had a human body but not a human mind; He had the divine mind. Gregory of Nazianzus’ reply: "What has not been assumed cannot be restored"
311 b. Ulfilas
312 Constantine defeats Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge and becomes Emperor of the West. Constantine had had a vision, and used the letters chi and rho (the first two letters in "Christ") as his symbol during the battle
312 Caecilian elected bishop of Carthage. He was lax toward the Traditores, who had saved themselves by handing over scriptures during the Diocletian persecution. And he seemed unenthusiastic about the martyrs. A group in Carthage rejected Caecilian’s election on the grounds that he was ordained by a traditore. They elected a rival bishop named Majorinus
313 Edict of Milan gives Christians equal rights. It is issued by Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East, but Licinius soon withdraws his committment to it
314 By this date, there is a significant number of Christians in Britain
315 Majorinus dies, Donatus is his successor. This party becomes known as the Donatist party
316 The Donatists appeal to Constantine, but he rules against them. Then he outlaws them and banishes them in an effort to unite the church
324 Constantine defeats Licinius and becomes Emperor of both East and West. Constantine favored Christianity, which effects the face of the church even today
325 Council of Nicea condemns Arianism. Arius, in Alexandria, taught that Christ was the first created being, that there was a time when He was not. The council declared that Jesus was begotten, not made, and that He is Homoousios, of the same substance as the Father
328 Athanasius becomes bishop of Alexandria
328 Constantine revokes the sentence against Arius
329 b. Basil the Great of Cappadocia, the monk who created the basic Rule for the Eastern Orthodox monks that is still in use today. Basil taught communal monasticism that serves the poor, sick, and needy. One immediate effect of the disappearance of persecution is the rise of monasticism to replace the old martyr witness
335 b. Martin of Tours, a great monk who is famous for his compassion for the poor
337 d. Constantine
339 b. Ambrose the Churchman, who fought Arianism and the revival of paganism, and promoted the power of the Church.
340 d. Eusebius of Caesarea
340 Ulfilas converted to Arian Christianity. He takes it to the Germanic tribes, gives them an alphabet, and translates the Bible into their language. Most of the Germanic tribes became Arian Christians
345 b. John Chrysostom, "Golden Mouthed." He was a bold and reforming preacher, who used the Historical-grammatical method of exegesis. This was unusual, because exegetes had been looking at the allegorical interpretation ever since Clement of Alexandria and Origen
346 d. Pachomius
347 b. Jerome, the great Bible scholar and translator, author of the Vulgate
353 Emperor Constantius releases his pro-Arian campaign and drives Athanasius from Alexandria
354 b. Augustine
356 d. Anthony, at a very old age
361-363 Reign of Julian the Apostate, who converted from Christianity to paganism and restored paganism in Rome
361 Julian the Apostate removes the restrictions against the Donatists
369 b. Pelagius
367 A letter of Athanasius names the 66 books of the canon
373 d. Athanasius
379 d. Basil the Great of Cappadocia
379-395 The reign of Theodosius, who establishes Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire
381 Council of Constantinople. The Nicene position becomes dominant again, and the legal religion of the Empire. Jesus Christ is truly human, contrary to Apollinarianism, which held that Jesus had a human body but a divine mind. The Great Cappadocians are the inspiration behind the defeat of Arianism at this council. They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa
382 A council in Rome affirms the authority of the New Testament canon. It is important to remember that the content of the canon was not a conciliar decision. The church recognized, or discovered, the canon. The church did not determine the canon
383 d. Ulfilas
386 Augustine was converted in a garden in Milan after hearing a child saying "Take up and read!" He took up Romans 13: 13-14.
387 Augustine baptized by Ambrose
c. 389 b. St. Patrick. He was a British Romanized Christian who established Christianity in Ireland
390 d. Apollinaris
390 b. Leo the Great, an outstanding pope. He was influential in Chalcedon. He also argued for papal supremacy and showed political leadership in his negotiations with Attila the Hun
391 Augustine ordained a priest in Hippo, North Africa
393 The Council of Hippo recognizes the canon. To be recognized as canonical, a book had to be Apostolic, fit in with the other scriptures, and have been of fruitful use throughout the church up to that time
395 Augustine becomes bishop of Hippo
397 d. Martin of Tours
397 The Council of Carthage agrees with the Council of Hippo
397-401 Augustine writes Confessions
480 b. Boethius, a significant thinker who influences the Middle ages. In The Consolation of Philosophy he tries to find comfort in reason and philosophy. He doesn’t quote scripture
480 b. Benedict of Nursia, who wrote the normal Rule for Western monks to the present
521 b. Columba, Irish missionary to Scotland working from the isle of Iona
540 b. Columban, Irish missionary to the continent when it was struggling with a resurgence of paganism
525 d. Boethius
529 The Council of Orange approves the Augustinian doctrine of sin and grace, but without absolute predestination
540 b. Gregory the Great
550 d. Benedict of Nursia