|St. Athenagoras of Athens (Feast Day - July 24)|
Athenagoras was born about the year 133 and died in 190. Little is known of his life. In his writings he styles himself as "Athenagoras, the Athenian, Philosopher, and Christian". The quality of his writings show that he was well educated, familiar with Platonism and Stoicism, and may have been well known and influential. Only two of his works, his Apology or Embassy for the Christians and Treatise on the Resurrection, have come down to us. The absence of any mention of his writings among other Christian writers may have been due to his anonymous writings having been thought to be the work of other writers. The manuscript that preserved his writings dates to 914 A.D. Today he is noted as one of the ablest Christian apologists of the second century.
His writings bear witness to his scholarship and culture, his power as a philosopher and rhetorician, his keen appreciation of the intellectual temper of his age, and his tact and delicacy in dealing with the powerful opponents of Christianity. Thus, his writings are credited by some later scholars as having had a more significant impact on their intended audience than the now better-known writings of his more polemical and religiously-grounded contemporaries. He is especially distinguished from his contemporary apologists for his literary excellence and sophisticated style, while in theology he maintains an Orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and a strict ascetic attitude in moral life.
The Apology, the date of which is fixed by internal evidence as 176 or 177, was not, as the title Embassy (presbeia) suggests, an oral defense of Christianity, but a carefully written plea for justice to the Christians made by a philosopher, on philosophical grounds, to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and his son Commodus (180-192), whom he flatters as conquerors, "but above all, philosophers". He first complains of the illogical and unjust discrimination against the Christians and of the calumnies they suffered, and then addresses the charge of atheism. It should be noted that a major complaint directed at the Christians of his day was that by not believing in the Roman gods, Christians were showing themselves to be atheists. He established the principle of monotheism, citing pagan poets and philosophers in support of the very doctrines for which Christians are condemned, and argues for the superiority of the Christian belief in God to that of pagans. This first strongly-reasoned argument for the unity of God in Christian literature is supplemented by an able exposition of the Trinity. Then, taking the defensive, he justifies the Christian abstention from worship of the national deities on grounds of its absurdity and indecency, quoting at length the pagan poets and philosophers in support of his contention. Finally, he addresses the charges of immorality by explaining the Christian ideal of purity, even in thought, and the inviolable sanctity of the marriage bond. The charge of cannibalism is refuted by showing the high regard for human life that leads the Christian to detest the crime of abortion.
The treatise on the Resurrection of the Body, the first complete exposition of the doctrine in Christian literature, was written later than the Apology, to which it may be considered an appendix. Athenagoras brings to the defense of the doctrine the best that contemporary philosophy could adduce. After addressing the objections common to his time, he demonstrates the possibility of a resurrection in view either of the power of the Creator, or of the nature of our bodies. To exercise such powers is neither unworthy of God nor unjust to other creatures. He shows that the nature and end of man demands a perpetuation of the life of body and soul.