Ante-Nicene Christian Library/Writings of Athenagoras



IT is one of the most singular facts in early ecclesiastical history, that the name of Athenagoras is scarcely ever mentioned. Only two references to him and his writings have been discovered. One of these occurs in the work of Methodius, On the Resurrection of the Body, as preserved by Epiphanius (Hær. lxiv.), and Photius (Biblioth. ccxxxiv.). The other notice of him is found in the writings[1] of Philip of Side, in Pamphylia, who flourished in the early part of the fifth century. It is very remarkable that Eusebius should have been altogether silent regarding him; and that writings, so elegant and powerful as are those which still exist under his name, should have been allowed in early times to sink into almost entire oblivion.

We know with certainty regarding Athenagoras, that he was an Athenian philosopher who had embraced Christianity, and that his Apology, or, as he styles it, "Embassy" (πρεσβεία), was presented to the Emperors Aurelius and Commodus about A.D. 177. He is supposed to have written a considerable number of works, but the only other production of his extant is his treatise on the Resurrection. It is probable that this work was composed somewhat later than the Apology (see chap. xxxvi.), though its exact date cannot be determined. Philip of Side also states that he preceded Pantænus as head of the catechetical school at Alexandria; but this is probably incorrect, and is contradicted by Eusebius. A more interesting and perhaps well-founded statement is made by the same writer respecting Athenagoras, to the effect that he was won over to Christianity while reading the Scriptures in order to controvert them. Both his Apology and his treatise on the Resurrection display a practised pen and a richly cultured mind. He is by far the most elegant, and certainly at the same time one of the ablest, of the early Christian Apologists.

  1. The fragment in which the notice occurs was extracted from the works of Philip by some unknown writer. It is published as an appendix to Dodwell's Dissertationes in Irenæum

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.