phase of Platonism, however, was much more slowly adopted. The earlier apologists dispute the natural immortality of the soul; Athanasius himself, in De Incarnatione Dei, §§ 4, 5, tones down the teaching of Wisdom; and the somewhat eccentric writer Arnobius, a layman—from Justin Martyr downwards apologetics has always been largely in the hands of laymen—stands for what has recently been called “conditional immortality”—eternal life for the righteous, the children of God, alone.
Allied with this more empiricist stand-point is the assertion that Greek philosophy borrowed from Moses; but in studying the Fathers we constantly find that groundless assertion uttered in the same breath with the dominant Idealist view, according to which Greek philosophy was due to incomplete revelation from the divine Logos.
On purely defensive lines, early apologists rebut charges of cannibalism and sexual promiscuity; the Christians had to meet in secret, and the gossip of a rotten age drew malignant conclusions. They make counter attacks on polytheism as a folly and on the shamefulness of obscene myths. Here they are in line with non-Christian writers or culture-mockers like Lucian of Samosata; or graver spirits like Porphyry, who champions Neo-Platonism as a rival to Christianity, and does pioneer work in criticism by attacks on some of the Old Testament books. Turning to Christian evidence proper, we are struck with the continued prominence of the argument from prophecy. The Old Testament was an immense religious asset to the early church. Their enemies had nothing like it; and—the N.T. canon being as yet but half formed—the Old Testament was pushed into notice by dwelling on this imperfect “argument,” which grew more extravagant as the partial control exercised by Jewish learning disappeared. An argument from miracles is also urged, though with more reserve. Formally, every one in that age admitted the supernatural. The question was, whose supernatural? And how far did it carry you? Miracle could not be to a 3rd century writer what it was to W. Paley—a conclusive and well-nigh solitary proof. Other apologies are by Aristides (recently recovered in translation), Athenagoras (“elegant”), Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Alexandria; in Latin by Minucius Felix, Tertullian (a masculine spirit and phrase-coiner like T. Carlyle, if bitterer still), Lactantius Firmianus, &c., &c.
As Christianity wins the day, a new objection is raised to it. The age is full of troubles; Christianity is ruining the empire! Besides notices elsewhere, we find the charge specially dealt with by St Augustine and his friends. Paulus Orosius argues that the world has always been a vale of tears. Salvian contends that not the acceptance of Christianity, but the sins of the people are bringing trouble upon them; and he gives ugly evidence of the continued prevalence of vice. Most impressive of all was Augustine’s own contribution in The City of God. Powers created by worldliness and sin are crumbling, as they well may; “the city of God remaineth!” Whether he meant it so or not, the saint’s argument became a programme and an apologia for the imperializing of the Western Church under the leadership of Rome during the middle ages.
IV. Middle Ages.—From the point of view of apologetics, we may mass together the long stretch of history which covers the period between the disappearance and the re-appearance of free discussion. When emperors became converts, the church, so lately a victim and a pleader for liberty, readily learned to persecute. Under such conditions there is little scope for apologetics. Force kills argument and drives doubt below the smooth surface of a nominal conformity. But there were two influences beyond the bounds or beyond the power of the christianized empire. The Jew remained, as always, stubbornly unconvinced, and, as often, fond of slanders. Many of the principal medieval attempts in apologetics are directed chiefly against him, e.g. the Pugio Fidei of Raymond Martini (c. 1280), which became one of Pascal’s sources (see V. below), or Peter Abelard’s Dialogus inter Judaeum Philosophum et Christianum. And the Moslem came on the scenes bringing, as a gift for Christendom, fuller knowledge of classical, especially Aristotelian, texts. The Jews, less bitterly opposed to Mahommedanism than the Christians were, caught fire more rapidly, and in some cases served as an intermediate link or channel of communication. These two religions anticipated the discussion of the problem of faith and reason in the Christian church. According to the great Avicenna and Maimonides, faith and the highest reason are sure to coincide (see Arabian Philosophy). According to Ghazali, in his Destruction of Philosophers, the various schools of philosophy cancel each other; reason is bankrupt; faith is everything. (So nearly Jehuda Halevi.) According to Averroes, reason suffices, and faith, with (what he considers) its dreams of immortality and the like, is useful only for the ignorant masses. Christian theology, however, strikes out a line of its own. Moslems and Jews were applying Aristotelian philosophy to rigorously monotheistic faiths; Christianity had been encouraged by Platonism in teaching a trinity of divine persons, and Platonism of a certain order long dominated the middle ages as part of the Augustinian tradition. In sympathy with this Platonism, the medieval church began by assuming the entire mutual harmony of faith and reason. Such is the teaching, along different lines, alike of St Anselm and of Abelard. But, when increased knowledge of Aristotle’s texts (and of the commentaries) led to the victory of a supposed Aristotelianism over a supposed Platonism, Albertus Magnus, and his still more distinguished pupil Thomas Aquinas, mark certain doctrines as belonging to faith but not to reason. They adhere to the general position with exceptions (in the case of what had been considered Platonic doctrines). From the point of view of philosophy, this was a compromise. Faith and reason partly agree, partly diverge. The tendency of the later middle ages is to add to the number of the doctrines with which philosophy cannot deal. Thomas’s great rival, Duns Scotus, does this to a large extent, at times affirming “two truths.” The latter position, ascribed by the schoolmen to the Averroists, becomes dominant among the later Nominalists, William of Occam and his disciples, who withdraw all doctrines of faith from the sphere of reason. This was a second and a more audacious compromise. It is not exactly an attempt to base Christian faith on rational scepticism. It is a consistent policy of harbouring inconsistencies in the same mind. A statement may be true in philosophy and false in theology, or vice versa. To the standpoint of Aquinas, however, the Church of Rome (at least in regard to the basis of doctrine) has more and more returned. The councils of Trent and of the Vatican mark the Two Truths hypothesis as heretical, when they affirm that there is a natural knowledge of God and natural certainty of immortality. Along with this affirmation, the Church of Rome (if less decisively) has adopted the limitations of the Thomist theory by the condemnation of “Ontologism”; certain mysterious doctrines are beyond reason. This cautious compromise sanctioned by the Church does not represent the extremest reaction against nominalism. Even in the nominalistic epoch we have Raymond of Sabunde’s Natural Theology (according to the article in Herzog-Hauck, not the title of the oldest Paris MS., but found in later MSS. and almost all the printed editions) or Liber Creaturarum (c. 1435). The book is not what moderns (schooled unconsciously in post-Reformation developments of Thomist ideas) expect under the name of natural theology. It is an attempt once more to demonstrate all scholastic dogmas out of the book of creation or on principles of natural reason. At many points it follows Anselm closely, and, of course, very often “makes light work” of its task.
The Thomist compromise—or even the more sceptical view of “two truths”—has the merit of giving filling of a kind to the formula “supernatural revelation”—mysteries inaccessible to reason, beyond discovery and beyond comprehension. According to earlier views—repeatedly revived in Protestantism—revelation is just philosophy over again. Can the choice be
- While these writings are of great historical value, they do not, of course, represent the Christian argument as conceived to-day. The Church of Rome prefers medieval or modern statements of its position; Protestantism can use only modern statements.