The first third of the course will focus
on apologetic works written
during the age when Christianity was illegal and in which Christians,
on occasion, were persecuted without mercy. The apologists of this
period were both defending Christianity against pagan accusations and
trying to convince others to share their faith.
The second third of this class will focus
on apologetics during
Middle Ages and the Reformation. The Middle Ages is often called the
Age of Faith: certainly a good description. However, it was anything
but an era of blind faith. Medieval thinkers were willing to
every aspect of their faith, trying (for the most part) to combine
faith and reason. The great Reformation thinkers (both Catholic
Protestant) likewise looked to reason in defense of their various
versions of the Christian faith.
your understanding of important class themes by writing an essay of
words that addresses one (1) of the following prompts.
1. “What has Athens to do with
Jerusalem?” asked Tertullian,
suggesting that the opinions of the philosophers are nothing compared
with the wisdom of sacred scripture. But the works of the
apologists of the first few Christian centuries (including the works of
Tertullian himself) reflect an impressive mastery of pagan
philosophy. Discuss the ways in which the apologists of this
period use the works/ideas of the philosophers to defend their
faith. Which seems most successful in blending philosophy and
2. Some early Christians regarded
Socrates as a “Christian before
Christ.” Compare Socrates’ Apology with one or more of the early
Christian apologetic works. How is Socrates’s defense similar to
the arguments made by people like Justin, Athenegoras, Theophilus,
Tertullian, Origen or Eusebius? How is it different?
3. “I believe that I might
understand” said St. Anselm, implying
that, in order to use reason/philosophy effectively, one had to have
the right heart-attitudes. Discuss the ways in which the
apologists of the ancient and/or medieval periods tried to balance head
and heart. Which, if any, seems to you most successful?
4. “Philosophy is the handmaiden of
theology” said Thomas
Aquinas. To what extent did the medieval apologists find philosophy a
useful handmaiden? To what extent did the handmaiden threaten to
usurp the position of the legitimate “wife”?
5. Some literary works are valuable
only within a limited
historical context. Others (like Thucydides’ History of the
Peloponnesian War) are “works for the ages.” Of the apologetic
works we have read so far, which would seem most relevant to today’s
readers? Which seem more of purely historic interest? Which, if
any, are “works for the ages”?
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