The Early Christian Apologists–Aristides


Marcianus Aristides was a second century Christian apologist, who addressed his work to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161).  He begins his address by stating that in his contemplation of the orderly creation he has concluded that the hidden God stands behind all that is moved.  He decided to investigate this Mover without the pretense of attempting to understand fully God’s nature which, in any case, is not fully comprehensible.  God is complete in that he has no deficiency and no need and is without beginning or end.  In the apologist’s description of Christianity he blames the Jews for Christ’s death, but not the Romans.  This approach makes sense since he is addressing his letter to the Roman emperor.

Aristides asserts that there are four races of men on earth: Barbarians and Greeks; Jews and Christians.  It is interesting that in the first instance he divides the people of the world, as the Greeks did, into Barbarians and Greeks and on a more limited scale divides Jews and Christians, unlike Paul’s division of Jews and Gentiles that actually encompasses all the people of the world  Then, he goes on to describe the religion of the four groups.

Aristides begins with the Barbarians whom he criticizes for worshipping created things.  The Greeks are no better.  Both Barbarian and Greek believe that their gods are needy.  Aristides asks, how can a god with needs help us needy human beings?  God is not needy, but serves the human race in our need. The pagans reflect the immoral practices of the gods with their own immorality. The Jews are close to the truth, for they believe in one God rather than the things that He has made, but they are at fault; for, they serve angels, as reflected in their observances such as the sabbath, circumcision, and the cleanness of meat.  Aristides then turns to the Christians who manifest high ethical standards and are solicitous of the needs of others.

Christians worship the one true God and reflect their loyalty to Him in moral practice.  In our witness we are called to a higher moral practice than exists around us.  Our witness is compromised when we morally fail.  It is true that we are sinners and will fail; but, at the same time, we must be committed to the higher moral life.  We are not to make excuse for unethical behavior, and we must show that the Christian life is one of daily repentance for sins of omission and commission.

As in the ancient world our secular society exhibits much immorality and subscribes to it.  We must stand for a different way, the way of Christ.  Though this is not easy, it is essential.  For us sinners Christ opens up a life of repentance and restoration of our relationship with Him until we enter the Kingdom of God after death.  We must hold up this hope to those to whom we witness.  Our demeanor is part of what is delivered to another in our witness.  To act obnoxiously and carelessly is to demean the witness.  Our witness is to be strong but gentle.  Is this possible?


Michael Tavella

November 4, 2021

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