Athenagoras is a virtually unknown apologist. He is not even mentioned in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History , which preserves more of early Christian history than any other work. Available wherever books are sold! Among us you will find uneducated persons, craftsmen, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds they exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth. They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.
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Early Christian Fathers — Cyril C. In your Empire, Your Most Excellent Majesties, different peoples observe different laws and customs; and no one is hindered by law or fear of punishment from devotion to his ancestral ways, even if they are ridiculous. A citizen of Troy calls Hector a god, and worships Helen, taking her for Adrasteia. The Athenian sacrifices to Erechtheus as Poseidon. The Athenians also perform religious rites and celebrate mysteries in honor of Agraulus and Pandrosus, whom they imagine guilty of impiety for opening the box.
And to all these cults both you and the laws grant toleration. For you think it impious and wicked to believe in no god at all; and you hold it necessary for everyone to worship the gods he pleases, so that they may be kept from wrongdoing by fear of the divine.
But names do not deserve to be hated. It is wrongdoing which merits penalty and punishment. The cities, according to their rank, share in equal honor, and the whole Empire through your wisdom enjoys profound peace. But you have not cared for us who are called Christians in this way. Although we do no wrong, but, as we shall show, are of all men most religiously and rightly disposed toward God and your Empire, you allow us to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted, the mob making war on us only because of our name.
We venture, therefore, to state our case before you. From what we have to say you will gather that we suffer unjustly and contrary to all law and reason. Hence we ask you to devise some measures to prevent our being the victims of false accusers.
The injury we suffer from our persecutors does not concern our property or our civil rights or anything of less importance. For we hold these things in contempt, although they appear weighty to the crowd. We have learned not only not to return blow for blow, nor to sue those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one cheek to offer the other also, and to those who take away our coat to give our overcoat as well. But when we have given up our property, they plot against our bodies and souls, pouring upon us a multitude of accusations which have not the slightest foundation, but which are the stock in trade of gossips and the like.
If, indeed, anyone can convict us of wrongdoing, be it trifling or more serious, we do not beg off punishment, but are prepared to pay the penalty however cruel and unpitying. But if the accusation goes no farther than a name -- and it is clear that up to today the tales about us rest only on popular and uncritical rumor, and not a single Christian has been convicted of wrongdoing -- it is your duty, illustrious, kind, and most learned Emperors, to relieve us of these calumnies by law.
Thus, as the whole world, both individuals and cities, shares your kindness, we too may be grateful to you, rejoicing that we have ceased to be defamed. It does not befit your sense of justice that others, accused of wrongdoing, are not punished before they have been convicted, while with us the mere name is of more weight than legal proof. Our judges, moreover, do not inquire if the accused has committed any wrong, but let loose against the name as if it were a crime.
But no name in and of itself is good or bad. It is by reason of the wicked or good actions associated with names that they are bad or good. You know all that better than anyone, seeing you are versed in philosophy and thoroughly cultured.
That is why those who are tried before you, though arraigned on the most serious charges, take courage. For they know that you will examine their life and not be influenced by names if they mean nothing, or by accusations if they are false. Hence they receive a sentence of condemnation on a par with one of acquittal. We claim for ourselves, therefore, the same treatment as others.
We should not be hated and punished because we are called Christians, for what has a name to do with our being criminals? Rather should we be tried on charges brought against us, and either acquitted on our disproving them or punished on our being convicted as wicked men, not because of a name for no Christian is wicked unless he is a hypocrite , but because of a crime. It is in this way, we know, that philosophers are judged. None of them before the trial is viewed by the judge as good or bad because of his system or profession, but he is punished if he is found guilty.
No stigma attaches to philosophy on that account, for he is a bad man for not being a philosopher lawfully, and philosophy is not responsible.
On the other hand, he is acquitted if he disproves the charges. Let the same procedure be used in our case. Let the life of those who are accused be examined, and let the name be free from all reproach. I must at the outset of my defense beg you, illustrious Emperors, to hear me impartially.
Do not prejudge the case through being influenced by popular and unfounded rumor, but apply your love of learning and of truth to our cause. Thus you will not be led astray through ignorance, and we, disproving the uncritical rumors of the crowd, shall cease to be persecuted. Statement of the Charges 3. Three charges are brought against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts,  and Oedipean intercourse.
Beasts, indeed, do not attack their own kind. Nor for mere wantonness do they have intercourse, but by nature's law and only at the season of procreation.
They recognize, too, those who come to their aid. If, then, anyone is more savage than brutes, what punishment shall we not think it fitting for him to suffer for such crimes? But if these charges are inventions and unfounded slanders, they arise from the fact that it is natural for vice to oppose virtue and it is in accord with God's law for contraries to war against each other.
You yourselves, moreover, are witness to the fact that we are guilty of none of these things, since it is only the confession of a name that you forbid. It remains for you, then, to examine our lives and teachings, our loyalty and obedience to you, to your house, and to the Empire. By doing so you will concede to us no more than you grant to our persecutors.
And we shall triumph over them, giving up our very lives for the truth without any hesitation. Reply to the Charge of Atheism 4. We are of course not atheists I will meet the charges one by one -- and I hope it does not sound too silly to answer such an allegation. Rightly, indeed, did the Athenians accuse Diagoras  of atheism, since he not only divulged the Orphic doctrine as well as the mysteries of Eleusis and of the Cabiri and chopped up a statue of Heracles to boil his turnips, but he proclaimed outrightly that God simply did not exist.
In our case, however, is it not mad to charge us with atheism, when we distinguish God from matter, and show that matter is one thing and God another, and that there is a vast difference between them?
For the divine is uncreated and eternal, grasped only by pure mind and intelligence, while matter is created and perishable.
If we shared the views of Diagoras when we have so many good reasons to adore God -- the order, harmony, greatness, color, form, and arrangement of the world -- we should rightly be charged with impiety and there would be due cause to persecute us. But since our teaching affirms one God who made the universe, being himself uncreated for what exists does not come into being, only what does not exist , and who made all things through his Word, on two scores, then, we are treated unreasonably -- by being slandered and by being persecuted.
What Poets and Philosophers Have Taught 5. The poets and philosophers have not been viewed as atheists because they speculated about God. In connection with those whom popular opinion ignorantly calls gods, Euripides expresses his embarrassment thus: "If Zeus dwells in heaven He should not deal out misfortunes. Consider him Zeus: regard him as God. But the latter God he recognized from his works, understanding that what is seen points to what is invisible. Him, then, who is the source of creation and who governs it by his Spirit, he grasped was God.
And Sophocles agrees with him, saying: "In truth there is one God, one alone, Who made the heaven and the wide earth. Philolaus too, when he says that everything is enclosed by God as in a prison, teaches his unity and his superiority over matter. Lysis and Opsimus  define God thus: the former says he is an ineffable number, the latter that he is the difference between the greatest number and the one below it.
Since, then, according to the Pythagoreans, the greatest number is ten, that is, the tetractys which contains all the relations of arithmetic and harmony,  and the number next to it is nine, God is a unit, that is, one.
For the greatest number exceeds that next to it by one. And now regarding Plato and Aristotle. But first let me note that in going through what the philosophers have said about God, I do not intend to give a full review of their opinions. For I know that as you excel all men in intelligence and imperial power, so you surpass all in your grasp of every branch of learning, mastering them all with more success than those who devote themselves exclusively to one.
But as it is impossible without mentioning names to show that we are not alone in limiting the number of the gods to one, I shall rely on collections of maxims. This is what Plato says: "To discover the creator and father of the universe is difficult, and when you have discovered him it is impossible to tell everybody about him.
And if he recognizes other gods, such as the sun, the moon, and the stars, he recognizes them as created, saying: "Gods that are sons of gods, I am their creator. I am the father of works which are indissoluble only so far as I will it, for all things which are composed are corruptible.
Aristotle and his followers introduce a single principle, a sort of compound being, composed of body and soul, and say that he is God. They imagine that his body is the ether, the planets, and the sphere of the fixed stars that are propelled in circles. His soul, on the other hand, is the principle whereby the body is set in motion.
Though itself unmoved, the soul becomes the cause of the body's moving. The Stoics, too, actually think God is one, though they multiply names for the divine by the terms they use for the variations of matter, which they say is permeated by God's spirit. For if God is a creative fire, methodically fashioning the world and embracing in himself all the seminal principles by which each thing is produced in accordance with fate, and if his Spirit pervades the universe, then in their doctrine he is one.
He is called Zeus with regard to the fervid part of matter, and Hera with regard to the air; while his other titles similarly refer to each special part of matter which he pervades. All philosophers, then, even if unwillingly, reach complete agreement about the unity of God when they come to inquire into the first principles of the universe. We too affirm that he who arranged this universe is God.
Why, therefore, are they allowed to speak and write freely about God as they wish, while against us, who can adduce true proofs and reasons for our idea and right conviction of the unity of God, a law is put in force? Here as elsewhere the poets and philosophers have proceeded by conjecture.
They were driven each by his own soul and through a sympathy with the divine spirit to see if it were possible to find out and to comprehend the truth. They were able, indeed, to get some notions of reality, but not to find it, since they did not deign to learn about God from God, but each one from himself. For this reason they taught conflicting doctrines about God, matter, forms, and the world. We, on the contrary, as witnesses of what we think and believe, have prophets who have spoken by the divine Spirit about God and the things of God.
And you, who excel others in intelligence and in devotion to the true God, would surely admit that we should be acting unreasonably were we to abandon our belief in God's Spirit, which moved the mouths of the prophets like instruments, and to cling to human opinions.
Rational Proof for God's Unity 8. To grasp the rational basis of our faith, that from the beginning there was one God who made this universe, look at the matter thus. If there were originally two or more gods, they would share in one and the same being or else each would have an independent being. But for them to share in one and the same being is impossible, since, if they shared the same godhead, they would be alike; but because gods are uncreated they cannot be alike.
For it is created things which resemble their patterns, but uncreated things are dissimilar, as they are not created by anyone or for anyone.
A Plea for the Christians
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Athenagoras Pleads for Christians
In his writings he styles himself as "Athenagoras, the Athenian, Philosopher, and Christian". There is some evidence that he was a Platonist before his conversion, but this is not certain. Athenagoras' feast day is observed on 24 July in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Although his work appears to have been well-known and influential, mention of him by other early Christian apologists, notably in the extensive writings of Eusebius , is strangely absent. It may be that his treatises, circulating anonymously, were for a time considered as the work of another apologist, or there may have been other circumstances now lost.