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Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 11 months ago

by Jason Pitzl-Waters


Pagan apologetics is a field of study concerned with the systematic defense of Paganism both ancient and modern. Before the existence of Christianity, most instances of apologetics were in defense of individual concepts, people, or movements. Perhaps the most famous pre-Christian example of apologetics would be Plato's "(The) Apology (of Socrates)" in which Socrates defends himself against charges of atheism and corrupting the young. The term apologetics became tied to the defense of religion (specifically Christianity) when literate Christians sought to defend their young and fragile faith in the Roman Empire. Paul of Tarsus is most likely the first Christian apologist.


Pagan Apologetics in the Ancient World


As Christianity started to gain political clout and power in the Roman Empire, and after the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, we start to see the first stirrings of apologetics defending Roman/Hellenic paganism and critiquing the "atheistic" Christian religion. Some of the most notable pagan apologists from this time include the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, the 2nd centrury writer Celsus, the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry, the Sophist Libanius (a contemporary of Julian), and the 4th century writer Eunapius. Perhaps the most famous opponent of Christianity and supporter of ancient paganisms from the times after Constantine was the Emperor Julian (aka "The Apostate"), who tried to reverse the spread of Christianity and re-establish (and revitalize) paganism as the religion of the Empire. As those who wrote apologetics in defense of paganism continued to operate in an ascendant Christian Empire they relied more often on Christian language to reach an audience, but this tactic was doomed to failure as USC Professor of Classics and History Clifford Ando writes in his article "Pagan Apologetics and Christian Intolerance in the Ages of Themistius and Augustine".



"Herein lies, too, the root of the failure of pagan apologetics, no matter how carefully its practitioners imitated their Christian models. In his denunciation of pagan monotheists, Lactantius no less than Augustine in his remarks on Platonic theology and theological vocabulary, shows himself aware of the seductive power of apologetic: to the unwary the invocation of "themes and language already familiar" could mask the profound differences between sides which, by the end of the fourth century, had grown too much like each other. "They are only words," Augustine might caution: "We must attend to the reality itself." On that level pagan apologetics was condemned to be as much of a failure in appealing to Christians as Christian apologetic had been in its day, for the Christian faith was a package, and it came with a manual: God's "self-revelation of himself to one particular and peculiar people in the Old Testament, and the union of God and man in Christ" and the texts which that event generated, "reduced all other modes of divine presence in the world . . . to religious irrelevance." A pagan could no more satisfy a Christian by imitating the most familiar catch-phrases of popular theological speculation, than a Christian could properly introduce Christianity by marketing it as a branch of philosophy."


After this period apologetic writings by ancient pagans all but dry up as religious paganism wanes and Christianity becomes utterly dominant in Roman society. It will take until the Renaissance period of history before we see signs of a slow reawakening towards a rebirth of pagan religion and pagan apologetics.


The Renaissance


Though it would be hard to classify writers from this period as apologists for paganism, it is in the Renaissance period that we begin to see a reappraisal of pagan ideas, images, and writing. It can be seen in the writings of the poet Dante who so loved the pagan philosophers and poets that he couldn't abide them burning in hell and so created a special "Limbo" for them to live in his "Divine Comedy". The humanist and poet Petrarch who translated and recovered Greek and Roman writings of the pre-Christian era and called the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Rennaissance the "Dark Ages". Petrarch had harsh words for those who let pre-Christian wisdom slip away during that period.



"Each famous author of antiquity whom I recover places a new offence and another cause of dishonor to the charge of earlier generations, who, not satisfied with their own disgraceful barrenness, permitted the fruit of other minds, and the writings that their ancestors had produced by toil and application, to perish through insufferable neglect. Although they had nothing of their own to hand down to those who were to come after, they robbed posterity of its ancestral heritage."


Petrarch is considered the inspiration of modern humanist philosophy, and his influence on saving and restoring ancient writings helped make later flowerings of modern Paganism possible. In general, the Renaissance sees a flowering of art and culture that takes away much of the stigma of the pre-Christian past. Pagan mythological symbols and figures would weigh heavily in the minds of artists, writers, and philosophers from this era, and as the later Romantic movements bloom you can see the influence from this period in the various pro-pagan writings that would surface. The cumulative humanism and art of the Renaissance would in a way become a giant apologetic for the religious cultures replaced by Christianity.


Pagan Apologetics in the 18th and 19th Centuries


The Pre-Romantic Era and Paganism


It is in the 18th century that we begin to see figures and movements emerge who will pre-figure both the Romantic period of the 19th century and the modern Paganisms of the 20th. The increased interest in mysticism, pre-Christian ideas, and an attempted rehabilitation of pagan ideas through equation with Christianity all helped produce fertile soil for pagan apologetics. One key figure was Iolo Morganwg, who created a neo-Druidic lore and helped spur a new interest in all things "Celtic".


Romanticism and Paganism


Modern Pagan Apologetics


***this section coming soon***



Pagan Apologetic Works




"Against the Galileans" by Julian the Hellene


Comments (3)

Anonymous said

at 2:35 pm on Oct 14, 2006

Excellent article :)

Anonymous said

at 10:58 pm on Oct 21, 2006

Thanks! I still have aways to go yet.

C. Lee Vermeers said

at 4:43 am on Mar 4, 2009

i hope that you can get to it soon. it's very good, so far as it goes.

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