Ancient sources for the attack of second and third century Graeco-Roman intellectuals on Christianity are, in the main, only extant through the works of Christian writers. Analysing the grounds for their polemics and the Christian response must be seen in light of this fact. Second century intellectual Celsus’ work, True Doctrine, as seen through Christian apologist Origen’s Contra Celsus stands out, as it contains the most cogent and systematic case against the Christians. Celsus’ familiarity with the Christian scriptures and their origin allows him to target a variety of salient arguments, both theologically and historically, in his critical assessment of Christianity. Celsus retains a strong political awareness of the dangers of this new religion to the Empire, which is not traditionally aligned with any race or territory. Celsus discredits Christianity’s claim to Jewish roots.
Examination of the language and concepts employed by both Graeco-Roman pagan intellectuals and the Christian apologists sees a shared provenance in the ideas of Plato. This makes sense when consideration of the fact, that many of the Christian writers were educated in the Graeco-Roman schools of philosophy before converting to Christianity, is taken into account. Neo-Platonism is developing at this time through the ideas of intellectuals like Plotinus and Porphyry. The zeitgeist of the age is turning away from the old pagan stories of the Gods and Christianity is presenting fresh new conceptions. Syncretism is occurring between the metaphysical ideas of Neo-Platonism and nascent Christianity; Christianity subsumes these concepts through the writings of Athenagoras, Origen and others of a similar ilk.
Christian apologists ridiculed belief in the Greek Gods and condemned the barbarity of animal sacrifice. They question the pax deorum foundations upon which they are being persecuted by the Roman state. Martyrdom becomes an unquenchable fire, inspiring the populace and...