ARISTIDES (’Αριστειδης)—an Athenian philosopher, an early Christian apologist, b. in the second century AD. His Apology for the Christian Faith is the oldest completely preserved work of this kind. It was first known by references by Eusebius of Caesarea (HE IV, III, 3, 1 f.) who stated that is was widely circulated among Christians.
Aristides dedicated the apology to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (reign 117–138) at a time when he ruled in Athens in the year 126. Others think that the letter was written in the reign of Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius (138–161). For centuries it was thought that the Apology was lost, but in 1889 J. Rendel Harris of Cambridge found a Syrian version in the Convent of St. Catharine on Mount Sinai and translated it into English. J. A. Robinson discovered that the entire Apology in Greek (with a few abbreviated passages and changes) is contained in a medieval Christian legend, The Life of Barlaam and Josaphat which was ascribed to John Damascene.
The beginning of the Apology was written from the perspective of pagan philosophy. It begins with a discussion of harmony and order in creatures and their harmony with the Divine Being who is responsible for creating the universe and sustaining it in existence. Aristides argues that such a being must be eternal, perfect, immortal, omniscient, and self-sufficient, and moreover he is the Father of mankind. Next, Aristides divides mankind before the time of Christ into three categories with respect to their idea of God and religious beliefs. According to him all of them were inadequate and all contained internal contradictions: the religion of the barbarians (including the Babylonians and Egyptians) because of their worship of the universe, elements, and animals; the Greek religion because of their worship of anthropomorphic gods whose dishonesty destroyed their divinity and made them similar to mortal men; the Jews, who with their ideal of monotheism deserved respect on account of their faith in the Creator, with their excellent prophets, higher standards of morality and social awareness, yet who erred in the matter of piety when they looked more to angels than to the Creator because of their dedication to external ceremonies.
According to Aristides, only the “new people”—the Christians—possess the true idea of God, who created everything through the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Christian worship rendered to God is manifested in a higher moral life based on Christ’s teaching, from whom they await the resurrection and future life. The apologist emphasized the sublime mission of the new religion and the charitable work of Christian communities. He stated that Christians, although few, justify the continuous existence and salvation of the world by interceding before God. Aristides’ argumentation is elevated in tone. The reasonableness of Christianity is shown rather by an appeal to facts about Christian life than by subtle argumentation. Aristides concentrated more upon Christianity’s superiority over other religions and the sanctity of the life of Christians than upon refuting objections.
Aristides also analyzed the nature of the elements of the world and argued that they could be God for the following reasons: the heavens and the entire cosmos are moved by necessity and require a creator. Furthermore, they had a beginning and will have an end. The earth is abused by human beings, trampled by men and beasts, burnt with fire, and from the ashes nothing living can arise. The earth is sometimes flooded and washed away by rain with its fruits, or stained with innocent blood, and it is a grave for corpses. These cannot be divine attributes.
Nor is man God, since he is subject to various necessities, e.g., he grows and ages whether or not he so wishes. He is subject to desire, jealousy, weakness, and diseases. He can be destroyed by the elements and by animals.
E. Hennecke, Die Apologie des Aristides, L 1893; R. Seeberg, Der Apologet Aristides, Erlangen 1894; J. Geffcken, Zwei grischische Apologeten, L 1907; E. J. Goodspeed, Die Ältesten Apologeten, Gö 1914; B. Wilamowski, Apologia Arystydesa [Aristides’ Apology], Kwartalnik Teologiczny Wileński [Theological Quarterly of Wilno] (1923–1924) n. 1, 424–484; B. Altaner, A. Stuiber, Patrologie, Fr 19502, 19775 (Patrologia, Wwa 1990); R. Vona, Aristides, R 1950; Gilon HFS (passim); J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Lo 1958, 19775 (Początki doktryny chrześciańskiej [Beginnings of Christian doctrine], Wwa 1988); A. Bober, Światło ekumeny. Antologia patrystyczna [The light of ecumenism. Patristic anthology], Wwa 1975–1982, 87–91; F. Drączkowski, Patrologia, Lb 1999.