Compendium of Church History - Notre Dame

Second Century
The Christian Apologists

Besides the attacks made on the Church by persecution, many of the pagans tried to shake the faith of the Christians by writing against Catholic teaching, and accused the Faithful of crimes which they had never committed. Thus the Christians were held up as Atheists, because they would not adore the false gods of the Romans; they were also accused of being enemies of the state, and disloyal to the Emperor.

But God raised up many learned and holy men who, by their teaching, and especially by their writings, defended the Church against these dangerous attacks.

Principal Apologists

St. Justin.
St. Justin was surnamed the Philosopher, because he had passed many years in the schools of pagan philosophy, seeking in vain for that truth which he finally discovered in the Christian Church. A.D. 150, he went to Rome and opened a school of theology. St. Justin wrote two "Apologies." The first was to the Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius, and his senate. His letter was favorably received by the Emperor, who granted his request that the Christians were to be punished only for crime, and not because they were Christians. His second "Apology" was written to Marcus Aurelius, who answered it by causing St. Justin to be martyred, A.D. 166.

St. Irenaeus.
St. Irenaeus, a disciple of St. Polycarp, was Bishop of Lyons. He wrote a refutation of the heresies of the time, and said they could all be condemned by the tradition of the Church, established in Rome by the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. He sealed his faith with his blood in the year 202.

Tertullian, born at Carthage, A.D. 160, was the earliest defender of the faith who wrote in Latin. First a lawyer, and afterwards ordained priest, he was a man of persuasive eloquence, great ability, and varied, deep, and solid knowledge. With talent and energy he defended Christianity against the attacks of pagans, Jews, and heretics. Unhappily, for want of true humility, this otherwise faultless man fell later into the error of the Montanists. He died about the year 220, but it is feared that he was never reconciled to the Church.

Origen was the son of Leonidas, who lived in Alexandria. When his father was martyred, Origen burned with a desire to lay down his life for Christ, but his mother hid his clothes so that he could not go out to declare himself a Christian. On account of his indefatigable industry he was called "adamantus, the man of iron." In his eighteenth year he succeeded Clement in the professor's chair at Alexandria, and notwithstanding some errors, won for himself immortal fame by maintaining the purity and explaining the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.

His "Apology for the Christian Religion" is specially directed against the calumnies of Celsus, a pagan philosopher. He wrote the "Hexapla," which contained in six parallel columns different versions of the Old Testament. He died from the effects of imprisonment and torture for the Faith, under Emperor Decius, about the middle of the third century.

Founding and Growth of the Church in Asia

All the Apostles except St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Andrew, and St. Simon remained in Asia. A rich harvest sprang up here from the seed sown by Christ and His Apostles. Antioch, Tyre, Ephesus, Smyrna, Sebaste, Seleucia, and Bostra became flourishing gardens in the vineyard of the Lord during the first three centuries.

But soon the dark night of infidelity enveloped the continent, and these Eastern nations, gradually forgetting that they were deeply indebted to the Gospel of Christ, cultivated pride of intellect and rebellion of heart and began to look upon the maxims of Christianity as an intolerable burden. Then came the visitation of Divine justice on these ungrateful people, and they received their death-stroke from the hand of Mohammed.

Founding and Growth of the Church in Africa

It is not known who founded the Church in Africa, but it is certain that St. Mark the Evangelist was the first bishop of the magnificent city of Alexandria, in Egypt. The Faith spread rapidly, and soon all the north of Africa was filled with Christians. The Church made such rapid progress in Egypt that about the year 30o there were more than one hundred bishops in the land.

The Faith having been carried from Rome into the northwestern portions of Africa, Carthage here became the center of Catholicity. Tertullian said to the pagans as early as the year 200: "We Christians are but of yesterday, yet we occupy all the places once filled by you. . . . We constitute the majority in every city." In the year 429 the invasions of the Vandals caused a great loss to the Church, and in the seventh century Mohammedanism invaded the north of Africa and buried the once flourishing African Church.

Founding and Growth of the Church in Europe

1. Rome is the center of Christianity. Here the infant Church, baptized in the blood of the twin Aposties, Peter and Paul, grew so rapidly that in the third century she counted one hundred and fifty priests besides her Chief Bishop.

2. Spain claims St. James the Greater as its first Apostle.

3. France received the faith from the disciples of Our Lord. Some Christian emigrants from Asia Minor founded the Church at Lyons, about the year 150. The infant Church in France was threatened with destruction during the great and violent incursions of the Franks; but the Lord protected and saved her by the conversion of Clovis.

4. England was early converted to the Faith, and tradition mentions a Christian king about the year 180.

Heresies of the Second Century

The Gnostics opposed the teachings of the Church on Creation. They maintained that the material composing the earth had, like God Himself, existed from all eternity; that an evil spirit took possession of chap i matter and formed the world; that the material was in itself evil.

The system of morality of the heretics was very aus rt , Duttthe lives of most of them were dishonest and vicious. The chief leaders of the Gnostics were Cerinthus, Marcion, and Manes.

The Montanists were founded by Montanus about A.D. 173. He claimed to be a prophet of Christ. He denied the power to forgive all mortal sin, and the cooperation of the Holy Ghost in the work of Christ. Tertullian was led into this heresy.

Persecutions of the Second Century

There were violent persecutions against the Church during this century under the Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius. During these persecutions the Christians found refuge in the Catacombs. These were underground labyrinths excavated in the soft tufa on which the city of Rome was built. At first the Catacombs were used as burial places, but later were turned into chapels, where the Faithful met for Holy Mass.