Aristides the Athenian (also Saint Aristides or Marcianus Aristides) was a second century Greek Christian author who is primarily known as the author of the Apology of Aristides. His feast day is August 31 in Roman Catholicism.
Very little is known of Aristides, except for the introductory information given by Eusebius of Caesarea and Saint Jerome. In their works, they wrote Aristides practiced philosophy in Athens, where he lived, prior to and after his conversion to Christianity. Eusebius claimed in his Ecclesiastical History "Aristides also, a faithful disciple of our religion, has left an Apology of the faith dedicated to Hadrian. Eusebius and Jerome both claim the apology was given to Hadrian at the same time Quadratus delivered his own apology. This theory suggests Aristides gave his apology during Hadrian's reign (117-138) as emperor of Rome; which supports the theory of Aristides' death between the years 133-134. However, recent research suggests the apology was only given to emperor Antoninus Pius in the year 140, disproving a death in 133-134. It has been suggested Eusebius was mistaken with the adopted name of Hadrianus by Antoninus Pius (Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius) and believed it was Hadrian who the Apology was given to. It has also been suggested Jerome had never read the Apology and copied Eusebius' mistake accidently. Aristides the Athenian philosopher should not be confused with the Aristides, the Athenian soldier and statesman.
In 1878, an Armenian fragment of an apology titled To Emperor Hadrian Caesar from the Athenian Philosopher Aristides was published by the Mechitarists of San Lazzaro in Venice from a tenth century manuscript. The Armenian translation was accepted by most scholars as the long lost Apology of Aristides; however, few did disputed its authenticity, most notably Ernest Renan. In 1889, the authenticity of the fragment was proven to be real with the discovery of a complete Syriac translation of the Apology by American scholar Rendel Harris in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. With this new discovery, J. A. Robinson was able to show Aristides' work had been in fact extant and edited in the religious book The Life of Barlaam and Josaphat since the seventh century. Another fragment of the Apology containing two portions of original text in Greek was published in 1922 by the British Museum on papyri. The Apology of Aristides is the oldest extant Christian apology since only a fragment of the older apology of Quadratus exists.
In the 1889 Syriac translation, Aristides begins his apology by stating his name, where he is from and that he is delivering it to Antoninus Pius. In the first chapter, he proclaims God exists because the world exists and that God is "eternal, impassible and perfect. In the second chapter, he writes there are four races of the world; (1) Barbarians, (2) Greeks (includes Egyptians and Chaldeans), (3) Jews, and (4) Christians. He then devotes chapters 3-16 to describing the different groups of people and how they practice religion. The Barbarians (ch. 3-7) worship dead warriors and the elements of the Earth, which he claims are the works of God, therefore they do not know who the true God is. The Greeks (ch. 8-13) are next because:
they are wiser than the Barbarians but have erred even more than the Barbarians, in that they have introduced many gods that are made; and some of them they have represented as male and some of them as female; and in such a way that some of their gods were found to be adulterers and murderers, and jealous and envious, and angry and passionate, and murderers of fathers, and thieves and plunderers.In other words, Aristides is calling the Greek gods corrupt, immoral and guilty of being human. He concludes his chapters on the Greeks by commenting on the religious beliefs of the Egyptians, who he claims is the most ignorant people on earth since they did not accept the beliefs of the Greeks or Chaldeans and instead worshiped gods modeled after plants and animals. The Jews (ch. 14) are only commented on in a concise manner. Aristides commends them for their worship of God as the Creator and almighty but claims they have gone "astray" because "their service is to angels and not to God, in that they observe sabbaths and new moons and the passover and the great fast, and the fast, and circumcision, and cleanness of meats: which things not even thus have they perfectly observed." In chapters 15 and 16, Aristides describes the commandments of God and claims Christians "walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another." He explains "they ask from Him petitions which are proper for Him to give and for them to receive: and thus they accomplish the course of their lives. He concludes the Apology in chapter 17 by requesting the emperor stop persecuting the Christians and convert to their faith; where he ends with a nice description of the Christian life.
It has been suggested Aristides is the author of the Epistle to Diognetus. This theory is supported by similar writing styles, descriptions of Christian, the treatment of Jews, as well as other similarities. Abbé H. Doulcet was primarily the leading voice of this theory in the late nineteenth century. The Epistle to Diognetus has been credited to Saint Justin Martyr but without any sufficient evidence. Aristides is also credited with a sermon on Luke 23:43.
Aristides is the second Greek Christian apologetic of the second century. His writing style and thesis are very similar to the likes of Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Saint Justin Martyr and the author of the Epistle to Diognetus. Saint Jerome suggests Aristides' apology was the combined opinions of philosophers at the time and imitated by Saint Justin Martyr afterwards. Negatively, Celsus used the Apology for his arguments against the Jews and "also certain features which he used in order to scoff at Providence." However, he was easily countered by Origen.
The Apology of Aristides was later adapted into the religious book The Life of Barlaam and Josaphat during the seventh century. In the book, the Apology is told by a pagan philosopher by the name of Nachor, a character in the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat. The unknown use of the Apology in the book, allowed for the text to remain extant the entire time and influence Christian perception of Buddhism. Only with the rediscovery of the Apology in 1878 and 1889, did it reappear in history books. Rendel Harris, J. A. Robinson and few European scholars provided some commentary and studies of the text in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There has been little revisionist history on the Apology of late, except for an article by G. C. O'Ceallaigh in 1958. He suggested the Apology was of Jewish work in the second century and was then edited by a Christian writer in the fourth century to be a Christian apology. W. Fairweather, D. W. Palmer and Massey Hamilton Shepherd Jr. have used the Apology of Aristides, and other apologists' works, in order to support their theories on early Christian thought and Greek apologists of the second century.