Second-century Athenian philosopher and Christian apologist. Aristides, known primarily through a notice in Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 4.3.2), was the author of an Apology for the Christian faith addressed to the Emperor Hadrian (117–138). In 1878 the Mechitarist monks of San Lazzaro in Venice published an Armenian fragment of an Apology discovered in their monastery; its title indicated that it was the lost Apology of Aristides. The authenticity of this claim was substantiated by J. R. Harris, who found a fourth-century Syrian version of the full text at Mt. Sinai in 1889. This discovery led J. A. Robinson to conclude that most of the Greek text was embodied in the legendary vita of barlaam and Joasaph (ch. 26–27) found among the writings of john damascene. In the vita, the author presents the Apology as made by a pagan philosopher in favor of Christianity. Papyri in the British Museum also contain several chapters of the Greek text (5.4; 6.1–2; 15.6–16.1).
The Apology begins with a discussion of the harmony in creation using stoic concepts. This harmony, the author claims, led him to a knowledge of the Divine Being who created and preserves the universe (ch. 1). The author divides mankind into three categories in accordance with their religious beliefs: the barbarians, the Greeks, and the Jews. He describes as inadequate the barbarian (Chaldean) worship of the elements of the universe (ch. 3–7), the Greek cult of anthropomorphic deities, including Egyptian animal worship (ch. 8–13), and the Jewish devotion to angels and external ceremonies instead of adoration of the true God whom their prophets served. He acknowledges, however, a nobility in the Jewish concept of spirituality (ch. 14).
Aristides viewed the Christians as a "new nation" who alone have a true idea of God, the creator of all things, in His only begotten Son and in the Holy Spirit. Their worship of God consists in purity of life based upon the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom they look for the resurrection of the dead and life in the world to come (ch. 15–17). Together with a well-developed Christology (2.6–9), Aristides stressed the charity of the Christian community (15.7–9) and insisted that it is due to the supplications of the Christians that God allows the world to continues to exist. His Apology is close in sentiment to that of quadratus and the letter to diognetus. While he acknowledged the small number of Christian faithful, he believed that as a new people they were to reanimate the world and save it from the corruption of contemporary immorality. The claim that Aristides is the author of the letter to Diognetus and possibly also identical with Quadratus has not met with the assent of most patristic scholars.
Bibliography: j. r. harris and j. a. robinson, eds., The Apology of Aristides (Texts and Studies 1; 2d ed. Cambridge, Eng. 1893). r. seeberg, ed., Der Apologet Aristides (Erlangen 1894). j. r. harris, The Newly Recovered Apology of Aristides (London 1891). j. geffcken, Zwei griechische Apologeten (Leipzig 1907). b. altaner, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum. ed. t. klauser [Stuttgart 1941 (1950)–] 1:652–654. p. friedrich, Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 43 (1919) 31–77, doctrine. b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef (New York 1960) 118–119. k. rahner, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 1957–65) 1:852–853. j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Maryland 1950–) 1:191–195, 247–248.
[f. x. murphy]