Celsus

SECOND CENTURY. Author of the first known philosophical and religious critique of Christianity, entitled The True Doctrine. Writing during a persecution (177-80?) and perhaps reacting against Justin Martyr,* he debunks Judaism, Christ, and Christians, some of whom he met at Rome or Alexandria. Despite an allusion to conservation of matter, there is not enough internal evidence to identify him with the Epicurean friend of Lucian of Samosata. Only Origen's reply, Contra Celsum, written just before the Decian persecution (249-51) provides evidence of Celsus. Platonic philosophical monotheism combines in Celsus with Greco-Roman ancestral polytheism to produce an unknown and unmoving supreme God, who has set various demons over human experience. True religion is demonstrated both by concentrating the soul on God and by propitiating the traditional cultic demons on whom depend the empire and the everyday functions of life. Worship and service are therefore due to their agent the emperor, by celebrating public feasts, holding public office, and joining the army. On these presuppositions Celsus makes his main criticism of contemporary Christians. Further, his Platonic conception of soul and body, his pantheism, and comparative study of religions make him reject, sometimes through misconception or misrepresentation, the Christian doctrines of Creation, man, the Incarnation, the unique character and ministry of Christ, and the Resurrection.

H. Chadwick, Origen contra Celsum (ET and introduction, 1953); J. Altaner, Patrology (ET 1960), pp. 115-16; E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (1965).