Quadratus presents an apology on behalf of the Christians to the emperor Hadrian
The little known Quadratus of Athens was one of the first Christian apologists. Although his writings are for the most part lost, we find the small fragment quoted above in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History IV.3, and Quadratus is also mentioned by Jerome in his On Illustrious Men XIX. Although it bears some similarity with the Epistle to Diognetus, the fragment of Quadratus’s apology is not often included in editions of the artificial corpus known as the Apostolic Fathers. As Paul Foster argues, while the textual history of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, in which the fragment in contained, is rather complex, the textual problems affecting much of the larger work do not impact upon the apparent citation from Quadratus (see “The Apology,” p. 353). In addition to his citation, Eusebius also includes some background information about the context of the apology and its intended addressee (the emperor Hadrian), as well as affirming the “apostolic orthodoxy” of Quadratus himself. As Foster points out, the term “orthodox” is anachronistic for Quadratus’s time; Eusebius, writing in the fourth century, by which time debates as to what constituted legitimate Christian doctrine were firmly underway, seeks to firmly situate the apologist ideologically within his own understanding of true Christianity (“The Apology,” p. 359, n. 26). Assuming that Eusebius’s dating is accurate, then the small fragment offers a window onto the first half of the second century CE, when opposition to Christianity was becoming increasingly more fervent, and its defenders attempted to counter claims of its moral deficiency and socially disruptive nature (for instance, the critique of Celsus, On the True Doctrine, written around 178 CE, but which we know primarily through Origen’s Against Celsus, criticises Christian beliefs as a complete perversion of traditional, ancestral values, foolishly advocating blind faith over reason).
There is no way of knowing whether Hadrian actually read Quadratus’s apology, even though some have speculated that it may have been the occasion for Hadrian’s Rescript to Minucius Fundanus (for a detailed discussion of this, see the commentary on Justin, First Apology LXVIII.1-LXX.4; Grant, Greek Apologists, p. 34-35 concisely refutes this). Having affirmed that Quadratus wrote after the commencement of Hadrian’s succession of his predecessor, Trajan, Eusebius continues in the following section (IV.4) to describe the death of Alexander, bishop of Rome, in 120 CE. If, as he generally tends to be in the Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius is being chronological, then we might date Quadratus’s apology to between 117 and 120 CE (in between Hadrian’s accession and Alexander’s death). However, things are slightly complicated by the fact that in his other work, the Chronicle, Eusebius claims that Quadratus presented the emperor with an address containing an apology during his visit to Athens in 124 or 125 CE. This is followed by Jerome (likely dependent on Eusebius), who states that it was while the emperor was visiting Athens to celebrate the Eleusinian mysteries (these were annual rites performed by the ancient Greeks in the village of Eleusis, near Athens, in honour of Demeter and Persephone). Jerome speaks of harassment of Christians in Athens during Hadrian’s visit to the city, but does make clear that this behaviour was “without instructions from the Emperor.” It is of course possible that Quadratus wrote more than one apology. Both the Chronicle and Jerome’s On Illustrious Men XIX link Quadratus with Athens (even if Jerome’s assertion that Quadratus was the same man who became bishop of Athens is likely erroneous; see Foster, “The Apology,” p. 335), agree that Quadratus’s apology included a defence of the antiquity of Christianity, and drew on his knowledge of many who had been healed by Jesus in Judea or raised from the dead.
Quadratus’s argument consists of establishing the legitimacy of the miracle tradition of Jesus by calling upon the testimony of those who were healed by Jesus in his lifetime, and some of whom he claims lived until “our own time.” What he likely means by this is that in his own generation there were Christians who remembered those who claimed to have been healed by Jesus; the phrase “were always present” suggests that the experiences of these people were passed on through oral tradition to Quadratus’s day (on this, see Foster, “The Apology,” p. 356). It has been argued that the specifics of Quadratus’s argument are an attempt to counter claims that certain “heretical” groups were performing tricks and illusions, and passing them off as miracles (see, for example, Irenaeus, Against Heresies II.32.3 on the Carpocratians and the followers of Simon Magus); in this case, such figures would be the “wicked men” trying to cause disturbance among the Christians. However, this seems unlikely, as why would an apology to the Roman emperor admit to problems within the Christian movement itself (see Robert Grant, Greek Apologists, p. 36)? Rather, Quadratus probably refers to pagan or even Jewish critics of Christianity, against which he feels the need to defend his faith. Although brief, this extract offers one of the earliest examples of Christian attempts to take their concerns about their treatment and reputation directly to the highest Roman authority. As Jerome’s description indicates (and also comes across clearly in Justin’s Apologies), there was recognition that the emperor himself did not necessarily have any direct involvement in bad treatment of Christians, and by addressing him directly, the apologists wished to show their essential trust in the Roman emperor’s good judgement, thereby supporting their claim that Christianity was not anarchistic or subversive to Roman society.