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An apologist is a person who defends Christianity through argument and discussion.
The apologists of the first few centuries after Jesus played a very significant role in writing about the truths of Christianity to defend it against heresies and unorthodox teachings. Some of the more famous ones include Irenaeus who defended against Gnosticism (an exclusive cult where matter was taught to be evil) and Athanasiadus who wrote strongly against Arianism (the teaching that Jesus was a man only, and not God). Irenaeus's work against gnosticism is a very famous work in regards to Christian apologetics and commonly goes by the title Against Heresies.
The apologists of the second, third and fourth centuries aimed to spread the Christian faith and bring the message of salvation to the people as was commanded by Jesus in the Great Commission. Many apologists aimed to show the attractiveness of Christianity, writing about forgiveness and generosity. Additionally by giving Christianity an intellectual basis, the early apologists sought to show the logical truth of Christianity.
The early apologists also argued in favour of just treatment of Christians in a time when persecution was common, arguing that Christians should be judged like any other person, on the basis of their actions. They also aimed to remove some of the mystery and false understandings surrounding Christianity, especially regarding the practice of communion and baptism.