From the book “THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH”
Book 5 - Part 1
Marcus Aurelius to Severus: the succession of bishops: their refutation of Marcion and Montanus: their settlement of the date of the Easter Festival
THERE IS A LONG QUOTES IN THIS CHAPTER, FOR BETTER READING I’VE KEEP IT IN “REGULAR” PRINT - Keith Hunt
It was in the eighth year of his rule that Bishop Soter of Rome passed away. He was succeeded by Eleutherus, twelfth from the apostles, it being the seventeenth year of the Emperor Antoninus Verus.1 At that period in some parts of the world the persecution of the Church flared up again more fiercely, and as the result of mob onslaughts in one city after another countless martyrs came to their glory, as can be gathered from what happened in a single province. Fortunately for posterity it was all written down, and it certainly deserves a permanent place in history. The entire document, containing a very full account of these things, has been inserted in my Collection of Martyrs.2 It contains not only the historical record but the lessons to be drawn from it. For the moment I will content myself with quoting such passages as are relevant to the present work.
Other historians have confined themselves to the recording of victories in war and triumphs over enemies, of the exploits of commanders and the heroism of their men, stained with the blood of the thousands they have slaughtered for the sake of children and country and possessions; it is peaceful wars, fought for the very peace of the soul, and men who in such wars have fought manfully for truth rather than for country, for true religion rather than for their dear ones, that my
1. A.D. 177: ‘Antoninus Verus’ is presumably Marcus Aurelius.
2. See p. 175.
account of God's commonwealth will inscribe on imperishable monuments; it is the unshakable determination of the champions of true religion, their courage and endurance, their triumphs over demons and victories over invisible opponents, and the crowns which all this won for them at the last, that it will make famous for all time.
Gallic martyrs of Verus’s reign
1. Gaul was the country in which the arena was crowded with these people. Her capital cities, famous and held in higher repute than any in the land, are Lyons and Vienne, both situated on the River Rhone, whose broad stream flows through the whole area. A written account of the martyrs was sent by the most important churches there to those of Asia and Phrygia, relating what had happened in their midst as follows - I will quote their own words:1
The servants of Christ at Vienne and Lyons in Gaul to our brothers in Asia and Phrygia2 who have the same faith and hope of redemption as we: peace, grace, and glory from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.3
Then, after completing their introductory remarks, they begin their story thus:
The severity of our trials here, the unbridled fury of the heathen against God's people, the untold sufferings of the blessed martyrs, we are incapable of describing in detail: indeed no pen could do them
1. This document, whose authenticity need not be doubted, contains a remarkable number of open or disguised quotations from the Bible. The great majority come from the N.T., showing that within a century of its composition it had already ousted the O.T. from the affections of the Gallic Christians at least. Two disputed books, 2 Peter and Revelation, are quoted as freely as the rest. Very few of the passages quoted appear in their original form; many have been drastically reworded, perhaps through defects of memory, perhaps to give a more literary flavour to the humble N.T. Greek.
2. Most of the Gallic converts were emigrants from these areas.
3. 2 Peter i. 1-2.
justice. The adversary swooped on us with all his might, giving us now a foretaste of his advent, which undoubtedly is imminent.1 He left no stone unturned in his efforts to train his adherents and equip them to attack the servants of God, so that not only were we debarred from houses, baths, and the forum: they actually forbade any of us to be seen in any place whatever. But against them the grace of God put itself at our head, rescuing the weak and deploying against our enemies unshakable pillars,2 able by their endurance to draw upon themselves the whole onslaught of the evil one. These charged into the fight, standing up to every kind of abuse and punishment, and made light of their heavy load as they hastened to Christ, proving beyond a doubt that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared with the glory that is in store for us.3
To begin with, they heroically endured whatever the surging crowd heaped on them, noisy abuse, blows, dragging along the ground, plundering, stoning, imprisonment, and everything that an infuriated mob normally does to hated enemies. Then they were marched into the forum and interrogated by the tribune and the city authorities before the whole population. When they confessed Christ, they were locked up in jail to await the governor's arrival. Later, when they were taken before him and he treated them with all the cruelty he reserves for Christians, Vettius Epagathus, one of our number, full of love towards God and towards his neighbour, came forward. His life conformed so closely to the Christian ideal that, young as he was, the same tribute might be paid to him as to old Zacharias: he had scrupulously observed all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord,4 and was untiring in service to his neighbour, utterly devoted to God,5 and fervent in spirit.6 As such he found the judgement so unreasonably given against us more than he could bear: boiling with indignation, he applied for permission to speak in defence of the Christians, and to prove that there was nothing godless or irreligious in our society. The crowd round the tribunal howled him down, as he was a man of influence, and the governor dismissed his perfectly reasonable application with the curt question: 'Are you a Christian?' In the clearest possible tones Vettius replied: 'I am.'
1. 2 Thess. ii. 7-9. 5. Rom. x. 2.
2. Gal. ii. 9 and 1 Tim. ill. 15.
3. Rom. viii. 18.
4. Luke i. 6.
5. Rom.x. 2
6. Rom. xii. 11 and Acts xviii. 25.
And he, too, was admitted to the ranks of the martyrs. He was called the Christians' advocate, but he had in himself the Advocate,1 the Spirit that filled Zacharias,2 as he showed by the fullness of his love when he gladly laid down his own life in defence of his brother Christians.3 For he was and is a true disciple of Christ, following the Lamb wherever He goes.4
Then the rest fell into two groups. It was clear that some were ready to be the first Gallic martyrs: they made a full confession of their testimony with the greatest eagerness. It was equally clear that others were not ready, that they had not trained and were still flabby, in no fit condition to face the strain of a struggle to the death. Of these some ten proved stillborn,5 causing us great distress and inexpressible grief, and damping the enthusiasm of those not yet arrested. However, in spite of the agonies they were suffering, these people stayed with the martyrs and did not desert them. But at the time we were all tormented by doubts about their confessing Christ: we were not afraid of the punishments inflicted, but looking to the outcome and dreading lest anyone might fall away. But the arrests went on, and day after day those who were worthy filled up the number of the martyrs, so that from the two dioceses were collected all the active members who had done most to build up our church life. Among those arrested were some of our heathen domestics, as the governor had publicly announced that we were all to be hunted out. These were ensnared by Satan, so that fearing the tortures which they saw inflicted on God's people, at the soldiers' instigation they falsely accused us of Thyestean banquets and Oedipean incest,6 and things we ought never to speak or think about, or even believe that such things ever happened among human beings. When these rumours spread, people all raged like wild beasts against us, so that even those who because of blood-relationship had previously exercised restraint now turned on us, grinding their teeth with fury. So was proved true the saying of our Lord: “The time will come when whoever kills you will think he is doing a service to God.”7 From
1. Paraclete: John xiv. 16.
2. Luke i. 67.
3. 1 Thess. ii. 8,1 John iii. 16.
4. Rev. xiv. 4.
5. See p. 200.
6. Thyestes ate bis sons; Oedipus had children by his mother.
7. John xvi. 2.
then on the holy martyrs endured punishments beyond all description, while Satan strove to wring even from them some of the slanders.
The whole fury of crowd, governor, and soldiers fell with crushing force on Sanctus, the deacon from Vienne; on Maturus, very recently baptized but heroic in facing his ordeal; on Attalus, who had always been a pillar and support1 of the church in his native Per-gamum; and on Blandina, through whom Christ proved that things which men regard as mean, unlovely, and contemptible are by God deemed worthy of great glory,2 because of her love for Him shown in power and not vaunted in appearance. When we were all afraid, and her earthly mistress (who was herself facing the ordeal of martyrdom) was in agony lest she should be unable even to make a bold confession of Christ because of bodily weakness, Blandina was filled with such power that those who took it in turns to subject her to every kind of torture from morning to night were exhausted by their efforts and confessed themselves beaten - they could think of nothing else to do to her. They were amazed that she was still breathing, for her whole body was mangled and her wounds gaped; they declared that torment of any one kind was enough to part soul and body, let alone a succession of torments of such extreme severity. But the blessed woman, wrestling magnificently, grew in strength as she proclaimed her faith, and found refreshment, rest, and insensibility to her sufferings in uttering the words: “I am a Christian: we do nothing to be ashamed of.”
Sanctus was another who with magnificent, superhuman courage nobly withstood the entire range of human cruelty. Wicked people hoped that the persistence and severity of his tortures would force him to utter something improper, but with such determination did he stand up to their onslaughts that he would not tell them his own name, race, and birthplace, or whether he was slave or free; to every question he replied in Latin: “I am a Christian.” This he proclaimed over and over again, instead of name, birthplace, nationality, and everything else, and not another word did the heathen hear from him. Consequently, the governor and his torturers strained every nerve against him, so that when they could think of nothing else to do to him they ended by pressing red-hot copper plates against the
1. 1 Tim. iii. 15.
2. A reminiscence of 1 Cor. i. 28.
most sensitive parts of his body. These were burning, but Sanctus remained unbending and unyielding, firm in his confession of faith, bedewed and fortified by the heavenly fountain of the water of life that flows from the depths of Christ's being.1 But his poor body was a witness to what he had suffered - it was all one wound and bruise, bent up and robbed of outward human shape, but, suffering in that body, Christ accomplished most glorious things, utterly defeating the adversary and proving as an example to the rest that where the Father's love is2 nothing can frighten us, where Christ's glory is3 nothing can hurt us. A few days later wicked people again put the martyr on the rack, thinking that now that his whole body was swollen and inflamed a further application of the same instruments would defeat him, unable as he was to bear even the touch of a hand; or that by dying under torture he would put fear into the rest. However, nothing of the sort happened: to their amazement his body became erect and straight as a result of these new torments, and recovered its former appearance and the use of the limbs; thus through the grace of Christ his second spell on the rack proved to be not punishment but cure.
Biblis again, one of those who had denied Christ, was handed over to punishment by the devil, who imagined that he had already devoured her4 and hoped to damn her as a slanderer by forcing her to say wicked things about us, being - so he thought - a feeble creature, easily broken. But on the rack she came to her senses,3 and, so to speak, awoke out of deep sleep, reminded by the brief chastisement of the eternal punishment in hell.6 She flatly contradicted the slanderers: “How could children be eaten by people who are not even allowed to eat the blood of brute beasts?”7 From then on she insisted that she was a Christian, and so she joined the ranks of the martyrs.
When the tyrant's instruments of torture had been utterly defeated by Christ through the endurance of the blessed saints, the devil resorted to other devices - confinement in the darkness of a filthy prison; clamping the feet in the stocks, stretched apart to the fifth
1. A reminiscence of John vii. 38 and xix. 34.
2. A reminiscence of 1 John iv. 18.
3. 2 Cor. viii. 23.
4. 1 Peter v. 8.
5. 2 Tim. ii. 26.
6. Matt. xxv. 46.
7. Acts xv. 29.
hole; and the other agonies which warders when angry and full of the devil are apt to inflict on helpless prisoners. Thus the majority were suffocated in prison - those whom the Lord wished to depart in this way, so revealing His glory.1 Some, though tortured so cruelly that even if they received every care it seemed impossible for them to survive, lived on in the prison, deprived of all human attention but strengthened by the Lord and fortified in body and soul, stimulating and encouraging the rest. But the young ones who had been recently arrested and had not previously undergone physical torture could not bear the burden of confinement, and died in prison.
Blessed Pothinus, who had been entrusted with the care of the Lyons diocese, was over ninety years of age and physically very weak. He could scarcely breathe because of his chronic physical weakness, but was strengthened by spiritual enthusiasm because of his pressing desire for martyrdom. Even he was dragged before the tribunal, and though his body was feeble from age and disease, his life was preserved in him, that thereby Christ might triumph. He was conveyed to the tribunal by the soldiers, accompanied by the civil authorities and the whole populace, who shouted and jeered at him as though he were Christ Himself. But he bore the noble witness.2 When the governor asked him “Who is the Christians' god?”, he replied: “If you are a fit person, you shall know.” Thereupon he was mercilessly dragged along beneath a rain of blows, those close by assailing him viciously with hands and feet and showing no respect for his age, and those at a distance hurling at him whatever came to hand, and all thinking it a shocking neglect of their duty to be behindhand in savagery towards him, for they imagined that in this way they would avenge their gods. Scarcely breathing, he was flung into prison, and two days later he passed away.
Then occurred a great dispensation of God, and the infinite mercy of Jesus was revealed to a degree rarely known in the brotherhood of Christians, but not beyond the skill of Christ. Those who when the first arrests took place had denied Him were jailed with the others and shared their sufferings: on this occasion they gained nothing by their denial, for whereas those who declared what they were were jailed as Christians, no other charge being brought against them, the
1. A reminiscence of John ii. 11.
2. An allusion to 1 Tim. vi. 13.
others were further detained as foul murderers and punished twice as much as the rest. For the faithful were relieved of half their burden by the joy of martyrdom and hope of the promises, and by love towards Christ and the Spirit of the Father, but the unfaithful were tormented by their conscience, so that as they passed they could easily be picked out from the rest by the look on their faces. The faithful stepped out with a happy smile, wondrous glory and grace blended on their faces, so that even their fetters hung like beautiful ornaments around them and they resembled a bride adorned with golden lace elaborately wrought;1 they were perfumed also with the sweet savour of Christ,2 so that some people thought they had smeared themselves with worldly cosmetics. The unfaithful were dejected, downcast, ill-favoured, and devoid of charm; in addition they were jibed at by the heathen as contemptible cowards; they were accused of homicide, and had lost the honourable, glorious, life-giving name. The sight of this stiffened the resistance of the rest: those who were arrested unhesitatingly declared their faith without one thought for the devil's promptings....
From that time on, their martyrdoms embraced death in all its forms. From flowers of every shape and colour they wove a crown to offer to the Father; and so it was fitting that the valiant champions should endure an everchanging conflict, and having triumphed gloriously should win the mighty crown of immortality. Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus were taken into the amphitheatre to face the wild beasts, and to furnish open proof of the inhumanity of the heathen, the day of fighting wild beasts being purposely arranged for our people. There, before the eyes of all, Maturus and Sanctus were again taken through the whole series of punishments, as if they had suffered nothing at all before, or rather as if they had already defeated their opponent in bout after bout and were now battling for the victor's crown. Again they ran the gauntlet of whips, in accordance with local custom; they were mauled by the beasts, and endured every torment that the frenzied mob on one side or the other demanded and howled for, culminating in the iron chair which roasted their flesh and suffocated them with the reek. Not even then were their tormentors satisfied: they grew more and more frenzied in their desire to overwhelm the resistance of the martyrs, but do what they
1. Ps. xlv. 13.
2. 2 Cor. ii. 15.
might, they heard nothing from Sanctus beyond the words he had repeated from the beginning - the declaration of his faith.
In these two, despite their prolonged and terrible ordeal, life still lingered; but in the end they were sacrificed, after being made all day long a spectacle to the world1 in place of the gladiatorial contest in its many forms. But Blandina was hung on a post and exposed as food for the wild beasts let loose in the arena. She looked as if she was hanging in the form of a cross, and through her ardent prayers she stimulated great enthusiasm in those undergoing their ordeal, who in their agony saw with their outward eyes in the person of their sister the One who was crucified for them, that He might convince those who believe in Him that any man who has suffered for the glory of Christ has fellowship for ever with the living God. As none of the beasts had yet touched her she was taken down from the post and returned to the jail, to be kept for a second ordeal, that by victory in further contests she might make irrevocable the sentence passed on the crooked serpent,2 and spur on her brother Christians - a small, weak, despised woman who had put on Christ,3 the great invincible champion, and in bout after bout had defeated her adversary and through conflict had won the crown of immortality.
Attalus too was loudly demanded by the mob, as he was a man of note. He strode in, ready for the fray, in the strength of a clear conscience, for he had trained hard in the school of Christ and had been one of our constant witnesses to the truth. He was led round the amphitheatre preceded by a placard on which was written in Latin 'This is Attalus the Christian', while the people were bursting with fury against him. But when the governor was informed that he was a Roman, he ordered him to be put back in jail with the others, about whom he had written to Caesar and was awaiting instructions.
Their time of respite was not idle or unfruitful:4 through their endurance the infinite mercy of Christ was revealed; for through the living the dead were being brought back to life, and martyrs were bestowing grace on those who had failed to be martyrs, and there was great joy in the heart of the Virgin Mother,5 who was receiving her stillborn children back alive; for by their means most of those who had denied their Master travelled once more the same road,
1. 1 Cor. iv. 9.
2. Is. xxvii. 1
3. Gal.iii. 27
4. 2 Peter i. 8.
5. The Church.
conceived and quickened a second time, and learnt to confess Christ. Alive now and braced up, their ordeal sweetened by God, who does not desire the death of the sinner but is gracious towards repentance,1 they advanced to the tribunal to be again interrogated by the governor. For Caesar had issued a command that they should be tortured to death, but any who still denied Christ should be released; so at the inauguration of the local festival, at which all the heathen congregate in vast numbers, the governor summoned them to his tribunal, making a theatrical show of the blessed ones and displaying them to the crowds. After re-examination, all who seemed to possess Roman citizenship were beheaded and the rest sent to the beasts. Christ was greatly glorified in those who had previously denied Him but now confounded heathen expectation by confessing Him. These were individually examined with the intention that they should be released, but they confessed Him and so joined the ranks of the martyrs. Left outside were those who had never had any vestige of faith or notion of the wedding-garment2 or thought of the fear of God, but by their very conduct brought the Way into disrepute3 - truly the sons of perdition.4 But the rest were all added to the Church.5
During their examination, Alexander, a Phrygian by birth and a doctor by profession, who had lived for many years in Gaul and was known to nearly everyone for his love of God and his boldness of speech6 - he had a large measure of the apostolic gift - stood by the tribunal and gestured to them to confess Christ. To those surrounding the tribunal it was plain that he was suffering birth-pangs. But the crowds, furious that those who had hitherto denied Christ were now confessing Him, shouted against Alexander as the person responsible. The governor made him come forward and demanded to know who he was; when he replied 'A Christian', he lost his temper and condemned him to the beasts. The next day he entered the arena with Attalus, whom the governor, to gratify the mob, was again giving to the beasts. The two men were subjected to all the instruments of torture assembled in the amphitheatre, and underwent a supreme ordeal. In the end they were sacrificed. Alexander uttered no cry, not so much as a groan, but communed with God in his heart,
1. A synthesis of Ez. xxxiii and 2 Peter iii. 9.
2. Matt. xxii. 11.
3. Acts xix. 9 and 2 Peter ii. 2.
4. John xvii. 12.
5. Acts ii. 47 and v. 14.
6. Acts iv. 29.
while Attalus, when he was put in the iron chair and was being burnt and the reek was rising from his body, called out to the spectators in Latin: “Look! eating men is what you are doing: we neither eat men nor indulge in any malpractices.” When asked what name God had he answered: “God hasn't a name like a man.”
To crown all this, on the last day of the sports Blandina was again brought in, and with her Ponticus, a lad of about fifteen. Day after day they had been taken in to watch the rest being punished, and attempts were made to make them swear by the heathen idols. When they stood firm and treated these efforts with contempt, the mob was infuriated with them, so that the boy's tender age called forth no pity and the woman no respect. They subjected them to every horror and inflicted every punishment in turn, attempting again and again to make them swear, but to no purpose, Ponticus was encouraged by his sister in Christ, so that the heathen saw that she was urging him on and stiffening his resistance, and he bravely endured every punishment till he gave back his spirit to God. Last of all, like a noble mother who had encouraged her children and sent them before her in triumph to the King,1 blessed Blandina herself passed through all the ordeals of her children and hastened to rejoin them, rejoicing and exulting at her departure as if invited to a wedding supper,2 not thrown to the beasts. After the whips, after the beasts, after the griddle, she was finally dropped into a basket and thrown to a bull. Time after time the animal tossed her, but she was indifferent now to all that happened to her, because of her hope and sure hold on all that her faith meant, and of her communing with Christ. Then she, too, was sacrificed, while the heathen themselves admitted that never yet had they known a woman suffer so much or so long.
Not even this was enough to satisfy their insane cruelty to God's people. Goaded by a wild beast,3 wild and barbarous tribes were incapable of stopping, and the dead bodies became the next object of their vindictiveness. Their defeat did not humble them, because they were without human understanding; rather it inflamed their bestial fury, and governor and people vented on us the same inexcusable hatred, so fulfilling the scripture: “Let the wicked man be wicked
1. 2 Mace. vii. 21-41.
2. Rev. xix. 9.
3. The devil.
still, the righteous man righteous still”1 Those who had been suffocated in jail they threw to the dogs, watching carefully night and day to see that no one received the last offices at our hands. Then they threw out the remains left by the beasts and the fire, some torn to ribbons, some burnt to cinders, and set a military guard to watch for days on end the trunks and severed heads of the rest, denying burial to them also. Some raged and ground their teeth at them, longing to take some further revenge on them; others laughed and jeered, magnifying their idols and giving them credit for the punishment of their enemies; while those who were more reasonable, and seemed to have a little human feeling, exclaimed with the utmost scorn: “Where is their god?2 and what did they get for their religion, which they preferred to their own lives?” Such were their varied reactions, while we were greatly distressed by our inability to give the bodies burial. Darkness did not make it possible, and they refused all offers of payment and were deaf to entreaty; but they guarded the remains with the greatest care, regarding it as a triumph if they could prevent burial. Thus the martyrs' bodies, after six days exposure to every kind of insult and to the open sky, were finally burnt to ashes and swept by these wicked men into the Rhone which flows near by, that not even a trace of them might be seen on the earth again. And this they did as if they could defeat God and rob the dead of their rebirth,3 “in order,” they said, “that they may have no hope of resurrection - the belief that has led them to bring into this country a new foreign cult and treat torture with contempt, going willingly and cheerfully to their death. Now let's see if they'll rise again, and if their god can help them and save them from our hands.”4
[THIS ALL SHOULD REMIND US OF HEBREWS 11, AND THOSE OF THE PAST WHO SUFFERED PERSECUTION, WHO WERE DEBASED FOR THEIR FAITH IN GOD. IT SHOULD REMIND US OF THE APOSTLE PAUL AND ALL THAT HE ENDURED IN THE FLESH - BEATINGS, STONING, HUNGER, VILE WORDS AND MENTAL PERSECUTIONS, PRISON, AND ALL HE SUFFERED FOR THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD AND FOR BEING A BELIEVER IN CHRIST. SO IT HAS BEEN FROM THE BEGINNING, SOME MUST NEEDS DIE FOR THE FAITH OF THE GOSPEL AND THE RESURRECTION TO IMMORTALITY; TO A BETTER RESURRECTION AS HEBREWS 11 FORETELLS. AS IT WAS BEFORE, SO SHALL IT BE AGAIN AT THE END OF THIS AGE. SOME WILL NEED TO DIE FOR THE TRUTHS OF THE LORD, WHILE OTHERS WILL BE IN SAFETY IN THE WILDERNESS (SEE REV. 12). SO IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN, SO IT WILL BE AGAIN BEFORE JESUS RETURNS, AND THE SAINTS OF ALL AGES RESURRECTED TO IMMORTALITY - Keith Hunt]
The martyrs’ friendly aid for those fallen from grace in the persecution
2. Such were the experiences of the Christian churches under Marcus Aurelius: from them one can easily guess what happened in the other provinces of the Empire. It will be
1. Rev. xxii.II, reworded.
2. Ps. xlii. 3.
3. Matt. xix. 28.
4. Dan. iii. 15.
worth while to add other extracts from the same document, in which the gentleness and humanity of these martyrs is described in the following words:
So eager were they to imitate Christ, who though He was in the form of God did not count it a prize to be on an equality with God,1 that though they had won such glory and had borne a martyr's witness not once or twice but again and again, and had been brought back from the wild beasts and were covered with burns, bruises, and wounds, they neither proclaimed themselves martyrs nor allowed us to address them by this name: if any one of us by letter or word ever addressed them as martyrs he was sternly rebuked. For they gladly conceded the title of martyr to Christ, the faithful and true Martyr - witness and Firstborn of the dead and Prince of the life of God;2 and they reminded us of the martyrs already departed: “They indeed are martyrs, whom Christ judged worthy to be taken up as soon as they had confessed Him, sealing their martyrdom by their departure: we are nothing but humble confessors.” They implored their brother-Christians with tears, begging that earnest prayers might be offered for their fulfilment. The power of martyrdom they proved by their actions, showing great boldness towards the heathen, and by their endurance and dauntless courage making their nobility evident to all, but the title of martyr they begged their fellow-Christians not to use, filled as they were with the fear of God....
They humbled themselves under the mighty hand, by which they have now been greatly exalted.3 They defended all and accused none; they loosed all and bound none;4 they prayed for those who treated them so cruelly, as did Stephen, the fulfilled martyr: “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”5 If he pleaded for those who were stoning him, how much more for brother-Christians?...
This was the greatest war they fought against him through the reality of their love, that the Beast might be choked into bringing up alive those whom he thought he had swallowed already.6 They did not crow over the fallen, but the things they themselves had in abundance they bestowed with motherly affection on those who lacked
1. Phil. ii. 6.
2. A conflation of Rev. i. 5 and iii. 14 with Acts iii. 15.
3. Peter v. 6.
4. Matt. xvi. 19.
5. Acts vii. 60.
6. 1 Peter v. 8.
them. Shedding many tears on their behalf in supplication to the Father, they asked for life and He gave it to them.1 This they shared with their neighbours when triumphantly victorious they departed to God. Peace they had ever loved; peace they commended to our care; and with peace they went to God, leaving no sorrow to their Mother,2 no strife or warfare to their brothers, but joy, peace, concord, and love.
So much may profitably be said about the affection of those blessed ones for their brothers who had fallen from grace, in view of the inhuman and merciless attitude of those who later behaved so harshly towards the members of Christ's body.3
The dream-vision of Attalus the martyr
3. The same record of these martyrs contains yet another story worth repeating: there can be no objection to my bringing it to the notice of my readers.
Among them was a certain Alcibiades, who made a practice of extreme austerity. Hitherto he had refused everything, partaking only of bread and water, and he tried to go on like this even in jail. But after his first ordeal in the amphitheatre it was revealed to Attalus that Alcibiades was not doing well in rejecting what God had created and setting others a misleading example.4 Alcibiades saw the danger, and began to accept everything freely and to give God thanks.5 For they were richly blest by the grace of God, and the Holy Spirit was their counsellor.
It was at that very time, in Phrygia, that Montanus, Alcibiades, Theodotus, and their followers began to acquire a widespread reputation for prophecy; for numerous other manifestations of the miraculous gift of God, still occurring in various churches, led many to believe that these men too
1. Ps. xxi. 4.
2. The Church.
3. The Donatists and Novatians.
4. It would encourage the gnostic heresy that matter was evil.
5. Tim. iv. 3-4
were prophets. When there was a difference of opinion about them, the Gallic Christians again submitted their own careful and most orthodox conclusions on the question, attaching various letters from the martyrs fulfilled in their midst - letters penned while they were still in prison to their brothers in Asia and Phrygia, and also to Eleutherus, then Bishop of Rome, in an effort to ensure peace in the churches.
Irenaeus commended in a letter from the martyrs
4. The same martyrs commended Irenaeus, already a presbyter in the Lyons diocese, to the Bishop of Rome just mentioned, paying warm tribute to his character, as is clear from their words:
Greeting once more, Father Eleutherus: may God bless you always. We are entrusting this letter to our brother and companion1 Irenaeus to convey to you. We are anxious that you should hold him in high regard, as a man devoted to the covenant of Christ. For if we had thought that position conferred righteousness on anyone, we should have recommended him first as a presbyter of the Church, which indeed he is.
Need I go through the list of martyrs in the document we have been considering, distinguishing those who found fulfilment in decapitation from those thrown to the beasts for food and from those who fell asleep in jail, or enumerate the confessors still surviving at the time? Anyone who so desires may easily find out all about them by looking up the actual letter, which, as I said before, is reproduced in full in my Collection of Martyrs.
Rain sent from heaven in answer to Christian prayers
5. While Antoninus2 was still on the throne, it is on record that when his brother Marcus Aurelius Caesar deployed his
1. Rev. i. 9.
2. Presumably Verus - the Lucius of p. 168.
forces for battle with the Germans and Sarmatians, his men were parched with thirst and he was in a quandary. But the soldiers of the Melitene Legion, as it is called, through faith which has never wavered from that day to this, as they faced the enemy in their lines, knelt down on the ground, our normal attitude when praying, and turned to God in supplication. The enemy were astonished at the sight, but the record goes on to say that something more astonishing followed a moment later: a thunderbolt drove the enemy to flight and destruction, while rain fell on the army which had called on the Almighty, reviving it when the entire force was on the point of perishing from thirst.
The story can be found in the works of writers remote from our way of thinking, who have undertaken to record the reign of these monarchs; it has also been told by our own. The pagan chroniclers, being aliens to the Faith, have related the astonishing occurrence, but without acknowledging that it was the result of Christian prayers:1 our own, being lovers of truth, have described the event in a simple guileless fashion. Among these may be mentioned Apolinarius, who says that from then on the legion which by its prayers brought about the miracle received from the emperor a title appropriate to the occurrence, being called in Latin the Thundering Legion.2 A reliable witness of these facts is Ter-tullian, who in addressing to the Senate his Latin Defence of the Faith, to which I referred in an earlier section, confirmed the story with a stronger and clearer proof. What he had to say
1. Dio Cassius and Capitolinus, who agree that the rain was an answer to prayer.
2. Inscriptions show that in Nero's time, perhaps earlier, the legion had been entitled Fulminata, * Thunderstruck'. Some therefore conclude that Apolinarius, if correctly understood by Eusebius, was in error. But as he was writing just after the event and to Marcus Aurelius himself, this seems unlikely. Nor was Tertullian likely to misquote the Emperor's letters in writing to the Senate a little later. May it not be that Marcus changed the uncomplimentary title to Fulminatrix, ‘Hurler of the thunderbolt’, which is appropriate to the occurrence?
was this - letters from Marcus, the most sagacious of emperors, were still extant in which he himself testified that in Germany his army had been on the verge of destruction through lack of water, when it was saved by the Christians’ prayers; and Marcus had threatened to execute any who attempted to accuse us. Tertullian continues:
What kind of laws are these, enforced against us alone by wicked, unprincipled, and brutal men? Laws which Vespasian disregarded, though he had conquered the Jews; which Trajan to a large extent set aside, when he forbade Christian-hunting; which neither Hadrian, in spite of his obsessive interest in all that was mysterious, nor Pius ever ratified.
Everyone must make up his own mind about these matters: it is time for me to pass on to the next stage.
When Pothinus, at the age of ninety, had found fulfilment with the martyrs of Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded to the bishopric of Lyons, the diocese that had been headed by Pothinus. It appears that in his early youth he had listened to Polycarp. In Book III of his Heresies Answered he sets out the succession of Bishops of Rome, giving the list as far as Eleutherus, whose period I am now discussing, the period in which Irenaeus was busy writing his work. He writes as follows:
The List of Bishops
6. Having founded and built the church, the blessed apostles entrusted the episcopal office to Linus, who is mentioned by Paul in the Epistles to Timothy;1 Linus was succeeded by Anencletus; after him, in the third place from the apostles, the bishopric fell to Clement, who had seen the blessed apostles and conversed with them, and still had their preaching ringing in his ears and their authentic tradition before his eyes. And he was not the only one: there were still many people alive who had been taught by the apostles. In Clement's time a violent
1. 2 Tim. iv. 21.
dispute broke out among the Christians at Corinth, and the church at Rome sent a very long letter to the Corinthians, bringing them together in peace and renewing their faith, and passing on to them the authentic tradition they had so recently received from the apostles....
Clement was succeeded by Evarestus, Evarestus by Alexander; then Xystus was appointed, the sixth from the apostles, followed by Telesphorus, who suffered glorious martyrdom; next came Hyginus, then Pius, and after him Anicetus. Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and now, at the twelfth stage from the apostles, the position is filled by Eleutherus. In the same order and the same succession the authentic tradition received from the apostles and passed down by the Church, and the preaching of the truth, have been handed on to us.
Miraculous powers exercised down to those times by believers
7. In accord with the accounts which I have already given, Irenaeus demonstrates these facts in the five books entitled Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely so Called, and in Book II of the same work he makes it clear that right down to his own time manifestations of divine and miraculous power had continued in some churches.
But they1 fall far short of raising the dead, as the Lord raised them, and as did the apostles through prayer, and as among later Christians, because the need was so great and the whole of the local church besought God with much fasting and supplication, the spirit of the dead man has returned and his life has been granted to the prayers of God's people....
But if they suggest that the Lord has done these things only in appearance, I will refer them to the prophetic writings, and prove from them that all this had been foretold about Him and really happened, and that He alone is the Son of God. So it is that in His name those who truly are His disciples, having received grace from Him, put it to effectual use for the benefit of their fellow-men, in proportion to the gift each one has received from Him. Some drive out
1. The adherents of Simon and Carpocrates.
demons really and truly, so that often those cleansed from evil spirits believe and become members of the Church; some have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances; others, by the laying-on of hands, heal the sick and restore them to health; and before now, as I said, dead men have actually been raised and have remained with us for many years. In fact, it is impossible to enumerate the gifts which throughout the world the Church has received from God and in the name of Jesus Christ crucified under Pontius Pilate, and every day puts to effectual use for the benefit of the heathen, deceiving no one and making profit out of no one: freely she received from God, and freely she ministers.1
Elsewhere Irenaeus writes:
Similarly, we hear of many members of the Church who have prophetic gifts and by the Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men's secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God.2
This will suffice to show that diversity of gifts continued among fit persons till the time I am speaking of
Irenaeus’s comments on Holy Scripture
8. At the beginning of the work I promised, when convenient, to quote passages in which the early presbyters and historians of the Church have transmitted in writing the traditions that had come down to them regarding the canonical scriptures. One of these was Irenaeus, so without more ado I will quote his remarks, beginning with those which concern the Holy Gospels.
Matthew published a written gospel for the Hebrews in their own tongue, while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their passing, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the
1. Adapted from Matt. x. 8.
2. Adapted from 1 Cor. xii. 7-10 and xiv. 25.
gospel preached by him. Lastly John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leant back on His breast,1 once more set forth the gospel, while residing at Ephesus in Asia.
Such are the statements of Irenaeus in Book III of the work mentioned. In Book V he makes a definite statement about the Revelation of John and the number of the antichrist's name:
Such then is the case: this number is found in all good and early copies and confirmed by the very people who saw John face to face, and reason teaches us that the number of the Beast's name is shown according to Greek numerical usage by the letters in it.... I for one dare not risk making any positive assertion regarding the name of the antichrist.2 Had there been any need for his name to be openly announced at the present time, it would have been stated by the one who saw the revelation. For it was not seen a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime, at the end of Domitian's reign.
That is what Irenaeus has to say about the Revelation. He refers also to 1 John, drawing much evidence from it, and similarly to I Peter. And he not only knows but accepts the 'Shepherd'.
Scripture is right in saying: 'First of all believe that God is one, the Maker and Builder of all things, etc'
He makes use too of a few sayings from the Wisdom of Solomon, which he quotes with fair accuracy:
The vision of God is the bestower of incorruption; and incorruption brings men near to God.3
He refers also to short works by an apostolic presbyter, whose name he omits to mention, and quotes comments of his on Holy Writ. He has a good deal to say about Justin Martyr and Ignatius, drawing his information as usual from
1. John xxi. 20.
2. Nor should we be any more positive. The interpretation of 666 as nbro cabs ah remains the most probable - especially if, as some argue, parts of the book were written in or just after that monarch's reign.
3. Wisdom vi. 18-19.
their writings, and promises that in a special work he will refute Marcion out of his own works.
Regarding the translation by the seventy of the inspired scriptures,1 let him speak for himself.
So God became man, and the Lord Himself saved us, giving the sign of the Virgin, but not as suggested by some who in our day venture to translate the text thus: 'Lo, the young woman shall be with child and bear a son', as it was translated by Theodotion of Ephesus and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes, followed by the Ebionites, who argue that He was Joseph's child….2
Before the Romans established their empire, while the Macedonians still held Asia, Ptolemy son of Lagus was anxious to equip the library he had established in Alexandria with worth-while books from every quarter, so he asked the people of Jerusalem to provide him with a copy of their scriptures translated into Greek. Being at that time still subject to the Macedonians, they sent him seventy men of mature age, the most skilled they had in the scriptures and in both languages. Thus was God's purpose fulfilled. Ptolemy wished to test them in his own way, fearing that they might put their heads together and manipulate their translation to conceal the true meaning of the scriptures. So he separated them from each other, and told them they must all produce the same translation: he laid down this rule for every one of the books. When they reassembled before Ptolemy and compared their respective versions, God was glorified and the scriptures were recognized as truly divine: they had all said the same things in the same phrases and the same words from beginning to end, so that even the heathen who were present knew that the scriptures had been translated by the inspiration of God. Nor is it surprising that God made this possible, seeing that when Nebuchadnezzar took the people into captivity and the scriptures were destroyed, and then seventy years later the Jews returned to their own country, afterwards, in the reign of Artaxerxes the King of Persia, He inspired Ezra the priest of the tribe of Levi to re-create all the utterances of the old prophets and restore to the people the Law given by Moses.1
1. The Septuagint (LXX).
2. A futile argument, though not unknown today; for while there may be doubt as to whether Isaiah was referring to a virgin birth, there can be no doubt that in quoting the passage (Is. vii. 14) Matthew was.
TO BE CONTINUED
WHAT A GREAT TESTIMONY HISTORY HAS RECORDED ABOUT SOME OF THE MIGHTY SAINTS OF GOD. THEIR LIFE AND OFTEN FOR MANY, THEIR DEATH, IS ASTOUNDINGLY INSPIRING; I TRUST IT WILL EQUIP GOD’S CHILDREN WITH STRENGTH WHO SHALL LIVE AT THE LATTER END OF THIS AGE, WHEN AS JESUS SAID, WILL COME A TIME OF TROUBLE, SUCH AS WAS ON THIS EARTH AND NEVER WILL BE AGAIN. WE ARE GIVEN IN ADVANCE WHAT THAT TIME WILL BE LIKE; IT IS RECORED FOR US IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION. THIS BOOK I HAVE EXPOUNDED FOR YOU, AND YOU CAN FIND THAT UNDER THE SECTION “THE NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE STORY.”