In writing Book 7 of my History of the Church I shall again enjoy the cooperation of the great Bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius, who in the letters that he left behind furnished an account in his own words of the whole course of events in his time. From that starting-point I will begin my narrative.
The criminal folly of Decius and Gallus
1. Decius had reigned rather less than two years, when he was murdered, together with his sons, and was succeeded by Gallus. It was at this time that Origen, now in his seventieth year, died. Writing to Hermammon Dionysius has this to say about Gallus:
Nor did Gallus realize Decius’ mistake or guard against what caused his fall, but tripped over the same stone with his eyes open. When his reign was proceeding smoothly and things were going to his liking, he drove away the holy men who were praying God to grant him peace and health. In banishing them, he banished their supplications on his behalf.
Bishops of Rome: the questions of baptism for penitent heretics: Sabellianism
2. In the city of Rome the episcopate of Cornelius lasted about three years. Lucius was chosen to succeed him, but after serving in this ministry for less than eight months, he died, passing on his office to Stephen. To him Dionysius addressed the first of his letters on baptism, for a lively controversy had arisen at that time as to whether those who abandoned a heresy of any kind ought to be cleansed by baptism. There was undoubtedly an old-established custom that in such cases all that was necessary was prayer combined with the laying on of hands  and Cyprian, pastor of the see of Carthage, was the first man of his time to maintain that only when cleansed by baptism ought they to be readmitted. But Stephen thought it wrong to introduce any innovation in defiance of the tradition established from the beginning, and protested vigorously. 4. So Dionysius communicated with him about this question in a very long letter, at the close of which he pointed out that now that the persecution had abated, the churches everywhere had turned their backs on the innovation of Novatus and resumed peace among themselves:
5. Now let me assure you, brother, that all the previously divided churches in the East and still farther away have been united, and all their prelates everywhere are at one, overjoyed at the unexpected return of peace – Demetrian at Antioch, Theoctistus at Caesarea, Mazabanes at Aelia, Marinus at Tyre (since Alexander fell asleep). Heliodorus at Laodicea (since Thelymidres went to his rest), Helenus at Tarsus with all the Cilician churches, Firmilian with all Cappadocia. I have named the more distinguished bishops only, for fear of making my letter too long and its contents wearisome. However, the whole of Syria and Arabia, which you assist at every opportunity and have now communicated with; Mesopotamia; Pontus; and Bithynia – in a word, everyone everywhere is delighted at the new spirit of harmony and brotherly love, and thankful to God.
When Stephen had fulfilled his ministry for two years, he was succeeded by Xystus. To him Dionysius indited a second letter on baptism, making clear the views held and expressed by Stephen and the other bishops, and speaking of Stephen as follows:
He had written previously with reference to Helenus, Firmilian, and all who came from Cilicia, Cappadocia, and of course Galatia and all the neighbouring countries, saying that he would have nothing to do with them, for this reason – they rebaptized heretics. Try to realize the seriousness of the situation. For it is a fact that resolutions about this question have been passed in the largest synods of bishops, if my information is correct, to the effect that those who come over from heresies are first instructed, then washed and cleansed afresh from the filth of the old unclean leaven. So I wrote appealing to him on all these questions… I also wrote two letters – the first brief, the second longer – to my dear fellow-presbyters Dionysius and Philemon, who at one time shared Stephen’s view and wrote to me about this question.
6. In the same letter he mentions the Sabellian heretics, making it clear that they were numerous in his time:
The doctrine now being propagated at Ptolemais in Pentapolis is an impious one, characterized by shocking blasphemy against Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; utter disbelief in His only-begotten Son, the Firstborn of all creation, the Word made man; and indifference to the Holy Ghost. From both sides there came to me first manifestos, then adherents prepared to argue the question; so I wrote letters as well as I could, with God’s help, dealing with the question in a rather professorial manner, I enclose copies of them for you.
The heretics’ disgusting error: the rule of the Church: the heterodoxy of Novatus
7. In Dionysius’s third letter on baptism, written to Philemon the Roman presbyter, we find the following story:
I myself studied the writings and teachings of the heretics, polluting my soul for a time with their disgusting ideas, but gaining this benefit from them that I disproved them for myself, and greatly increased my loathing. A brother-presbyter, indeed, tried to deter and frighten me from floundering in the mire of their wickedness, since I should harm my own soul. He was right, as I realized. But a vision sent by God came to strengthen me, and I heard a commanding voice say these very words: ‘Study anything you lay your hand on; you are competent to examine and test everything – this gift was from the start the reason for your faith.’ I accepted the vision, as agreeing with the apostolic precept directed to the more able: ‘Prove yourselves sound bankers.’
Then, commenting on all the heresies, he continues.
This is the rule and principle I took over from our blessed pope Heraclas. Those who came over from the heretical sects had seceded from the Church. (’Seceded’ is not the right word – they were still regarded as members of the congregation when they were reported as regular pupils of some heterodox teacher.) So he expelled them from the Church, shutting his ears to all pleas until they publicly confessed all that they had heard from our militant opponents.1 Then he readmitted them without requiring them to be baptized again, as they had previously received holy baptism at his hands.
After dealing with the question at great length, he goes on:
I have learnt this too, that the practice is not of recent origin in Africa; a long while back, in the time of my episcopal predecessors, it was adopted in the most populous dioceses and in Church synods, at Iconium, Synnada, and many other places. I would not think of upsetting their arrangements and involving them in strife and contention. ‘You shall not move your neighbour’s boundaries, which were fixed by your ancestors.’2
The fourth of his letters on baptism was written to Dionysius of Rome, who had recently been ordained presbyter and was shortly to be consecrated bishop of the diocese. From its pages we can learn of the tribute paid to the learning and high character of this man too by Dionysius of Alexandria. After dealing with other matters, he refers to the business of Novatus thus:
8. Naturally, I feel bitter against Novatian. He has split the Church and drawn some of our brothers into profanity and blasphemy; he has brought in the most unholy teaching about God; he impudently suggests that our most kind Lord Jesus Christ was devoid of pity; and as if all this was not enough, he makes light of holy baptism, does away with the faith and confession that precede it, and even when there was some hope that the Holy Spirit would remain or even return to them, he banishes Him completely.
The heretics’ perversion of baptism
9. His fifth letter was written to the Bishop of Rome, Xystus. In it he brings many charges against the heretics, and relates the following incident from his experience:
My dear brother,
I really do need your advice, and I want you to give me your opinion about a problem I am faced with, for fear I am acting mistakenly. In the congregation there is a man regarded for a long time as a faithful Christian, whose membership goes back beyond my election, and I think beyond the appointment of the blessed Heraclas. After attending a recent baptism, and listening to the questions and answers, he came to me weeping, lamenting, and falling at my feet; confessing and protesting that the baptism he had received from the heretics was not like ours and had nothing in common with it: it was full of profanity and blasphemy. Now he was cut to the heart, and did not even dare to raise his eyes to God, after starting with such unholy words and ceremonies. And so he was anxious to receive this unalloyed cleansing and acceptance and grace. I could not presume to do this; I told him that his prolonged communion with us made it unnecessary. He had listened to the Eucharistic prayers and joined in the Amen; he had stood by the table and held out his hands to receive the holy food; he had received it, partaking of the body and blood of our Lord for long enough: I could not presume to rebuild him from the foundations. So I urged him to put his fears away, and with strong faith and confident hope to come forward and partake of the holy things. But he goes on grieving, and is too frightened to approach the table, and in spite of my invitation he can scarcely bring himself to join the ‘bystanders’ at the services.
In addition to the letters already mentioned as extant, there is another of his on baptism addressed by him and his diocese to Xystus and the Roman church. In it he discusses the subject in question with elaborate arguments and at great length. Another extant letter of his, sent to Dionysius of Rome, deals with Lucian.
Valerian and the persecution in his time
10. When Gallus and his associates had held sway for less than two years they disappeared from the scene, and Valerian with his son Gallienus took over the government. What Dionysius has to say about Valerian may be gathered from his letter to Hermammon, in which we find the following account:
John received a similar revelation. ‘He was given,’ says the writer, ‘a mouth uttering boasts and blasphemy; he was given authority and forty-two months.’1
Both phases of Valerian’s rule are astonishing, the first being especially remarkable in character: he was so wonderfully friendly and gentle to the people of God. Not one of the emperors before him – not even those who were supposed to have been avowed Christians – was so kindly and sympathetic in his attitude to them as was Valerian at first, when he received them publicly with all friendship and affection and filled his whole palace with godfearing people, making it a church of God. But what a change when he was induced to get rid of them by the teacher and and guild-leader of the magicians from Egypt, who urged him to kill or persecute pure and saintly men as rivals who hindered his own foul, disgusting incantations! For they are and were able, by being present and seen, and simply by breathing on them and speaking boldly, to frustrate the schemes of the wicked demons. He also induced him to perform devilish rites, loathsome tricks, and unholy sacrifices, to cut the throats of unfortunate boys, use the children of unhappy parents as sacrificial victims, and tear out the vitals of newborn babies, cutting up and mincing God’s handiwork, as if these things would bring them happiness…
They1 must have been delighted with the thank-offering Macrian brought them for his hoped-for empire. At first he held office as accountant to the whole2 imperial exchequer, but left Catholic principles wholly out of account. Now he has fallen under the prophetic curse: ‘Woe to those who prophesy from the heart and do not see the whole.3 For he had no idea of the catholicity of providence, and no suspicion of the judgement of One who is before all and through all and over all.4 So he has made himself the enemy of His Catholic Church, and alienated and estranged himself from the mercy of God, and banished himself as far as he could from his own salvation, proving thus how well his name fits him!5… Led by him into such courses, Valerian was subjected to insults and abuse, as was said to Isaiah: ‘These have chosen their own ways and their own abominations; their soul delighted in them. I will choose their delusions, and for their sins I will repay them.’6
Macrian, mad to become emperor though quite unqualified, and unable to fit the imperial robes on his crippled body, put forward his two sons, who inherited their father’s sins. For the prophecy uttered by God was unmistakably true of them: ‘Visiting the fathers’ sins on the children down to the third or fourth generation of those who hate me.’1 In heaping his own evil ambitions – which came to nothing – on the heads of his sons, he wiped off on them his own wickedness and hatred of God.
How Dionysius and others fared under Valerian
11. As regards the persecution that raged so fiercely in his time, what Dionysius and others underwent because of their devotion to the God of the universe is vividly portrayed in the lengthy account that he directed against Germanus, a bishop of his time who was trying to blacken his character:
I am in danger of falling head first into utter silliness and stupidity, as I am compelled to recount God’s amazing kindness to me. But as we are told that it is good to keep the secret of a king but honourable to reveal the works of God,2 I will meet Germanus’s attack.
I came before Aemilian, not alone but followed by my fellow-presbyter Maximus and the deacons Faustus, Eusebius, and Chaeremon; and one of the Christians from Rome came in with us. Aemilian did not open the proceedings by saying to me: ‘You are not to hold meetings.’ That would have been a waste of breath – the last thing he would say, when he was going back to the beginning. He did not talk about not holding meetings, but about not being Christians ourselves: he ordered me to abandon my beliefs, thinking that if I changed the rest would follow me. I gave a reasonable reply, on the lines of ‘We must obey God rather than men.’3 I told him outright that I worship the only God and no other, and would never change or cease to be a Christian. At that he ordered me to go right away to a village near the desert, called Cephro.
Perhaps you would care to hear the speeches on both sides, as they appear in the official records.
‘When Dionysius, Faustus, Maximus, Marcellus, and Chaeremon were brought into court, Aemilian the acting governor said: “In an interview I spoke to you of the generosity our masters have shown you; they have given you a chance to go scot-free, if you are prepared to turn to what is natural and worship the gods who preserve their throne, and to forget those who are unnatural. What do you say to this? I suppose you will not be ungrateful for their generosity, as they are advising you for your own good.”
‘Dionysius: “Not all men worship all gods; each worships some – those he believes in. We believe in the one God and Creator of all things, who entrusted the throne to His most beloved emperors, Valerian and Gal-lienus; Him we both worship and adore, and to Him we continually pray that their throne may remain unshaken.”
‘Aemilian, the acting governor: “Who prevents you from worshipping him too, if he is a god, as well as the natural gods? You were ordered to worship gods, and gods known to all.”
‘Dionysius: “We worship no one else.”
‘Aemilian, the acting governor: “I see you are both ungrateful and blind to the leniency of our emperors; therefore you shall not stay in this city, but remove yourselves to Libya and remain in a place called Cephro. This is the place I have selected, by command of our emperors. On no account will you or anyone else be permitted either to hold assemblies or to enter the cemeteries, as you call them.1 If anyone is shown not to have gone to the place I have named, or is found at any meeting, he will get himself into serious trouble. For you will be under careful and constant observation. You will therefore go at once to the place appointed.”’
Even though I was ill he hurried me away, refusing to grant a single day’s grace. So what time had I left to hold a meeting or anything else?…
But we did not refrain even from openly meeting together with the Lord, but I tried all the harder to bring together the Christians in the city as if I were with them – absent in body, as the Apostle said, but present in spirit.2 At Cephro a large church formed itself round us, some following us from the city, others coming from various parts of Egypt. And there God opened to us a door for the word.3 At first we were persecuted and stoned, but later quite a number of the heathen left their idols and turned to God. Never before had they received the word, but now at last through us it was sown among them. Surely it was for his purpose that God brought us to them, and when we had completed our mission took us away again.
Aemilian decided to remove us to what he thought rougher and more typically Libyan places, and ordered the Christians from every side to be concentrated in the district of Marea, allotting different villages in the area to the various groups. For us he chose a place closer to the road, so that we should be the first to be captured. Obviously, he was managing and arranging it so that whenever he decided to seize us he should find us easy to catch. In my own case, when I was ordered to go to Cephro I had no idea on which side the place lay – I had scarcely heard even the name before; however, I set off in good heart and made no fuss. But when I was told that I must go right away to the Colluthion district, those who were present know how badly I took it, for here I shall take myself to task. At first I was annoyed and very angry. It was true that these places happened to be better known and more familiar to me, but I was informed that there were no Christians or reputable people in the area, where travellers were exposed to annoyance and to bandit raids. But I felt happier when my friends reminded me that it was nearer the city, and that while Cephro allowed us to see a good deal of our friends from Egypt, so that our church was more broadly based, our new home was so much nearer to the city that we should have more opportunities to enjoy the sight of those we cared for most, our nearest and dearest. They would come and stay for a time, and as in the outer suburbs, there would be local meetings. And so it proved.
After giving further details of his adventures, he goes on as follows:
No doubt Germanus prides himself on a great many confessions of faith, and can tell of a great many things that he has had to bear; all the things he can list in my own case – court sentences, confiscations, proscriptions, plundering of property, relinquishing of privileges, contempt for worldly glory, indifference to praise or the reverse from governors and councils, patience in face of threats, outcries, dangers, persecutions, homelessness, distress, affliction of every kind; all of which were my lot under Decius and Sabinus, and are still my lot under Aemilian. But where did Germanus come in? What was said about him? But I must not make an utter fool of myself because of Germanus, so I will refrain from giving a detailed account of what occurred to friends who know about it already.
In his letter to Domitius and Didymus he again refers to the events of the persecution:
To give all the names of our people, who are so numerous and quite unknown to you, would be a waste of time, but I must tell you that men and women, youngsters and greybeards, girls and old women, soldiers and civilians, every race and every age, some the victims of scourges and the stake, others of the sword, came through their ordeal triumphantly and have received their crowns. In the case of others, not even a very long time sufficed for them to appear acceptable to the Lord, as indeed in my own case hitherto. No doubt I have been reserved for the proper time, known to Him who said: ‘At an acceptable time I heard you, and in a day of salvation I succoured you.’1 You ask about our affairs and want to know how we live. Well, you have heard of course that when we were being taken away as prisoners by a centurion and magistrates and the soldiers and servants with them – Gaius, Faustus, Peter, Paul, and myself-we were surprised by a party from Marea, who when we objected and refused to go with them dragged us off by force and carried us away. Now only Gaius, Peter, and I, bereft of our friends, are confined in a barren, parched spot in Libya, three days’ journey from Paraetonium…
In the city four presbyters – Maximus, Dioscurus, Demetrius, and Lucius – have gone underground and secretly visit the Christians there. Those who are better known in the world, Faustinus and Aquila, are wandering about Egypt. Deacons who survived those who died on the island are Faustus, Eusebius, and Chaeremon – the Eusebius whom from the very first God inspired and equipped to attend so energetically to the needs of the confessors who were in prison, and perform the dangerous duty of laying out the bodies of the fulfilled and blessed martyrs. For even now the governor, as I said before, is relentlessly putting to a cruel death some of those who are brought before him; some he mangles on the rack; others he leaves to languish fettered in prison, forbidding anyone to come near them and watching to see if anyone is caught doing so. However, through the determination and perseverance of fellow-Christians God gives a breathing-space to the hard-pressed.
It should be noted that Eusebius, whom Dionysius here calls a deacon, a little later was appointed Bishop of Laodicea in Syria; while Maximus, to whom he refers as a presbyter at that time, succeeded Dionysius himself as head of the Alexandrian church; but that Faustus, who then made as noble a confession of faith as Dionysius himself, was preserved till the persecution of my own time, when in the evening of a very long life he found fulfilment as a martyr, in my own lifetime, by the headsman’s axe.
Martyrdoms at Caesarea in Palestine
12. During the same persecution of Valerian three men who at Caesarea in Palestine made a glorious confession of Christ were crowned with a divine martyrdom, becoming food for beasts. One was called Priscus and one Malchus, while the name of the third was Alexander. It is said that these men, while living in the country, at first accused themselves of apathy and indifference: they scorned the prizes which the times offered to those who craved for them with a heavenly longing, instead of grasping the martyr’s crown with both hands. So when they had talked it over, they set out for Caesarea, where they presented themselves before the judge and met the end already described. It is also on record that in addition to these a woman, during the same persecution and in the same city, battled through a similar ordeal. But she is thought to have belonged to Marcion’s sect.
The peace under Gallienus: contemporary bishops
13. Not long afterwards Valerian became the slave of the Persians. His son, who now found himself sole ruler, showed more prudence in his conduct of affairs. One of his first acts was to issue edicts ending the persecution against us. To those responsible for the word he granted freedom to perform their normal duties. This is the wording of the decree:
The Emperor Caesar Publius Licinius Gallienus Pius Felix Augustus to Dionysius, Pinnas, Demetrius, and the other bishops. The benefit of my bounty I have ordered to be proclaimed throughout the world. All places of worship shall be restored to their owners; you bishops, therefore, may avail yourselves of the provisions of this decree to protect you from any interference. The complete liberty of action which you now possess has long been granted by me; accordingly Aurelius Quirinius, my chief minister, will enforce the ordinance given by me.
To make the meaning clearer, the decree here quoted has been translated from the original Latin. We also possess another enactment of the same emperor addressed to other bishops, permitting them to recover the ground occupied by ‘cemeteries’.
14. At that time the Roman church was still headed by Xystus, the Antioch church by Fabius’ successor Demetrian, the church of Cappadocian Caesarea by Firmilian, and the Pontic churches by Gregory and his brother Athenodore, pupils of Origen. At Palestinian Caesarea, when Theoctistus died Domnus succeeded him as bishop; but Domnus lasted only a short time, and Theotecnus, my own contemporary, was chosen as his successor. He too came from Origen’s school. Lastly at Jerusalem, when Mazabanes had gone to his rest, his throne was filled by Hymenaeus, who was prominent for so many years of my own lifetime.
Martyrdom of Marinus at Caesarea: the story of Astyrius
15. In their time the churches everywhere enjoyed peace; nevertheless at Caesarea in Palestine Marinus, who had served in the army with great distinction and was a man of good birth and great wealth, was beheaded for his witness to Christ. It came about thus. Among the Romans the vine-switch is a mark of honour, and those who win it, we are told, become centurions. A vacancy occurred, and by the order of seniority Marinus was entitled to be promoted to fill it. But when he was about to receive the honour, another man advanced to the tribune and declared that Marinus was debarred by old-established laws from holding rank in the Roman army, as he was a Christian and did not sacrifice to the emperors; so the office fell to himself. Reacting to this, the judge – his name was Achaeus – first asked what opinions Marinus held; when he saw that he stubbornly declared himself a Christian, he allowed him three hours to think it over.
As soon as he left the court, Theotecnus, the bishop of the diocese, came to him through the crowd, drew him aside, took him by the hand, and led him to the church. Inside, he placed him right in front of the altar, and drawing aside his cloak a little way pointed to the sword at his side. Then he fetched the book containing the divine gospels, placed it before him, and invited him to choose whichever of the two he preferred. Without a moment’s hesitation, he put out his hand and took the divine book. ‘Hold fast then,’ said Theoctenus. ‘Hold fast to God. May you obtain what you have chosen, inspired by Him. Go in peace.’ No sooner had Marinus gone back than an usher called on him to present himself before the court; the period of grace was now over. He stood erect before the judge and displayed still greater devotion to the Faith. Instantly, just as he was, he was taken to execution and thus found fulfilment.
16. It was at Caesarea also that Astyrius is remembered for the boldness by which he delighted the heart of God. A member of the Roman Senate, and highly esteemed by emperors, he was in the public eye because of his birth and affluence. He was present when the martyr found fulfilment, and, shouldering the mortal remains, he placed them on a magnificent costly robe, laid them out in the most expensive fashion, and gave them fitting burial.
Many other stories are told about this man by acquaintances of his, who have survived to my own time. They include the following miraculous incident.
17. Near Caesarea Philippi, called Paneas by the Phoenicians, on the skirts of the mountain called Paneum, they point to springs believed to be the source of the Jordan.1 Into these they say that on a certain feast day a victim is thrown, and that by the demon’s power it disappears from sight miraculously. This occurrence strikes the onlookers as a marvel to be talked of everywhere. One day Astyrius was there while this was going on, and when he saw that the business amazed the crowd he pitied their delusion, and looking up to heaven pleaded through Christ with God who is over all to refute the demon who was deluding the people and stop them from being deceived. When he had offered this prayer, it is said that the sacrifice instantly came to the surface of the water. Thus their miracle was gone, and nothing marvellous ever again happened at that spot.
The statue of the woman with a haemorrhage
18. As I have mentioned this city, I do not think I ought to omit a story that deserves to be remembered by those who will follow us. The woman with a haemorrhage, who as we learn from the holy gospels was cured of her trouble by our Saviour,1 was stated to have come from here. Her house was pointed out in the city, and a wonderful memorial of the benefit the Saviour conferred upon her was still there. On a tall stone base at the gates of her house stood a bronze statue of a woman, resting on one knee and resembling a suppliant with arms outstretched. Facing this was another of the same material, an upright figure of a man with a double cloak neatly draped over his shoulders and his hand stretched out to the woman. Near his feet on the stone slab grew an exotic plant, which climbed up to the hem of the bronze cloak and served as a remedy for illnesses of every kind. This statue, which was said to resemble the features of Jesus, was still there in my own time, so that I saw it with my own eyes when I resided in the city. It is not at all surprising that Gentiles who long ago received such benefits from our Saviour should have expressed their gratitude thus, for the features of His apostles Paul and Peter, and indeed of Christ Himself, have been preserved in coloured portraits which I have examined. How could it be otherwise, when the ancients habitually followed their own Gentile custom of honouring them as saviours in this uninhibited way?
The throne of Bishop James
19. The throne of James – who was the first to receive from the Saviour and His apostles the episcopacy of the Jerusalem church, and was called Christ’s brother, as the sacred books show – has been preserved to this day. The Christians there, who in their turn look after it with such loving care, make clear to all the veneration in which saintly men high in the favour of God were regarded in time past and are regarded to this day.
Letters of Dionysius on the Easter festival and on events in Alexandria
20. In addition to the letters already quoted, Dionysius wrote at that time the ‘festival letters’, in which he expresses himself with unusual solemnity on the subject of the Easter festival. One letter is addressed to Flavius, another to Domitius and Didymus. In the latter he propounds a rule based on an eight-year cycle, and demonstrates that at no time other than after the spring equinox is it legitimate to celebrate Easter. Besides these, he indited another to his fellow-presbyters at Alexandria and to others at the same time in various places. These he wrote while the persecution was still going on.
21. When peace was almost established, he returned to Alexandria; but when faction fighting broke out there anew, it was impossible for him to keep a fatherly eye on all the Christians in the city, divided as they were between the two warring camps. So when Easter came he was again forced, like someone in a foreign country, to communicate with them by letter from Alexandria itself. Then to Hierax, a bishop in Egypt, he wrote another festival letter, in which he speaks as follows of the current dissension in Alexandria:
In my own case, is there any wonder if it is difficult to communicate even by letter with those living at a distance, when it has become almost beyond me even to converse with myself or think things over in my own mind? I am most anxious to send letters to those who mean so much to me, the brothers who belong to the same family, who are of the same mind, who are members of the same church; but to get such letters through to them seems impossible. It would be easier to make one’s way, not merely into a foreign land but from farthest east to farthest west, than to reach Alexandria from Alexandria itself. The great trackless desert that took Israel two generations to cross was less difficult and impassable than the street through the very middle of the city! The sea which divided and formed a wall on either side providing them with a carriage way, a high road on which the Egyptians disappeared under the water, foreshadowed only too clearly our calm and waveless harbours, which from the murders committed in them have so often resembled a Red Sea. The river that flows past the city at one time appeared drier than the waterless desert, more parched than the one in crossing which Israel was so thirsty that Moses cried out, and from the only Doer of wonders drink poured for them out of the flinty rock. At another time it rose so high that it flooded the whole neighbourhood, roads and fields alike, threatening us with the rush of water that occurred in Noah’s time. At all times it flows polluted with blood and murders and drownings, such as under the hand of Moses it became for Pharaoh, when it changed to blood and stank. What other water could there be to cleanse the water that cleanses everything? How could the mighty ocean impassable to man, if poured over it, clear the filth from this dreadful sea? How could the great river that flows out of Eden, if it channelled the four heads into which it divides into one, the Gihon,1 wash away the filthy gore? When would the air, fouled by the poisonous exhalations rising on every side, be purified? Such vapours are given off from the land, such winds from the sea, such breezes from the rivers, such mists from the harbours, that it is the discharges from dead bodies rotting in all their component parts that form the dew. And then people are surprised and puzzled as to the source of the continual epidemics, the serious illnesses, the variety of pestilences, the changing forms and high rate of human mortality, and unable to see why this immense city no longer contains as big a number of inhabitants, from infant children to those of extreme age, as it used to support of those described as hale old men. As for those from forty to seventy, they were then so much more numerous that their total is not reached now, though we have counted and registered as entitled to the public food ration all from fourteen to eighty; and those who look the youngest are now reckoned as equal in age to the oldest men of our earlier generation. Men see the human race upon earth constantly shrinking and wasting thus, yet they do not turn a hair, while its complete destruction comes daily nearer.
22. Later, when a severe epidemic followed the war just as the festival was approaching, he again communicated in writing with the Christian community, revealing the horrors of the disaster:
Other people would not think this a time for festival: they do not so regard this or any other time, even if, so far from being a time of distress, it is a time of unimaginable joy. Now, alas! all is lamentation, everyone in mourning, and the city resounds with weeping because of the number that have died and are dying every day. As Scripture says of the firstborn of the Egyptians, so now there has been a great cry: there is not a house in which there is not one dead – how I wish it had been only one!
Many terrible things had happened to us even before this. First we were set on and surrounded by persecutors and murderers, yet we were the only ones to keep festival even then. Every spot where we were attacked became for us a place for celebrations, whether field, desert, ship, inn, or prison. The most brilliant festival of all was kept by the fulfilled martyrs, who were feasted in heaven. After that came war and famine, which struck at Christian and heathen alike. We alone had to bear the injuries they did us, but we profited by what they did to each other and suffered at each other’s hands; so yet again we found joy in the peace which Christ has given to us alone. But when both we and they had been allowed a tiny breathing-space, out of the blue came this disease, a thing more terrifying to them than any terror, more frightful than any disaster whatever, and as a historian of their own1 once wrote: ‘the only thing of all that surpassed expectation’. To us it was not that, but a schooling and testing as valuable as all our earlier trials; for it did not pass over us, though its full impact fell on the heathen…
Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead, turning the common formula that is normally an empty courtesy into a reality: ‘Your humble servant bids you good-bye.’ The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation, so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom. With willing hands they raised the bodies of the saints to their bosoms; they closed their eyes and mouths, carried them on their shoulders, and laid them out; they clung to them, embraced them, washed them, and wrapped them in grave-clothes. Very soon the same services were done for them, since those left behind were constantly following those gone before.
The heathens behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.
After this letter, when the people in the city were at peace, he again sent a festival letter to the Egyptian community, following it up with several others. A letter of his on the Sabbath and another on religious training have also been preserved.
The reign of Gallienus
Communicating again by letter with Hermammon and the Egyptian community, he has much to say about the criminal folly of Decius and his successors, and recalls the peace under Gallienus. 23. It will be worth while to hear what he has to say about these things:
Macrian, after goading one of his emperors and attacking the other, suddenly disappeared root and branch with his whole family, and Gallienus was proclaimed and recognized by all. He was both an old emperor and a new: he both preceded and followed them. For, in accordance with the message given to the prophet Isaiah: ‘See, the earliest things have come about, and new things shall now arise.’1 You know how a cloud sweeps under the sun’s rays and for a time screens and darkens it and is seen in its place; then when the cloud has gone by or melted, the sun reappears, shining as it did before. In the same way Macrian, after pushing himself forward and insinuating himself into the imperial prerogatives of Gallienus, is no more (he never was!), while Gallienus is just as he was before, and as if it had cast off its old age and purged away its former dross, the monarchy flourishes now as never before, is seen and heard over a wider sweep, and spreads in all directions.
He goes on to indicate the time at which he wrote this:
It occurs to me to take another look at the length of the various reigns. I observe that the wicked emperors who once were famous have been quickly forgotten, while the one who became more religious and devoted to God has passed the seven-year mark and is now completing a ninth year, in which we may indeed keep festival.
Nepos and his schism
24. Beside all this letter writing, he found time to produce the two pamphlets On Promises. These were occasioned by Nepos, one of the Egyptian bishops, who taught that the promises made to the saints in holy scripture would be fulfilled more in accordance with Jewish ideas, and suggested that there would be a millennium of bodily indulgence on this earth. Thinking that he could draw on the Revelation of John to prove his peculiar notion, he wrote a book on the subject and entitled it The Allegorists Refuted. To this Dionysius replied in his two pamphlets: in the first he expounds his own opinion about the doctrine; in the second he discusses the Revelation of John, after referring to Nepos at the start in the following terms:
They put forward a treatise by Nepos, on which they rely completely as proving incontrovertibly that Christ’s kingdom will be on earth. Now in general I respect and love Nepos for his faith and industry, his careful study of the Scriptures, and his rich hymnody, which is still a source of comfort to many of our fellow-Christians, and I am most unwilling to criticize him, especially now that he has gone to his rest. But more than anything we must love and reverence truth, and while it is right to give ungrudging praise and approval to every statement that is correct, it is our duty to examine and criticize any piece of writing that appears unsound. If Nepos were here now and putting forward his ideas in speech alone, conversation with nothing in writing would suffice, using question and answer as means to persuade and win over our militant opponents.1 But a work has been published which some people find most convincing, and certain teachers regard the Law and the Prophets as worthless, discourage the following of the gospels, make light of the apostolic epistles, and make extravagant claims for the teaching of this treatise as if it was some great and hidden mystery. They do not allow our simpler brethren to have lofty noble thoughts, either about the glorious and truly divine epiphany of our Lord or about our own resurrection from the dead, when we shall be gathered together and made like Him;2 they persuade them to expect in the kingdom of God what is trifling and mortal and like the present. How then can we do otherwise than thrash the matter out as if our brother Nepos were here with us?…
When I arrived in the district of Arsinoe, where as you know this notion had long been widely held, so that schisms and secessions of entire churches had taken place, I called a meeting of the presbyters and teachers of the village congregations, with any laymen who wished to attend, and urged them to thrash out the question in public. So they brought me this book as positive and irrefutable proof, and I sat with them for three days on end from dawn to dusk, criticizing its contents point by point. In the process I was immensely impressed by the essential soundness, complete sincerity, logical grasp, and mental clarity shown by these good people, as we methodically and good-temperedly dealt with questions, objections, and points of agreement. We refused to cling with pig-headed determination to opinions once held even if proved wrong. There was no shirking of difficulties, but to the limit of our powers we tried to grapple with the problems and master them; nor were we too proud, if worsted in argument, to abandon our position and admit defeat: conscientiously, honestly, and with simple-minded trust in God, we accepted the conclusions to be drawn from the proofs and teachings of Holy Writ. In the end, the author and originator of this doctrine, Coracion by name, in the hearing of all present assured and promised us that for the future he would not adhere to it, argue about it, mention it, or teach it, as he was completely convinced by the arguments on the other side. Of the rest, some were delighted with the discussion, and with the all-round spirit of accommodation and concord.
The Revelation of John
Farther on he has this to say about the Revelation of John:
25. Some of our predecessors rejected the book and pulled it entirely to pieces, criticizing it chapter by chapter, pronouncing it unintelligible and illogical and the title false. They say it is not John’s and is not a revelation at all, since it is heavily veiled by its thick curtain of incomprehensibility: so far from being one of the apostles, the author of the book was not even one of the saints, or a member of the Church, but Cerinthus, the founder of the sect called Cerinthian after him, who wished to attach a name commanding respect to his own creation. This, they say, was the doctrine he taught – that Christ’s kingdom would be on earth; and the things he lusted after himself, being the slave of his body and sensual through and through, filled the heaven of his dreams – unlimited indulgence in gluttony and lechery at banquets, drinking-bouts, and wedding feasts, or (to call these things by what he thought more respectable names) festivals, sacrifices, and the immolation of victims. But I myself would never dare to reject the book, of which many good Christians have a very high opinion, but realizing that my mental powers are inadequate to judge it properly, I take the view that the interpretation of the various sections is largely a mystery, something too wonderful for our comprehension. I do not understand it, but I suspect that some deeper meaning is concealed in the words; I do not measure and judge these things by my own reason, but put more reliance on faith, and so I have concluded that they are too high to be grasped by me; I do not condemn as valueless what I have not taken in at a glance, but rather am puzzled that I have not taken it in.
After examining the whole book of the Revelation and proving the impossibility of understanding it in the literal sense, he goes on:
On arriving almost at the end of his prophecy, the prophet blesses those who observe it, and indeed himself too: ‘Blessed is the man who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book, and I John, the man who saw and heard these things.’1 That he was called John, and that this work is John’s, I shall therefore not deny, for I agree that it is from the pen of a holy and inspired writer. But I am not prepared to admit that he was the apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of James, who wrote the gospel entitled According to John and the general epistle. On the character of each, on the linguistic style, and on the general tone, as it is called, of Revelation, I base my opinion that the author was not the same. The evangelist nowhere includes his name or announces himself in either the gospel or the epistle… but John nowhere, in either first or third person; whereas the writer of the Revelation puts himself forward at the very beginning: ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which He gave Him to show to His servants at once; and He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who testified to the word of God and to His testimony, to everything that he saw.’2 Next he writes a letter: ‘John to the seven churches in Asia: grace to you and peace.’3 But the evangelist did not prefix his name to the general epistle either, but without any preliminaries began with the solemn mystery of the divine revelation: ‘What was from the beginning; what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes.’4 It was on this revelation that the Lord congratulated Peter: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah; for flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father in heaven.’5 Nor again in the second and third extant epistles of John, though they are so short, is John named: he is mentioned anonymously as ‘the presbyter’. But this writer did not even think it enough, after naming himself once for all, to go on with his story, but goes back to it again: ‘I John, your brother and partner in the oppression and kingdom and in the patience of Jesus, was in the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.’1 Again, at the end he speaks thus: ‘Blessed is the man who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book, and I John, the man who saw and heard these things.’
That the writer was John he himself states, and we must believe him. But which John? He does not say here, as so often in the gospel, that he was the disciple loved by the Lord, the one who leant back on His breast, the brother of James, the eyewitness and earwitness of the Lord. He would surely have used one of these descriptions, had he wished to reveal his identity. But he uses none of them, merely calling himself our brother and partner, a witness of Jesus, blessed in seeing and hearing the revelations. Many, I imagine, have had the same name as John the apostle, men who because they loved, admired, and esteemed him so greatly, and wished to be loved as he was by the Lord, were more than glad to be called after him, just as Paul and Peter are favourite names for the children of believers. We find, too, another John in the Acts of the Apostles, John surnamed Mark, whom Barnabas and Paul took with them,2 and who is referred to again in the words: ‘They had John as their attendant.’3 Was he the writer? I should say not. For he did not go as far as Asia with them, as the record shows: ‘Setting sail from Paphos, Paul and his companions came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and went back to Jerusalem.’4 I think there was another John among the Christians of Asia, as there are said to have been two tombs at Ephesus, each reputed to be John’s.
From the ideas too, and from the words used and the way they are put together, we shall readily conclude that this writer was different from the other. There is complete harmony between the gospel and the epistle, and they begin alike. The one says ‘In the beginning was the Word’, the other ‘What was from the beginning’. The one says: ‘And the Word became flesh and made His home in our midst: and we gazed on His glory, glory such as an only son receives from his father.’ The other, the same thing in slightly different words: ‘What we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes; what we gazed on and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested.’ The reason for this prelude is, as he shows in what follows, that his target is those who declare that the Lord has not come in the flesh. So he carefully added: ‘We have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us; what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also.’ He is consistent and adheres to his plan, setting out everything under the same headings and in the same language. I will give you some brief examples.
The careful reader will find in both books again and again the Life, the Light, Turning away from darkness, Truth, Grace, Joy, the Flesh and the Blood of the Lord, Judgement, Forgiveness of sins, God’s love for us, the Commandment ‘love one another’, the obligation to keep all the Commandments; the Convicting of the world, the devil, antichrist; the promise of the Holy Ghost; the Adoption of sons by God; the Belief that is constantly required of us; the Father and the Son (passim). To sum up, anyone who examines their characteristics throughout will inevitably see that Gospel and Epistle have one and the same colour. But there is no resemblance or similarity whatever between them and the Revelation; it has no connexion, no relationship with them; it has hardly a syllable in common with them. Nor shall we find any mention or notion of the Revelation in the Epistle (let alone the Gospel), or of the Epistle in the Revelation. How different from Paul, who in his epistles gives us a glimpse of his revelations,1 which he did not write down by themselves.
By the phraseology also we can measure the difference between the Gospel and Epistle and the Revelation. The first two are written not only without any blunders in the use of Greek, but with remarkable skill as regards diction, logical thought, and orderly expression. It is impossible to find in them one barbarous word or solecism, or any kind of vulgarism. For, by the grace of the Lord, it seems their author possessed both things, the gift of knowledge and the gift of speech. That the other saw revelations and received knowledge and prophecy I will not deny; but I observe that his language and style are not really Greek: he uses barbarous idioms, and is sometimes guilty of solecisms. There is no need to pick these out now; for I have not said these things in order to pour scorn on him – do not imagine it – but solely to prove the dissimilarity between these books.
The letters of Dionysius
26. In addition to these letters of Dionysius, many others are preserved, e.g. those denouncing Sabellius, sent to Ammon, Bishop of Bernice, and letters to Telesphorus, Euphranor, Ammon again, and Euporus. He was also the author of four pamphlets on the same subject addressed to his namesake at Rome. Many more letters of his are in my collection, as well as lengthy documents in letter form, e.g. those on Nature addressed to his boy Timothy, and the one on temptation dedicated to the same Euphranor. Besides these, when writing to Basilides, Bishop of Pentapolis, he says that he has written a commentary on the beginning of Ecclesiastes, and he has left us various other letters to the same correspondent.
Paul of Samosata starts a heresy at Antioch
Now let us pass on to another subject, and describe for the benefit of future generations the character of our own.
27. When Xystus had been head of the Roman church for eleven years he was succeeded by the Bishop of Alexandria’s namesake, Dionysius. At the same period Demetrian departed this life at Antioch, and the bishopric went to Paul of Samosata. As he held low, degraded opinions about Christ, in defiance of the Church’s teaching, regarding Him as in His nature just an ordinary man, Dionysius of Alexandria was invited to attend the synod; but, excusing himself on the ground of both age and sickness, he put off his coming and sent a letter expressing his own view of the question. The other pastors of the churches, however, gathered from every direction to deal with this destroyer of Christ’s flock, all hastening to Antioch.
Famous bishops of the time
28. Pre-eminent among these was Pirmilian, Bishop of Cappadocian Caesarea; the brothers Gregory and Athenodore, pastors of the Pontic communities; Helenus, Bishop of Tarsus, and Nicomas, Bishop of Iconium; and of course Hymenaeus of the Jerusalem church and Theotecnus of its neighbour, my own church of Caesarea. I must name one more – Maximus, who was shepherding the Christians of Bostra with such distinction. It would be easy to reckon up many, many more, together with presbyters and deacons, who assembled in Antioch for the same purpose, but the most eminent were those I have named. They all met on many different occasions, and at every meeting questions were raised and arguments put forward, Paul and his friends endeavouring all the time to hide and cover up his heterodox ideas, while the others did all they could to lay bare and bring into the open his heresy and blasphemy against Christ.
Meanwhile Dionysius died, in the twelfth year of Gallienus, after being head of the Alexandrian church for seventeen years. His successor was Maximus. When Gallienus had completed fifteen years as emperor, he was succeeded by Claudius, who at the termination of his second year left his throne to Aurelian.
Paul excommunicated; the bishops’ letter condemning him
29. During his reign a final meeting of the synod was held, attended by a very large number of bishops, who exposed and at last, explicitly and unanimously, condemned for heterodoxy the originator of the Antioch heresy, who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church throughout the world. The person who did most to call him to account and to pin him down, wriggle as he might, was Malchion, a man of great learning who was principal of a school of rhetoric, one of the centres of Hellenic education at Antioch, and in view of the utter genuineness of his faith in Christ had been appointed presbyter of that community. He arranged for shorthand writers to take notes as he embarked on an argument with Paul which we know to be extant to this day; he and he alone succeeded in exposing the crafty dissembler.
30. Accordingly, a single letter expressing their united judgement was drafted by the assembled pastors: nominally addressed to Bishop Dionysius of Rome and Maximus of Alexandria, it was sent out to all the provinces of the Empire. In it they made clear to all the trouble they had taken, the perverse heterodoxy of Paul, and the arguments and questions they had put to him; they also gave a survey of his whole life and character. To make sure that the facts are not forgotten, it would be well at this point to reproduce what they said:
Helenus, Hymenaeus, Theophilus, Theotecnus, Maximus, Proclus, Nicomas, Aelian, Paul, Bolanus, Protogenes, Hierax, Eutychius, Theodore, Malchion, Lucius, and all the other members of our communities in the neighbouring cities and countries – bishops, presbyters, deacons, and Christian congregations – to their beloved brothers in the Lord, Dionysius, Maximus, and all our fellow-ministers in every land – bishops, presbyters, and deacons – and to the entire Catholic Church throughout the world – greeting…
We sent invitations to many even of the more distant bishops to join in putting right this deadly teaching, for instance Dionysius at Alexandria and Firmilian of Cappadocia, both of blessed memory. Dionysius wrote to Antioch, disregarding the existence of the originator of the error, and addressing his letter not to him but to the diocese as a whole: we enclose a copy. Firmilian, who actually came twice, condemned Paul’s modernistic notions, a fact for which we who were present can vouch, and which is known to many others; but when Paul promised to change, Firmilian, trusting and believing that without any reproach to the word the matter would be happily settled, adjourned the proceedings, duped by a man who denied his God and Lord and had abandoned the belief that he himself had previously held. And Firmilian was on the point of crossing to Antioch a third time, and had got as far as Tarsus, having seen too much of the God-denying wickedness of this man. But meanwhile, when we had met together and were sending for him and waiting till he arrived, he reached the end of his days.
Farther on they describe the tenor of his life:
Whereas he has forsaken the canon and deviated to spurious and bastard doctrines, there is no need to judge the actions of one who is outside the Church, even in the case of a man who once was nearly penniless, having neither inherited a competence from his forebears nor acquired one by the labour of hand or brain, but who now has amassed immense wealth by committing illegalities, robbing churches, and blackmailing his fellow-Christians. He deprives the injured of their rights, promising them help if they will pay for it but breaking his word to them, and makes easy money out of the readiness of those entangled in court proceedings to buy relief from their persecutors. In fact, he regards religion as a way of making money.1
Nor did we judge him because he is ambitious and arrogant, decking himself out with worldly honours and anxious to be called ducenarius rather than bishop, and swaggers in city squares,2 reading letters aloud or dictating them as he walks in public surrounded by a numerous bodyguard, some in front and some behind. The result is that the Faith is regarded with distaste and hatred because of his self-importance and inflated pride.
Nor need we judge the way this charlatan juggles with church assemblies, courting popularity and putting on a show to win the admiration of simple souls, as he sits on the dais and lofty throne he has had constructed for him (how unlike a disciple of Christ!) or in the secretum, as he calls it, which he occupies in imitation of the rulers of the world. He slaps his thigh and stamps on the dais. Some do not applaud and wave their handkerchiefs as in a theatre, or shout and spring to their feet like his circle of partisans, male and female, who form such a badly behaved audience: they listen, as in God’s house, in a reverent and orderly manner. These he scolds and insults. Those who have departed this life, but once preached the word, he assails in a drunken, vulgar fashion in public, while he boasts about himself as if he were not a bishop but a trickster and mountebank.3
All hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ he has banned as modern compositions of modern writers, but he arranges for women to sing hymns to himself in the middle of the church on the great day of the Easter Festival: one would shudder to hear them! And he allows the fawning bishops of the neighbouring districts and towns, and presbyters too, to talk in the same way when preaching to the people. He will not admit that the Son of God came down from heaven – as we shall explain more fully later, not merely stating the fact but proving it from passage after passage of the attached notes, especially where he says that Jesus Christ is ‘from below’. Yet those who sing hymns and praises to him in the congregation say that their blasphemous teacher is an angel come down from heaven; and he allows this to go on even when he is there to hear, such is his vanity. And what of his ‘spiritual brides’, as the Antioch people call them? and those of his presbyters and deacons, with whom he joins in concealing this and their other incurable sins, though he knows all about them, so as to have them under his thumb, too frightened on their own account to accuse him of his offences in word and deed? He has even enriched them, thus securing the loyalty and admiration of those who are the same way inclined.
But why should we put these things in writing? We know, dear brothers, that the bishop and entire priesthood ought to be an example to the people of all good works; we are aware also how many through taking ‘spiritual brides’ have fallen, while others have become suspect. Even if we grant that he does nothing licentious, he should at least have taken care to avoid the suspicion to which such practices give rise, so as not to lead someone else astray and make others imitate him. How could he reprove another man, or advise him not to associate any longer with a ‘bride’, for fear of a slip – as Scripture warns us1 – when he has dismissed one already and now has two in his house, both young and pretty, whom he takes round with him whenever he leaves home, living, I may add, in luxury and surfeiting? Small wonder that all weep and groan in secret; for so frightened are they of this tyrannical power that they dare not accuse him. Yet, as we said before, a man could be called to account for these things, if only he had a catholic mind and was one of our number.2 But when he burlesqued the mystery3 and paraded with the filthy sect of Artemas (it is our unpleasant duty to name his father), we do not feel called upon to ask for an explanation of all this…
We were therefore obliged, as he ranged himself against God and would not yield, to excommunicate him and appoint another bishop in his place for the Catholic Church. By the providence of God, as we feel sure, we chose Domnus, the son of Demetrian of blessed memory who once presided with such distinction over the same diocese. He possesses all the excellent qualities required in a bishop, and we are informing you of his appointment in order that you may write to him and receive from him a letter establishing communion. But this fellow had better write to Artemas, then Artemas and his gang can be in communion with him.
When Paul had lost both the orthodoxy of his faith and his bishopric, Domnus, as already stated, took over the ministry of the Antioch church. But Paul absolutely refused to hand over the church building; so the Emperor Aurelian was appealed to, and he gave a perfectly just decision on the course to be followed: he ordered the building to be assigned to those to whom the bishops of the religion in Italy and Rome addressed a letter. In this way the man in question was thrown out of the church in the most ignominious manner by the secular authority.
Such was the treatment we received from Aurelian at that time. But as his reign went on, he changed his attitude towards us and was now pressed by some of his advisers to instigate a persecution against us, and this became the subject of much comment on every side. But when he was on the point of doing so and was almost in the act of signing the decrees against us, divine justice struck, seizing him in an iron grip to frustrate the attempt – clear proof for all to see that it would never be easy for the rulers of this world to resist the churches of Christ, unless the protecting hand, as a divine and heavenly judgement to chasten and reform us, should at times of its own choosing allow this to be done. Anyway, Aurelian had reigned only six years when he was succeeded by Probus who held sway for about as long and was followed by Cams, in association with his sons Carinus and Numerian. They lasted less than three years, and the government next fell to Diocletian and those later co-opted. Under them the persecution of my own time took place, and with it the destruction of the churches.
Shortly before this the Bishop of Rome, Dionysius, after holding this office for nine years, was succeeded by Felix.
The heterodox deviation of the Manichees, then starting
31. Meanwhile, the maniac whose name1 reflected his demon-inspired heresy was arming himself with mental derangement, since the demon, God’s adversary Satan himself, had put him forward for the ruin of many. A barbarian in mode of life, as his speech and manners showed, and by nature demonic and manic, he acted accordingly, and tried to pose as Christ: at one time he announced himself as the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost himself, being a maniac and a boaster too; at another he imitated Christ, and chose twelve disciples as partners of his crazy ideas. Bringing together false and blasphemous doctrines from the innumerable long-extinct blasphemous heresies, he made a patchwork of them, and brought from Persia a deadly poison with which he infected our own world. From him came the unholy name of Manichee, which is still in common use. Such then is the basis of this Knowledge falsely so called, which grew up at the period mentioned.
Distinguished churchmen of my own time
32. At that period too, Felix, head of the Roman church for five years, was succeeded by Eutychian. He lasted less than ten months and left his office to Gaius, my own contemporary, who governed the see for about fifteen years. Marcellinus was chosen to succeed him, but has since fallen victim to the persecution.
In their time the bishopric of Antioch passed from Domnus to Timaeus, who was succeeded by my contemporary Cyril. In this time I made the acquaintance of Dorotheus, a learned man who had been ordained to the presbyterate at Antioch. Enraptured with the study of divinity, he mastered the Hebrew language so thoroughly that he was able to read and understand the precious Hebrew scriptures; he was equally at home in the most liberal studies and Greek elementary education. He was however a natural eunuch, having been such from birth: the emperor, seeing in this a kind of miracle, honoured him with his friendship and graciously appointed him manager of the dye-works at Tyre. I heard him expounding the Scriptures in church very sensibly.
After Cyril, Tyrannus succeeded to the bishopric of Antioch: it was in his day that the attack on the churches reached its peak.
As head of the diocese of Laodicea, Socrates was followed by Eusebius, who came from Alexandria. The reason for his move was the question of Paul. On this account he came to Syria, where eager students of divinity detained him. He was one of the most lovely examples of true religion in my time, as may easily be seen from the remarks of Dionysius already quoted. Anatolius was appointed his successor, one good man following another, as the saying goes. Anatolius was by birth an Alexandrian, and for his learning, secular studies, and philosophy was in the first rank of the most eminent men of my time; indeed in arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and the other sciences, physical or metaphysical, and in the speaker’s art too, he had climbed to the summit. It was apparently on this account that he was invited by the citizens there to found the school of the Aristotelian succession at Alexandria. Countless exploits of his during the siege of the Bruchium at Alexandria are recorded: a unique privilege among the officials was unanimously conferred on him. I shall mention one incident only. It is said that when the defenders had run out of wheat, so that now the enemy without were less terrible than hunger within, our hero devised the following scheme.
The other half of the city was fighting on the Roman side and so was not besieged. Eusebius, who was still there before his move to Syria, was in this half, and had won such fame and such an outstanding reputation that even the Roman commander was impressed. Anatolius sent to Eusebius a full account of the starving victims of the siege. On receiving it, he asked the Roman general as an act of the greatest kindness to promise immunity to deserters from the enemy: having obtained his request, he informed Anatolius. When the promise reached him, Anatolius at once convened a council of Alexandrians and began by appealing to them all to give the right hand of friendship to the Romans. When he saw that they were angered by the suggestion, he went on: ‘Well, I don’t think you would say no if I advised you to allow those who are superfluous and of no use to us, old men and women and young children, to go outside the gates whichever way they like. Why do we hold on to these people to no purpose, when they are on the point of death? Why do we let the maimed and crippled die of starvation, when we ought to support only men and youths and ration our precious wheat to those capable of defending the city?’
With arguments on these lines he convinced the meeting, and was the first to stand up and give his vote that the whole mass of men and women incapable of military service should be free to leave the city, because if they continued to stay there uselessly they could not hope to survive, as hunger would destroy them. When the whole council agreed to this proposal, he succeeded in saving nearly everyone inside the gates. He saw to it that first the members of the Church, and then the rest of those in the city, whatever their age, should escape, not only those covered by the vote but countless others pretending to be so, who disguised themselves in women’s clothing and in accordance with his plan slipped out of the gates and hurried towards the Roman lines. There they were all welcomed by Eusebius, who like a father and a doctor looked after them, much the worse for the long siege, with every care and attention. Such were the two pastors whom the church of Laodicea was privileged to have in succession: by divine providence they had come there from Alexandria after the war described above. No very great number of works came from Anatolius’ pen, but enough have come into my hands to demonstrate his learning and varied knowledge. In these he presents in particular his views on the Easter festival. It will be desirable at this point to quote the following:
FROM THE CANONS OF ANATOLIUS ON THE EASTER FESTIVAL
It was therefore in the first year the new moon of the first month, which begins the whole nineteen-year cycle – according to the Egyptians on 26 Phamcnoth, according to the Macedonian calendar 22 Dystrus, by Roman reckoning 22 March. On this day the sun is found not only to have reached the first sign of the Zodiac, but to be already passing through the fourth day within it. This sign is generally known as the first of the twelve, the equinoctial sign, the beginning of months, head of the cycle, and start of the planetary course. But the sign before that is the last of the months, the twelfth sign, last stage, and end of the planetary circuit. For this reason I am convinced that those who place the first month in it, and fix the Paschal ‘fourteenth day’ accordingly, make a great and indeed an extraordinary mistake. This is not my own suggestion: the Jews were aware of the fact long ago, even before Christ’s time, and observed it carefully. We can learn it from the statements of Philo, Josephus, and Musacus, and not them only but still earlier writers, the two Agathobuli, famous as the teachers of Aristobulus the Great. He was one of Seventy who translated the sacred and inspired Hebrew Scriptures for Ptolemy Philadelphus and his father; he also dedicated commentaries on the Mosaic Law to the same kings. These authorities, in explaining the problems of the Exodus, state that the Passover ought invariably to be sacrificed after the spring equinox, at the middle of the first month; and that this occurs when the sun is passing through the first sign of the solar, or as some of them call it, the zodiacal cycle. Aristobulus adds that it is necessary at the Passover Festival that not only the sun but the moon as well should be passing through an equinoctial sign. There are two of these signs, one in spring, one in autumn, diametrically opposite each other, and the day of the Passover is assigned to the fourteenth of the month, after sunset; so the moon will occupy the position diametrically opposite the sun, as we can see when the moon is full: the sun will be in the sign of the spring equinox, the moon inevitably in that of the autumnal. I am familiar with many other of their statements, in some cases probable, in others claimed as final proofs, by which they try to show that the festival of the Passover and Unleavened Bread ought always to be kept after the equinox. But I decline to demand such a structure of proof from those from whom has been removed the veil on the Law of Moses; for them it remains now with face unveiled at all times to reflect like a mirror Christ and the life of Christ,1His lessons and sufferings.2 That the first month according to the Hebrews includes the equinox can be shown also by reference to Enoch.3
Anatolius has also left us an Elements of Arithmetic, complete in ten parts, as well as evidence of his lifelong study of divinity. He had first been consecrated bishop by Theotecnus, Bishop of Palestinian Caesarea, who was anxious to secure him as his successor in his own diocese after his death, and indeed for some little time they both administered the same church. But he was summoned to Antioch by the synod that dealt with Paul, and as he passed through Laodicea the Christians there took possession of him, Eusebius having fallen asleep.
When Anatolius too departed this life, his episcopate passed to Stephen, the last bishop before the persecution. For his attainments in philosophy and other secular studies he was widely admired; but he was not equally devoted to the divine Faith, as was shown in the course of the persecution, in which he stood revealed as a dissembler and a spiritless coward rather than a true philosopher. However, the church was not to be ruined because of him; she was set on her feet again by one whom God Himself, the universal Saviour, at once chose to be bishop of that diocese – Theodotus, who by his very acts proved his own name4 and that of bishop true. In the science of bodily healing he was very highly qualified; in the curing of souls he was without a rival, such were his kindness, genuine sympathy, and active interest in those who asked him for help; he also put a great deal of effort into the study of divinity. Such was his character in a nutshell.
At Caesarea in Palestine Theotecnus, after carrying out his episcopal duties most conscientiously, was succeeded by Agapius. I know that he too worked very hard, and showed a most genuine regard for the welfare of his people, ministering with a generous hand to the poor most of all. In this time I made the acquaintance of a most remarkable man, a true philosopher in his life, who was chosen for the presbyterate in that diocese – Pamphilus. To discuss his background and character would be too big an undertaking; all the details of his life, the school he founded, his ordeals in successive confessions of his faith during the persecution, and the crown of martyrdom which he won at last, I have recorded in a work devoted to him alone. He was the most wonderful of the people there, but among the men of my time there were certainly two of the rarest merit – one of the Alexandrian presbyters, Pierius, and Meletius, bishop of the Pontic province. Pierius had been noted for his life of absolute poverty and for his philosophical studies. He was exceptionally well versed in the science and exposition of theology, and was a first-rate popular preacher. Meletius – Mellifluous,1 as the learned called him – was the sort of man who might be described as the complete all-round scholar. His excellence as an orator cannot be sufficiently admired, though it might be said that this came to him as a gift from nature. But who could rival his excellence as a lifelong and profound scholar? You had only to meet him to discover that in every kind of intellectual activity he was the most accomplished and well informed person alive. No less remarkable was the excellence of his character. I observed him at the time of the persecution, when he was chased all over Palestine for seven years.
In the Jerusalem church, following Hymenaeus, the bishop mentioned a little while back, Zabdas took over the ministry. Very soon he fell asleep, and Hermo, last of the bishops up to the persecution of my time, ascended the apostolic throne preserved there to this day.
At Alexandria, Maximus, who for eighteen years after the death of Dionysius had been bishop, was succeeded by Theonas. In his time Achillas was ordained to the presbyterate at Alexandria, along with Priscus, and was greatly esteemed. The school of the holy Faith was entrusted to his hands, for he had shown unusual and unrivalled abilities as a philosopher, and a character in true accord with the gospel way of life. When Theonas had done his utmost for nineteen years, he was succeeded in the diocese of Alexandria by Peter, who in his turn did splendid work for twelve years. He administered the church for not quite three years before the persecution; for the rest of his life he subjected himself to a harsher discipline, and his care for the common good of the churches was evident to all. The result was that in the ninth year of the persecution he was beheaded, and so was honoured with the crown of martyrdom.
In these books I have dealt fully with the subject of the successions from our Saviour’s birth to the destruction of our places of worship, a story covering 305 years. Well now, for the information of future generations, I had better next record the continual and terrible ordeals of those who in my time fought so manfully for true religion.