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7. The First Church of Rome Rises To Power Under Soter and Eleutherius (§§60-73)

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7. The First Church of Rome Rises To Power Under Soter and Eleutherius (§§60-73)



60. Now they had bishops like the Catholic Bible-believers at their head, now they had the “blessing” of Polycarp (their bishop Anicetus had attended communion with him); now also they had — what was of much greater consequence in their eyes — the sympathy of the secular authorities at Rome. The First Church embarked on a deliberate campaign to persuade and pressure the Catholics to accept them as the ultimate authority in faith and morals. They deemphasized their historical connection with Simon Magus116 and asserted that their doctrines and practices had originated in “secret” oral traditions117 handed down to a special elite by Jesus and the Apostles. Even in the missionary fields of Lyons, in Gaul, where Polycarp’s disciples were active, there were some who addressed Eleutherus, the next but one Bishop after Anicetus, as “Father”118.

61. Pastor Clement’s fearful concern for the Christians in Corinth now proved justified. Though the vision tarried, it was at last fulfilled. Until the time of Bishop Anicetus in Rome and Bishop Primus in Corinth, the Corinthians had remained faithful to the Apostolic doctrine of Pastor Clement. This is vouched for119 by the Bible-believing church historian Hegesippus who had fellowshiped with the Corinthian Christians on his way to Rome. In the days of Anicetus’ successor, Soter, a change can be discerned. The Corinthian pastor in the time of Soter was the learned and influential Dionysius. He had quite a reputation as an ecclesiastical politician: he won over the hesitating, restored the backslidden, tested heresies, like that of Marcion, by the Scriptures, and built bridges between communion and communion, both in the Greek mainland and abroad. No doubt, like secular politicians, however, he felt the need for ready finance to further his favorite projects. The First Church now used its monetary reserves (which were evidently large), and its “social welfare” projects, to win him over. From its wealthy guru, Marcion, alone the First Church had been endowed with a fortune of 200,000 sesterces, when Marcion became a member. There was plenty of money to go round, if hearts and minds could be won at the same time, and other churches brought into the “supercommunion” of the First Church. In exchange for a generous donation, Dionysius opened up his pulpit to First Church doctrine. Bishop Soter sent a doctrinal letter to Corinth120 which was read publicly and regularly thereafter in the church at Easter. This Dionysius envisaged as a token of the close ecclesiastical bond newly forged between his own church and the First Church of Rome: both Peter and Paul, he claimed, had been responsible for the “planting” of the churches at Rome and Corinth, whilst both had “taught into” Corinth and ITALY (Italy, not Rome) — a quiet protest, this, promoting the claims of the Corinthian Church as a doctrinal authority against those of Rome. Nevertheless, the move irreversibly subjected the chief Church of Achaea to the ambitious and unprincipled bishops of the First Church. The reading of Soter’s letter from the pulpit symbolized their submission. Ironically, it had long before this been the custom in Corinth to have public readings of the first-century Epistle of Clement, which warned the faithful Christians there of the very danger that had now materialized. Soter’s letter was treated by Dionysius as a kind of follow-up epistle from the church in Rome to the original epistle from the Roman church at Santa Pudenziana written by Pastor Clement. In fact, some scholars believe that the letter of Soter, paired thereafter with the Epistle of Clement, has survived to the present day under the spurious title of the “Second Epistle of Clement”. This work abounds in quotations from heretical Gospels, one of them, perhaps, the Gospel of the Egyptians, illustrating the author’s acceptance of Gnostic “textual criticism”121. Dionysius claimed that the abuse some of his own letters had received at the hands of detractors showed how the Scriptures themselves, as in the theory of Cerdon and Marcion, could have been mutilated and interpolated by “apostles of the Devil”.

61a. Along with the admission of the First Church’s cult and doctrine at Corinth went an alarming relaxation of the standards of moral discipline expected of the ordinary members of the congregation. Dionysius even wrote letters to the bishops of other churches, like Pinytus of Cnossus in Crete, advising him against expecting too much from his flock in the way of the practical exercise of holiness. Pinytus replied, rebuking Dionysius, and, according to Eusebius, who had access to this correspondence, Pinytus’ letter was commendably orthodox, the implication being that Dionysius’ was not. This laxness was in sharp contrast to the asceticism Soter himself enjoined on those in Dionysius’ congregation to whom his letter was addressed (presuming the letter survives in the form of II Clement), those, namely, who came to Soter, in Dionysius’ words, as beloved children to their “father”, or otherwise, those who participated in the Roman church’s “supercommunion”. Here we have the earliest example of a phenomenon that became increasingly common in the First Church: an excessive, outward or ritualistic, asceticism expected of the Roman bishop’s most devoted adherents, especially the presbyters, combined with an excessive laxity of discipline allowed to the laity. The effect of this combination was to increase the daily attendance of the public at the church, as their moral life was not closely watched, whilst maximising the control of the bishop over the clergy, and, at the same time, separating them as an exclusive, dominant, clique from the laity. We shall find this same tendency carried to even more extravagant lengths in the time of bishop Callistus of the First Church one generation later.

62. Those who would not yield willingly to the First Church were coerced. Now — when political conditions were ripe — the “multi-faith” tolerance was dropped in favor of excommunication, denunciation and intrigue. A fierce persecution of the Bible-believing Christians commenced about this time. The First Church of Rome and its Gnostic teachers were left unscathed. Only evangelicals perished — the enemies of the Gnostics. And at the same time members of the Imperial family, who initiated the persecutions, began to come under the influence of the Bishops of the First Church.

63. It all began with an incident 122 which caused the Emperor to look favourably on the Christian religion. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius, out of gratitude for a miraculous deliverance in battle by the prayers of Christians, promised to put to death any who made accusations against them. When about to enter into battle with German barbarians, and parched with thirst because of a prevailing drought, the Emperor was put in touch with dedicated, non-combatant Christians, who prayed to the Lord to send rain for him and his men: immediately a refreshing rain descended on the Romans and a blasting hail on the enemies of Rome! The Legion involved was surnamed the “Thundering Legion”. The event itself is undoubted as it features on the coin of the Empire and on the Antonine column in Rome.

64. The Emperor was astounded at the power of the Christians’ prayer, and immediately issued a decree forbidding Christians to be harassed, unless they had committed some crime. He threatened to burn at the stake any who accused them falsely. However, the Emperor had associated with him on the throne his darkling child, Lucius (who used the name Commodus on becoming sole Emperor). It was when Lucius and Aurelius (also called Antoninus) were joint-rulers, according to Melito of Sardis123, that persecution broke out. Lucius was as evil and cunning as his father was benevolent and broad-minded. Through his concubine, Marcia, Lucius became acquainted with the Bishop of the First Church of Rome124. If the Bishop needed some favor from the Court, Marcia obtained it for him. For example, members of the First Church whom Marcus Aurelius had condemned for criminal activity to hard labor in the mines of Sardinia, Lucius freed through the offices of Marcia. The Bishop of the First Church called these convicts “martyrs” (reminding one of the “martyr” Simon Magus). The occupant of the episcopal throne in the earlier years of Lucius’ reign, the successor of Soter, was Eleutherus, previously a deacon of Anicetus. The Book of Popes, in an entry under the name of Bishop Eleutherus125, records that Emperor Lucius Britanni[c]us — the latter epithet assumed by him126 as the imperial master of Britain — sent a letter to Eleutherus requesting to be “made a Christian by his command.” Evidently he thought that this Bishop of the First Church had the power to turn him into a Christian by a mere word. All this boded well for the First Church and ill for the evangelicals who rejected their spurious claims.

65. Marvellous to relate, a persecution was suddenly initiated against the evangelicals. Aurelius’ decree had promised vengeance on any who maligned Christians, but when the Imperial decree was executed, it fell on those who maligned the “Christians” of the First Church of Rome, i.e. on the EVANGELICALS WHO DENOUNCED THEIR OCCULT PRACTICES. True Christians, like Melito of Sardis in Turkey, were amazed at this outbreak of persecution under the auspices of such a philosophic and philanthropic Emperor as Aurelius. Melito sent official letters127 to Rome asking if the persecution had been decreed by someone else (which could only mean by his son and coruler, Lucius). He also blamed informers, sectional strife and the slanderous accusations of calumniators for the current persecution and traced this fatal combination between informers and the imperial authorities directly back to the holocausts under Nero and Domitian; i.e. the real culprits were the Gnostic heretics of Rome, now under the episcopal supervision of Eleutherus. It is doubtful that these letters ever reached Aurelius. The renowned Bible-teacher, heresy-hunter, and Christian philosopher, Justin, was martyred128 in the capital. The decree of Marcus Aurelius129 written as a consequence of the miracle of the Thundering Legion is still found in the manuscripts appended to the text of Justin’s defence before the Emperor. Justin’s eloquent pleading and his appeal to the decree of Aurelius were not able to save him. When demanded by the Roman magistrate where his church assembled, Justin replied that it was a mistake to think there was any single church where Christians must needs assemble to be considered true Christians (an implicit criticism of the claims of the First Church), and that he and his fellow Christians held meetings at the house-church of Martinus in the Timothinian Baths (Santa Pudenziana)130. But this church did not have official recognition as a Christian congregation; the coruler Lucius accepted the pronouncement of the First Church of Rome as to who was and who was not a Christian. The Roman magistrate also demanded to know whether it was Justin who had made his fellow-martyrs Christians (as Eleutherus was held to have made Lucius a Christian) but they replied that their conversion was accomplished by the command of God (and not, as in the case of Lucius, by the command of the bishop of the First Church). Regardless of such niceties, the magistrate condemned Justin and his fellow martyrs to death. The pagan authorities were only interested in determining whether these Christians honoured the idols, since they were the pagans’ “gods” as well as the symbols of imperial authority. Those who refused to do so were condemned as god-denying, subversive, “atheists”. Of course, the “Christians” of the First Church of Rome who happily worshiped idols could not be accused of “atheism” according to this definition. The “atheists”, on the contrary, were the evangelicals who rejected idol-worship.

66. The net of the persecutors was spread wide. As in Domitian’s time, the persecution was hottest in Rome and in the centers where John’s disciples had been active. In Turkey, the authorities hunted down the aged and venerable Polycarp131, the hammer of heretics, and world-famous patriarch of the Bible-believing Catholics. He was burned at the stake as an “atheist”, the Spirit departing from him in the form of a dove132 as he expired. In Lyons and Vienne in Gaul, Polycarp’s disciples and others influenced by them were mowed down in the arena133, their agonies prolonged with horrible tortures.

67. Before their martyrdom, a number of Polycarp’s disciples in Gaul tried to negotiate with the Bishop of the First Church134. They sent to Rome a young pastor called Irenaeus, carrying letters to Eleutherus. Some of the martyrs in Lyons actually participated in the First Church’s “supercommunion.” These addressed Eleutherus as “Father” and their letters, thus addressing him, were included with the rest. They hoped their negotiations would bring peace to the churches, which had already suffered the loss of many brethren in the persecution. Clearly, they believed Eleutherus would be able to stop the bloodshed. Polycarp’s disciples, Irenaeus being one of them, distanced themselves from the “New Prophecy” movement, founded by the cult-leader Montanus, which had been disturbing the First Church of Rome, and also pleaded for toleration. The confusion of Bible-believing, Holy Ghost filled Catholics with the Montanist “doomsday-cult” had evidently goaded the Imperial authorities to action against the Bible-believers. Surely their pleas would prevail with the Bishop of the First Church? He would clear up the confusion with his friends in the Government, and the bloodshed would cease. No response is recorded to have been forthcoming from the Bishop.

68. Who were the Montanists that played such an important part in this crisis? A flavor of the cult and its practices can be obtained from the contemporary accounts preserved in the Church History of Eusebius. Their leader, Montanus, a Phrygian by origin, had been before his profession of conversion to Christianity a priest in the ecstatic cult of the Phrygian Great Mother Goddess, Cybele. Montanists were commonly called Phrygians or Cataphrygians. The cult had spread from Phrygia in Asia (Turkey) and reached Rome around AD 170. It was strongly identified with the area of Turkey where it originated. So also were the Bible-believing disciples of John, like Polycarp and Irenaeus’ bishop Pothinus. That was one reason why the two groups were confused.

69. The novelty of the Montanist cult was its belief that the Apostolic gifts of the Spirit, particularly prophecy by direct inspiration, had been renewed in the ministry of Montanus. Hence his movement was called the “New Prophecy”. Indeed the “Paraclete” or “Comforter”, the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus to lead Christians into all truth, had been embodied, some believed, in the person of Montanus. But the gifts of the Spirit that were “new” to Montanus and his disciples had long been exercised by the Bible-believing Catholics. We know that the Montanists’ teacher Tertullian was influenced by Justin Martyr, whose Christian brethren in Rome experienced gifts of healing and deliverance, and by Irenaeus, who was likewise blessed with a notable, Spirit-anointed ministry in Rome and Gaul. Polycarp and Hermas are other examples of spiritually gifted men amongst the evangelical Catholics. Evidently a moribund cultic form of Christianity had been kindled into new life by the charismatic ministries of the Bible-believing Christians of Asia, to produce the “New Prophecy” movement of Montanus. The cult, in other words, was a bastard child of the Asian revival led by John and Polycarp. It held a midway position between the Gnostics of the First Church, on the one hand, and the Asian Bible-believers, on the other, and attracted adherents from both.

70. At first, the Montanist movement had been welcomed by the First Church of Rome. The pagan Phrygian background of Montanus was perhaps a factor in winning it respect in the apostate Gnostic church, as it certainly retained many evidences of its pagan background, including its spring-festival “Passover” rituals. Another factor may have been the sway the new charismatic cult could potentially have with the Spirit-gifted Christians of Polycarp’s circle. If so, the hopes of the First Church were disappointed. There was actually a great difference between the spiritual experiences of the evangelicals and the fanaticism of the Montanists. The Montanists claimed their revelations, delivered in ecstatic trances, were as binding on their followers as the Holy Scriptures. They invented new, detailed regulations about fasting, celibacy and other matters of church order, and demanded obedience to these regulations because they had been revealed by the Spirit to the new prophets. The evangelicals tested the Montanist spirit by the Word and rejected it as spurious.


71. The movement now became a burden, rather than a boon, to the First Church bishops. One area of conflict was the Passover practices of a Montanist splinter-group in Rome, led by Blastus. This man had previously been a pastor of the Bible-believers and when he fell into Montanist error he carried over with him into the Montanist camp the Jewish Passover customs practiced by the Bible-believing disciples of the Apostle John. Since the Montanists regularly claimed divine inspiration for church rituals (like the Passover customs) Blastus would have presented a threat to the vaunted “Passover” spring-festival of the First Church and of the other Montanists. It would have been intolerable in the eyes of the anti-Semitic bishops of the First Church of Rome to have this particular group of Montanists imposing their Jewish customs on the “Holy Church” with the claim that it was the commandment of the Paraclete. These were the Montanists who were confused with the evangelical Christians of Polycarp’s circle. Another point of conflict was the First Church’s teaching on the godhead. The mainline Montanist enthusiasts of Rome, led by Proclus (hence called the Cataproclan Montanists) and counting amongst their number the articulate lawyer Tertullian, held out against a new teaching on the godhead adopted by the Bishop of the First Church which had roots in pagan philosophy. Tertullian censured with all his (considerable) rhetorical powers the novel doctrine so effortlessly foisted on the Bishop by its promoters, as well as the vast pretensions and abysmal moral standards of the eldership of the First Church135. Some Montanists, following the teacher Aeschines (hence called the Cataeschinetan Montanists), taught the same novel heresy regarding the godhead. If this complicated civil-war had been allowed to continue it could have led to the break-up of the apostate organization. The outcome was the expulsion of the Montanists from the First Church of Rome and persecution both for them and for the charismatic evangelicals who had influenced them.

72. The danger posed by the Montanist cult, as far as the Roman Imperial authorities were concerned, was that its adherents prophesied the end of the world in their lifetime, and the arrival of the Kingdom of God, which would involve, according to the Book of Revelation, the overthrow of the Roman Empire. The leading Montanist charismatic, Maximilla, prophesied136 anarchy and wars in the Empire (which did not materialize) and it was given forth that the Phrygian villages of Pepuza and Tymion were the new Jerusalem, in the expectation that all the faithful would gather there. Claims like these were to the Romans of the Antonine period in the second century AD as troubling as, if not more troubling than, they had been to Nero in the first. Anyone wishing to provoke a quick, negative response from the authorities towards the Bible-believing Catholics of the later second century AD, had only to point to cults like the Montanists. Polycarp’s disciples might be confused with the Montanists by a superficial or prejudiced observer. As well as having a common geographical origin, both groups held a fervent belief in the soon appearing of the Kingdom of God, in the current endowment of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit and in a strict moral code. But the Montanists were fanatical extremists. The fasts that Montanus imposed on his followers — identical in the mainline group to the “Passover” rituals of the First Church of Rome — were, on the admission of the Montanists’ own teacher, Tertullian, no different from the self-inflicted fasts and mortifications of the priests of the Great Mother. The priests of Cybele were well known for working themselves up into an ecstatic frenzy and to such an extent, that they actually castrated themselves out of devotion to their divine Lover and Mother. That was celibacy with a vengeance! It was evident to many men of God that Montanus and the new prophets were still under the influence of that fanatical, heathen spirit. Also, the priests of Cybele had been proscribed by the Romans in the past because their cult tended to foster sedition. To ensure devotees of such foreign cults accepted the suzerainty of the Imperial Regime, the Romans demanded sacrifice to the state gods, and especially to the statue of the “divine” Emperor. That was where the Bible-believing Catholics (and the more fervent Montanists, for that matter) fell foul of the Roman authorities and incurred the charge of “atheism”. For example, when Polycarp was burnt at the stake in Smyrna, a Phrygian (Montanist) called Quintus was also brought to trial, though in his case he eventually offered sacrifice to the idols and escaped capital punishment.

73. Notice how the Gnostic First Church of Rome operated to induce the secular authorities to persecute the evangelicals. There was 1) a motive 2) an excuse 3) a legal fiction. In the first persecution of Nero’s time the motive was religious jealousy and sectional rivalry by the Gnostics against the Bible-believers, the excuse was the supposed danger to society posed by the Christians’ millenarian visions (the burning of Rome) and the legal fiction was malevolent occult practices (black magic). Thereafter Rome’s conflict with the Jews brought the Jewish Christians’ loyalty under suspicion. In the second persecution under Domitian the motive was the same — religious jealousy and sectional rivalry on the part of the heretics against the Bible-believers, the excuse was the same — the supposed danger to society posed by millenarian visions — and the legal fiction was atheism, i.e. treason. In the third persecution under Trajan the same motive and excuse applied and the legal fiction was, likewise, contempt of the imperial authority demonstrated by refusal to worship the idols and the Emperor’s statue. Under Lucius (Commodus) the same motive, the same excuse and the same legal fiction combined to produce the same result — the torture and death of the innocent disciples of Jesus.



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Footnotes 116-136


116. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I. xxvii. 4: “All those who in any way corrupt the truth, and injuriously affect the preaching of the Church, are the disciples and successors of Simon Magus of Samaria. Although they do not confess the name of their master, in order all the more to seduce others, yet they do teach his doctrines. They set forth, indeed, the name of Christ Jesus as a sort of lure, but in various ways they introduce the impieties of Simon; and thus they destroy multitudes, wickedly disseminating their own doctrines by the use of a good name, and, through means of its sweetness and beauty, extending to their hearers the bitter and malignant poison of the serpent, the great author of apostasy.”


117. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., I. xxv. 5: “And thus, if ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden actions are committed among them, I can no longer find ground for believing them to be such. And in their writings we read as follows, the interpretation which they give [of their views], declaring that Jesus spoke in a mystery to His disciples and apostles privately, and that they requested and obtained permission to hand down the things thus taught them, to others who should be worthy and believing. We are saved, indeed, by means of faith and love; but all other things, while in their nature indifferent, are reckoned by the opinion of men — some good and some evil, there being nothing really evil by nature.”


118. Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. V. iv.1-2 : “The same martyrs also recommended Irenaeus, who was already at that time a presbyter of the residential district of Lyons, to the above-mentioned bishop of Rome, saying many favorable things in regard to him, as the following extract shows: “We pray, Father Eleutherus, that you may rejoice in God in all things and always. We have requested our brother and comrade Irenaeus to carry this letter to you, and we ask you to hold him in esteem, as zealous for the covenant of Christ. For if we thought that office could confer righteousness upon any one, we should commend him among the first as a presbyter of the church, which is his position.” Why should we transcribe the catalogue of the witnesses given in the letter already mentioned, of whom some were beheaded, others cast to the wild beasts, and others fell asleep in prison, or give the number of confessors still surviving at that time? For whoever desires can readily find the full account by consulting the letter itself, which, as I have said, is recorded in our Collection of Martyrdoms.” The martyrs of Lyons evidently included some who participated in the First Church’s “supercommunion,” and looked up to the bishop of the First Church as their “Father.” These were most likely Montanists in the mold of Blastus, who accepted the Montanist charismata but adhered also to the Passover practice of John (see para. 71, above, >>). The context of this citation in Eusebius is precisely the differing (Gk. diaphorous) letters sent from the persecuted brethren in Lyons respecting the Montanist movement that was then infecting the Church worldwide (Eusebius, op. cit. V. iii. 4). The danger of pseudo-asceticism of the kind practiced by the Montanists was present to the mind of these martyrs, as one of them, Attalus, exhorted another, Alcibiades, to partake of more than bread and water lest by this pseudo-ascetic (Gnosticizing, Montanizing) practice he should cause others to stumble into error (loc. cit. 2-3).


119. Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. IV. xxii. 1-3: “HEGESIPPUS in the five books of Memoirs which have come down to us has left a most complete record of his own views. In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops, and that he received the same doctrine from all. It is fitting to hear what he says after making some remarks about the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. His words are as follows: “And the church of the Corinthians continued in the true faith until Primus was bishop in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. And when I had come to Rome I formed a succession until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. In every succession, and in every city that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord.”


120. Eusebius, Church History, 4. 23: “There is extant also another epistle written by Dionysius to the Romans, and addressed to Soter, who was bishop at that time. We cannot do better than to subjoin some passages from this epistle, in which he commends the practice of the Romans which has been retained down to the persecution in our own days. His words are as follows: “For from the beginning it has been your practice to do good to all the brethren in various ways, and to send contributions to many churches in every city. Thus relieving the want of the needy, and making provision for the brethren in the mines by the gifts which you have sent from the beginning, you Romans keep up the hereditary customs of the Romans, which your blessed bishop Soter has not only maintained, but also added to, furnishing an abundance of supplies to the saints, and encouraging the brethren from abroad with blessed words, as a loving father his children.” In this same epistle he makes mention also of Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians, showing that it had been the custom from the beginning to read it in the church. His words are as follows: “Today we have passed the Lord’s holy day, in which we have read your epistle. From it, whenever we read it, we shall always be able to draw advice, as also from the former epistle, which was written ‘to us through Clement.” The same writer also speaks as follows concerning his own epistles, alleging that they had been mutilated: “As the brethren desired me to write epistles, I wrote. And these epistles the apostles of the devil have filled with tares, cutting out some things and adding others. For them a woe is reserved. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at if some have attempted to adulterate the Lord’s writings also, since they have formed designs even against writings which are of less accounts.””

Eusebius, Church History, 2. 25: “And that they [Peter and Paul] both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: “You [Soter’s church] have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of the Romans and Corinthians that came from Peter and Paul. For both of them indeed, having planted into our Corinth, likewise taught us. And likewise, having taught together into Italy, they suffered martyrdom at the same time.” I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed.”

Because an author wrote against heresies (like Dionysius), it did not follow that he himself was (or remained) faithful to the Apostolic doctrine. Of those mentioned below, Tatian and Bardesanes are known to have fallen into Gnostic heresy. Jerome, Letter 70: “Need I speak of Melito bishop of Sardis, of Apollinaris chief-priest of the Church of Hierapolis, of Dionysius bishop of the Corinthians, of Tatian, of Bardesanes, of Irenaeus successor to the martyr Pothinus; all of whom have in many volumes explained the uprisings of the several heresies and tracked them back, each to the philosophic source from which it flows.” We could add Tertullian to the list of those who fought admirably against certain heresies (e.g. Marcionism and Valentinianism) but fell into heresy themselves or rather, in his case, went from one heresy (as a member of the First Church of Rome) into another (Montanism).


121. “The Second Epistle of Clement” or, more correctly, “The Second Epistle of the Romans to the Corinthians”: “Ch 4: For this reason, if we should do such wicked things, the Lord hath said, “Even though ye were gathered together to Me in My very bosom, yet if ye were not to keep My commandments, I would cast you off, and say unto you, Depart from Me; I know you not whence ye are, ye workers of iniquity.” …. Ch 5: Wherefore, brethren, leaving willingly our sojourn in this present world, let us do the will of Him that called us, and not fear to depart out of this world. For the Lord saith, “Ye shall be as lambs in the midst of wolves.” And Peter answered and said unto Him, “What, then, if the wolves shall tear in pieces the lambs?” Jesus said unto Peter, “The lambs have no cause after they are dead to fear the wolves; and in like manner, fear not ye them that kill you, and can do nothing more unto you; but fear Him who, after you are dead, has power over both soul and body to cast them into hell-fire.” And consider, brethren, that the sojourning in the flesh in this world is but brief and transient, but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful, even the rest of the kingdom to come, and of life everlasting. By what course of conduct, then, shall we attain these things, but by leading a holy and righteous life, and by deeming these worldly things as not belonging to us, and not fixing our desires upon them? For if we desire to possess them, we fall away from the path of righteousness …. Ch 8: Wherefore, brethren, by doing the will of the Father, and keeping the flesh holy, and observing the commandments of the Lord, we shall obtain eternal life. For the Lord saith in the Gospel, “If ye have not kept that which was small, who will commit to you the great? For I say unto you, that he that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much.” This, then, is what He means: “Keep the flesh holy and the seal undefiled, that ye may receive eternal life.” …. Ch 12: from the Gospel of the Egyptians: Let us expect, therefore, hour by hour, the kingdom of God in love and righteousness, since we know not the day of the appearing of God. For the Lord Himself, being asked by one when His kingdom would come, replied, “When two shall be one, and that which is without as that which is within, and the male with the female, neither male nor female.” Now, two are one when we speak the truth one to another, and there is unfeignedly one soul in two bodies. And “that which is without as that which is within” meaneth this: He calls the soul “that which is within,” and the body “that which is without.” As, then, thy body is visible to sight, so also let thy soul be manifest by good works. And “the male with the female, neither male nor female,” this… [The newly recovered portion follows:] … meaneth, that a brother seeing a sister should think nothing about her as of a female, nor she think anything about him as of a male. If ye do these things, saith He, the kingdom of my Father shall come …. Ch 14: The male is Christ, the female is the Church. And the Books and the Apostles plainly declare that the Church is not of the present, but from the beginning. For she was spiritual, as our Jesus also was, but was manifested In the last days that He might save us. Now the Church, being spiritual, was manifested in the flesh of Christ, thus signifying to us that, if any of us keep her in the flesh and do not corrupt her, he shall receive her again so in the Holy Spirit: for this flesh is the copy of the spirit. No one then who corrupts the copy, shall partake of the original. This then is what He meaneth, “Keep the flesh, that ye may partake of the spirit.” …. Ch 17: For the Lord said, “I come to gather together all the nations, tribes, and tongues.””


122. The site of the incident was Carnuntum near Vienna, the date c. AD 173-4. Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. V. v. 1-7: “GOD SENT RAIN FROM HEAVEN FOR MARCUS AURELIUS CAESAR IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF OUR PEOPLE. It is reported that Marcus Aurelius Caesar, brother of Antoninus, being about to engage in battle with the Germans and Sarmatians, was in great trouble on account of his army suffering from thirst. But the soldiers of the so-called Melitene legion, through the faith which has given strength from that time to the present, when they were drawn up before the enemy, kneeled on the ground, as is our custom in prayer, and engaged in supplications to God. This was indeed a strange sight to the enemy, but it is reported that a stranger thing immediately followed. The lightning drove the enemy to flight and destruction, but a shower refreshed the army of those who had called on God, all of whom had been on the point of perishing with thirst. This story is related by non-Christian writers who have been pleased to treat the times referred to, and it has also been recorded by our own people. By those historians who were strangers to the faith, the marvel is mentioned, but it is not acknowledged as an answer to our prayers. But by our own people, as friends of the truth, the occurrence is related in a simple and artless manner. Among these is Apolinarius, who says that from that time the legion through whose prayers the wonder took place received from the emperor a title appropriate to the event, being called in the language of the Romans the Thundering Legion. Tertullian is a trustworthy witness of these things. In the Apology for the Faith, which he addressed to the Roman Senate, and which work we have already mentioned, he confirms the history with greater and stronger proofs. He writes that there are still extant letters of the most intelligent Emperor Marcus in which he testifies that his army, being on the point of perishing with thirst in Germany, was saved by the prayers of the Christians. And he says also that this emperor threatened death to those who brought accusation against us. He adds further: “What kind of laws are those which impious, unjust, and cruel persons use against us alone? which Vespasian, though he had conquered the Jews, did not regard; which Trajan partially annulled, forbidding Christians to be sought after; which neither Adrian, though inquisitive in all matters, nor he who was called Plus sanctioned.” But let any one treat these things as he chooses; we must pass on to what followed.” Cf. also Tertullian Apol. 5 (i. 295) (illam germanicam sitim christianorum forte militum precationibus impetrato imbri discussam), Scap. 4 (i. 703) (christianorum militum orationibus ad Deum factis). The pagan witnesses are the pillar of Marcus, Dion Cassius (lxxi. 8, 10), and Capitolinus (Hist. Aug. Life of M. Antoninus Philosophus, xxiv. 4). The earliest Christian witness is Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, who gave a simple account of the incident — probably very soon after its occurrence — perhaps in the Apology which he addressed to Marcus Aurelius. He said that it received from the Emperor the name of keraunobolos (i.e. thundering) in memory of what happened.. The objection that the legion was already called Fulminata (“Thunderstruck”), at least since the time of Nero, is of no particular consequence, since the name could simply have been re-interpreted (as Fulminatrix, “Thundering”, Greek keraunobolos) by the Emperor as a result of the miraculous deliverance.


123. Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. IV. xxvi. 7, see footnote 41, above, >>.


124. See First Church of Rome Part 5, and footnote 141, below, >>.


125. The Book of Popes (Liber Pontificalis, 6th century AD, traditionally based on a work of the antiquarian Pope Damasus), under the name Eleutherius: “Hic accepit epistula a Lucio Brittanio rege, ut Christianus efficeretur per ejus mandatum” i.e. “He [Eleutherius] received a letter from Emperor Lucius Brittani[c]us, requesting that he be made a Christian by his command.” The idea that this Lucius was some otherwise unknown native kinglet of Britain is absurd and arose by a mistake of Bede (he is the first English writer [673-735] to mention the story repeatedly (Hist. Eccl., I, V; V, 24, De temporum ratione, ad an. 161), and he took it, not from native sources, but from the “Liber Pontificalis”). Lucius (Commodus) was titled “Britannicus” because of the success of the Roman arms in those regions under his rule (AD 184: “However, the most important war was in Britain. For the tribes in the island crossed the Wall which divided them from the Roman soldiers and did a huge amount of damage, even taking out a legate with his troops. In consequence Commodus grew worried and despatched Ulpius Marcellus against the tribes … he inflicted serious defeats on the British barbarians.” Dion Cassius, LXXIII. viii. 1-2), though, of course, he was “king of Britain” also through his office as Emperor (in the Greek and later Roman terminology “king”) of the Roman Empire, which included Britain within its dominions. Similar mistakes were made in regard to other historical figures from this period. “Pertinax and Trebellius” are named in medieval legend as the legates of Caesar who influenced Lucius to become a Christian. Ussher (Britannicarum Ecclesiarum Antiquitates , 1687, p. 26) pointed out long ago that this Pertinax is none other than the noble Roman and military commander of that name who, under Lucius Commodus, participated in a legation to Britain, and became Emperor after the murder of the latter. (Ussher missed, however, the identification of Lucius Britannius with this very same Lucius Commodus.) Medieval legend also records that in the time of the next but one Bishop of the First Church after Eleutherius, viz. Zephyrinus, and in the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, a young man called Albinus (otherwise Albanus), an inhabitant of Britain but of noble Roman extract, was dispatched with a delegation to Rome to receive a military title (Ussher, ibid., p. 86), and, amongst his companions, the flower of the British Isles, many became Christians at that time. Albinus is said to have served during the same reign of Severus as magister militum (generalissimo) of Britain with supreme command under Caesar (sub Caesare primatus) over all that province (id., 83). In a persecution of the Christians instigated by Severus (others, with Bede, date this persecution to the era of Diocletian), Albinus is said to have offered protection to a fugitive Christian, who is named Amphibalus in later versions of the story. When the Roman soldiers knocked at the door of Albinus’ house, Albinus himself came forth, wrapped in the rough mantle of the Christian ascetic. Albinus was martyred by decapitation as a consequence of his act of bravery and hospitality. His remains were taken to Rome, and, later in the Middle Ages, were transferred to Mainz (id., p. 77f.), though dust stained with his blood was venerated also at the Roman Verulamium, known later as St Albans after him, in England (id., 177). (Hence it came to be believed that the relics in Rome had been taken from Verulamium by Saint Germanus after he visited the English shrine, id., 77f., 178.) This great Roman commandant of Britain can only be Clodius Albinus, who was indeed commander of the legions and governor in Britain during the reign of Severus, and whose severed head is known to have been taken to Rome — where it was put up for public display, in a barbarous act of un-Roman triumphalism — after his death at the hands of the soldiers of Severus. Historically Clodius Albinus perished during the great Battle of Lugdunum, Lyons in France, fighting for the supremacy of the Roman Empire against Severus himself (AD 197). Nothing is recorded in the Roman historical sources about his sheltering of a Christian ascetic, but then the record is notably vague about the precise circumstances of his demise (except to say that it was at a river, as also was that of the martyr Albinus in medieval legend). What we do know is that Lugdunum, the location of Clodius Albinus’ death, was at that period a great center of Christian witness under the ministry of Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of John, and that Irenaeus was martyred by “the heretics” [viz. the Gnostics] during a persecution promoted by Severus (ed. Smith, Dictionary of Christian Biography, s.n. Irenaeus, from a Syriac fragment apud Harvey, Irenaeus, vol. II p. 454 n. 1, from Syriac MS D = British Museum 12,157 7th or 8th century AD). The very streets of Lugdunum are said to have run red with the martyrs’ blood (Gregory of Tours, Historia, I. 29). Since it was the Gallic disciples of John, the adherents of Irenaeus, who were martyred by Severus in Lugdunum, and that at the prompting, or even by the hands, of the “heretics” — meaning Gnostics, evidently of the anti-Semitic, anti-Johannine type favored by the First Church — this particular persecution appears to have been a continuation of the policy of imperial patronization of the bishop of the First Church initiated by Lucius, whose memory Severus took to defending in public when he became Emperor. It would be natural, in the circumstances, for Severus’ political opponent, Clodius Albinus of Britain, to have opposed the policy of persecution adopted by Severus, and to have defended the Christian citizens of Lugdunum against the violence of Severus and his Gnostic allies. Hence, most probably, the medieval legend of Albinus’ heroic defense of the Christian ascetic. Severus turned out to be the first of a whole series of dictatorial emperors during the third century AD who inherited the mantle he had left them of an Empire remodeled on the lines of an oriental monarchy. The Empire became under Severus, even more so than under Lucius, a despotism, without the shadow of Republican, Senatorial, legitimacy. This change of the political tide — a marked change for the worse — coincided with the rising of new religious winds, and, specifically, of winds sweeping over the imperial palace from the direction of the Vicus Lateranus.


126. Lewis-Short, Latin Dictionary @ The Perseus Project, s.v.: “Britannicus, i, m., a cognomen of the conquerors of Britain; of the son of the emperor Claudius and Messalina, previously called Germanicus, Suet. Claud. 27; 43; Tac. A. 11, 4; 11, 11; 11, 26; 11, 32; 12, 2; poisoned by Nero, Tac. A. 13, 16; Suet. Ner. 33. — Of the emperor Commodus, Lampr. Commod. 8.” Also Dion Cassius, Roman History, LXXIII. xv. 5: “And to the senate he [Commodus] would send messages couched in these terms: “The Emperor Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Pius Felix Sarmaticus Germanicus Maximus Britannicus, Pacifier of the Whole Earth, Invincible, the Roman Hercules, Pontifex Maximus, Holder of the Tribunician Authority for the eighteenth time, Imperator for the eighth time, Consul for the seventh time, Father of his Country, to consuls, praetors, tribunes, and the fortunate Commodian senate, Greeting.””


127. See footnote 41, above, >>.


128. For the dating to c. AD 177 see footnote 134: “THE MARTYRDOM OF THE HOLY MARTYRS JUSTIN, CHARITON, CHARITES, PAEON, AND LIBERIANUS, WHO SUFFERED AT ROME. CHAPTER 1. EXAMINATION OF JUSTIN BY THE PREFECT In the time of the lawless partisans of idolatry, wicked decrees were passed against the godly Christians in town and country, to force them to offer libations to vain idols; and accordingly the holy men, having been apprehended, were brought before the prefect of Rome, Rusticus by name. And when they had been brought before his judgment-seat, Rusticus the prefect said to Justin, “Obey the gods at once, and submit to the kings.” Justin said, “To obey the commandments of our Savior Jesus Christ is worthy neither of blame nor of condemnation.” Rusticus the prefect said, “What kind of doctrines do you profess?” Justin said, “I have endeavored to learn all doctrines; but I have acquiesced at last in the true doctrines, those namely of the Christians, even though they do not please those who hold false opinions.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Are those the doctrines that please you, you utterly wretched man?” Justin said, “Yes, since I adhere to them with right dogma.” Rusticus the prefect said, “What is the dogma?” Justin said, “That according to which we worship the God of the Christians, whom we reckon to be one from the beginning, the maker and fashioner of the whole creation, visible and invisible; and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had also been preached beforehand by the prophets as about to be present with the race of men, the herald of salvation and teacher of good disciples. And I, being a man, think that what I can say is insignificant in comparison with His boundless divinity, acknowledging a certain prophetic power, since it was prophesied concerning Him of whom now I say that He is the Son of God. For I know that of old the prophets foretold His appearance among men.” CHAPTER 2 EXAMINATION OF JUSTIN CONTINUED Rusticus the prefect said, “Where do you assemble?” Justin said, “Where each one chooses and can: for do you fancy that we all meet in the very same place? Not so; because the God of the Christians is not circumscribed by place; but being invisible, fills heaven and earth, and everywhere is worshiped and glorified by the faithful.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers?” Justin said, “I live above one Martinus, at the Timothinian Baths [or, the Baths of Martinus son of Timothinus]; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his. And if any one wished to come to me, I communicated to him the doctrines of truth.” Rusticus said, “Are you not, then, a Christian?” Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.” CHAPTER 3 EXAMINATION OF CHARITON AND OTHERS Then said the prefect Rusticus to Chariton, “Tell me further, Chariton, are you also a Christian?” Chariton said, “I am a Christian by the command of God.” Rusticus the prefect asked the woman Charito, “What say you, Charito?” Charito said, “I am a Christian by the grace of God.” Rusticus said to Euelpistus, “And what are you?” Euelpistus, a servant of Caesar, answered, “I too am a Christian, having been freed by Christ; and by the grace of Christ I partake of the same hope.” Rusticus the prefect said to Hierax, “And you, are you a Christian?” Hierax said, “Yes, I am a Christian, for I revere and worship the same God.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Did Justin make you Christians?” Hierax said, “I was a Christian, and will be a Christian.” And Paeon stood up and said, “I too am a Christian.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Who taught you?” Paeon said, “From our parents we received this good confession.” Euelpistus said, “I willingly heard the words of Justin. But from my parents also I learned to be a Christian.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Where are your parents?” Euelpistus said, “In Cappadocia.” Rusticus says to Hierax, “Where are your parents?” And he answered, and said, “Christ is our true father, and faith in Him is our mother; and my earthly parents died; and I, when I was driven from Iconium in Phrygia, came here.” Rusticus the prefect said to Liberianus, “And what say you? Are you a Christian, and unwilling to worship [the gods]?” Liberianus said, “I too am a Christian, for I worship and reverence the only true God.” CHAPTER 4 RUSTICUS THREATENS THE CHRISTIANS WITH DEATH The prefect says to Justin, “Hearken, you who are called learned, and think that you know true doctrines; if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe you will ascend into heaven?” Justin said, “I hope that, if I endure these things, I shall have His gifts. For I know that, to all who have thus lived, there abides the divine favor until the completion of the whole world.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Let us, then, now come to the matter in hand, and which presses. Having come together, offer sacrifice with one accord to the gods.” Justin said, “No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Unless ye obey, ye shall be mercilessly punished.” Justin said, “Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Savior.” Thus also said the other martyrs: “Do what you will, for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols.” CHAPTER 5 SENTENCE PRONOUNCED AND EXECUTED Rusticus the prefect pronounced sentence, saying, “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged, and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws.” The holy martyrs having glorified God, and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Savior. And some of the faithful having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” In Platner’s Topography of Rome under THERMAE NOVATI, the phrase naming the Baths in the Acts of Justin above is understood thus: Martinou tou Timothinou balaneion, which would seem to mean the “Baths of Martinus son of Timothinus.” If that is the correct reading, and in the light of the traditions connecting the baths of Santa Pudenziana with Timothy, son of Pudens, Timothinus could have been a freed Christian slave of Timothy, who adopted, as was customary, his master’s name; and hence Martinus, the son of Timothinus, became the pastor of the congregation which met there, c. AD 145, i.e. at least as early as the first arrival of Justin in Rome, not long after the era of Pastor Hermas and Timothy. Similarly, the name of Novatian (Novatianus), who became a noted figure in the same house-church in the third century, following Hippolytus, and the leader of the “Novatianist sect” (so named by its enemies in the First Church), may reveal a connection between him and the household of Novatus, the “brother” of Timothy, who likewise bequeathed his name to the baths at Santa Pudenziana.


129. Justin, First Apology, 68: “EPISTLE OF MARCUS AURELIUS TO THE SENATE, IN WHICH HE TESTIFIES THAT THE CHRISTIANS WERE THE CAUSE OF HIS VICTORY The Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Germanicus, Parthicus, Sarmaticus, to the People of Rome, and to the sacred Senate greeting: I explained to you my grand design, and what advantages I gained on the confines of Germany, with much labor and suffering, in consequence of the circumstance that I was surrounded by the enemy; I myself being shut up in Carnuntum by seventy-four cohorts, nine miles off. And the enemy being at hand, the scouts pointed out to us, and our general Pompeianus showed us that there was close on us a mass of a mixed multitude of 977,000 men, which indeed we saw; and I was shut up by this vast host, having with me only a battalion composed of the first, tenth, double and marine legions. Having then examined my own position, and my host, with respect to the vast mass of barbarians and of the enemy, I quickly betook myself to prayer to the gods of my country. But being disregarded by them, I summoned those who among us go by the name of Christians. And having made inquiry, I discovered a great number and vast host of them, and raged against them, which was by no means becoming; for afterwards I learned their power. Wherefore they began the battle, not by preparing weapons, nor arms, nor bugles; for such preparation is hateful to them, on account of the God they bear about in their conscience. Therefore it is probable that those whom we suppose to be atheists, have God as their ruling power entrenched in their conscience. For having cast themselves on the ground, they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. For during five days we had got no water, because there was none; for we were in the heart of Germany, and in the enemy’s territory. And simultaneously with their casting themselves on the ground, and praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering hail. And immediately we recognized the presence of God following on the prayer — a God unconquerable and indestructible. Founding upon this, then, let us pardon such as are Christians, lest they pray for and obtain such a weapon against ourselves. And I counsel that no such person be accused on the ground of his being a Christian. But if any one be found laying to the charge of a Christian that he is a Christian, I desire that it be made manifest that he who is accused as a Christian, and acknowledges that he is one, is accused of nothing else than only this, that he is a Christian; but that he who arraigns him be burned alive. And I further desire, that he who is entrusted with the government of the province shall not compel the Christian, who confesses and certifies such a matter, to retract; neither shall he commit him. And I desire that these things be confirmed by a decree of the Senate. And I command this my edict to be published in the Forum of Trajan, in order that it may be read. The prefect Vitrasius Pollio will see that it be transmitted to all the provinces round about, and that no one who wishes to make use of or to possess it be hindered from obtaining a copy from the document I now publish.” For obvious reasons sceptical souls have questioned the genuineness of this letter which some date before the time of Tertullian, some as late as early in the fourth century. Harnack regarded it as substantially genuine, but interpolated. The verdict ultimately must be: “innocent unless proven guilty.”


130. See footnote 128, chapter 2.


131. See Appendix 10 for details of the martyrdom of Polycarp.


132. See Appendix 10, chapter 16.


133. See Appendix 11.


134. Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. V. iii. 4 — iv. 2: “The followers of Montanus, Alcibiades and Theodotus in Phrygia were now first giving wide circulation to their assumption in regard to prophecy, — for the many other miracles that, through the gift of God, were still wrought in the different churches caused their prophesying to be readily credited by many, — and as dissension arose concerning them, the brethren in Gaul set forth their own prudent and most orthodox judgment in the matter, and published also differing [Gk. diaphorous] epistles from the witnesses that had been put to death among them. These they sent, while they were still in prison, to the brethren throughout Asia and Phrygia, and also to Eleutherus, who was then bishop of Rome, negotiating for the peace of the churches. [CHAPTER 4] The same witnesses also recommended Irenaeus, who was already at that time a presbyter of the residential district of Lyons, to the above-mentioned bishop of Rome, saying many favorable things in regard to him, as the following extract shows: “We pray, Father Eleutherus, that you may rejoice in God in all things and always. We have requested our brother and comrade Irenaeus to carry this letter to you, and we ask you to hold him in esteem, as zealous for the covenant of Christ. For if we thought that office could confer righteousness upon any one, we should commend him among the first as a presbyter of the church, which is his position.” Why should we transcribe the catalogue of the witnesses given in the letter already mentioned, of whom some were beheaded, others cast to the wild beasts, and others fell asleep in prison, or give the number of confessors still surviving at that time? For whoever desires can readily find the full account by consulting the letter itself, which, as I have said, is recorded in our Collection of Martyrdoms.” The dating here, the martyrdom of Polycarp coinciding with the martyrdoms at Lyons (the latter datable to AD 177), follows the synchronism in Jerome’s edition of Eusebius’ Chronicle, though there both events are dated too early, to the 6th year of Aurelius = AD 166 (“Persecutione orta in Asia Polycarpus et Pionius fecere martyrium, quorum scriptae quoque passiones feruntur. Plurimi in Gallia gloriose ob nomen XPi interfecti, quorumusque in praesentem diem condita libris certamina perseuerant.”) The synchronism in this case, as commonly in ancient chronicles, is more worthy of credit than the absolute dating, and the latter has been generally abandoned. However the common modern dating of the martyrdom of Polycarp to AD 155/156 is also untenable. It does not explain how Irenaeus, who very early in his presbyterial careerwas present in Rome on his mission to Eleutherus c. AD 177, is said also to have “taught many” in Rome at the time of Polycarp’s martyrdom and, in fact, to have heard there a divine voice announcing that event the moment it happened (Irenaeus’ Martyrdom of Polycarp, xxii. 3, 5, Codex Mosquensis 159, 13th century: “3. For this Irenaeus, at the time of the martyrdom of the bishop Polycarp, was in Rome, and taught many, and many most excellent writings are extant, in which he mentions Polycarp …. 5. And this also is recorded in the writings of Irenaeus, that at the day and hour when Polycarp suffered in Smyrna Irenaeus, being in the city of the Romans, heard a voice like a trumpet saying: “Polycarp has suffered martyrdom.””). There is no evidence that Irenaeus visited Rome twice, and it is inherently unlikely that he would have had any reason or means to do so, or that he could have “taught many,” in his earliest youth, or before he was ordained, as, contrariwise, the dating to AD 155/156 would require. In the MSS of Polycarp’s Martyrdom (xxi. 1) the event is dated precisely to the 8th hour (around 2 pm) of the 2nd of the month Xanthicus (the Macedonian calendar date used in Smyrna), and to the “7th before the kalends of March” (= 23rd February, the Julian equivalent), and that day is declared to have been “a great Sabbath” — an echo of the New Testament term used to describe the Sabbath when Jesus lay in the tomb (John 19. 31). In AD 177 Feb. 23 was, in fact, a Saturday. Likewise in Justin’s case, it would have been no surprise, as it was, to Melito, that persecution broke out in the reign of the philosophic Marcus Aurelius c. AD 177, if the famous martyr Justin, not to mention the great Asian patriarch Polycarp from Melito’s own homeland (on the chronology of Jerome-Eusebius), had been executed earlier by the same emperor. Therefore, unless and until any other more substantial evidence becomes available, the “kings” referred to in the account of the martyrdom of Justin and his brethren must be held to be Marcus Aurelius and his son, Lucius Commodus, the two emperors referred to by Melito in his letter to Rome which denounced the unexpected persecution, and Justin’s martyrdom dated, with that of Polycarp and the martyrs of Lyons, to c. AD 177. The deposition amongst the apologetic works of Justin of the decree of Aurelius issued as a consequence of the Thundering Legion miracle, which occurred c. AD 173-4 shortly before the elevation of Lucius Commodus to joint rule, may in that case reflect a genuine, historical, connection between Justin’s defence at his trial and that decree. Justin himself, or some ancient compiler, could have used it as evidence that the proceedings against him went against the recently adopted policy of Aurelius.


135. Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 53: “…. Tertullian. He was presbyter of the church until middle life, afterwards driven by the envy and abuse of the clergy of the Roman church, he lapsed to the doctrine of Montanus, and mentions the new prophecy in many of his books.”


136. Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. V. xvi.18-20, citing Apolinarius of Hierapolis: “Again in the same work, after saying other things in refutation of the false prophecies of Maximilla, he indicates the time when he wrote these accounts, and mentions her predictions in which she prophesied wars and anarchy. Their falsehood he censures in the following manner: “And has not this been shown clearly to be false? For it is today more than thirteen years since the woman died, and there has been neither a partial nor general war in the world; but rather, through the mercy of God, continued peace even to the Christians.” These things are taken from the second book.” Ibid., xviii. 2, citing Apollonius: “His actions and his teaching show who this new teacher is. This is he who taught the dissolution of marriage; who made laws for fasting; who named Pepuza and Tymion, small towns in Phrygia, Jerusalem, wishing to gather people to them from all directions who appointed collectors of money; who contrived the receiving of gifts under the name of offerings; who provided salaries for those who preached his doctrine, that its teaching might prevail through gluttony.”


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