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The reign of Trajan was the period of the last classical Latin literature. He belonged to the same circle in Rome as Tacitus and Pliny, who perpetuated the memory of the great aristocratic tradition in literature and government. Tacitus had gone through the offices of state under Domitian and had suffered spiritually as a result of his tyranny. In his numerous historical works the moralizing turn which was natural to the conservative Roman mind had been infected with pessimism and bitterness. The pictures which he drew of Rome under the bad Caesars are partly history and partly satire. He seems to have seen clearly the insecurity of the empire, and may have been doubtful about its future. We have made use of his Annals in describing the persecution under Nero in 64. He was about ten years old when those events took place, and would remember the burning of the city and the hunting down of the Christians in those hot summer months. He never troubled to correct the impression of the Christians which he had received from his elders at that time; nevertheless the account which he gives of the Christians is better informed than the account which he gives of the Jews.
Gaius Plinius Secundus is called Pliny the Younger, to distinguish him from his uncle the admiral, by whom he was brought up. Pliny the Elder wrote copiously on scientific subjects. It is possible that Clement of Rome drew from his writings the particulars about the bird called the phoenix, which he uses as an argument in favour of the resurrection ; and if so, he erred, as theologians may, by following the accepted text-books of the day. Pliny the Elder had a genuine scientific interest in natural phenomena, and lost his life by investigating too closely the |429 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79. His nephew, the younger Pliny, was a man of literary tastes and varied interests, whose letters shed light on many aspects of the social life of his time.
Suetonius was what we would call a civil servant. He was encouraged by the younger Pliny to devote himself to literature, and about 120 he published his Lives of the Caesars. He has been described in modern times as a gossip-writer; but his intimate stories, as they sometimes are, were often obtained from good sources and are of great value to the historian. He dismisses the persecution of the Christians by Nero in a single sentence.
In September 111, the younger Pliny arrived in the province of Pontus and Bithynia to govern it as a special representative of the emperor. This province was situated in the northern part of Asia Minor along
the shore of the Black Sea, where there were a number of flourishing sea-ports. Among these was Sinope, which was the birthplace of Aquila, the convert to Judaism who made the new translation of the Hebrew scriptures for the Rabbi Akiba. It was also the birthplace of the heretic Marcion, who came to hate the Jewish religion and attempted to eradicate every trace of it from the Christian faith. He is said to have been the son of the Christian bishop, and must have been in his boyhood or youth when Pliny arrived.
The origin of Christianity in Pontus and Bithynia is not known. It was not Pauline territory. Some sign from heaven deterred Paul and his companions from visiting it in their missionary journey of A.D. 50. It would appear that it became Petrine territory. In the sixties it received an Epistle from Peter, written through Silvanus, from Rome, in which Mark also sent his salutations. It would seem likely, therefore, that the bishop of Sinope was an adherent of the tradition of Peter, and probably too of Matthew. His celebrated son had a poor opinion of Peter, and rejected Matthew; he was intoxicated by the strong wine of the gospel of Paul, as he found it expressed in his Epistles, and expounded in the Docetic schools. He believed in liberty and the Spirit of the Lord.
The Epistle of Peter had been written under the shadow of a great persecution, the danger of which overhung the churches to which it
|430 was addressed; and it is possible that they were touched by further persecutions beginning in the nineties under Domitian; for Pliny speaks of apostasies from Christianity, the first of which occurred more than twenty years before the time at which he wrote. Some of those scholars who regard 1 Peter as a pious fiction assign it to the period of these hypothetical persecutions, or even to the period of Pliny himself; but here scepticism overreaches itself. It belongs to an earlier generation. It shows no awareness of the danger of Docetic heresy or indeed of any heresy. That is why it had to be supplemented by the writing of 2 Peter.
Pliny the Younger followed the example of Cicero, who had also been a governor in Asia Minor, by preparing his numerous letters for publication. It is fortunate for the historian of Christianity that he addressed one of them to the emperor on the difficult question of how to deal with the Christians. We do not, of course, expect to find in the case of Trajan and his successors instances of imperial savagery and mob-violence on a large scale, or the liquidation of obnoxious persons by police action. The lives and properties of Christians were no longer in danger from such causes; but they were far from secure.
There was no law or imperial decree, so far as we know, condemning Christianity by name; but there was no need for such a law. The church was an international organization of a semi-secret character which was universally regarded as a danger to the state. Its founder had been condemned in a Roman court, and executed as a criminal, but this had not checked its advance; his followers gloried in the fact of his crucifixion and took his cross as their emblem. It had spread with alarming rapidity to Rome, where its ringleaders had been seized and executed with numbers of their followers. The affair had not been very creditable to the emperor of the time, but, after all, these people had been justly hated for their secret crimes. Such is the account of them that Pliny would have received from his friend Tacitus; but fortunately he was broad-minded enough to make further inquiries.
There was another aspect of the case. The Roman administration was nervous about clubs and societies and associations of a voluntary character, since they could be used by disaffected persons for political purposes. Such free associations were not to be tolerated. It was part |431 of that process by which a cultured and enlightened bureaucracy was slowly eliminating such human liberties as there were. Pliny had been ordered by the emperor to enforce this policy firmly, and he had done so, even to the extent of suppressing the fire brigade at Nicomedia. The church organization, therefore, would be liable to dissolution without any special law being passed. Furthermore, Christianity was not one of the religions which the state recognized, protected and supported; on the contrary, the new faith carried on an unremitting propaganda against all the old religions. Worst of all, when Christians were brought to trial, they refused to offer the accustomed religious homage to the emperor. This confirmed the view of Tacitus that they were enemies of the state.
The worship of the emperor was not taken very seriously from a theological point of view. It is difficult to suppose that anybody in Rome thought of Trajan as a god. It was an act of loyalty on which the security of the world-state reposed; but the idea of civic loyalty was so closely connected with the old rituals as to have taken the form of religion in some respects. It was capable, too, of explanation by the philosophers; for Seneca had taught Nero that he was the instrument of the deity, by whose providence he had been brought to the throne of the world. It was possible also to make a distinction between the emperor personally, and his 'genius' or guardian spirit.
In the east matters were otherwise. In ages past the oriental empires and kingdoms had been ruled by monarchs who were honoured as gods. Alexander the Great had conquered that empire and had been invested with divine honours, which his Greek subjects seem to have accorded him with some enthusiasm. His successors, the Seleucids and Ptolemies, had been gods too. When the Roman emperors acquired these kingdoms, they became gods in their turn. Many temples had been erected to the Roman emperors in Asia Minor. It would be a serious affair, therefore, in these regions. The conflict between Christ and Caesar would be acute. Each was called Lord and God and Saviour. To confess one was to deny the other. Some feeling for the dignity and freedom of man underlay this refusal to submit to the divinity of the ruler; for it was an inheritance from the old intolerant Hebrew monotheism that would bow the head to none but God Almighty; a conviction which is the only final bulwark of freedom.
Pliny soon found himself obliged to make investigations into the activities of the Christians. An anonymous letter came in which accused a number of people by name. He found to his alarm that Christians were numerous. It was not only a question of the cities, but of villages and farms. The temples were deserted, he was told, the sacred rites had ceased in some instances and animals put up for sale found few buyers. No doubt these pictures were rather highly coloured, and the situation, such as it was, may not have been entirely due to the spread of the gospel. Fifty years later Lucian remarked that Pontus was full of atheists and Christians; and by atheists he meant the philosophers of the school of Epicurus, who were devotees of a scientific rationalism. But it was natural to blame the mysterious sect of the Christians for the decline in the fortunes of the indigenous cults, whose follies, of course, they must have been pointing out. The church had made considerable progress; for Christianity appears to have begun its work in the cities; it would take time for it to establish itself there and then expand into the country districts in such force.
Pliny was not quite certain of the correct legal procedure, as he had not taken part in such trials before; either they were not very frequent in Rome now,or else he had not happened to preside at a court where they had come up. He asked each accused person whether he was a Christian. If he confessed, he was asked the fatal question a second time with threats of punishment. If he still confessed after a third inquiry, he was condemned to death; for Pliny did not doubt that, quite apart from the confession of Christ, such inflexible obstinacy deserved to be punished. Some of the accused, however, had the Roman citizenship, and these were sent to the emperor himself for trial.
Some denied that they had ever been Christians, and these were asked to prove their sincerity by invoking the gods and offering incense and libations of wine before the emperor's statue, and cursing Christ; none of which things, he was advised, a real Christian could be compelled to do. There were others who began by confessing, but then denied, and proved their loyalty by complying with these ceremonies. |433 Others said that they had once been Christians, but had ceased to be so, in some cases three years before, but many of them much earlier, and one of them more than twenty years ago. These apostasies may have been due to earlier persecutions.
The procedure sounds so satisfactory from the point of view of administrative routine that it is rather remarkable that he carried his investigations any farther; but he seems to have inherited some of his uncle's interest in finding out the actual facts of a situation. He made further inquiries of the apostates, in order to discover what the substance of their guilt or error amounted to. The impression which he received was rather confused, and perhaps they did not tell him everything. What he learned was that it was their custom to assemble together before sunrise on a fixed day and sing an antiphonal chant to Christ as to a god; they then bound themselves with a solemn oath (sacramentum) 'not to steal, not to rob, not to commit adultery, not to break their faith, and not to deny the deposit if called upon'; a catechetical or baptismal formula like that which Elkhasai demanded of his penitents at their immersion; and Ignatius speaks of commandments which were given when making disciples, that is to say at baptism; see Matthew xxviii. 19 – 20.
The deposit which must not be denied may be the confession of Christ which was first made at baptism.
When they had finished their worship, and bound themselves with their oath, they dispersed, but came together again later on for the purpose of taking food, which was of a harmless and ordinary sort; and even this had been given up after he had published his edict against the formation of clubs and associations, at the command of the emperor.
In order to confirm the evidence of the apostates, he examined with torture two slave-girls, who were called deaconesses (ministrae), and found out nothing at all but an evil and extravagant superstition. What he had expected to find, of course, was some particulars about the secret crimes of which Tacitus had spoken. It was fully believed, for a hundred years or more, that Christians met together to feed on the body of a murdered child, after which they indulged in promiscuous sexual intercourse. His resolution was obviously a little weakened by his discovery of the innocence of Christian religious life, and he decided to delay further action until he had found out from the emperor whether Christians were put to death solely on account of 'the name', or for |434 the crimes which were supposed to be connected with it. No doubt his letter was carried by the officer who was in charge of the party of Christians who happened to be Roman citizens.
A second, and perhaps a more powerful motive for consulting the emperor, was that he found himself running into serious difficulties owing to the number of suspects involved, who were of all ages and social classes. Important persons might turn out to be Christians. The fear of touching such persons may have moderated more than one persecution.
The short reply, or 'rescript', of the emperor, is one of the important documents of the period, since it had the force of law. He admitted that it was difficult to lay down a definite procedure which could be adhered to in all cases, and commended Pliny for the policy which he had adopted. Christians were not to be inquired after; but if it happened that they were accused and found guilty, they must be punished; but any one who denied that he was a Christian, and proved it by offering worship to 'our gods', should be pardoned on account of his repentance, however suspicious his past behaviour might have been. On the other hand, papers that came in without any name signed to them ought not to be taken into account in any inquiry; 'that kind of thing is a bad precedent, and unworthy of the times in which we are living'.
The good emperor looked back with contempt on Domitian's policy of espionage and heresy-hunting, under which noble Romans and leading philosophers had been made to suffer. He wished to protect well-affected citizens from baseless and malicious accusations. Even in the case of Christians, he saw no point in persecutions and inquisitions; he extended to them a slight degree of protection in his 'conquirendi non sunt ' – 'they are not to be sought out'. Nevertheless the position of the Christian remained insecure. He was at the mercy of a badly disposed neighbour who wanted revenge, or the violence of the mob which wanted blood and loot; and once he stood before the judge, his position was hopeless unless he was prepared to deny his faith, in which case his chance of restoration to his place in the church was small indeed.
A curious dualism of language had grown up in this horrible business, and martyrdom had its ritual and its terminology, half legal and
|435 half evangelical; we shall see more of it in the Epistles of Ignatius. The use of the word ' name' was common to the Christian Gospel and the Roman law-court; and so too were the words 'confess' and 'deny'. It was anticipated as long ago as the time when Peter wrote his Epistle. 'Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a busybody', the apostle had said, 'but if he suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in this name.' In this short sentence, the words 'suffer' 'ashamed', 'glorify', and 'name', are taken out of the Gospel vocabulary, and set like jewels round the word Christian, which was new then, and apparently not liked by those who had it thrown at them. By Pliny's time, fifty years later, the usage was well established, and it was a point of honour for the martyrs to glory in it, as the apostle had urged.
We must now turn our attention to the city of Antioch where the name Christian had been coined; but before taking up the story of persecution there, we must supply a sketch of the historical background.
In the year 113, in which Pliny returned to Rome and died, Trajan arrived in his eastern capital, and spent the winter there in preparation for his great eastern adventure. Antioch now saw its king (for this word was freely used of the Roman emperors in the Greek and Syrian tongues) for the first time since the Seleucid empire had petered out under the blows of the Parthian power and the Roman armies. He was a soldier of distinction, and his soul was fired with the ambition of reviving in his own person the military glories of Alexander and conquering on behalf of Rome the age-old empire of the far east. Progress had been made in the subjection of Britain, and protracted wars against the Germans had strengthened the frontier-line on the Rhine and the Danube. If these defences could be held, he could safely turn eastward and revenge certain ancient defeats which Rome had suffered from the Parthians, extend her boundaries as far as the Persian Gulf, and control the trade-routes to India and China.
In 114 Trajan occupied the buffer-state of Armenia, which was regarded as a Roman satellite, and then advanced into northern Mesopotamia, which he conquered without difficulty and proceeded to organize as a Roman province. Meanwhile his second-in-command, Lusius Quietus, who was a Moorish chieftain, marched down the |436 Euphrates River as far as Singara. In the following year, 115, Trajan joined forces with him, and proceeded to invade the south-eastern part of Mesopotamia. But during this campaign news came to him of Jewish rebellions in Egypt arid in the adjoining province of Cyrene, under a 'king' named Lukuas or Andrew. Horrible massacres and barbarities are said to have occurred, and two hundred and twenty thousand people are said to have been killed by the insurgents. Soon the revolt spread to the island of Cyprus, where twenty-four thousand are said to have been murdered in a rising of the Jews. Unfortunately we have to depend on the evidence of third-century historians for this information, and our picture of the events lacks precision, or possibly has too much; but archaeological evidence shows that many cities in Cyrene were badly damaged. The Jews had obviously taken advantage of the eastern advance of Trajan to raise a rebellion in those countries. No doubt they had an understanding with the Parthians and other oriental nations; and it is natural to believe that they joined forces with other subject nations or oppressed classes. It is possible, too, that the massacres and barbarities were not all on one side. It was a serious crisis, and Trajan had to send one of his best generals, Martius Turbo, to Egypt, with forces that he must have been in need of himself, to quell the risings. They were put down with great severity, and it is probable that the decline of Judaism in Alexandria dates from this unhappy rebellion of which so little is known.
Trajan was not deterred by these events. Later in 115 he marched farther down the Euphrates to the site of the ancient Babylon, and captured Ctesiphon, the capital city of the Parthian monarch. He then continued his march to the shores of the Persian Gulf. The way to India was now open, and he exercised control of more territory than any other conqueror in human history; but he had moved too fast, and it would not be his destiny to outshine Alexander.
When he had reached his farthest point of conquest, Parthia renewed hostilities, and his new province of Mesopotamia rose against him. Quietus put down the Mesopotamian revolt, and is said to have slaughtered great numbers of Jews in doing so. There were many Jewish colonies in these parts, and we infer that they had joined in the rising. Palestine remained quiet; but trouble seems to have been expected there, since Quietus was put in charge. By the year 117 order is said to have been restored at terrible cost, but Trajan died on August 8 at |437 Selenus in Cilicia. The situation was uncertain, and all the eastern conquests of Trajan, with the exception of Arabia, were wisely abandoned by his successor Hadrian, though kings of his own choosing appear to have been left in command of the various principalities.
According to Epiphanius, Hadrian authorized reconstruction work in Jerusalem at this time, which is likely enough, since the frontier had to be strongly held.
We have been making use from time to time of the evidence of Hegesippus, who may have been born about this time, probably in Palestine itself. We now turn to the pages of Epiphanius, who used the work of Hegesippus and other old documentary material, the origin of which is not known.
Epiphanius was a native of Cyprus who lived in the fourth century. After visiting Egypt, where he had some contact with the Gnostic sects, he settled for a time in Palestine. While he was there, he became head of a monastery at Eleutheropolis in Galilee, where he made researches into the history of Jewish and Jewish-Christian sects. He returned to Cyprus, and became bishop of Salamis. He was an important ecclesiastical figure in his day, and about the year 375 he composed his Panarion, in which he catalogued, described, derided and refuted every known kind of heresy which had ever existed. He has no historical ability, but he sometimes makes use of older sources without acknowledging the fact. He mentions in a general way his indebtedness to Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus and' many others'; and among the many others was Hegesippus, from whom he took the stories of the asceticism and martyrdom of James, and doubtless too the story of the flight of the Jerusalem disciples to Pella, previous to A.D. 70.
He has some more passages of the same kind, dealing with events in the second century, and we find among them some acceptable dates, which commends them to us. In his book Concerning Weights and Measures he copies from some source a chronology of the Roman emperors, and remarks that sixty-five years elapsed between the crucifixion of Jesus and the 'desolation', by which he means the capture of Jerusalem by Titus in 70. Actually this is the period between the |438 'desolation' in 70 and the formal restoration in 135. He has garbled an accurate statement through sheer carelessness; but he is using a good source, which counts its dates from the 'desolation', not from the crucifixion, as he thought.
He goes on to give an account of Aquila the translator, and says that he achieved fame in the twelfth year of Hadrian, which was 129, a quite possible date which scholars have found acceptable. It then tells a curious tale about a sickness of Hadrian, and a journey of his through Antioch, Syria and Palestine, which sounds as if it ought to be the famous journey through Syria to Egypt in 129; but he dates it, very surprisingly, in the forty-seventh year after the 'desolation', that is to say in 117. Now this is the year in which Hadrian succeeded Trajan; and a journey from Antioch to Palestine is not impossible; but it looks more likely that two stories, each with a good date, have got hooked together.
The narrative goes on to give an account of the condition of Jerusalem. It says that Titus had torn down the whole city and levelled it to the ground, with the exception of a few dwelling-houses which were situated in the quarter known as Zion, that is to say the hill called Ophel which runs southward from the Temple-site on the eastern side of the city; not the western hill which is called Zion to-day. In addition to these houses, there were seven synagogues and a small Christian church. One of these synagogues was still standing in the reign of Constantine, Epiphanius says. He does not say whether the small Christian church remained standing so long; but Eusebius, in his Demonstration of the Gospel, speaks of a large Christian church which remained standing in Jerusalem up to the war of 131-35. This would seem to be a fourth-century form of the old story in Epiphanius.
This story in Epiphanius does not sound like a fourth-century invention, and the seven synagogues recall the theory of Hegesippus that the Jews were divided into seven sects. There were seven synagogues left over, but only one church. Is it possible that Epiphanius is making use of the Note-books of Hegesippus at this point?
The Christian church was the same building to which the apostles returned on the day of the Ascension, his document goes on to say. It had a congregation once more; for the disciples of the apostles, who had removed to Pella in obedience to an oracle given by an angel, had returned to Jerusalem and were flourishing in the faith and performing |439 great signs. This statement suggests that the story of the flight to Pella must have stood in the document which Epiphanius was using, which numbered the years from the date of the 'desolation' when the flight occurred.
This is all introductory to the story of Aquila, who was now entrusted by Hadrian with the responsibility for the reconstruction of the city. He was still a Gentile, but he was deeply impressed by the Christian teachers whom he found in Jerusalem and asked for baptism, which was granted. Unfortunately he failed to renounce his interest in astrology and calculated horoscopes every day. He was warned by the Christian teachers, but persisted in his error. Finally he was excommunicated. Mortified by this treatment, he had himself enrolled as a Jewish proselyte and was circumcised. He devoted himself to the study of the Hebrew language, and produced his new translation of the Old Testament with the object of giving a new rendering of those passages on which the Christians principally relied in their arguments against the Jews.
The story of the relations between Aquila and the Christian teachers in Jerusalem has points of contact with the story of Marcion's relations with the Roman elders which Epiphanius uses in his Panarion.
The story of Hadrian and Aquila has only a shadowy claim to consideration as history and certainly seems to have some legendary features. On the other hand, it is placed in a historical setting which seems to be well informed. It is not really known, however, when Hadrian authorized the rebuilding of Jerusalem, except that it was between 117 and 130; (which by the by would allow room for thirteen bishops of the circumcision if they presided for one year each); and it is not known whether Aquila became a Christian before his conversion to Judaism. As for the re-establishment of the Jewish church in Jerusalem, the evidence which we have reviewed seems to make it highly probable. It is unfortunate that the facts of this period of transition are so imperfectly known, since it was a period of crisis in the relations between the Christians and the Jews; and these relations must have been afFected by the unrest on the Syrian border and the widespread wars and rebellions of the time.
|440 A western power, the Roman empire, confronted an eastern power, the Parthian empire, with its Persian inheritance, which was situated in the territory of the old Babylon. The various satellites, protectorates and buffer-states which were situated in the border-zones were deeply involved in their rivalries, and were alternatively under the control of one power or the other. The Jews of Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt were on the Parthian side, and many of them took an active part in the wars of 114 to 117. They were determined to regain their independence and rebuild their city and Temple. Some progress may have been made.
The line taken by Christians in these areas cannot be determined; but we cannot exclude the possibility that there were Jewish and Syrian Christians who sympathized with these rebellions. Fragments of apocalypse or scraps of oracular verse may turn out to refer to such conflicts. The prophet Elkhasai, for instance, has a reference to Trajan and the Parthians, though it is far from clear. The additions made about this time to the Apocalypse of Ezra are anti-Roman; and this book commended itself to some Christian churches.
It is not surprising, therefore, that there are signs of an anti-Jewish trend in the thinking of the Gentile churches. It appears, for instance, in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas and in the nascent gnostic heresies. It would be natural, under war conditions, for Gentile Christians within the Roman empire to repudiate very strongly their connexion with the rebellious and nationalistic Jews; and we do find the distinction very clearly enunciated in the writings of the bishop of Antioch of this period, the martyr Ignatius; 'Judaism' was one thing, 'Christianism' was quite another. And it is not anticipating things too much to point out that the objection of Marcion to the Jewish God was that he was fierce and severe and delighted in war. The school of Basilides in Alexandria went farther; the God of the Jews was tyrannical and belligerent and tried to subdue all the other nations to his nation; so it was natural that the other heavenly rulers would combine against him, and their nations fight against his.
Just so Elkhasai traced the disturbances in the kingdoms of god-lessness to certain stars of godlessness. The idea of patron gods or angels for nations was quite at home in Judaism, and seems to have passed into these Christian schools of thought. Enlightened Gentiles would not put up with a mere national deity such as Jehovah appeared
|441 to be. They looked for a 'strange' deity, from beyond time and space, who had never had any connexion with this unfortunate planet. He was of course the high God of Syrian Hellenism or Iranian faith, whose prophet had been the Persian Zoroaster; or a fusion of the two.
Marcion was not yet propagating his views, nor Basilides either in all probability, though precursors of theirs were at work who were forming their minds; but Satornil may have been at the beginning of his career. We have no means of dating him beyond the fact that Justin regarded him as the successor of Menander in Antioch. He appears to have come at an early stage in the development of gnosticism; and the Syrian gnosis appears to have preceded the Alexandrian. It was in his hands apparently that the gospel of Jesus Christ was first blended with oriental monotheism in a mythical form which commanded the attention of serious thinkers.
His God was the nameless and timeless deity who exists in infinite space; but he differed from Simon Magus in admitting no sexual element into his myth. He accepted the idea of the seven angels or planetary deities who made the world, the chief of them being the God of the Jews; but they had no female spirit to guide them, or give order and beauty to their work, such as we find in Simon and Hermas.
The nameless God emitted, from his own immaterial being, a luminous image in the form of a man, an idea which seems to be borrowed from the Iranian cosmology, though it lies hidden in the first chapter of Genesis; for God made man in his own image and likeness. The idea of a heavenly man, or something man-like in the being of God, was by now a widespread concept of oriental religious thought; we think of the Son of Man of Daniel and the Gospels, the heavenly man of Paul, the glorious angel of Hermas, and the Christus of Elkhasai who was also Adam. The seven creator angels had some vision of this man of light, and said one to another, 'Let us make a man according to the image and the likeness'. They did their best, but the thing which they made lay helpless on the earth, unable to stand erect. Then the power which is above took pity on it, because it was made in its image, and sent down a spark of light or life, which raised it up and made it live.
This beautiful myth may come from the repertoire of some pre-|442Christian oriental sect which had already developed an ascetic gnosis based on a mythological handling of the Genesis story. Another version of it is to be found in the tangled mythology of the 'Ophite' gnostics who regarded the serpent as the highest symbol of the divine nature. Jehovah was the jealous god in the bad sense of the word; his law was evil and tyrannical; but the wise serpent persuaded Eve to take the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge (or 'gnosis') which was the food of eternal life.
Satornil may have thought rather less severely of the Hebrew God, since he admitted that he carried on a perpetual warfare against the devil and his daemons; and therefore he may have been wrongly quoted in saying that the Saviour came into the world to destroy him. He may have allowed him a middle position between the high God and the devil, which is what he had in some of the gnostic schools. On the other hand, his system of ethics was strictly dualistic. There were only two kinds of men, those who had the spark of heavenly light in their souls, and those who had not. The former would be saved and ascend to the heavenly realms where their souls belonged. The others were non-spiritual, and could not be saved; there was nothing in them to save.
The Saviour was pure spirit. He could not have had a body, because everything which had to do with the body was evil. Marrying and giving in marriage are works of the devil; wine and flesh-meat must be renounced. No moral charges seem to have been brought against the school of Satornil; on the contrary, he can be accused of imposing too severe a regime of self-denial; but the strict holy ascetic life was highly regarded in the east, and was adopted by Marcion and others as an essential part of the gospel. It invaded the church under the name of Encratism.
It was not so with the Ophites. Their complex myth was given a romantic turn by the incorporation into it of a lovely female being who was called the First Woman or Holy Spirit, or in the Egyptian versions of the myth, Sophia or heavenly Wisdom. Another name for her was Zoe, the Greek word for life, which is used in the Septuagint to represent the name Eve. She is the bride of the Primal Man (or highest deity) and the mother of the Second Man (the heavenly Adam), and the Mother of all living. Indeed, her names are endless, and she looks at times like the east Mediterranean earth-mother, or some heavenly
|443 lady from the Syrian pantheon. She may even be the formless matter from which the world was made. The sons of this mother were no enthusiasts for asceticism, or even for ordinary sexual morals. They appear in Egypt rather than Syria.
If we had a first-hand record of the views and character of Satornil, we might not find him so easy to classify as we do when working from the miniature portrait which Irenaeus gives us, working no doubt from the lost works of Justin. We might find that certain unusual or fantastic features had been selected in such a way as to produce something of a caricature. We might find a poet or mystic of considerable genius, who had studied Paul and was interpreting the new gospel in the terms of the contemporary religious idealism. Nor should we allow ourselves to feel impatient about the myths. They were a serious mode of thought and have a facility of their own for the expression of spiritual truths. They appear in our history at this point, and are entitled to serious consideration.
When we come to Satornil's bishop, the great Ignatius, we have the man's own letters to judge by and the task is more complex. He, too, might be called a gnostic, since he has a touch of the myth-maker and the poet in his make-up; but if so, he was a flesh-and-blood gnostic of the school of John, whose theology he knew. He was no Hebraist, though he extols the divine prophets as pupils of Jesus before his time. His true interest was in the gospel itself, just as Satornil's probably was; but he asserts the flesh-and-blood character of the Saviour's life on earth, and in particular the reality of his death and resurrection.
Ignatius, or Egnatius, is a Latin name. He was also known by the Greek name of Theophorus or God-bearer; but he was neither a Greek nor a Roman by temperament; he was an oriental. He had the ardent Syrian spirit. He was without formal education of the classical Greek kind. He shows some knowledge of Greek literary models but his style must be classified as barbarous. Nevertheless, he dictated a vigorous poetic prose, which was highly dramatic and effective. A self-conscious modern taste finds itself embarrassed by the passionate feeling which embodies itself in his stream of paradoxes and epigrams and other figures of speech. He is always dramatizing himself, alternating as |444 he does so between an excited exaltation and a profound abasement; but he is not unsteady. His rhetoric is brave and true and firm; for it is the rhetoric of a brave and true and firm man. And what it was on paper, that it was in the ecclesia; and what it was in the ecclesia, that it was as he stood in chains between the soldiers who guarded him.
Ignatius had a message to give to the Christian world which arose out of his own personal experience in this age of conflict and confusion. It was the importance, before everything else, of unity. He believed ardently in one God and one Lord Jesus Christ, not in a host of heavenly beings. He knew how the one Gospel of Matthew had been composed and adopted for use in his ecclesia. He knew how the worship of the one altar had given his congregation a sense of the divine harmony. He knew how the rule of one bishop presiding among his apostolic elders had made for peace and stability. He does not tell us about the origin of these things; for he was as little interested in the past as he was in the future. What interested him was the power of the living God which had taken possession of his spirit and flesh through the Lord and Master for whom he was glad to lay down his life.
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