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|177 NOTES TO MAP 2
(1) The Churches of the Revelation
The map shows the Island of Patmos, where the Revelation was written; and the seven churches to which it was sent. A broken line shows the division between the Roman provinces of Asia and Galatia (and, in the south, Pamphylia).
(2) The Lycus River.
The Phrygian cities are related to the river system. These rivers flow down from a mountainous country through wooded glens. The important cities of Hierapolis, Laodicea and Colossae are situated on the Lycus River, a little above its confluence with the Meander. All three are mentioned in St Paul's Epistle to the Colossians, and they are close enough together to have a common history.
Hierapolis had become the leading church, owing to the important work of the apostle Philip in the first century and his successor Papias in the second.
Further east, along the high-road, is the important city of Apamea, where there was a Jewish community which had combined the worship of Jehovah with that of a local deity named Sabazius. The city recognized this
(3) The Glaucus River
The Glaucus River and its tributaries flow down into the Meander out of the high mountain country. In these deep valleys, a prophetic form of the gospel seems to have outstripped the church organization and created the Phrygian form of Christianity known as Montanism.
The principal Montanist centres were Ardabau, the home of Montanus, whose site is unknown; Pepuza, the 'New Jerusalem' of the sect; and Tymion, near Pepuza. These villages were the holy land of 'Montanus and his women'.
Higher up the Glaucus River was the Phrygian 'Pentapolis', or 'Five Towns'. In one of these the 'Anonymous* author of a work against Montanism wrote his book about 192; he was probably a bishop. He wrote at the request of Bishop Avircius of Hieropolis and of a synod which had met at Ancyra, which he attended with his friend Zoticus of Otrous. This Zoticus is, very likely, different from the Zoticus of Cumana who assisted Julian of Apamea to examine the prophetess Maximilla.
The site of this Cumana is unknown, but it is suggested that it was in the neighbourhood of Apamea, where the name Zoticus was common. There is a Komama in southern Galatia, and a Comana in northern.
(4) The Southern Galatian Cities
Farther to the east, the high-road veers north to avoid the Sultan Dagh Mountains, which run south of it, separating it from the Galatian part of Phrygia. Little Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra, were the cities which Paul visited on his 'first missionary journey' before A.D. 50. His Epistle to the Galatians is addressed to them.
They do not seem to have been subject to the Johannine influence. They were 'Encratite' in character, rather than 'Montanist'. They cherished the memory of Paul, and are the scene of the exploits of Thecla in the 'Acts of Paul'.
(5) Northern Galatia
The map marks the two principal cities of northern Galatia, Pessinus and Ancyra; this is the true Galatia, which had received its name from invading Gauls about three centuries before Christ. Pessinus was the holy city of the prehistoric earth-mother, known as the goddess Cybele; it was from this town that her black fetish-stone had been taken to Rome two hundred years before Christ. Ancyra is the modern Ankara. It was the scene of an anti-Montanist synod about the year 192.
We do not know when Christianity reached these cities.
What appears before us now in Asia Minor is the circle of seven churches which St John addressed in his Revelation. It is only about seventy years later, and some of them have become increasingly conscious of their inheritance in it. It would appear to have been a book of local interest, which only spread slowly to the churches of the Christian world. It was known to Theophilus of Antioch and to Clement of Alexandria, but the east as a whole did not accept it. It played an important part, however, in forming the Christianity of the Phrygian churches, which had not been evangelized by Paul himself. The story of Montanism shows that western Phrygia was essentially Johannine country.
There were two cities on the inland territory which gave leadership at this time to the whole of Asia Minor. One was Sardis, and the other was Hierapolis. Sardis had been the capital city of the mythical Croesus, who was king of Lydia; it had received a message of its own in the Revelation, but its early Christian history is not known. Its bishop was Melito. The other was Hierapolis, the principal city of Phrygia. It had been mentioned by Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians, but had received no message from John. This may have been because it was the headquarters of the apostle Philip. The connecting link between the apostolic age and the mid-second century was Papias, who, judging by his name, was a native Phrygian. Its bishop now was Claudius Apollinarius, whose position resembled that of a metropolitan.
Melito was an ascetic of holy life. Polycrates called him the blessed eunuch and says that he lived continually in the Holy Spirit: but the words of Polycrates should not perhaps be taken too literally. We learn from Tertullian that he was regarded as a prophet, though not in Montanist circles. In addition to being a mystic he was a learned scholar, and in particular a student of the Old Testament. He was not satisfied, however, with the state of Old Testament studies as he found it. A certain Onesimus had frequently requested him to provide him with a book of extracts from the Law and the prophets referring to the Saviour and the faith as a whole. He even desired to be reassured about the exact number and order of the ancient books. The fact is that the old 'Books of Testimonies' such as Justin had used were now quite inadequate: the text and the canonicity of the verses quoted by him were freely disputed by the Jews. The text of the Old Testament had become a subject for learned discussion, and new translations were being produced. Leaders of Christian thought had to keep up with these movements.
In order to obtain some reliable information, Melito made a pilgrimage to Palestine, as Peregrinus had done before him, and visited 'the place where these things were announced and effected'; that is to say the city of Aelia, as Jerusalem was now called. We do not know at what period of his life he did this; we are narrating it here in order to build up the portrait of the man. At Aelia he would meet the great Narcissus, who was even more famous than Melito himself as a holy man and ascetic, and became in due course bishop of Aelia. Melito brought back to Sardis a list of Old Testament books which is almost identical with the list which was sanctioned by the Jewish Rabbis at Jamnia in the nineties, and accepted in due course throughout the Christian church; but the book of Esther is missing, as it is in the canon of Athanasius. He agreed with Hegesippus, a Palestinian scholar, in giving Proverbs the title of the 'All-Virtuous Wisdom'. From these books he composed six volumes of extracts for Onesimus. It is interesting to learn that there was an authority in the Palestinian church to which the western churches deferred on this matter.
He also agreed with Hegesippus in making quotations from the Aramaic and the Syriac. It is interesting that Rome and Asia should |178 both have enjoyed the services of oriental scholars, which made possible some degree of contact with Jews and Jewish Christians on a bilingual basis. Some of the few scraps of Melito's writings which remain are in the Syriac language, and the suggestion has been made that he wrote them in that language. He may have been a Syrian. He was an exponent of the high monarchian theology like Ignatius, and rejoiced in the paradox of the incarnation.
He was begotten before the light, the creator of all things with the Father, fashioner of mankind.. . incarnate in the virgin, born at Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling-clothes ... pierced with the spear in the flesh, hanged upon the tree, buried in the earth, risen from the dead ... the repose of the departed, the finder of the lost, the charioteer of the cherubim, the chief of the army of angels, God of God, Son of the Father, Jesus Christ king for ever. Amen.
(Melito, Fragment, from R. M. Grant, Second-century Christianity, p. 77.)
His passionate, hurried, efflorescent style, with its poetic manner and its eye for the dramatic, is not Greek; nor is it always Christian. Pagan myth provides its splendid images for this new mode of Christian rhetoric. The figure of Christ is arrayed in the glory of the unconquered sun.
As when a copper globe full of fire within, flashing much light, is washed in cold water with a great noise, but the fire within is not quenched but again flashes fierily; so the sun, burning like lightning, is washed wholly but not extinguished... washed in a mystic baptism, he rejoices exceedingly. ... He rises as a new sun to men; driving out the darkness of night, he begets the light of day. On this course also the motion of the stars and the moon by nature moves; they are washed at the baptistery of the sun like good disciples. ... Now if the sun with the stars and the moon, is washed in the ocean, why not Christ too in the waters of Jordan? King of kings and governor of creation, the sun of the east who also appeared to the dead in hell and to mortals in the world, shone forth from heaven as the only sun.
(Ibid. p. 74.)
Melito wrote a book Concerning the Pascha whose opening words are quoted in Eusebius.
In the time of Servilius Paulus proconsul of Asia, at which season Sagaris witnessed as a martyr, there came a great controversy in Laodicea concerning the Pascha, which fell according to the season at that time: and these things were written.
(Melito, Concerning the Pascha, in Eusebius, E.H. iv, 26, 3.)
|179 We have made use of these words in fixing our chronology. The text is not in good shape. Servilius Paulus should be Sergius Paulus, whose proconsular years were 166-7 (or possibly 162); and the statement that the Pascha fell according to the season at that time has no meaning as it now stands.
Claudius Apollinarius, the bishop of Hierapolis, also wrote a book on this subject, a short extract from which is included in an Alexandrian document called the Paschal Chronicle. His manner is a little heavy and superior.
There are, to be sure, some who are contentious about these questions, owing to their ignorance; and we must forgive them for this; since ignorance does not merit accusation; what it needs is instruction.
Now what they assert is that the Lord ate the lamb on the fourteenth day [of the month Nisan], and that he suffered on the great day of the unleavened bread [which was the fifteenth]: and they interpret Matthew as saying what they imagine to be the case, so that their understanding of it is not in harmony with the Law; and according to them the Gospels appear to be at variance.
(Claudius Apollinarius, Concerning the Pascha, in the Paschal Chronicle, Preface.)
Apollinarius himself must have believed that the Lord suffered on the fourteenth, and so he must have somehow interpreted Matthew as saying what he imagined to be the case. He was attempting to harmonize it with John; but unfortunately the Gospels are at variance, and modern scholars are unable to reconcile them.
There were two customs then, but unfortunately it is not certain what they were. One's first impression is that the Matthaeans kept their Pascha on the fifteenth of Nisan, and the Johannines on the fourteenth; but there is another possibility which is more likely to be correct. Perhaps both observed the fourteenth, but in different ways; the Matthaeans keeping it as a Passover in imitation of the Jews,the Johannines ignoring its connexion with the Passover, and keeping it as the annual commemoration of the Crucifixion. Jesus was the true Paschal Lamb, and his sacrifice of himself upon the cross had fulfilled the type.
This is the first reference in the surviving literature to the Gospel of Matthew by name; and for Apollinarius, at any rate, there were a
|180 number of Gospels, which formed a harmonious group. It was inconceivable that they should disagree with one another. His opponents, of course, may have been Ebionites, who used Matthew only.
We now may return to our earlier synchronism, the martyrdom of Thraseas, which we assigned to the years 160-5. It was at the time of this martyrdom, Eusebius says, that a certain Zoticus confronted Maximilla at Pepuza, when she was making a pretence at prophesying, and attempted to refute the false spirit that was speaking through her; he gives as his authority for this statement a writer named Apollonius, who wrote an account of the New Prophecy at the end of the century: see Eusebius, E.H. v, 18, 13 and 14.
Eusebius depended for his information about the New Prophecy on two authors who wrote about 190 and 200. One of these was Apollonius; the other is referred to by scholars as 'The Anonymous', an unfortunate title, since it suggests that he put out his book anonymously, whereas he was actually a well-known ecclesiastic in his day whose name unfortunately has not been preserved. Eusebius gives the actual words in which he refers to the incident.
Approved men and bishops, Zoticus from the village of Cumana, and Julian from Apamea, were present to test and refute the spirit which was speaking; but Themiso and his followers stopped their mouths, and would not permit the false spirit which was deceiving the people to be refuted by them.
('The Anonymous', in Eusebius, E.H. v, 16, 17.)
The encounter was also referred to in a Montanist publication which was known as According to Asterius Urbanus. This work is thought to have been a collection of the inspired oracles of the Montanist leaders; for it contained the words in which Maximilla protested against such treatment.
I am driven away from the sheep as if I were a wolf; I am not a wolf; I am Word and Spirit and Power.
(Asterius Urbanus, ibid.)
The scene is a dramatic one. The two bishops are clearly in a minority, and have come from a distance. The location of Cumana is not known, but Apamea was a large city situated on the highway. It was not denied that Maximilla was inspired. That was regarded as |181 obvious. It was a spirit of some sort that spoke through the frenzied woman when she was in 'ecstasy'; and it had to be either the Spirit of God or the spirit of an unclean daemon. There was no other possibility. Paul and John had both said that the spirits should be examined or tested; and it was the duty of the church through its approved men and bishops to make the examination and to decide; but the venture came to nothing. Themiso was too strong for them. We hear of Themiso elsewhere; he was a high-ranking man in the hierarchy of the New Prophecy; a confessor, it was claimed, and the author of a 'catholic epistle'. It would seem that he was second in command to Montanus himself; perhaps his successor.
What we are watching here is a turning point in a conflict which had now become acute. The leaders of the church recognized that the New Prophecy was a strange phenomenon. They disliked the speaking 'in ecstasy', with its entire loss of mental control by the prophet. They tried to prove that the biblical prophets had not spoken 'in ecstasy'. At some time or another the prophets were ruled out of order.
This schism was bound to come. It was not possible for responsible constitutional leaders to accept the dictatorship of an irresponsible irrational spirituality. It might seem to be departing from the great freedom of prophesying which had existed in the former generations; but these were not prophets of the older Christian type; they were prophets of the pagan type; the frenzy that shook them was like the frenzy that shook the devotees of Attis. They were Christian corybantes. In the teachers of the type of Justin we see the primitive Christian teacher Hellenized; he appears in the guise of the Greek philosopher. In the prophets of the type of Montanus we see the primitive Christian prophet Phrygianized; he appears in the guise of the dervish.
As the head of the most important of the Phrygian churches, Apollinarius was naturally bound to take a leading part in the controversy with Montanus and his women; and Eusebius states that he wrote on the subject when Montanus and his false prophetesses were still at the beginning of their deviation from the true path. His writings were strongly commended by Serapion, who became bishop of Antioch about 192. Serapion wrote an Epistle on the subject himself, with |182 which he sent out some papers or documents of Apollinarius. Eusebius adds that he found in this Epistle of Serapion the signatures of certain bishops, two of which he quotes.
Aurelius Quirinius martyr [or witness]: I wish you well.
Aelius Publius Julius from Develtum, a colony, of Thrace, bishop: as God in heaven liveth, I swear that the blessed Sotas of Achialus wished to cast out Priscilla's daemon, but the hypocrites would not allow it.
(Eusebius, E.H. v, 19, 3.)
He says that he found these signatures 'in the Epistle'; but it is more probable that they belonged to the documents of Apollinarius which were sent with it. The bishop of Develtum in Thrace is more likely to have turned up at Hierapolis than at Antioch, and the fact to which he bears witness must have taken place long before the episcopate of Serapion.
Signatures of this sort are placed on official documents, and it looks as if the document in this case was a conciliar Epistle. We infer that Apollinarius presided over a synod which commissioned him to write an Epistle which would be signed by all the members of the synod. It is stated by the Anonymous that synods of the faithful were held at this time to deal with the Montanist crisis; and judging by these signatures they may have included martyrs, and possibly others, with the bishops.
In the ninth century, some unknown scholar or librarian compiled a list of church synods or councils from ancient sources. It is known as the Liber Synodicus or Synodicon ; and the oldest entry on its list is a synod at Hierapolis under Apollinarius, which was attended by twenty-six other bishops. The evidence of this late document, taken by itself, might not be considered very high; but it is an interesting confirmation of an impression which we had already received from the evidence which Eusebius gleaned from the pages of Serapion. Its evidence is completely independent of Eusebius. It has no reference to Priscilla. It states that the synod condemned the errors of Montanus and Maximilla and Theodotus; but it confuses Theodotus the high steward of the Montanist oblations with a later Theodotus, a Byzantine theologian who was nicknamed the 'leather-worker'. The Synodicon appears to be making use of old material, and we shall return to the consideration of it later.
Thrace was a barbarous region like Phrygia, though it had its outposts of civilization, like the 'colony' of Develtum, whose bishop |183 subscribes his name in the formal Roman style. It had its own orgiastic mystery cult, since it was the original home of Dionysus, the god of wine. We are not told whether the blessed Sotas came all the way from Anchialus to Pepuza to exorcize Priscilla, or whether Priscilla was on a visit to Thrace. The latter theory sounds the more probable. The form of oath used by Julius suggests that he was making a deposition on behalf of Sotas about something which had happened elsewhere. The Synodicon comes to our help again with a statement that a local synod was held at Anchialus in Thrace under Sotas, which was attended by twelve bishops, and that it condemned the same three persons.
The conflict was not only more widely extended; it was more acute. Zoticus had only attempted to ' prove' the spirit which spoke through Maximilla. Sotas attempted to exorcize Priscilla's daemon. He treated her as a person who was possessed by an evil spirit.
Montanism was now an expanding movement, and it was acquiring a definite policy and organization under its highly authoritative leadership. It was making many decisions on spiritual problems. Apollonius begins his account of Montanus by saying that he laid down the law about fasting, and dissolved marriages. The latter statement has been taken to imply that Priscilla and Maximilla had abandoned their husbands before joining the Montanist movement as 'virgins'. The word ' virgin' was used rather loosely at the time for a holy person now living in a chaste and unwedded state. The virgins were grouped with the 'widows'. Ignatius had spoken of the widows who are styled virgins. Tertullian ranks a widow higher than a virgin. He is a first-hand authority on Montanism, and tells us that the Paraclete had definitely forbidden second marriages, which were therefore no longer lawful in the church. It was true that the apostles had permitted widows to marry again; but this was a concession to the weakness of the flesh, and the concession had been withdrawn by the Paraclete. Indeed Tertullian, though a married man, did not altogether approve the married state. The prophet himself cannot have been sympathetic to marriage either.
In those areas where the Didache was accepted, Wednesday and Friday were already set aside as fast-days. Elsewhere, it would seem, days of fasting were appointed by the bishop or by private devotion. |184 Hermas appears to have chosen his own. Sometimes the food which Christians denied themselves, or its monetary equivalent, was given to the poor, in accordance with a favourite passage from Isaiah (lviii. 6 f.) We find at the end of the century that it was customary to break the fast at 'the ninth hour', about three in the afternoon. Enthusiasts carried it on longer, and the Montanists were among those who did so. They also had a milder kind of fast called a xerophagy in which they rationed themselves very strictly, not eating any kind of food with juice or fat. Fasting, like sexual ascetism, had always been looked upon as a means of obtaining visions. We find this in Hermas too.
But fasting was more than a private devotion, and included more than abstinence from food. In Hermas it was a day of devotion for a whole family or household. There were readings of some sort; food was restricted to bread and water; an offering was made for the poor; and a 'liturgy' of this type was acceptable to the Lord. Since the devotional practices of the church all had a Jewish background, it is worth noting that a day of fasting or humiliation among the Jews was a dramatic liturgical observance. Trumpets were blown, solemn assemblies were held, earnest prayer was offered, sackcloth and ashes were worn. Special fasts were ordered in case of invasion by enemies and such calamities as might endanger the harvest. They were specially associated with prayers for rain, and therefore appropriate at certain seasons of the year. The great compulsory calendrical fast was the Day of Atonement which preceded the Feast of Tabernacles, and marked the autumn New Year. On this fast the pious Jew could obtain forgiveness of all his former sins.
The only traditional seasonal fast among the Christians was the Pascha, when the death of Christ upon the cross was solemnly commemorated. Unfortunately we have very little light on the method by which it was kept, except that it was the traditional season for baptisms, and the Passion narratives from the four Gospels appear to have been used on this day; for the observance of the different days was based on the use of different Gospels, and caused bitter controversy in the Christian community. Which side the Montanists took, we do not know; but there came a time, we do not know how soon, when they parted from the Jewish calendar altogether and chose a fixed day in the Roman calendar, 25 March, on which their fellow-countrymen were mourning the death of their shepherd-god Attis. Some, however, as if |185 to avoid this synchronism, deferred the Pascha till 6 April: this date is related calendrically to 25 March as 6 January is to 25 December.
It does not seem likely that this move had been made so early as the time we are considering. What we learn from Tertullian is that there were two extra weeks of fasting, or rather of xerophagy, during the year. We owe to St Jerome the information that one of these weeks came after Pentecost,
Neither the Saturday nor the Sunday in these weeks was kept as a fast, Tertullian says.
While Montanus elaborated the system of fasting and made it much stricter, and formed a compulsory system out of it, it seems likely that he was working from traditions which he found in existence; but the enemies of the movement compared these fasts of his to the similar customs in the rites of Isis or Cybele, which were fundamentally lamentations for the dead; but Tertullian defended them as a training for martyrdom.
The three annual seasons of fasting must have been the principal occasions when the crowds flocked to Pepuza and Tymion. Apollonius says that Montanus gave the name of Jerusalem to these villages, because he wanted people from all quarters to assemble there. He appointed agents for collecting money, he goes on to say; he engineered schemes for receiving gifts under the name of oblations or sacrifices; he supplied salaries to those who preached his word. They all made a very good thing out of it, he insinuates. The business side of the new movement offended the catholic minded; for the tradition had been that all offerings were free-will offerings, and that the clergy were maintained out of the common fund. If you get food and lodging, you should be content with that, St Paul had said. The false prophet or the false teacher never had been content with it; he was a christmonger rather than a Christian, as the Didache had said; and yet that mysterious |186 document rather anticipated what was being done in the New Jerusalem, The prophets, it said, are your high priests, and you must bring them first-fruits of everything you have. The first-fruits given to these prophetic high priests of the Didache are in line with the oblations given to the Montanist hierarchy; the assembly of people from all parts at the New Jerusalem, and the observance of three seasonal fasts fit into the picture, for the Jews came up to the old Jerusalem three times a year. It was not far out of line either with the native Phrygian system; the god was the owner of the surrounding territory, and offerings had to be brought to him by all and sundry, and various ascetic taboos had to be observed. It would appear that Pepuza and Tymion had been taken possession of for the new religion. The Christian god had ousted the local deity, and had his own entourage of prophets, priests, and virgins.
The head of the business side of the organization was a certain Theodotus who is described by the Anonymous as the high steward of the so-called prophecy.
It may be felt that the picture which has emerged is too fantastic to be real; but numbers of parallels could be found in the long strange history of the church, especially under missionary or pioneer conditions.
South of the highway, and south too of the Sultan Dagh Mountains were the east Phrygian cities of Little Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, which Paul and Barnabas had evangelized from Antioch in Syria, in their first missionary journey a hundred years before. The memory of this visit was affectionately cherished, and had given birth to the noble legend of Thecla, which sheds considerable light on the special views about Christianity which were held in this region.
We have noted the historical consciousness developing in the church and expressing itself by the formation of succession lists, the recounting of old traditions, the revisiting of sacred places, the reverence due to the days of the martyrs, and so forth. Another expression of it was the historical novel, such as the Wanderings of Peter and the Ascents of James, which were being produced in Palestine or Syria, and the Acts of Paul in Asia Minor. Fortunately we are not without information about the latter document; for Tertullian remarks in his treatise on baptism,
But what if the writings falsely ascribed to Paul [the text is not perfectly clear at this point] do defend the right of a woman to teach and baptize? Let them know that in Asia the presbyter who composed that scripture, as if with the idea of adding to Paul's glory [Tertullian is being heavily sarcastic here], was condemned; and though he confessed that he had done it out of love for Paul, he was degraded from his office.
(Tertullian, De Baptismo, xvii.)
Tertullian was writing about A.D. 200, thirty-five years after the ending of the Parthian war. The book to which he alludes had then gone through the four successive stages of composition in Greek, translation into Latin, circulation in the west, and acceptance there as authentic. It need not have been written so early as the hundred-and-sixties, though some scholars assign it to that period; it surely cannot be a great deal later.
This book was the so-called Acts of Paul, and large portions of it still exist in Greek in a form which seems to have been edited by later hands. It was not a church book, and therefore was subject to rewriting. The style and imagination of the presbyter who wrote it were puerile; he was a man of no intellectual ability, though he could tell a |188 tale in a popular manner, which is no mean gift. He was no critic or historian, however, and that is why we are astonished to find a few details which agree with historical conditions in the first century. The narrative follows the road-system of the first century, and the relations of historical characters are accurately given. The inference is that he had an old legend to work on which had connexions with the first century.
Eastern Phrygia, therefore, had its own respectable historical tradition. Paul was its patron apostle, but he was associated with the native-born virgin and martyr Thecla. Whether Thecla actually cut her hair short, and hitched up her dress so as to look like a boy; whether she really taught and baptized—a feature which is no longer preserved in the text; whether the lion in the arena actually lay down and licked her feet; whether there was an actual Thecla at all; all these are questions to which the historian can find no ready answer. She and her lion may come out of native romance or native mythology;but many scholars have believed that she was a historical person; and her legend is certainly ancient.
Tertullian is our witness that in the earlier form of the text Thecla taught and baptized.
The cult of Thecla proves the existence of a strain of feminism in the church, which is said to have been characteristic of social conditions in Phrygia, where the mother-goddess was worshipped and women were influential in society. As we think of Thecla teaching and baptizing in the legends of eastern Phrygia, we cannot help thinking of Maximilla and Priscilla prophesying in western Phrygia. We think, too, of their predecessors, Ammia in Philadelphia and the daughters of Philip in Hierapolis; also of Marcellina and Philumene, who came to Rome from Alexandria.
|189 Scholars describe the Acts of Paul as 'catholic', and doubtless they are not written in the interests of any heretical school; but their emphasis on virginity approaches the border-line. Perhaps the reverend author was an 'encratite' himself like Melito, and gloried in virginity; but the legend lent itself to this purpose. This is what the author makes of the beatitudes, as Paul preaches them at Iconium, and Thecla listens in a condition which is very close to 'ecstasy'.
Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
Blessed are they who keep the flesh chaste; for they shall become the temple
Blessed are they who are continent, for unto them shall God speak. ...
Blessed are they that possess their wives as though they had them not, for they shall inherit God. ...
Blessed are the bodies of the virgins; for they shall be well-pleasing unto God.
(Acts of Paul, ii, 5, 6.)
When Thecla had recovered from her ecstasy, she broke off her engagement with the socially eligible Thamyris and abandoned everything to follow Paul. This antipathy to marriage is an exaggeration of a well-known Pauline doctrine, and resembles the views of the anti-Pauline heretics who are combated in the Pastoral Epistles. These heretics forbade men to marry or to eat flesh; and in the Acts of Paul a vegetarian asceticism also appears; for Thecla finds the apostle hiding in a tomb on the road from Iconium to Daphne, and living on bread and water; some textual authorities add salt.There is a curious field for research in these allusions to sacred foods. Why did the Marcionites allow fish but not flesh? Why did some Montanists lay so much stress on cheese as to be called the 'artotyrites', the bread-and-cheese men? Why does Hippolytus bring olives and cheese into such close association with the bishop's first eucharist.
Our author knew the Pastoral Epistles of St Paul, but only used them as a source-book for names, such as Demas and Onesiphorus. It has even been suggested that he was writing a counterblast to the Pastorals, which are favourable to marriage and allow all kinds of foods. As a source of ideas, he naturally prefers 1 and 2 Corinthians; and he |190 composes on his own account a Third Epistle to the Corinthians, against Cleobius and Dositheus, who deny the resurrection of the body; so he was no docetist, and agreed with the Pastorals against Hymenaeus and Philetus on this important doctrine. He makes Onesiphorus the father of Thecla; for Thecla, like Onesiphorus, visited Paul in prison.
But Thecla at night took off her bracelets and gave them to the doorkeeper, and when the door was opened for her, she went into the prison, and gave the jailer a mirror of silver, and so went in to Paul, and sat by his feet and heard the wonderful works of God. And Paul feared not at all, but walked in the confidence of God; and her faith also was increased as she kissed his chains.
(Acts of Paul, ii, 18.)
We recognize in this passage a picture of the kind of thing that was going on among Christians at the time, or more likely the kind of conduct which was idealized in a fanciful way, and held up for imitation. We think of Polycarp kissing the chains of Ignatius. We think of the would-be martyr Peregrinus and the pilgrims from Asia who smuggled dainties into his prison. The value of the book is that it illustrates the ideals and aspirations and wishful thinking of the Christian reading public; perhaps some circle of devout ladies to whom the presbyter read it aloud. It holds up to reverence the figures of the virgin, the ascetic and the martyr.
We noticed in the case of Polycarp that there were two attitudes in the church with regard to persecution. There was the official attitude, which offered some respect to the state, played a defensive game and avoided conflict; and there was the attitude of the enthusiast or fanatic who threw caution to the winds and provoked conflict. It is no accident that Marcianus, in composing the story of the martyrdom of Polycarp for use in an east Phrygian church (Philomelium), drew attention to the apostasy of Quintus the Phrygian, who had offered himself for martyrdom with others, a policy which the church could not' approve as true to the pattern of the gospel'. Martyrdom, it is suggested, was according to the will of God, not the will of man; and the bishops had the onerous and dangerous duty of maintaining the unity of the church during persecution, providing for the care of the prisoners and their |191 families, dealing discreetly with the lapsed, and reconstructing the church life when the fury of persecution was spent; if, of course, they were still there.
The enthusiast or fanatic cared for none of these things. When Agathonice rushed into the flames, she had her young son by her. 'Have pity upon your child', the spectators cried out. 'He has God to have pity on him', Agathonice replied; but God, in this case at least, meant the bishop. Martyrdom was her glory and her road to heaven. As Montanus had said,
Do not hope to die in bed or in abortion or in languishing fevers; but in martyrdom; that he who suffered for you may be glorified.
(Tertullian, On Flight in Persecution, ix.)
It was rather in this style that Roman generals exhorted their troops just before the battle. It reminds us, too, of the spirit of Ignatius.
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