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While the Montanist crisis, with its synods and excommunications, was going on in Asia Minor, Soter succeeded Anicetus as bishop of Rome, his approximate dates being 166-178. This period coincides approximately with the second period in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Lucius Verus returned home in 166 and celebrated a triumph with Marcus for the victories of his armies in the far east. Avidius Cassius, the Syrian general, who had actually won the victories, was left in Antioch to rule over the eastern part of the empire. A strange interplay of cultural forces was taking place. Syria was being Romanized, but Rome was being Syrianized. Lucilla, the daughter of Marcus, married a Syrian soldier named Pompeianus, who became the prefect, or right-hand man of the emperor, in the west.
Oriental refugees, prisoners of war and slaves must have poured into Rome; soldiers, merchants and officials must have passed from Syria to Rome, and from Rome to the new province of Mesopotamia. The trade in eastern luxuries which was destined to impoverish the Roman currency was increased. The eyes of Rome turned towards the east; the eyes of the east turned towards Rome.
Unfortunately Rome had to cope with new dangers on a second front. In 167 came the news of inroads of barbarians from across the Danube. Various tribes or federations of tribes broke into the empire from Germany and Sarmatia (Russia), to loot and ravage and find lands to settle on. The Marcomanni, the 'march-men' or border people, |193 invaded the Balkan province of Moesia (Bulgaria) and penetrated as far as Northern Italy. Rome was alarmed. The two emperors moved without delay to Aquileia, near Fiume, and then to Sirmium, a strong-point near Belgrade, which was destined to become an imperial city of some importance. They won some successes in the year 168, and though Marcus was dubious about the finality of the victory, he was persuaded by Lucius to make peace and return to Aquileia in 169. As the two emperors were seated in their carriage and travelling southward, Lucius had a stroke, from which he did not recover.
In 171 the Marcomanni, with the Quadi and other tribes, again poured into the Balkan provinces, and desperate fighting took place on the frontiers. Traces of the fortifications which were built at that time still exist. It was in this war that the famous episode of the' Thundering Legion' occurred, which we will discuss more fully in a later chapter. The army, and the emperor himself, were saved from destruction by a sudden tempest of rain and thunder, which came as an answer to prayer. Some gave credit to the Egyptian Thoth, who was identified with the Roman Mercury; others to the God of the Christians; and still others apparently to the ancestral deities in whom the emperor so firmly believed. The event is recorded in stone upon the huge column which Marcus Aurelius erected in front of the Pantheon.
In 174 Marcus returned to Rome. He was sole emperor now without any colleague, and he had to deal with a malady which was destined to become chronic in future years; it was the burden of never-ending defensive action along the line of the Danube and the Rhine, as new hordes of barbarians appeared at one point or another. Marcus was never free from this anxiety to the day of his death.
The Christian philosophers had by now made some impact on the educated classes, and their attempt to give an orderly and objective acount of their worship and doctrine had produced some effect in making Christians think out their intellectual position in terms of the ascertained knowledge and logical method of the day. It made one or two notable converts, who become the leaders of this movement in the church; but the reaction of many philosophers was unfavourable, as we have seen already in the case of Crescens. Better men than he, |194 however, remained unimpressed. On Marcus Aurelius, the philosophic Caesar, it made no impression at all. The judicious Galen thought the Christian method of teaching was less than scientific; but he must not be numbered among the adverse critics. The Cynics resented it as an intrusion on their own preserves. Lucian laughed at it gently; more gently, at any rate, than he laughed at most things. It fell to the lot of a certain Celsus to deal with it more effectively, with a heavy logic and a heavy humour, in his Alethes Logos, or True Word; the protean word logos here meaning discourse.
About eighty years after the period of our present chapter, the great Christian scholar Origen was shown a copy of this book, but it was new to him in spite of all his learning. He had heard of two philosophers of the name of Celsus; one of whom was an Epicurean, who he thought might be the author in question, though this is not likely; the other was too early to be considered. He wrote an elaborate answer to the book, in which he quoted each paragraph or sentence as he refuted it. We can separate these quotations from the text of Origen and the True Discourse rises before us, mutilated but authentic so far as it goes. We have a picture of Christianity as it was seen by an educated pagan in the middle of the second century. We have made frequent use of it in our history.
Perhaps a clue to its date is to be found in its treatment of Christian heresy. Celsus is fully aware of the importance of the heresy of Marcion and appears to quote from Marcionite literature; in spite of some confusions, however, he successfully distinguishes Marcionism from what he calls ' the great church', meaning the catholic church as a whole. He knew of the existence of Simonians and Helenians, named after Simon Magus and his consort; so this sect was flourishing in his time. He also knew of 'Marcellians', named after Marcellina; and 'Harpocratians', connected with Salome; and others called after Mariamne and Martha.We remember the Marcellina who came to Rome from Egypt when Anicetus was bishop; and the reference to her name makes the hundred and sixties or seventies a reasonable date for the True Discourse ; the seventies perhaps, more probably than the sixties; we may be taking it rather too early here.
The 'Harpocratians' must be a mistake for the Carpocratians, the |195 Egyptian sect to which Marcellina belonged. Harpocrates was an Egyptian god.
We are fortunate in having a recent translation of this book, with introduction and notes, by H. Chadwick.
Celsus deals with the church as an illegal and intractable secret society, which was ruled out of consideration on that account. Its existence was incompatible with the autocratic government of the day, under which all vestiges of democracy and self-government were disappearing from public life. He brings into play the heavy artillery of rationalism with which the Epicurean materialist was wont to destroy the Stoic faith in providence, or the Marcionite controversialist make fun of the Hebrew God. He laughs heartily at the notion that God would concern himself with such low creatures as the Christians in their conventicles; rats in a hole or frogs in a pond would be just as important. Yet he can speak in a very interesting way about the intelligence of animals and even of their supernatural knowledge, about which he is distinctly credulous.
He seems to be a Platonist, and speaks of a beneficent deity who is perfect and blessed and remote from this world. Origen smells out an inconsistency here since he believed him to be an Epicurean; but actually the high view of the deity matches with the low view of the world. There was a God for the philosophic mind, but not for the kind of persons who were found in the Christian conventicles, where young people and old women and tradesmen discussed matters which were above their heads, and were deluded by unqualified teachers whose last resort was always to say, 'Do not question; only believe.' It appears that these teachers were often the skilled technicians who were employed in great houses; a most interesting point.
After discussing various points of Christian philosophy he embarks on a defence of polytheism, or of the ' daemons' as he calls the accepted gods and goddesses, maintaining that they were the officers of the one supreme deity. Indeed his invisible world was a monarchy, very like the Roman empire with its emperor and subordinate governors. It was a situation to which the sensible man should submit.
The Christians must make a choice between two alternatives. If they refuse to render due service to the gods and to respect those who are set over this service, let them not come to manhood or marry wives or have children, or indeed take any part in the affairs of life, but let them depart hence with all |196 speed, and leave no posterity behind, that such a race may become extinct from the face of the earth.
(Celsus, True Word, in Origen, Against Celsus, viii, 55.)
He admits that there may be an occasion on which a philosopher, as Justin pointed out, must refuse to obey the earthly powers.
We must encounter all kinds of torment, or submit to any kind of death, rather than say or even think anything unworthy of God. ... But if anyone commands you to celebrate the sun, or sing a joyful triumphal song in praise of Athene, you will seem to render even higher praise to God by celebrating their praises.
(Ibid, viii, 66.)
He points out that if everyone refused to obey the emperor, the result would be that the civilized world would be overrun by the barbarians, and there would be an end of the Christian religion itself. He concludes by urging the Christians to help the emperor with all their might, to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, and to fight in his armies if necessary.
In addition to his own arguments, Celsus has a number of older documents which he weaves into the True Discourse. In his two opening books he introduces a Jew, who attacks Christ and delivers an appeal to members of his own race who have become Christians; it was composed in a dialogue or dramatized form. This Dialogue with Jesus was regarded by Origen and subsequent scholars as a literary device invented by Celsus himself; but surely it is a genuine Jewish document of early date which Celsus found in existence and used for his purposes. Its writer shows a better knowledge of certain points than Celsus does in the remainder of the book, as Origen himself pointed out. It suggests the period of 'Barnabas' or the Preaching of Peter, rather than that of Justin or Tatian. The author had formed his ideas by studying one Gospel, which was obviously Matthew, and expresses his sense of disturbance at finding that there were more. He accuses the Christians of combining and re-coining their original single Gospel, until it has become two-fold, three-fold, five-fold, or manifold. He may have received his impression of Christianity as early as the hundred-and-twenties.
The tone of the Jew is harsh and blunt, but his criticism is sometimes |197 acute. He takes the usual line, found in the Talmud, that Jesus was a magician who deceived the people and was rightly put to death for his crimes. He is pictured as a stupid and ineffective person; he is unable to plan or design anything; what captain of brigands would suffer his leading men to betray him and desert him as Jesus did? The Jew has no feeling at all for his genius or personal character.
This document is the earliest authority for the Jewish legend that Jesus was the bastard son of a Roman soldier named Panthera, and that he went down into Egypt to learn magic. The story was made up after the Virgin Birth story was current in a Greek form; for the word Panthera is an anagram on the word parthena, and parthena is an illiterate feminine form of the Greek word parthenos, a virgin, which happens (illogically) to be a masculine form.
Very little indeed can be said about Bishop Soter of Rome. It seems possible that the controversy with the Asians over the proper observance of the Christian Passover, which had been so amicably arranged under Xystus and Anicetus, caused him some trouble. The statement of Irenaeus that the 'elders previous to Soter', by which title he dignifies the Roman bishops, had maintained peaceful relations on this vexed subject, rather suggests that Soter himself had not done so. Perhaps some storms blew up. The controversy in Asia may have communicated itself to Rome.
Soter had friendly relations with the Corinthians and sent them a generous gift on behalf of the Roman church, accompanied by a letter which has not survived; but Eusebius quotes a paragraph or two from the acknowledgement which was penned by Bishop Dionysius. The Roman letter was read in Corinth at the Sunday service, and Dionysius wrote his reply on the same day, saying that the Corinthians would always be glad to receive admonition from it, as they had done from the earlier Epistle, which had been written to them through Clement; both |198 Epistles being looked upon as Epistles from the church written 'through' its bishop. It is interesting to learn that they were read traditionally in the Sunday service.
The Epistle of Soter appears to have contained some reference to the work of Peter and Paul in Rome; for Dionysius remarks that the excellent admonition which Soter had sent was a link between the 'plantings' of these apostles in the two cities. 'They both of them planted in our Corinth, and they taught us in the same way; and in the same way too in Italy, teaching together and witnessing at the same time.' This is a valuable supplement to the evidence of Paul, who is thought by some to refer to a visit of Peter to Corinth, and to the evidence of Clement which refers to their martyrdoms in Rome. It insists that their teaching was not at variance, as Marcion, for instance, believed. It also suggests that Corinth was as much an apostolic-see city as Rome; and this, no doubt, is exactly the effect that Dionysius intended his words to convey. He must have been quite sure of his ground in writing as he did.
He warmly commends the Roman Christians for their benefactions to other churches especially in times of persecution, and thanks them for help of this kind which has just arrived.
For this has been your custom [he says] from the beginning, to do good to all the brethren in a variety of ways, sending provisions to many churches, city by city; at one time relieving the poverty of the needy, and at another generously supporting the brethren who are in the mines by the provisions which you are in the habit of sending ... preserving as Romans the custom of the Romans, which you inherited from your fathers; which your blessed Bishop Soter has not only preserved, but even augmented, by generously supplying the bounty which is being distributed to the saints, and exhorting with blessed words the brediren who come up [to Rome?] even as a loving father comforts his children.
(Dionysius, Epistle to the Romans, in Eusebius E.H. iv, 23, 10.)
A gratifying picture is here given of the strong, warm-hearted, wealthy, well organized church of the imperial city, interesting itself in the troubles of other churches, receiving their envoys and sending them relief. This letter contains the first reference to Christians who were condemned to hard labour in the mines, a miserable condition of life in which few survived. It rather looks as if the Corinthian church had experienced such a persecution, and had received help.
The Epistle to the Romans was not by any means the first which Dionysius had composed and sent abroad; for he refers in it to earlier Epistles which he had written at the desire of the brethren; and Eusebius, to whom we owe our information, tells us of six more 'catholic Epistles' which he wrote to churches, and one to a lady named Chrysophora, a most faithful sister, to whom he wrote suitably, communicating to her the profitable food of the word.
Eusebius gives us a catalogue of these letters with a short account of their contents; but we cannot be sure that he gives us the precise words of the author. It would be interesting to know, for instance, whether Dionysius himself used the word 'catholic' in describing his Epistles, and if so, what exactly he meant by it. About this time Themiso the Montanist composed a 'catholic Epistle', we are told, in which he imitated the apostolic style. It suggests, therefore, a letter on the lines of the apostolic Epistles, and intended for the church at large. Such was the character of the Epistle which described the martyrdom of Polycarp; it was addressed primarily to the church at Philomelium, but also to all the ' sojournings' of the catholic church. No doubt the Epistles of Dionysius were of the same character, and their collection and publication supports such a view. If he was prepared to go on reading the Epistle of Soter in his church, he probably expected the other churches to read his Epistles. It was a revival or continuation of the apostolic practice.
The list begins with two Epistles to Greek churches. The Epistle to the Lacedaemonians taught right opinion and suggested peace and unity. The Epistle to the Athenians urged the need of faith and the social virtues in accordance with the gospel. It was for lack of this, he thought, that the Athenians had made such a bad showing in the 'persecution of that time', when their bishop had become a martyr, and great numbers had apostasized; but he bears witness to the splendid way in which his successor Quadratus had reorganized the church by his zeal and energy, and reanimated it by his faith. He referred to Dionysius the Areopa-gite, who was mentioned in the Acts as a convert of St Paul and was the first to take in hand the episcopate of the Athenian paroikia. His own church looked back to Stephanas as its first bishop, as we learn from the Epistle to Corinth in the Acts of Paul.
|200 This brief summary is full of interest. There is an apparent reference to the Acts, and there is an interest in local history, which was stimulated no doubt by the visit of Hegesippus to Corinth in the days of his predecessor Primus.
His other epistles were written to churches further afield. Nicomedia, the capital of Bithynia, was a growing city. It was a strong military point, like Sirmium on the Danube; and both would become centres of imperial administration as the frontiers of the empire became more important than its central parts. The neighbour province to Bithynia was Pontus, where Marcion had been born, and Dionysius warned the Nicomedians against the heresy of Marcion, and commended the 'rule of truth', a phrase which suggests a creed-form.
Gortyna in Crete had gone through a persecution, and Dionysius wrote to Philip its bishop, congratulating him on the numerous courageous acts for which his church was famous and warning him against the guile of the heretics. Bishop Philip may not have needed any such warning, for he was the author of a book against Marcion.
Two envoys from the church of Amastris in Pontus, Bacchylides and Euelpistus, had arrived in Corinth and requested a letter. In this Epistle Dionysius expounded the divine scriptures, which meant, of course, the Old Testament, doubtless in opposition to the Pontic heretic, Marcion. He also wrote on the subject of marriage and chastity. He was no rigorist. He recommended that there should be no undue severity in restoring to communion those who had fallen into heresy or immorality. He mentions Palmas their bishop, of whom we shall hear again.
There was another important city in Crete which also had a literary bishop, Pinytus of Cnossos. Dionysius wrote to the Cnossians, urging Pinytus not to lay on the brethren the heavy burden of chastity as a necessity, but to show some sympathy with the weakness of the many. Pinytus wrote back a letter full of compliments to Dionysius, expressed in an extremely elegant style (if we may judge from the sentence which Eusebius quotes) but tinged possibly with a suggestion of sarcasm; for he exhorts him that it is now high time for him to provide some stronger meat and to nourish his people once again with the more perfect literature, lest perchance by continuing permanently on a diet of milk, they might insensibly come to old age without ever having passed out of their spiritual infancy.
We have had a fair amount of information about the history of the Athenian church, but the uncertainty about the chronology makes it impossible to weave it into a connected story. St Paul had founded the church, and his principal convert had been Dionysius the Areopagite, who was regarded now as its first bishop. The apostle had made a speech in the Areopagus, which read like a sketch for an apology or reasoned statement of the faith; it made use of testimonies from Stoic writers. The tradition reappears in the second century. The church in Athens was a learned and literary church. It went on producing apologies. It was its métier to explain the faith to the cultured Gentile mind.
There is no evidence to connect Justin Martyr with Athens, except that his Apology seems to take its place in the stream of apologies or addresses to the Greeks which are Athenian in origin. First come Quadratus and Aristides of Athens; then Justin and Tatian; then Athenagoras of Athens. There is a community of manner and subject-matter which establishes itself in this tradition and spreads throughout the church. It deals with the worship of the one deity, the philosophy of the Logos, the argument from prophecy, the chronology of the ancient world, the criticism of the pagan myths, and the arguments in favour of the resurrection of the body. They are in the nature of preliminary studies prior to the consideration of the Christian gospel itself; Justin is unique in allotting so much space to actual Christian teaching and liturgy. A Christian teacher could embark on any one of these preparatory topics without disclosing the fact that he was a Christian at all. That would be revealed according to the discretion of the teacher or the penetration of the hearer. The procedure is commended and illustrated in the books of Clement. It is followed by Theophilus. It was based on Jewish antecedents.
These subjects must all have been taught in Christian academies; and such academies must have been in existence in Athens. They must have accepted the dangerous principle that Greek literature and philosophy, which formed the average higher education of the time, were a necessary prerequisite to the serious study of the Christian faith. The character of the Christian professor of this type is well represented by Athenagoras of Athens, whose conversion to the faith cannot be |202 placed much later than the period we are considering. He carries on the work of Justin in a more academic style.
Athenagoras was the nearest to a pure intellectual of all the great Christian teachers of the period whose works have come down to us. He was at home in the academic tradition. He was learned in Greek literature, and was able to support his criticism of the Greek gods and heroes by apt quotations; and these quotations are of value to classical scholars today, though he was sometimes deceived by an imitation. He followed in the wake of Justin, with whose writings he seems to have been familiar; but he is less enthusiastic in his recognition of elements of truth in the Greek philosophers. The true successor of Justin in this respect was Clement of Alexandria, who knew something of Athens, and may have learned his Christianity there from Athenagoras.
The Address to the Greeks proves that Tatian had personal knowledge of the Athenian scene. He is very sarcastic at the expense of the philosophers, some of whom, he says, received as much as six hundred gold pieces a year from the emperor, and did little more for it than to wear a long beard; and it is a fact that beards were coming into fashion with philosophy. Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius both wore beards; and so did Commodus. It was one of the marks of the philosopher, along with the gown and the staff. It was also the guise in which the Christian teacher appeared. Clement of Alexandria fought a battle for the beard, and Tertullian of Carthage fought one for the gown. These men of devoted and ascetic lives are thought to be precursors of the monastic movement. They entered into competition with the Cynic school of philosophy, which cultivated a rough and ready simplicity and a contempt for polite manners and class distinctions. The Cynics looked on worldly or material conditions as' indifferent', and professed to be concerned simply with the truth. Socrates and Diogenes were their patron saints; Socrates, who went round examining and cross-questioning the citizens of Athens in his search for wisdom; Diogenes, who scorned mankind and went round Athens in broad daylight with a lantern looking for an honest man.
The other philosophic schools had well endowed colleges, which perpetuated the dogmas and rule of life of their founders. They also |203 attracted wealthy benefactors. They bore historic names. That of Plato was the Lyceum, and that of Aristotle was the Academy. Athenagoras may have been studying in the latter, when Tatian was proclaiming his barbarian philosophy. The tenets of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, were taught at the Porch, or Stoa ; those of Epicurus in the Garden. The Cynics roamed the streets, or found their way into the houses of the wealthy. Not all of the exponents of this creed were worthy of Diogenes or Epictetus; there were some who preyed on the rich by using a mixture of flattery and familiarity; and Crescens of Rome must have been a notorious example of this class.
The time-honoured schools of Athens had been newly housed and endowed by the liberality of Hadrian and Herodes Atticus; the old city, considered as a centre of classical and antiquarian culture, was at the height of its glory.
The Christian intellectuals whom we have been considering were men who turned from some kind of philosophy, or philosophical study, to the gospel. We have one case of a man who turned from the gospel to the Cynic philosophy. Among the sights of Athens was the ex-Christian Peregrinus, who had been given the additional name of Proteus, possibly because he had played many parts in his time; for Proteus was the old sea-god who could change his form at will.
Peregrinus had tried his fortunes in Rome, but had been expelled for his harsh criticisms of the emperor. It is good to hear of a philosopher who had not forgotten how to criticize an emperor. Between 160 and 165 he lived in a little hut on the outskirts of Athens, practising self-sufficiency and indifference, and abusing the rich. Tatian and Athenagoras both mention him. Aulus Gellius, a literary critic from Africa, who wrote in Latin, mentions him more than once with approbation. The satirist Lucian of Samosata was also living in Athens, and was a witness of the strange end of a strange life. He saw him throw himself into the flames, and burn to death, before great crowds in the Olympian Games of 165. It was a theatrical end to a fantastic life, designed to demonstrate the Cynic's perfect indifference to death; but may we read into it some deeper psychological motive? Was there some sense of frustration about his failure to become a martyr at Antioch, and of guilt about his apostasy from the Christian faith? Did the man who |204 was noted for his changes of front wish to prove to himself that he was capable of a determined heroic act? Was it an act of reparation to those Grecian gods whom he had denied and vilified when he became a Christian? It seems wrong, with Lucian, to find nothing to admire in this fantastic end of a fantastic life, with its last word of pagan faith, 'Spirits of the fathers, and spirits of the mothers, receive my soul.'
His death was not quite without parallel. A Brahmin from India had immolated himself in the same way before the Emperor Augustus many years before; and the Christian martyr Agathonice rushed headlong into the flames in a similar spirit of self-sacrifice.
So great was his fame that a statue was erected in his honour in his native city of Parium, which had disowned him in his youth. Works of healing took place there, Athenagoras tells us. We note again that there was something in common between the wandering prophet or teacher of the Didache, the wandering magician and wonder-worker from the east, and the wandering ascetic or philosopher of the Greek tradition. All of them were conscious of a divine mission to enlighten mankind and release it from sin or error or disease or mental bondage. All were liable to the same temptations, to fraud or exhibitionism. Many im-posters were found among them. Some years later, Lucian wrote an account of a pagan imposter of the wonder-working sort, named Alexander of Abunoteichos, whose principal field of activity was in Phrygia. This little sketch was dedicated to the Epicurean Celsus. Alexander carried round with him a serpent with a human head, which gave oracular responses to inquirers at a price. Lucian notes that the Christians refused to be taken in. Pontus was so full of Christians and Epicureans that he had no success there. The Epicureans resembled the Christians in not believing in the gods; they, too, were 'atheists'; they were the only philosophers outlawed in the Christian academies.
As we contemplate this picture, an interesting pattern emerges. Diony-sius writes two letters to Greece, two to the Black Sea Provinces, and two to Crete. He avoids Asia and Phrygia. Now Asia and Phrygia formed a group of interrelated dioceses, without any central organization of course, but held together by the possession of common traditions, the leadership of the greater bishops, and their fraternal relations. |205 Dionysius was the bishop of the richest and most powerful city in Greece, the capital of Achaea, a centre of maritime trade. Was he planning another federation of churches, neither Roman nor Asian, based on the coastwise trade-routes, in which his church, with its tradition of Peter and Paul, would exercise the hegemony? Such leagues of cities had precedents in Greek history.
What we might call families of dioceses do come to light in his Epistles. The Epistle to Gortyna is addressed to the church sojourning at Gortyna 'with the rest of the paroikiai of Crete'; and the Epistle to Amastris is addressed, 'to the church which sojourns at Amastris with those throughout Pontus'. Gortyna and Amastris, therefore, would seem to resemble what were later called metropolitan churches; at least they had facilities for copying manuscripts and distributing ecclesiastical communications. Some twenty years later, we find Bishop Palmas presiding over a synod of the bishops of Pontus, but he is said to have done so on grounds of seniority. This synod did not fall in with the views of the Asian and Phrygian bishops on the question of the date of Easter. They belonged to the same tradition as Rome and Corinth.
The holding of synods of bishops which was now taking place in Phrygia would necessarily call into existence regional families of dioceses. In relation to such synods the older and stronger apostolic sees had positions of commanding influence from the first, a fact which is apparent in the New Testament in the cases of Jerusalem and Antioch and possibly Ephesus, and in the Epistles of Ignatius in the case of Antioch and Rome. We can now see why Bishop Dionysius was anxious to establish the apostolic character of his own see. He must have been a man of importance in his day; the fact that his seven letters were collected, copied, distributed and preserved, proves as much.
His Roman letter was one of the last to be written, so that the correspondence which we have been considering may have begun early in the episcopate of Soter, or even before it. There is no sign of any controversy over the date of Easter or the Phrygian prophets; so that the period 160-5 suits it much better than 170-5.
The great enemy is the heresy of Marcion, and next to that an undue |206 emphasis on asceticism or chastity, by which, of course, celibacy is meant. Bishop Pinytus in Crete appears to be insisting upon virginity as the normal condition of a Christian. This rigorous attitude came to be called 'encratism' from the Greek word encrateia which may be translated continence or abstinence. This word came next to faith in many old catechisms, but had not this meaning of complete sexual abstinence; it meant renunciation or self-control. A word with a very similar history was hagneia or sanctification. Both these words were being pressed into the service of a propaganda in favour of a Christian celibacy.
The docetic heretics, whose phantom christology was the result of a low view of creation, were being absorbed into the Marcionite church. There still remained many ascetic brothers and sisters who looked on marrying and having children as something Satanic. Some repudiated the Hebrew God who gave his blessing to this sort of thing; but a great number accepted the Hebrew revelation as Tatian did; they were orthodox about the creation and the resurrection, and yet extolled the celibate life as the path of perfection. We have come across this combination already in the Acts of Paul ; and Paul was their patron saint, though they were not slow in appropriating John and Andrew as well. They could remain in the church so long as they did not deny their Creator; the church had possessed its celibates since the days of Clement, or even longer.
Melito was obviously a man of this type, a celibate living continuously in the Spirit, if not a eunuch in the literal sense of the word. Pinytus in Crete was another. Tatian was a third; and just as Marcion drained off the docetics into his rival church organization, so Tatian succeeded in gathering many of the encratites into his peculiar sect or party.
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