THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - Volume 2: by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


| HOME | |< | << | Eleutherus and Hegesippus | The Note-books of Hegesippus | The schools of Rome | The Marcionite schools | Apelles | The Valentinians: Ptolemaeus | Heracleon | Florinus | Phrygianism in Rome | Praxeas the Martyr | Praxeas and the Roman bishop | The Roman bishop and the New Prophecy | Irenaeus and the New Prophecy | The mission of Irenaeus | >> |

Denarius: Marcus Aurelius


Eleutherus, who became bishop of Rome about 174, had grown to manhood under the episcopate of Pius, the brother of the prophet Hermas. In his youth he had listened to elders who survived from the period of Clement. He had been deacon, or chief of staff, to Anicetus, who became bishop about 154 or 155. He occupied a position of dignity and influence, therefore, in the Roman ecclesia for a considerable period, for he remained bishop till about 189. It was the memory of this long ministry in the councils of the church, perhaps, which led Tertullian to make the blunder of placing the first preaching of Marcion and Valentinus 'in the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus'. Little as we know about the man, we must conclude that he exercised a steady and continuous influence on the development of the Roman church during this period of about thirty-five years.

It was only eighty years since the persecution of Domitian and the crisis at Corinth, and the writing of Clement's Epistle. Eleutherus and his elders, and their friends of senior age, must have been well informed about the events of that time. The grandfathers of the present generation had lived in those days, and their graves were known in the cemeteries which were established at that time. Every family would have a tale to tell. They could remember the arrival of the great heresiarchs in the thirties, whose successors were now carrying on their schools. The visit of Polycarp to Rome in the fifties was fresh in their memories. There was no haziness at that time in anybody's mind about the course of events.

Not long after the visit of Polycarp the Jewish-Christian scholar |255 Hegesippus had arrived, and continued in residence at Rome. He had brought with him similar information about the old mother-church in Jerusalem, as Irenaeus called it. He knew something about James the brother of the Lord, just as the Romans knew something about the apostles Peter and Paul; but he had an advantage over them there; he had a narrative tradition about his holy life, and his arguments with the scribes and Pharisees in the Temple, and about his martyrdom. So far as we know, the Romans had no narrative about the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. All they knew were the bare facts and the places where they were buried. There were scraps of tradition, but there is no trace of any narrative such as might have been recited when they were remembered before God.

Hegesippus had explored the Roman tradition. He had compiled a succession-list of the bishops. He knew what there was to be known. He was encouraged now to write down what he knew. He did so in the episcopate of Eleutherus, and during its earlier years, since Irenaeus used his writings during its later years. The Hupomnemata of Hegesippus may safely be placed between 175 and 180.


The word Hupomnemata is often translated annotations. It is a word which seems to mean a note or minute or record of a transaction or spoken discourse. It is used, for instance, of the summaries of their master's philosophy which were made by the pupils of Valentine. It suggests a rather informal sketch of some great subject or course of teaching. The word 'note-books' might be a sufficient translation. The Note-books of Hegesippus were written in the simplest style, Eusebius says, and 'noted down' (or placed on record) the unerring tradition of the apostolic kerugma. There were five volumes of them, and their loss is much to be regretted.

Hegesippus was a pioneer in the application of the argument from history to the Christian controversies. In the hundred-and-forties or -fifties, before he had reached Rome, he had grasped the importance of the general principle that the apostolic tradition as it existed in the great churches was older than the various heretical schools which were dated by using the names of their founders to distinguish them. In order to establish this argument, however, he considered it necessary |256 to verify the origins of these churches; and that was one motive for his travels. He seems to have been the originator of this type of inquiry, but we do not know to what extent he developed the arguments that could be drawn from it. Irenaeus was deeply indebted to him, and so perhaps was Tertullian.

The word hairesis is better translated as 'sect' than 'heresy', and this is the primary meaning which Hegesippus read into it. Harnack referred to the great heresiarchs as the first Christian theologians; but they were more than that; they were the founders of sects which were called after their names. Hegesippus became an authority on sects. He knew of sects which had existed in Palestine long before the Roman sects were heard of. Unfortunately they are little more than names to us, and apparently they were little more than names to the Romans. He maintained that they were the ancestors of the Gentile schools which had invaded the Roman church; and of 'all the false Messiahs and false prophets and false apostles who had divided the unity of the church with destructive words'; but nobody in Rome seems to have been interested. There is no sign of such a theory in Irenaeus and Hippolytus.

Hippolytus, in his enormous Refutation, gives a much inferior list of Jewish sects, and maintains that the heresies of the Gentile church were all derived from forms of Greek philosophy. Of course they had taken much Greek philosophy and pagan mythology on board; but there was something worth attending to in the theory of Hegesippus, supported as it was by his unique historical knowledge. Eusebius acquaints us with the outline of this theory; Epiphanius realized its value though he did not fully understand it; both were men with Palestinian experience. It would be of great assistance to the modern historian if a copy of the Note-books should turn up in some obscure monastery; but even as it is we should not be able to reconstruct our history so well without the aid which we derive from the fragments of it which have come down to us.


Under Pius and Anicetus, the leading Christian school had been that of Justin; but it is hard to say who had succeeded to Justin's position after the defection of Tatian. Tatian had left behind him a pupil named Rhodo, who was an Asian like Justin. He is one of a number of |257 theologians who are little more than names to us, and their dates cannot be clearly ascertained. We may assign them, however, to the episcopate of Eleutherus, and must do the best we can with them.

A great change had passed over the Christian church during the fourth Christian generation (150-90). Christian teachers of all sorts became proficient in the intellectual methods of the Greek schools. During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the great medical scientist Galen had resided in Rome, and he was there intermittently throughout his long life, which extended into the third century. He was an exponent of the logical methods of Aristotle. He admired the Christian blend of martyrdom and asceticism; and he refers to the dogmatic statements which were made in the schools of Moses and of Christ, where men heard laws enunciated without adequate logical proofs. His words are worth quoting.

Most men cannot follow a chain of demonstrative reasoning, and therefore need to be taught in parables. So in our time we see those who are called Christians gathering their faith from parables; and yet sometimes they do just the same things as the genuine philosophers; for we can all see with our own eyes that they despise death, and further that they are led by modesty to shrink from carnal lusts; for there are among them men and women who have maintained unbroken chastity throughout their lives. There are even those who, by their self-discipline and self-control, and by their ardent desire for virtue, have advanced so far that they are not in any way inferior to the genuine philosophers.
(Galen, Commentary on one of the Platonic Dialogues.
From C. Bigg, The Origins of Christianity (Oxford, 1909), pp. 245-6.

It would appear, too, that Galen saw the limitations of the purely logical and academic schools of philosophy. He regarded some of the men whose minds had been trained in this way as harder to convince of new truth than the disciples of Moses or of Christ. He must have had some contact with Christian intellectuals, therefore, and his mind was large enough to see that they were not to be despised. He even convinced them of new truths.

There is evidence in Roman writings, attributed by modern scholars to Hippolytus, that his influence was not unfelt in the church. The mysterious Little Labyrinth tells us that the 'adoptionist' school in Rome, in the third century, was familiar with the works of Aristotle and |258 Euclid and Galen; and we now begin to find Christian discussions that proceed by way of logical and literary analysis. We find an emphasis upon the monarchia or sole sovereignty of God, a word which has an Aristotelian sound; and while the sovereignty of God is unquestionably a Jewish doctrine, the more stringent discussions of this period were based on the principle of the one arche, the single beginning or first cause of the universe. These arguments told rather heavily against the Logos theology of Justin, and its second centre of personality in the godhead, and his pupil Irenaeus is careful to avoid such incautious terminology. It told even more heavily against the theologies of Marcion and Valentine.


Marcion had left several successors, who seem by now to have been obliged to debate the philosophic basis of their faith. Marcion himself had never had a very exact theology, and had spoken freely of two gods, in addition to a formless substance called matter, out of which the universe had been fashioned. The latter was a legacy from the old Babylonian mythology which had survived as a philosophical concept in the Greek schools. The question which the monarchian philosopher now put was how there could be more than one arche or first cause in the universe. A number of Marcionite theologians were prepared to answer this question. Potitus and Basilicus affirmed that there were three; Syneros believed in two; Apelles in one. These second-generation Marcionite names are no more than names to us, with the exception of Apelles. Equally indistinct are the names of Lucan or Lucian, the head of the Marcionite school in Rome, and Prepon, the head of the Marcionite school in Assyria, who disputed with Bar Daisan.


Apelles was an old war-horse of the Roman school, who became its leading figure in his old age. Like Melito and Proclus, he was held up as a model of the celibate life and the ascetic virtues; but Tertullian says that he had an affair with a girl, which necessitated his leaving Rome for a time; a similar tale was told about Marcion himself, though Tertullian does not seem to have heard of that one. In any case Apelles went off to Alexandria in the days of Marcion himself to spread the Marcionite |259 gospel in Alexandria. In Alexandria he fell under the influence of the Valentinian school, and modified the uncompromising views of his master. He no longer talked about two gods; he demoted the God of the Jews to the rank of a 'fiery angel', an expression which he may have borrowed from Basilides. He returned therefore rather more of an intellectual. He brought back with him a virgin named Philumene ('sweetheart') who saw visions; and he published them under the title of phaneroseis or 'manifestations'. He had taken a leaf out of the book of Montanus; for the visions of his virgins had also been committed to paper. Naturally eyebrows were raised and insinuations made among the orthodox; but it is clear that the reputation of Apelles stood high, and perhaps these slurs on his character were unworthy.

What stung the orthodox was the vigour and ability of his attacks upon the Hebrew Bible and the God of the Jews; for the whole strength of the orthodox position depended on this foundation. Marcion had attacked the Hebrew revelation savagely in his book called the Antitheseis or Contradictions, which seems to have set going a whole stream of books with similar laconic titles. Tatian had pored over the Old Testament and produced his book of Problems, about which we know nothing except for his original and perverse explanation of the second verse of Genesis, in which he makes the Creator pray to some higher power for light: 'May there be light', he implores weakly, an interpretation which may have been traditional in the Syrian school. His pupil Rhodo meditated on the task of producing a sequel which he intended to call Solutions; but there is no evidence that he ever did so.

Apelles made his contribution to the argument under the ominous Aristotelian name of Syllogisms or Logical Proofs ; and the extracts which have survived show that it was the work of an acute and merciless mind. He attacked the story of Adam and Eve, which was deeply embedded in the current catholic theology. He analysed it and tore it to pieces. The god who appeared in its pages was no god at all. He lacked the power, and the knowledge, and even the will to arrange things better. Did he not know that Adam would break his commandments? Did he lack the power to prevent him doing so? and so forth. Like his master, he had a matter-of-fact mentality to which poetry and mysticism meant nothing whatever. It is to be feared that his book was very successful. It looks as if Theophilus and Irenaeus were both answering him, though neither mentions his name.

|260 Eusebius says that Apelles made blasphemous attacks upon the Law of Moses, and accomplished 'its refutation and overthrow as he thought'; an interesting phrase; for Irenaeus chose it as the title of the great book in which he made his counter-attack: The Refutation and Overthrow of the Gnosis which is Falsely so-called ; it is the book which is often quoted as Against Heresies, and we have made considerable use of it. The voice of Apelles was not so easily silenced, however; he was still read in the fourth century, and was quoted by Epiphanius in the east and Ambrose in the west. It would appear, therefore, that the book was translated into Latin.

The principal opponent of Apelles and his neo-Marcionite school was Tatian's pupil Rhodo, of whom less is known. He was a young man who had been well trained in the traditions of the church and the allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament histories and prophecies. He tried to drive the old gentleman into a corner with logical proofs; but the old gentleman declined to take up the position. The scene comes out very clearly in the extracts from Rhodo given by Eusebius. Rhodo was certain that he had refuted Apelles in a number of errors; but Apelles evaded him. The question of the unity of God was the most obscure of all problems, he said. It was not really necessary to examine the matter too closely. Let both of them stick to their own form of faith. All those who set their hope upon the crucified would be saved if they were found occupied in good works.

Rhodo pressed him further. Apelles had affirmed his faith in the unity of the first principle; but how could he be sure of this without proof? – without the Hebrew Bible and the testimony arguments, is what Rhodo meant. Apelles admitted that he did not know how to prove it; all he knew was that he was moved to believe it; and Rhodo laughed at him for setting up as a teacher without having any proofs to support his teaching. It sounds a little like the voice of Galen; but Apelles might have appealed to Aristotle (and to Basilides) for some support for the idea that there was a faculty in the soul by which God was known, which was higher than the methods of logical analysis.

It strikes us that Rhodo was a bright young man with all the 'solutions', whereas Apelles was a man of character, bearing witness to the greatest thing in the tradition of his master Marcion; the pure evangelical faith which witnesses to itself and is superior to all other modes of knowledge. Marcion and Apelles had no needs of proofs from the |261 Hebrew prophets or any other quarter. Their gospel was unique, and authenticated itself.

O wealth of riches [said Marcion] – folly, power, ecstasy – seeing that there can be nothing to say about it, or to imagine about it, or to compare it with.
(Marcion, Antitheseis, quoted in Epiphanius, Panarion, 42.)



The Marcionites abolished the Hebrew Bible altogether; Marcion found it cruel and immoral; Apelles proved that it was false and inconsistent; but the Valentinians had a more refined and discriminating approach. It was their métier to philosophize and allegorize and find spiritual meanings everywhere. Their principal leader now was Ptolemaeus, who systematized the fantasies of the master, and gave to those airy nothings a local habitation and a name. He produced those Note-books or Hupomnemata which Irenaeus laboriously summarized and refuted and overthrew.

Ptolemaeus touched on the Old Testament problem in his Epistle to Flora (or can this name be a manuscript error for Florinus?) which is preserved in the pages of Epiphanius. He approached the matter as a literary critic, with some light from the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. It was indicated, he thought, that there were three levels of authority in the old Bible; some of it was given by a God, some by Moses, and some by the elders of the Jews. He then divided the material which came from the God into three classes. First there was pure legislation, free from evil, which the Saviour came to fulfill; this included the Ten Commandments and similar passages. Then there was the secondary material which was mixed with evil, involving ideas of retribution and vengeance, which the Saviour came to remove; but he admits that these precepts possessed a sort of justice, and therefore they came from a God. The third class consisted of the Levitical ritual, and this had a symbolic value. He concludes that the God who gave the Law cannot have been the perfect God; he was the Demiurge, who occupies a middle position between good and evil; intermediate, that is, between the high God and the devil.

The refined polytheism of this Epistle would be repugnant, of course, to Christians of the catholic tradition; but the attempt to classify the different precepts of the Law is very like similar treatments in such authors as 'Barnabas' or Justin or Irenaeus.


The Valentinian gnosis, which had coloured the thinking of Tatian and Apelles, had at least four exponents in Rome: Ptolemaeus, Secundus, Heracleon and Florinus; and it is interesting to remark that two of them have Latin names, which suggests that this school appealed to the Roman mind. Valentine himself, though he is said to have been a native of Egypt, had a Latin name. We have evidence in Marcionite and Valentinian circles of an interchange of persons and ideas between Egypt and Rome; though any such interchange on the catholic level is entirely a matter of conjecture, unless we are prepared to take into account the reception in Egypt of the Gospel of Mark, and the Pastor of Hermas, at an earlier date.

The gnostic schools in Egypt had been the first to take an interest in the Gospels as literature, to write commentaries on them, and to deduce theology from them. The Exegetica of Basilides, which was written in the previous generation, was the first Gospel commentary of which any trace remains, unless the Interpretations of Papias may be regarded in this light. Neither appears to have been a formal commentary page by page; but such a commentary was now produced by Heracleon. It was on St John's Gospel, which it interpreted in accordance with the Valentinian theology and with the help of a good deal of allegorization. Origen quoted a number of passages from it in his own commentary on John, and these give us some idea of its tone. Heracleon does not shed any light on the Gospel, but there are two interesting historical points about him. He is the first writer to quote the apocryphal Preaching of Peter by name, citing the following extract,

We must not worship in Greek fashion, accepting the works of matter, and adoring wood and stone; nor worship the deity in Jewish fashion, since they, who think they are the only ones to know him, do not know him, and worship angels and the month and the moon.
(Heracleon on John, from Origen, Comm. in Joann. xiii, 17.)

And he has a passage on martyrdom in which he remarks that there was a kind of confession which did not imply the death of the confessor as a martyr, mentioning Matthew, Philip, Thomas, and Levi as examples. He had a tradition, therefore, that these apostles had died a natural |263 death; it is odd that he distinguishes Matthew from Levi (like Tatian) and that he does not mention John; but very likely he was discussing the case of John, and brought in the other names as illustrations.


Eusebius in his History mentions at this point the Epistles of Irenaeus to Blastus and Florinus. Florinus was a presbyter of the Roman church when Irenaeus addressed him. He had been a pupil of Polycarp, together with Irenaeus, a generation earlier, when Florinus was in the service of the emperor, and visiting Smyrna.

For I saw you when I was still a boy in Lower Asia, with Polycarp, and you were faring sumptuously at the royal court, and doing your best to win his favour.
(Eusebius, E.H. v, 20, 5.)

We have assigned this intercourse of Irenaeus and Florinus with Polycarp to the year 129, which would make Irenaeus about sixty-five at this time. The interest lies in the fact that the subject of the conversation of Polycarp was his intercourse with John and others who had seen the Lord; and we have supplied the rest of the extract in an earlier chapter. « Vol. 2, chapter 2. It is a most significant fact that a man of this experience should have been converted to Valentinianism, and is a warning to us not to underestimate the influence of this school. Irenaeus wrote two Epistles to him, both of which are lost, except for the Eusebian extracts; one was called Concerning the Monarchia, that fashionable subject; the other Concerning the Ogdoad, which was the highest circle of deity in the Valentinian system.

Some scholars place the Epistle of Irenaeus to Florinus at a later date, on the strength of another letter which Irenaeus wrote to Bishop Victor in the hundred-and-nineties; we possess a sentence or two of this letter in a Syriac translation, and it reads as if Florinus were now deposed from his position as presbyter; indeed, he is spoken of as if he were dead; it is his books that are doing harm.

The Epistle we are now considering was addressed at an earlier stage to Florinus himself. 'These dogmas, my dear Florinus, not even the heretics outside the church have had the audacity to utter; these |264 dogmas, the elders who were before us, those who accompanied with the apostles, never delivered to us.' He has hopes that Florinus will not depart from the church as Tatian had done.


When Irenaeus arrived in Rome during the latter months of 178, he found these schools debating against one another; but it is possible that the rank and file of the church was not greatly interested. He was the bearer of letters from the Gallican martyrs to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia, and also to 'father Eleutherus', the Roman bishop, pleading for a peaceful solution of the conflict over Montanism, which was now spreading throughout the church. The first period of Montanism was over. Montanus and his prophetesses were dead, and there were sinister rumours abroad about the manner of their deaths. It was reported that the insane spirit with which they were inspired, had driven Montanus and Maximilla to hang themselves; Themiso had been lifted up into the air by the spirit that possessed him, and had been dashed to the ground and killed. The Anonymous, who reports these rumours, did not really believe them himself; but the prophets were gone, and their memories were darkened by scandalous stories of this sort.

Their movement went on, however. It entered into a new phase. An inspired literature had accumulated. The oracles of the original group had been written down. Themiso had issued his catholic Epistle. It was natural for the Phrygians to think that these revelations of the Paraclete would be accepted in the churches as other prophetic books had been; the Revelation of John, the Revelation of Peter, and the Pastor of Hermas; and others perhaps in various places. It would follow, too, that the church would adopt the prophet's legislation on fasting, and marriage, and church discipline, and other points. It does not appear that more revelations were forthcoming, though the prophetic gifts did not cease.

Oriental ideas flooded Rome at different levels. The Lord's people were not all philosophers. There were technicians and merchants and civil servants; there were also great numbers of slaves; and in due course a slave might become a free man and rise to a position of wealth and influence or high position in the church, like Pius and his brother Hermas, who had been the leader of a previous prophetic revival. |265 Another instance was Callistus, who was a boy or youth at this time, and would in due course become bishop, as Pius had done. Many of the slaves in Rome were of Phrygian origin, and this large community had its own ancient sanctuary on the Palatine Hill, where the Great Mother was worshipped and the death of Attis celebrated every spring with wild frenzy and excitement. It could not be long before the Christian form of Phrygian revivalism was communicated to the Phrygian groups in the city. Perhaps the title 'Phrygian heresy' or 'Phrygian sect' (or Phrygianism as we would say) was given it to discredit it as a slave religion. In any case it arrived sooner or later, and had grown to be a powerful force by the end of the century, when it succeeded in converting the great Tertullian himself. One of its leaders at that time was the venerable Proculus or Proclus, who may have been at the beginning of his career when Irenaeus arrived. He was a healer, ascetic, and theologian of the same school as Melito and Irenaeus himself.

There were features in the old Roman Christianity which were not discordant with a moderate Montanism. Rome had always had her prophets and inspired men; she read Hermas and the apocalypses; she had her virgins and ascetics from the time of Clement; but as we pass on into the third century, we find many ideas which we noted for the first time in Asia and Phrygia. Among these are the birthdays of the martyrs, the added emphasis on virginity, the composition of Acts of Martyrs, the extended series of fasts and calendar days, the holding of synods of bishops, and the closer definition of the canon of the New Testament. Some of these developments may be due to the influence of Montanism or the impact of controversy with Montanism.

It would appear, too, that the intensification of persecution would be favourable to the extension of Phrygianism, which idolized the martyr. In fact it assisted any theologian to gain a hearing if he had spent time in gaol.


Another visitant from Asia Minor was the high-powered 'martyr', Praxeas, with his dramatic monarchian gospel. It was not at all the logical monarchianism of the schools; it was the popular monarchianism of the evangelistic preaching. It taught quite simply that God had come into the world and died for men. Language like this had always been used in the course of Christian evangelism. Creed-forms had |266 grown up which embodied this form of the faith. It is clear, however, that it was not the way in which Hermas had visualized it; or Justin Martyr for that matter.

In the Acts of Paul the gospel which Paul preached is summed up in the words: 'Fear one only God and live chastely.' When Thecla was delivered from the wild beasts in Pisidian Antioch, there was a cry of thanksgiving from the women in the theatre; they gave praise to God as with one mouth saying, 'One is the God who hath preserved Thecla.' In the Acts of Peter they cry out, 'One is the God of Peter.' 'One God, One Lord' was the watchword of this paradoxical form of the Christian faith; paradoxical because it preached Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and at the same time as the one God himself; faith did not explain how; it looked no further. It was a martyr faith, anticipated in the words of Ignatius: 'Suffer me to imitate the Passion of my God.'

It was well received in Rome. It must have inspired the younger generation; Zephyrinus for instance, who became bishop about 200, and Callistus, who became his deacon. But when did Praxeas come to Rome? and under which bishop? The answer to these questions is uncertain, and depends almost entirely on the evidence of Tertullian.


We have mentioned the advent of Praxeas at this early point because Tertullian regarded him as the pioneer or forerunner of the high monar-chian doctrine which was favoured in Rome when he wrote his book against Praxeas about 205, not long after Zephyrinus became bishop.

He was the first man [Tertullian says] to import from Asia this kind of perversity, a man who was restless in other ways too, and inflated besides with the pride of 'martyrdom', though he had suffered nothing whatever but the boredom of a brief imprisonment.
(Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 1.)

By the time of Zephyrinus a regular school of the monarchian theology had been established in Rome, and its master Cleomenes had already succeeded its founder Epigonus. A number of years, surely, have to be interposed between this state of affairs and the arrival of the first importer of the doctrine. He must have appeared well before the episcopate of Zephyrinus, either under Eleutherus or Victor.

Hippolytus does not help us much. In the Latin adaptation of his |267 Syntagma (which he wrote about the same time that Tertullian was writing his book Against Praxeas) he says that Praxeas introduced the doctrine which 'Victorinus' was careful to strengthen; but here some copyist has confused the text. Who is Victorinus? Victor or Zephyrinus? Whichever it was, we knew already that these bishops favoured the high monarchian view.

Praxeas was a great success in Rome. His monarchian gospel pleased the multitude. He got the ear of the bishop. He passed on to Africa and taught his gospel there. But he met with some redoubtable opponent and disputed with him. « Was it Tertullian himself? P. C. de Labriolle thinks so. He recanted his errors and after that he disappeared from view. It was later still that Tertullian penned his sarcastic refutation of his theology, with the object of implicating the bishop of Rome, who favoured it.


According to Tertullian, Praxeas did two jobs for the devil while he was in Rome; he 'crucified the Father and he drove away the Paraclete'; that is to say he brought in the monarchian gospel that the Almighty Father died on Calvary, and he put to flight the holy dove of the New Prophecy. The bishop of Rome had actually recognized the New Prophecy when Praxeas arrived, and had sent off 'letters of peace'. Praxeas pointed out the unwisdom of what he had done; he referred to the policy of his predecessors who had not been so favourable; he made damaging statements about the prophets; he turned the tide of battle, and the bishop rescinded his action. It is an important moment in Roman church history, and it does not seem possible to place it so late as the episcopate of Zephyrinus; that prelate cannot have been ignorant of the true character of the New Prophecy.

This is what Tertullian says,

After the bishop of Rome had acknowledged the prophecies of Montanus and Prisca and Maximilla, and by this recognition had brought peace to the churches of Asia and Phrygia, Praxeas compelled him to call back the letters of peace which he had already sent, and to recede from his purpose of recognizing the prophetic gifts; he did this by making false statements about the said prophets, and by defending the authority of the bishop's predecessors.
(Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 1.)

|268 The influence of the New Prophecy at Rome was at its highest point then, though the facts about it were not perfectly known apparently. The critical attitude of the previous bishops was in danger of being forgotten. Full recognition was being extended to the prophets, their gifts, and their oracles, which probably meant the reception of their scriptures for reading in church. Then there was a change. The great monarchian preacher became the idol of the church. The cause of the New Prophecy was lost. The Paraclete was put to flight.

Rome: Forum

The arrival of Irenaeus in Rome in 178 has to be placed before this great decision, though not necessarily very long before it. The matter was under discussion when he arrived, and he came as an ambassador for the peace of the churches, first in Rome, but afterwards in Asia and Phrygia. The affectionate tone of the Gallican appeal to Eleutherus suggests that he was regarded by the martyrs as potentially favourable to their cause; and the writings of Irenaeus defend the place of prophecy in the church. It was a normal part of its life. Perhaps the recognition of the New Prophecy was decided upon during this visit, or at any rate seriously considered. Praxeas must have come later with his new theology and his information about the excesses of the Montanist leaders; and then the decision was reversed. The advent of Praxeas could be placed quite late in the eighties, but still under Bishop Eleutherus. Anicetus and Soter would be the predecessors who had condemned the New Prophecy.

If we place the advent of Praxeas in the nineties, during the episcopate of Victor, Eleutherus then becomes one of the predecessors whose policy towards Montanism was unfriendly; so that in either case he ends his episcopate by condemning it.


The sympathy of Irenaeus himself for a moderate prophetism appears in the Refutation, which was composed a year or two after his visit to Rome and Asia. He proudly claims that prophetic gifts continued to exist in the church, with other marvellous graces; some cast out daemons in strength and in truth; others had foreknowledge of future things; they saw visions and uttered prophecies; others healed the sick by the laying on of hands; there had even been cases when the dead had been raised and survived among us for many years. Such statements may |269 very truly express the principal features of Phrygianism as it first appeared in the west, but they do not require Phrygianism to explain them. When Phrygianism first appeared in the west it may have looked very like a revival of prophetic and spiritual activities with which the older Christians were quite familiar.

There is nothing to show whether Irenaeus had heard of the Montanist extravagances or excesses; but he has heard of an opposition to the prophetic movement, which was so strong that it rejected the Gospel of John because of the use the New Prophecy made of it.

In their desire to frustrate the gifts of the Spirit which has been poured out according to the pleasure of the Father upon the human race in these last times, they do not accept that aspect [of the Gospel as a whole] which is according to the Gospel of John, in which the Lord promised that he would send the Paraclete; but they reject at one and the same time, both the Gospel and the prophetic Spirit.
(Irenaeus, Ad. Haer. iii, 11, 12.)

The anti-Montanist party or sect, which he alludes to here, seems to be an obscure group in the Roman or Asian church, which objected to the Logos theology of Justin and his friends, as much as they did to the Paraclete theology of Montanus. They have no name. Epiphanius nicknamed them the alogoi or irrationals; the people who live without 'logos' or reason. Nothing very much more is known about them except that they found a spokesman in Rome at the opening of the next century in the mysterious Gaius who held a dispute with the Montanist leader Proclus, and backed the Roman tradition against the Asian and Phrygian.


We have run ahead of our chronology in considering the arrival of Praxeas in Rome. We may assume that the Phrygian movement was assured of fair consideration when Irenaeus arrived there in 178. The probability seems to be that Eleutherus extended full recognition to it, a recognition which he subsequently withdrew.

The mission of Irenaeus was not addressed simply to Rome; it was also addressed to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia. We have no record of what happened when he arrived in Rome; or of the events in the course of his journey in either country; but he wrote a book on his return to Gaul which has the situation in Asia and Rome for its |270 background. In Asia he learned something about Marcus, who was the head of the Valentinian school in those parts and operated a degraded magical gnosis with barbaric and primitive features. He also knew about Theodotion of Ephesus, a convert to Judaism, who had made a new translation of the Old Testament into Greek, for use in the Hellenistic synagogue; a fact which shows how powerful the Greek-speaking Jews still were in Ephesus. This translation was also adopted by the Ebionites, a new name for the Christians of Jewish descent who still observed the Jewish Law; they, too, must have used Greek in their services.

Irenaeus formed the conviction that the time had come to refute all the heresies in a comprehensive work, which would at the same time give a full and trustworthy account of the authentic Christian tradition. He had the Marcionites in view, but he was even more alarmed at the way in which the Valentinians were gaining ground; and he felt that the older and better theologians had failed to deal with them effectively mainly through lack of information about their rules of faith. Considerable research was required. When he reached Lyons again, he took up the duties of bishop; and this position required a great deal of travelling and sheer missionary work among strange tribes who spoke barbarous tongues. He was not deterred from his task, however, for even in the Rhone Valley he found Valentinian practitioners at work. He had his library. He had much the same New Testament that we have today, apart from Hebrews and, possibly, one or two of the lesser Epistles; he had his copies of Clement, Hermas, Polycarp and Ignatius; he had the works of Papias and Justin and Hegesippus; he had the Notebooks of Ptolemaeus and other sketches of gnostic mythology; no doubt he had some of the works of Melito and Miltiades and Rhodo and other contemporary scholars who are only names to us. By dint of much hard labour he ground out his five magnificent volumes in the hundred-and-eighties. No sign appears in these volumes that Montanism or Monarchianism can be classed as a heresy. It would appear that when he wrote them Praxeas had not yet appeared at Rome, and the Montanist-Monarchian crisis was still in the future.
<< | top | >>