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.


Denarius: Septimius Severus

| HOME | |< | << | Noetus of Smyrna, Modalism | The school of Hippolytus | Theodotus of Byzantium, Adoptionism | The Accession of Zephyrinus, c. A.D. 199 | The adoptionist schism: Natalius | Exomologesis | Persecutions under Severus; apocalyptic ferment | Hippolytus on Daniel | The Alexandrian Martyrs, A.D. 201-4 | The catechetical school | The African martyrs, A.D. 203 | Martyrs and confessors | The defection of Tertullian, A.D. 205 – 7 | Proclus the Montanist | Gaius of Rome | The 'Alogi' in Epiphanius | Sabellius of Libya | Callistus and Hippolytus | Note on Monarchian Terminology | >> |


The interest in a 'monarchian' theology had appeared in Rome in the episcopate of Eleutherus. Theologians of all sorts were trying out their systems in the light of the doctrine of the one 'arche' or beginning, or first cause, or sovereign ruler of the universe. Before long various monarchian theologies began to arrive from Asia Minor. Praxeas, the keen opponent of Phrygianism, brought in a paradoxical form of it, using the watchword 'One God', which meant one indivisible deity. In its most provocative form, it led to the statement that the one indivisible God had become man in Jesus of Nazareth. It could even be said that the Father had been crucified, or at any rate that he had suffered; he had died and risen again, and, as Hippolytus sarcastically added, ascended into heaven and sat down at his own right hand. This evangelical form of the doctrine was nicknamed 'patripassionism'; but the more careful theologians taught it in a form which has been christened 'modalism'; the one God had revealed himself at different times in different modes; sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Holy Spirit; but always it was the one God.

There was a certain Noetus who taught this theology in Smyrna; but after a while he was called upon to give an account of himself before the local presbyters and was accused of identifying the Father with the Son, and saying that he had been born and had suffered and had died. According to Hippolytus he answered his critics by saying, 'What harm am I doing in glorifying Christ?' According to Epiphanius he |414 said, 'What harm am I doing in glorifying one God?' He was condemned by the presbyters, but he was so carried away by his self-confidence as to 'establish a school'. He was the Moses of this school, and his brother was the Aaron; doubtless the bishop; and it looks as if this succession was recognized by the Roman church. At any rate Rome failed to condemn it. This schism in the ancient church of Smyrna may be one example of widespread dissensions in Asia and the east.

It does not appear that Noetus ever visited Rome. His theology was introduced there by a pupil of his named Epigonus and carried on into the episcopate of Zephyrinus by a certain Cleomenes. It received the approval of the Roman church. It taught a high evangelical theology with a respectable ancestry; and the fact that it was welcomed at Rome suggests no less; but Hippolytus bitterly opposed Cleomenes and obviously thought that he should have been condemned at Rome, as Noetus had been at Smyrna. There were the makings of a schism here such as existed in Smyrna, but Hippolytus and his friends accepted the situation as it was, so long as Zephyrinus was bishop.


The old Logos theology possessed a formula which saved it from the paradox of patripassionism. It was not the eternal Father, they said, who had been incarnate in Jesus; it was the divine Word or Reason, which was generated in the mind of the Father; at first residing only in himself but then active in creation; coming forth from the Father like the stream from the fountain or the ray of light from the sun; mysteriously the same and yet mysteriously different. This school of theology tended to make the Logos a little too different.

The theology of the secondary centre of personality in the godhead had not been satisfactorily expressed and was open to criticism. It was taught in Rome by Hippolytus, who was the successor of Justin and Irenaeus. He inherited the theology of the Son of God as Word or Angel, and expounded it angrily and exactly and dogmatically. We have come to a new point of development in our history; it is the clash and rivalry of the dogmatic schools within the catholic tradition; for Hippolytus used the word 'catholic' in its derived sense of the non-heretical non-schismatic body which holds the true tradition of faith |415 and order. Down to and including Irenaeus, it had meant little more than universal or world-wide, 'dispersed throughout the earth'; now it carried the additional significance of holding to, and maintaining, the doctrines and church order of the apostolic tradition as accepted by the universal federation of churches which recognized one another.

The war with the gnostic sects had been won, and still more the even older war with the Ebionites. No one could bring in another god who was superior to the creator; no one could proclaim another Christ whose humanity was unreal; everyone accepted the Old Testament scriptures, and the four Gospels, and the Acts, and the other apostolic books; and there was a solid tradition of theology and liturgy which had authority in the churches. For Hippolytus this was the tradition of Justin and Irenaeus on the one hand and Eleutherus and Victor on the other. He was a learned and industrious man with a powerful but not original mind. He maintained the old tradition as he understood it. He put all the heresies in their place. He classified them and traced them back to remote and improbable origins. He refuted them one by one, from the first pagan philosophers and mystics, who were the original fountains of error, down to the new schools which had obtained control in the Roman church, the last and latest heresies of his own rivals, headed by Praxeas and Noetus and Cleomenes and Sabellius and worst of all, Callistus. He pursued them with untiring pertinacity; it was a vendetta, not a theological inquiry.


There was another monarchian school, however, which established itself in Rome during the episcopate of Victor, and also claimed a respectable ancestry. Its leader was Theodotus of Byzantium, known as Theodotus the leather-worker (tanner or shoemaker). The fortifications of Byzantium were destroyed by order of the Emperor Severus in 196, and he may have been a refugee from this calamity, if indeed he had not anticipated it. He taught that Jesus was a 'mere man', or so Hippolytus reported him, who was the recipient of a divine dunamis or power, which came down upon him at his baptism, after which he was able to work miracles. It was rather nearer to the election and anointing of Ebionism than to the spirit-christology of Cerinthus. The spirit which Jesus received was not a distinct person as Cerinthus taught; it |416 was the spirit of the one indivisible deity; it was the power of the Most Highest which overshadowed Mary and was with the human Jesus from his conception and birth. Room could be found in this way of thought for the Ebionite idea of the advance of Jesus in holiness and righteousness, and he could be thought of as being progressively adopted into ever-closer connexion with the deity, and so acquiring the value or status of God, or even becoming God in some sense of the word. It was a serious attempt to form a Christian theology out of traditional materials, preserving the monarchian idea of the indivisibility of God, and dispensing with the idea of the incarnate deity. It is known as 'dynamic' or 'adoptionist' monarchianism. Jesus was a man who became God rather than a God who became man.

The 'adoptionist' way of thought spread widely in the east, which was no doubt its original home; its most illustrious exponent being Paul of Samosata, who was bishop of Antioch in the two-hundred-and-fifties.

Theodotus of Byzantium came to Rome in the episcopate of Victor and founded a school there. There were some who professed to recognize in his teachings an old tradition of the Roman church itself; for the successors of Theodotus, some thirty years later, claimed that the older generation in Rome, and even the apostles themselves, had received and taught these doctrines, which had been preserved into the times of Victor. It was in the episcopate of Zephyrinus, they asserted, that the truth of the kerugma had been 're-minted', a weighty statement, in reply to which Hippolytus (in the Little Labyrinth) was able to point out that Victor himself had excommunicated Theodotus.

Yet we would infer that he must have found supporters in Rome in Victor's time who thought that his teaching was in line with an old Roman tradition of some sort; and we think inevitably of the unformed christology of Hernias, and the humanistic christology which is referred to in the pages of Justin. It had seemed legitimate in earlier times to think of Christ as a combination of human 'flesh' and divine 'spirit'; but the Roman church under Victor would not accept a rationalized theology along these lines, which located the personality of the Christ exclusively in the human being, and not at all in the indwelling 'spirit'.

At the end of the episcopate of Victor, therefore, the theology of incarnation had won a resounding victory over the theology of |417 adoption; and when Zephyrinus succeeded him, a 'monarchian' theology of this type became the official theology of the Roman church. We cannot resist the impression that the election of Zephyrinus came as a blow to some of the old-fashioned Roman Christians, some of whom may have venerated the memory of Justin, and others Hermas.


Zephyrinus succeeded Victor about 199, when Severus was occupied in his eastern war. He continued as bishop for about eighteen years. He was not fitted by nature to adjudicate upon rival theologies; Hippolytus caricatures him as a weak man and a poor administrator; he even suggests that he took bribes; but we must discount these statements. He appointed as his adviser and right-hand man the ex-slave and so-called confessor Callistus, whom he recalled from his retirement at Antium and appointed as his 'deacon', putting him in charge of the cemetery, which is the first we hear of this venture.

Ever since the times of Clement in the first century there had been a group of Christian cemeteries on the Appian Way, including the crypt of Lucina and the cemetery of Praetextatus, in connexion with which was the private burying-place of the Caecilian family. They had by now become the property of the church; and the fact that the church could own property shows that it had been recognized as a corporation, perhaps under some legal fiction; it was making rapid progress on the economic, social and political levels. It is possible that Zephyrinus had been interested in the cemeteries himself before he became bishop. There is a medieval document which states that he was buried 'in his own cemetery close by the cemetery on the Appian Way'; an interesting statement, since the tradition says that previous bishops had been buried near the body of St Peter. It is unfortunate that none of these early episcopal burials have been confirmed by archaeology or by older literary evidence; they are still nothing but late tradition. The transformation of the cemeteries on the Appian Way into a church cemetery is a matter of history, however. They are now known as the Cemetery of Callistus, after the energetic deacon of Zephyrinus who succeeded him as bishop.

The interest in cemeteries and memorials at this time must be connected with that strong sense of history and continuity which was |418 the strength of the whole church; the reverence for the apostolic founders, the growing cult of the martyrs, and the old Roman reverence for the dead. It would also appear to be connected with the importance of certain families, the growth of financial organization, and the promotion of political relations. Hippolytus, who was a likely person to succeed Zephyrinus, regarded the rise to power of Callistus with dismay. The two men are likely to have been still in their thirties; probably no more than forty.


The position of Zephyrinus as bishop was not uncontested. The adherents of the adoptionists had been defeated, but they did not accept this position, since they held themselves to be the true representatives of the old Roman tradition, and had some financial backing. They found a confessor named Natalius (a native Roman if we may judge by his name), whom they established as bishop, paying him a monthly salary of 1500 denarii, which is represented by Hippolytus as a new and shocking idea. Among his backers was a new Theodotus, who was called the banker (or money-changer) to distinguish him from his predecessor, Theodotus the leather-worker; no doubt he was the financial strength of the party. The new Theodotus carried on the theology of the old Theodotus, adding a strange piece of speculation about Melchizedek, the mystical priest-king of Salem in Abraham's time, whom he looked upon as superior to the Christ, his critics said. Another supporter was a certain Asclepiades, sometimes spelt as Asclepiodotus, perhaps by confusion with Theodotus.

Natalius was not happy in his position as bishop. One night he had a dream in which holy angels came and scourged him severely, a story not without parallel in the records of abnormal psychology. Jerome had a similar experience, and so did Laurentius, the second archbishop of Canterbury. Natalius arose in the morning, ran to Zephyrinus and showed him his shoulders covered with the marks of the beating. He confessed his sin and begged forgiveness, embracing the knees of the bishop, the presbyters and even the laity who were present. His plea was granted, and he was restored to communion. Heaven itself had approved the episcopal standing of Zephyrinus. The story is told in the Little Labyrinth.

|419 It must have been a severe blow to the adoptionists to lose their bishop in this ignominious fashion, but they continued their separate existence. A new bishop must have been found; for the proclamation of the 'kerugma of the truth' as they understood it, continued. They occupied themselves with literary criticism. They compared and emended the manuscripts of the sacred scriptures, by which the Old Testament would seem to be meant. They invoked the names of Euclid, Aristotle, Theophrastus and Galen, and emulated their techniques. Their church or school was still in existence between 230 and 270, and its leader at that time, in all probability its bishop, was a certain Artemas or Artemon; the true bishop of Rome in his own estimation.

The picture which we have been able to give of the fortunes of the Roman church at this point is available through the accidental preservation of the controversial writings of Hippolytus, whose evidence can be supplemented from those of Tertullian. There is no reason to suppose that these controversies and disputed elections were exceptional; it is not improbable that they were common features of the democratic way of life of the church of this period, not only at Rome but elsewhere. On the other hand, the great mass of Christian people may not have been very deeply concerned with the disputations of the scholars; and the rivalries of the parties may not have been due solely to theological differences. The enmity between Hippolytus and Callistus was coloured by strong personal feeling, and the two men represented different types and different social classes. Probably, if we knew more about these church divisions, we would find that there were social, racial and personal interests involved.


The story of Natalius gives us a picture of the procedure known as exomologesis, or public confession, by which open and notorious sinners who had been expelled from the communion of the church were reconciled after due penitence had been shown. Tertullian gives an account of this important element in the church order in his book Concerning Penitence, which he wrote while he was still a catholic himself. The penitent appeared in sackcloth and ashes; he bewailed his sins; he entreated the faithful for their intercessions, as Natalius had done. The sentence of restoration was pronounced by the bishop, |420 though it would seem that the presbyters had a voice in the decision; it was one of their most important functions.

Little is known about the development of the system of penitential discipline in the church. There was a tradition which dated from the earliest times that there was no forgiveness for post-baptismal sin of a grave character; but this idea was not universally accepted. Dionysius of Corinth, for instance, had urged Palmas of Amastris to welcome back those who returned from any kind of 'falling away', whether it was misconduct or heretical error. Tertullian, at this period of his life, allowed for one repentance or restoration after baptism, and this concession to human frailty had been sanctioned since the episcopate of Pius, or earlier, by the spiritual authority of the Roman prophet Hermas, whose revelation of God's will was still widely accepted. The ministry of repentance was, in some way or another, carried on, and the doctrine of no repentance after baptism was mitigated in practice, though it may have been maintained in principle.

At a later date Tertullian brought forward another view of the matter, which also had a tradition of some sort behind it. He thought that idolatry, murder, and adultery, the three major sins of the old Jewish moral theology, could not be forgiven by the church, and Hip-polytus has a similar tradition. Idolatry meant relapse into paganism, and especially the denial of Christ in times of persecution, which was known technically as 'apostasy'; but Hermas had envisaged the possibility of the reconciliation of some classes of apostates. The Gallican martyrs had actually taken it upon themselves to restore their lapsed brethren to communion in the prison. The third century would present the church with the problem of great numbers of apostates seeking restoration, and also of martyrs assuming the right to restore them. As for adultery, it was well known that Hermas was lenient towards adulterers and at a later date Tertullian strongly attacks him for his leniency. Indeed, the writings of Hermas may have been under fire from more than one quarter. They were on the way out.

Two points should be borne in mind in considering this topic. One is that in spite of the authoritative statements about ancient customs, it is very unlikely that any clear-cut or consistent procedure did exist in the churches. The other is that an increasing number of Christians were deferring their baptisms so that they did not come under this discipline at all. The Christians in the army, in the civil services and in |421 high social positions may have been in many cases catechumens. The number of catechumens who appear as martyrs may be partially explained in this way; their martyrdom was their baptism. It accounted for all sins.


The edicts which Severus issued in Palestine forbidding the baptism of converts may also have served to keep Christians in the catechumen class; but it is not clear to what extent this edict was enforced. In 201 he arrived in Egypt, and his arrival coincided with an outbreak of persecution in Alexandria, perhaps as part of the demonstrations of loyalty to the emperor. So sudden and severe was this wave of persecution, which went on under two successive prefects, that a leading Christian named Judas was moved to write a book in which he sought to prove that the day of judgement was at hand.

There are other signs of unrest and apocalyptic ferment among the Christians at this time. There came to Hippolytus in Rome two strange stories from the east. One came from Syria; it was the case of a bishop who was so carried away by his studies in the scriptures as to lead out a great crowd of brethren, with women and children, into the desert to meet Christ. The proconsul naturally thought that they were 'robbers', and was prepared to arrest them and put them to death; but fortunately his wife was a believer and persuaded him to settle the matter quietly and so avoid a mass persecution.

The other case was that of a bishop in Pontus, a man of humility and piety, but unfortunately he trusted in visions which he received. He set up as a prophet and announced the day of judgement in a year's time. His hearers gave themselves up to prayer and lamentation; they fasted even on the sabbath and the Lord's Day; they left their farms uncultivated and sold their livestock. When the year ended and the judgement had not come, the bishop was covered with shame, the scriptures were discredited, and the brethren so gravely upset that their virgins married and their men returned to their farms. Those who had sold their farms were reduced to beggary.


These stories may be exaggerated of course, but they must be borne in mind in estimating the character of Christianity at this time. We see here a fanatical element, which was allied in some ways with Montanism and in others with Encratism; it cannot have had any sympathy with the civilization of the day. Even Hippolytus, writing in Rome itself, gives a sombre and satiric picture of its history, not at all like the friendly approaches of Melito and Tertullian. He comments gravely on the uncertainty of the favour of princes. He seems to have in mind some recent instances of the mutability of imperial favour.

We get a good picture of him now, lecturing to the faithful, and working on the scriptures, and relating them to current events. These stories are taken from his commentary on Daniel, which is assigned to this period. He was a great commentator, though this is the only commentary of his which has come down to us entire. He uses, of course, the Septuagint Daniel, with the story of Susanna and the Song of the Three Children in the burning fiery furnace, which Clement had also referred to. He talks a great deal about martyrdom, and urges his hearers to prepare for it. His book could be illustrated from the catacomb pictures of the time.

He was also concerned to defend the church against an extravagant apocalypticism. He believed that the only sound approach to this subject was through the canonical scriptures. With some degree of diffidence and protest, he proceeds to give his own interpretation. His picture of the last days is calamitous in the extreme, especially for the saints; Antichrist will reign in Jerusalem; the earth will be reduced to misery and confusion; there will be no millennial kingdom on this earth; but these evils will culminate in the appearance of Christ and the final judgement. His fiery pictures of the end owe something to the eschatology of 2 Peter; he is the first Christian writer who quite certainly makes use of this book, though its use may be considered possible in Justin and Theophilus.

He pursues the same subject in his book Concerning Christ and Antichrist. Fortunately none of these things will happen for five hundred years.


The catechetical school in Alexandria was closed, and Clement left the city. His action was not criticized so far as we know, and we find him ten years later standing by his friend and pupil Alexander during a persecution in some city of Cappadocia where Alexander was bishop.

Leonides, the father of Origen, died as a martyr; but not in consequence of the emperor's decree, since he was already a baptized Christian. Origen himself, who was now sixteen years old, would have died with him, had not his mother, who was a woman of resource, hidden his clothes. His father's property was confiscated, and he had to support his mother and his younger brothers by giving classes in the Greek language and literature. He also carried on a class for the instruction of catechumens in the faith. The numbers became so great, and the calls upon his time so pressing, that he gave up his classes in Greek literature and devoted himself entirely to this work. In order to finance it he sold his library, and invested the proceeds in a small annuity. He also found a wealthy patroness in whose house he lived. She had another Christian teacher under her roof, a gnostic from Antioch, whose name was Paul, a skilful and popular lecturer; but Origen refused to associate with him, and this early brush with heresy may have served to strengthen him in his adherence to the church tradition. This Christian school or college in the house of a wealthy lady is not without precedent. Had not Paul and Silas taken up their abode in Lydia's house at Philippi? Had not Hermas spoken of wealthy Christians who received the servants of God into their houses.

The name of this broad-minded lady is not known.

Origen stood by his pupils in their trials and during their executions. It seemed to the Christian mind an act of God that he was not touched himself, though the mob howled for his blood at times. He saw his pupils pass from baptism to martyrdom. Among the martyrs were five men, Plutarch, Serenus, Heraclides (a catechumen), Hero, and a second Serenus; there were three women, Herais, Potamiaena, and her mother Marcella. Potamiaena was the heroic figure of this persecution, like Blandina at Lyons, and she had her seven companions as in the story of the Maccabaean mother. Eusebius says that her praises were sung long afterwards in songs and hymns. The soldier who had charge of her, whose name was Basilides, did his best to protect her from the insults |424 of the mob and she promised him a reward before she died. Three days later she appeared to him in a dream by night and placed a crown on his head, and he too became a Christian and a martyr. The figure of the soldier who is deeply impressed, or even converted, is a feature of the Acts of martyrdom; doubtless there were many soldiers who were half-persuaded of the truth of Christianity or even admitted as catechumens.

These martyrs may have suffered under the edict of Severus, since they were mostly new converts. They were what Clement called children in the faith; the first Christian youth-movement that we clearly see, under a youthful leader.


It says much for the vision and courage of Bishop Demetrius that he recognized the work that Origen was doing, and appointed him at the age of eighteen to be the successor of Clement as head of the catechetical school; or did he think that it would be easier to control the school under so young a man? Was that indeed how he acquired control of the school? In any case Origen must have possessed the confidence of the bishop and the presbyters at this time. Perhaps he ranked as a confessor.

Origen was acutely aware of his lack of qualifications for the position, and he undertook strenuous intellectual and spiritual disciplines to fit himself for it. He attended the lectures of Ammonius Saccas, the leading philosopher of the day, then at the beginning of his distinguished career. He had begun his life as a porter carrying bags, and had acquired the name of Saccas in consequence; for the word ' sack' is the same in many languages. Origen had been led to him by an older friend and pupil, Heraclas, a brother of the martyred Plutarch. Among his later pupils were Plotinus the great systematic philosopher of the third century, and Longinus the great literary critic. Origen was their equal in intellectual power, and their senior in years. The neo-platonist philosophy which this school developed required rigid preparation in mathematical and logical subjects – the very qualifications in which Justin had been lacking. It also encouraged the ascetic and holy life. Clement had emphasized all these points, but Origen carried matters farther than Clement would have approved.

Origen, at this age, did nothing by halves. Ascetism was the fashion |425 of the time, and he treated himself hardly, wearing only one garment, sleeping on the floor, and discarding the use of shoes; all in accordance with Gospel precepts, taken rather literally. He ate sparingly and drank no wine. Unfortunately he took too literally a statement in St Matthew that there were some who had made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Some fifty years before, Justin says, a young Christian in Alexandria had decided to do this, but had failed to get the requisite permission from the prefect which was required by the law. With or without permission, Origen did it; but the Christian conscience generally did not approve, as he was to discover. In due course he took a different view of it himself, and learned to interpret scripture less literally. At present, however, Bishop Demetrius was indulgent to this brilliant young catechist. He had the glamour of martyrdom about him; he was a mystic and ascetic and completely absorbed in his vocation; but we never find him seeing visions or hearing voices. He was too much of an intellectual for that.


It was otherwise with the African martyrs. In the case of these young people, as some of them were at any rate, there was more of the prophet than the scholar. It was on 7 March and in the year 203. Once again a young woman was the leader of the martyrs; her name was Vibia Perpetua; she was twenty-two years of age, and came of one of the leading families of Carthage. Her father was not a Christian, and was deeply distressed by her determination to die as a martyr for the faith which she had so recently espoused. This family grief was her severest trial. She wrote the earlier part of the story herself in the prison; the following chapters being written by the presbyter Saturus, who had doubtless been her instructor in the faith and had surrendered himself with his pupils; the account of the actual martyrdoms was added by another hand.

She was the mother of a small infant, and her slave and fellow-martyr Felicitas gave birth to a child in the prison. There were three men: Revocatus who seems to have been the husband of Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus; they were all catechumens. The name of another catechumen, Rusticus, occurs in the last chapters. The deacons, Tertius and Pomponius, visited them in prison from time to time, and |426 were successful in inducing the guards to let them walk in the fresh air once a day.'

It was felt right under such circumstances to ask the Lord for a vision, and as Perpetua had been permitted to converse with the Lord, it was agreed that she should ask him what the issue was to be. She was given a dream in which she saw a golden ladder going up to heaven, with a dragon couching under it, and swords and lances and sharp weapons bristling from it. Saturus went up first, and called to her to follow him. She followed him, naming the name of the Lord Jesus, and setting her foot on the dragon's head. She found herself in a vast garden, where there was a white-haired man in the dress of a shepherd, milking his flocks. 'Thou art welcome, my daughter', he said to her, and gave her a piece of the cheese that he was making. She received it with folded hands, and as she ate it all who stood by said 'Amen'. 'And at the sound of their voices I awoke, still tasting a sweetness which I cannot describe.' So she knew that the outcome would be martyrdom and that Saturus would be the first to go.

After their trial, she had two dreams about her little brother Dino-crates, who had died at the age of seven, presumably without baptism. In the first she saw him in a place of darkness and distress, but in the second she saw him delivered and happy in answer to her prayers. In her next dream she fought with an Egyptian gladiator and won her fight. After this the presbyter Saturus records a dream of his, in which he took part in company with martyrs of an earlier persecution in the worship of heaven. He was given a message of his bishop Optatus, who was not on good terms with the presbyter Aspasius. Optatus is the first African bishop whose name we know. He was given the title 'papa' which means grandfather. This word appears in English as 'pope'. It is first found in Carthage and Alexandria.

Secundulus died in prison. Felicitas, without much trouble, gave birth to a little daughter, who was committed to one of the 'sisters' to bring up. The narrative of the martyrdom tells how the men were made to fight with wild animals, a leopard, a bear and a wild boar; but the boar attacked the huntsman who had charge of it, and he died later on from wounds received. Revocatus apparently was killed by the leopard but Saturus escaped alive. He had been savagely bitten, and so much blood flowed from the wound that the crowd shouted out, 'Washed and saved! Washed and saved!' in imitation of the language of the |427 Gospel. A soldier named Pudens asked for a ring from his finger, and Saturus gave it to him saying, 'Remember my faith.' He was then condemned to an encounter with the bear; but the bear refused to come out of its den.

Perpetua and Felicitas were stripped naked, enveloped in nets, and gored by a wild cow; like Blandina at Lyons, Perpetua was in a trance and felt nothing, as she declared to a young catechumen, Rusticus, who came to her assistance.

It was then decided to finish off the martyrs with the sword, and they all kissed one another, and prepared for death. Saturus was killed first. They received the sword-thrust without moving or making a sound, except for Perpetua herself, who gave a loud cry as she was pierced through the breast, but then guided the hand of the young swordsman to her throat; 'and possibly', the narrator adds, 'such a woman could not have been slain unless she had willed it herself, since she was feared by the impure spirit'.

The epitaph of these martyrs has been discovered in recent years, so that we know that their relics were not lost.


Such, then, was the quality of the new generation of champions of the faith. If it seems to the critical modern mind that they had become a little too concrete in their views about demons and gehenna and paradise, perhaps it can be forgiven them. They may have taken their dreams and visions rather literally, though it looks as if they well understood the nature of poetry and symbol; yet these dreams were strong enough to carry them through, for they expressed in the simplest possible form the faith in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ which gave them their victory over fear and death and every other evil power which barred their road to glory. They have something of Hermas, something of the Revelation of Peter, something of the Phrygian prophets, something of the art-forms and mottoes of the catacombs. It is a Christian folk-lore. It is the new Gentile dress for the old Christian gospel; but it is none the less the old Christian gospel for that. It is a mistake to look on the visionary Perpetua as a' Montanist'; she is an example of simple evangelical piety, stimulated into vision by the prophetic movement; or, if it is Montanism, then it is a liberal-|428minded unreflective Montanism of the second degree, set free from the harshness of Ardabau or the fancies of Pepuza.

During the third century the Roman church adopted the custom of keeping the birthdays of some of the greater martyrs. A martyrology, or calendar of martyrs, came into existence, in which the oldest commemoration was that of St Perpetua and her companions. This movement seems to have been a feature of the growth and development of the native Latin tradition, which may of course have received help and stimulation from the sister-church of Carthage at this time. It is not that Rome had been backward heretofore in honouring the martyrs, but her way had been a simple stone slab with little more than a name upon it; or not even a name. Now the pictorial decorations, the Christian inscriptions, and the keeping of birthdays, begin to appear. Tertullian speaks of memorial banquets and other rites. The status of the martyr continued to be exalted, and, with it, the status of the confessor. Hippolytus admits that a genuine confessor has the rank of a presbyter. We have seen that they undertake to reconcile penitents.


The Montanist movement was still active on both sides of the Mediterranean, and Tertullian himself was drawn into it. In the year 207 he was writing the first volume of his ponderous work Against Marcion, and he makes it plain that he was already a Montanist. He announced his withdrawal from the company of the 'psychics', as he calls the catholic church, in his book Against Praxeas, which would therefore seem to be a work of the same period. It must have been the result of serious tension. It appears from the Acts of Perpetua that the catholic bishop, Optatus, was at odds with one of his teachers named Aspasius, and was unable to control his church. Jerome says that Tertullian's defection was due to the jealousy of the Roman presbyters, and we have seen that there was division and party-feeling there too. The two principal points of controversy were the same in both churches, Phrygianism and monarchianism.

Praxeas, who was the forerunner of the higher monarchianism, had left little impression in Rome, since he had founded no school there. He had gone over to Africa with the glory of his 'martyrdom' and the favour of the Roman bishop of that day, Eleutherus or Victor. He had |429 taught his doctrine and clashed with a redoubtable opponent, whose name Tertullian does not give; he admitted his error and signed a recantation which remained on record in the church. After that he disappeared from view. But the seeds of his heresy remained. The church at Carthage must have espoused his theology in a modified form, just as the Roman church had done. When Tertullian parted from the catholic church, he expressed his theological views in his book Against Praxeas ; but it was meant to be, by implication, an attack on Zephyrinus and Callistus and Cleomenes, who were spreading the new theology in the Roman church.

It seemed to the rather practical Latin mind that the theology of Praxeas and Cleomenes represented the old faith in one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. The word monarchia was on everybody's lips. 'The simple,' said Tertullian, 'not to say the foolish and the senseless, who are always in the majority among the faithful, are crying out, "We hold to the monarchia "; they are terrified of the oeconomia.' The first Greek word was certainly easier to understand than the second, for which no adequate Latin or English equivalent has ever been found. It means literally the management of a house, and hence any arrangement or system or plan or disposition; it is sometimes translated, but most inadequately, by the words dispensation or disposition. Tertullian used it of the real and eternal personal distinctions within the deity: the inner relations of Father and Son and Spirit. Naturally it was a little beyond the simple, who had no comprehension of purely theological problems.

It becomes clear that the administrations of Optatus in Carthage and Zephyrinus in Rome were firmly based on popular support. Monarchianism was in and Montanism was out.


Montanism meant for Tertullian a special outpouring of the Spirit, which expressed itself in dreams, visions and oracles; an outpouring of the Spirit which was cultivated within a very small circle. It meant a sour disapproval of the ordinary Christians, whose cause he had championed in his Apology. He had discovered that they were prone to the temptations of the world and the flesh; for the number of worldly Christians was every day increasing, and the standards, in his opinion, were becoming much too elastic. These standards had been stiffened |430 up, he thought, by new legislation which had been given by the Paraclete through Montanus. There was to be no more repentance for the idolater, the murderer or the adulterer. Second marriages were anathema, and any marriage was to be deplored; though Tertullian himself was a married man, and wrote a treatise To his Wife in which he urged her not to marry again should anything happen to him. Fasts were to be longer, more frequent and more severe. Life was to become a system of training for martyrdom.

There were two sects of Montanists in Rome, one 'according to Aeschines' and the other 'according to Proems'. Aeschines followed the fashionable Monarchian theology, which was in line with the utterances of Montanus himself. Proclus, or Proculus, was a theologian of the school of Melito and Irenaeus. He was the master of Tertullian in theology, who speaks of him with affection as 'Proculus noster', our own Proculus, adding the information that he was medical adviser to the emperor. He was an old man now, and famous for his life of celibate sanctity.

During the episcopate of Zephyrinus he engaged in a debate with a certain Gaius or Caius, which was reduced to written form by the latter and came into the hand of Dionysius of Alexandria and Eusebius. Eusebius quotes from it more than once. In the course of this debate Proclus referred to the 'four' daughters « The better-informed Polycrates speaks of three, and says that one was buried at Ephesus. of Philip, who had been prophetesses and were buried at Hierapolis, where their tomb was to be seen. He was conscious of the Phrygian origin of the New Prophecy, but was not very well informed about it, since he confuses Philip of Hierapolis with Philip the deacon and evangelist who is mentioned in the Acts. « Many scholars prefer his evidence to that of Papias (as understood by Eusebius) and Irenaeus and Polycrates, and therefore identify this Philip with the 'deacon' of Acts who had four daughters who prophesied. It would seem therefore that he was not a Phrygian himself, or at any rate had never been in Hierapolis; but he sheltered himself and his teaching under the prestige of the Asian tradition.

Gaius had a prompt and effective answer to the claim of Proclus.

I myself can point out the trophies of the apostles; for if it is your pleasure to proceed to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way, you will find the trophies of those who founded this church.
(Gaius, Dialogue with Proclus, in Eusebius, E.H. II, 25, 5.)

|431 This reference shows, quite apart from the archaeological confirmation, that the tombs of St Peter and St Paul were shown in Rome at the present traditional sites, and must have stood there long before the time of Gaius. He calls them 'trophies' or monuments of victory, but he would appear to mean actual tombs, since he was using them to outshine the prestige which Hierapolis derived from the Philippian tombs.


Eusebius had no idea who Gaius was, and describes him vaguely as a churchman. The ninth-century Photius, who had also read the Dialogue, says that he was a Roman presbyter; but if so he is a further example of the theological discord which could exist in that venerable presbytery.

Hippolytus wrote a book against him called Chapters against Gaius; or at any rate that is the name that it went under in the Syriac translation. No such book exists, and no such title is found in the list of books which is engraved upon the statue of Hippolytus; but perhaps it is identical with the book called The Defence of the Gospel and Revelation of John, which is included there; for Gaius rejected both Johannine books. A few quotations from this lost work of Hippolytus survive in the twelfth-century Syriac writer Dionysius bar Salibi, and one of them says:

Hippolytus of Rome said: A man named Gaius appeared who said that the gospel was not John's, nor the Revelation, but that they were the work of Cerinthus.
(Dionysius bar Salibi, from R. M. Grant, Second-Century Christianity.)

and another:

The heretic Gaius charged John with disagreeing with his fellow-evangelists, since he says that after the baptism Jesus went into Galilee and wrought the miracle of the wine at Cana. (Ibid.)

It is not likely that these views about the Gospel appeared in the Dialogue with Proclus, since Eusebius does not seem to have noticed them; but he does quote a sentence which refers in a guarded manner to the Revelation.

And Cerinthus too, by means of revelations which were ostensibly written by a great apostle, brings in some marvellous things which were shown him, |432 as he asserts, by angels; saying that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ will be established upon the earth, and the flesh will dwell in Jerusalem, serving once more the pleasures and desires... and that there will be a period of a thousand years to be spent in nuptial festivities.
(Gaius, Dialogue, in Eusebius, E.H. III, 28, 2.)

Here is the Phrygian millennialism of Papias, in a rather gross form, based on the Revelation, which is attributed to Cerinthus. Neither Irenaeus nor Hippolytus attributes any apocalyptic opinions to Cerinthus; and it is possible that Gaius is not a very good authority. It would appear that he was an enemy of the whole Asian tradition, not merely of Montanism. Eusebius would approve his rejection of chiliasm, and even of the Revelation of John, which he did not accept himself.


It would seem that the party which Gaius represented is referred to by Irenaeus in his statement (quoted in an earlier chapter) that there were some who rejected the Gospel of John because of their opposition to the New Prophecy. The same point of view was developed in a document which fell into the hands of Epiphanius. Unfortunately it had no name or title, and so he invented a name for the sect which had produced it; he called them the 'Alogi', the people devoid of Logos or Reason.

This document analysed the points on which the Gospel of John gave a different chronological order from the other three, and in this connexion it discussed a number of calendrical questions on which the Alogi had peculiar and interesting views. It used sarcastic language about the imagery of the Revelation, and made the extraordinary statement that when it was written there was no church at Thyatira.
This statement is fully discussed by P. C. de Labriolle in La Crise Montaniste.

It has been suggested that Epiphanius found this sect described in the short Syntagma of Heresies, which Hippolytus wrote at this time. We only know this book through the use made of it in the Latin Libellus, and the copy of it which the author of the Libellus used had lost a few pages at the end, and therefore did not include the last one or two heresies with which Hippolytus dealt. It is an ingenious suggestion, but the document which Epiphanius had before him was a pamphlet written by the sect itself, or by a leading member of it; it was longer |433 and more detailed than the short notices in the Libellus could have been; and if the sect had been included in the Syntagma, it would have been given a name.

Both Gaius and the Alogi remain something of a mystery.

Leptis Magna
Leptis Magna, Libya.


At some point in the episcopate of Zephyrinus a new teacher appeared in the dominant monarchian school; his name was Sabellius, and he is said to have come from Libya, a country lying west of Egypt. He was a man of real ability, and seems to have been the first of the trained theologians who candidly recognize intellectual difficulties and attempt to solve them by working out an acceptable terminology. He began by defining the nature of the deity, and asserted that there could be only one eternal being or essence, using the Aristotelian word ousia, which is derived from the verb to be and means existence or sometimes substance. He suggested, however, that the one being or existence might have more than one mode of revealing itself in creation and revelation; and in order to express more clearly these modes or aspects of revelation, he chose the word prosopon, which means literally a mask or face, or even the character assumed by an actor. There was but one eternal reality or ground of being; but there were three modes of manifestation or revelation. It rather seemed to follow that, while the unity was absolute and eternal, the three aspects or persons might be transitory manifestations; but possibly he guarded himself against this conclusion.

Tertullian, who was no philosopher at all, but a theologian of considerable originality and penetration, was working out a somewhat similar terminology in Latin. There was one substantia, he said, a word which could be used as a rough equivalent for ousia; and there were three personae, a word which had the same meaning as prosopon. But words taken from different languages rarely coincide in their meanings and common usage. Tertullian was a lawyer, and his two words had legal connotations. In law the word substantia was a word for the property owned by an individual or corporation:, persona was used for the individual or trustee who could legally hold the property. The terminology, therefore, was rather in the nature of an analogy, as all abstract terminology fundamentally is. The eternal reality and distinction of the three 'persons' could not be questioned in his case; they |434 formed a trinitas or threefold unity, a word which is found for the first time in his writings. It corresponds to the Greek word trias, which was used by Theophilus and Hippolytus.

We have not attempted to do justice to the subtlety of thought of Sabellius, which is very imperfectly known. He invented the historic term homo-ousios – of the same essence – which encountered strong criticism, being condemned in certain Syrian councils; but it was finally adopted at the Council of Nicaea, and put into the creed. The Son of God, it says, is 'of-one-essence', or 'of-the-same-substance' as the Father. On the other hand, the word prosopon was rejected, though the corresponding Latin word persona continued in use in the west, and passed into Latin theology. Sabellius himself was classified as a heretic; his trinitarianism was regarded as too shadowy and unreal; and yet the Roman church was able, from these beginnings, to build an acceptable theology.


Hippolytus, who stoutly maintained the old Logos theology, had no sympathy with the modalism of Cleomenes of the refined trinitarianism of Sabellius. He did not hesitate to attack the administration of Zephy-rinus, which condoned such errors; but Zephyrinus had the majority on his side and managed to maintain an equilibrium between the competing parties in the church. He was no philosopher, however, and contented himself with making pronouncements from time to time which seemed to settle the matter for the time being, though they were hardly compatible with one another. 'I know there is one God, Jesus Christ,' he is reported to have said on one occasion, 'and I know no other who was begotten and capable of suffering.' 'The Father did not die,' he explained on another, 'it was the Son'; leaving matters where they were before.

Hippolytus 'withstood him face to face', he says, using language from St Paul's account of how he withstood St Peter face to face (Galatians ii. 11); an interesting comparison. Callistus, he says, played a double or triple part, which is the inevitable criticism of the non-partisan churchman. Callistus was concerned with the task of keeping the peace in the church, or assisting Zephyrinus to do so. He would appear to yield, at one time to Hippolytus, and at another to Sabellius; Sabellius would be half-persuaded, now by Callistus and now by |435 Hippolytus. It strikes one that Callistus was playing off his two theologians against one another, and encouraging Sabellius as a counterbalance to Hippolytus. Sabellius, perhaps, was making a sincere effort to meet all the difficulties. But the decisive factor in the situation, after all, was the personal antagonism between Hippolytus and Callistus. Hippolytus despised Zephyrinus and hated Callistus; yet he remained a presbyter in good standing in the Roman church. It was hardly possible for them to condemn the old Logos theology; and it was quite impossible for Hippolytus to leave them and go in with the Adoptionists. And so matters continued to the end of the long episcopate of Zephyrinus.


There is another line of research into the terminology of the monarchian schools. The monarchian faith in 'One God' may be traced back to Jewish origins in the 'Shema' (see p. 329, etc.), 'Yahweh is one'. The Greek word ousia may have been regarded as an equivalent of the name Yahweh which is explained in the LXX translation of Exodus iii. 14 as meaning 'ho on', 'he who is'. 'One Yahweh' is thus one self-existent being or one ousia.

The word prosopon may have been regarded as an equivalent of the Hebrew panim, which means a face and was used of the presence or manifestation of Yahweh locally. In rabbinic Hebrew it was used to mean a person.

The word dunamis or 'power' seems to represent the Hebrew kayil or hel, as in Hel-Khasai (Elchasai), 'the hidden power', or in the Gospel of Peter (see p. 11). It was commonly used in gnosis and in the Christian schools of a spiritual energy issuing from the divine unity; see Dialogue with Trypho, lxi and cxxviii, and Tatian's Address to the Greeks, v. It had its Hebrew antecedents; the unity of the Hebrew deity was dynamic and multiform.

The word which Tatian uses for the unity is not ousia however; it is hupostasis or fundamental reality, literally what stands under; the Latin word substantia, used by Tertullian, has the same derivation.
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