| HOME | |< | << | The Afro-Syrian Dynasty | Accession of Caracalla, A.D. 211 | Alexander and Clement | Alexander and Narcissus | The rise of Origen | The accession of Elagabalus, A.D. 218 | The Roman schism, A.D. 217 | Callistus | Alcibiades of Apamea | The last period of Tertullian | Accession of Severus Alexander, A.D. 222 | The martyrdom of Callistus, c. A.D. 222 | The philosophy of Origen | De Principiis | Ambrose | The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus | Hippolytus the martyr, A.D. 235 | Note: the Christian Literature available in Latin | >> |
(Pedigree of the Emperors and Empresses)
In the year 208 there was a revolt in Britain and Severus, with his usual energy, took the field himself in this far frontier of empire, achieving certain dubious successes in the highlands of Caledonia. He firmly stabilized the Roman dominion as far as the Wall of Hadrian, and confirmed the city of York as the headquarters of the military administration. There he died on 4 February 211. It is probable that he was attended by the Montanist physician or healer, Proclus, since Tertullian says that he kept him in 'his palatium' or governmental headquarters, until the day of his death. As Severus lay dying, he |437 asked to see the urn that was to contain his ashes; he took it up in his hands and said, 'Thou shalt contain one whom the world itself could not contain.' Feared, hated and respected, he had restored the whole empire from the River Tigris to the Grampian Mountains. He left his empire to his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, whose hatred for one another was of a pathological intensity and reflected their father's vein of cruelty and vindictiveness. Caracalla, whose official name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus – for everyone now revered the memory of the philosopher-emperor – murdered Geta in 212, and ordered his name to be erased from every public monument in the empire.
Their mother, the powerful and imperious Julia Domna, was distressed at this act of violence but continued to exercise her influence upon public affairs, virtually sharing with her son in the government of the world. He, too, had come under the influence of the mysterious Proclus, though his character shows no sign of the Christian graces. Yet the church had peace now for nearly forty years, except for the sudden persecutions under Maximin in 235.
The period from 211 to 235 is the subject of the present chapter.
Persecution had become more intense again during the last years of Severus, and was not extinguished until the accession of Caracalla and Geta. In 210 or 211, there was a governor in Africa, named Scapula, to whom Tertullian wrote an address, out of which we have already taken a good deal of information. He tried to intimidate Scapula by rehearsing stories of persecutors who had suffered for their sins. Saturninus, who had been the first to unsheath the sword against African Christians, had lost his eyesight. Claudius Lucius Herminianus, who was governor of Cappadocia, persecuted the Christians because his wife had embraced the Christian faith; and God afflicted him with a sore disease. He vainly hoped that other Christian wives might not hear of his affliction.
Alexander, the old friend and pupil of Clement of Alexandria, had become a bishop now somewhere in Cappadocia (probably at the 'New' Caesarea), and Clement was his adviser and doubtless the head of his school. Alexander was thrown into prison, and was still in bonds when he heard of the death of Serapion of Antioch and the |438 appointment of his successor, Asclepiades. He was liberated shortly after (on the accession of Caracalla perhaps), and lost no time in sending an Epistle to Antioch by the hand of Clement, who had been working in his diocese during his imprisonment. Eusebius quotes a paragraph from it:
Alexander, a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ, to the blessed church of the Antiochenes, greeting in the Lord: The Lord made my bonds light and easy, when I heard in my prison, that, by divine providence, Asclepiades, whose worthy faith makes him most suitable, had been entrusted with the episcopate of your holy church of the Antiochenes.
(Alexander, Epistle to the Antiochenes, in Eusebius, E.H. vi, 11, 5.)
The new bishop, therefore, unlike his adoptionist namesake in Rome, was able to pass the Alexandrian standards of orthodoxy, which were based on the new understanding of the Logos doctrine. Alexander concludes,
I am sending you this letter, my dear brethren, through Clement the blessed presbyter, a virtuous and approved man, of whom also you have heard, and with whom you will be well acquainted; when he was with us here, by the providence and direction of God, he strengthened and increased the church of the Lord.
Any information about the Antiochene church is of value, since it is so scarce. The work of Clement in Cappadocia and Antioch must have been of great importance, and spread the influence of the Alexandrian school. During this period, no doubt, he completed some of the books which we have mentioned already. He also wrote one for Alexander, which he called The Ecclesiastical Canon, or Against the Judaizers. We do not possess a copy of it, but its title serves to confirm what we have gathered from other sources, that Jewish Christianity, or a too-Jewish form of Gentile Christianity, was still a strong enough force north of Antioch, and doubtless in its neighbourhood, to cause the bishops of those parts some concern; Apamea and Beroea, both in the neighbourhood of Antioch, were Jewish Christian centres.
We hear no more of Clement except for a brief reference in a letter written by Alexander to Origen, perhaps about 216, from which one infers that he was then dead.
For we know as fathers those blessed ones who have gone before us, with whom we too shall be ere long; Pantaenus the truly blessed who was my |439 master; and the holy Clement who became my master and profited me; and others like them; through whom I came to know thee, who art in all respects the best, my master and my brother.
(Alexander, Epistle to Origen, in Eusebius, E.H. vi, 14, 9.)
About this time (211-15), Bishop Alexander, in obedience to a vision which he saw in the night, made a journey from Cappadocia to Aelia, to pray and to visit the holy places. The Christians of Aelia, the old Jerusalem, gave him a cordial welcome; for they had received a revelation to the effect that someone was coming to them whom they were to welcome as their bishop; and so, with the common consent of the neighbouring bishops, they compelled him to remain as such. This story, which Eusebius accepts without demur, points to three features which may have been expected to occur at an episcopal election: the sign from heaven, the consent of the people, and the approval of the neighbouring bishops. It may even point to a fourth feature, the reluctance of the bishop-elect. Narcissus, it is to be noted, was still living.
Those who see in Alexander the first 'co-adjutor' may be guilty of an unconscious modernization. According to the Syrian legend, Addai, the first bishop of Edessa, had consecrated one of his pupils named Aggai as his successor, and Aggai would have consecrated another of them as his successor, but for his martyrdom. This legend points to the existence, in the east at least, of a belief that a bishop would naturally and normally consecrate his successor. On the other hand, the case of Alexander is our first indubitable instance of the 'translation' of a bishop from one see to another.
The illustration is all the more in order since there was a connexion at this time between Aelia and Edessa; for Julius Africanus, the friend of Bar Daisan, who had campaigned in Syria with Severus and was a friend of Abgar himself, was now living in Palestine, not far from Aelia. He was the chief magistrate of the town of Emmaus, which was situated in southern Judaea, and called itself by the Greek name of Nicopolis; it was not the Emmaus of the Gospel. Africanus assisted Alexander to establish his library in Aelia, and there Eusebius worked some seventy or eighty years later, and found the documents from which he took much of this information. Africanus was working at this time on |440 his Chronographies, a universal history of the oriental kind, full of genealogies and lists of kings. He had a very complete knowledge of the literature on the subject and a keenly critical mind, which he was prepared to apply to biblical subjects.
Narcissus continued to take part in the liturgy at Aelia, as we learn from an Epistle written by Alexander to the people of Antinoe in Egypt. Eusebius makes the following quotation from it.
Narcissus salutes you, who held the position of bishop before me here, and is still associated with me in the prayers; he is a hundred and sixteen years old, and urges you, even as I do myself, to be of one mind.
(Alexander, Epistle to the Antinoites, in Eusebius, E.H. vi, 11, 3.)
The last link with the apostolic past is broken with the disappearance from history of Narcissus; for, even if we discount his estimate of his age, we must conclude that he remembered the time when old men of the same generation as Papias and Polycarp were still handing down their memories of old disciples or near relations of the Lord.
The correspondence of Alexander reveals the linkage between the oriental church in Cappadocia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and proves that the ascendancy of Alexandrian theology was established prior to the amazing career of Origen. This may have tended to check a too-Jewish or too-adoptionist theology which may have been influential in Syria.
Origen was already rising to fame. It must have been about 210-12, when he was about twenty-five years of age, that he visited Rome, 'desiring to see the most ancient church of the Romans'. He listened with approval, Jerome says, to a sermon from Hippolytus, who was therefore in good standing as a presbyter. The contact thus established between these two men, both of whom adhered to the Logos theology, must have provided an important link between east and west, though nothing could have been more unlike the free intellectualism of Origen than the crusted dogmatic and literal-minded exegesis of the Roman scholar. Yet his literary works found their way to the east, and were read there long after it was forgotten who exactly he was.
On his return to Alexandria Origen began his studies in Hebrew. He found a Jewish scholar who was willing to give him instruction |441 and assist him in his Old Testament studies. It does not seem that he ever progressed very far in the language, but it is significant that he grasped the importance of the study of source-books in the original language, and the effort must have brought him rich rewards.
A year or so later, perhaps in 213 or 214, he visited Arabia. The change in the imperial policy may be judged by the fact that the military governor of Arabia sent an escort to fetch him. The capital city of the Roman province of Arabia was named Bostra, and it had a bishop, Beryllus, whose theological views seem to have approximated to those of the adoptionists at Rome; Origen convinced him of their unsound-ness, but this may have occurred during a later visit. He did not stay long in Arabia, but soon returned to Alexandria. In 215 he visited Palestine, where he received a warm welcome from the friends of Clement. There had been no small warfare in Alexandria, Eusebius says, and this is probably a reference to the massacre of the Alexandrians which Caracalla perpetrated during his visit in that year. There may have been anti-christian demonstrations too, and it may have been thought wise for Origen to withdraw, as Clement had done thirteen or fourteen years previously.
It may be asked how the catechetical school was managed during these frequent absences of Origen. The work was carried on by his old pupil and colleague Heraclas, to whom he had handed over the main duties of administration.
Origen took up his residence at Caesarea, and lectured on the scriptures in the church, on the invitation of the bishop Theoctistus, who is not to be confused with his predecessor Theophilus, or his successor Theotecnus. Now Origen was a lay teacher, and his own bishop Demetrius held that laymen ought not to preach in the presence of bishops. He protested in vain. The bishops of Aelia and Caesarea could not understand how he could have made a statement which was manifestly so untrue. They quoted a number of Phrygian precedents to support their case. Demetrius was not mollified, and sent some of his deacons to Caesarea to bring Origen back. He returned to Alexandria, perhaps in 219, and resumed his academic duties; but his relations with his bishop were obviously not what they should be.
During this period, Origen must have begun his acquaintance with Africanus, and Africanus must have paid his visit to Alexandria to see Heraclas.
A completely new picture of the church and empire now emerges, which we must pause to consider. It was marked by the military despotism of religious emperors, the importance of the eastern empire, the decline of Rome as the emperors ceased to frequent it, the ascendancy of the neo-platonic philosophy, and the dissemination of a broad-minded monotheism based on Syrian and Persian ideas. All religions would be welcomed into what might almost be called a state-church. A place was vacant among the gods for Jesus of Nazareth, if he would accept it. The sun in heaven was the symbol of the new monotheism, which was devised so as to include every form of polytheism. The emperor was its priest and embodiment.
Julia Domna, the widow of Septimius Severus, was the daughter of the high priest of El Gabal at Emesa in Syria. Emesa was a sun sanctuary; and the gabal or stone was a fetish representing the sun-god. She was a remarkable woman, quite capable of governing the empire, her biographer remarks. She was well versed in Greek literature and philosophy. She studied these things in her palace at Rome, and thought the new paganism needed something to offset the Christian gospel. She asked her literary adviser Philostratus to prepare a life of the Pythagorean sage Apollonius of Tyana out of the existing second-century memoirs and a few apocryphal Epistles. He did it rather in the style of the apocryphal Acts. The Life of Apollonius is better literature than the apocryphal Acts, and has secured greater fame; but it is doubtful whether it exercised much influence on the religious situation. Nevertheless it is interesting to see paganism beginning to answer the challenge of Christ.
Apollonius heals the sick, casts out devils, and raises a young girl from the dead. He appears before the judgement-seat of Domitian, and saves himself by vanishing into thin air. On the afternoon of the same day, he appears to two disciples in a cave; one of them doubts, but Apollonius stretches out his hand and says, 'Touch me.' In general, however, he is the exponent of the highest type of Greek intellec-tualism which was able to come to terms with the highest intellectualism and mysticism of the east. This was to be found in India, it was believed. It is the same formula that we find in the Books of Clement, in which Peter is the exponent, in terms of Greek intellectualism, of a refined |443 Hebrew monotheism which had been mediated through Jesus as the 'True Prophet'. Their history seems to be very much the same as that of the Life of Apollonius. They were put together early in the third century, out of stories which had already appeared in the second. In their third-century form, they may have been designed to win the approval of the empress.
When Caracalla was assassinated in 217, Julia Domna starved herself to death; but her commanding position was inherited by her equally potent sister Julia Maesa, who had two grandchildren who she freely stated were descendants of Septimius Severus. She persuaded the eastern legions that this was the case, and succeeded in placing on the throne the elder of the two, Bassianus, who had become the high priest of the sun-god at Emesa at the age of fourteen; he was sixteen when he became emperor. His mother took him to Rome, and they brought the sun-god from Emesa with them and installed it in a temple at Rome. There they proceeded to gather the sacred emblems of the various higher deities of the empire and group them round it. Apparently there was a place in this union of religions for the Jews, the Samaritans and the Christians. A great honour was reserved for Tanit, the old Carthaginian queen of heaven from Africa; she was brought over to Rome with great pomp and ceremony and formally married to the black stone from Emesa.
Bassianus was surnamed Elagabalus (or Heliogabalus), as the earthly representative of the sun-god of Emesa, El Gabal. It was his greatest joy to take the leading part in the rites and ceremonies of the various foreign deities, which were celebrated with the utmost splendour, barbarous dances and sexual climaxes.
The brief episcopate of Callistus was practically concurrent with the reign of Elagabalus. It lasted about five years. Zephyrinus died in 216 or 217, and when the episcopal elections were over there was the usual schism. Callistus and Hippolytus both claimed to be bishops. A certain amount of mystery still surrounds this unfortunate period, and the nature of the schism is not perfectly clear; but it is not possible to place the episcopate of Hippolytus anywhere else than in Rome.
Callistus began his short episcopate by excommunicating the |444 unfortunate Sabellius, who was very much disappointed, since he thought he had received encouragement from Callistus; or so Hip-polytus states. It looks rather as if Callistus had used him while it was convenient to do so and had discarded him when he reached his objective. On the other hand, Callistus may really have come to see that there was something unsatisfactory about his theology. He may have receded a little from the 'modalism' of the dominant monarchian school; he may have seen some value in the teaching of the 'adoptionist' school. Or, of course, he may have been hoping for adoptionist support. At any rate, according to Hippolytus, he proposed a theology which started out in the one camp and had the appearance of ending up in the other; but it is hardly likely that the scornful report of it given by Hippolytus is to be trusted. After all, he ranks Callistus as a heretic, and has to prove that he is one.
Callistus condemned Hippolytus in one trenchant utterance: 'You are ditheists', he said, worshippers of two gods; and the stricture was not devoid of justice, for the theology of Hippolytus did suggest that the Angel or Logos was a second god, or a secondary manifestation of the one deity, though he worked hard to get rid of this unfortunate impression. Hippolytus had found sufficient support among the local bishops, presbyters and substantial laity to set himself up as a bishop; the bishop of Rome in his own estimation, for he obstinately refers to the 'school' of Callistus. He admits that the majority sided with Callistus, but he was not impressed by that. The claim to legitimacy on the part of a bishop was much strengthened by the recognition of outside bishops; and it is probable that many bishops recognized him; in particular the oriental bishops must have regarded him with respect, since his books were received and preserved in the east. He certainly thought that he had a mission to instruct the Christians of all nations.
The Roman church counts Callistus as the legitimate bishop; indeed it knows only of Callistus. Hippolytus was revered as a presbyter and martyr, and his true story was completely forgotten. Except for the Chronicle, his books, which were written in Greek, have left no trace in the Roman tradition. How are we to explain the fact that there was a grave schism in the Roman church, which left no memory behind it? It is likely that the old Greek-speaking tradition of the Roman church which Hippolytus represented, was fast disappearing, and that the native Roman and Latin-speaking elements rallied to the cause of Callistus.
The attempt of Callistus to reconcile the conflicting monarchian theologies did not exhaust his efforts to restore peace to the Roman church. He relaxed what many regarded as the ancient discipline of the church and undertook to forgive sins committed after baptism. It had been freely stated, even in the time of Hernias, that such sins could not be forgiven; but we have ventured to doubt whether this perfectionist principle was ever translated into what might be called canon law. Yet we are dealing now with a view which seems to be regarded as well established, that the baptized Christian who relapsed into idolatry, or committed murder, or was guilty of adultery, could not be received back into communion. God could forgive him, but the church could not; he must be left to the judgement of heaven. What Callistus did was to announce publicly that he would extend the ministry of reconciliation to include adultery.
Tertullian gives a sarcastic account of this announcement in his book Concerning Modesty. The supreme pontiff, he remarks with heavy humour, the bishop of bishops, has spoken; he has issued an edict; he has undertaken to remit the sin of adultery. There is no doubt that he means Callistus, though he does not name him. Tertullian, by now, was harsh, censorious and grumpy. Hippolytus was grim and conscious of his rectitude. Sinners cast out by Hippolytus were being received into communion by Callistus. He was allowing high-born ladies to marry men of the slave-class, from which, of course, he had risen himself. Men who had been twice or three times married were allowed to become presbyters; and presbyters who were not yet married were allowed to marry after ordination. He even sanctioned re-baptism, Hippolytus says, referring possibly to the case of persons who had been baptized by heretics.
It is plain that something which was regarded as an ancient discipline was being broken down, and the new policy offended the Montanist rigour of Tertullian as deeply as it offended the legalism of Hippolytus. Some scholars have suggested that a 'primitive' standard of spiritual and moral perfection was being abandoned, and a general lowering of standards was taking place. It would certainly appear that the picture of the church as a race of other-worldly 'spiritual' enthusiasts was becoming rather unreal. It was penetrating the world |446 and being penetrated by the world. Some Christians were government officials, some enjoyed wealth and social prestige, and many adapted themselves to the social standards of the day. What was the right policy for the church under the new circumstances? Before we condemn men like Clement of Alexandria who sketched out a way of life for the gnostic Christian, which took some account of social conditions, or men like Callistus of Rome who made it easier for the lapsed Christian to start again, we ought to remember two facts. One is that the problem had always existed and had never been solved; the first Epistle to the Corinthians and the first Epistle to Timothy show that it was quite possible for unworthy Christians to exist in a church which was supposed to be governed by apostolic standards. The other is that a moral and spiritual perfectionism had given way during the second century to a harsh puritanism and a rigid legalism; the champions of what were supposed to be the primitive standards had lost the primitive spirit.
Callistus decided, as Clement and Hermas had done before him to exercise a ministry of mercy and reconciliation towards erring Christians, even if it did involve him in some logical perplexities. We could build up a very pleasant picture of Callistus out of the sarcasms of his two enemies, which provide the only evidence we have. He made allowances for the weakness of human nature. He knew how to lead and handle the church. He had risen from the ranks, and knew what hardship and temptations were like. He had some claims to be considered a confessor. He was kind and compassionate. He had read the Gospels, and thought that it was his duty to restore the lost sheep to the flock. His eucharistic chalice was engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd.
Tertullian observed that he was in danger of restoring the lost goat rather than the lost sheep; but he probably did not mind that unkind cut; catacomb pictures of the period show the Good Shepherd bringing back the lost goat. And it is possible that this idea was wise and Christian. In any case it triumphed.
It was in the reign of Elagabalus, and in the episcopate of Callistus, that Alcibiades of Apamea brought to Rome the teachings of the Jewish-Christian prophet Elkhasai. The Apamea from which he came must |447 have been the Syrian Apamea on the Orontes River, not far from Emesa, the holy city which had supplied Rome with its dynasty of empresses and emperors. Where one could go, the other could follow. Elkhasai, it will be remembered, had appeared in Transjordania in the third year of Trajan, and had announced a second baptism which washed away all sins; not merely sexual irregularities of the grossest description, but apostasy as well. In fact the prophet had said that it was lawful to deny in time of persecution, provided one did not deny 'from the heart'. Hermas, too, though he regarded the restoration of an apostate as virtually an impossibility, thought that it might be done provided he had not denied 'from the heart'.
Callistus had not made provision for the repentant idolater, so far as we know, though it would not be long before the church did so; but there is a certain significance in the fact that Hippolytus compares Alcibiades with Callistus. Both exercised a ministry of repentance for fallen Christians; and both did it on the strength of a declaration or edict; in one case it was the scroll which Elkhasai had received from heaven, in the other it was an episcopal pronouncement. There is a possibility that Callistus still relied upon the authority of the scroll which had been received from heaven by Hermas, which had ranked as scripture at one time in the Roman church and had not entirely lost its authority; but he seems to have laid greater stress upon the authority of the episcopal office to forgive sins, to 'loosen every bond', as Hippolytus expressed it in his ordination prayer. He made use of many Gospel texts, as we can tell quite clearly from Tertullian's replies to his arguments; and one of them seems to have been the authority which had been given to St Peter to loosen and to bind.
We have here a very interesting but obscure subject. The high authority of Peter in the evangelical tradition appears to be an oriental doctrine, but after all it had been communicated to the whole catholic church in the Gospel according to St Matthew. The Ebionites in Syria had made much of the figure of Peter, and believed that Clement had been appointed by him as the first bishop of Rome. This idea had reached Rome by the end of the second century, and was known to Tertullian.
Tertullian maintained, in answer to whatever claim it was that Callistus had put forward, that the authority given to Peter had stopped with him. He admitted that the authority to forgive sins had been committed to the church; but not to the 'psychics' as he now called the catholic church, and not to a 'quantity of bishops'. Such forgiveness was to be exercised by a 'spiritual man', if it was exercised at all; but it was not to be exercised at all since Montanus had forbidden it.
As for the Pastor of Hermas, its long life as a piece of Christian scripture was coming to an end. Tertullian attacks it as being quite alone in favouring adultery, and adds that it had been rejected now by various councils. Its position cannot have been strong; but it looks as if Callistus, or some one on his side of the argument, had referred to it. As for Tertullian, we hear no more of him. His numerous books seem to have been written within about twenty-five years, that is to say from 197 to 222. He was completely isolated from the church now, in his peculiar sect, which came to be called the Tertullianists. He was a bitter enemy of the catholic church, and yet the catholic church treasured his writings and studied them, and they helped to form the mind of Latin Christianity.
Despite his inhuman rigorism, and his increasing lack of sympathy with the ordinary Christian of his day, he was a man of deep Christian character, moral fervour, and acute intelligence. He could write a splendid oratorical prose which arrests the attention even today. He saw that an intense faith ought to express itself in an uncompromising moral life, which meant to him a strongly anti-social life; but it looks as if moral compromise actually was the danger of the church in his time. He has continued to command the respect and admiration of Christians in all ages.
In the year 221, Julius Africanus paid a visit to Rome on municipal business. He is an interesting example of the so-called worldly Christian; for he had been a cavalry officer under Severus in the Syrian wars, and was now the chief magistrate of the town of Nicopolis in Judaea. He did not find these duties incompatible with his Christianity, apparently. He had finished his great book called the Chronographies in the third year of Elagabalus, that is to say 220-1, and he arrived in Rome in time to see the end of his brief but lurid career. After five years of sumptuous fertility rituals and religious carnivals, the people of Rome tired of their Syrian boy-emperor and his ambitious mother. They rose against them and threw them both into the Tiber – which may have been an ancient ritual too, for all we know. His cousin Alexianus, who took the name of Alexander Severus, succeeded him in 222, and was a complete contrast. He was a student, an ascetic and an idealist. Whereas Elagabalus had gathered the sacred images and fetish stones of the various nations far and wide, Alexander sent them home and built himself a chapel in which he placed the images of Orpheus, Abraham, Apollonius and Christ. His mother Julia Mamaea, who kept up the tradition of her dynasty by presiding in the senate and giving orders on the field of battle, was a patroness of the Christian intellectuals. She permitted Hippolytus to dedicate his treatise On the Resurrection to her, and at a later date she sent for Origen to confer with her when she was at Antioch. The days of peace had certainly come with the ascendancy of Syria.
It is likely enough that Alexander already knew Africanus. At any rate he requested him to arrange his library for him in the Pantheon, the famous round temple with its enormous granite columns and its concrete dome which Agrippa had built for all the gods, before the time of Christ, and Hadrian and Severus had restored. It is natural to suppose that Africanus met Hippolytus, and that the two chroniclers exchanged notes, and discussed difficult points in the emperor's library. On his return to Judaea, Africanus helped to organize the episcopal library at Aelia. As we consider these contacts between east and west, it is not hard to understand how the works of Hippolytus and the older Roman writers were transmitted to the east and became available to students like Eusebius and Epiphanius. There must have been many similar contacts.
Africanus may also have been in Rome at the time of the martyrdom of Callistus. Across the Tiber today, in the 'Trastevere', the visitor may see the church of St Cecilia and the cemetery of Calepodius. It was in this neighbourhood, not far from the Jewish quarter, that Callistus was killed in a riot. He was buried in the cemetery of Calepodius, not in the church cemetery on the Appian Way which he had managed himself when he was the deacon of Zephyrinus. His successor was named Urban, and in his episcopate, or more probably in the episcopate of the next bishop Pontian, a beautiful crypt was laid out for the burial of the bishops of Rome; Urban is there, and so is Pontian, but not Callistus, after whom the cemetery is now named. The reason for the exclusion of Callistus from the 'Crypt of the Popes' is probably a very simple one. The good people of the Trastevere held on to him; he was a bishop and a martyr, and why should they let him go?
The suggestion which comes into one's mind, that the residence and headquarters of Callistus were situated in this district, is supported by two considerations. One is that the cemetery of Callistus on the Appian Way contained the burial lots of the Cecilian family, whose church was near the cemetery of Calepodius.The other is that there was undoubtedly a church-building at this time in the Trastevere, for a guild of cooks or tavern-keepers tried to take it away from the Christians by a legal action, and the new emperor awarded it to the Christians on the grounds that it was better for the property to be used for the worship of God, whatever name he might be called by. The right of Christians to hold property was thus officially recognized, and it looks as if their religion was now perfectly lawful in every respect.
When Urban succeeded Callistus as bishop, Hippolytus abated none of his pretensions, so far as we can see.
It was under the rule of this emperor that the mind of Origen began to turn towards authorship. The fruit of his studies with Heraclas, under Ammonius Saccas, begins to appear. He writes his great book which is called Concerning First Principles, or De Principiis, from the Latin translation, which unfortunately is all that survives, except for a few extracts from the original Greek. He also began his Commentary on John. Neither can be called orthodox. The commentary made use of the work of the Valentinian writer Heracleon; and the De Principiis is based on the neo-platonic philosophy of the day, which Ammonius was adapting to the requirements of the new paganism. Ammonius resembled Pantaenus in the fact that he wrote nothing. He is known through his pupils: Origen and Heraclas in his early period; Plotinus and Longinus later. Christian and pagan could both drink from his fountain; but it cannot be accepted that he was ever a Christian, as Porphyry, a pupil of Plotinus, states. He seems to be confusing him with a Christian Ammonius, who also lived at Alexandria, probably during his later period; this Ammonius was known for his synoptic studies of the Gospels and did work of lasting importance which Eusebius carried further.
Philosophy had been used so far by Christian teachers in an unsystematic way to illuminate this or that doctrine of the faith, and express it in terms which would be more generally comprehensible to educated men; or to support difficult doctrines with weighty arguments; and even so the procedure was felt by many to be very dangerous. Hippolytus traces the origin of every heresy to some form of philosophy, and Tertullian quite agreed that its influence was evil. In |452 Alexandria, however, it had been maintained from the time of Pantaenus at least that philosophical and literary studies were essential prerequisites for theology. This view had been objected to, but Clement had done much to disperse the opposition. Even he, however, had not attempted to produce a thought-out philosophy of the Christian religion. Basilides and Valentinus were the true precursors of Origen in this respect; but he owed little to them; he leans on nobody.
Origen loyally accepted the common Christian tradition as the essential material with which he was to do his work, and in this connexion he gives a list of articles of faith which were beyond dispute. It is an enlargement of the usual creed-forms. He also accepted the Old Testament and the New Testament scriptures, of which he gives a list. With regard to the latter, he uses our New Testament exactly as it stands today, though he admits that there are some who have their doubts about 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John. He thinks that Hebrews was written by a disciple of St Paul. Possibly we should add Hermas and Barnabas to this New Testament canon; and, if we do, it agrees exactly with the contents of the Vatican Codex B. Indeed, that manuscript, which was made in Egypt in the fourth century, represents very exactly the text that Origen used in this early period; it must have been copied from such a manuscript of this period.
Nobody ever studied the Bible more diligently, or loved it more devotedly, than Origen; but his method of allegorical interpretation, which he inherited from Philo and Clement, enabled him to derive from the text any philosophical conclusion which he required, though he did not disturb the literal meaning or the moral or spiritual significance. He studied them very carefully, but he also filled his commentaries with indefensible deductions of an allegorical character which were additional to the literal, moral and spiritual interpretations.
It is not possible to give an adequate account of the great system of thought which he created; for this would be a long study in itself. It begins with the concept of eternal being. It was conceded now in philosophic circles that it was not possible to think of an all-wise, all-good, eternal mind, without an element of plurality within its unity; it had to be a trinity. A bare monarchianism had been surpassed already |453 by the philosophers. The multi-personal or poly-dynamic deity of the old Hebrew revelation found his counterpart now in the highest realms of philosophic speculation. The Logos theology, in its Clementine form, took its place as an essential element in the philosophy of monotheism; it was the divine reason, eternally expressing the mind of the high God to himself and in relation to the cosmos. An element of inferiority or 'subordination' still clung to the Logos in Origen's thinking; for though he is co-eternal with the Father, he is still the derivative God with which the cosmos must be content.
It will do little justice to the thought of Origen to give a thumbnail portrait of his 'system' as Justin and Irenaeus did for Satornil and his fellows; but it must be attempted. The creator, in his boundless love, made all souls free and equal at the beginning of time. Some fell from virtue and obedience before the creation of the material universe, and they were condemned to be clothed in bodies, that they might work out their redemption, some as angels, some as daemons, and some as men. This cosmos is their purgatory, in which they make progress towards perfection. All will be saved, some in this life through faith and works; some in the next after passing through purifying fires; for aeonian fire must naturally mean spiritual fire for Origen.
What then of the Saviour of mankind? The Logos united himself with a pure soul which had not sinned; he was born of the virgin, and passed through suffering, death and resurrection. His function was to deliver man from the devil, to reveal the truth and to give him grace through faith and knowledge. Origen lacks the acute sense of spiritual crisis which we find in the Pauline language about salvation from sin; but is he unorthodox? The framework of his thinking is decidedly gnostic, but does he contradict the faith of the gospel at any point? Does he take on board profound heretical errors? Subsequent generations argued the question with fury, and eventually he was condemned. Epiphanius, who admires him very much, includes him with regret among the heretics. In the middle ages it was a point of debate in the schools whether he could be saved.
There is no sign that his views occasioned any comment in Alexandria. Demetrius, who was quick to notice uncanonical irregularities, did not concern himself too much perhaps with what the intellectuals talked about in the schools. Like Callistus, he seems to have been primarily an administrator.
There was another reason perhaps for Origen's immunity from interference. He had a powerful patron in the wealthy high-born influential Ambrose, who stood by him to the end of his life. It has even been suggested that he accompanied him to Rome, where he would have seen the enormous literary output of Hippolytus, who, incidentally, must have had powerful support himself from substantial laymen. Ambrose seems to have belonged to the governing class. He had been a gnostic, but had been reclaimed by Origen. He took him into his household, and provided him with a corps of stenographers who took down his lectures in shorthand. These notes were then transcribed in longhand by others, and the transcripts were handed over to expert women who copied them on papyrus rolls. Research and discussion went on far into the night. The day's labour began again early in the morning and continued until three or four in the afternoon; for in those days the hours of daylight were precious. Three or four was the usual hour for the main meal of the day; but meals were constantly sacrificed to business. The pace at which he lived, and the number of books he wrote, is terrifying to think of. Six thousand volumes was one estimate.
Ambrose took his part in the intellectual work, and urged Origen on to undertake greater labours. Origen calls him his taskmaster, and rather blames him for certain errors that crept into his books owing to the speed with which they were produced. Actually Origen had little notion of literary grace or style, and this method of composition would not contribute to it. He was financially independent of Demetrius, however. He was in the position of the free-lance teacher of the second century; and what Christian scholar has ever had such independence and such facilities for publication?
Hippolytus was a dry-as-dust scholar, who lived in the world of books and doctrines. He conducted theological wars on paper, and sometimes in public debate. It is hard to think that the church over which he presided was a true democratic flesh-and-blood ecclesia with full pastoral responsibilities; it is easier to think of it as a learned academy |455 based on an ecclesiastically organized community, but chiefly occupied in learned research, controversy, propaganda and the dissemination of theological literature. His knowledge of philosophy, mythology, astronomy and magic was encyclopaedic. He delved into ancient history, wrote biblical commentaries and laid down the law on eschato-logy. His surviving works, with some help from Tertullian, have enabled us to make a partial reconstruction of some events and trends in the Roman church.
During his last years, 230-5, Hippolytus worked on his Chronicle, which contained among other things a list of Roman bishops with their episcopal years. This list was incorporated into the 'Liberian' or 'Philocalian' Calendar, which was compiled in Rome about 354, for this document states that it made use of an older document, the last entry of which was dated in the thirteenth year of Alexander Severus, that is to say 234. It was undoubtedly the Chronicle.
These books are all full of historical information, though they make hard reading, but he produced a more human work in his less ambitious Apostolic Tradition, and in recent years it has attracted a great deal of attention from liturgical scholars. Its text has been fairly successfully reconstructed from various sources. Its date is uncertain, but a recent editor, the much lamented Gregory Dix, assigns it with good reason to a date not long before the death of Zephyrinus in 217. The first volume, which does not survive, dealt with charismata or gifts of grace. The second volume is a pontifical, or outline of liturgical procedure from the point of view of the officiating bishop. It is a priceless picture of the liturgy and holy order of the Roman ecclesia as it existed in the time of Eleutherus and Victor, defined and expressed in clear outline by the exact and dogmatic mind of the man who claimed to represent the old Roman order as it had come down from apostolic times. It stands to reason that he would not and could not seriously alter this tradition; indeed, he does not charge Zephyrinus and Callistus with doing so; they observed the customs and the traditions, he says. Yet of course he could not commit it to paper without endowing it with considerable precision of form, and settling points which might be variable or doubtful ; but if we make allowances for this tendency, and for the impress of his own opinions here and there, we are bound to regard the customs to which he bears witness as the tradition which was established and operated in his younger days; and we have seen that the prayers which |456 he commits to writing and the customs to which he refers can sometimes be explained as originating in the Hellenistic synagogue-order of the earliest times. We can recognize their background in the liturgical passages of older Christian writings.
The book has two features which are necessary in a liturgy, purity of outline and gravity of style. It never sins by exuberance or excess. It is a notable work with which to close our survey of the first two Christian centuries; for it is obvious that the whole life of the church in all its departments was supported and carried forward by the corporate worship of Almighty God, through faith in his Son Jesus Christ, in the spiritual fellowship of the apostolic church, in accordance with the old Judaeo-Christian tradition. It was in this living succession that the Gospels and Epistles were publicly read and expounded, and the evangelical concepts of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ were formed in the mind. They were not obtained from the reading of books nor in the lecture-halls of the theologians.
It also closes the story of the old Hellenistic Roman church, which had become, for a time, the forum of international Christianity. As the emperors shifted their courts into Syria, or Asia Minor, or the Balkans, the swarm of philosophers and purveyors of religion went with them. Christian theology gravitated in the same direction. By the time we come to the two-hundred-and-fifties, a Latin-speaking church has evolved out of the conflicts of the earlier part of the century. As the Greek language passed out of use, it was cut off from its past, and also from the eastern churches, by the barrier of language. Hippolytus and his works were forgotten in his own city.
The prophet who was without honour in his own country was singularly influential abroad, however. His books were received far and wide throughout the east. In particular the Apostolic Tradition became the basis of numerous later church orders, especially in Egypt. His eucharistic prayer survives almost entire in the liturgy of the Ethiopian church, and its influence may be traced far and wide. The original text only exists in a Latin translation, and even that only exists in part.
In the year 230, which closes our historical period of two hundred years from the Crucifixion, Pontian succeeded Urban in the succession of Zephyrinus and Callistus; and from the time of Pontian Latin names predominate in the Roman episcopal succession. There were still three bishops in Rome, if not more; for Artemas, or Artemon, must be regarded as the bishop of the Adoptionist succession.
In 235 Alexander and his mother Mamaea were assassinated in the course of a war on the Danube. They were succeeded by a general of marked ability, who was a native of the Balkans. His name was Maximin. There is no clear evidence that he was a persecutor, but local persecutions broke out in his reign. Both bishops of Rome, Pontian and Hippolytus, were sent to Sardinia, where they died as martyrs. After the years of confusion, their bodies were brought back to the city. Pontian was buried in the famous' Crypt of the Popes' in the' Cemetery of Callistus'. He was probably the first to be buried there, for the body of Urban seems to have been brought in at a later date. This chamber was probably set aside for episcopal burials when the troubles had subsided. Hippolytus was buried in the 'cemetery of Hippolytus' in the Ager Veranus, where his headless statue was discovered. Neither he nor Callistus lies with the other Roman bishops. It may be that both rest in their places of residence and administration.
Pontian was honoured as the legitimate bishop; but Hippolytus was honoured as a teacher and martyr. His schism was forgotten and very soon nobody knew who he was. Catalogues of martyrs and bishops were now kept in official form; the birthdays of the former and the ' depositions' or burials of the latter were entered in a calendar. Liberius, who was bishop of Rome in 354, commissioned the scholar Philocalus to prepare a new 'catalogue' based on the old material, including in it the Chronicle of Hippolytus himself, which had survived in Rome to that year, though its authorship was no longer known. The Liberian Catalogue says:
At that time Pontian the bishop and Hippolytus the presbyter were exiled and deported to the unhealthy island of Sardinia in the consulship of Severus and Quintian [i.e. 235 A.D.].
and that is all they seem to have known about it at that time.
A partial list of the Christian literature which was available in Latin at the opening of the third century can be attempted, and is offered here to supply background material for the study of the development of the Roman church as it emerges from its predominantly Greek-speaking phase.
(1) The New Testament with the apocalypses of Esdras and Baruch: translated from Greek.
(2) Clement, Hermas, Polycarp, Barnabas, the Two Ways, and the Refutation of Irenaeus: translated from Greek.
(3) Literature written in Latin begins (according to Jerome) with Victor; then follow Minucius Felix and Tertullian.
(4) The early Syntagma against heresies of Hippolytus was translated into Latin (or re-edited in Latin) and at a later date ascribed to Tertullian. His Apostolic Tradition was also translated, but Gregory Dix propounded the rather unlikely theory that it was done at a later date from a Syriac version. The Chronicle was also translated. But none of these were known as his.
We may also add the catalogue of New Testament books which is preserved in the Muratorian Fragment in a Latin translation. Some scholars attribute this to Hippolytus.
(5) The Acts of the African martyrs which provide the oldest names in the Roman calendar of martyrs.
Note. There was also of course the Marcionite version of the New Testament and possibly other Marcionite literature, since the Syllogisms of Apelles seems to have been translated into Latin at some time.
I can find no trace of other heretical literature in Latin, but the polemic of Tertullian against the Valentinians and others suggests that they were making headway in Latin. It is hard to suppose that the popular Montanist and Monarchian schools had no literature in this language. Some of the apocryphal Acts and similar literature also became available.
<< | top | >>