Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: Of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, and what happened at the demolition of the idols in that city.
Chapter XXII.—Of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, and what happened at the demolition of the idols in that city.
The illustrious Athanasius was succeeded by the admirable Petrus, Petrus by Timotheus, and Timotheus by Theophilus, a man of sound wisdom and of a lofty courage. 894 By him Alexandria was set free from the error of idolatry; for, not content with razing the idols temples to the ground, he exposed the tricks of the priests to the victims of their wiles. For they had constructed p. 148 statues of bronze and wood hollow within, and fastened the backs of them to the temple walls, leaving in these walls certain invisible openings. Then coming up from their secret chambers they got inside the statues, and through them gave any order they liked and the hearers, tricked and cheated, obeyed. 895 These tricks the wise Theophilus exposed to the people.
Moreover he went up into the temple of Serapis, which has been described by some as excelling in size and beauty all the temples in the world. 896 There he saw a huge image of which the bulk struck beholders with terror, increased by a lying report which got abroad that if any one approached it, there would be a great earthquake, and that all the people would be destroyed. The bishop looked on all these tales as the mere drivelling of tipsy old women, and in utter derision of the lifeless monsters enormous size, he told a man who had an axe to give Serapis a good blow with it. 897 No sooner had the man struck, than all the folk cried out, for they were afraid of the threatened catastrophe. Serapis however, who had received the blow, felt no pain, inasmuch as he was made of wood, and uttered never a word, since he was a lifeless block. His head was cut off, and forthwith out ran multitudes of mice, for the Egyptian god was a dwelling place for mice. Serapis was broken into small pieces of which some were committed to the flames, but his head was carried through all the town in sight of his worshippers, who mocked the weakness of him to whom they had bowed the knee.
Thus all over the world the shrines of the idols were destroyed. 898
“The perpetual enemy of peace and virtue.” Gibbon. High office deteriorated his character. cf. Newman. Hist. Sketches iii.148:895
In the museum at Naples is shewn part of the statue of Diana, found near the Forum at Pompeii. In the back of the head is a hole by means of a tube in connexion with which,—the image standing against a wall,—the priests were supposed to deliver the oracles of the Huntress-Maid.
It is curious to note that just at this period when the pagan idols were destroyed, faint traces of image worship begin to appear in the Church. In another two centuries and a half it was becoming common, and in this particular point, Christianity relapsed into paganism. Littledale Plain Reasons, p. 47.148:896
“A great number of plates of different metals, artificially joined together, composed the majestic figure of the deity who touched on either side of the walls of the sanctuary. Serapis was distinguished from Jupiter by the basket or bushel which was placed on his head, and by the emblematic monster which he held in his right hand; the head and body of a serpent branching into three tails, which were again terminated by the triple heads of a dog, a lion, and a wolf.” Gibbon, on the authority of Macrobius Sat. i. 20.148:897
Gibbon quotes the story of Augustus in Plin. Nat. Hist. xxxiii. 24. “Is it true,” said the emperor to a veteran at whose home he supped, “that the man who gave the first blow to the golden statue of Anaitis was instantly deprived of his eyes and of his life?” “I want that man,” replied the clear sighted veteran, “and you now sup on one of the legs of the goddess.” cf. the account in Bede of the destruction by the priest Coify of the great image of the Saxon God at the Goodmanham in Yorkshire.148:898
“Some twenty years before the Roman armies withdrew from Britain the triumph of Christianity was completed. Then a question occurs whether archæology casts any light on the discomfiture of Roman paganism in Britain. In proof of the affirmative a curious fact has been adduced, that the statues of pagan divinities discovered in Britain are always or mostly broken. At Binchester, for instance, the Roman Vinovium, not far from Durham, there was found among the remains of an important Roman building a stone statue of the goddess Flora, with its legs broken, lying face downward across a drain as a support to the masonry above. It would certainly not be wise to press archæological facts too far; but the broken gods in Britain curiously tally with the edicts of Theodosius and the shattered Serapis at Alexandria.” Hole Early Missions, p. 24.
Next: Of Flavianus bishop of Antioch and of the sedition which arose in the western Church on account of Paulinus.
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