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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VI:
Translator's Introductory Notice.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Translator's Introductory Notice.

A Certain memorable Disputation, which was conducted by a bishop of the name of Archelaus with the heretic Manes, is mentioned by various writers of an early date.1 What professes to be an account of that Disputation has come down to us in a form mainly Latin, but with parts in Greek. A considerable portion of this Latin version was published by Valesius in his edition of Socrates and Sozomen, and subsequently by others in greater completeness, and with the addition of the Greek fragments.2 There seems to be a difference among the ancient authorities cited above as to the person who committed these Acts to writing. Epiphanius and Jerome take it to have been Archelaus himself, while Heraclianus, bishop of Chalcedon, represents it to have been a certain person named Hegemonius. In Photius3 there is a statement to the effect that this Heraclianus, in confuting the errors of the Manichaeans, made use of certain Acts of the Disputation of Bishop Archelaus with Manes which were written by Hegemonius. And there are various passages in the Acts themselves which appear to confirm the opinion of Heraclianus.4 Zacagnius, however, thinks that this is but an apparent discrepancy, which is easily reconciled on the supposition that the book was first composed by Archelaus himself in Syriac, and afterwards edited, with certain amendments and additions, by Hegemonius. That the work was written originally in Syriac is clear, not only from the express testimony of Jerome,1 but also from internal evidence, and specially from the explanations offered now and again of the use of Greek equivalents. It is uncertain who was the author of the Greek version; and we can only conjecture that Hegemonius, in publishing a new edition, may also have undertaken a translation into the tongue which would secure a much larger audience than the original Syriac. But that this Greek version, by whomsoever accomplished, dates from the very earliest period, is proved by the excerpts given in Epiphanius. As to the Latin interpretation itself, all that we can allege is, that it must in all probability have been published after Jerome's time, who might reasonably be expected to have made some allusion to it if it was extant in his day; and before the seventh century, because, in quoting the Scriptures, it does not follow the Vulgate edition, which was received generally throughout the West by that period. That the Latin translator must have had before him, not the Syriac, but the Greek copy, is also manifest, not only from the general idiomatic character of the rendering, but also from many nicer indications.2

The precise designation of the seat of the bishopric of Archelaus has been the subject of considerable diversity of opinion. Socrates and Epiphanius record that Archelaus was bishop of Caschar, or Caschara. Epiphanius, however, does not keep consistently by that scription. In the opening sentence of the Acts themselves it appears as Carchar. Now we know that there were at least two towns of the name of Carcha: for the anonymous Ravenna geographer tells us that there was a place of that name in Arabia Felix; and Ammianus Marcellinus mentions another beyond the Tigris, within the Persian dominion. The clear statements, however, to the effect that the locality of the bishopric of Archelaus was in Mesopotamia, make it impossible that either of these two towns could have been the seat of his rule. Besides this, in the third chapter of the Acts themselves we find the name Charra occurring; and hence Zacagnius and others have concluded that the place actually intended is the scriptural Charran, or Haran, in Mesopotamia, which is also written Charra in Paulus Diaconus, and that the form Carchar or Carchara was either a mere error of the transcribers, or the vulgar provincial designation. It must be added, however, that Neander allows this to be only a very uncertain conjecture, while others hold that Caschar is the most probable scription, and that the town is one altogether different from the ancient Haran.

The date of the Disputation itself admits of tolerably exact settlement. Epiphanius, indeed, says that Manes fled into Mesopotamia in the ninth year of the reign of Valerianus and Gallienus, and that the discussion with Archelaus took place about the same time. This would carry the date back to about 262 A.D. But this statement, although he is followed in it by Petrus Siculus and Photius, is inconsistent with the specification of times which he makes in dealing with the error of the Manichaeans in his book On the Heresies. From the 37th chapter of the Acts, however, we find that the Disputation took place, not when Gallienus, but when Probus held the empire, and that is confirmed by Cyril of Jerusalem. The exact year becomes also clearer from Eusebius, who seems to indicate the second year of the reign of Probus as the time when the Manichaean heresy attained general publicity-Secundo anno Probi ... insana Manichaeorum haeresis in commune humani generis malum exorta; and from Leo Magnus, who in his second Discourse on Pentecost also avers that Manichaeus became notorious in the consulship of Probus and Paulinus. And as this consulship embraced part of the first and part of the second years of the empire of Probus, the Disputation itself would thus be fixed as occurring in the end of A.D. 277 or the beginning of 278, or, according to the precise calculation of Zacagnius, between July and December of the year 277.

That the Acts of this Disputation constitute an authentic relic of antiquity, seems well established by a variety of considerations. Epiphanius, for instance, writing about the year A.D. 376, makes certain excerpts from them which correspond satisfactorily with the extant Latin version. Socrates, again, whose Ecclesiastical History dates about 439, mentions these Acts, and acknowledges that he drew the materials for his account of the Manichaean heresy from them. The book itself, too, offers not a few evidences of its own antiquity and authenticity. The enumeration given of the various heretics who had appeared up to the time of Archelaus, the mention of his presence at the siege of the city, and the allusions to various customs, have all been pressed into that service, as may be seen in detail in the elaborate dissertation prefixed by Zacagnius in his Collectanea Monumentorum Ecclesiae Graecae. At the same time, it is very evident that the work has come down to us in a decidedly imperfect form. There are, for example, arguments by Manes and answers by Archelaus recorded in Cyril which are not contained in our Latin version at all. And there are not a few notes of discrepancy and broken connections in the composition itself, which show that the manuscripts must have been defective, or that the Latin translator took great liberties with the Greek text, or that the Greek version itself did not faithfully reproduce the original Syriac. On the historical character of the work Neander expresses himself thus: "These Acts manifestly contain an ill-connected narrative, savouring in no small degree of the romantic. Although there is some truth at the bottom of it-as, for instance, in the statement of doctrine there is much that wears the appearance of truth, and is confirmed also by its agreement with other representations: still the Greek author seems, from ignorance of Eastern languages and customs, to have introduced a good deal that is untrue, by bringing in and confounding together discordant stories through an uncritical judgment and exaggeration."

Next: The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes.