Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
(Princes and kings, p. 13.)
How memorable the histories, moreover, of Nebuchadnezzar 1609 and his decrees; of Darius 1610 and his also; but especially of Cyrus and his great monumental edict! 1611 The beautiful narratives of the Queen of Sheba and of the Persian consort of Queen Esther (probably Xerxes) are also manifestations of the ways of Providence in giving light to the heathen world through that “nation of priests” in Israel.
But Lactantius, who uses the Sibyls so freely, should not have omitted to show what Sibylline oracles God drew forth from “the princes of this world” also, by the illumination of the pharos which he established in Sion, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” until the great Epiphany should rise upon them in “the dayspring from on high.”
I extract from a paradoxical but most entertaining author, whom I have often quoted, certain extracts from Philo, which I translate from his note in the Soirées. Thus:—
“Agrippa,” says Philo, 1612 “having visited Jerusalem in Herods time, was enchanted by the religion of the Jews, and could never cease to speak of it.…Augustus ordered that every day, p. 256 at his own expense, and under the legal forms, a bull and two lambs should be offered in holocaust to the Most High God on the altar at Jerusalem, though he knew that it contained no image, whether exposed or within the veil; for this great prince, surpassed by none in the philosophic spirit, felt the actual necessity in this world of an altar dedicated to a God invisible.”
Philo also says:—
“Your great-grandmother Julia 1613 also made superb presents to the temple; and although women very reluctantly detach themselves from images, and rarely conceive of anything apart from sensation, this lady, nevertheless, greatly superior to her sex in culture and in natural endowments, arrived at that point in which she preferred to contemplate such things in the mind rather than in sensible objects, regarding these as mere shadows of the realities.”
In the same discourse, wasting words on Caligula, Philo reminds him that Augustus “not only admired, nay, rather, he adored (εθαύμαζε καὶ προσέκυνει, κ.τ.λ.), this custom of employing no sort of image to represent, materially, a nature invisible in itself.” Poor De Maistre, who quotes this testimony against images from Philo with intense appreciation, will yet sophisticate himself and others into the very contrary in behalf of his one predominant idea of (προσκύνησις) canine self-abasement to the decrees of the Vatican. On this account I am forced to consider him a sophist as well as a fanatic; but I delight to render justice to his genius, for, wherever he talks and reasons as a Christian merely, he fascinates and instructs me. He never conceived of “Catholicity,” and lived under the delusion of the Decretals, a disciple of the Jesuits.
(Therefore they were neglected for many ages, p. 116.)
The explicit statements of Lactantius, and his profuse quotations from the Sibyllina, persuade me that these curious fragments deserve a degree of scientific attention which they have not yet received. The Fathers all cite them, when it must have exposed them to scorn and overwhelming refutation had their quotations not been found in the Sibylline books of their adversaries. The influence of the Jewish religion upon the Gentiles under the Babylonian and Medo-Persian monarchies must have been considerable, but after Alexanders time it was vastly increased. Many versions of select prophets were doubtless produced in Greek before the authorized Septuagint. These were soon embedded in the Sibyls books; and I cannot think the interpolations of early Christians were all frauds, by any means. Their numerous marginal annotations crept into other copies; and very likely, in the time of our author, they were inextricably confused with the text in the greater part of the “editions,” so to speak, then current with booksellers.
But in vol. viii. we shall have occasion to recur again to this interesting inquiry.
(We made proclamation before him as children, p. 117.)
“Sicut pueri.” This is not according to the Septuagint, ὡς παιδίον. It is not the Vulgate, of course; but its radical difference with that raises interesting inquiries: Is it a specimen of one of many African or old Italic versions? Does our author endeavour to translate from the Septuagint? May he not have had in hand a copy of Isaiah from among those which preceded the Septuagint?
The Septuagint reading finds its key in cap. lii. 7, and in the tenth verse, where the “Arm of the Lord” (“His Holy Arm”) is introduced as the personal Logos Incarnate. The thirteenth and fourteenth verses predict the amazing sequel, and its practical and blessed results; and then p. 257 begins cap. liii., “Who hath believed” our message. To whom is “the Arm of the Lord” revealed? “Going before Him (i.e., as heralds), we have proclaimed Him as a child, and, as it were, a root in a thirsty land; He has no form nor glory,” etc. In other words, “We have prophesied of Him who is elsewhere predicted (“unto us a child is born”) as one who from His childhood is as a rush without water,—prematurely withered,—a man of sorrows, and the Carpenters Son.”
It does not hint, therefore, the “obscurity” of the Messiahs birth, but rather what Irenæus insists upon, i.e., His (premature) old age; the worn and stricken appearance of senility in comparative youth. 1614 This is just what the messengers (Isa. lii. 7) had said in their proclamation (Isa. lii. 14) just before: “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”
(There was darkness, etc., pp. 122, 240.)
In former instances, where thought has turned to Phlegon the Trallian, 1615 I have failed to refer to an author whose excess of candour sometimes gives away more than is called for, in questions on which adversaries have contrived to fasten undue importance, in order to elicit indiscreet defences. But it is due to my readers that I should refer them to a most learned work, to be found in public libraries only, by my revered friend and instructor Dr. Jarvis. The sixth chapter (part ii.) of his Chronological Introduction to Church History 1616 is devoted to this matter, and I can do no better than give the summary of its contents as follows:—
“Who Phlegon was; his work lost; extracts from it by Julius Africanus and Eusebius; their works, containing these extracts, lost; all we know is from versions and later writers; collation of extracts as given by the Armenian version of the Chronicon of Eusebius, St. Jeromes Latin version, the Chronographia of Syncellus, and the Chronicon Paschale; extract by Syncellus from Julius Africanus; remarks upon it; testimony of Origen concerning Phlegons account; of John Philoponus (St. Maximus) Malala; summary of the whole; account of Phlegons testimony; not noticed by the learned and voluminous writers of the fourth and fifth centuries when they speak of the darkness, etc.; Dr. Lardners judgment 1617 adopted.”
Lardners view, it will be observed, is thus sustained by an independent and most competent critic. This decision puts honour on the early writers: he thinks they were unwilling to claim a corroboration from evidence about which they were not well assured.
(Divine and ethnic oracles, p. 210, note 2; p. 112, note 9.)
The whole subject of ethnic oracles needs fresh study and illustration. Nothing would be more fascinating in theological inquiry, and Divine Inspiration might be richly illustrated by it, as anatomical science is clarified by “comparative anatomy.” I commend this subject to men of faith, learning, and intellectual vigour. Notably, let it be observed: (1) That Balaams ass is instanced by St. Peter as miraculously enabled to rebuke the madness of his master; and the same Apostle shortly before gives us the law as to divine inspiration in contrast. 1618 (2) Balaam himself, as mechanically as the beast he rode, 1619 had his own mouth opened (see Num. xxiv. 16-19). (3) The wicked Caiaphas in like manner (St. John 11:51, 52) spoke prophetically, “not of himself.” (4) St. Paul (Acts xvii. 28) quotes a heathen oracle very much as does our author. 1620 p. 258 Now, in view of the boldness with which the early Christians follow the example of the Apostle in quoting the Orphica and Sibyllina, I cannot imagine that these citations were not honestly believed by them to be oracles of a certain sort, by which God permitted the heathen to be enlightened. 1621 Observe our authors moderate but most pregnant remark about such inspiration (on p. 170, supra, note 8), “almost with a divine voice;” then (on p. 192) compare other almost inspired words of poor Tully (at note 2), and of Seneca also. 1622
Finally, and to close the subject, the reader will readily forgive me for introducing the following citations from the “Warburton Lecture” of Dr. Edersheim, on Prophecy and History 1623 in Relation to the Messiah Discussing the pseudepigraphic writings (in Lecture Eleventh), he says as follows: 1624 —
“The Sibylline oracles, in Greek hexameters, consist, in their present form, of twelve books. They are full of interpolations, the really ancient portions forming part of the first two books and the largest part of book third (verses 97–807). These sections are deeply imbued with the Messianic spirit. 1625 They date from about the year 140 before our era, while another small portion of the same book is supposed to date from the year 32 b.c.
“As regards the promise of the Messiah, we turn in the first place, and with special interest, to the Sibylline Oracles. In the third book of these (such portions as I shall quote date from about 140 b.c.) the Messiah is described as the King sent from heaven, who would judge every man in blood and splendour of fire. And the Vision of Messianic times opens with a reference to the King whom God will send from the Sun, where we cannot fail to perceive a reference to the Seventy-second Psalm, 1626 especially as we remember that the Greek of the Seventy, which must have been present to the Hellenist Sibyl, fully adapted the Messianic application of the passage to a premundane Messiah. We also think of the picture drawn in the prophecies of Isaiah. According to the Sibylline books, King Messiah was not only to come, but He was to be specifically sent of God. He is supermundane, a King and a Judge 1627 of superhuman glory and splendour. And, indeed, that a superhuman kingdom, such as the Sibylline oracles paint, should have a superhuman king, seems only a natural and necessary inference.…If, as certain modern critics contend, the book of Daniel is not authentic, 1628 but dates from Maccabean times, …it may well be asked to what king the Sibylline oracles point, for they certainly date from that period; and what is the relationship between the (supposed Maccabean) prophecies of the book of Daniel and the certainly Messianic anticipations of the undoubted literature of that period?”
Dr. Edersheim gives us the reference in the margin, to which I would call attention, as directing to the whole pseudepigraphic literature. 1629 But who can wonder, after what we thus learn, that Constantine 1630 was so profoundly impressed with Virgils Pollio? In spite of all that has been said, 1631 I cannot but see Isaiah in its entire spirit.
Dan. ii. 47, iii. 29, and iv.255:1610
Dan. vi. 25.255:1611
Ezra i. 2.255:1612
In his Discourse to Caligula256:1613
i.e., Livia, wife and empress of Augustus.257:1614
Vol. i. p. 391, note 12, this series.257:1615
See vol. iii. Elucidation V. p. 58.257:1616
Works, ed. London, 1788, vol. vii. p. 385.257:1618
Comp. 2 Pet. i. 18–21 with ii. 16.257:1619
P. 174, note 2, supra.257:1620
See p. 140, note 10, supra.258:1621
See p. 219, note 3.258:1622
Compare Cyprian (vol. v. p. 502, this series), and note his judicious reference to the inspiration of Balaam by the extreme instance of the miraculous voice of a dumb beast. Also, see vol. ii. Elucidation XIII. p. 346, this series.258:1623
Republished, New York, Randolph, 1885.258:1624
Pp. 339, 343.258:1625
Note, these are the “really ancient” portions.258:1626
Verses 5, 6, etc., to the end.258:1627
Ps. 72:1, 2.258:1628
An absurdity pulverized by the faith and learning of Dr. Pusey.258:1629
Pseudepigrapha O. F. Fritzsche, Lips., 1871, Codex Pseudepigr. Vet. Test., ed. 1722.; J. A. Fabricius, Messias Judæorum, Hilgenfeld, Lips., 1869; also Drummond, The Jewish Messiah; and compare Jellinek, Bet-ha-Midrash, six parts, 1857–73.258:1630
See the Greek of Constantines quotations in Heynes Virgil, excursus i. tom. i. p. 164.258:1631
Heyne (Lips., 1788), vol. i. pp. 66–70.
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