Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXIII
p. 150 Chapter XXIII.—Narrative Concerning John the Apostle.
1. At that time the apostle and evangelist John, the one whom Jesus loved, was still living in Asia, and governing the churches of that region, having returned after the death of Domitian from his exile on the island. 740
2. And that he was still alive at that time 741 may be established by the testimony of two witnesses. They should be trustworthy who have maintained the orthodoxy of the Church; and such indeed were Irenæus and Clement of Alexandria. 742
3. The former in the second book of his work Against Heresies, writes as follows: 743 “And all the elders that associated with John the disciple of the Lord in Asia bear witness that John delivered it to them. For he remained among them until the time of Trajan.” 744
4. And in the third book of the same work he attests the same thing in the following words: 745 “But the church in Ephesus also, which was founded by Paul, and where John remained until the time of Trajan, is a faithful witness of the apostolic tradition.”
5. Clement likewise in his book entitled What Rich Man can be saved? 746 indicates the time, 747 and subjoins a narrative which is most attractive to those that enjoy hearing what is beautiful and profitable. Take and read the account which runs as follows: 748
6. “Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative 749 concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrants death, 750 he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one 751 of those that were pointed out by the Spirit.
7. When he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some 752 ), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, This one I commit to thee in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness. And when the bishop had accepted the charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.
8. But the presbyter 753 taking home the youth committed to him, p. 151 reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized 754 him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord 755 he had given him a perfect protection.
9. But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.
10. He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, 756 leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.
11. And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.
12. Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to thee, the church, over which thou presidest, being witness.
13. But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, I demand the young man and the soul of the brother, the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, He is dead. How and what kind of death? He is dead to God, he said; for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.
14. But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, A fine guard I left for a brothers soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way. He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers outpost.
15. He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, p. 152 but cried out, For this did I come; lead me to your captain.
16. The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.
17. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thine own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death as the Lord suffered death for us. For thee will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me.
18. And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.
19. But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”
See chap. 1, note 6, and chap. 18, note 1.150:741
That is, at the beginning of the reign of Trajan.150:742
The test of a mans trustworthiness in Eusebius mind—and not in his alone—was his orthodoxy. Irenæus has always been looked upon as orthodox, and so was Clement, in the early Church, which reckoned him among the saints. His name, however, was omitted in the Martyrology issued by Clement VIII., on the ground that his orthodoxy was open to suspicion.150:743
Irenæus, Adv. Hær. II. 22. 5.150:744
It is in this immediate connection that Irenæus makes the extraordinary assertion, founding it upon the testimony of those who were with John in Asia, that Christ lived to the age of forty or fifty years. A statement occurring in connection with such a palpably false report might well fall under suspicion; but the fact of Johns continuance at Ephesus until the time of Trajan is supported by other passages, and there is no reason to doubt it (cf. chap. 1, note 6). Irenæus himself repeats the statement as a well-known fact, in III. 3, 4 (quoted just below). It may also be said that the opinion as to Christs age is founded upon subjective grounds (cf. the preceding paragraph of Irenæus) and upon a mistaken interpretation of John 8:56, 57, rather than upon external testimony, and that the testimony (which itself may have been only the result of a subjective opinion) is dragged in only for the sake of confirming a view already adopted. Such a fact as Johns own presence in Ephesus at a certain period could hardly be subject to such uncertainty and to the influence of dogmatic prepossessions. It is significant of Eusebius method that he omits entirely Irenæus statement as to the length of Christs ministry, with which he did not agree (as shown by his account in Bk. I. chap. 10), while extracting from his statement the single fact which he wishes here to establish. The falsity of the context he must have recognized, and yet, in his respect for Irenæus, the great maintainer of sound doctrine, he nowhere refers to it. The information which John is said, in this passage, to have conveyed to the “presbyters of Asia” is that Christ lived to old age. The whole passage affords an instance of how much of error may be contained in what, to all appearances, should be a very trustworthy tradition. Internal evidence must come to the support of external, and with all its alleged uncertainty and subjectivity, must play a great part in the determination of the truth of history.150:745
Adv. Hær. III. 3, 4.150:746
τίς ὁ σωζόμενος πλούσιος: Quis Dives salvetur. This able and interesting little treatise upon the proper use of wealth is still extant, and is found in the various editions of Clements works; English translation in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Am. ed.), II. p. 591–604. The sound common sense of the book, and its freedom from undue asceticism are conspicuous, and furnish a pleasing contrast to most of the writings of that age.150:747
He indicates the time only by saying “after the tyrant was dead,” which might refer either to Domitian or to Nero. But the mention of John a little below as “an aged man” would seem to point to the end of the century rather than to Neros time. At any rate, Eusebius understood Clement as referring to Domitian, and in the presence of unanimous tradition for Domitian, and in the absence of any counter-tradition, we can hardly understand him otherwise.150:748
Quis Dives salvetur, chap. 42.150:749
μῦθον οὐ μῦθον, ἀλλὰ ὄντα λόγον. Clement in these words asserts the truth of the story which he relates. We cannot regard it as very strongly corroborated, for no one else records it, and yet we can hardly doubt that Clement gives it in good faith. It may have been an invention of some early Christian, but it is so fully in accord with what we know of Johns character that there exists no reason for refusing to believe that at least a groundwork of truth underlies it, even though the story may have gained in the telling of it. It is certainly beautiful, and fully worthy of the “beloved disciple.”150:750
See note 8.150:751
κλήρῳ ἕνα γέ τινα κληρώσων. Compare the note of Heinichen in his edition of Eusebius, Vol. I. p. 122. Upon the use of the word κλῆρος in the early Church, see Baurs Das Christenthum und die christliche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte, 2d ed., p. 266 sq., and especially Ritschls Entstehung der alt-kath. Kirche, 2d ed., p. 388 sq. Ritschl shows that the word κλῆρος was originally used by the Fathers in the general sense of order or rank (Reihe, Rang), and that from this arose its later use to denote church officers as a class,—the clergy. As he remarks, the word is employed in this later specific sense for the first time in this passage of Clements Quis Dives salvetur. Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Cyprian are the next ones to use it in the same sense. Ritschl remarks in connection with this passage: “Da für eine Wahl der Gemeindebeamten durch das Loos alle sonstigen Beweisen fehlen, und da in dem vorliegenden Satze die Einsetzung von einer Mehrzahl von ἐπίσκοποι durch den Apostel ohne jede Methode erwähnt wird, so fällt jeder Grund hinweg, dass bei der Wahl einzelner Beamten das Mittel des Loosens angewandt sein sollte, zumal bei dieser Deutung ein Pleonasmus vorausgesetzt würde. Es ist vielmehr zu erklären, dass Johannes an einzelnen Orten mehrere Beamte zugleich eingesetzt, an anderen Orten wo schon ein Collegium bestand, dem Beamtenstande je ein Mitglied eingereiht habe.”150:752
According to Stroth the Chronicon Paschale gives Smyrna as the name of this city, and it has been suggested that Clement withholds the name in order to spare the reputation of Polycarp, who, according to tradition, was appointed bishop of that city by John.150:753
The same man that is called a bishop just above is here called a presbyter. It is such passages—and they are not uncommon in the early Fathers—that have seemed to many to demonstrate conclusively the original identity of presbyters and bishops, an identity which is maintained by most Presbyterians, and is admitted by many Episcopalians (e.g. by Lightfoot in his essay on the Christian Ministry, printed in his Commentary on Philippians). On the other hand, the passages which reveal a distinction between presbyters and bishops are very early, and are adduced not merely by prelatists, but by such disinterested scholars as Harnack (in his translation of Hatchs Organization of the Early Christian Churches) as proving that there was from the beginning a difference of some sort between a bishop and a presbyter. I cannot enter here into a discussion of the various views in regard to the original relation between bishops and presbyters. I desire simply to suggest a theory of my own, leaving the fuller exposition of it for some future time. My theory is that the word πρεσβύτερος was originally employed in the most general sense to indicate any church officer, thus practically equivalent to the ἡγούμενος of Heb. xiii. 17, and the ποιμήν of Eph. iv. 11. The terms ἐπίσκοπος and δι€κονος, on the other hand, were employed to designate specific church officers charged with the performance of specific duties. If this were so, we should expect the general term to be used before the particular designations, and this is just what we find in the New Testament. We should expect further that the general term and the specific terms might be used by the same person in the same context, according as he thought of the officers in general or of a particular division of the officers; on the other hand the general term and one of the specific terms could never be coordinated (we could never find “presbyter and bishop,” “presbyter and deacon”), but we should expect to find the specific terms thus coordinated (“bishops and deacons”). An examination of the Epistle to the Philippians, of the Pastoral Epistles, of Clements Epistle to the Corinthians, and of the Didache will show that our expectations are fully realized. This theory explains the fact that so frequently presbyters and bishops seem to be identical (the general and the specific term might of course in many cases be used interchangeably), and also the fact that so frequently they seem to be quite distinct. It explains still further the remarkable fact that while in the first century we never find a distinction in official rank between bishops and presbyters, that distinction appears early in the second. In many churches it must early have become necessary to appoint some of the officers as a special committee to take charge of the economic affairs of the congregation. The members of such a committee might very naturally be given the special name ἐπίσκοποι (see Hatchs discussion of the use of this word in his work already referred to). In some churches the duties might be of such a character that the bishops would need assistants (to whom it would be natural to give the name δι€κονος), and such assistants would of course be closely associated with the bishops, as we find them actually associated with them in the second and following centuries (a fact which Hatch has emphasized). Of course where the bishops constituted a special and smaller committee of the general body, entrusted with such important duties, they would naturally acquire especial influence and power, and thus the chairman of the committee—the chairman of the bishops as such, not of the presbyters, though he might be that also—would in time, as a central authority was more and more felt to be necessary, gradually assume the supremacy, retaining his original name ἐπίσκοπος. As the power was thus concentrated in his hands, the committee of bishops as such would cease to be necessary, and he would require only the deacons, who should carry out his directions in economic matters, as we find them doing in the second century. The elevation of the bishop would of course separate him from the other officers in such a way that although still a presbyter (i.e. an officer), he would cease to be called longer by the general name. In the same way the deacons obliged to devote themselves to their specific duties, would cease to have much to do with the more general functions of the other officers, to whom finally the name presbyter—originally a general term—would be confined, and thus become a distinctive name for part of the officers. In their hands would remain the general disciplinary functions which had belonged from the beginning to the entire body of officers as such, and their rank would naturally be second only to that of the bishop, for the deacons as assistants only, not independent officers, could not outrank them (though they struggled hard in the third and fourth centuries to do so). It is of course likely that in a great many churches the simple undivided office would long remain, and that bishops and deacons as specific officers distinguished from the general body would not exist. But after the distinction between the three orders had been sharply drawn in one part of Christendom, it must soon spread throughout the Church and become established even in places where it had not been produced by a natural process of evolution. The Church organization of the second century is thus complete, and its further development need not concern us here, for it is not matter of controversy. Nor is this the place to show how the local church officers gradually assumed the spiritual functions which belonged originally to apostles, prophets, and teachers. The Didache is the document which has shed most light upon that process, and Hernack in his edition of it has done most to make the matter clear.151:754
ἐφώτισε: literally, “enlightened him.” The verb φωτίζω was very commonly used among the Fathers, with the meaning “to baptize.” See Suicers Thesaurus, where numerous examples of this use of the word by Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, and others, are given.151:755
τὴν σφραγῖδα κυρίου. The word σφραγίς was very widely used in the primitive Church to denote baptism. See Suicers Thesaurus for examples. Gregory Nazianzen, in his Orat. XL., gives the reason for this use of the word: “We call baptism a seal,” he says, “because it is a preservative and a sign of ownership.” Chrysostom, in his third Homily on 2 Cor. §7, says, “So also art thou thyself made king and priest and prophet in the laver; a king, having dashed to earth all the deeds of wickedness and slain thy sins; a priest, in that thou offerest thyself to God, having sacrificed thy body and being thyself slain also; …a prophet, knowing what shall be, and being inspired by God, and sealed. For as upon soldiers a seal, so is also the Spirit put upon the faithful. And if thou desert, thou art manifest to all. For the Jews had circumcision for a seal, but we the earnest of the Spirit.” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XII. p. 293.)151:756
Literally, “greatness of his nature” (μέγεθος φύσεως).
Next: Chapter XXIV
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