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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter V

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter V.—God sent Rain from Heaven for Marcus Aurelius Cæsar in Answer to the Prayers of our People.

1. It is reported 1416 that Marcus Aurelius Cæsar, brother of Antoninus, 1417 being about to engage in battle with the Germans and Sarmatians, was in great trouble on account of his army suffering from thirst. 1418 But the soldiers of the so-called Melitene legion, 1419 through p. 220 the faith which has given strength from that time to the present, when they were drawn up before the enemy, kneeled on the ground, as is our custom in prayer, 1420 and engaged in supplications to God.

2. This was indeed a strange sight to the enemy, but it is reported 1421 that a stranger thing immediately followed. The lightning drove the enemy to flight and destruction, but a shower refreshed the army of those who had called on God, all of whom had been on the point of perishing with thirst.

3. This story is related by non-Christian writers who have been pleased to treat the times referred to, and it has also been recorded by our own people. 1422 By those historians who were strangers to the faith, the marvel is mentioned, but it is not acknowledged as an answer to our prayers. But by our own people, as friends of the truth, the occurrence is related in a simple and artless manner.

4. Among these is Apolinarius, 1423 who says that from that time the legion through whose prayers the wonder took place received from the emperor a title appropriate to the event, being called in the language of the Romans the Thundering Legion.

5. Tertullian is a trustworthy witness of these things. In the Apology for the Faith, which he addressed to the Roman Senate, and which work we have already mentioned, 1424 he confirms the history with greater and stronger proofs.

6. He writes 1425 that there are still extant letters 1426 of the most intelligent Emperor Marcus in which he testifies that his army, being on the point of perishing with thirst in Germany, was saved by the prayers of the Christians. And he says also that this emperor threatened death 1427 to those who brought accusation against us.

7. He adds further: 1428

“What kind of laws are those which impious, unjust, and cruel persons use against us alone? which Vespasian, though he had conquered the Jews, did not regard; 1429 which Trajan partially annulled, forbidding Christians to be sought after; 1430 which neither Adrian, 1431 though inquisitive in all matters, nor he who was called Pius 1432 sanctioned.” But let any one treat these things as he chooses; 1433 we must pass on to what followed.

8. Pothinus having died with the other martyrs in Gaul at ninety years of age, 1434 Irenæus succeeded him in the episcopate of the church at Lyons. 1435 We have learned that, in his youth, he was a hearer of Polycarp. 1436

9. In the third book of his work Against Heresies he has inserted a list of the bishops of Rome, bringing it down as far as Eleutherus (whose times we are now considering), under whom he composed his work. He writes as follows: 1437



The expression λόγος žχει, employed here by Eusebius, is ordinarily used by him to denote that the account which he subjoins rests simply upon verbal testimony. But in the present instance he has written authority, which he mentions below. He seems, therefore, in the indefinite phrase λόγος žχει, to express doubts which he himself feels as to the trustworthiness of the account which he is about to give. The story was widely known in his time, and the Christians’ version of it undoubtedly accepted by the Christians themselves with little misgiving, and yet he is too well informed upon this subject to be ignorant of the fact that the common version rests upon a rather slender foundation. He may have known of the coins and monuments upon which the emperor had commemorated his own view of the matter,—at any rate he was familiar with the fact that all the heathen historians contradicted the claims of the Christians, and hence he could not but consider it a questionable matter. At the same time, the Christian version of the story was supported by strong names and was widely accepted, and he, as a good Christian, of course wished to accept it, if possible, and to report it for the edification of posterity.


τούτου δὲ ἀδελφόν: the τούτου referring to the Antoninus mentioned at the close of the previous chapter. Upon Eusebius’ confusion of the successors of Antoninus Pius, see below, p. 390, note.


It is an historical fact that, in 174 a.d., the Roman army in Hungary was relieved from a very dangerous predicament by the sudden occurrence of a thunder-storm, which quenched their thirst and frightened the barbarians, and thus gave the Romans the victory. By heathen writers this event (quite naturally considered miraculous) was held to have taken place in answer to prayer, but by no means in answer to the prayers of the Christians. Dion Cassius (LXXI. 8) ascribes the supposed miracle to the conjurations of the Egyptian magician Arnuphis; Capitolinus (Vita Marc. Aurelii, chap. 24, and Vita Heliogabali, chap. 9), to the prayer of Marcus Aurelius. The emperor himself expresses his view upon a coin which represents Jupiter as hurling lightning against the barbarians (see Eckhel. Numism. III. 61).

As early as the time of Marcus Aurelius himself the Christians ascribed the merit of the supposed miracle to their own prayers (e.g. Apolinarius, mentioned just below), and this became the common belief among them (cf. Tertullian, Apol. chap. 5, quoted just below, and ad Scap. chap. 4, and the forged edict of Marcus Aurelius, appended to Justin Martyr’s first Apology). It is probable that the whole legion prayed for deliverance to their respective deities, and thus quite naturally each party claimed the victory for its particular gods. That there were some Christians in the army of Marcus Aurelius there is, of course, no reason to doubt, but that a legion at that time was wholly composed of Christians, as Eusebius implies, is inconceivable.


This legion was called the Melitene from the place where it was regularly stationed,—Melitene, a city in Eastern Cappadocia, or Armenia.


Kneeling was the common posture of offering prayer in the early Church, but the standing posture was by no means uncommon, especially in the offering of thanksgiving. Upon Sunday and during the whole period from Easter to Pentecost all prayers were regularly offered in a standing position, as a symbolical expression of joy (cf. Tertullian, de Corona, chap. 3; de Oratione, chap. 23, &c.). The practice, however, was not universal, and was therefore decreed by the Nicene Council in its twentieth canon (Hefele, Conciliengesch. I. 430). See Kraus’ Real-Encyclopädie der Christlichen Alterthümer, Bd. I. p. 557 sqq.


λόγος žχει. See above, note 1.


Dion Cassius and Capitolinus record the occurrence (as mentioned above, note 2). It is recorded also by other writers after Eusebius’ time, such as Claudian and Zonaras. None of them, however, attribute the occurrence to the prayers of the Christians, but all claim it for the heathen gods. The only pre-Eusebian Christian accounts of this event still extant are those contained in the forged edict of Marcus Aurelius and in the Apology of Tertullian, quoted just below (cf. also his de Orat. 29). Cyprian also probably refers to the same event in his Tractat. ad Demetriadem, 20. Eusebius, in referring to Apolinarius and Tertullian, very likely mentions all the accounts with which he was acquainted. Gregory Nyssa, Jerome, and other later Christian writers refer to the event.


i.e. Claudius Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis. Upon him and his writings, see above, Bk. IV. chap. 27, note 1. This reference is in all probability to the Apology of Apolinarius, as this is the only work known to us which would have been likely to contain an account of such an event. The fact that in the reign of the very emperor under whom the occurrence took place, and in an Apology addressed to him, the Christians could be indicated as the source of the miracle, shows the firmness of this belief among the Christians themselves, and also proves that they must have been so numerous in the army as to justify them in setting up a counter-claim over against the heathen soldiers.

Apolinarius is very far from the truth in his statement as to the name of the legion. From Dion Cassius, LV. 23, it would seem that the legion bore this name even in the time of Augustus; but if this be uncertain, at any rate it bore it as early as the time of Nero (as we learn from an inscription of his eleventh year, Corp. Ins. Lat. III. 30). Neander thinks it improbable that Apolinarius, a contemporary who lived in the neighborhood of the legion’s winter quarters, could have committed such a mistake. He prefers to think that the error is Eusebius’, and resulted from a too rapid perusal of the passage in Apolinarius, where there must have stood some such words as, “Now the emperor could with right call the legion the Thundering Legion.” His opinion is at least plausible. Tertullian certainly knew nothing of the naming of the legion at this time, or if he had heard the report, rejected it.


In Bk. II. chap. 2, §4, and Bk. III. chap. 33, §3 (quoted also in Bk. III. chap. 20, §9).


Apol.chap. 5.


A pretended epistle of Marcus Aurelius, addressed to the Senate, in which he describes the miraculous deliverance of his army through the prayers of the Christians, is still extant, and stands at the close of Justin Martyr’s first Apology. It is manifestly the work of a Christian, and no one now thinks of accepting it as genuine. It is in all probability the same epistle to which Tertullian refers, and therefore must have been forged before the end of the second century, although its exact date cannot be determined. See Overbeck, Studien zur Gesch. d. alten Kirche, I.


The epistle says that the accuser is to be burned alive (ζῶντα καίεσθαι). Tertullian simply says that he is to be punished with a “condemnation of greater severity” (damnatione et quidem tetriore). Eusebius therefore expresses himself more definitely than Tertullian, though it is very likely that the poor Greek translation which he used had already made of damnatio tetrior the simpler and more telling expression, θανατός.


Apol. ibid.


See Bk. III. chap. 12, note 1.


Upon Trajan’s rescript, and the universal misunderstanding of it in the early Church, see above, Bk. III. chap. 33 (notes).


Upon Hadrian’s treatment of the Christians, see above, Bk. IV. chap. 9.


Upon Antoninus Pius’ relation to them, see above, Bk. IV. chap. 13.


Whether Eusebius refers in this remark only to the report of Tertullian, or to the entire account of the miracle, we do not know. The remark certainly has reference at least to the words of Tertullian. Eusebius had apparently not himself seen the epistle of Marcus Aurelius; for in the first place, he does not cite it; secondly, he does not rest his account upon it, but upon Apolinarius and Tertullian; and thirdly, in his Chron. both the Armenian and Greek say, “it is said that there are epistles of Marcus Aurelius extant,” while Jerome says directly, “there are letters extant.”


See above, chap. 1, §29.


Upon Irenæus, see Bk. IV. chap. 21, note 9.


Cf. Adv. Hær. II. 3. 4, &c., and Eusebius, chap. 20, below.


Adv. Hær. III. 3. 3.

Next: Chapter VI

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