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

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Chapter XXXIV.—Philip Cæsar.

Gordianus had been Roman emperor for six years when Philip, with his son Philip, succeeded him. 2039 It is reported that he, being a Christian, desired, on the day of the last paschal vigil, to share with the multitude in the prayers of the Church, 2040 but that he was not permitted to enter, by him who then presided, 2041 until he had made confession and had numbered himself among those who were reckoned as transgressors and who occupied the place of penance. 2042 For if he had not done this, he would never have been received by him, on account of the many crimes which he had committed. It is said that he obeyed readily, manifesting in his conduct a genuine and pious fear of God.



The younger Gordian reigned from the summer of 238 until early in the year 244, when he was murdered by the soldiers, and succeeded by his prætorian prefect, Philip of Arabia, who took the name Marcus Julius Philippus, and reigned until 249, when he was conquered and succeeded by Decius. His son Philip, who was seven years old at the time of his father’s accession, was immediately proclaimed Cæsar and afterward given the title of Augustus. He bore the name Marcus Julius Philippus Severus, and was slain at the time of his father’s death.


There has been much dispute as to Philip’s relation to Christianity. Eusebius is the first one known to us to represent him as a Christian, and he gives the report only upon the authority of oral tradition (τοῦτον κατέχει λόγος χριστιανὸν ὄντα). Jerome (de vir. ill. 54) states explicitly that Philip was the first Christian emperor (qui primus de regibus Romanis christianus fuit), and this became common tradition in the Church. At the same time it must be noticed that Eusebius does not himself state that Philip was a Christian,—he simply records a tradition to that effect; and in his Vita Const. I. 3 he calls Constantine the first Christian emperor. Little reliance can be placed upon Jerome’s explicit statement, for he seems only to be repeating as certain what Eusebius reported as possible. The only things known to us which can or could have been urged in support of the alleged fact that Philip was a Christian are his act recorded in this chapter and the letter written to him by Origen, as recorded in chap. 36. Moreover, it happens to be the fact that no heathen writer hints that he was a Christian, and we know that he celebrated games in Rome with pagan rites and great pomp. It seems, on the whole, probable that Philip showed himself favorable to Christianity, and perhaps superstitiously desired to gain the favor of the Christians’ God, and hence went through some such process as Eusebius describes in this chapter, looking upon it merely as a sort of sacrifice to be offered to this God as he would offer other sacrifices to other gods. It is quite conceivable that he may have done this much, and this would be quite enough to start the report, after his death, that he had been a Christian secretly, if not openly; and from this to the tradition that he was unconditionally the first Christian emperor is but a step. Some ground for the common tradition must be assumed, but our sources do not warrant us in believing more than has been thus suggested as possible. For a full discussion of the question, see Tillemont, Hist. des Emp. III. p. 494 sq.


Chrysostom (De St. Bab. c. Gentes. Tom. I.) and Leontius of Antioch (quoted in the Chron. pasch.) identify the bishop referred to here with Babylas, bishop of Antioch (see above, chap. 29, note 8). Eusebius’ silence as to the name of the bishop looks as if he were ignorant on the matter, but there is nothing inherently improbable in the identification, which may therefore be looked upon as very likely correct.


That is, the place assigned to penitents: μετανοίας χώραν. Christians who had committed flagrant transgressions were excluded from communion and required to go through a course of penance, more or less severe according to their offense, before they could be received again into the Church. In some cases they were excluded entirely from the services for a certain length of time; in other cases they were allowed to attend a part of the services, but in no case could they partake of the communion. In the fourth century a regular system of discipline grew up, and the penitents (pœnitentes) were divided into various classes,—mourners, hearers, and kneelers; the first of whom were excluded entirely from the church, while the last two were admitted during a part of the service. The statement in the present case is of the most general character. Whether the place which he was obliged to take was without or within the church is not indicated. Upon the whole subject of ancient church discipline, see Bingham’s Antiquities, Bk. XVI., and the article Penitence in Smith’s Dict. of Christian Antiq.

Next: Chapter XXXV

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