Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: Conversion of the Indians.
Chapter XXII.—Conversion of the Indians 413 .
At this period, the light of the knowledge of God was for the first time shed upon India. The courage and the piety of the emperor had become celebrated throughout the world; and the barbarians, having learnt by experience to choose peace rather than war, were able to enjoy intercourse with one another without fear. Many persons, therefore, set out on long journeys; some for the desire of making discoveries, others from a spirit of commercial enterprise. About this period a native of Tyre 414 , acquainted with Greek philosophy, desiring to penetrate into the interior of India, set off for this purpose with his two young nephews. When he had accomplished the object of his wishes, he embarked for his own country. The ship being compelled to put in to land in order to obtain a fresh supply of water, the barbarians fell upon her, drowned some of the crew, and took the others prisoners. The uncle was among the number of those who were killed, and the lads were conducted to the king. The name of the one was Ædesius, and of the other Frumentius. The king of the country, in course of time, perceiving their intelligence, promoted them to the superintendence of his household. If any one should doubt the truth of this account, let him recall to mind the history of Joseph in the kingdom of Egypt, and also the history of Daniel, and of the three champions of the truth, who, from being captives, became princes of Babylon. The king died; but these young men remained with his son, and were advanced to still greater power. As they had been brought up in the true religion, they exhorted the merchants who visited the country to assemble, according to the custom of Romans 415 , to take part in the divine liturgy. After a considerable time they solicited the king to reward their services by permitting them to return to their own country. They obtained his permission, and safely reached Roman territory. Ædesius directed his course towards Tyre, but Frumentius, whose religious zeal was greater than the natural feeling of affection for his relatives, proceeded to Alexandria, and informed the bishop of that city that the Indians were deeply anxious to obtain spiritual light. Athanasius then held the rudder of that church; he heard the story, and then “Who,” said he, “better than you yourself can scatter the mists of ignorance, and introduce among this people the light of Divine preaching?” After having said this, he conferred upon him the episcopal dignity, and sent him to the spiritual culture of that nation. The newly-ordained bishop left this country, caring nothing for the mighty ocean, and returned to the untilled ground of his work. There, having the grace of God to labour with him, he cheerfully and successfully played the husbandman, catching those who sought to gainsay his words by works of apostolic wonder, and thus, by these marvels, confirming his teaching, he continued each day to take many souls alive 416 .
Περι τῆς ᾽Ινδῶν πίστεως. The term “India” is used vaguely, partly from the old belief that Asia and Africa joined somewhere south of the Indian Ocean. Here the Indians are Abyssinians.58:414
The version adopted by Rufinus, the earliest extant authority for this story, is followed, in the main, by Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. The Tyrian traveller is named Meropius.58:415
The words of Sozomen (ii. 24) corresponding with the passage in which Rufinus (i. 9) speaks of meeting “romano ritu orationis caussa,” are ᾗ ῥωμαίοις ἔθος ἐκκλησιάζειν, i.e. to assemble to worship after the manner civilized citizens of the Empire, and not like savages. The expression has nothing to do with the customs of the Church of Rome, in the later sense of the word, as has sometimes been represented. Cf. Soc. I. 19, τὰς χριστιανικὰς ἐκτελεῖν εὐχάς58:416
“The king, if we identify the narrative with the Ethiopian version of the story, must have been the father of the Abreha and Atzbeha of the Ethiopian annals.” “Frumentius received the title of Abbana, or Abba Salama” (cf. Absalom), “the Father of Peace.” “The bishopric of Auxume” (Axum, about 100 miles S.W. of Massowah) “assumed a metropolitan character.” (Dict. of Christ. Biog., Art. Ethiopian Church). Constantius afterwards wrote to the Ethiopian Prince to ask him to replace Frumentius by Theophilus, an Arian, but without success (Ath. Ap. ad Const. 31).
Next: Conversion of the Iberians.
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