The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen. (Adversus Gentes.)
In this volume a mass of fragmentary material has been reduced to method, and so harmonized as to present an integral result. The student has before him, therefore, (1) a view of the Christian Church emerging from the ten persecutions; (2) a survey of its condition on the eve of that great event, the (nominal) conversion of the empire; (3) an introduction to the era of Athanasius; and (4) a history of events that led to the calling of the first Catholic council at Nicaea.
The moral grandeur and predominance of the See of Alexandria are also here conspicuously illustrated. The mastery which its great school continued to exercise over Christian thought, hegemony in the formation of Christian literature, its guardian influence in the development of doctrinal technology, and not less the Divine Providence that created it and built it up for the noble ends which it subserved in a Clement, an Origen, and an Athanasius, will all present themselves forcibly to every reflecting reader of this book. One half of this volume presents the Alexandrian school itself in its glorious succession of doctors and pupils, and the other half in the reflected light of its universal influence. Thus Methodius has no other distinction than that which he derives from his wholesome corrections of Origen, and yet the influence of Origen upon his own mind is betrayed even in his antagonisms. He objects to the excessive allegorizing of that great doctor, yet he himself allegorizes too much in the same spirit. Finally we come to Arnobius, who carries on the line of Latin Christianity in Northern Africa; but even here we find that Clement, and not Tertullian, is his model. He gives us, in a Latin dress, not a little directly borrowed from the great Alexandrian.
This volume further demonstrates—what I have so often touched upon—the historic fact that primitive Christianity was Greek in form and character, Greek from first to last, Greek in all its forms of dogma, worship, and polity. One idea only did it borrow from the West, and that not from the ecclesiastical, but the civil, Occident. It conformed itself to the imperial plan of exarchates, metropoles, and dioceses. Into this civil scheme it shaped itself, not by design, but by force of circumstances, just as the Anglo-American communion fell in with the national polity, and took shape in dioceses each originally conterminous with a State. Because it was the capital of the empire, therefore Rome was reckoned the first, but not the chief, of Sees, as the Council of Nicaea declared; and because Byzantium had become “New Rome,” therefore it is made second on the list, but equal in dignity. Rome was the sole Apostolic See of the West, and, as such, reflected the honours of St. Paul, its founder, and of St. Peter, who also glorified it by martyrdom; but not a word of this is recognised at Nicaea as investing it even with a moral primacy. That was informally the endowment of Alexandria; unasserted because unquestioned, and unchallenged because as yet unholy ambition had not infected the Apostolic churches.
It is time, then, to disabuse the West of its narrow ideas concerning ecclesiastical history. Dean Stanley rebuked this spirit in his Lectures on the Eastern Church. He complained that “Eastern Christendom is comparatively an untrodden field;” he quoted the German proverb, “Behind the mountains there is yet a population;” he called on us to enlarge our petty Occidental horizon; and he added words of reproach which invite us to reform the entire scheme of our ecclesiastical history by presenting the Eastern Apostolic churches as the main stem of Christendom, of which the church of Rome itself was for three hundred years a mere colony, unfelt in theology except by contributions to the Greek literature of Christians, and wholly unconscious of those pretensions with which, in a spirit akin to that of the romances about Arthur and the Round Table, the fabulous Decretals afterwards invested a succession of primitive bishops in Rome, wholly innocent of anything of the kind.
“The Greek Church,” says Dean Stanley, “reminds us of the time when the tongue, not of Rome, but of Greece, was the sacred language of Christendom. It was a striking remark of the Emperor Napoleon, that the introduction of Christianity itself was, in a certain sense, the triumph of Greece over Rome; the last and most signal instance of the maxim of Horace, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit. The early Roman church was but a colony of Greek Christians or Grecized Jews. The earliest Fathers of the Western Church wrote in Greek. The early popes were not Italians, but Greeks. The name of pope is not Latin, but Greek, the common and now despised name of every pastor in the Eastern Church.… She is the mother, and Rome the daughter. It is her privilege to claim a direct continuity of speech with the earliest times; to boast of reading the whole code of Scripture, Old as well as New, in the language in which it was read and spoken by the Apostles. The humblest peasant who reads his Septuagint or Greek Testament in his own mother-tongue on the hills of Boeotia may proudly feel that he has access to the original oracles of divine truth which pope and cardinal reach by a barbarous and imperfect translation; that he has a key of knowledge which in the West is only to be found in the hands of the learned classes.”
Before entering on the study of this volume, the student will do well to read the interesting work which I have quoted; but the following extract merits a place just here, and I cannot deprive even the casual reader of the benefit of such a preface from the non-ecclesiastical and purely literary pen of the Dean. He says: “The See of Alexandria was then the most important in the world. …The Alexandrian church was the only great seat of Christian learning. Its episcopate was the Evangelical See, as founded by the chair of St. Mark.… Its occupant, as we have seen, was the only potentate of the time who bore the name of pope. After the Council of Nicaea he became the judge of the world, from his decisions respecting the celebration of Easter; and the obedience paid to his judgment in all matters of learning, secular and sacred, almost equalled that paid in later days to the ecclesiastical authority of the popes of the West. ‘The head of the Alexandrian church,’ says Gregory Nazianzen, ‘is the head of the world.’ ”
In the light of these all-important historic truths, these volumes of the Ante-Nicene Fathers have been elucidated by their American editor. He begs to remind his countrymen that ecclesiastical history is yet to be written on these irrefragable positions, and the future student of history will be delivered from the most puzzling entanglement when once these idols of the market are removed from books designed for his instruction. Let American scholarship give us, at last, a Church history not written from a merely Western point of view, nor clogged with traditional phraseology perseveringly adhered to on the very pages which supply its refutation. It is the scandal of literature that the frauds of the pseudo-Decretals should be perpetuated by modern lists of “popes,” beginning with St. Peter, in the very books which elaborately expose the empiricism of such a scheme, and quote the reluctant words by which this gigantic imposition has been consigned to infamy in the confessions of Jesuits and Ultramontanes themselves.
[Translated by the Rev S.D. F. Salmond, M.a.]
Introductory Note to Gregory Thaumaturgus
[A.D. 205–240–265.] Alexandria continues to be the head of Christian learning. It is delightful to trace the hand of God from generation to generation, as from father to son, interposing for the perpetuity of the faith. We have already observed the continuity of the great Alexandrian school: how it arose, and how Pantaenus begat Clement, and Clement begat Origen. So Origen begat Gregory, and so the Lord has provided for the spiritual generation of the Church’s teachers, age after age, from the beginning. Truly, the Lord gave to Origen a holy seed, better than natural sons and daughters; as if, for his comfort, Isaiah had written, forbidding him to say, “I am a dry tree.”
Our Gregory has given us not a little of his personal adventures in his panegyric upon his master, and for his further history the reader need only be referred to what follows. But I am anxious to supply the dates, which are too loosely left to conjecture. As he was ordained a bishop “very young,” according to Eusebius, I suppose he must have been far enough under fifty, the age prescribed by the “Apostolic Canons” (so called), though probably not younger than thirty, the earliest canonical limit for the ordination of a presbyter. If we decide upon five and thirty, as a mean reckoning, we may with some confidence set his birth at A.D. 205, dating back from his episcopate, which began A.D. 240. He was a native of Neo-Caesarea, the chief city of Pontus,—a fact that should modify what we have learned about Pontus from Tertullian. He was born of heathen parentage, and lived like other Gentile boys until his fourteenth year (circaA.D. 218), with the disadvantage of being more than ordinarily imbued by a mistaken father in the polytheism of Greece. At this period his father died; but his mother, carrying out the wishes of her husband, seems to have been not less zealous in furthering his education according to her pagan ideas. He was, evidently, the inheritor of moderate wealth; and, with his brother Athenodorus, he was placed under an accomplished teacher of grammar and rhetoric, from whom also he acquired a considerable knowledge of the Latin tongue. He was persuaded by the same master to use this accomplishment in acquiring some knowledge of the Roman laws. This is a very important point in his biography, and it brings us to an epoch in Christian history too little noted by any writer. I shall return to it very soon. We find him next going to Alexandria to study the New Platonism. He speaks of himself as already prepossessed with Christian ideas, which came to him even in his boyhood, about the time when his father died. But it was not at Alexandria that he began his acquaintance with Christian learning. Next he seems to have travelled into Greece, and to have studied at Athens. But the great interest of his autobiography begins with the providential incidents, devoutly narrated by himself, which engaged him in a journey to Berytus just as Origen reached Caesarea, A.D. 233, making it for a time his home and the seat of his school. His own good angel, as Gregory supposes, led him away from Berytus, where he purposed to prosecute his legal studies, and brought him to the feet of Origen, his Gamaliel; and “from the very first day of his receiving us,” he says, “the true Sun began to rise upon me.” This he accounts the beginning of his true life; and, if we are right as to our dates, he was now about twenty-seven years of age.
If he tarried even a little while in Berytus, as seems probable, his knowledge of law was, doubtless, somewhat advanced. It was the seat of that school in which Roman law began its existence in the forms long afterward digested into the Pandects of Justinian. That emperor speaks of Berytus as “the mother and nurse” of the civil law. Caius, whose Institutes were discovered in 1820 by the sagacity of Niebuhr, seems to have been a Syrian. So were Papinian and Ulpian: and, heathen as they were, they lived under the illumination reflected from Antioch; and, not less than the Antonines, they were examples of a philosophic regeneration which never could have existed until the Christian era had begun its triumphs. Of this sort of pagan philosophy Julian became afterwards the grand embodiment; and in Julian’s grudging confessions of what he had learned from Christianity we have a key to the secret convictions of others, such as I have named; characters in whom, as in Plutarch and in many retrograde unbelievers of our day, we detect the operation of influences they are unwilling to acknowledge; of which, possibly, they are blindly unconscious themselves. Roman law, I maintain, therefore, indirectly owes its origin, as it is directly indebted for its completion in the Pandects, to the new powers and processes of thought which came from “the Light of the World.” It was light from Galilee and Golgotha, answering Pilate’s question in the inward convictions of many a heathen sage.
It is most interesting, therefore, to find in our Gregory one who had come into contact with Berytus at this period. He describes it as already dignified by this school of law, and therefore Latinized in some degree by its influence. Most suggestive is what he says of this school: “I refer to those admirable laws of our sages, by which the affairs of all the subjects of the Roman Empire are now directed, and which are neither digested nor learnt without difficulty. They are wise and strict (if not pious) in themselves, they are manifold and admirable, and, in a word, most thoroughly Grecian, although expressed and delivered to us in the Roman tongue, which is a wonderful and magnificent sort of language, and one very aptly conformable to imperial authority, but still difficult to me.” Nor is this the only noteworthy tribute of our author to Roman law while yet that sublime system was in its cradle. The rhetorician who introduced him to it and to the Latin tongue was its enthusiastic eulogist; and Gregory says he learned the laws “in a thorough way, by his help.… And he said one thing to me which has proved to me the truest of all his sayings; to wit, that my education in the laws would be my greatest viaticum,—my ejfovdion (for thus he phrased it);” i.e., for the journey of life. This man, one can hardly doubt, was a disciple of Caius (or Gaius); and there is little question that the digested system which Gregory eulogizes was “the Institutes” of that great father of the civil law, now recovered from a palimpsest, and made known to our own age, with no less benefit to jurisprudence than the discovery of the Philosophumena has conferred on theology.
Thus Gregory’s Panegyric throws light on the origin of Roman law. He claims it for “our sages,” meaning men of the East, whose vernacular was the Greek tongue. Caius was probably, like the Gaius of Scripture, an Oriental who had borrowed a Latin name, as did the Apostle of the Gentiles and many others. If he was a native of Berytus, as seems probable, that accounts for the rise of the school of laws at a place comparatively inconsiderable. Hadrian, in his journey to Palestine, would naturally discover and patronize such a jurist; and that accounts for the appearance of Caius at Rome in his day. Papinian and Ulpian, both Orientals, were his pupils in all probability; and these were the “sages” with whose works the youthful Gregory became acquainted, and by which his mind was prepared for the great influence he exerted in the East, where his name is a power to this day.
His credit with our times is rather impaired than heightened by the epithet Thaumaturgus, which clings to his name as a convenient specification, to distinguish him from the other Gregories whose period was so nearly his own. But why make it his opprobrium? He is not responsible for the romances that sprung up after his death; which he never heard of nor imagined. Like the great Friar Bacon, who was considered a magician, or Faust, whose invention nearly cost him his life, the reputation of Gregory made him the subject of legendary lore long after he was gone. It is not impossible that God wrought marvels by his hand, but a single instance would give rise to many fables; and this very surname is of itself a monument of the fact that miracles were now of rare occurrence, and that one possessing the gift was a wonder to his contemporaries.
To like popular love of the marvellous I attribute the stupid story of a mock consecration by Phaedimus. If a slight irregularity in Origen’s ordination gave him such lifelong troubles, what would not have been the tumult such a sacrilege as this would have occasioned? Nothing is more probable than that Phaedimus related such things as having occurred in a vision; and this might have weighed with a mind like Gregory’s to overcome his scruples, and to justify his acceptance of such a position at an early age.
We are already acquainted with the eloquent letter of Origen that decided him to choose the sacred calling after he left the school at Caesarea. The Panegyric, which was his valedictory, doubtless called forth that letter. Origen had seen in him the makings of a kh`rnx, and coveted such another Timothy for the Master’s work. But the Panegyric itself abounds with faults, and greatly resembles similar college performances of our day. The custom of schools alone can excuse the expression of such enthusiastic praise in the presence of its subject; but Origen doubtless bore it as philosophically as others have done since, and its evident sincerity and heartfelt gratitude redeem it from the charge of fulsome adulation.