Image: Marble portrait of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, c. 138-161, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History. Here is Book 4, chapters 10-13. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
In chapter 10 Eusebius here marks the transition in Roman imperial leadership from Hadrian to Antoninus Pius. As has been his custom, he likewise traces the transitions of the bishops in the most important cities of early Christianity, focusing especially on Rome and Alexandria.
In Rome, Telesphorus was succeeded by Hyginus.
He notes that according to Irenaeus Telesphorus died as a martyr.
He adds also from Irenaeus that at this time at Rome the heretic Valentinus was active as was Cerdo, the founder of the “Marcionite error.”
Chapter 11 provides an extended citation from Irenaeus on the heresies originating at Rome.
He notes that Cerdo came from the circle of Simon Magus, and that he taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of Christ. He adds: “Marcion of Pontus succeeded him and increased the school, blaspheming unblushingly.”
Eusebius says that Irenaeus exposed the “bottomless pit” of Valentinus’s errors, as well those of another man named Marcus, “most experienced in the magical arts,” who conducted a mysterious “bed-chamber” rite for his initiates.
In Rome, Hyginus was succeeded as bishop by Pius (not the emperor, of course), and Pius by Anicetus, and Anicetus by Eleutherus.
While in Alexandria, Eumenes was succeeded as bishop by Marcus (not the magician, of course), and Marcus by Celadion.
Eusebius describes the ministry of Justin Martyr whom he describes as dressed “in the garb of a philosopher” while serving as “an ambassador of the Word of God.”
Eusebius cites Justin’s description of the arch-heretic Marcion of Pontus.
Eusebius relays an interesting observation here from Justin regarding those who called themselves Christians. He says there are many who are called Christians “just as the name of philosophy is common to philosophers though their doctrines vary.”
He further notes that Justin offered an apology or defense of the faith to the emperor Antoninus Pius.
In chapter 12 Eusebius cites from that apology.
In chapter 13 he cites a supposed decree sent by the emperor to his provincial “Council of Asia.” Lake notes in a footnote that this decree is usually considered to be spurious. The decree chastens the council for their harshness in dealing with the Christians, noting their being charged as being atheists, and expressed admiration for the Christians who were willing to die for their faith. The decree also notes several providential earthquakes related to these persecutions.
Eusebius parallels changes in leadership within the Roman Empire through the succession of the emperors and changes within the churches through the succession of bishops.
He notes the rise of heresies, like that of Marcion, but also the resistance to these heresies by apologists and defenders of the faith like Justin.
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