Friday, November 15, 2019

Eusebius, EH.5.2-3: The Piety of the Martyrs

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 5, chapters 2-3. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters continue to discuss the piety and faithfulness of the early Christian martyrs.

In chapter 2 it is noted that the martyrs, out of humility, refused the title of being called martyrs but instead pointed to Christ himself as “the faithful and true martyr (witness).”

A form of the term “confessors” is also used to describe those who suffered for the faith.

The confessors and martyrs are also compared to Stephen, “the perfect martyr,” from Acts 7,  in that, like Stephen they prayed for the very persons who tortured them and put them to death.

It is noted that the martyrs loved peace but were treated brutally.

Chapter 3 begins with an anecdote about a certain Alcibiades who was fasting even in jail, taking only bread and water, but who was exhorted by Attalus not to deny the goodness of creation (a form or ascetic Gnosticism?), so that he began to eat normally with thanksgiving to God.

From there it mentions the spread of the teaching of those of “the party of Montanus and Alicibiades [the aforementioned ascetic prisoner?] and Theodotus in Phyrgia” who claimed to be prophets, and how the Christian of Gaul helped by letters from the imprisoned martyrs were able to make a “pious and orthodox” judgement on the Montanists, thus even while in prison the martyrs served as ambassadors, keeping “the peace of the churches.”


These chapters continue to praise the early martyrs, but they also indicate the diversity of Christians during these times and the distinctions that were bring drawn between the orthodox and the heterodox, both of whom were being imprisoned and persecuted.


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