Ante-nicene fathers

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As it is inherent in all bodies formed by God to have a shadow, so it is fitting that God, who is just, should render to those who choose what is good, and to those who prefer what is evil, to every one according to his deserts.—From the writings of John of Damascus.


He speaks not of the Gentiles in foreign lands, but concerning [the people] who agree with the Gentiles, according to that which is spoken by Jeremiah: “It is a bitter thing for thee, that thou hast forsaken me, saith the Lord thy God, that of old thou hast broken thy yoke, and torn asunder thy bands, and said, I will not serve Thee, but will go to every high hill, and underneath every tree, and there shall I become dissolute in my fornication.”5From manuscript of the writings of Justin.


Neither shall light ever be darkness as long as light exists, nor shall the truth of the things pertaining to us be controverted. For truth is that than which nothing is more powerful. Every one who might speak the truth, and speaks it not, shall be judged by God.—Manuscript and works of John of Damascus.


And the fact that it was not said of the seventh day equally with the other days, “And there was evening, and there was morning,” is a distinct indication of the consummation which is to take place in it before it is finished, as the fathers declare, especially St. Clement, and Irenaeus, and Justin the martyr and philosopher, who, commenting with exceeding wisdom on the number six of the sixth day, affirms that the intelligent soul of man and his five susceptible senses were the six works of the sixth day. Whence also, having discoursed at length on the number six, he declares that all things which have been framed by God are divided into six classes,—viz., into things intelligent and immortal, such as are the angels; into things reasonable and mortal, such as mankind; into things sensitive and irrational, such as cattle, and birds, and fishes; into things that can advance, and move, and are insensible, such as the winds, and the clouds, and the waters, and the stars; into things which increase and are immoveable, such as the trees; and into things which are insensible and immoveable, such as the mountains, the earth, and such like. For all the creatures of God, in heaven and on earth, fall under one or other of these divisions, and are circumscribed by them.—From the writings of Anastasius.


Sound doctrine does not enter into the hard and disobedient heart; but, as if beaten back, enters anew into itself.


As the good of the body is health, so the good of the soul is knowledge, which is indeed a kind of health of soul, by which a likeness to God is attained.—From the writings of John of Damascus.


To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty.

The greatest of all good is to be free from sin, the next is to be justified; but he must be reckoned the most unfortunate of men, who, while living unrighteously, remains for a long time unpunished.

Animals in harness cannot but be carried over a precipice by the inexperience and badness of their driver, even as by his skilfulness and excellence they will be saved.

The end contemplated by a philosopher is likeness to God, so far as that is possible.—From the writings of Antonius Melissa.


[The words] of St. Justin, philosopher and martyr, from the fifth part of his Apology: 6 —I reckon prosperity, O men, to consist in nothing else than in living according to truth. But we do not live properly, or according to truth, unless we understand the nature of things.

It escapes them apparently, that he who has by a true faith come forth from error to the truth, has truly known himself, not, as they say, as being in a state of frenzy, but as free from the unstable and (as to every variety of error) changeable corruption, by the simple and ever identical truth.—From the writings of John of Damascus.

Introductory Note to the Martyrdom of Justin Martyr.


Crescens, a cynic, has the ill-renown of stirring up the persecution in which Justin and his friends suffered for Christ. The story that he died by the hemlock seems to have originated among the Greeks, who naturally gave this turn to the sufferings of a philosopher.The following Introductory Notice of the translator supplies all that need be added.

Though nothing is known as to the date or authorship of the following narrative, it is generally reckoned among the most trustworthy of the Martyria. An absurd addition was in some copies made to it, to the effect that Justin died by means of hemlock. Some have thought it necessary, on account of this story, to conceive of two Justins, one of whom, the celebrated defender of the Christian faith whose writings are given in this volume, died through poison, while the other suffered in the way here described, along with several of his friends. But the description of Justin given in the following account, is evidently such as compels us to refer it to the famous apologist and martyr of the second century.7

The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs

Justin, Chariton, Charites, Paeon, and Liberianus, Who Suffered at Rome.

[Translated by the Rev. M. Dods, M.a.]


Chapter I.—Examination of Justin by the Prefect.

In the time of the lawless partisans of idolatry, wicked decrees were passed against the godly Christians in town and country, to force them to offer libations to vain idols; and accordingly the holy men, having been apprehended, were brought before the prefect of Rome, Rusticus by name. And when they had been brought before his judgment-seat, said to Justin, “Obey the gods at once, and submit to the kings.”1 Justin said, “To obey the commandments of our Saviour Jesus Christ is worthy neither of blame nor of condemnation.” Rusticus the prefect said, “What kind of doctrines do you profess? ”Justin said, “I have endeavoured to learn all doctrines; but I have acquiesced at last in the true doctrines, those namely of the Christians, even though they do not please those who hold false opinions.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Are those the doctrines that please you, you utterly wretched man? ”Justin said, “Yes, since I adhere to them with right dogma.”2 Rusticus the prefect said, “What is the dogma? ”Justin said, “That according to which we worship the God of the Christians, whom we reckon to be one from the beginning, the maker and fashioner of the whole creation, visible and invisible; and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had also been preached beforehand by the prophets as about to be present with the race of men, the herald of salvation and teacher of good disciples. And I, being a man, think that what I can say is insignificant in comparison with His boundless divinity, acknowledging a Certain prophetic power,3 since it was prophesied concerning Him of whom now I say that He is the Son of God. For I know that of old the prophets foretold His appearance among men.”

Chapter II.—Examination of Justin Continued.

Rusticus the prefect said, “Where do you assemble? ”Justin said, “Where each one chooses and can: for do you fancy that we all meet in the very same place? Not so; because the God of the Christians is not circumscribed by place; but being invisible, fills heaven and earth, and everywhere is worshipped and glorified by the faithful.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers? ”Justin said, “I live above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his. And if any one wished to come to me, I communicated to him the doctrines of truth.” Rusticus said, “Are you not, then, a Christian? ”Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.”

Chapter III.—Examination of Chariton and Others.

Then said the prefect Rusticus to Chariton, “Tell me further, Chariton, are you also a Christian? ”Chariton said, “I am a Christian by the command of God.” Rusticus the prefect asked the woman Charito, “What say you, Charito? ”Charito said, “I am a Christian by the grace of God.” Rusticus said to Euelpistus, “And what are you? ”Euelpistus, a servant of Caesar, answered, “I too am a Christian, having been freed by Christ; and by the grace of Christ I partake of the same hope.” Rusticus the prefect said to Hierax, “And you, are you a Christian? ”Hierax said, “Yes, I am a Christian, for I revere and worship the same God.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Did Justin make you Christians? ”Hierax said, “I was a Christian, and will be a Christian.” And Paeon stood up and said, “I too am a Christian.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Who taught you? ”Paeon said, “From our parents we received this good confession.” Euelpistus said, “I willingly heard the words of Justin. But from my parents also I learned to be a Christian.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Where are your parents? ”Euelpistus said, “In Cappadocia.” Rusticus says to Hierax, “Where are your parents? ”And he answered, and said, “Christ is our true father, and faith in Him is our mother; and my earthly parents died; and I, when I was driven from Iconium in Phrygia, came here.” Rusticus the prefect said to Liberianus, “And what say you? Are you a Christian, and unwilling to worship [the gods]? ”Liberianus said, “I too am a Christian, for I worship and reverence the only true God.”

Chapter IV.—Rusticus Threatens the Christians with Death.

The prefect says to Justin, “Hearken, you who are called learned, and think that you know true doctrines; if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe you will ascend into heaven? ”Justin said, “I hope that, if I endure these things, I shall have His gifts.4 For I know that, to all who have thus lived, there abides the divine favour until the completion of the whole world.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense? ”Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Let us, then, now come to the matter in hand, and which presses. Having come together, offer sacrifice with one accord to the gods.” Justin said, “No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Unless ye obey, ye shall be mercilessly punished.” Justin said, “Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished,5 because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Saviour.” Thus also said the other martyrs: “Do what you will, for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols.”

Chapter V.—Sentence Pronounced and Executed.

Rusticus the prefect pronounced sentence, saying, “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged,6 and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws.” The holy martyrs having glorified God, and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Saviour. And some of the faithful having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.


Introductory Note to Irenaeus Against Heresies.


[a.d. 120–202.] This history introduces us to the Church in her western outposts. We reach the banks of the Rhone, where for nearly a century Christian missions have flourished. Between Marseilles and Smyrna there seems to have been a brisk trade, and Polycarp had sent Pothinus into Celtic Gaul at an early date as its evangelist. He had fixed his see at Lyons, when Irenaeus joined him as a presbyter, having been his fellow-pupil under Polycarp. There, under the “good Aurelius,” as he is miscalled (a.d. 177), arose the terrible persecution which made “the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne” so memorable. It was during this persecution that Irenaeus was sent to Rome with letters of remonstrance against the rising pestilence of heresy; and he was probably the author of the account of the sufferings of the martyrs which is appended to their testimony.1 But he had the mortification of finding the Montanist heresy patronized by Eleutherus the Bishop of Rome; and there he met an old friend from the school of Polycarp, who had embraced the Valentinian heresy. We cannot doubt that to this visit we owe the lifelong struggle of Irenaeus against the heresies that now came in, like locusts, to devour the harvests of the Gospel. But let it be noted here, that, so far from being “the mother and mistress” of even the Western Churches, Rome herself is a mission of the Greeks;2 Southern Gaul is evangelized from Asia Minor, and Lyons checks the heretical tendencies of the Bishop at Rome. Ante-Nicene Christianity, and indeed the Church herself, appears in Greek costume which lasts through the synodical period; and Latin Christianity, when it begins to appear, is African, and not Roman. It is strange that those who have recorded this great historical fact have so little perceived its bearings upon Roman pretensions in the Middle Ages and modern times.

Returning to Lyons, our author found that the venerable Pothinus had closed his holy career by a martyr’s death; and naturally Irenaeus became his successor. When the emissaries of heresy followed him, and began to disseminate their licentious practices and-foolish doctrines by the aid of “silly women,” the great work of his life began. He condescended to study these diseases of the human mind like a wise physician; and, sickening as was the process of classifying and describing them, he made this also his laborious task, that he might enable others to withstand and to overcome them. The works he has left us are monuments of his fidelity to Christ, and to the charges of St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. Jude, whose solemn warnings now proved to be prophecies. No marvel that the great apostle, “night and day with tears,” had forewarned the churches of “the grievous wolves” which were to make havoc of the fold.

If it shocks the young student of the virgin years of Christianity to find such a state of things, let him reflect that it was all foretold by Christ himself, and demonstrates the malice and power of the adversary. “An enemy hath done this,” said the Master. The spirit that was then working “in the children of disobedience,” now manifested itself. The awful visions of the Apocalypse began to be realized. It was now evident in what sense “the Prince of peace” had pronounced His mission, “not peace, but a sword.” In short, it became a conspicuous fact, that the Church here on earth is “militant; ”while, at the same time, there was seen to be a profound philosophy in the apostolic comment,3 “There must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest.” In the divine economy of Providence it was permitted that every form of heresy which was ever to infest the Church should now exhibit its essential principle, and attract the censures of the faithful. Thus testimony to primitive truth was secured and recorded: the language of catholic orthodoxy was developed and defined, and landmarks of faith were set up for perpetual memorial to all generations. It is a striking example of this divine economy, that the see of Rome was allowed to exhibit its fallibility very conspicuously at this time, and not only to receive the rebukes of Irenaeus, but to accept them as wholesome and necessary; so that the heresy of Eleutherus, and the spirit of Diotrephes in Victor, have enabled reformers ever since, and even in the darkest days of pontifical despotism, to testify against the manifold errors patronized by Rome. Hilary and other Gallicans have been strengthened by the example of Irenaeus, and by his faithful words of reproof and exhortation, to resist Rome, even down to our own times.

That the intolerable absurdities of Gnosticism should have gained so many disciples, and proved itself an adversary to be grappled with and not despised, throws light on the condition of the human mind under heathenism, even when it professed “knowledge” and “philosophy.” The task of Irenaeus was twofold: ( 1 ) to render it impossible for any one to confound Gnosticism with Christianity, and (2) to make it impossible for such a monstrous system to survive, or ever to rise again. His task was a nauseous one; but never was the spirit enjoined by Scripture more patiently exhibited, nor with more entire success.4 If Julian had found Gnosticism just made to his hand, and powerful enough to suit his purposes, the whole history of his attempt to revive Paganism would have been widely different. Irenaeus demonstrated its essential unity with the old mythology, and with heathen systems of philosophy. If the fog and malaria that rose with the Day-star, and obscured it, were speedily dispersed, our author is largely to be identified with the radiance which flowed from the Sun of righteousness, and with the breath of the Spirit that banished them for ever.

The Episcopate of Irenaeus was distinguished by labours, “in season and out of season,” for the evangelization of Southern Gaul; and he seems to have sent missionaries into other regions of what we now call France. In spite of Paganism and heresy, he rendered Lyons a Christian city; and Marcus seems to have retreated before his terrible castigation, taking himself off to regions beyond the Pyrenees. But the pacific name he bears, was rendered yet more illustrious by his interposition to compose the Easter Controversy, then threatening to impair, if not to destroy, the unity of the Church. The beautiful concordat between East and West, in which Polycarp and Anicetus had left the question, was now disturbed by Victor, Bishop of Rome, whose turbulent spirit would not accept the compromise of his predecessor. Irenaeus remonstrates with him in a catholic spirit, and overrules his impetuous temper. At the Council of Nice, the rule for the observance of Easter was finally settled by the whole Church; and the forbearing example of Irenaeus, no doubt contributed greatly to this happy result. The blessed peacemaker survived this great triumph, for a short time only, closing his life, like a true shepherd, with thousands of his flock, in the massacre (a.d. 202) stimulated by the wolfish Emperor Severus.

The Introductory Notice of the learned translators is as follows:—

The work of Irenaeus Against Heresies is one of the most precious remains of early Christian antiquity. It is devoted, on the one hand, to an account and refutation of those multiform Gnostic heresies which prevailed in the latter half of the second century; and, on the other hand, to an exposition and defence of the Catholic faith.

In the prosecution of this plan, the author divides his work into five books. The first of these contains a minute description of the tenets of the various heretical sects, with occasional brief remarks in illustration of their absurdity, and in confirmation of the truth to which they were opposed. In his second book, Irenaeus proceeds to a more complete demolition of those heresies which he has already explained, and argues at great length against them, on grounds principally of reason. The three remaining books set forth more directly the true doctrines of revelation, as being in utter antagonism to the views held by the Gnostic teachers. In the course of this argument, many passages of Scripture are quoted and commented on; many interesting statements are made, bearing on the rule of faith; and much important light is shed on the doctrines, held, as well as the practices observed, by the Church of the second century.

It may be made matter of regret, that so large a portion of the work of Irenaeus is given to an exposition of the manifold Gnostic speculations. Nothing more absurd than these has probably ever been imagined by rational beings. Some ingenious and learned men have indeed endeavoured to reconcile the wild theories of these heretics with the principles of reason; but, as Bishop Kaye remarks (Eccl. Hist. of the Second and Third Centuries, p. 524), “a more arduous or unpromising undertaking cannot well be conceived.” The fundamental object of the Gnostic speculations was doubtless to solve the two grand problems of all religious philosophy, viz., How to account for the existence of evil; and, How to reconcile the finite with the infinite. But these ancient theorists were not more successful in grappling with such questions than have been their successors in modern times. And by giving loose reins to their imagination, they built up the most incongruous and ridiculous systems; while, by deserting the guidance of Scripture they were betrayed into the most pernicious and extravagant errors.

Accordingly, the patience of the reader is sorely tried, in following our author through those mazes of absurdity which he treads, in explaining and refuting these Gnostic speculations. This is especially felt in the perusal of the first two books, which, as has been said, are principally devoted to an exposition and subversion of the various heretical systems. But the vagaries of the human mind, however melancholy in themselves, are never altogether destitute of instruction. And in dealing with those set before us in this work, we have not only the satisfaction of becoming acquainted with the currents of thought prevalent in these early times, but we obtain much valuable information regarding the primitive Church, which, had it not been for these heretical schemes, might never have reached our day.

Not a little of what is contained in the following pages will seem almost unintelligible to the English reader. And it is scarcely more comprehensible to those who have pondered long on the original. We have inserted brief notes of explanation where these seemed specially necessary. But we have not thought it worth while to devote a great deal of space to the elucidation of those obscure Gnostic views which, in so many varying forms, are set forth in this work. For the same reason, we give here no account of the origin, history, and successive phases of Gnosticism. Those who wish to know the views of the learned on these points, may consult the writings of Neander, Baur, and others, among the Germans, or the lectures of Dr. Burton in English; while a succinct description of the whole matter will be found in the “Preliminary Observations on the Gnostic System,” prefixed to Harvey’s edition of Irenaeus.

The great work of Irenaeus, now for the first time translated into English, is unfortunately no longer extant in the original. It has come down to us only in an ancient Latin version, with the exception of the greater part of the first book, which has been preserved in the original Greek, through means of copious quotations made by Hippolytus and Epiphanius. The text, both Latin and Greek, is often most uncertain. Only three mss. of the work Against Heresies are at present known to exist. Others, however, were used in the earliest printed editions put forth by Erasmus. And as these codices were more ancient than any now available, it is greatly to be regretted that they have disappeared or perished. One of our difficulties throughout, has been to fix the readings we should adopt, especially in the first book. Varieties of reading, actual or conjectural, have been noted only when some point of special importance seemed to be involved.

After the text has been settled, according to the best judgment which can be formed, the work of translation remains; and that is, in this case, a matter of no small difficulty. Irenaeus, even in the original Greek, is often a very obscure writer. At times he expresses himself with remarkable clearness and terseness; but, upon the whole, his style is very involved and prolix. And the Latin version adds to these difficulties of the original, by being itself of the most barbarous character. In fact, it is often necessary to make a conjectural re-translation of it into Greek, in order to obtain some inkling of what the author wrote. Dodwell supposes this Latin version to have been made about the end of the fourth century; but as Tertullian seems to have used it, we must rather place it in the beginning of the third. Its author is unknown, but he was certainly little qualified for his task. We have endeavoured to give as close and accurate a translation of the work as possible, but there are not a few passages in which a guess can only be made as to the probable meaning.

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