Ante-nicene fathers

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On this stupendous fraud I quote from Dupin, as follows:—

“Among the number of Constantine’s edicts I do not place the Donation which goes under his name. Some have attributed this false monument to the author of the collection (Decretals) ascribed to Isidore, he being a notorious forger of such kind of writings; and this conjecture is more probable than some others.

“By this Donation, Constantine is supposed to give to the Bishops of Rome the sovereignty of the city, and of the provinces of the Western Empire. I note some of the reasons which clearly prove this instrument to be a forgery:—

“ (1)Not one of the ancients mentions this pretended liberality of the emperor. How could Eusebius, and all the other historians who wrote about Constantine, have passed over in silence, had it been a reality, the gift of a Western Empire to the Bishop of Rome?

“ (2)Not one of the Bishops of Rome ever refers to such a donation, though it would have been much to their advantage so to do.

“ (3)It is dated falsely, and under consuls who flourished when Constantine was unbaptized; yet his baptism is referred to in this instrument. Again, the city of Constantinople is mentioned in it, although it was called Byzantium for ten years subsequent to its date.

“ (4)Not only is the style very different from the genuine edicts of the emperor, but it is full of terms and phrases that came into use much after the time of Constantine.

“ (5)How comes it that he should have given one-half of his empire to the Bishop of Rome, including the city of Rome itself, without any one ever hearing of it for hundreds of years after?

“ (6)The falsities and absurdities of this edict demonstrate that it was composed by an ignorant impostor. Thus by it, for example, the Pope is permitted to wear a crown of gold, and a fabulous history is given of the emperor’s baptism by Sylvester: also, it contains a history of the emperor’s miraculous cure of leprosy by Sylvester, all which do plainly prove the forgery. It is certain that the city of Rome was governed by the emperor, and that the Bishops of Rome were subject to him, and obeyed him, as all his other subjects.

“All that we have said plainly shows that the edict of Donation that bears the name of Constantine is wholly supposititious; but it is not so easy to find out who was the author. However it be, this document has neither any use nor authority.”4

Memoirs of Edessa

[Translated by the Rev. B. P. Pratten, B.a.]


Introductory Notice to Memoirs of Edessa and Other Syriac Documents


The Syriac Documents here subjoined are to be regarded as interesting relics of the primitive ages, but neither wholly genuine nor in details authentic. They have been interpolated and corrupted so as to reflect, in some particulars, ideas wholly repugnant to those of Christian antiquity, and which first received currency in the period of the Iconoclastic controversy.1 Yet the pages of Eusebius bear witness to the Edessene legends as of very early origin, and it is reasonable to suppose that they rest on some inquiries made by the contemporary Abgar concerning the great Prophet who had appeared in Galilee. The visit of the Wise Men from the East, and the history of Naaman the Syrian, lend antecedent probability to the idea that such inquiries may have been made. The mission of Thaddaeus seems a historical fact; and if he found Abgar predisposed to believe, and familiar with the story of the Christ, the growth of the whole fable is sufficiently accounted for. Let me quote Wake in the Preliminary Discourse to his Apostolic Fathers. He says:2 “That both the intercourse reported by Eusebius between our Saviour and this prince (Abgarus), and the report of the picture being brought to him, have been received as a matter of unquestionable truth in those parts, the authority of Gregorius Abulpharagius3 will not suffer us to doubt.… But Gelasius4 pronounced the epistle of our Saviour to be apocryphal.… Natalis Alexander judges both it and the reply of Abgar supposititious; and Dupin, after him, yet more solidly convicts it of such manifest errors as may satisfy all considering persons that Eusebius and Ephraem were too easy of belief in this particular, and did not sufficiently examine into it.”5

But I cannot do better than refer the inquirer to Jones’ work On the Canon,6 where, even in early youth, I found the whole matter, and the story of the portrait of our Saviour, attractive reading. I owe to that work my initiation into the study of what I am now endeavouring to elucidate, in some degree, for others. I subjoin the words of Lardner,7 in concluding his candid examination of the matter, as follows: “The whole history is the fiction of some Christian at Edessa, in the time of Eusebius or not long before. The people of Edessa were then generally Christians; and they valued themselves upon it, and were willing to do themselves the honour of a very early conversion to the Christian faith. By some one of them, or more united together, this history was formed, and was so far received by Eusebius as to be thought by him not improper to be inserted in his Ecclesiastical History.”

I conclude that Eusebius was led to put some confidence in it by the antecedent probability to which I have referred, favouring the idea that some knowledge of Christ had penetrated the mind and heart of Abgar even in our Saviour’s lifetime. This idea receives some countenance from the fact recorded by St. Matthew:8 “His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases,” etc.

The remarks I have quoted from the learned will sufficiently prepare the reader for the other Syriac Documents which follow these Edessene Memoirs, as I find it convenient to call them.

Here follows the Introductory Notice by the translator:—

These Documents were selected by the late Dr. Cureton, from manuscripts acquired by the British Museum from the Nitrian Monastery in Lower Egypt, of which the first portion arrived in 1841, the second in 1843, and a third in 1847. The preparation of them for publication occupied the closing days of his life. It is to be regretted that his death occurred before he was able to write a preface: the more so because, to use the words of Dr. W. Wright, the editor of the posthumous work, “he had studied the questions connected with this volume for years and from every point of view.” In a note occurring in the preface to his Festal Letters of Athanasius,9 he says: “I have found among the Syriac the British Museum a considerable portion of the original Aramaic document which Eusebius cites as preserved in the archives of Edessa, and various passages from it quoted by several authors, with other testimonies which seem to be sufficient to establish the fact of the early conversion of the inhabitants of that city, and among them of the king himself, although his successors afterwards relapsed into paganism. These, together with accounts of the martyrdom of some of the first bishops of that city, forming a most interesting accession to our knowledge of the early propagation of Christianity in the East down to about a.d.300, I have already transcribed, and hope to publish.” “He was himself firmly persuaded,” adds Dr. Wright, “of the genuineness of the Epistles attributed to Abgar, king of Edessa, and our Lord: an opinion which he shared with such illustrious scholars as Baronius, Tillemont, Cave, R. Mountague (Bishop of Norwich), and Grabe.”

Without attempting here to decide what degree of historical value belongs to these Documents, it may be proper to observe that the several matters contained in them are so far distinct from one another that they do not necessarily stand or fall together. Such matters are: the celebrated Epistles, the conversion of King Abgar Uchomo, the visit of Thaddaeus, and the early prevalence of Christianity at Edessa. With regard to the letters said to have passed between Abgar and our Lord, it seems sufficient, without referring to the internal evidence, to remark, with Lardner and Neander, that it is inconceivable how anything written by Christ should have remained down to the time of Eusebius unknown to the rest of the world.10 The conversion of Abgar is a distinct matter of inquiry. But on this again, doubt, to say the least, is cast by the statement that Abgar Bar Manu, who reigned between the years 160 and 170 a.d., is the first king of Edessa on whose coins the usual symbols of the Baal-worship of the country are wanting, these being replaced in his case by the sign of the Cross.11 If this refers to a complete series of the coins of Edessa, the evidence afforded must be considered very strong. For although, to take a parallel instance, “we seek in vain for Christian emblems on the coinage of Constantine, the first Christian emperor,”12 this may readily be accounted for by his preference of military distinction to the humbler honours conferred by his new faith, whilst it does not appear that anti-Christian emblems are found, and on the coins of his son and successor Christian emblems do make their appearance. The other two subjects referred to do not lie under the same suspicion. There is nothing in the nature of the case to disprove the visit of Thaddaeus (or Addaeus)—nothing improbable in the fact itself, whatever judgment may be formed of the details of it presented to us here. If, however, the visit of Thaddaeus also should have to be ranked among apocryphal stories, this would not affect the remaining point—that with which we are chiefly concerned in these Documents. “It is certain,” says Neander, “that Christianity was early diffused in this country.” How early, is not so certain. But the evidence furnished by the later portions of these Documents, which there is nothing to contradict and much to confirm, proves that early in the second century Christianity had already made many converts there. The martyrdoms of Sharbil and Barsamya are said to have occurred a.d.113,13 the year in which Trojan conquered the Parthian kingdom, of which Edessa was a part; and, whilst the pagan element was plainly predominant, we find the Christians sufficiently numerous to have a bishop and presbyters and deacons. This sufficiently falls in with the proof already adduced of the conversion of even a king of Edessa about fifty years later.

To the Documents which are presumably of the ante-Nicene age, Dr. Cureton added two Metrical Homilies by Jacob of Serug, who lived in the next century. But, as they are so closely connected with the most interesting portions of the rest, the martyrdoms, and are besides of considerable merit as compositions, the decision of the editors to insert them will, it is presumed, be approved by most readers. The two supplemental portions, one from the Latin of Simeon Metaphrastes, and the other from Le Vaillant de Florival’s French translation of Moses of Chorene, have also been inserted.

The translation of the Syriac portions, although made with Dr. Cureton’s version constantly in sight, may fairly be considered as independent. The only matter in which his authority has been relied on is—in the case of proper names, the supply of the necessary vowels,—for the text is vowelless. And even to this, one exception occurs, in the Martyrdom of Barsamya, where “Evaristus” has been adopted instead of his “Erastus.” In regard to the sense, it has been frequently found necessary to differ from him, while a style somewhat freer, though, it is hoped, not less faithful, has been employed. The Metrical Homilies also have been arranged so as to present the appearance of poetry. The results of Dr. Wright’s collation of the text with the mss.have also contributed to the greater correctness of the work.

The translator desires very thankfully to acknowledge his obligations to Dr. R. Payne Smith, Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford,14 the progress of whose Thesaurus Syriacus is regarded with so much satisfaction and hope, for his kindness in furnishing much valuable information respecting matters on which the lexicons are silent.

The notes marked TR. are by the translator. The others, where the contrary is not indicated, are, at least in substance, Dr. Cureton’s: though their citation does not always imply approval.15

Relating to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa and the Neighbouring Countries.

From the History of the Church.1


The Story2 Concerning the King of Edessa.3

Now the story relating to Thaddaeus was on this wise:—

While the Godhead of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was proclaimed among all men by reason of the astonishing mighty-works which He wrought, and myriads, even from countries remote from the land of Judaea, who were afflicted with sicknesses and diseases of every kind, were coming to Him in the hope of being healed, King Abgar4 also, who was renowned among the nations on the east of the Euphrates for his valour, had his body wasting away with a grievous disease, such as there is no cure for among men. And when he heard and was informed of the name of Jesus, and about the mighty works which H e did,—for every one alike bore witness concerning Him,—he sent a letter of request by a man belonging to him,5 and besought Him to come and heal him of his disease.

But our Saviour at the time that he asked Him did not comply with his request. Yet He deigned to give him6 a letter in reply: for He promised him that He would send one of His disciples, and heal his sicknesses, and give salvation7 to him and to all who were connected with him.8 Nor did He delay to fulfil His promise to him: but after He was risen from the place of the dead, and was received into heaven, Thomas9 the apostle, one of the twelve, as by an impulse from God, sent Thaddaeus,10 who was himself also numbered among the seventy11 disciples of Christ, to Edessa, to be a preacher and proclaimer of the teaching of Christ; and the promise of Christ was through him fulfilled.

Thou hast in writing the evidence of these things, which is taken from the Book of Records12 which was at Edessa: for at that time the kingdom was still standing.13 In the documents, then, which were there, in which was contained whatever was done by those of old down to the time of Abgar, these things also are found preserved down to the present hour. There is, however, nothing to prevent our hearing the very letters themselves, which have been taken by us14 from the archives, and are in words to this effect, translated from Aramaic into Greek.

Copy of the letter which was written by King15 Abgar to Jesus, and sent to Him by the hand of Hananias,16 the Tabularius,17 to Jerusalem

“Abgar the Black,18 sovereign19 of the country, to Jesus, the good Saviour, who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem: Peace. I have heard about Thee,20 and about the healing which is wrought by Thy hands without drugs and roots. For, as it is reported, Thou makest the blind to see, and the lame to walk; and Thou cleansest the lepers, and Thou castest out unclean spirits and demons, and Thou healest those who are tormented with lingering diseases, and Thou raisest the dead. And when I heard all these things about Thee, I settled in my mind one of two things: either that Thou art God, who hast come down from heaven, and doest these things or that Thou art the Son of God, and doest these things. On this account, therefore, I have written to beg of Thee that Thou wouldest weary Thyself to come to me, and heal this disease which I have. For I have also heard that the Jews murmur against Thee, and wish to do Thee harm. But I have a city, small and beautiful, which is sufficient for two.”

Copy of those things which were written21 by Jesus by the hand of Hananias, the Tabularius, to Abgar, sovereign of the country:—

“Blessed is he that hath believed in me, not having seen me. For it is written22 concerning me, that those who see me will not believe in me, and that those will believe who have not seen me, and will be saved. But touching that which thou hast written to me, that I should come to thee—it is meet that I should finish here all that for the sake of which I have been sent and, after I have finished it, then I shall be taken up to Him that sent me; and, when I have been taken up, I will send to thee one of my disciples, that he may heal thy disease, and give salvation to thee and to those who are with thee.”

To these letters, moreover, is appended the following also in the Aramaic tongue:—

“After Jesus was ascended, Judas Thomas sent to him Thaddaeus the apostle, one of the Seventy. And, when he was come, he lodged with Tobias, son of Tobias. And, when the news about him was heard, they made it known to Abgar: “The apostle of Jesus is come hither, as He sent thee word.” Thaddaeus, moreover, began to heal every disease and sickness by the power of God, so that all men were amazed. And, when Abgar heard the great and marvellous cures which he wrought, he bethought himself that he was the person about whom Jesus had sent him word and said to him: When I have been taken up, I will send to thee one of my disciples, that he may heal thy disease. So he sent and called Tobias, with whom he was lodging, and said to him: I have heard that a mighty man has come, and has entered in and taken up his lodging in thy house: bring him up, therefore, to me. And when Tobias came to Thaddaeus he said to him: Abgar the king has sent and called me, and commanded me to bring thee up to him, that thou mayest heal him. And Thaddaeus said: I will go up, because to him have I been sent with power. Tobias therefore rose up early the next day, and took Thaddaeus, and came to Abgar.

“Now, when they were come up, his princes happened to be standing23 there. And immediately, as he was entering in, a great vision appeared to Abgar on the countenance of Thaddaeus the apostle. And, when Abgar saw Thaddaeus, he prostrated himself before him.24 And astonishment seized upon all who were standing there: for they had not themselves seen that vision, which appeared to Abgar alone. And he proceeded to ask Thaddaeus: Art thou in truth the disciple of Jesus the Son of God, who said to me, I will send to thee one of my disciples, that he may heal thee and give thee salvation? And Thaddaeus answered and said: Because thou hast mightily25 believed on Him that sent me, therefore have I been sent to thee; and again, if thou shalt believe on Him, thou shalt have the requests of thy heart. And Abgar said to him: In such wise have I believed on Him, that I have even desired to take an army and extirpate those Jews who crucified Him; were it not that I was restrained by reason of the dominion of the Romans.26 And Thaddaeus said: Our Lord has fulfilled the will of His Father; and, having fulfilled it, has been taken up to His Father. Abgar said to him: I too have believed in Him and in His Father. And27 Thaddaeus said: Therefore do I lay my hand upon thee in His name. And when he had done this, immediately he was healed of his sickness and of the disease which he had. And Abgar marvelled, because, like as he had heard concerning Jesus, so he saw in deeds by the hand of Thaddaeus His disciple: since without drugs and roots he healed him; and not him only, but also Abdu,28 son of Abdu, who had the gout: for he too went in, and fell at his feet,29 and when he prayed over him he was healed. And many other people of their city did he heal, and he did great works, and preached the word of God.

“After these things Abgar said to him: Thou, Thaddaeus, doest these things by the power of God; we also marvel at them. But in addition to all these things I beg of thee to relate to me the story about the coming of Christ, and in what manner it was; and about His power, and by what power He wrought those things of which I have heard.

“And Thaddaeus said: For the present I will be silent;30 but, because I have been sent to preach the word of God, assemble me tomorrow all the people of thy city, and I will preach before them, and sow amongst them the word of life; and will tell them about the coming of Christ, how it took place; and about His mission31 for what purpose he was sent by His Father; and about His power and His deeds, and about the mysteries which He spake in the world, and by what power He wrought these things, and about His new preaching,32 and about His abasement and His humiliation, and how He humbled and emptied and abased Himself, and was crucified, and descended to Hades,33 and broke through the enclosure34 which had never been broken through before, and raised up the dead, and descended alone, and ascended with a great multitude to His Father.35

“Abgar, therefore, commanded that in the morning all the people of his city should assemble, and hear the preaching of Thaddaeus. And afterwards he commanded gold and silver to be given to him; but he received it not, and said: If we have forsaken that which was our own, how shall we accept that of others? ”

These things were done in the year 340.36

In order, moreover, that these things may not have been translated to no purpose word for word from the Aramaic into Greek, they are placed in their order of time here.

Here endeth the first book.

A Canticle of Mar1 Jacob the Teacher on Edessa.2


Edessa sent to Christ by an epistle to come to her and enlighten her. On behalf of all the peoples did she make intercession to Him that He would leave Zion, which hated Him, and come to the peoples, who loved Him.

She despatched a messenger to Him, and begged of Him to enter into friendship with her. By the righteous king she made intercession to Him, that He would depart from the Jewish people, and towards the other peoples direct His burden.

From among all kings one wise king did the daughter of the peoples find. Ambassador she made him. To her Lord she sent by him: Come Thou unto me; I will forget in Thee all idols and carved images.

The harlot heard the report of Him from afar, as she was standing in the street, going astray with idols, playing the wench with carved images. She loved, she much desired Him, when He was far away, and begged Him to admit her into His chamber.

Let the much-desired Bridegroom kiss me: with the kisses of His mouth let me be blessed. I have heard of Him from afar: may I see Him near; and may I place my lips upon His, and be delighted by seeing Him with mine eyes.

Thy breasts are better to me than wine: for the fragrance of Thy sweetness is life for evermore. With Thy milk shall I be nourished; with Thy fragrance shall I grow sweet from the smoke of idols, which with its rank odour did make me fetid.

Draw me after Thee into Thy fold: for I am a sheep gone astray in the world. After Thee do I run, and Thy converse do I seek: that in me may be completed that number of a hundred, by means of a lost one which is found.3

Let Gabriel rejoice and be exceeding glad, with the company of all the angels, in Thee, the Good Shepherd, who on Thy shoulders didst carry the maimed sheep, that that number of a hundred might be preserved.

Thy love is better than wine; than the face of the upright Thy affection. By wine let us be reminded of Thee, how by the cup of Thy blood Thou didst grant us to obtain new life, and the upright did celebrate Thy love.

A church am I from among the peoples, and I have loved the Only-begotten who was sent by God: whereas His betrothed hated Him, I have loved Him; and by the hands of Abgar the Black4 do I beseech Him to come to me and visit me.

Black am I, yet comely. Ye daughters of Zion, blameless is your envy, seeing that the Son of the Glorious One hath espoused me, to bring me into His chamber. Even when I was hateful, He loved me, for He is able to make me fairer than water.

Black was I in sins, but I am comely: for I have repented and turned me. I have put away in baptism that hateful hue, for He hath washed me in His innocent blood who is the Saviour of all creatures.

Here end the Extracts from the Canticle on Edessa.5

Extracts from Various Books Concerning Abgar the King and Addaeus the Apostle.



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