Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, IX

Continuing our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

Hegesippus

We are still between 117 and 166 AD, when we come to the close of the above author’s tour of duty. I would like to see this man’s writings in more detail, and will have to search for them. Again, he seems much closer to the original faith than Eusebius. He remarks in one of his five books that all the bishops of his time (closer to 117) taught the prevailing doctrine that agreed not with the apostolic epistles, but “the law and the prophets and the Lord.” He goes on to say the beginning of heresies came after Ya’akov the just (Yeshua’s brother and leader of the congregation of Yerushalayim/Jerusalem) was martyred.

Hegesippus goes on to mention seven heritical sects that followed Ya’akov’s death—the Ebionites are not one of them. Interesting, no? Considering the Ebionites claimed Ya’akov as their leader in their writings. Eusebius makes no mention of this…again, coincidence?

Also, Hegesippus used the Gospel of the Hebrews from the Syriac (Aramaic) “particularly from the Hebrew language…”, implying perhaps a Hebrew dialect of the Aramaic or perhaps that the Aramaic came from actual Hebrew? Showing that Hegesippus was himself a Hebrew “convert”. He also thought it useful to record some of the unwritten traditions of the Jews (ie, what would become the Mishnah). So when a thus Hebraic minded person, who studies from a Gospel that was lost to neglect or persecution says that the bishops’ doctrine was right, it seems possible that his version of right may not have been Eusebius’.

It’s important when we read this history, I think, when we read “Christian” or any related word, not to misinterpret that as being an encapsulation of what we modernly think of as Christian. As yet, in the first 166 years, there has been no mention of many of the ‘mainstays’ of modern Christian thought; salvation being sol fide, the Trinity, the perpetual virginity of Miryam (Mary), or even a clear denunciation of Torah as being applicable, except perhaps by Eusebius himself opining on things that happened a hundred years before his time.

“Old Testament”

Sometime, not long before 166, a writer named Melito appears to be the first person in Eusebius’ work that refers to the Hebrew scriptures as “old testament”. Melito was the bishop of Sardis. Sardis, I might point out was not a stellar church in the book of Revelation.

Heresy of Tatianus

Sounds like Godzilla villain. “Look out, it’s Tatianus!” But he was apparently terrifying, being a successor to Saturninus and Marcion, he followed a group called the Encratites, and taught abstinence from marriage and meat! And also it seemed important for them to deny Adam and Eve salvation…

Weird that abstinence from marriage was heresy, since later it will be praised to the point of almost being mandated by the Nicean council, at least for ‘clergy’. That’s right, you’re life of ministry isn’t hard enough, now you have to fly solo! And without meat! But just as weird is this fixation on Adam and Eve, and the fact that they are an issue to Melito and others. I’m really just curious: how does an opinion about the salvation of the first two humans rise to the level of heresy?

Book 5

This book begins to the west, toward the Gauls, where persecution was taking place, around 177 AD. Much of this book and later are dedicated to the persecutions and martyrs. A few to mark include Vettius Epagathus who is marked as like the Cohen Zacharias (father of Yochanon the Immerser/John the Baptist) as one that was blameless in the Torah. Why make this comparison, if the man did not keep Torah like the ancient Cohen?

Also, a woman martyr, Biblias, who under torture renounced the faith, however, while the torture continued repented and professed again her faith. In this particular case, her tormentors were trying to get her to admit that ‘Christians’ drank the blood of children (interesting, isn’t it that I believe this is a slander made against the Jews from time to time). In her denial, she asks how could believers eat child blood, when even tasting animal blood was unlawful? Now, some will point out that this is a commandment given by the council of Yerushalayim under Ya’akov and Kefa, however even then it’s heritage is in Torah. So some command regarding ceremony and diet has survived as applicable.

Intercession

In addition Biblias, others renounced under torture, but some repented after the fact. And while some in the church did not accept them, others did. That would be a difficult situation for sure, apostasy certainly should be treated very seriously. However, those that did receive them again did so with much intercession for their souls.

This sounds very catholic to me, but if you read carefully you’ll find cases where Avraham and Iyov interceded to have sins forgiven. I think those of a protestant background have incorrectly inherited the belief that we cannot pray directly for the forgiveness of a person. Yeshua is known to have forgiven sins and specifically did miracles to demonstrate that such power was “given to men”, not to Him alone. Thus, I think it’s reasonable to believe that God’s people can ‘forgive sin.’

The way that works though, depends on your understanding of prayer. If prayer is asking Elohim for things and him granting it like a genie, then one would think Elohim’s people could simply ask for chronic forgiveness on all people and solve the world’s sin problem. On the other hand, if all forgiveness requires repentance, then a prayer for forgiveness is really a prayer for repentance. How then can someone say that someone’s sins are in fact forgiven, as Yeshua and many prophets did? Well, if praying is really a conversation where we get our minds attuned to Elohim’s then in the context of such communion, a person could ‘pray’ (get in step with Elohim) and know through the spirit that such a prayer had in fact been effectual, and that the sin had been forgiven. The error is in thinking that in merely voicing words that the deed is done; true prayer requires us to get in line with the Father, thus our expression of forgiveness would be the Father’s through us.

Marcus Aurelius Needs Rain

Another Gladiator tie-in. Marcus Aurelius was fighting against the Germans and Sarmatians, and his army ran out of water, so the fulminea (thundering legion) a Christian legion prayed for rain, and it rained, and not only that but lightning drove the enemy back. This is legend of course, but that’s what is reported.

An interesting aside is that they note the legion prayed “bending their knees upon the earth while drawn up in battle array against the enemy, according to our peculiar custom of praying.” Not too long ago, it was pointed out to me that Yeshua said, “When you pray standing . . . ” This was pointed to as referring to the Amidah (standing prayer) / Shmoneh Esrei (the 18 benedictions). That was interesting to me because I wondered how we got from normally praying standing to kneeling or sitting as is often done in churches today?

While I don’t believe Yeshua’s words prohibit different postures—he was known to use others, Mark 14:35. It does seem that was a moment of greater desperation. Admittedly, so was the legion’s occasion. However, Eusebius seems to indicate this was the new normal.

As an aside, praying while sitting isn’t mentioned anywhere. Of course, you can pray that way (I do), but the reason Jews pray standing (as a norm) is because a servant stands in the presence of his master. The more I’ve thought about that, the more unnatural it has seemed to me, to pray or worship sitting on my butt. Of course, taken to the extreme, shouldn’t we always be standing? A servant doesn’t sleep in front of his master, so should we never sleep? He is our Father, not just the Master . . .

The Fading of Miracles

I hope to write a blog soon about the idea of healing on demand, the teaching that any believer at any time can speak healing and expect that it will happen “on demand”. But I note that Irenaeus (around 170), who is said to have been a “hearer” of Polycarp (who was said to be a disciple of Yochanon), says as if its common knowledge that miracles of healing had disappeared (in large part), as well as gifts of tongues. They remained in “some churches” and with those who were worthy “until” times earlier in Irenaeus’ life. In other words, by in large part miracles had faded from the church as a whole well before Irenaeus wrote it in the mid-second century.

I’ll say more in a blog, but I don’t think miracles are ‘on demand’, but I do believe they remain always possible. But anyway you look at it, you have to ask why miracles were common at one point and uncommon at another.

When I was young, I was told it essentially stopped with the Apostles, along with tongues and prophecy.

I’ve since doubted that, but I have made some biblical observations. The first is: how many miracles can you recall were conducted by someone not keeping Torah? You might count some ‘lying signs’ that occur, but they are usually not helpful. Though the anti-christ’s head wound might be an example. Balaam could be a prophetic example. Yet, the regular conductors of miracles are the righteous, who keep Torah. As the church divested itself of Torah, it makes perfect sense that miracles would vanish. The fact that the Shellachim were Torah observant only bolsters this case. After all, the prayer of a righteous person is effective, not a lawless person.

I’ve also wondered if it has something to do with God’s special blessing on the sons of Ya’akov. How many great miracles were worked by gentiles? Of course, that’s a bit unfair as the Bible generally covers only the lives of Elohim’s people, but if miracles were common everywhere and with every people, then why were people so amazed at the ones that came out of Israel? The Syrian commander didn’t go to anywhere but a Hebrew prophet and bathe in a Israeli stream to be cleansed of leprosy. Just something to think about.

In either case, as the church moved away from Yerushalayim (geographically and theologically), we see heresies pop up, the Kingdom focus on Israel neglected, and miracles vanish…coincidence?

To be continued . . .

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