Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, VIII

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

Book IV

About 129 AD, we find that the bishops of Jerusalem have all been Jews until recently. Eusebius almost remarks in passing that he hasn’t bothered to cover the bishops of Jerusalem until now, and then just rattles off their names with little detail. That’s right, the city of the great king—as Yeshua put it—gets little mention, but Antioch, Rome, those places are important. Especially interesting because he says that succession from Ya’akov (James) on, received the word “pure and unadulterated”, which means that Ya’akov’s flock of thousands zealous of the Torah was a reflection of pure and unadulterated. Further, he mentions not just that the first fifteen were Jews but that they were “all of the circumcision”. One might say that circumcision is a euphemism for Jews, but why use it if they had in fact, discontinued circumcision?

I can’t help concluding that Eusebius has turned a blind eye to Jerusalem, overlooking the renegade Jewishness and Torah observance, passing over it with barely four paragraphs. In fact, he says “we have not ascertained in any way the times of the bishops in Jerusalem have been regularly recorded…” interesting that what should have been an important place considering the council that happened there and that Paul deferred to there to certify his doctrine, but no one bothered to keep records of what was going on there? Call me skeptical. . .

Heresies continue!

I won’t over detail these, except for highlights. Two heretics are especially noted, Saturninus and Basilides. I note firstly that these heresies began outside Jerusalem, in gentile cities. That is not to smear gentiles or gentile leadership, but I do think it’s more than coincidence that heresies spring up away from the bedrock of Torah instruction and, yes, Jewish grounded understanding.

These heresies aren’t well described (Eusebius rarely describes heresy in detail), but they appear to include made up prophets (who were detected as such) and to consider eating of things offered to idols as unimportant. This eating part is interesting, since some consider Paul to be only a step away from indifferent, saying that except if someone sees you, it’s not a big deal. I’m not saying Paul said that, but some believe that interpretation and yet the early Christian tradition was that it did matter. And that is a very Torah centered objection, because if ceremonial law and ritual is annulled, why should it matter if you ate, so long as you simply make some profession of faith against it? Why should meat be treated as tainted?

The Converting Power of Affliction Endured

An account is made by Hegesippus about a man named Justin who loved platonic philosophy, and had heard many bad things about Christians as being lovers of pleasures and inordinate affections, but found himself moved against these slanders by the way  Christians were cheerful at martyrdom. He reasoned, how could it be that those who are spoken of as pursuing pleasure sure give up that love of pleasure to face their own gruesome deaths?

That strikes me as very interesting. It almost seems that by being a time and place where believers are not noticeably persecuted, that we are deprived of the true power of a witness under affliction? We should for ourselves therefore, almost seek affliction so that we can show the power of God in overcoming it.

Heresiarchs (Arch Heretics)

Here we go again! Eusebius via Irenaeus, tells of Valentine, Cerdon, Marcion, Marcus, and others who flourished in Rome (again, not Jerusalem) and came up with all sorts of mysteries (that have strange resemblance to occult practices and fertility rites), pagan practices that were anti-Torah, which the heretics attempted to merge with the faith.

Interesting that some of those of the Valentineian heresy practiced fertility rites, and then much later Saint Valentine has a day named after him, the timing of which is possibly related to (or so I’ve read elsewhere) Roman practices around fornication and subsequent herbal abortions. The strange way that pagan practices creep into the ‘catholic church’ over time, should not be surprising when the ‘leaders’ at other times adopted idol statutes for greek goddesses and renamed them as Mary. Or that pagan temples could be retrofitted to be churches. I mention this not to be bashing anyone, but reading the history you find that as Torah and Hebraic thought is removed from ‘the faith’ it leaves a vacuum, and even though obviously pagan practices are rejected in the early centuries, later they seem to be accepted.

Also interesting that one of the most famous heretics, Marcion, augmented the heretical school of Cerdon that taught the Father was not the God of the Law and Prophets. That essentially, that the God of Israel was a unknown God of justice, but the Father of Yeshua was revealed (presumably by the person of Yeshua) and was good (rather than just). Sound much like that “God in the old testament was about law, but after Jesus, came the age of grace”. Sound similar?

The All-Wise Marcus Aurelius

For fans of the movie, Gladiator, there’s a ‘fun’ tie-in. According to Irenaeus, Justin (a Christian philosopher of Irenaeus’ time), wrote a defense against the heretics to Marcus Aurelius (the good emperor in Gladiator slain by his son Comedus). Apparently, Aurelius was actually a good emperor or tried to be. He issued orders that Christians should not be prosecuted for the crime of merely being Christian.

Also of note, the emperors had many titles. In fact, the further down the line of succession, the more titles the emperors seem to accrue. Apparently, they had actual meanings, for example “Augustus” was a title bestowed by the armies, showing their reverence for an emperor. Some emperors were actually denied the title of Augustus by the armies. Anyway, one of the titles of Aurelius was pontifex maximus. Which in my limited latin understanding means “great father”, this is also the title now employed by the Pope (Pope means father by the way).

I’m not of the opinion that when Yeshua said not to call a man father, that he meant that as a blanket statement. After all, how can you “honor mother and father”, if you refuse to even call the man father? However, I do find it interesting that the head bishop of the ‘catholic’ church calls himself by the same title that a pagan emperor did, in seeming contradiction to what Yeshua himself said.

Polycarp

Polycarp is one of the few of the ancient followers that I have known about for sometime, by being referenced in other works. My understanding was that he was a Torah keeping believer and that it got him into hot water with the “church.” But how does Eusebius tell us of him, since Eusebius seems to be not a Torah-inclined believer?

Firstly, Eusebius speaks of Polycarp via Irenaeus, again. Remember that Irenaeus is highly esteemed, even though he was involved in the ‘heresy’ of believing that Mashiach would have an earthly kingdom. Irenaeus in a book on ‘heresies’ sets out a long passage extolling Polycarp as being very credible and very near the apostles, and only taught what he’d learned from the apostles, sound tradition and true doctrine.

However, the context into Polycarp’s entrance into the history is that he arrived at Rome because of a question respecting the “day of the Passover.” Now, in my other readings, the question of Passover’s timing/keeping was the issue that got Polycarp in hot water. Having finished Eusebius’ work, it seems it was Polycrate not Polycarp who got in the most trouble, but Polycarp was Polycrate’s mentor. So it seems more than coincidence that a man would be execommunicated (Polycrate) for his stance on an issue regarding Passover (kept according to the Jewish timing), when his mentor (Polycarp) had a ‘conference’ over a similar or even the same issue.

What I’m trying to say—call me conspiratorial—is that it sounds an awful lot like Polycarp kept Pesach like the Jews did and that was an issue with the Roman church (Rome vs. Jerusalem). But Polycarp was so well known as being solid that nothing could be done against him: I mean, this guy learned from the Shellach Yochanon (Apostle John), how is some guy in Rome going to argue with him about the historical tradition? Polycrates inherits this same stance, and ends up going back for the next round against a new ‘pope’. We’ll cover this later, but working backwards in the present text it suggests to me that Eusebius via Irenaeus is kind of giving props, like he did with Irenaeus, himself. “Irenaeus knew his stuff…he just had this one little stumbling at a heresy about an earthly kingdom.”

Polycarp is later martyred. Not over this issue, but it gets rather expansive coverage, and shows a man who is wholly devoted. It’s quite appealing really, in showing the profound affect he had at being wise and kind, facing death with self-control and even cheerfulness, like an Olympian running the last lap. I would note that he makes some attempt to avoid being martyred. I mark this distinction because Yeshua at one point said that when persecuted to flee to another city, but we’ll eventually see “Christians” rushing to die when they could easily have fled somewhere else. Rushing, eager to die rather than resigning that there was no better course. Polycarp does move out of the worst, only to be overtaken later—and considering he’s 120, he decides he’s run long enough.

Human Sacrifice

I note again that the writer of the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom (a Marcion, but it seems unthinkable that it was the heretic Marcion: why would his stuff be exhibited?), relates of surrounding thoughts that someone might ‘surrender’ their salvation in the time of trial. The idea being that salvation is not absolutely secure is taken as the ‘normal’ view. When it comes Polycarp’s turn to die (having apparently survived the beasts that were sent into the arena with him—at 120), he is depicted with the words “acceptable sacrifice… ‘May I be received in [God’s] sight…as a rich and acceptable sacrifice.”

When I read that, the first time, it clicked with a train of thought that I’ve been studying. It is often put to me that I don’t really believe in Mashiach because I believe obedience is required, that I don’t believe in Yeshua’s “work alone.” And I’ve objected against that in the past, now I simply think the question is incorrect. Does the person who believes in Yeshua’s “work alone”, believe that someone can spit in God’s face and demand salvation on Yeshua’s work alone? Can he say, I believe, so God is contractually obligated to save him? I’ve never met anyone who said that was possible. Behind their doctrine is the assumption that either because you choose or because God forces you, works of righteousness will follow true belief. I can live with that, but it obviously means that Yeshua’s “work alone” cannot stay “alone.” Salvation may not depend on your work, but it certainly won’t happen without it.

So addressing this thought, when I read this account, I suddenly thought of Paul talking about becoming an acceptable sacrifice. Or in Hebrews 13:15, where it talks about sacrifices of praise—and I thought, if ‘nothing can be added’ to the work of Yeshua—then why would it be ‘acceptable’ to sacrifice anything? If Yeshua’s work is so infinitely great, that any other work on our part is somehow detracting form his work, then why would we sacrifice anything? Praise, money, our lives? Wouldn’t it be antithetical to even do anything for God?

Of course, I don’t believe that. I believe that obedience in every form is simply bringing in the fruit of the seed that he sowed. Our obedience, our sacrifice, honors and glorifies his sacrifice. I’d even say, our sacrifice becomes part of his sacrifice.

To be continued . . .

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