Author: The Book Matrix
Title: Ecclesiastical History of the Church
Plot: The history of the Christian church from Christ ~0 to ~335 AD
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Listen to "The Ecclesiastical History of the Church - Part 11" on Spreaker.
Hey, welcome back!
This is part 11 of the Ecclesiastical history of the church. In part 10, I relied heavily upon the words of Eusebius as I described the martyrdom of many Christians. I'll be doing that again today. We left off about a quarter of the way through chapter 1 of Book 5, because it's a long chapter. It's also full of stories about martyrdoms and reading it got harder and harder. Although I will describe several martyrdoms today, especially in this chapter, I only get about halfway through because... It's a hard read. Book 5 is a very serious book. The whole thing is a difficult read. And so I believe I have done you the favor of slogging through a book you may never want to read and summarizing it for those of you so only those who want this kind of information, will decide to dive in.
And I will end today's podcast with a very serious warning about the folly of starting cults and leading God's people astray. That message is based on the message in chapter 16 of Book 5. The ending is in fact so serious that I would suggest you queue up a light-hearted podcast afterwards. If you haven't heard the Of Mice and Men podcast I would try that one. Or if you have, then listen to my Special Delivery by Danielle Steel podcast. Both of those are funny messages that will break up the heavy mood that I leave you with at the end of this podcast.
Being 150 pages into the study, you can't help, but conclude that after all the things Satan tried to destroy the Christian martyrs, he had to be frustrated. Nothing he did worked and he didn't exactly skimp when it came to trying new things. He was hitting the church from every angle and the more he attacked, the more they clung to God — causing Christianity to flourish. And so that potentially explains why he doesn't do that today. His attacks are far less visible today then they were back then. Presumably because those earlier attacks backfired.
Having read so many pages and so many stories about these martyrdoms, I am forced to conclude, that those being martyred for the faith receive a divine protection from the pain. Like Shadrack Meshak and Abednego, these martyrs allowed themselves to be bound and afflicted, and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so they opened not their mouths...
And yet that's not entirely true. A frail attractive and weak woman by the name of Blandina cried out with every blow. She would say, "We are Christian, no wickedness is carried on by us." And it turns out that renewed her strength. A strength we discover she needed because there are several pages describing the tortures she endured. It was as if she was immortal and simply could not be killed. Her ability to absorb the blows was itself torture to those inflicting them because they exhausted themselves trying to find ways to make her die. They wanted her to death to be slow and painful so she would renounce her faith, but after so much torture, they began putting their minds to ways to just make her die.
A man named Sanctus was also tortured. And it would seem that the goal of his tormentors was to get him to blurt out a blasphemy or curse word against God. However, they couldn't even get the man to utter his own name. When they asked him who he was, his only reply was, "I am a Christian." In the words of Eusebius: "No other words did the heathens hear from him." When they had nothing further they could inflict they fastened red hot plates to the most tender parts of his body. But he continued unsubdued and unshaken, firm in his confession, refreshed and strengthened by the celestial fountain of living water that flows from Christ. The corpse was evidence of his sufferings: it was one continued mangled wound; shriveled having entirely lost the form of a man.
I'll quote this excerpt from Eusebius as he stated it because I couldn't possibly do it any better:
There is nothing painful where the glory of Christ prevails. For when the lawless tormentors tortured the martyr again during the day, and supposed that while the wounds were swollen and inflamed, if they applied the same torments, they would subdue him as if he would not then be able to bear even the touch of the hand. Or else that dying under these tortures, he would strike terror into the rest. Not only was there no appearance like this, but beyond all human expectation the body raised itself and stood erect. And it recovered the former shape and habit of the limbs so that his second tortures became, through the grace of Christ, not his torment, but his cure.
Meaning that after pulverizing this man, and then going back to give him another round after his wounds had inflamed, the new tortures they inflicted actually resulted in his body retaking it's former shape resulting in a cure of sorts.
Believe it or not, there were so many stories of martyrdoms, that at this point we're only half-way through chapter 1 of Book 5. which began at the end of the last podcast. And so rather than describe every one, which gets harder the more you read, I'll tell you what happened with Blandina:
Given the frustrations they had with killing her, she and Ponticus were brought forth every day to observe the tortures of the rest. This noble mother acted as if she were invited to a marriage feast and not to be cast as food to wild beasts. Finally at one point, she was torn and beaten and then left to be eaten, but the wild beasts wouldn't touch her. They tied her to a pole in a colosseum and after the hungry beasts refused to eat, they took her down. And then again after scourging, torture and roasting she was thrown into a net and cast before a bull. And after being well tossed by him, she was finally dispatched.
For anyone who has listened to this entire series, you know there is no shortage of stories about martyrdoms. And it gets hard to read some of them so I've skipped many.
With regard to the ten who abdicated their faith; we heard about them at the end of part 10 of this series. They obviously did so because fear overcame them; and that happened while watching the others be tortured. Eusebius indicated that Satan gained a sense of hope in these ten that he could use them to instill fear in the rest. And in a sense that was true, but not in the way he imagined. The faithful were instilled with concern for the eternal situation of the weaker brothers and sisters.
Life comes down to moments: their decision to abdicate could have eternal consequences. And so the greatest fear among the believers was that those who gave into fear, would go to hell and be tormented eternally. And this presented a sort of irony in the sense that, they were willing to trade momentary torture for eternal torment in persistent flames.
So while one would think that the concern would be that others would follow suit out of fear, instead their concern was that God would forgive these poor souls and spare them despite their weakness. And so the faithful martyrs prayed fervently for those who lost their nerve. And it would seem the prayers worked because shortly thereafter, all ten recanted and once again professed Jesus Christ deciding to be martyred along with their Christian brothers and sisters. You have to give them credit not only because of the stories of martyrdom that I've read to you, but also because of the parts I didn't read.
In a sense I jumped ahead because Chapter 2 describes the restoration of these ten Christians who at first abdicated their faith. But it's worth noting that in chapter 1, we have an example of someone who after abdicating her faith, was consigned to the torture anyway. Because Satan viewed this as weakness. He considered it an opportunity to finally torture someone who would scream and carry on in a way that would instill fear in everyone else. Having at last seen a sign of weakness he was determined to exploit in her. He thought she would be more likely to scream and utter blasphemies having renounced her faith. But instead, she awakened and reminded herself that hell is eternal torment. And so she once again confessed Christ and died nobly as a martyr. So far there have been no stories that I've run across where someone who abdicated their faith, actually received mercy for doing it. There were some who were let go, but it wasn't because they abdicated their faith, it was for other reasons. Meaning there is every reason to remain strong and no reason to show weakness if confronted with the specter of martyrdom.
And yet Eusebius commented that these noble martyrs didn't view themselves as martyrs, they viewed Christ as the one and only real martyr for the faith.
With regard to Chapter 3 I'm not sure if Eusebius, who I wouldn't say is known for his sense of humor, decided to tell an amusing story on purpose, or if I just view it that way. He commented that there was one man who led such a poor miserable life, that when he was imprisoned for his faith, it actually raised his standard of living. Apparently this poor fellow lived on meager amounts of bread and water, as a matter of normal course and was thrilled when presented with other food choices as part of his imprisonment. And so he partook of all kinds of food and gave thanks to God that his situation had improved.
In Chapter 4 it essentially just states that the martyrs had a great deal of respect for Justin Iranaeus and his work as a historian.
Chapter 5 is a good story of divine providence during war not unlike the fantastic stories in the book called the Light and the Glory, which I did a podcast on last Thanksgiving, which of course you can find in the links in the Full Transcript of this podcast.
In the case of this story, Marcus Aerelius had an army that was severely dehydrated and consequently unable to fight. And so in a divine two for one, the Christian believers in his army prayed that God would send them rain to quench their thirst, and God exceeded their expectations, by not only doing exactly that, but by chasing away the opposing army using lightning bolts. Due to the boldness of this army in sinking to their knees even while in battle array against their enemy, calling down the power of God to quench their thirst and save their lives, they were nicknamed "the Thundering Legion" by Apollinaris. Apparently Tertullian tells this story in greater detail and confirms the Christian account from the perspective of a secular historian.
Chapter 6 identifies the succession of bishops in Rome providing a comprehensive list of twelve (in order from the apostles Peter and Paul). And of course I've provided a link to that list in the Full Transcripts of this podcast.
Chapter 7 implies that miracles were tapering off in the church generally. Justin Iranaeus commented that "instances of divine and miraculous power were remaining in some churches." And he further stated that when it came to resurrections, it sometimes required the entire church fast and pray.
Apparently, at some point people began saying that Jesus only worked miracles in appearance. Suggesting they weren't real miracles. But Justin countered that argument by saying, that these miracles began with him. And he gave authority to believers in him in order to continue them, and even to the present day, they were seeing believers actually working miracles. Meaning that it's ridiculous to suggest that his disciples were able to do things he couldn't. So Justin's just tackling a lie that was circulating at the time. And then he lists all of the signs that follow true believers as proofs: demons are being cast out, the sick healed, and people being resurrected from the dead and living for years afterwards. And since there are an infinite number of gifts, he doesn't site others. But he does mention the rest (as I just did).
In chapter 8 we find out that Mark was a companion and interpreter for Peter and so the Gospel according to Mark is actually based on the message Peter proclaimed. And this true also of the gospel according to Luke which is based on the message that Paul preached. John wrote his own gospel based on his own message. And it says that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew when Peter and Paul were preaching and founding a church in Rome. I'm not sure if those two things are related, but I included it the way he did (in case it's significant). And by he I mean Eusebius.
Eusebius also mentions the name of the Antichrist in this chapter without revealing the name itself. He says and I quote, "the number of the name of the beast is indicated by the Greek letters which it contains." If you do a Google search on that expression, meaning if you search for "how do you write 666 in Greek?" there are a lot of guesses out there, but the Greek letters themselves seem to be all the same all the time: ΧΞϚ´(in capitals) and χξϚ in lowercase. They're hard to describe so I've included them in the full transcript for this podcast. But I notice that it looks a little like the word, sex written backwards using an elaborate writing style. Not that I'm suggesting that's the answer, that's just an observation that will help you visualize the Greek letters I'm struggling to describe.
Perhaps you've heard that the Septuagint was translated by 70 Jews familiar in both Hebrew and Greek. And if you have, then you probably know Septuagint is the Greek word that literally means 70. And I've mentioned that translation of the Bible in this series repeatedly. I haven't read the entire Septuagint myself, but I think it should be on our must read list of books even if you've read the Bible and so in addition to what I stated in part 1, you're about to hear another great reason why: Ptolemy wanted a Hebrew Bible written in Greek for the Library in Alexandria. So he commissioned 70 men fluent in both Hebrew and Greek to write a translation independently from each other. And he kept them separate from each other and commanded all of them to write the same translation. In the presence of Ptolemy, God was glorified, because when they compared all 70 translations which were rendered, they were rendered in the exact same words and expressions from beginning to end. That is the only version of the Bible that can boast that. I've heard variations of this story suggesting that that was only related to the Torah, but Eusebius records that this was in relation to the Old Testament. And that's a big deal!
And this is where we learn something that was news to me: apparently during the captivity in Babylon the original sacred Scriptures were destroyed. Meaning that copy that Moses wrote was destroyed in Babylon. And so they were rewritten, the Scriptures were rewritten by a man named Esdras the priest of the tribe of Levi, by the inspiration of God 70 years later when they returned from their captivity in Babylon. Can God do that? Yes. Why don't we know that? You're going to have to ask your pastor to explain that one also.
In chapter 10 we learn about the school of the faithful which was established from ancient times. It was governed by Pantaenus the philosopher who was a disciplined stoic that constituted a herald of the gospel to the nations of the East as far as India (in the words of Eusebius). Bartholomew who preached from the gospel of Matthew left them a copy in Hebrew when he was in India.
In chapter 11 we learn about a second man called Clement of Alexandria. Different from the one who presided over the church at Rome. This one was devoted to the study of the Scriptures with Pantaenus. Eusebius seems to think this second Clement wrote the first book of Stromata. A book which was designed to be a personal remedy against his forgetfulness (in his words). And then he indicates that Stromata was an amalgamation of teachings from several excellent teachers that he names who incidentally, I've never heard of. Ionicus in Greece, Magna Graecia. He said, these men preserved the true tradition of doctrine given by Peter, James, John and Paul descending from father to son.
Chapter 12 mentions Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem. And in case you're curious, I believe the man who inspired the word narcissistic was a gladiator, not a bishop. The rest of chapter 12 is a list of bishops to the Gentiles in Jerusalem which I've of course captured on my website.
Chapter 13 tells us the Rhodo wrote many books and some combated the heresy of Marcion. Rhodo also accurately refuted the perverse doctrines devised by each; for example: he said these heretics are divided among themselves. Meaning they're in dispute with each other. Apelles professed to believe one principle only: that the prophetic declarations came from a bad spirit. But Rhodo comments that he was under the spell of a demoniac named Philumena who was a virgin he presumably liked a little too much. Marcion himself introduced two principles while others still professed three principles. One of Marcion's key principles involved a heavy dose of licentiousness (or lust). And so we see where all of this is going...
A man names Syneros argued that each man should do what was right in his own eyes. After all, what could that possibly go wrong? And so that was understandably a popular position because by definition he assumed a position everyone could agree with. But he added that so long as you believe in the crucifixion and you do good works, and while so far that actually sounds pretty good... Rhodo then describes a dialog with him that revealed the man was evasive and would say whatever it took to get agreement from others. In their debate, Rhodo managed to get him to state that he disagreed with the prophecies of the prophets suggesting that they were totally wrong. And when pressed, his whole argument fell apart. Rhodo then commented, "he (Marcion) asserted he was a teacher, but knew not how to establish that which he taught."
With respect to Chapter 14 I'll summarize the text mostly using the words of Eusebius. Here we go: As the enemy of the church the promoter of evil, omits no method of plotting against men, he was active in causing new heresies to spring up. A man named Montanus pretended to be the paraclete (which means Holy Spirit). And he had two prophetess followers named Priscilla and Maximilla.
In Chapter 15 we learn that a man names Blastus caused a schism. If, like me, you don't know what that word means, I'll define it for you since it will be coming up later. A schism in the modern vernacular would be a church split. In this case, this schism happened in Rome. Apparently Florinus and Blastus were presbyters (or elders in the church) and they both decided to seduce the church into following their differing opinions, each one introducing their own innovations.
In Chapter 16 we have a showdown. God raised up a powerful weapon and antagonist in Apollinaris of Hierapolis. And it would seem that he challenged Montanus (the man who claimed to be the Holy Spirit in chapter 14). He challenged him to a debate. Then we're given an excerpt from a letter which reveals that Apollinaris is humble and his greatest fear was that the debate itself might lead to unintended new doctrines, which is a smart concern.
And I understand this concern all too well. Because I've done book reviews for many religious works because I believe that if people understand what the books actually say they don't really need my commentary to make wise decisions about what's right and what's wrong. Because people are smart and the truth is self-evident. There is only one truth. Anyone who tells you there is more than one truth is lying.
The biggest hurdle is that people don't read the books. They see the book and they figure that if there is a book, it must be a well-thought-out true religion. Especially if it's a big one filled with many people. And so they treat church like they treated high school. They just want to fit in and they want people to like them. They don't actually want to read the books or do homework or rock the boat because they might lose friends over that.
And like these ancient authors we're studying, I myself wrestled with whether God would want me reading holy books and explaining them. But God doesn't fear the truth and the trend that I see throughout the ages is men questioning whether it's a good idea to do this and then deciding or being told by God, that it is. Because if you don't confront a liar people wrongly conclude it's because they're telling the truth. Meaning that if someone states a lie in a group of people and no one ever challenges them, and especially if this happens repeatedly, then everyone walks away believing the liar was right. Once upon a time I would have let this go.
Apollinaris decided the public debate was necessary when he realized that by not confronting the heresy, it was throwing the church in Pontus into confusion. You see because the spectators don't want to get involved, they want a champion to rise up and tell them what to think. So Apollinaris went to the church and spent days clearing up the matter reducing the new prophecy to a false one. And the church rejoiced after they understood. And as Scripture teaches us: when you submit yourselves therefore to God and resist the devil he will flee from you. Which is exactly what happened. By explaining the truth to the church, it exposed the lie. No one runs faster than an exposed liar. Because if you've done your job correctly, then you reveal the reason why they lied. And all too often that exposes thieves. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
And then the chapter gets weird in an uncomfortable way. Montanus and his two prophetesses were overcome by the devil and they prophesied saying strange things and ultimately hung themselves the way that Judas did. Now considerable more detail is given in the chapter, but it makes me cringe even just to repeat it. I'm not sure you really want to read what it says, either.
The lesson here is that some people wander into false prophecy leading people astray as a form of extortion and they then risk opening themselves up to the devil for the sake of petty gains. God will defend a man with sincere and genuine heart who simply made a mistakes, but when someone exploits God's sheep, they do so at their own risk without the guarantees of his protection. It is unwise to make false prophecies and false doctrine and lead people astray because in so doing.... well, you don't know what kind of spirit you're entertaining. Generally speaking we do such things when we're listening to suggestions. So don't do it! Don't do it! Don't do it!
The chapter closes with the comment that some of the heresies had a vast number of martyrs. But that the Christian martyrs refused to communicate with those martyrs from the heresies for fear that it would give the appearance of an endorsement.
And so we'll end here. That's all folks! Have a brilliant week! And y'all come back now! Ya hear?
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