Title: Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History Part 9
Plot: Most Christians have heard Peter was crucified upside down, but do you know how you know? Because of Eusebius! The man who in 300 AD collected all the writings from the time of Christ to his day, organizing them, assessing their authenticity, and making a history. His work earned him the title, the father of church history!
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Hey, welcome back!
Today I will be reviewing Eusebius’ Church History Part 9. We’re in Book 4 and today we cover chapters 12-20.
I’m guessing some of you might be thinking, this is a great book that we’re studying together. And it absolutely is, but make no mistake, I am taking an old thing and making it new. Meaning if you were to compare the text of this book to my podcasts you would think, “Huh. While I can see Tom is faithfully representing the text, he’s also making it more interesting.”
And I imagine some of my listeners might be thinking, really? Could it possibly be more boring than these podcasts Tom is making? Oh, yes, my friends! You have no idea!... It is my hope that these podcasts are inspiring you to read the same ancient texts that I am, but you will do yourself a big favor, by making the study as interesting as possible for yourself when you do it. And that’s true of many things ancient. It was a different time and place and frame of mind and so making it interesting requires spice.”
And there will be plenty of that in today’s podcast because I will be sharing an excerpt from one of my books. However, the prim and proper Christians, the intellectual stoics, I should warn you, you might want to skip this podcast, or plan in advance to forgive me because I’m going to need it.
My listeners told me they appreciated the preview I did last week, telling you what we were about to review before doing so. And as they say, “Ask and you shall receive.” And so here is a preview of today's session:
There is some great stuff in today’s podcast:
It opens with chapter 12 of Eusebius’ book, and in the spirit of taking liberties and adding spice, I open with an outrageous illustration. I do this respectfully even if it is in bad taste, my goal being to make the study of history as fun for the common man as it is for the intellectual historian stoic scholar types. Because if it were more fun more people would be doing it.
Today’s study is all about Justin the philosopher, we are given the opportunity to peer into his life and get a sense for who he is as a person. He was a bishop historian who focused on identifying the popular heresies of the day and arguing his opponents, the heretics themselves, into submission. He had a passionate fire for proving them wrong that led to his martyrdom. And in a stroke of cruel irony we discover that one of the men who debated Justin feared death so much that he murdered Justin in order to save himself. Meaning that because he kept losing so many battles he worried the people would turn and stone him to death. And so he went for the jugular and ultimately got Justin killed in order to save himself. Meaning it was his cowardice that drove him to do the thing that he feared more than anything else in the world. And so transformed himself into the Grimm Reaper in order to save himself from the Grimm Reaper. Sadly that happens more often than it should.
If I could read the mind of Justin’s murderer I would not be surprised to stumble across a justification: that killing Justin would send him to heaven. But if he were to die he wouldn’t be so sure. And that’s obvious based on his actions, because he would not have been so fearful of death and so anxious to kill Justin if he wasn't concerned about his final destination so much.
And so having said that let’s dive in:
We are told in chapter 12 about a letter from Justin to the emperor Antoninus and you may recall from our last study, I am not a fan of Justin’s writing style. I am grateful he invested all that time and research he did, and for the content he created, and if Eusebius said he was a convincing debator I will take him at his word, but it is my hope to only ever read the writings of Justin once, taking excellent notes and then never reading them again.
I feel bad saying this even though he’s long dead, but chapter 12 is the perfect example of what I mean. It is one very long paragraph, and it is simply the introduction of the letter he wrote to Antoninus the emperor. So while I myself would write “Dear Antoninus” and then get on with my business, it would seem Justin has a knack for taking two words and making them sixty. All for the purpose of essentially saying, “Dear Antoninus.”
You know what, I’m going to share this with you. I want you to know what I’m saving you from. I’ll read his introduction so you can see for yourself, here we go:
“To the emperor Titus Aelius Adrian Antoninus Pius Caesar Augustus, and to Onesimus his son the philosopher, and to Lucius the natural son of Caesar the philosopher, and the adopted son of Pius, a votary of learning; also, to the sacred senate and the whole Roman people, in behalf of those who of all nations are now unjustly hated and aspersed; I, Justin, the son of Priscus, the grandson of Bacchius of Flavia, the new city of Palestine, Syria, being one of their number, present this volume and address.”
Wow. Did we miss any relatives? I mean we got the adopted son of Pius in there, were there any foster kids? A neighbor perhaps?
By reading his introduction to his letter it should be obvious to you that Justin has a flare for the dramatic. While I on the other hand, am predisposed to prefer the comedic.
And so when I knock Justin's writing, I'm just poking fun. He was a great man deserving of our respect and admiration for the glorious labor that he performed in God's kingdom for his people. We should be grateful to him! And so therefore with respect to what I'm about to say. By poking so much fun, it's just a reflection of me not him. He was a great man. I'm choosing to tease because I imagine he's big enough to take it. And I expect he will be grateful that after so many millenia someone took an interest in his work with the intention of breathing life back into it. And so perhaps my unconventional will succeed where conventional methods have failed in the past.
And after all we are all part of the body of Christ and it is natural for the body to groan and argue amongst itself. Having different opinions and approaches to the same problems. There’s nothing wrong with the parts of the body experiencing a little internal conflict.
And so yes ladies and gentlemen Sheilas and Blokes, I am about to share with you the illustration I promised you in the introduction.
I really shouldn’t, this illustration is completely wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway...
And for the record, I am in no way implying that Justin is one of the body parts I’m about to mention. And for the record, again, I wrote this illustration long before I ran across Justin and for a completely different purpose altogether.
It comes from the Battle for Your Body, which I have in draft, here we go:
The day I fasted I found myself in a small battle. I observed that my body wanted food, and I denied all those requests. My stomach was at odds with my mind. They were both working as designed: my stomach was growling and my mind was reasoning. However, my heart had a question it wanted the answer to. My heart worried that my stomach would reason with my mind, and my mind would agree with my stomach making it two against one.
My stomach is the drama queen of my body. It shouts out things like, "I will die! You must feed me! You gotta do it now!" It writes a list of pros and cons and marches over to my brain and says, "Look! On the left are the bad things that will happen if you refuse to eat, and the right side are the good that will happen if you do!" Admittedly the list is a one-sided argument disguised as objectivity, but my stomach fights dirty.
Then my brain looks at the list and turns to the heart and says, "Ya know the stomach makes some good points with this list here. You should consider it. Besides, I think a brownie would do us all some good."
My heart then responds to my brain, "Are you kidding? Do you know how long we have all wanted answers from God? Every day you whine for explanations. You need these things to make sense, blah, blah, blah... I keep hearing this from you! You are driving the rest of us crazy! Every day we listen to you belly ache..."
"Hey!" The stomach interjects.
"Sorry, that was insensitive," the heart responds. And then he turns to the brain and continues, "Every day I must listen to you complain! You aren't sure what our next move should be because of the questions that have been plaguing us. You do not understand... you wish you understood what to do. So I suggested a fast and three hours later you catch a little gas from stomach and already you want to quit!"
My brain turns to my stomach and says, "stomach, the heart sounds..."
But my stomach is in impatient and interjects, "What is it, make fun of the stomach day? Belly ache, and gas — really heart?"
"Now, hold on stomach, wait your turn," the brain says. "You can tell the heart is serious about getting answers to these questions — can't you? I acknowledge you have a list, but the heart, is making us have an emergency. Perhaps if you calm down..."
"Calm down? Calm down? Do you know happens when the body goes without food for long periods? Organs shut down! Look, I am reasonable, I can negotiate: Ice Cream is more of a liquid than food really. Tell hand to shovel Ice Cream into face and mouth not to swallow until after it melts. Presto-change-oh, it is a liquid and everybody wins!"
"Stomach, I do not think you are taking heart's petition seriously. The heart is upset. He hasn't made us fast for a long time and he's been patient probably waiting too long..."
"Oh don't go breakin' my heart," the stomach responds. "I've got gas to deal with and when I get through, expect a phone call from nose."
"Not the nose!" the brain responds.
"I was tryin' to be reasonable," the stomach responds.
Then my brain looks at the heart who has his arms folded and is tapping his foot, and so brain thinks better of it and tells stomach, "All right, fine! Do your worst, it is only one day,"
The heart interjects, "I do not know if do your worst was the right response to give stomach."
Brain holds up a hand and says, "I do not want to hear it, heart. I hate being in the middle. You guys are making me feel like asshole.”
Spine interrupts, "I've got an incoming message for you, brain. It's urgent."
"Who is it from?"
"It's from asshole. Apparently ear told him what was going on and he wants to hear how he got dragged into this conversation."
Brain says, "Not him, too! This day is spiraling! Don't give me any crap, asshole!... What, Spine? Is there more?"
"Yeah. It's asshole again. He is asking if someone upset stomach, apparently he says he is getting a rash a shit."
Brain turns back to heart and says, "You heard stomach: he intends to create a gas problem, and you know how nose gets when he's out of joint. Soon he'll stop inhaling and mouth will have to get involved. That means I'll be lockin' the door and I want no one knocking unless it is an emergency!... What, Spine!?!"
"Are you going to respond to asshole?" Spine asks.
"Why?" Spine asks
"Because he's an asshole."
"But I don't know what to say!" Spine objects.
"Oh, grow a backbone!"
That happened all day and I thought about it. I find it interesting that heart gets such a bad wrap when it's the brain that can't seem to make up its mind.
Now I'm guessing you can relate to that illustration. And I think we get the impression when we read things in the Bible like we all are part of the body of Christ. I think we get the impression that means we're all supposed to be in total agreement. And that's not exactly the case. We're all supposed to be combining together and working for the same cause, and though we do it differently, that doesn't make it wrong.
All right that was a huge digression. And it was really truly just for your amusement in a study in a very long book. We are 150 pages into a 450 page book. If I didn't make it interesting you wouldn't stick with it. I hope that helped.
So we don’t learn of the contents in the letter in chapter 12, we just learn of the introduction in chapter 12. Because I suspect, Eusebius, probably for the same reasons I've already outlined, probably didn't want to include such a lengthy letter especially since in chapter chapter 13 we see the letter that Justin inspired. The letter the emperor sent to Asia. Implying that whatever Justin said to him was effective.
And so in the letter the emperor effectively says to the people of Asia. Listen, I get it, you don’t like the Christians, but if they’re doing something wrong then I assure you that the Gods can handle their own business themselves. And as it is, by persecuting them, you’re causing them to believe more. Meaning that everything you’re doing is backfiring. And so while you’re busy persecuting the Christians, it’s causing them to worship their God, more than you worship yours!
Then interestingly he addresses the fact that there have been earthquakes. And the implication of what he says implies that the people viewed them as a judgement event from God, which by the way is what I think they actually are.
Our modern day scientists, by giving us a scientific explanation for why they occur, enable us to go on sinning without the proper fear that those earthquakes should be instilling. But that’s just a suspicion of mine so I’ll move on. However, the emperor essentially says, “it’s not my place to admonish you, God did that with the earthquake,” and so he moves on, too.
And then he does something far more effective than the previous emperors to date. He says, “Unless the Christians commit a crime against the government I don't want to hear about it. And if you do accuse them of a crime and they’re guilty that's fine, but if they are not-guilty then we're gonna pursue satisfaction with the accuser.
In chapter 14 we are told that Polycarp led many out of the heresies. And then a story is told that I handled in a prior podcast. You may recall I talked about the fact that these early disciples essentially said: don’t get into debates. If you know they’ve heard the truth, then don’t waste your time on them. Because if they’ve heard the truth and they’re feigning ignorance or disagreement then they are wolves in sheeps clothing. That's what they are that's why they do it. Let God handle those people and just move on otherwise you’ll get bogged down by their lies, and you’re giving them exactly what they want. Which is the pleasure of distracting you from doing God’s work. Meaning that you'll get so wrapped up in debates with these people that you will lose focus and they will consume all of your time, which is what they want.
And that’s freeing btw. Doing this study just to discover that one piece of advice is worth it. Because you do get bogged down by people that you want to convince — and unless you realize they aren’t being slow, they're not dense, they’re being wicked. And when you know that you can just ignore them, you are able to move onto bigger and more important tasks.
In chapter 15 we get details about Polycarp’s martyrdom, where we learn that he was whipped so severely his organs were visible. And then finally, he was tossed as food to the wild beasts.
Germanicus was so inspired by Polycarp that he joined him in his martyrdom on the spot. The proconsul tried to dissuade him saying, you’re young and good looking and you have your whole life ahead of you. But Germanicus persisted and even irritated the wild beasts against himself.
And then we have a contrast character: Quintus upon seeing the martyrdom of Polycarp and Germanicus he renounced his faith.
In the middle of chapter 15, Eusebius backs up, so this is the chapter we've been talking about, and tells us what happened prior to the martyrdom of Polycarp. His friends encouraged him to leave the city and shipped him around ultimately bringing him to a secluded farm. And in a vision at night during prayer, his pillow burst into flames and then he woke and told his friends he believed he was about to be martyred in the flames.
And yet you just heard that he was whipped severely and fed to the wild beasts.
Eventually his pursuers caught up with him and though he could have escaped, he viewed the dream as an indication of God’s will and so when encouraged by his friends to flee, he refused. And when the soldiers saw him, they were surprised a man of his age was sentenced to be put to death, because as you recall from a previous podcast, he was 120 years old.
Polycarp responded to his pursuers by begging for one hour to pray, and he ordered that a table be set before them so they could eat and wait for him to finish and then he would go with them. And seeing that he was unafraid and not resisting, they ate.
They heard him praying and giving thanks for everyone in his life, everyone in his life, and were moved by his goodness.
However, they put him on an ass and brought him to Herod. Herod’s father Nicetes encouraged Polycarp to renounce his faith and accept mercy. But of course he refused.
He was then conducted to the stadium where he and many of the brethren heard a heavenly voice say, “Be strong Polycarp and contend manfully.”
And then there’s a dialog between Polycarp and the authorities that continues for a while and ends when they threaten to burn him with the fire unless he renounces God. Polycarp’s response was to say, “bring it!” And so they did. The people brought wood and stubble and placed it around Polycarp and somewhat like the pillow it flashed into a flame very quickly. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The soldiers came with stakes to nail his hands and Polycarp replied that it was unnecessary because God would give him the strength to endure the flames. And so they bound him with ropes instead.
Then Polycarp prayed out loud. “Father, I bless thee that has thought me worthy of the present day and hour to have a share in the number of the martyrs in the cup of Christ unto the resurrection of eternal life both in the soul and body in the incorruptible joy of the Holy Spirit. He continued praying and after he finished his prayer the soldiers lit the fire.
And then a wall of flames formed around him and they saw a miracle. He was in the midst not like burning flesh but Gold and Silver. And they smelled a fragrant odor like incense and when the wicked persecutors saw he was not consumed they commanded that executioner plunge his sword into him and kill him. But when he did, blood gushed out in such quantity that it extinguished the fire!
And since Eusebius described his demise at the beginning of the chapter he didn’t repeat it here. But apparently the devil was so troubled by Polycarp’s martyrdom that he tried to prevent the Christian’s from recovering his body. And so they concocted a story that they planned to worship it in order to get Nicetas to release it. They had no intention of course of doing that, but it caused him to release the body and he didn't know better. And after they received it they gave him a proper burial in an appropriate resting place.
And we’ve seen this behavior before where the devil contended over the body of Moses. That strikes me as incredibly creepy. I have a difficult time imagining a scenario where I have an enemy who was martyred in the fight against me, and I was so bitter afterwards that I wanted to keep the body. That’s clearly the behavior of the loser, and so this instructs us that winning may have a rather odd appearance.
Being whipped until your organs are visible and then being cast as food to wild beasts doesn’t look like winning. And yet clearly the devil’s behavior afterwards smacks of losing.
And so I wonder how often I confuse what looks like winning with losing and vice versa. Because I’ve certainly won some difficult battles and felt like the loser.
And this also makes me curious about what the devil planned to do with Polycarp’s corpse. I suspect I’ll eventually run across the answer because whenever I become curious, that’s usually an indication the answer might be coming.
Chapter 15 ends with the names of other martyrs as well as the places where records were kept with lists of martyrs. I noticed that Pergamus was noted there, which is known as the city where Satan had his throne.
I also find that odd. I would expect a more visible city like Babylon, Cairo, Athens Rome. One of those places... Why Pergamus? I rarely ever run across anything significant in history that ever mentions it. The closest I have ever come is Pergatory, and that’s unrelated. Admittedly I didn’t go looking. So I’ll keep my eyes open.
And yet that is consistent with the devil's behavior. He lurks in the shadows. It almost doesn’t surprise me that his throne would be somewhere insignificant and unexpected.
In Chapter 16 we learn that Justin who positioned himself as a Christian philosopher, was in a long term debate with a man named Crescens. And BTW, given the consistency with which I see the way that Eusebius uses the word philosopher, I’m inclined to think he means debate. And that squares with Plato’s dialogs. Plato strikes me as a debator. And somewhere along the lines it seems like we began referring to Plato’s side of the argument as philosophy.
And so I’m going to make the prediction that in a future podcast I expect to tell you that I have confirmed (reviewing ancient documents) that what we call debate, is what they called philosophy back then.
It turns out that Justin and a man named Crescens were engaged in a long-term debate. As I said and Justin made the comment in his writing that he expected to be waylaid and put on the rack by Crescens himself. He publicly attempts to contend against matters he doesn’t understand merely to captivate and gratify the crowd.
Justin then wrote to the emperor indicating that he contended with Crescens the philosopher about Christianity and by his questions he was able to conclude that the man was arguing against a religion and philosophy he didn’t even understand or research. But that he pretends to be an authority for the sake of the crowd and for money. And having debated him previously he offered to debate him publicly and expose him unless they are already aware he is both uneducated and misinformed.
And he concludes that letter saying that Crescens is a lover of vainglory and not wisdom.
And this is where he comes to a very sad end: as he prophesied he ended up dying at the hands of Crescens who could not withstand his arguments; meaning he was waylaid by a fool who pretended to have studied Christianity and argued against it, but he proved through stupidity that he knew nothing of it.
Can you imagine dying at the hands of your arch enemy? Particularly after repeatedly defeating him publicly and proving him to be a liar? That’s a cruel joke.
According to Eusebius it would seem that the philosophers had a special hatred for Justin because at the same time they were unable to defeat him in debate, he was also able to prove they were nothing more than greedy gluttons who seemed to know they were wrong, but who lied knowingly and pretended to believe their own words. Meaning that they exchanged the truth for a lie. Those are my words not his, but I think I’ve encapsulated the core of what he was communicating. And I would add to it that:
History teaches us that man learns nothing from history. Which is my way of saying, I know some men who act like this now. And I could name names. Men who use their talkshows in the same way these ancient philosophers used their stumps and pulpits.
Crescens was so afraid of death that he had Justin Martyred because he feared the consequences of allowing him to speak. Meaning that he worried that if he continued losing to Justin, the people would seek his life. And so because of his great fear of death, he became the instrument of death, driven to kill by his own cowardice.
And sadly it would seem that that happens more often than it should.
And that's all folks!
As always have a brilliant week. Thank you for listening. And y'all come back now. Ya here?