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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 3


4. Thyatiran State




The apostasy from "the truth as it is in Jesus" must have progressed very far when two such chiefs of the Roman Dragon, as the emperors Alexander and Philip, could be recognized as christians.

Alexander, the son of Mammaea, styled by Eusebius "a most godly and religious woman," although she had not received the faith, began to reign in the sixteenth year of his age, A.D. 222. It is true, he was esteemed one of the best moral characters in profane history; and never persecuted, but approved and countenanced the christians, such as the multitude of them had now become; but still he was a philosophical worshipper of the shadows of the departed great. He had a domestic chapel, where, every morning, he worshipped those deceased princes whose characters were most esteemed; their statues were placed among those of the gods; and into this company he introduced Apollonius of Tyana, Jesus Christ, Abraham, and Orpheus. He had a desire to erect a temple to Christ, and to receive him regularly into the number of the gods.

While residing in Antioch, A.D. 229, he and his mother sent to Origen, then teaching his paganized christianity in the academy at Alexandria, and invited him to visit them. He obeyed the summons, and continued with them a while, conversing with them upon the things for which he had become famous. On returning to Alexandria, he left them in state and views similar to his own and consequently with no clear and striking comprehension of the faith. "In truth," says Milner "a number of christians, so called, at this time, were much of the same religion with Alexander himself." He seems to have learned, in some measure, the doctrine of the Divine Unity, and by the help of the eclectic philosophy, to have consolidated all religions into one mass. He and his mother were assassinated, A.D. 235, by Maximin, who reigned in his stead.

Pupienus and Balbinus, the successors of Maximin, being slain, they were succeeded by Gordian, who, after six years, was assassinated by Philip the Arabian, who ascended the throne A.D. 244. Eusebius, a christian of the Laodicean type, "the bishop" of Nicomedia, and companion of Constantine the Great, tells us, that this Philip was a christian. "That he was so," says Milner, "by profession, seems well attested by the concurrent voice of antiquity." He is said to have submitted to certain ecclesiastical censure by a bishop. There is no doubt but in the fourth year of his reign, A.D. 247, he allowed and conducted the secular games, which were full of idolatry. Origen wrote an epistle to this emperor and his wife Severa, which was extant in Eusebius' time. Philip was slain A.D. 248.

Origen, who had received christianity hereditarily, became catechetical tutor at the school in Alexandria at eighteen. He was a man of very presumptuous spirit, which impelled him to philosophize to the destruction of the faith. He was never content with plain truth, but ever hunting after something singular and extraordinary. He converted the school into a theological academy, which became the Collegiate Alma Mater of the Apostasy -- the Mother of all future Divinity Schools. He maintained himself by the sale of the profane books which he had been wont to study. The christians of the unfallen ecclesia at Ephesus would have burned them (Acts xix. 19). But the times had changed; and Origen was a Thyatiran of the house of Jezebel, and a disseminator of "the depths of the Satan as they teach." He was "a perfect christian" after the type of his master's Gnosticus He multilated himself for the kingdom of heaven; made no provision for the morrow; inured himself to cold, nakedness, and poverty; abstained from wine, and in general lived so abstemiously as to endanger his life. Many persons imitated his excessive austerities, and were at that time honored with the name of "philosophers;" and some of them patiently suffered death. The reader is referred to Col. ii. for a comment on the conduct of Origen and his Alexandrian converts. One of these, a female named Potamiaena, told a soldier who protected her from the insolence of the mob on her way to execution, that after her departure she would entreat the Lord for him. Some time after her death, the soldier was imprisoned on the charge of being a christian. The Origenites visited him, and on being questioned as to the cause of the sudden change, he declared that Potamiaena, three days after her martyrdom, had appeared to him by night, and informed him that she had performed her promise, and that he should shortly die. After this he was put to death.

This anecdote of the times, shows the prevalence of fanatical philosophy, will-worship, and the like. The soldier, Basilides, is converted by a fiction, is ignorant of the word, and dies without baptism; nevertheless, he is called "a christian." We have a multitude of such christians in our day, but what are they worth? They only illustrate a delusion, and adorn a tale.

The Thyatiran State of the christian community was in part parallel with a long period of peace, or absence of persecution. For the space of thirty eight years -- from the death of Severus to the reign of Decius -- if we except the short turbulent period of Maximin, the church enjoyed a continual calm. During this period of tranquillity christianity was fatally paganized; and according to Origen himself, who had been ordained a presbyter, was followed by a great degree of lukewarmness, and much religious indecorum. Let the reader only notice the difference between the scenes he describes and the conduct of christians in the first century, and he will be convinced of the greatness of the declension.

"Several," says he, "come to church only on solemn festivals; and then not so much for instruction as diversion. Some go out again as soon as they have heard the lecture, without conferring, or asking the pastors any questions. Others stay not till the lecture is ended; and others hear not so much as a single word, but entertain themselves in a corner of the church." But the ability, as well as the taste for the conquest of this careless spirit, had much declined in the eastern part of the christian community. Origen complains elsewhere of the ambitious and haughty manners of pastors, and of the improper steps which some took to obtain preferments.

When Origen was about sixty years of age, he had a discussion with certain in Arabia who denied the inherent immortality of "the soul." Being a professor of paganized christianity, it was natural enough for him to oppose them, and for both him and Eusebius to style the denial "a false opinion." Eusebius says, that the Arabians asserted, that "the human soul, as long as the present state of the world existed, perished at death, and died with the body, but that it would be raised again with the body at the time of the resurrection." This, as we have seen, was Polycarp's view also. But Polycarp was not heathenized as the contemporaries of Origen and Eusebius were. A considerable council was therefore held by the philosophizers, for the support and sanction of their darling opinion; and as Origen was an expert sophist, they requested him again to discuss the point, which he did, "and with so much force," says Eusebius, "that those who had been led astray, completely changed their opinions."

Origen died during the Decian persecution aged seventy; and when he was about passing from the stage of life, that is, about five years before, the more excellent Cyprian was converted to the faith, A.D. 246. He was a professor of elocution in the city of Carthage, in the Roman Africa, and a man of wealth, quality, and dignity. About twelve years comprehended the whole scene of his christian life -- from A.D. 246 to A.D. 258. He was converted under the reign of Philip, and put to death under that of Valerian. Two years after his conversion, he became "the Bishop" of the ecclesia in Carthage, a dignity which, through the growth of superstition, was advancing to excess. Though expressions savoring of haughtiness and asperity are to be found in his writings, excited by particular provocations, ambition was not his vice; his zeal was fervid, and sustained by a temper remarkably active and sanguine, yet allied with the milder qualities of gentleness, love, and humility. He was a very different and superior character to Origen; and a remarkable consequence of which was, that while Origen, among the pagans, succeeded in gaining the favour of the great, and was heard by them with patience, Cyprian could not be endured in his preaching and writings, except by real christians.

But my purpose in the introduction of Origen and Cyprian to the reader, is not a biographical sketch and comparison of the men, but simply as representatives of their times. Persecution reigned with astonishing fury in the beginning of Cyprian's pastorate; and he recognizes in it a punishment upon the church for the iniquity of professors. In a treatise of his upon "The Lapsed," is an affecting account of the falling away of the generality from the spirit of christianity, which had taken place before his conversion, and which moved God to chastise them. "If the cause of our miseries," says he, "be investigated, the cure of the wound may be found. The Lord would have his family to be tried. And because long peace had corrupted the discipline divinely revealed to us, the heavenly chastisement hath raised up our faith, which had lain almost dormant; and when by our sins we had deserved to suffer still more, the merciful Lord so moderated all things, that the whole scene rather deserves the name of a trial than a persecution. Each had been bent on improving his patrimony; and had forgotten what believers had done under the Apostles, and what they ought always to do. They were brooding over the arts of amassing wealth. The pastors and the deacons each forgot their duty. Works of mercy were neglected, and discipline was at the lowest ebb. Luxury and effeminacy prevailed, meretricious arts in dress were cultivated. Fraud and deceit were practiced among brethren. Christians could unite themselves in marriage with unbelievers; could swear not only without reverence, but even without veracity. With haughty asperity they despised their ecclesiastical superiors. They railed against one another with outrageous acrimony, and conducted quarrels with determined malice. Even many bishops, who ought to be guides and patterns to the rest, neglecting the peculiar duties of their stations, gave themselves up to secular pursuits. They deserted their places of residence, and their flocks. They travelled through distant provinces in quest of pleasure and gain; gave no assistance to the needy brethren; but were insatiable in their thirst for money. They possessed estates by fraud, and multiplied usury. What have we not deserved for such a conduct? Even the Divine Word hath foretold us what we might expect -- 'if his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments, I will visit their offences with the rod, and their sin with scourges.' These things had been denounced and foretold, but in vain. Our sins had brought our affairs to that pass, that because we had despised the Lord's directions we were obliged to undergo a correction of our multiplied evils, and a trial of our faith, by severe remedies."

From this testimony of Cyprian it is evident that the falling away from the apostolic standard had become intense in the middle of the third century. It was the very type itself of what exists in our day. Pastors and people were all commingled in the same deep declension from the faith and morals of the gospel. Justin and his philosophical admirers had caused them to commit fornication with Gentilism; and the Spirit had given them space to repent of it in the long peace they had enjoyed. But Pantaenus, and Clemens, and Origen, had only led them on from bad to worse: and now, in the Decian persecutions, they were cast into a bed of great tribulation, in which they were killed with death; so that all the ecclesias were brought to know, as Cyprian declares, that the Spirit is he who was searching their reins and hearts; and giving to every one of them according to their works (Apoc. ii. 21-24).




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