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Alongside of moral excesses, the result of a badly regulated feeling, and of an exuberant production of legends, children of the Oriental fancy, there fortunately was the Episcopate. It was especially 96in the purely Greek portions of the Church that this fine institution flourished. Opposed to all aberrations, classic in a way and moderate in its tendencies, more busied about the humble path of simple believers than the transcendant pretensions of ascetics and speculators, the Episcopate became more and more the Church itself, and saved the work of Jesus from the inevitable shipwreck it would have suffered in the hands of Gnostics, Montanists, and even of Judaisers. What doubled the power of the Episcopate was that this sort of federal oligarchy had a centre; that centre was Rome. Anicet had seen, during the ten or twelve years of his presidency, nearly every movement of Christianity concentrate itself around him. His successor, Soter (probably a converted Jew, who translated his name Jesus into Greek), saw this movement increase still more. The vast correspondence which had for so long been established between Rome and the Churches assumed a larger scope than ever. A central tribunal of controversies had gradually become established.

Greece and Asia continued to be, with Rome, the theatre of the principal incidents of Christian growth. Corinth possessed in its Dionysius one of the most respected men of the age. The charity of this bishop was not confined even to the Church. From all directions he was consulted, and his letters carried nearly as much authority as sacred writings. These were called “Catholic,” because they were written not to individuals, but to churches in a body. Seven of these epistles were collected, and venerated as at least equal to the letters of the Roman Clement. They were addressed to the believers of Lacedemon, Athens, Nicomedia, Cnosse, Gortyne, and other churches of Crete, Amastris, and other churches of the West. Soter, according to the custom of the Church of 97Rome, having sent to the Church at Corinth some alms, accompanied by a letter full of pious instructions, Dionysius thanked him for this kindness.

“It is to-day the Sabbath,” he wrote, “and we have seen your letter, and we preserve it to read again, when we desire to listen to salutary advices, as we do with those letters which Clement has already written. By your exhortation you have drawn tighter the bond between the two ‘plantations,’ the one by the hand of Peter, the other by that of Paul—I mean the Church of Rome and that of Corinth. These two apostles, indeed, came into our Corinth, and taught us in common, then sailed together towards Italy, to teach there in concert and to suffer martyrdom about the same time.”

The Church of Corinth yielded to the tendency of all the churches; it wished, like the Church of Rome, to have as its founders the two apostles whose union was held as the basis of Christianity. It pretended that Peter and Paul, after having passed to Corinth at the most brilliant point in their apostolic life, went together to Italy. The little agreement which prevailed concerning the history of the apostles made such suppositions as these possible, although contrary to all likelihood and all truth.

The writings of Dionysius passed as masterpieces of literary talent and zeal. He fought energetically with Marcion. In a letter to a pious sister named Chrysophora, he traced with a masterly hand the duties of the life consecrated to God. He was no less opposed to the grosser exaggerations of Montanism. In his letter to the Amastrians, he instructed them at length on marriage and virginity, and commanded them to receive joyfully all those who would repent, whether they had fallen into heresy or had committed any other sin. Palma, 98bishop of Amastris, fully accepted the right which Dionysius assumed to instruct the faithful. Dionysius did not find resistance to this to his taste in the case of his admonition to the bishop of Cnosse, Pinytus, an enthusiastic rigorist. Dionysius had begged him to consider the weakness of certain persons, and not to impose on the faithful generally the too heavy burden of chastity. Pinytus, who possessed eloquence, and passed for one of the lights of the Church, replied by declaring his great esteem and respect for Dionysius; but, in his turn, he counselled him to give his people more solid nourishment and stronger instruction, lest, always feeding them with the milk of toleration, they should insensibly grow old without having ever left in mind the weakness of childhood. Pinytus’s letter was much admired, and considered a model of episcopal ardour. It was confessed that the vigour of zeal, when it expresses itself with charity, has rights equal to those of prudence and sweetness.

Dionysius was much opposed to the speculations of the sects. A friend to peace and unity, he repelled everything which tended to division. Heresies had in him a determined adversary. His authority was such that the heretics, “the apostles of the devil,” as he calls them, falsified his letters, and “sowed them with tares,” adding or cutting out what they pleased. “What should surprise one,” said Dionysius, “if certain people have the audacity to falsify the Scriptures of the Lord, since they have dared to lay hands on the writings which have not the same sacred character?”

The Church of Athens, always characterised by a sort of frivolous lightness, was far from having a basis as assured as that of Corinth. Things took place there which did not happen elsewhere. The bishop Publius had bravely suffered martyrdom; 99then there had been a nearly general apostasy, a sort of abandonment of religion. A certain Quadratus, different doubtless from the apologist, reconstituted the Church, and there was something like an awakening of the faith. Dionysius wrote to this inconstant Church, not without some bitterness, trying to lead it back to the purity of belief and the severity of evangelical life. The Church of Athens, like that of Corinth, had its legend. It was connected with that Dionysius called the Areopagite, who is spoken of in the Acts, and it had made him the first bishop of Athens, so much had the episcopate become already the form without which one could not conceive of the existence of a Christian community.

Crete, we have seen, had churches very flourishing, pious, benevolent, and generous. The Gnostic heresies, and especially Marcionism, beset them without impairing them. Philip, bishop of Gortyne, wrote a fine work against Marcion, and was one of the most respected bishops of the time of Marcus-Aurelius.

Proconsular Asia continued to be the first province in Christian movement. The great struggle, the great persecutions, the great martyrs were there. Nearly all the bishops of the considerable towns were saintly men, eloquent, fairly sensible, having received a good Hellenic education, and, if one may say so, of very skilful religious politics. The bishops were multiplied; but many important families had a sort of claim on the episcopate in the small towns. Polycrates of Ephesus, who, during thirty years, shall defend so energetically against the bishop of Rome the traditions of the churches of Asia, was the eighth bishop of his family. The bishops of the large cities had a primacy over the others; they were the presidents of the provincial assemblies of bishops. The 100archbishop began to appear, although the word, if one had dared to use it, would have been repelled with horror.

Melito, bishop of Sardis, had, in the midst of those eminent pastors, a sort of uncontested superiority. It was unanimously agreed that he had the gift of prophecy, and it was believed that he was guided in everything by the light of the Holy Spirit. His writings followed each other year by year, in the midst of the universal admiration. His criticism was that of the time; at least, he was careful that his faith should be reasonable and consistent with itself. In many points of view he recalls Origen, but he had not to instruct him the facilities which were presented to the latter by the schools of Alexandria, Cesarea, and Tyre.

The considerable anxiety which the Christians of St. Paul possessed to study the Old Testament, and the weakness of Judaism in the regions of Asia at a distance from Ephesus, made it difficult to procure in that country distinct ideas as to the Biblical books. Their number and order were not exactly known. Melito, impelled by his own curiosity and, as it appeared, at the instance of a certain Onesimus, made a journey into Palestine to inform himself as to the true state of the canon. He brought back a catalogue of books received universally; it was purely and simply the Jewish canon, composed of twenty-five books, to the exclusion of Esther. The apocrypha, such as the book of Enoch, the apocalypse of Esdras, Judith, Tobit, &c., which were not received by the Jews, were equally excluded from the list of Melito. Without being a Hebraiser, Melito became the careful commentator of these sacred writings. At the entreaty of Onesimus, he reunited in six books the passages of the Pentateuch and the Prophets which related to Jesus Christ, and the other articles 101of the Christian faith. He worked upon the Greek versions, which he compared with the greatest possible diligence.

The exegesis of the Orientals was familiar to him; he discussed it point by point. Like the author of what is called the Epistle of Barnabas, he seems to have had a marked tendency towards allegorical and mystical explanations, and it is not impossible that his lost work, entitled The Key, was already one of these repertories of figurative explanations, by which it was sought to remove the anthropomorphising from the biblical text, and to substitute for meanings too simple meanings more lofty.

Among the scriptures of the New Testament, Melito only seems to have commented on the Apocalypse. He liked its sombre pictures; for we see that he himself announces that the final conflagration is at hand, that after the deluge of wind and the deluge of water shall come the deluge of fire which shall consume the earth, idols, and idolaters; the righteous only shall be saved, as they were formerly in the Ark. These strange beliefs did not prevent Melito from being, in his way, a cultured man. Familiar with the study of philosophy, he sought, in a series of works which unfortunately have been nearly all lost to us, to explain by rational psychology the mysteries of Christian dogma. He wrote besides some treatises where the preoccupation of Montanism seems to rule his thought, without its being possible to say whether he was its adversary or partly favourable to it. Such were the book on the Rule of life and the prophets, on the Church, on the Day of the Sabbath, on the Obedience which the senses owe to the Faith, on the Soul and the Body, or on Understanding, on Baptism, on the Creation and the Birth of Christ, on Hospitality, on Prophecy, on the Devil and the Apocalypse of John, on the Incarnate God, 102on the Incarnation of Christ, against Marcion. We can believe that there also was a book of prophecies which he composed.

Melito passed indeed for a prophet; but it is not certain that his prophecies formed a separate work. Admitting the prolongation of the gift of prophecy up to his time, he could not repulse à priori the Montanists of Phrygia. His life, besides, resembled theirs in a sort of asceticism. Only he did not recognise the revelations of the saints of Pepuza, otherwise certainly orthodoxy would have cast him from her arms.

One of these treatises, that which he entitled On the Truth, seems to have come down to us. The scoffs of monotheism against idolatry are full of bitterness, and hatred of idols has never been expressed with more force. Truth, according to the author, reveals itself to man, and, if he cannot see it, it is his fault. To deceive himself with the multitude is no excuse; error is multiplied only more fatally. God is an unchangeable, uncreated being; to confound Him with such or such an element is a crime, “especially now that the revelation of the truth has been spread through all the world.” The Sibyl had already said, “Idols are only the images of dead kings, who cause themselves to be worshipped.” People considered a discovered fragment of Philo of Byblos, exposing to us the old Phœnician Evemerism of Sanchoniathon, that curious page where Melito, taking up handfuls of the most singular and bizarre fables of Greek and Syrian mythology, seeks to prove to us that the gods are personages quite real, who have been deified because of the service they have rendered to certain countries, or the terror they have inspired. The worship of the Cæsars seemed to him the continuation of this practice.

“Do we not see still in our days,” says he, “the 103images of the Cæsars and their family more respected than those of the ancient gods, and those gods themselves paying homage to Cæsar as to a god greater than themselves? and truly, if death were the punishment for despisers of the gods, they would say that it was because they deprived the Treasury of a revenue. It is the same in those countries where the worshippers in certain temples pay a fixed sum to the Treasury. The great misfortune of the world is that those who adore inanimate gods, and of that number is the greatest number of the wise, whether by love of lucre or love of vainglory, or by the taste for power, not only adore them, but, besides, constrain simple minds to adore them also.

“Such a prince might perhaps say, ‘I am not free to do good. Being head, I am obliged to conform myself to the will of the majority.’ He who speaks so is to be laughed at. Why should the sovereign not have the initiative in everything that is good? Why should he not compel the people who are under him to act rightly, to know God according to the truth? and why should he not present in himself an example of all good actions? Who more properly? It is an absurd thing that a prince should conduct himself wrongly, and nevertheless be a judge, condemning those who commit evil deeds. As for myself, I think that a State can never be so well governed as when the sovereign, knowing and fearing the true God, judges everything as a man who knows he shall be in his turn judged before God, and when his subjects, on their side fearing God, should be careful not to give offence to their sovereign, as he is to them. Thus, thanks to the knowledge and the fear of God, all evil could be suppressed by the State.

“If the sovereign, in fact, does not act unjustly towards his subjects, or they towards him, it is clear 104that the whole country will live in peace, and the greatest good will result; for necessarily the name of God will be praised among them all. The first duty of the sovereign, and that which is most pleasing to God, is therefore to free from error the people who are under him. All evils indeed proceed from error, and the grand error is not to know God, and to adore in His stead that which is not God.”

We see how Melito is far removed from the dangerous principles which ruled at the end of the fourth century, and made the Christian empire. The sovereign erected into a protector of the truth, employing all means to make truth triumph, that is the ideal which was dreamt of. We shall find the same ideas in the apology addressed to Marcus-Aurelius. The dogmatic intolerance, the idea that it is culpable and displeasing to God to be ignorant of certain dogmas, is frankly avowed. Melito admits of no excuse for idolatry. And those who say that the honour rendered to idols in connection with the persons they represent, and those who content themselves with saying “It is the worship of our fathers,” are equally to blame.

“Ah, what! are those to whom our fathers have left poverty forbidden to become rich? Are those whose parents have not instructed them condemned to remain ignorant of what their fathers did not know? Are the sons of the blind not to see, and the sons of the lame not to walk? . . . . Before imitating thy father, see if he has been in a good path. If he has been in a bad one, take the good, so that thy children may follow thee in their turn. Weep over thy father, who is following the path of evil, perhaps thy sorrow may save him yet. As to thy children, say to them: ‘There is but one God, father of all, who had no 105beginning, who has not been created, and who makes all things subsist by His own will.’”

We shall soon see the part which Melito took in the controversy as to Easter, and the kind of way which so many distinguished minds took to present some apologetic writings to Marcus-Aurelius. His tomb is shown at Sardis as one of the just and the most certain to rise at the call of heaven. His name remained much respected among the Catholics, who considered him one of the first authorities of his age. His eloquence especially was boasted of, and the remains of him we have are, indeed, quite brilliant. A theology like his, where Jesus is at once God and man, was a protest against Marcion, and ought at the same time to please the adversaries of Artemon and Theodotus “the currier.” He knew the Gospel called St. John’s, and identified Christos with the Logos, putting him in the second rank behind the one God, before and above all. His treatise where Christ is presented as a created being might surprise; but no doubt it was little read, and this offensive title was changed in good time. In the fourth century, when orthodoxy had become more suspicious, these writings, so much admired two hundred years before, were no longer copied. Many passages doubtless appeared little conformed to the creed of Nicea. Melito’s fortune was that of Papias, and of so many other doctors of the second century, true founders, the first fathers in reality, and who had no other fault than not having divined beforehand what one day would be revealed by the councils.

Claudius Apollinaris, or Apollinarus, maintained the fame of the Church of Hierapolis, and, like Melito, joined literary culture and philosophy with sanctity. His style passed as excellent, and his doctrine for the purest. By his distance from Judeo-Christianity and his taste for the Gospel of 106John, he belonged to the party of movement rather than to that of tradition. As this was the movement which triumphed, his adversaries were behind from that time. We see him, nearly at the same period as Melito, presenting an apology to Marcus-Aurelius. He wrote five books addressed to the Pagans, two against the Jews, two on the Truth, and one on Piety, without mentioning many other works which did not obtain a great publicity, but were much esteemed by all who read them. Apollinaris fought energetically with Montanism, and was perhaps the bishop who contributed most to save the Church from the dangers into which those preachers had made her run. Towards the excesses of the Encratites also he was very severe. An astonishing mixture of good sense and literature, of fanaticism and moderation, characterised those extraordinary men, true ancestors of the lettered bishop, clever politicians, always having the appearance of hearing nothing but the inspiration of heaven, opposed to the violent while quite violent themselves. Thanks to the mendacious softness of a liberal language, these anticipative Dupanloups proved that the most refined worldly calculations do not exclude the most odd illuminism, and that with perfect honesty they could unite in their person all the appearance of reasonable men and all the rapture of enthusiasts.

Miltiades, like Apollinaris, the great adversary of the Montanists, was also a fertile writer. He composed two books against the Pagans, two books against the Jews, not forgetting an apology addressed to the Roman authorities. Musanus fought with the Encratites, the disciples of Tatian. Modestus set himself especially to unveil the tricks and errors of Marcion. Polycrates, who, later on, was to preside in a manner over the Church of Asia, already shone by his writings. A crowd of 107books were produced on all sides. Never perhaps has Christianity written more than during the second century in Asia. Literary culture was widely spread in this province; the art of writing was very common, and Christianity profited by this. The literature of the fathers of the Church began. The following centuries never surpassed these first essays of Christian eloquence; but from the orthodox point of view, the books of these fathers of the second century presented rather a stumbling block. The reading of them became suspected; they were copied less and less, and thus nearly all these fine writings disappeared, to give place to the classical writers, after the council of Nicea, writers more correct as to doctrine, but, in general, less original than those of the second century.

A certain Papirius, whose episcopal seat is unknown, was extremely esteemed. Thraseas, bishop of Eumenia, in the region of the high Meander, had the most envied glory, that of martyrdom. He probably suffered at Smyrna, since it is there that his tomb is honoured. Sagaris, bishop of Laodicea, on the Lycus, had the same honour under the pro-consulate of L. Sergius Paullus about the year 165. Laodicea preserved most preciously his remains. His name remained so much the more fixed in the remembrance of the churches, as his death was the occasion of an important episode connecting itself with one of the gravest questions of the period.

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