Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Macarius Magnes, a writer
Macarius (9) Magnus, a writer of the end of the 4th cent. Four centuries after, his name had sunk into almost complete oblivion, when in the course of the image controversy a
quotation from him was produced on the iconoclastic side. Nicephorus, then or afterwards patriarch of Constantinople, had never heard of him, and only after long search could he procure a copy of the work containing the extract (Spicilegium Solesmense, i. 305). Nicephorus evidently had no knowledge of the author except from the book itself. The words Macarius Magnes may be both proper names, or else may be translated either as the blessed Magnes or as Macarius the Magnesian. Nicephorus understood Macarius as a proper name, and so he found it understood in the title of the extract which he discusses, but will not undertake to say whether Magnes is a proper name or a geographical term. He concludes that Macarius was a bishop, because the title described the author as ἱεράρχης and the very ancient MS. from which his information was derived contained a portrait of the author in a sacerdotal dress. He dates Macarius as 300 years later than the "Divine and Apostolic preaching," as could be gathered from two passages in the work. The work, called Apocritica, was addressed to a friend named Theosthenes, and contained objections by a heathen of the school of Aristotle, together with replies by Macarius. Nicephorus finds that the extract produced by the Iconoclasts had been unfairly used, the context shewing that Macarius referred only to heathen idolatry and not to the use of images among Christians. But Nicephorus had no favourable opinion of him on the whole, thinking he discerned Manichean, Arian, or Nestorian tendencies, and especially agreement with "the impious and senseless Origen" as to the non-eternity of future punishments. Macarius again sank into obscurity, only some very few extracts from his writings being found in MSS. of succeeding centuries. Near the end of the 16th cent. he became again the subject of controversy through the Jesuit Turrianus, who had found a copy of the Apocritica in St. Mark's Library at Venice, which when afterwards sought for had disappeared. In 1867 there was found at Athens what there is good reason to believe was this copy, which, by theft or otherwise, had found its way to Greece. This was pub. by Paul Foucart (Paris, 1876). Shortly after Duchesne pub. a dissertation on Macarius (Paris, 1877) with the text of all the attainable fragments of Macarius's homilies on Genesis. The Apocritica consisted of five books: of these we have only the third complete, but enough remains to shew that the work purports to contain a report of a viva voce discussion between the author and a Grecian philosopher. In form it is perhaps unique. It is not a mere dialogue; nor does it proceed in the Platonic method of short questions and answers. Each speech of the heathen objector is made up of some half-dozen short speeches, each dealing with different objections. To these Macarius severally replies, and then follow a few lines of narrative introducing a new set of objections. We doubtless have here a unique specimen of genuine heathen objections of the 4th cent. The blows against Christianity are dealt with such hearty goodwill and with so little restraint of language that a Christian would certainly have regarded it as blasphemous to invent such an attack. That Macarius did not invent the objections is further shewn by his sometimes missing their point, and by his answers being often very unsatisfactory. There is also a clear difference in style between the language of the objector and of the respondent. It has therefore been inferred that Macarius reproduces the language as well as the substance of the arguments of a heathen, and then arises the question, "Does the dialogue record a real viva voce discussion with a heathen objector, or are the heathen objections from a published work against Christianity, and if so, whose?"
The earliest Christian apologists defended their religion against men who had a very vague knowledge of it. But towards the close of the 3rd cent, a systematic attack was made on our religion by its most formidable adversary, Porphyry, founded on a careful study of our sacred books. Three or four of the Macarian objections have been at least ultimately derived from Porphyry. They do not appear to be verbally copied from him; and the Macarian objector places himself 300 years after St. Paul's death, which, with every allowance for round numbers, is too late for Porphyry. Again, there is scarcely any resemblance between the objections in Macarius and what we know of those of the emperor Julian. Great part of these last is directed against the O.T., those of Macarius almost exclusively against the New; and the Macarian objections are not attacks of a general nature on the Christian scheme, but rather attempts to find error or self-contradiction in particular texts e.g. how could Jesus say, "Me ye have not always," and yet "I am with you always, even to the end of the world"? Intermediate in time between Porphyry and Julian was Hierocles, and Duchesne ably advocates the view that the discussion in Macarius is fictitious, and that his book contains a literal transcript of parts of the lost work of Hierocles. We are ourselves inclined to believe that while no doubt Macarius or the heathen philosophers whom he encountered drew the substance of their arguments, and even in some cases their language, from previous heathen writings, yet on the whole the wording is Macarius's own. We give a few specimens of the objections with Macarius's solutions, with a warning that the selection is scarcely fair to Macarius, since it is not worth while printing such of his answers as an apologist of to-day would give.
Ob. Jesus told His disciples "Fear not them who can kill the body," yet when danger was threatening Himself, He prayed in an agony that the suffering might pass away. His words then were not worthy of a Son of God, nor even of a wise man who despises death.
Sol. We must see what it was our Lord really feared, when He prayed. The devil had seen so many proofs of His divinity that he dared not assault Him again, and so there was danger that that Passion which was to be the salvation of the world should never take place. Our Lord dissembles, therefore, and pretends to fear death, and thus deceiving the devil, hastens the hour of his assault; for when He prayed that His cup might pass, what He
really desired was that it should come more speedily. He thus caught the devil by baiting the hook of His divinity with the worm of His humanity, as it is written in Ps. xxii., "I am a worm, and no man," and in Job xli., "Thou shalt draw out the dragon with a hook."—The doctrine that the devil was thus deceived is taught by many Fathers, e.g. Gregory Nyssen. Gregory the Great, commenting on Job xli. 1, uses language strikingly like that of Macarius; but the common source of Macarius and the rest was Origen's Comm. on Ps. xxii.
Ob. How can Jesus say "Moses wrote of Me," when nothing at all of the writings of Moses has been preserved? All were burnt with the temple, and what we have under the name of Moses was written 1,180 years after his death by Ezra and his company.
Sol. When Ezra rewrote the books of Moses, he restored them with perfect accuracy as they had been before: for it was the same Spirit Who taught them both.
Ob. "If they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them." If so, candidates for bishoprics ought to be tested by offering them a cup of poison. If they dare not drink, they ought to own that they do not really believe the words of Jesus; and if they have not faith for the cures promised in the same context and the power to remove mountains, no ordinary Christian is now a believer, nor even any bishops or presbyters.
Sol.—Christ's words are not to be understood literally. Working cures is no test of faith: for such are often performed by unbelievers or atheists. It is not to be supposed Christ intended His disciples to do what He never did Himself, and He never moved a literal mountain. What He meant by mountains was demons, and we have in Jer. li. 25 this metaphorical use of the word mountain.—Here we have another coincidence with Ambrose (in Ps. xxxvi. 35 (Vulg.); Migne, i. 1000), both no doubt being indebted to Origen.
It is important to note that St. Mark, as read by the objector and by Macarius, contained the disputed verses at the end, as is seen also from his mentioning that out of Mary Magdalen had been cast seven devils (see Orig. Adv. Cels. ii. 55). He speaks of the author of Hebrews as the Apostle, no doubt intending St. Paul. He appears to have used II. Peter (see p. 180). The phrase "the canon of the N.T." occurs p. 168.
With respect to idolatry the heathen apologist argues: None of us supposes wood or stone to be God, or thinks that if a piece be broken off an image, the power of the Deity represented is diminished. It was by way of reminder that the ancients set up temples and images, that those who come to them might think of God and make prayers according to their needs. You do not imagine a picture of your friend to be your friend; you keep it merely to remind you of him, and to do him honour. Our sacrifices are not intended to confer benefit on the Deity, but to shew the love and gratitude of the worshipper. We make our images of Deity in human form as being the most beautiful we know.
We have not space to give other answers of Macarius, though some are clever enough. Sufficient has been quoted to show the allegorical style of interpretation which Macarius used. Other examples could be easily added: e.g. the clouds by which Paul expected to be caught up mean angels (p. 174); the three measures of meal (Matt. xiii.) mean time, past, present, and future; the thong (shoe-latchet) which could not be loosed is the tie between our Lord's humanity and divinity (p. 93); the four watches of the night (Matt. xiv. 25) mean the ages of the patriarchs, of the law, of the prophets, and of Christ; in Elijah's vision the strong wind was the patriarchal dispensation which swept away the worship of idols; the earthquake was the law of Moses, at the giving of which the mountains leaped like rams; the fire was the word of prophecy (Jer. xx. 9); the still small voice was the message of Gabriel to Mary. Macarius thus belonged to the Alexandrian school of allegorical interpretation, as might be expected from the great use he makes of Origen, not to the Syrian literal school. [Diodorus.] Alexandria might also be suggested by the fact that Macarius has some scientific knowledge. He admires extremely (p. 179) the skill of geometers in being able to find a square equal in area to a triangle; he knows the astronomical labours of Aratus, and is aware that in the discussion of celestial problems the earth is treated as a point. On the other hand, many indications point to the East as his abode. He measures distances by parasangs (p. 138); when speaking (p. 7) of the diversities which exist among the population of a great city, he chooses Antioch as his example. Speaking of the ascetic life, he draws his instances not from the celebrated solitaries of Egypt, but those of the East. In a short list of heretics the Syrian Bardesanes is included. The woman healed of an issue of blood is said to have been Berenice, queen of Edessa, a notion likely to have been derived from a local tradition. In a question of language which became the subject of much dispute in the East he sides with those who speak of τριῶν ὑποστάσεων ἐν οὐσίᾳ μιᾷ.
Crusius pointed out, and the suggestion has been adopted by Möller (Schürer, Theol. Lit. Zeit. 1877, p. 521), that at the Synod of the Oak in 403, one of the accusers of Heracleidas of Ephesus was a Macarius, bp. of Magnesia. His identification with our Macarius seems highly probable. It is not a weighty objection that one of the charges brought against Heracleidas was Origenism, while Macarius, as we have seen, was largely indebted to Origen. Macarius had other grounds of hostility to Heracleidas, and we have no knowledge that his own admiration of Origen was such as to induce him to incur the charge of heresy for his sake, or to refrain from bringing the charge of Origenism against an opponent. The Magnesian Macarius sufficiently satisfies the conditions of time and place.
Duchesne conjectures that Macarius may probably have visited Rome. Of the heroes of the Eastern church he names only Polycarp, telling of him a story found elsewhere. Of Westerns he names Irenaeus of Lyons, Fabian of Rome, and Cyprian of Carthage. He has the story told in the Latin Abdias (Fabric. Cod. Ap. N. T. p. 455) of flowing milk instead of blood from St. Paul's headless body (p.
182). The duration of St. Peter's episcopate is made only a few months (p. 102).