Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book IV/Chapter 16
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Chapter XVI.—Justin the Philosopher preaches the Word of Christ in Rome and suffers Martyrdom.
1. About this time Justin, who was mentioned by us just above, after he had addressed a second work in behalf of our doctrines to the rulers already named, was crowned with divine martyrdom, in consequence of a plot laid against him by Crescens, a philosopher who emulated the life and manners of the Cynics, whose name he bore. After Justin had frequently refuted him in public discussions he won by his martyrdom the prize of victory, dying in behalf of the truth which he preached.
2. And he himself, a man most learned in the truth, in his Apology already referred to clearly predicts how this was about to happen to him, although it had not yet occurred.
3. His words are as follows: “I, too, therefore, expect to be plotted against and put in the stocks by some one of those whom I have named, or perhaps by Crescens, that unphilosophical and vainglorious man. For the man is not worthy to be called a philosopher who publicly bears witness against those concerning whom he knows nothing, declaring, for the sake of captivating and pleasing the multitude, that the Christians are atheistical and impious.
4. Doing this he errs greatly. For if he assails us without having read the teachings of Christ, he is thoroughly depraved, and is much worse than the illiterate, who often guard against discussing and bearing false witness about matters which they do not understand. And if he has read them and does not understand the majesty that is in them, or, understanding it, does these things in order that he may not be suspected of being an adherent, he is far more base and totally depraved, being enslaved to vulgar applause and irrational fear.
5. For I would have you know that when I proposed certain questions of the sort and asked him in regard to them, I learned and proved that he indeed knows nothing. And to show that I speak the truth I am ready, if these disputations have not been reported to you, to discuss the questions again in your presence. And this indeed would be an act worthy of an emperor.
6. But if my questions and his answers have been made known to you, it is obvious to you that he knows nothing about our affairs; or if he knows, but does not dare to speak because of those who hear him, he shows himself to be, as I have already said, not a philosopher, but a vainglorious man, who indeed does not even regard that most admirable saying of Socrates.” These are the words of Justin.
7. And that he met his death as he had predicted that he would, in consequence of the machinations of Crescens, is stated by Tatian, a man who early in life lectured upon the sciences of the Greeks and won no little fame in them, and who has left a great many monuments of himself in his writings. He records this fact in his work against the Greeks, where he writes as follows: “And that most admirable Justin declared with truth that the aforesaid persons were like robbers.”
8. Then, after making some remarks about the philosophers, he continues as follows: “Crescens, indeed, who made his nest in the great city, surpassed all in his unnatural lust, and was wholly devoted to the love of money.
9. And he who taught that death should be despised, was himself so greatly in fear of it that he endeavored to inflict death, as if it were a great evil, upon Justin, because the latter, when preaching the truth, had proved that the philosophers were gluttons and impostors.” And such was the cause of Justin’s martyrdom.
- That is, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, 161–169 a.d. Inasmuch as Eusebius is certainly in error in ascribing the death of Polycarp, recorded in the previous chapter, to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (see note 2 on that chapter), the fact that he here connects Justin’s death with that reign furnishes no evidence that it really occurred then; but we have other good reasons for supposing that it did (see below, note 4).
- In chap. 11.
- Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, whom he mentioned at the close of chap. 14, and the events of whose reign he is now ostensibly recording. But in regard to this supposed second apology addressed to them, see chap. 18, note 3.
- That Justin died a martyr’s death is the universal tradition of antiquity, which is crystallized in his name. Irenæus (Adv. Hær. I. 28. 1) is the first to mention it, but does so casually, as a fact well known. The only account of his martyrdom which we have is contained in the Acta Martyrii Justini Philosophi (Galland. I. 707 sq.), which, although belonging to a later age (probably the third century), yet bear every evidence of containing a comparatively truthful account of Justin’s death. According to these Acts, Justin, with six companions, was brought before Rusticus, prefect of Rome, and by him condemned to death, upon his refusal to sacrifice to the gods. The date of his martyrdom is very difficult to determine. There are two lines of tradition, one of which puts his death under Antoninus Pius, the other under Marcus Aurelius. The latter has the most in its favor; and if we are to accept the report of the Acta Justini (which can be doubted least of all at this point), his death took place under Rusticus, who, as we know, became prefect of Rome in 163. Upon the date of Justin’s death, see especially Holland, in Smith and Wace, III. p. 562 sq.
- Of this cynic philosopher Crescens we know only what is told us by Justin and Tatian, and they paint his character in the blackest colors. Doubtless there was sufficient ground for their accusations; but we must remember that we have his portrait only from the pen of his bitterest enemies. In the Acta Crescens is not mentioned in connection with the death of Justin,—an omission which is hardly to be explained, except upon the supposition of historical truthfulness. Eusebius’ report here seems to rest solely upon the testimony of Tatian (see §§8 and 9, below), but the passage of Tatian which he cites does not prove his point; it simply proves that Crescens plotted against Justin; whether his plotting was successful is not stated, and the contrary seems rather to be implied (see note 13, below).
- Harnack thinks that Eusebius at this point wishes to convey the false impression that he quotes from the second apology, whereas he really quotes from what was to him the first, as can be seen from chap. 17. But such conduct upon the part of Eusebius would be quite inexplicable (at the beginning of the very next chapter, e.g., he refers to this same apology as the first), and it is far better to refer the words ἐν τῇ δεδηλωμένῃ ᾽Απολογί& 139· to chap. 13 sq., where the apology is quoted repeatedly.
- Justin, Apol. II. 3.
- κἀγὼ οὖν. In the previous chapter (quoted by Eusebius in the next chapter) Justin has been speaking of the martyrdom of various Christians, and now goes on to express his expectation that he, too, will soon suffer death.
- ξύλῳ ἐντιναγῆναι. Compare Acts xvii. 24, and see Otto’s note on this passage, in his edition of Justin’s Apology (Corpus Apol. Christ. I. p. 204). He says: ξύλον erat truncus foramina habens, quibus pedes captivorum immitebantur, ut securius in carcere servarentur aut tormentis vexarentur (“a ξύλον was a block, with holes in which the feet of captives were put, in order that they might be kept more securely in prison, or might be afflicted with tortures”).
- This accusation was very commonly made against the Christians in the second century. See above, chap. 7, note 20.
- In §3, above.
- This saying of Socrates is given by Justin as follows: ἀλλ᾽ οὔτι γὲ πρὸ τῆς ἀληθείας τιμητέος ἀνὴρ, “a man must not be honored before the truth” (from Plato’s Republic, Bk. X.). It is hard to say why Eusebius should have omitted it. Perhaps it was so well known that he did not think it necessary to repeat it, taking for granted that the connection would suggest the same to every reader, or it is possible that the omission is the fault of a copyist, not of Eusebius himself.
- On Tatian and his writings, see below, chap. 29. Eusebius has been accused by Dembowski, Zahn, Harnack, and others of practicing deception at this point. The passage from Tatian’s Oratio ad Græcos, which Eusebius appeals to for testimony in regard to Justin’s death, and which he quotes just below, is not given by him exactly as it stands in the extant text of the Oratio. In the latter we read, “He who taught that death should be despised was himself so greatly in fear of it, that he endeavored to inflict death as if it were an evil upon Justin, and indeed on me also, because when preaching he had proved that the philosophers were gluttons and impostors.” The difference between the two texts consists in the substitution of the word μεγ€λῳ for the words καὶ ἐμὲ ὡς; and it is claimed that this alteration was intentionally made by Eusebius. As the text stands in Tatian, the passage is far from proving that Justin’s death was caused by the machinations of Crescens, for Tatian puts himself on a level with Justin as the object of these machinations, and of course since they did not succeed in his case, there is no reason to suppose that they succeeded in Justin’s case. It is claimed, therefore, that Justin, realizing this, struck out the καὶ ἐμὲ ὡς in order to permit the reader to gather from the passage that Tatian meant to imply that the plots of Crescens were successful, and resulted in Justin’s death. Before accepting this conclusion, however, it may be well to realize exactly what is involved in it. The change does not consist merely in the omission of the words καὶ ἐμὲ ὡς, but in the substitution for them of the word μεγ€λῳ. It cannot, therefore, be said that Eusebius only omitted some words, satisfying his conscience that there was no great harm in that; whoever made the change, if he did it intentionally, directly falsified the text, and substituted the other word for the sake of covering up his alteration; that is, he committed an act of deceit of the worst kind, and deliberately took steps to conceal his act. Certainly such conduct is not in accord with Eusebius’ general character, so far as we can ascertain it from his writings. Even Zahn and Harnack, who accuse him of intentional deception here, yet speak of his general conscientiousness, and treat this alteration as one which Eusebius allowed himself to make while, at the same time, his “conscientiousness did not permit him even this time to change truth completely into untruth.” But if he could allow himself to make so deliberate an alteration, and then cover the change by inserting another word, there is little cause to speak of “conscientiousness” in connection with the matter; if he could do that, his conscience would certainly permit him to make any false quotations, however great, so long as he thought he could escape detection. But few would care to accuse Eusebius of possessing such a character. Certainly if he possessed it, we should find clearer traces of it than we do in his History, where we have the opportunity to control a large portion of his statements on an immense variety of subjects. Moreover, for such a grave act of deception as Eusebius is supposed to have committed, some adequate ground must have existed. But what ground was there? The only motive suggested is that he desired to appear to possess specific knowledge about the manner of Justin’s death, when in fact he did not possess it. It is not maintained that he had any larger motive, such as reconciling apparent contradictions in sacred records, or shedding an added luster upon the Christian religion, for neither of these purposes has any relation to the statement in regard to Crescens’ connection with Justin’s death. Solely then for the sake of producing the impression that he knew more about Justin’s death than he did, he must have made the change. But certainly when we realize how frequently Eusebius directly avows his ignorance on points far more important (to his mind) than this (e.g., the dates of the Jerusalem bishops, which he might so easily have invented), and when we consider how sober his history is in comparison with the accounts of the majority of his contemporaries, both Pagan and Christian, how few fables he introduces, how seldom he embellishes the narratives which he finds related in his sources with imaginary figments of his own brain,—when, in fact, no such instances can be found elsewhere, although, writing in the age he did, and for the public for whom he did, he might have invented so many stories without fear of detection, as his successors during the ancient and middle ages were seldom loath to do,—when all this is taken into consideration, we should hesitate long before we accuse Eusebius of such deceptive conduct as is implied in the intentional alteration of Tatian’s account at this point. It has been quite the custom to accuse Eusebius of intentional deviations from the truth here and there but it must be remembered that he was either honest or dishonest, and if he ever deliberately and intentionally deviated from the truth, his general character for truthfulness is gone, unless the deviation were only in some exceptional case, where the pressure to misrepresentation was unusually strong, under which circumstances his reputation for veracity in general might not be seriously impaired. But the present instance is not such an one, and if he was false here on so little provocation, why should we think his character such as to guarantee truthfulness in any place where falsehood might be more desirable? The fact is, however, that the grounds upon which the accusation against Eusebius is based are very slender. Nothing but the strongest evidence should lead us to conclude that such a writer as he practiced such wilful deception for reasons absolutely trivial. But when we realize how little is known of the actual state of the text of Tatian’s Oratio at the time Eusebius wrote, we must acknowledge that to base an accusation on a difference between the text of the History and the extant mss. of the Oratio is at least a little hasty. An examination of the latest critical edition of Tatian’s Oratio (that of Schwartz, in Gebhardt, and Harnack’s Texte und Untersuch. IV. 1) shows us that in a number of instances the testimony of the mss. of Eusebius is accepted over against that of the few extant mss. of Tatian. The ms. of Tatian which Eusebius used was therefore admittedly different at a number of points from all our existing mss. of Tatian. It is consequently not at all impossible that the ms. which he used read μεγ€λῳ instead of καὶ ἐμὲ ὡς. It happens, indeed, to be a fact that our three mss. of Tatian all present variations at this very point (one reads καὶ ἐμὲ ὡς, another, καὶ ἐμὲ οἷον, another, καὶ ἐμὲ οὗς), showing that the archetype, whatever it was, either offered difficulties to the copyists, or else was partially illegible, and hence required conjectural emendations or additions. It will be noticed that the closing verb of this sentence is in the singular, so that the mention of both Justin and Tatian in the beginning of the sentence may well have seemed to some copyist quite incongruous, and it is not difficult to suppose that under such circumstances, the text at this point being in any case obscure or mutilated, such a copyist permitted himself to make an alteration which was very clever and at the same time did away with all the trouble. Textual critics will certainly find no difficulty in such an assumption. The mss. of Tatian are undoubtedly nearer the original form at this point than those of Eusebius, but we have no good grounds for supposing that Eusebius did not follow the ms. which lay before him. The question as to Eusebius’ interpretation of the passage as he found it is quite a different one. It contains no direct statement that Justin met his death in consequence of the plots of Crescens; and finding no mention of such a fact in the Acts of Martyrdom of Justin, we may dismiss it as unhistorical and refuse to accept Eusebius’ interpretation of Tatian’s words. To say, however, that Eusebius intentionally misinterpreted those words is quite unwarranted. He found in Justin’s work an expressed expectation that he would meet his death in this way, and he found in Tatian’s work the direct statement that Crescens did plot Justin’s death as the latter had predicted he would. There was nothing more natural than to conclude that Tatian meant to imply that Crescens had succeeded, for why did he otherwise mention the matter at all, Eusebius might well say, looking at the matter from his point of view, as an historian interested at that moment in the fact of Justin’s death. He does undoubtedly show carelessness and lack of penetration in interpreting the passage as he does; but if he had been aware of the defect in the evidence he presents, and had yet wished deceitfully to assert the fact as a fact, he would certainly have omitted the passage altogether, or he would have bolstered it up with the statement that other writers confirmed his conclusion,—a statement which only a thoroughly and genuinely honest man would have scrupled to make. Finally, to return to the original charge of falsification of the sources, he realized that the text of Tatian, with the καὶ ἐμὲ ὡς, did not establish Justin’s death at the instigation of Crescens, he must have realized at the same time that his altered text, while it might imply it, certainly did not absolutely prove it, and hence he would not have left his conclusion, which he stated as a demonstrated fact, to rest upon so slender a basis, when he might so easily have adduced any number of oral traditions in confirmation of it. If he were dishonest enough to alter the text, he would not have hesitated to state in general terms that the fact is “also supported by tradition.” We conclude, finally, that he read the passage as we now find it in the mss. of his History, and that his interpretation of the passage, while false, was not intentionally so. The attacks upon Eusebius which have been already referred to are to be found in Dembowski’s Quellen der christlichen Apologetik, I. p. 60; Zahn’s Tatian’s Diatessaron, p. 275 sq., and Harnack’s Ueberlieferung der griech. Apologeten, p. 141 sq. Semisch (Justin der Märtyrer, I. 53) takes for granted that Eusebius followed the text of Tatian which lay before him, but does not attempt to prove it.
- Tatian, Oratio ad Græcos, c. 18. It is quite probable that Tatian is here appealing, not to a written work of Justin’s, but to a statement which he had himself heard him make. See Harnack’s Ueberlieferung der griech. Apologeten, p. 130. Harnack is undoubtedly correct in maintaining that Tatian’s Oratio is quite independent of Justin’s Apology and other writings.
- Ibid.chap. 19.