Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book II/Chapter 2
Chapter II.—How Tiberius was affected when informed by Pilate concerning Christ.
1. And when the wonderful resurrection and ascension of our Saviour were already noised abroad, in accordance with an ancient custom which prevailed among the rulers of the provinces, of reporting to the emperor the novel occurrences which took place in them, in order that nothing might escape him, Pontius Pilate informed Tiberius of the reports which were noised abroad through all Palestine concerning the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus from the dead.
2. He gave an account also of other wonders which he had learned of him, and how, after his death, having risen from the dead, he was now believed by many to be a God. They say that Tiberius referred the matter to the Senate, but that they rejected it, ostensibly because they had not first examined into the matter (for an ancient law prevailed that no one should be made a God by the Romans except by a vote and decree of the Senate), but in reality because the saving teaching of the divine Gospel did not need the confirmation and recommendation of men.
3. But although the Senate of the Romans rejected the proposition made in regard to our Saviour, Tiberius still retained the opinion which he had held at first, and contrived no hostile measures against Christ.
4. These things are recorded by Tertullian, a man well versed in the laws of the Romans, and in other respects of high repute, and one of those especially distinguished in Rome. In his apology for the Christians, which was written by him in the Latin language, and has been translated into Greek, he writes as follows:
5. “But in order that we may give an account of these laws from their origin, it was an ancient decree that no one should be consecrated a God by the emperor until the Senate had expressed its approval. Marcus Aurelius did thus concerning a certain idol, Alburnus. And this is a point in favor of our doctrine, that among you divine dignity is conferred by human decree. If a God does not please a man he is not made a God. Thus, according to this custom, it is necessary for man to be gracious to God.
6. Tiberius, therefore, under whom the name of Christ made its entry into the world, when this doctrine was reported to him from Palestine, where it first began, communicated with the Senate, making it clear to them that he was pleased with the doctrine. But the Senate, since it had not itself proved the matter, rejected it. But Tiberius continued to hold his own opinion, and threatened death to the accusers of the Christians.” Heavenly providence had wisely instilled this into his mind in order that the doctrine of the Gospel, unhindered at its beginning, might spread in all directions throughout the world.
- That Pilate made an official report to Tiberius is stated also by Tertullian (Apol. 21), and is in itself quite probable. Justin Martyr (Apol. I. 35 and Apol. I. 48) mentions certain Acts of Pilate as well known in his day, but the so-called Acts of Pilate which are still extant in various forms are spurious, and belong to a much later period. They are very fanciful and curious. The most important of these Acts is that which is commonly known under the title of the Gospel of Nicodemus. There are also extant numerous spurious epistles of Pilate addressed to Herod, to Tiberius, to Claudius, &c. The extant Acts and Epistles are collected in Tischendorf’s Evang. Apoc., and most of them are translated by Cowper in his Apocryphal Gospels. See also the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Am. ed., VIII. p. 416 sqq. Compare the excellent article of Lipsius upon the Apocryphal Gospels in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. II. p. 707 sqq., also the Prolegomena of Tischendorf, p. lxii sqq.
- The existing Report of Pilate (translated in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, ibid. p. 460, 461) answers well to Eusebius’ description, containing as it does a detailed account of Christ’s miracles and of his resurrection. According to Tischendorf, however, it is in its present form of a much later date, but at the same time is very likely based upon the form which Eusebius saw, and has been changed by interpolations and additions. See the Prolegomena of Tischendorf referred to in the previous note.
- See below, note 12.
- That Tiberius did not persecute the Christians is a fact; but this was simply because they attracted no notice during his reign, and not because of his respect for them or of his belief in Christ.
- Tertullian was born in Carthage about the middle of the second century. The common opinion is that he was born about 160, but Lipsius pushes the date back toward the beginning of the fifties, and some even into the forties. For a recent study of the subject, see Ernst Nöldechen in the Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie, 1886, Heft 2. He concludes that he was born about 150 and lived until about 230. Tertullian’s father was a Roman centurion, and he himself became a lawyer and rhetorician in Rome. He was converted to Christianity probably between 180 and 190, and according to Jerome, became a presbyter and continued as such until middle life (whether in Rome or in Carthage we cannot tell; probably in the latter, for he certainly spent the later years of his life, while he was a Montanist, in Carthage, and also a considerable part of his earlier life, as his writings indicate), when he went over to Montanism (probably about 200 a.d.), and died at an advanced age (220+). That he was a presbyter rests only upon the authority of Jerome (de vir. ill. 53), and is denied by some Roman Catholic historians in the interest of clerical celibacy, for Tertullian was a married man. He wrote a great number of works,—apologetic, polemic, and practical—a few in Greek, but most of them in Latin,—and many of the Latin ones are still extant. The best edition of them is by Oehler, Leipzig, 1853, in three volumes. Vol. III. contains valuable dissertations upon the life and works of Tertullian by various writers. An English translation of his works is given in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vols. III. and IV. 1–125. Our main sources for a knowledge of his life are his own writings, and Jerome’s de vir. ill. chap. 53. For a fuller account of Tertullian, see any of the larger Church histories, and especially a good monograph by A. Hauck, Tertullian’s Leben und Schriften, Erlangen, 1877. For the literature, see Schaff’s Church Hist. II. p. 818.
- His accurate acquaintance with the laws of the Romans is not very conspicuous in his writings. His books lead us to think that as a lawyer he must have been noted rather for brilliancy and fertility of resource than for erudition. And this conclusion is borne out by his own description of his life before his conversion, which seems to have been largely devoted to pleasure, and thus to have hardly admitted the acquirement of extensive and accurate learning.
- Καὶ τῶν μ€λιστα ἐπὶ ῾Ρώμης λαμπρῶν. Rufinus translates inter nostros Scriptores celeberrimus, and Valesius inter Latinos Scriptores celeberrimus, taking ἐπὶ ῾Ρώμης to mean the Latin language. But this is not the literal translation of the words of Eusebius. He says expressly, one of the especially distinguished men in Rome. From his work de cultu Feminarum, Lib. I. chap. 7, we know that he had spent some time in Rome, and his acquaintance with the Roman records would imply a residence of some duration there. He very likely practiced law and rhetoric in Rome until his conversion.
- Tertullian’s Apology ranks first among his extant works, and is “one of the most beautiful monuments of the heroic age of the Church” (Schaff). The date of its composition is greatly disputed, though it must have been written during the reign of Septimius Severus, and almost all scholars are agreed in assigning it to the years 197–204. Since the investigations of Bonwetsch (Die Schriften Tertullian’s, Bonn, 1878), of Harnack (in the Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, 1878, p. 572 sqq.), and of Nöldechen (in Gebhardt and Harnack’s Texte und Untersuchungen, Band V. Heft 2), all of whom agree in assigning its composition to the latter part (summer or fall) of the year 197, its date may be accepted as practically established.
- Some have contended that Eusebius himself translated this passage from Tertullian, but his words show clearly enough that he quotes from an already existing translation. His knowledge of the Latin language appears to have been very limited. He must have had some acquaintance with it, for he translates Hadrian’s rescript to Fundanus from Latin into Greek, as he informs us in Bk. IV. chap. 8; but the translation of so brief and simple a piece of writing would not require a profound knowledge of the language, and there are good reasons for concluding that he was not a fluent Latin scholar. For instance, the only work of Tertullian’s which he quotes is his Apology, and he uses only a Greek translation of that. It is not unnatural to conclude that the rest of Tertullian’s works, or at least the most of them, were not translated, and that Eusebius was not enough of a Latin scholar to be able to read them in the original with any degree of ease. Moreover, this conclusion in regard to his knowledge of Latin is confirmed by the small acquaintance which he shows with the works of Latin writers in general. In fact, he does not once betray a personal acquaintance with any of the important Latin works which had been produced before his time, except such as existed in Greek translations. Compare Heinichen’s note in his edition of Eusebius’ History, Vol. III. p. 128 sqq. The translation of Tertullian’s Apology used by Eusebius was very poor, as may be seen from the passage quoted here, and also from the one quoted in Bk. II. chap. 25, §4. For the mistakes, however, of course not Eusebius himself, but the unknown translator, is to be held responsible.
- Tertullian’s Apology, chap. 5.
- Havercamp remarks (in his edition of Tertullian’s Apology, p. 56) that this law is stated in the second book of Cicero’s De Legibus in the words: Separatim nemo habessit deos, neve novos; sed ne advenas nisi publice adscitos privatim colunto.
- Μ€ρκος ᾽Αιμίλιος οὕτως περί τινος εἰδώλου πεποίηκεν ᾽Αλβούρνου. Latin: Scit M. Æmilius de deo suo Alburno. In Adv. Marcionem, I. 18, Tertullian says, Alioquin si sic homo Deum commentabitur, quomodo Romulus Consum, et Tatius Cloacinam, et Hostilius Pavorem, et Metellus Alburnum, et quidam ante hoc tempus Antinoum; hoc aliis licebit; nos Marcionem nauclerum novimus, non regem, nec imperatorem. I cannot discover that this εἰδωλος or Deus Alburnus is mentioned by any other writer than Tertullian, nor do I find a reference to him in any dictionary accessible to me.
- Literally, “This has been done in behalf of (or for the sake of) our doctrine” (καὶ τοῦτο ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἡμῶν λόγου πεποίηται); but the freer translation given in the text better expresses the actual sense. The original Latin reads: facit et hoc ad causam nostram.
- This entire account bears all the marks of untruthfulness, and cannot for a moment be thought of as genuine. Tertullian was probably, as Neander suggests, deceived by falsified or interpolated documents from some Christian source. He cannot have secured his knowledge from original state records. The falsification took place, probably, long after the time of Tiberius. Tertullian is the first writer to mention these circumstances, and Tertullian was not by any means a critical historian. Compare Neander’s remarks in his Church History, Vol. I. p. 93 sqq. (Torrey’s Translation).
- Were this conduct of Tiberius a fact, Trajan’s rescript and all subsequent imperial action upon the subject would become inexplicable.