Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book III/Chapter 18
Chapter XVIII.—The Apostle John and the Apocalypse.
1. It is said that in this persecution the apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word.
2. Irenæus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him:
3. “If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.”
4. To such a degree, indeed, did the teaching of our faith flourish at that time that even those writers who were far from our religion did not hesitate to mention in their histories the persecution and the martyrdoms which took place during it.
5. And they, indeed, accurately indicated the time. For they recorded that in the fifteenth year of Domitian Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was exiled with many others to the island of Pontia in consequence of testimony borne to Christ.
- Unanimous tradition, beginning with Irenæus (V. 30. 3, quoted just below, and again in Eusebius V. 8) assigns the banishment of John and the apocalyptic visions to the reign of Domitian. This was formerly the common opinion, and is still held by some respectable writers, but strong internal evidence has driven most modern scholars to the conclusion that the Apocalypse must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, the banishment therefore (upon the assumption that John wrote the Apocalypse, upon which see chap. 24, note 19) taking place under Nero instead of Domitian. If we accept this, we have the remarkable phenomenon of an event taking place at an earlier date than that assigned it by tradition, an exceptional and inexplicable thing. We have too the difficulty of accounting for the erroneousness of so early and unanimous a tradition. The case thus stood for years, until in 1886 Vischer published his pamphlet Die Offenbarung des Johannes, eine jüdische Apocalypse in Christlicher Bearbeitung (Gebhardt and Harnack’s Texte und Untersuchungen, Band II. Heft. 3), which if his theory were true, would reconcile external and internal evidence in a most satisfactory manner, throwing the original into the reign of Nero’s successor, and the Christian recension into the reign of Domitian. Compare especially Harnack’s appendix to Vischer’s pamphlet; and upon the Apocalypse itself, see chap. 24, below.
- Rev. xiii. 18. It will be noticed that Eusebius is careful not to commit himself here on the question of the authorship of the Apocalypse. See below, chap. 24, note 20.
- Irenæus, Adv. Hær. V. 30. 3; quoted also below, in Bk. V. chap. 8.
- Jerome, in his version of the Chron. of Eusebius (year of Abr. 2112), says that the historian and chronographer Bruttius recorded that many of the Christians suffered martyrdom under Domitian. Since the works of Bruttius are not extant, we have no means of verifying the statement. Dion Cassius (LXVII. 14) relates some of the banishments which took place under Domitian, among them that of Flavia Domitilla, who was, as we know, a Christian; but he does not himself say that any of these people were Christians, nor does he speak of a persecution of the Christians.
- We learn from Suetonius (Domit. chap. 15) that the events referred to by Eusebius in the next sentence took place at the very end of Domitian’s reign; that is, in the year 96 a.d., the fifteenth year of his reign, as Eusebius says. Dion Cassius also (LXVII. 14) puts these events in the same year.
- Flavius Clemens was a cousin of Domitian, and his wife, Domitilla, a niece of the emperor. They stood high in favor, and their two sons were designated as heirs to the empire, while Flavius Clemens himself was made Domitian’s colleague in the consulship. But immediately afterward Clemens was put to death and Domitilla was banished. Suetonius (Domit, chap. 15) accuses Clemens of contemtissimæ inertiæ, and Dion Cassius (LXVII. 14) of atheism (ἀθεότητος). These accusations are just such as heathen writers of that age were fond of making against the Christians (compare, for instance, Athenagoras’ Adv. Gent. chap. 4, and Tertullian’s Apol. chap. 42). Accordingly it has been very commonly held that both Flavius Clemens and Domitilla were Christians, and were punished on that account. But early tradition makes only Domitilla a Christian; and certainly if Clemens also—a man of such high rank—had been a Christian, an early tradition to that effect would be somewhere preserved. We must, therefore, conclude that his offense was something else than Christianity. The very silence of Christian tradition as to Clement is an argument for the truth of the tradition in regard to Domitilla, and the heathen historians referred to confirm its main points, though they differ in minor details. The Acts of Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilles represent Domitilla as the niece, not the wife, of Flavius Clemens, and Eusebius does the same. More than that, while the heathen writers report that Domitilla was banished to the island Pandeteria, these Acts, as well as Eusebius and Jerome (Ep. adv. Eustachium, Migne’s ed., Ep. CVIII. 7), give the island of Pontia as the place of banishment. Tillemont and other writers have therefore assumed that there were two Domitillas,—aunt and niece,—one banished to one island, the other to another. But this is very improbable, and it is easier to suppose that there was but one Domitilla and but one island, and that the discrepancies are due to carelessness or to the mistakes of transcribers. Pandeteria and Pontia were two small islands in the Mediterranean, just west of central Italy, and were very frequently employed by the Roman emperors as places of exile for prisoners.