Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume II/Sozomen/Book VII/Chapter 15
Chapter XV.—Flavian and Evagrius, Bishops of Antioch. The Events at Alexandria upon the Destruction of the Temple of Dionysus. The Serapeum and the other Idolatrous Temples which were destroyed.
bishop of Antioch, died about this period, and those who had been
convened into a church with him persisted in their aversion to Flavian,
although his religious sentiments were precisely the same as their own,
because he had violated the oath he had formerly made to Meletius.
They, therefore, elected Evagrius as their bishop. Evagrius did not
long survive this appointment, and although Flavian prevented the
election of another bishop, those who had seceded from communion with
him, still continued to hold their assemblies apart.
About this period, the bishop of Alexandria, to whom the temple of Dionysus had, at his own request, been granted by the emperor, converted the edifice into a church. The statues were removed, the adyta were exposed; and, in order to cast contumely on the pagan mysteries, he made a procession for the display of these objects; the phalli, and whatever other object had been concealed in the adyta which really was, or seemed to be, ridiculous, he made a public exhibition of. The pagans, amazed at so unexpected an exposure, could not suffer it in silence, but conspired together to attack the Christians. They killed many of the Christians, wounded others, and seized the Serapion, a temple which was conspicuous for beauty and vastness and which was seated on an eminence. This they converted into a temporary citadel; and hither they conveyed many of the Christians, put them to the torture, and compelled them to offer sacrifice. Those who refused compliance were crucified, had both legs broken, or were put to death in some cruel manner. When the sedition had prevailed for some time, the rulers came and urged the people to remember the laws, to lay down their arms, and to give up the Serapion. There came then Romanus, the general of the military legions in Egypt; and Evagrius was the prefect of Alexandria
As their efforts, however, to reduce the people to submission were
utterly in vain, they made known what had transpired to the emperor.
Those who had shut themselves up in the Serapion prepared a more
spirited resistance, from fear of the punishment that they knew would
await their audacious proceedings, and they were further instigated to
revolt by the inflammatory discourses of a man named Olympius, attired
in the garments of a philosopher, who told them that they ought to die
rather than neglect the gods of their fathers. Perceiving that they
were greatly dispirited by the destruction of the idolatrous statues,
he assured them that such a circumstance did not warrant their
renouncing their religion; for that the statues were composed of
corruptible materials, and were mere pictures, and therefore would
disappear; whereas, the powers which had dwelt within them, had flown
to heaven. By such representations as these, he retained the multitude
with him in the Serapion.
When the emperor was informed of these occurrences, he declared that the Christians who had been slain were blessed, inasmuch as they had been admitted to the honor of martyrdom, and had suffered in defense of the faith. He offered free pardon
to those who had slain them, hoping that by this act of clemency they would be the more readily induced to embrace Christianity; and he commanded the demolition of the temples in Alexandria which had been the cause of the popular sedition. It is said that, when this imperial edict was read in public, the Christians uttered loud shouts of joy, because the emperor laid the odium of what had occurred upon the pagans. The people who were guarding the Serapion were so terrified at hearing these shouts, that they took to flight, and the Christians immediately obtained possession of the spot, which they have retained ever since. I have been informed that, on the night preceding this occurrence, Olympius heard the voice of one singing hallelujah in the Serapion. The doors were shut and everything was still; and as he could see no one, but could only hear the voice of the singer, he at once understood what the sign signified; and unknown to any one he quitted the Serapion and embarked for Italy. It is said that when the temple was being demolished, some stones were found, on which were hieroglyphic characters in the form of a cross, which on being submitted to the inspection of the learned, were interpreted as signifying the life to come.
These characters led to the conversion of several of the pagans, as did
likewise other inscriptions found in the same place, and which
contained predictions of the destruction of the temple. It was thus
that the Serapion was taken, and, a little while after, converted into
a church; it received the name of the Emperor Arcadius.
There were still pagans in many cities, who contended zealously in behalf of their temples; as, for instance, the inhabitants of Petræa and of Areopolis, in Arabia; of Raphi and Gaza, in Palestine; of Heriopolis in Phœnicia; and of Apamea, on the river Axius, in Syria. I have been informed that the inhabitants of the last-named city often armed the men of Galilee and the peasants of Lebanon in defense of their temples; and that at last, they even carried their audacity to such a height, as to slay a bishop named Marcellus. This bishop had commanded the demolition of all the temples in the city and villages, under the supposition that it would not be easy otherwise for them to be converted from their former religion. Having heard that there was a very spacious temple at Aulon, a district of Apamea, he repaired thither with a body of soldiers and gladiators. He stationed himself at a distance from the scene of conflict, beyond the reach of the arrows; for he was afflicted with the gout, and was unable to fight, to pursue, or to flee. Whilst the soldiers and gladiators were engaged in the assault against the temple, some pagans, discovering that he was alone, hastened to the place where he was separated from the combat; they arose suddenly and seized him, and burnt him alive. The perpetrators of this deed were not then known, but, in course of time, they were detected, and the sons of Marcellus determined upon avenging his death. The council of the province, however, prohibited them from executing this design, and declared that it was not just that the relatives or friends of Marcellus should seek to avenge his death; when they should rather return thanks to God for having accounted him worthy to die in such a cause.
- Soc. v. 15–17; Ruf. ii. H. E. ii. 21–24; Theodoret, H. E. v. 21–23; many independent points in Soz.
- Cod. Theod. xvi. 10, 11.
- The opinion of St. Augustine (Ep. 158, ad Marcell.) is here quoted by Valesius: “lest the sufferings of the servants of God, which ought to be held in esteem in the Church, be defiled by the blood of their enemies.” See, also, below, the death of Marcellus of Apamea.
- Ruf. H. E. ii. 29; Soc. v. 17.