Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume III/Theodoret/Ecclesiastical History/Book III/Chapter 3
Chapter III.—Of the number and character of the deeds done by Pagans against the Christians when they got the power from Julian.
When Julian had made his impiety openly known the cities were filled with dissensions. Men enthralled by the deceits of idolatry took heart, opened the idols’ shrines, and began to perform those foul rites which ought to have died out from the memory of man. Once more they kindled the fire on the altars, befouled the ground with victims’ gore, and defiled the air with the smoke of their burnt sacrifices. Maddened by the demons they served they ran in corybantic frenzy round about the streets, attacked the saints with low stage jests, and with all the outrage and ribaldry of their impure processions.
On the other hand the partizans of piety could not brook their blasphemies, returned insult for insult, and tried to confute the error which their opponents honoured. In their turn the workers of iniquity took it ill; the liberty allowed them by the sovereign was an encouragement to audacity and they dealt deadly blows among the Christians.
It was indeed the duty of the emperor to consult for the peace of his subjects, but he in the depth of his iniquity himself maddened his peoples with mutual rage. The deeds dared by the brutal against the peaceable he overlooked and entrusted civil and military offices of importance to savage and impious men, who though they hesitated publicly to force the lovers of true piety to offer sacrifice treated them nevertheless with all kinds of indignity. All the honours moreover conferred on the sacred ministry by the great Constantine Julian took away.
To tell all the deeds dared by the slaves of idolatrous deceit at that time would require a history of these crimes alone, but out of the vast number of them I shall select a few instances. At Askalon and at Gaza, cities of Palestine, men of priestly rank and women who had lived all their lives in virginity were disembowelled, filled with barley, and given for food to swine. At Sebaste, which belongs to the same people, the coffin of John the Baptist was opened, his bones burnt, and the ashes scattered abroad.
Who too could tell without a tear the vile deed done in Phœnicia? At Heliopolis by Lebanon there lived a certain deacon of the name of Cyrillus. In the reign of Constantine, fired by divine zeal, he had broken in pieces many of the idols there worshipped. Now men of infamous name, bearing this deed in mind, not only slew him, but cut open his belly and devoured his liver. Their crime was not, however, hidden from the all-seeing eye, and they suffered the just reward of their deeds; for all who had taken part in this abominable wickedness lost their teeth, which all fell out at once, and lost, too, their tongues, which rotted away and dropped from them: they were moreover deprived of sight, and by their sufferings proclaimed the power of holiness.
At the neighbouring city of Emesa they dedicated to Dionysus, the woman-formed, the newly erected church, and set up in it his ridiculous androgynous image. At Dorystolum, a famous city of Thrace, the victorious athlete Æmilianus was thrown upon a flaming pyre, by Capitolinus, governor of all Thrace. To relate the tragic fate of Marcus, however, bishop of Arethusa, with true dramatic dignity, would require the eloquence of an Æschylus or a Sophocles. In the days of Constantius he had destroyed a certain idol-shrine and built a church in its place; and no sooner did the Arethusians learn the mind of Julian than they made an open display of their hostility. At first, according to the precept of the Gospel, Marcus endeavoured to make his escape; but when he became aware that some of his own people were apprehended in his stead, he returned and gave himself up to the men of blood. After they had seized him they neither pitied his old age nor reverenced his deep regard for virtue; but, conspicuous as he was for the beauty alike of his teaching and of his life, first of all they stripped and smote him, laying strokes on every limb, then they flung him into filthy sewers, and, when they had dragged him out again, delivered him to a crowd of lads whom they charged to prick him without mercy with their pens. After this they put him into a basket, smeared him with pickle and honey, and hung him up in the open air in the height of summer, inviting wasps and bees to a feast. Their object in doing this was to compel him either to restore the shrine which he had destroyed, or to defray the expense of its erection. Marcus, however, endured all these grievous sufferings and affirmed that he would consent to none of their demands. His enemies, with the idea that he could not afford the money from poverty, remitted half their demand, and bade him pay the rest; but Marcus hung on high, pricked with pens, and devoured by wasps and bees, yet not only shewed no signs of pain, but derided his impious tormentors with the repeated taunt, “You are groundlings and of the earth; I, sublime and exalted.” At last they begged for only a small portion of the money; but, said he, “it is as impious to give an obole as to give all.” So discomfited they let him go, and could not refrain from admiring his constancy, for his words had taught them a new lesson of holiness.
- Corybantes, the name of the priests of Cybele, whose religious service consisted in noisy music and wild armed dances, is a word of uncertain origin. The chief seat of their rites was Pessinus in Galatia.
- Θιασῶται. lit. The “club-fellows,” or “members of a religious brotherhood.”
- Sebaste was a name given to Samaria by Herod the Great in honour of Augustus. cf. Rufinus H. E. xi. 28 and Theophanes, Chronographia i. 117. Theodoretus claims to have obtained some of the relics of the Baptist for his own church at Cyrus (Relig. Hist. 1245). On the development of the tradition of the relics, cf. Dict. Christ. Ant. i. 883. A magnificent church was built by Theodosius (Soz. vii. 21 and 24) in a suburb of Constantinople, to enshrine a head discovered by some unsound monks. The church is said by Sozomen (vii. 24) to be “at the seventh milestone,” on the road out of Constantinople, and the place to be called Hebdomon or “seventh.” I am indebted to the Rev. H. F. Tozer for the suggestion that Hebdomon was a promontory on the Propontis, to the west of the extreme part of the city, where the Cyclobion was, and where the Seven Towers now are; and that the Seven Towers being about six Roman miles from the Seraglio Point, which is the apex of the triangle formed by the city, the phrase at the seventh milestone is thus accounted for. Bones alleged to be parts of the scull are still shewn at Amiens. The same emperor built a church for the body on the site of the Serapeum at Alexandria.
- Heliopolis, the modern Baalbec, the “City of the Sun,” was built at the west foot of Anti-Libanus, near the sources of the Orontes.
- On the Orontes; now Homs. Here Aurelian defeated Zenobia in 273.
- Durostorum, now Silistria, on the right bank of the Danube.
- Valesius (note on Soz. v. 10) would distinguish this Marcus of Arethusa from the Arian Marcus of Arethusa, author of the creed of Sirmium (Soc. H. E. ii. 30), apparently on insufficient grounds (Dict. Christ. Biog. s.v.). Arethusa was a town not far from the source of the Orontes.
- Matt. x. 23
- The sharp iron stilus was capable of inflicting severe wounds. Cæsar, when attacked by his murderers, “caught Casca’s arm and ran it through with his pen.” Suetonius.
- γάρον, garum, was a fish-pickle. cf. the barbarous punishment of the σκάφευσις, inficted among others on Mithridates, who wounded Cyrus at Cunaxa. (Plut. Artaxerxes.)