Tracts for the Times/Record III

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Tracts for the Times by Eusebius of Caesarea, translated by Tractarian Movement (1833)
Record III


No. III.


The Apostle St. John and the Robber, (from the Church History of Eusebius.)

Listen to a tale, which is no mere tale, but a true story which has been handed down and kept in memory, of John the Apostle. For when the Roman Emperor was dead, and St. John had returned to Ephesus from [his banishment in] the island of Patmos, he went over the neighbouring countries; in some places to appoint Bishops, in some to establish new Churches, in others to separate to the Ministry some one of those whom the Spirit pointed out to him. At length he arrived at a city not very far from Ephesus, of which some even give the name; and after he had refreshed the brethren, he turned at last to the Bishop, whom he had appointed, and having observed a youth of goodly stature, comely appearance, and of an ardent spirit, "Here," he said, "is a deposit which I earnestly commend to your care, in the sight of Christ and the Church." And after the Bishop had accepted the charge, and had promised all that was required of him, he repeated the same request, and with the same solemn form of words. Accordingly the Elder, taking to his home the youth intrusted to him, bred, controlled, fostered, and at last admitted him to baptism. After this he relaxed somewhat of his constant care and watchfulness, as having placed upon him the seal of the Lord, that last and best preservative from evil. But the other, having thus obtained his liberty too early, was taken hold of by certain idle and profligate youths of his own age, themselves habituated to wickedness. At first they lure him on by expensive revellings, next they carry him along with them on a thieving expedition by night, and then they beg him to join them in some still greater crime. By little and little he became habituated to vice, and then through the hotness of his nature, starting like a hard-mouthed and spirited horse out of the right path, and taking as it were the bit into his mouth, rushed so much the more violently down the precipice. Finally despairing of the salvation which is by God, he was no longer contented with more petty offences; but, as he was now altogether lost, would fain do some great thing, and disdained to suffer but an equal punishment with the rest. He took therefore with him these same companions, and having got together a band of robbers, became their ready leader, and of all the most violent, the most bloody, the most cruel.

An interval elapsed; and upon some need falling out in the Church, the men of the city again called upon John to visit them. After he had set in order the things for which he came, "Come," said he to the Bishop, "give me back the deposit which I and Christ committed to thee in the sight of the Church over which you preside." The Bishop was at first amazed, for he thought that John was unjustly charging him with money which had not been really given him, and knew not either how to credit a demand for what he had never received, or how to discredit the Apostle. But when he said plainly, "It is the youth I demand of thee, the soul of a brother," the old man groaned from the bottom of his heart, and shedding a few tears at the thought, answered him, "He is dead." "How then did he die, and by what death?" "He is dead," he said, "to God, for he has ended in becoming wicked and abandoned, and to sum up all, a robber, and now instead of the Church, he has taken to the hills with an armed band of robbers like himself." Then the Apostle tore his garment, and uttering a loud wail, beat his head, and said, "A careful guardian truly, I left of the soul of my brother, but bring me a horse, and let me have some one to guide me on my way. So he rode away from the Church, just as he was, and when he came to the place, being taken, by the outposts of the robbers, he neither fled from them, nor asked for mercy, but cried out, "For this purpose came I, bring me to your chief." He in the mean time, in the armour he wore, waited for his approach. When, however, he recognized St. John, as he drew near, he was filled with shame, and turned and fled. But the Apostle followed after him with all his strength, forgetful of his years, and calling out, "Why do you fly from me, my son, me your father, unarmed, and stricken in years; pity me, my son, and fear me not. Thou hast yet hope of life. I will give account for thee to Christ; yea, if it be needful, I will willingly undergo the death for thee, even as our Lord the death for us. For thee will I render up my breath. Stay and believe, Christ hath sent me." But the young man, when he heard his words, first stood still, with eyes cast down to the ground; next threw away his arms, and then trembling, wept bitterly. And when the old man drew nigh to him, he threw his arms around him, and besought pardon, as best he could, with his groans, and was baptized as it were a second time, with tears, hiding only his blood-stained hand. But John, with promises and solemn protestations of his having obtained his pardon from the Saviour, besought him, nay, knelt to him, and kissed the very right hand he had withheld from him, as already cleansed by change of heart; and so brought him back to the Church. Finally interceding for him, sometimes in frequent prayers, sometimes striving together with him in long continued fasts, and sometimes soothing his spirit with various holy text, he departed not, so they tell us, till he had fully reinstated him in the Church, and had thus set forth a mighty example of true change of heart, and a mighty proof of regeneration, a trophy as it were of a visible resurrection.

Here we see sinners baptized, taught, and brought to repentance by the holy Church, at the hands of the Bishops, whom the Apostles have appointed.

Conduct of the Apostle St. John towards the false teacher Cerinthus, (from the Church History of Eusebius.)

Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, in noticing certain facts concerning the Revelation of St. John, derived from ancient tradition, makes mention of this Cerinthus, and affirms that the doctrine which he taught was, that the reign of Christ would be upon earth, and that it would consist, for so he wickedly dreamt in the pleasures, which he himself desired, being a lover of the body, and altogether carnal, in the gratification, that is, of the fleshly lusts, in meats namely, and drinks and marriages, or as he thought in fairer words, to reach the same meaning, in feastings, and in sacrifices, and in the slaughter of victims.

Thus far Dionysius; moreover certain of his more secret and false opinions are added by Irenæus, who has also handed down to us in writing a story, which ought never to be forgotten, and which he gives us on the authority of Polycarp, [the disciple of St. John himself, and whom Irenæus had known in his youth.] "John the Apostle," he says, "entering for the purpose of bathing into some public baths, and learning that Cerinthus was within them, recoiled from the spot, and rushed out of doors, not even enduring to be under the same roof with him; and exhorting them also that were with him to adopt the same conduct, in these words; 'Let us flee, lest the very building should fall in, within which Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is abiding.'"

Hence we learn to avoid false teachers, after the pattern of the Blessed Apostle, even though it inconvenience us to do so.