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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 43. Traditions Respecting John.601601    These traditions are reproduced in a pleasing manner by Dean Stanley, in his Sermons and Essays on the Apost. Age, pp. 266-281 (3d ed.). Comp. my Hist. of the Ap. Ch, pp. 404 sqq.


The memory of John sank deep into the heart of the church, and not a few incidents more or less characteristic and probable have been preserved by the early fathers.

Clement of Alexandria, towards the close of the second century, represents John as a faithful and devoted pastor when, in his old age, on a tour of visitation, he lovingly pursued one of his former converts who had become a robber, and reclaimed him to the church.

Irenaeus bears testimony to his character as "the Son of Thunder" when he relates, as from the lips of Polycarp, that, on meeting in a public bath at Ephesus the Gnostic heretic Cerinthus,602602    Or Ebion, according to Epiphanius, Haer., xxx. 25. who denied the incarnation of our Lord, John refused to remain under the same roof, lest it might fall down. This reminds one of the incident recorded in Luke 9:49, and the apostle’s severe warning in 2 John 10 and 11. The story exemplifies the possibility of uniting the deepest love of truth with the sternest denunciation of error and moral evil.603603    Stanley mentions, as an illustration of the magnifying influence of fancy, that Jeremy Taylor, in relating this story, adds that "immediately upon the retreat of the apostle the bath fell down and crushed Cerinthus in the ruins" (Life of Christ, Sect. xii. 2).

Jerome pictures him as the disciple of love, who in his extreme old age was carried to the meeting-place on the arms of his disciples, and repeated again and again the exhortation, "Little children, love one another," adding: "This is the Lord’s command, and if this alone be done, it is enough." This, of all the traditions of John, is the most credible and the most useful.

In the Greek church John bears the epithet "the theologian (θεολόγος), for teaching most clearly the divinity of Christ (τὴν θεότητα τοῦ λόγου). He is also called "the virgin" (παρθένος),604604    παρθένος usually means a virgin (Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:27; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 7:25; 28, 34), but is applied also to men who never touched women, Apoc. 14:4, and in patristic writers. for his chastity and supposed celibacy. Augustin says that the singular chastity of John from his early youth was supposed by some to be the ground of his intimacy with Jesus.605605    Augustin, Tract. 124 in Joh. Evang. (Opera III. 1976, ed. Migne) "Sunt qui senserint ... a Christo Joannem apostolum propterea plus amatum quod neque uxorem duxerit, et ab ineunte pueritui castissimus vixerit."He quotes Jerome, Contr. Jovin. l.c., but adds: "Hoc quidem in Scriptuis non evidenter apparet."According to Ambrosiaster, Ad 2 Cor. 11:2, all the apostles were married except John and Paul. Tertullian calls John Christi spado.

The story of John and the huntsman, related by Cassian, a monk of the fifth century, represents him as gently playing with a partridge in his hand, and saying to a huntsman, who was surprised at it: "Let not this brief and slight relaxation of my mind offend thee, without which the spirit would flag from over-exertion and not be able to respond to the call of duty when need required." Childlike simplicity and playfulness are often combined with true greatness of mind.

Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, at the close of the second century, relates (according to Eusebius) that John introduced in Asia Minor the Jewish practice of observing Easter on the 14th of Nisan, irrespective of Sunday. This fact entered largely into the paschal controversies of the second century, and into the modern controversy about the genuineness of the Gospel of John.

The same Polycrates of Ephesus describes John as wearing the plate, or diadem of the Jewish high-priest (Ex. 28:36, 37; 39:30, 31). It is probably a figurative expression of priestly holiness which John attaches to all true believers (Comp. Rev. 2:17), but in which he excelled as the patriarch.606606    In Euseb. H. E. III. 31, 3; V. 24, 3: Ἰωάννης ...ὃς ἐγεννήθη ἱερευς τὸ πέταλον πεφορηκὼς –ϊκαὶ–ͅϊμάρτυς και–ῒ –ͅϊδιδάσκαλος οὗτος ἐν Εφέσω, κεκοίμηται. Epiphanius reports (no doubt from Hegesippus) the same, with some ascetic features, of James the brother of the Lord. See Stanley’s remarks, pp. 276-278, and Lightfoot on Galat., p. 345 note, and Philipp. p. 252. "As a figurative expression," says Lightfoot, "or as a literal fact, the notice points to St. John as the veteran teacher, the chief representative, of a pontifical race. On the other hand, it is possible that this was not the sense which Polycrates himself attached to the figure or the fact; and if so, we have here perhaps the earliest passage in any extant Christian writing where the sacerdotal view of the ministry is distinctly put forward." But in the Didache (ch. 13) the Christian prophets are called "high priests."

From a misunderstanding of the enigmatical word of Jesus, John 21:22, arose the legend that John was only asleep in his grave, gently moving the mound as he breathed, and awaiting the final advent of the Lord. According to another form of the legend he died, but was immediately raised and translated to heaven, like Elijah, to return with him as the herald of the second advent of Christ.607607    Augustin mentions the legend, but contradicts it, Trad. 224 in Ev. Joann.



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