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NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine
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Chapter XIII.—The Epistle of Antoninus to the Common Assembly of Asia in Regard to our Doctrine.11031103    This edict is undoubtedly spurious. It contradicts all that we know in regard to the relation of Christianity to the State during this century, and both the language and the sentiments make it impossible to call it genuine. It is probably a forgery of the second century. It is found in our two (or more properly one, as one is simply a slavish copy of the other) mss. of Justin; but this is simply accidental, as it does not belong there, but was appended to the edict of Hadrian by some late copyist. The edict is now almost universally acknowledged to be a forgery; compare Overbeck, Studien zur Gesch. der alt. Kirche, p. 93 sq. Wieseler contends for its genuineness, but no good critic follows him.

1. The Emperor Cæsar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus,11041104    Eusebius gives this as an edict of Antoninus Pius, and yet its inscription assigns it to Marcus Aurelius. Overbeck concludes that Eusebius was led by internal evidence to assign the rescript to Antoninus Pius, but that he did not venture to change the inscription of the original which lay before him. This seems the only possible explanation, and as Eusebius at any rate was badly confused in regard to the names of the Antonines, the glaring discrepancy may not have meant very much to him. In our mss. of Justin Martyr, where this edict is appended to the first Apology, the superscription and text are quite different from the form given by Eusebius. The rescript is in fact assigned there by its superscription to Antoninus Pius, instead of to Marcus Aurelius. But if that was its original form, we cannot understand the later change to Marcus Aurelius, for certainly his authorship is precluded on the very face of the document; but it is easier to see how it could have been later assigned to Antonius Pius under the influence of Eusebius’ direct statement. We have no knowledge of the original Latin of this pretended edict. Rufinus evidently did not know it, for he translates the document from the Greek of Eusebius. The text of the edict as given by Eusebius differs considerably at many points from the text found in the mss. of Justin, and the variations are such as can hardly be explained as due merely to copyists’ errors or alterations. At the same time the two texts are plainly not independent of each other, and cannot be looked upon as independent translations of one Latin original. We may perhaps suppose that one text represents the original translation, the other a revision of it. Whether the revision was made by a comparison with the original, and thus more accurately represents it, we cannot tell. If, then, one is a revision of the other, the form given in the mss. of Justin is evidently the later, for its statements in more places than one are an improvement upon those of the other text in point of clearness and decisiveness. Moreover, as remarked just above, the ascription of the edict to Antoninus Pius must be later than its ascription to Marcus Aurelius. Armenicus, Pontifex Maximus, for the fifteenth time Tribune, for the third time Consul, to the Common Assembly of Asia, Greeting.

2. I know that the gods also take care that such persons do not escape detection. For they would much rather punish those who will not worship them than you would.

3. But you throw them into confusion, and while you accuse them of atheism you only confirm them in the opinion which they hold. It would indeed be more desirable for them, when accused, to appear to die for their God, than to live. Wherefore also they come off victorious when they give up their lives rather than yield obedience to your commands.

4. And in regard to the earthquakes which have been and are still taking place,11051105    Numerous earthquakes took place in Asia Minor and in Rhodes during the reign of Antoninus Pius, and these, as well as famines and other occurrences of the kind which were uncomfortably frequent at this time, were always made the signal for renewed attacks upon the Christians, who were held by the people in general responsible for these misfortunes. See Julius Capitolinus’ Vita Antonini Pii, chap. 9. it is not improper to admonish you who lose heart whenever they occur, and nevertheless are accustomed to compare your conduct with theirs.11061106    This sentence has caused great difficulty. Crusè translates, “But as to those earthquakes which have taken place and still continue, it is not out of place to admonish you who are cast down whenever these happen, that you compare your own deportment with theirs.” Most of the older translators and, among the moderns, Stigloher, have translated in the same way; but the Greek of the last clause will not warrant this construction. The original runs as follows:…ὑπομνῆσαι ἀθυμοῦντας μὲν ὅταν περ᾽ ὦσι, παραβ€λλοντας δὲ τὰ ὑμέτερα πρὸς τὰ ἐκείνων. Stroth inserts μή before ἀθυμοῦντας, and translates, “Was die Erdbeben betrift, die sich ereignet haben, und noch ereignen, halte ich nicht für undienlich euch zu erinnern dass ihr den vorkommenden Fall den Muth nicht sinken lasst, sondern euer Betragen einmal mit jener ihrem vergleicht.” The insertion, however, is quite unwarranted and must be rejected. Valesius renders: Cæterum de terræ motibus, qui vel facti sunt vel etiamnum fiunt, non absurdum videtur vos commonere, qui et animos abjicitis, quoties hujusmodi casus contingunt, et vestra cum illorum institutis comparatis; which makes excellent sense and might be accepted, were it not for the fact that it fails to bring out adequately the force of μέν and δέ. Heinichen discusses the passage at length (in his edition of Eusebius, Vol. III. pp. 670–674), and translates as follows: Non alienum videtur vos admonere (corripere) de terræ motibus qui vel fuerunt vel adhuc sunt, vos qui estis quidem animo abjecto, quoties illi eveniunt, nihilo autem minus vestram agendi rationem conferre soletis cum illorum. Overbeck follows Heinichen in his German Translation of the edit (ibid. p. 127 sqq.), and the translation of Closs is similar. It seems to be the only rendering which the Greek will properly admit, and I have therefore felt compelled to adopt it, though I should have preferred to interpret as Valesius does, had the original permitted.

5. They indeed become the more confident in God, while you, during the whole time, neglect, in apparent ignorance, the other gods and the worship of the Immortal, and oppress and persecute even unto death the Christians who worship him.11071107    An orthodox worshiper of the Roman gods, like Antoninus Pius, can hardly have called the God of the Christians “The Immortal,” in distinction from the gods of the Romans.

6. But in regard to these persons, many of the governors of the provinces wrote also to our most divine father, to whom he wrote in reply that they should not trouble these people unless it should appear that they were attempting something affecting the Roman government.11081108    Among these epistles the writer of this edict undoubtedly meant to include the rescript ostensibly addressed by Hadrian to Minucius Fundanus. See chap. 9, above. And to me also many have sent communications concerning these men, but I have replied to them in the same way that my father did.

7. But if any one still persists in bringing accusations against any of these people as such, the person who is accused shall be acquitted of the charge, even if it appear that he is one of them, but the accuser shall be punished.11091109    This is the climax of the whole. Not only is the accused to be set free, but the accuser is to be held as guilty! This really goes further than Constantine. See above, chap. 9, note 4. Published in Ephesus in the Common Assembly of Asia.”

8. To these things Melito,11101110    On Melito and his writings, see chap. 26, note 1. bishop of the church of Sardis, and a man well known at that time, is a witness,11111111    Eusebius evidently draws this conclusion from the passage from Melito’s Apology, quoted below, in chap. 26, where Melito refers to edicts of Antoninus Pius; for had Eusebius referred to another passage, he would undoubtedly have quoted it. But according to Melito, the edicts of Antoninus were to prevent any new methods of procedure against the Christians, i.e. tumultuous proceedings in opposition to the custom established by Trajan. The edicts of which he speaks were intended, then, to perpetuate the principles of Trajan, which had been, since his time, the silent law of the empire upon the subject. The edicts cannot have been edicts of toleration (even Melito himself does not regard them so), but edicts against illegal, tumultuous proceedings, and the accusations of informers, and therefore quite in the spirit of Trajan. But as the significance of Trajan’s rescript was entirely misunderstood in the early Church (see above, Bk. III. chap. 33, note 6), so it was the common opinion that the attitude of the State toward the Church was at bottom friendly to Christianity, and therefore all edicts forbidding the introduction of new methods were regarded as favorable edicts, as in the present case by Eusebius. Again, had Melito known of such a favorable edict as this of Antoninus, he would certainly have called special and particular attention to it. Melito’s testimony, therefore, instead of being in favor of the genuineness of this edict, is really against it. as is clear from his words in the Apology which he addressed to the Emperor Verus in behalf of our doctrine.


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