Page images
PDF
EPUB

about the Kings of the Goths, the Huns, the Vandals, and others, who were to conquer and partition the Empire. Rome was a solid and imperishable fact in the first century. Christians were touched with the pride of Empire, and felt the honour of the “ Civis Romanus sum."

It is not probable that more than three copies of the Apocalypse existed before the year 96, viz., one at Jerusalem, one at Ephesus, and one at Rome. We know that the Church of Jerusalem was warned in time and fled to Pella. We know that the Book reached Rome before Hebrew Christians ceased to have influence in the Church there. S. Paul may have been there in the year 67. There is evidence that the Book was understood. S. Irenæus of Lyons tells us (c. 170 A.D.) that amongst the copies of the Apocalypse he found in the West, some had the number of the Beast inscribed as 616, instead of 666. The name of Nero Cæsar, in Latin, written in Hebrew letters, makes in gematria, 616. Some Hebrew Latin scribe, acquainted with that fact, must have made a marginal note to that effect. To know that Nero was the Beast was to understand the political allusions of the Book, and that, at Rome, would necessitate its being kept in concealment.

Soon after S. John's return from Patmos the prophecies of the O.T. regarding the Jews were fulfilled. In the year 70 the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem sacked, and the people enslaved. The cleavage between the Old Law and the New, was complete. The Kingdom of Christ stood alone. A great part of the prophecies of Revelation was accomplished, and what remained related chiefly to the political forecast regarding Rome. S. John locked these things up in his own mind. His Hebrew brethren died out, and left him alone in the midst of a Gentile Church. He had no inducement to expound the Apocalypse to Gentile Christians.

We gather from a book by S. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150, 215 A.D.), “Who is the rich man that shall be saved," that when S. John returned to Ephesus from Patmos he led a strenuous missionary life. Clement says : On the death of the tyrant S. John returned to Ephesus. The title tyrant, belonged to Nero pre-eminently.

It may be noted that Clement's statement concerning the Apostle's missionary activity after his return from Patmos is not a mere passing assertion, but is based on a detailed account of an episode which, if only substantially true, would go far to establish the point that S. John was banished long before old age had disabled him from missionary effort.

This well-known legend is quoted at length by Eusebius (H. E. III. 23). Clement begins:

“Listen to a story that is no fiction, but a real history, handed down and carefully preserved, respecting the Apostle John. For after the tyrant was dead, coming from the Isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went also, when called, to neighbouring regions of the Gentiles; in some to appoint bishops, in some to institute entirely new churches, in others to appoint to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Holy Ghost." " When he came, therefore, to one of those cities, at no great distance, of which some also give the name, and had in other respects consoled his brethren, he at last turned towards the bishop ordained (appointed) and seeing a youth of fine stature, graceful countenance and ardent mind, he said, Him I commend to you with all earnestness, in the presence of the Church and of Christ.' The bishop having taken him and promised all, he repeated and testified the same thing, and then returned to Ephesus. The Presbyter, taking the youth home that was committed to him, educated, restrained and cherished him, and at length baptised him. After this he relaxed exercising his former care and vigilance, as if he had now committed him to a perfect safeguard in the seal of the Lord; but certain idle, dissolute fellows, familiar with every kind of wickedness, unhappily attached themselves to him, thus prematurely freed from restraint.

“At length, renouncing the salvation of God, he contemplated no trifling offence, but having committed some great crime, since he was now once ruined, he expected to suffer equally with the rest. Taking, therefore, these same associates, and forming them into a band of robbers, he became their captain, surpassing them all in violence, blood and cruelty. ...

“Time elapsed, and on a certain occasion the bishop sent for John. The Apostle, after settling those other matters for which he came, said, Come, bishop, return me my deposit, which I and Christ committed to thee in the presence of the Church over which thou dost preside.' The bishop at first, indeed, was confounded, thinking that he was insidiously charged for money which he had not received, and yet he could neither give credit respecting that which he had not, nor yet disbelieve John. But when he said, 'I demand the young man, and the soul of a brother,' the old man, groaning heavily and also weeping, said 'He is dead.' How, and what death? • He is dead to God,' saith he; "he has turned out wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber, and now, instead of attending the Church, he has beset the mountain with a band like himself.' The Apostle, on hearing this, tore his garment, and beating his head, with great lamentation, said, 'I left a fine keeper of a brother's soul! But let a horse now be got ready, and someone to guide me on my way.' He rode as he was, away from the Church, and, coming to the country, was taken prisoner by the outguard of the banditti. He neither attempted, however, to flee, nor refused to be taken, but cried out: 'For this very purpose am I come; conduct me to your captain.' He in the meantime stood waiting, armed as he was. But as he recognised John advancing towards him, overcome with

shame, he turned about to flee. The Apostle, however, pursued him with all his might, forgetful of his age, and crying out : Why dost thou fly, my son, from me, thy father, thy defenceless, aged father ?!”

The upshot of this pursuit was that the robber captain yielded to S. John, and was converted again to a life of Christian piety.

Such is the story told as “no fiction but a real history” by Clement of Alexandria, and enshrined by Eusebius, the historian of the early Church, in his collection of historical facts. Clement tells us elsewhere that some of the immediate successors of the Apostles SS. Peter, James, John, and Paul, “have lived down to our time, to shed into our hearts the seed which they had received of the Apostles, their predecessors” (Strom. 1. I. p. 274; and Euseb. H. E. v. 11).

Clement was much esteemed by the ancients. S. Jerome calls him “the most learned of our authors.” According to Theodoret, “ That holy man surpassed all others in the extent of his learning."

There is a school of exegetes who hold that S. John was exiled to Patmos in Domitian's reign, about the year 96. At that time S. John was about 100 years of age! The commonly received date of our Lord's Nativity, found by Dionysius Exiguus, in the 6th century, has long been known to be incorrect. The early Fathers, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus, put it at what we must now call 3 B.C. But the latest researches show that our Lord was born about 7 B.C. C. H. Turner, M.A., “ Chronology, Biblical” in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 1902, dates the Nativity at 7-6 B.C. Dom Howlett, M.A., in the Catholic Encyclopædia (1908), “Chronology," summing up his article on this subject says, “Tertullian and Irenæus are nearer to the truth with the years 2 or 3 B.C.; but it must be placed still further back, and probably the year 7 B.C. will not be found to be much astray.” Colonel Mackinlay, who has made a special study of this subject, in his book, "The Magi,” 1908, puts the date at 7 B.C. Assuming, therefore, that S. John was three years younger than our Lord, he was about one hundred years of age in Domitian's persecution of 96.

We need not insist on the point that if S. John returned from Patmos at the end of Domitian's reign he was quite incapable of the strenuous missionary labours above described.

One of the great troubles of S. John's missionary career was the prevalence of false teachers, men who taught heresy, claiming to have received the Holy Ghost, and even to have been followers of our Lord. Our Saviour warned the Christian world of the advent of such men (Matt. vii. 15; xxiv. II;

Mark xiii. 22). S. Peter refers to them (2 Peter ii. I), and S. John in his Epistles, “ Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, if they be of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world ” (1 Jhn. iv. 1). S. John calls them Antichrists. He refers to them in the Apocalypse (R. ii. 2). They are liars (R. xxi. 8, 27; xxii. 15).

S. Irenæus in his third book, “ Against Heresies," relates a story told by S. Polycarp, a disciple of S. John. “And there are those still living who heard him relate that John, the disciple of the Lord, went into a bath at Ephesus, and seeing Cerinthus within, ran out without bathing, and exclaimed, 'Let us flee lest the bath should fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of truth, is within'" (Euseb. H. E. iv. 14). In another place Eusebius says that S. John“ leaped out of the place and fed from the door" (H. E. iii. 28). S. Irenæus probably refers to himself as one of those "still living” who heard this from S. Polycarp, for he was a hearer of S. Polycarp. This Cerinthus was a gnostic, Ebionite heretic, who denied the Divinity and virgin birth of Jesus Christ. He made a distinction between the man Jesus and the Christ, God. He was an Egyptian who conformed to the Jewish law. We shall hear much of him later, in connection with the millennium, and the authorship of the Revelation, which has been attributed to him ! S. John's Gospel is said to have been published partly with a view to refuting him.

S. John's first Epistle, sometimes called the Epistle to the Parthians, seems to have been written at Ephesus, in the darkest hour of his ministry, after the death of S. Peter. A Roman army stood before the walls of Jerusalem. The fulfilment of the Temple prophecy was at hand and the end of all things seemed to be in sight. He begins by declaring that he had seen and handled the Word of Life. Afterwards he goes on to the consideration of Antichrist, who was expected by the Jews to appear towards the end of the world. He says, “ Little children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last hour. ... And now little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear, we may have confidence and not be confounded by him at his coming" (1 Jhn. ii. 18, 28).

In this Epistle to his Parthian followers, S. John settles the question of Antichrist for us. There is no mention of Antichrist anywhere in the Sacred Scriptures except in this Epistle. S. John sets the whole weight of his authority against the view that Antichrist will be a demon incarnate or a man possessed of the devil, wielding supernatural powers. He goes on to say,

“Who is a liar but he who denieth that Jesus is the Christ. He is Antichrist who denieth the Father and the Son (1 Jhn. ii. 22). “And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus is not of God and this is Antichrist of whom you have heard that he cometh and he is now already in the world” (1 Jhn. iv. 3). According to S. John, Antichrist is a movement rather than a man.

It will be observed that S. John calls him a liar who denies that Jesus is the Christ. He has in mind the false prophets of his day. In the Revelation he shows hell to be their portion. The same type of yevdéou still exists in our day. S. John's second and third Epistles are very short,

because he looked forward to meeting his friends again at Ephesus. These Epistles appear to have been written at Patmos, after the Revelation, at the end of his sojourn on the Island. He writes to Gaius, “I had many things to write unto thee, but I would not by ink and pen write to thee, but I hope speedily to see thee, and we will speak, face to face” (3 Jhn. 13 f.).

The second and third Epistles were written to personal friends at Ephesus in a somewhat familiar vein. They open with the words, O IIPEEBSTEPO—“The Presbyter," "To the lady elect,”—“To the dearly beloved Gaius.” Presbuteros meant a superior. 'O II per Bútepos was an elder of the Jewish Council. It seems that S. John was familiarly known at Ephesus as the Presbyter. Papias who collected" the sayings of our Lord" from the followers of the Apostles, and who lived at Hierapolis in S. John's province, called him “the Presbyter" in his book, written early in the second century. He wrote of

John the Presbyter” in connection with the other Apostles.

The second and third Epistles of S. John are free from all “parousial” influence, as we should expect them to be if they were written after the Revelation. But Cerinthus and his kind were working evil, and S. John refers to them in his second Epistle, “ To the lady.” “For many seducers are gone out into the world who confess not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, this is a seducer and an Antichrist " (2 Jhn. 7). S. John repudiates the Antichrist anthropomorphic tradition, again, after receiving his Revelation.

There is a tradition that S. John's Gospel was written ten years after the Apocalypse. That would be about the year 77. Eusebius quoting S. Irenæus, and Clement of Alexandria says, John's Gospel was published at Ephesus in Asia, at the request of his friends to supplement the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.” Also to confute Ebion and Cerinthus (H. E. I. 6, 14. S. Hier. in Cat.). In the year 77, S. John was about eighty years of age, still in the enjoyment of vigorous life and

« PreviousContinue »