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An Ecclesiastical History To The 20th Year Of The Reign Of Constantine by Eusebius

THE same author, in the reign of Claudius, is also said to have had familiar conversation with Peter at Rome, whilst he was proclaiming the gospel to the inhabitants of that city. Now is this at all improbable; since the work of which we now speak, and which was subsequently composed by him at a late period, evidently comprehends the regulations that are still observed in our churches, even to the present time; but at the same time that he describes, with the greatest accuracy, the lives of our asceties, he evidently shows that he not only knew, but approved, whilst he extolled and revered the apostolic men of his day, who were sprung probably from the Hebrews; and hence, still continuing to observe their most ancient customs, rather after the Jewish manner. In the book that he wrote, “On a Contemplative Life, or those who lead a Life of Prayer,” he avers indeed, that he would add nothing contrary to the truth, or of his own invention, in the history that he was about to write, where he says, that these persons are called Therapeutæ, and the women Therapeutrides.

Subjoining the reasons of such an appellation, he refers its origin either to the fact, that like physicians, by removing the evil affections, they healed and cured the minds of those that joined them, or to their pure and sincere mode of serving and worshipping the Deity. Whether Philo himself attached this name to them of his own accord, giving an epithet well suited to the manners of the people, or whether the founders really called themselves so from the beginning, as the name of Christians was not yet spread to every place, are points that need not be so accurately determined. He bears witness, however, that they renounced their property, saying, that “as soon as they commenced a philosophical life, they divested themselves of their property, giving it up to their relatives; then laying aside all the cares of life, they abandon the city and take up their abode in solitary fields and gardens, well knowing that the intercourse with persons of a different character is not only unprofitable but injurious.” There were at this time, in all probability, persons who, under the influence of an inspired and ardent faith, instituted this mode of life in imitation of the ancient prophets. Wherefore, as it is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, a book well authenticated, that all the associates of the apostles, after selling their possessions and substance, distributed to all according to the necessity of each one, so that there was none in want among them. “For as many as had lands and houses,” as this account says, “selling them, brought the value of the property sold, and laid it at the apostles’ feet, so as to distribute to each one according to his necessity.” Philo giving his testimony to facts very much like these, in the same description superadds the following statement. This kind of men is every where scattered over the world, for both Greeks and barbarians should share in so permanent a benefit. They abound, however, in Egypt, in each of its districts, and particularly about Alexandria.

“But the principal men among them from every quarter emigrate to a place situated on a moderate elevation of land beyond the lake Maria, very advantageously located both for safety and temperature of the air, as if it were the native country of the Therapeutæ.” After thus describing what kind of habitations they have, he speaks thus of the churches in the place. “In every house there is a sacred apartment which they call the Semnæum, or Monasterium, where, retired from men, they perform the mysteries of a pious life. Hither they bring nothing with them, neither drink nor food, nor any thing else requisite to the necessities of the body; they only bring the law and the inspired declarations of the prophets, and hymns, and such things, by which knowledge and piety may be augmented and perfected.” After other matters, he adds: “The whole time between the morning and evening, is a constant exercise; for as they are engaged with the sacred Scriptures, they reason and comment upon them, explaining the philosophy of their country in an allegorical manner. For they consider the verbal interpretation as signs indicative of a secret sense communicated in obscure intimations. They have also commentaries of ancient men, who, as the founders of the sect, have left many monuments of their doctrine in allegorical representations, which they use as certain models, imitating the manner of the original institution.” These facts appear to have been stated by a man, who, at least, has paid attention to those that have expounded the sacred writings. But it is highly probable, that the ancient commentaries which he says they have, are the very gospels and writings of the apostles, and probably some expositions of the ancient prophets, such as are contained in the epistle to the Hebrews and many others of St. Paul’s epistles. Afterwards again, concerning the new psalms which they composed, he thus writes, “Thus they not only pass their time in meditation, but compose songs and hymns unto God, noting them of necessity with measure uncommonly serious, through every variety of metres and tunes.” Many other things concerning these persons he writes in the same book; but these it appeared necessary to select, in order to present the peculiarities of their ecclesiastical discipline. But, if what has been said does not appear to any one to belong to the discipline of the gospel, but that it can also be applied to others besides those mentioned, let him at least be convinced by the subsequent declarations of the author, in which, if he is at all impartial, he adduces an irrefragable testimony on the same subject. For thus he writes: “But laying down temperance first as a kind of foundation in their minds, upon this they build the other virtues. For none of them is to bring food or drink before the setting of the sun, since they judge that philosophical exercises should be prosecuted in the light, but the necessities of the body in the dark; whence they assign the one to the day, and to the other a small portion of the night. But some of them do not remember their food for three days, when influenced by an uncommon desire of knowledge. And some are so delighted, and feast so luxuriously on the doctrines so richly and profusely furnished by wisdom, that they forbear even twice this time, and are scarcely induced to take necessary food even for six days.” These declarations of Philo respecting those of our communion, we deem obvious and indisputable. But, should any one still be so hardy as to contradict, let him at least abandon his incredulity, by yielding to the more powerful demonstrations, which are to be found among none but in the religion of Christians, according to the gospel. Our author also says, that “there were also females that meet with those of whom we speak, of whom the most are aged maidens, preserving their purity, not by necessity, as some of the priestesses among the Greeks, but rather by a voluntary determination, in consequence of that zealous desire of wisdom, in the earnest prosecution of which, they disregard the pleasures of the body; as they are desirous not of a mortal progeny but an immortal, which the heavenly mind alone is able to produce of itself.” After a little, he also adds the following, with still greater stress. “But they expound the sacred writings by obscure, allegorical, and figurative expressions. For the whole law appears to these persons like an animal, of which the literal expressions are the body, but the invisible sense that lies enveloped in the expressions, the soul. This sense was first pre-eminently studied by this sect, discerning as through a mirror of names, the admirable beauties of the thoughts reflected.” Why should we add to these their meetings, and the separate abodes of the men and the women in these meetings, and the exercises performed by them, which are still in vogue among us at the present day, and which, especially at the festival of our Saviour’s passion, we are accustomed to pass in fasting and watching, and in the study of the divine word? All these the above-mentioned author has accurately described and stated in his writings, and are the same customs that are observed by us alone, at the present day, particularly the vigils of the great festival, and the exercises in them, and the hymns that are commonly recited among us. He states that whilst one sings gracefully with a certain measure, the others, listening in silence, join in singing the final clauses of the hymns; also, that on the above mentioned days, they lie on straw spread on the ground, and to use his own words, “they abstain altogether from wine, and taste no flesh. Water is their only drink, and the relish of their bread, salt and hyssop.” Besides this, he describes the grades of dignity among those who administer the ecclesiastical services committed to them, those of the deacons and the presidencies of the episcopate as the highest. But, whosoever desires to have a more accurate knowledge of these things, may learn them from the history already cited; but that Philo, when he wrote these statements, had in view the first heralds of the gospel, and the original practices handed down from the apostles, must be obvious to all.








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