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A History Of The Church In Five Books by Theodoret

THE most faithful emperor next directed his attention towards the suppression of idolatry, and issued a law commanding the demolition of idolatrous temples. Constantine the Great, who was so worthy of all praise, and who was the first to adorn the imperial dignity with piety, was aware of the infatuation of the whole world, and therefore expressly prohibited sacrifices to demons. He did not, however, destroy their temples, but merely ordered them to be closed. His sons followed the footsteps of their father. Julian renovated the cause of impiety, and revived the ancient errors. Jovian had no sooner entered upon imperial power, than he prohibited the worship of idols. Valentinian the Elder governed Europe according to the laws which had been established. Valens gave license to all to worship what they pleased, and only opposed those who defended the apostolical doctrines. Throughout the whole of his reign, fire burnt upon the altars of idols; libations and sacrifices were offered to them; and festivals in their honour were held in the market-place. Those who celebrated the orgies of Bacchus were seen running about the streets clad in skins and worked up to madness, tearing dogs to pieces, and committing other excesses, which were inculcated by the lord of the festival.

The faithful emperor Theodosius interdicted these rites, and consigned them to disuse. Marcellus, a most excellent bishop, was the first who carried this law into execution, by destroying the temples in his own city; for he had greater confidence in God than in the multitude of men. As the incident is worthy of being remembered, I shall here relate it. Upon the death of John, bishop of Apamea, whom we have already mentioned, Marcellus, a man zealous in spirit according to the apostolical injunction, was ordained in his stead. The prefect of the East went to Apamea, taking with him two military commanders and some soldiers. The people remained quiet from fear of the soldiery. The prefect undertook to demolish the temple of Jupiter, which was of spacious dimensions and richly ornamented. But when he perceived the firmness and solidity of the structure, he thought that no human strength could disjoin the stones; for they were of large size, and soldered together with iron and lead. The holy Marcellus observed the fears of the prefect, and sent him to execute the mandate in some other city; while he prayed to God to reveal the means of destroying the edifice. The next day, at dawn, a man came to him who was neither a builder, a stone cutter, nor an adept in any kindred art, but who was merely accustomed to carry stones and wood on his shoulder, yet he offered to demolish the temple; for which service he asked the payment awarded to two workmen. The holy bishop having agreed to pay the stipulated sum, the man proceeded to work in the following manner. The temple was built on elevated ground, and had a portico on each of the four sides. There were also columns which were equal in height to the temple, and of which each was sixteen cubits in circumference. The stone was of so hard a nature, that it would scarcely yield to the tools. The labourer dug deeply around the foundations of these columns; and, after removing the earth, substituted wood of an oleaginous nature, to which he then set fire. But a black demon appeared, who withheld the power of the flames, and prevented the combustible matter from being consumed, according to the physical laws.

After this had occurred several times, the workman, perceiving that all his labour was useless, went to acquaint the bishop, who was then taking his mid-day repose. The bishop ran directly to the church, and called for water; when it was brought, he placed it upon the holy altar. He then threw himself upon his face on the ground, and supplicated the Lord to manifest the weakness of the demon and His own power, in order that unbelievers might not have a pretext for continuing in their unbelief. After having uttered these and other supplications, he made the sign of the cross upon the water, and desired Equitius, a deacon who was full of faith and zeal, to take the water and to sprinkle it on the wood, and then to set fire to it anew. After the deacon had followed these instructions, the demon was not able to resist the power of the water. Although water is the antagonistical power to fire, yet, on this occasion, it acted as oil in forwarding the combustion, and in a moment the wood was consumed. The fall of three columns immediately followed, and, in their fall, they dragged with them twelve others: the side of the temple, which was supported by them, fell down at the same time. The noise of the fall resounded throughout the whole city, and the people ran to witness the spectacle. When they were informed of the flight of the inimical demon, they sang praises to the God of all. In the same way did the holy bishop destroy other temples. I could relate many other incidents respecting this bishop which would excite much astonishment. He kept up a constant epistolary correspondence with the martyrs, and he shared in their conflicts and in their triumphs. But I shall now close the narration of these facts, lest I should weary my readers, and shall pass on to the relation of other occurrences.








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