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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

MY mind has been often exercised in inquiring how it is that other men are ready to believe in the Word of God, while the Jews are so incredulous, although it was to them that instruction concerning the things of God was, from the beginning, imparted by the Prophets, who likewise made them acquainted with the events attendant upon the coming of Christ before they came to pass. Besides, Abraham, the head of their nation and of the circumcision, was accounted worthy to be an eye-witness, and the host of the Son of God. And Isaac, his son, was honoured as the type of the sacrifice on the cross, for he was led bound to the altar by his father, and, as accurate students of the Sacred Scriptures affirm, the sufferings of Christ came to pass in like manner. Jacob predicted that the hope of the nations would be in Christ, which prediction is now accomplished; and he likewise foretold the time of Christ’s appearance when he said, “The princes of the Hebrews of the tribe of Judah, the chiefs of the tribe shall fail.” This clearly referred to the reign of Herod; for this king was, on his father’s side, an Idumean, and on his mother’s an Arabian, and the government of the Jewish nation was delivered to him by Augustus Cæsar and the Roman senate. And besides, among the other prophets, some declared before-hand the birth of Christ, his ineffable conception, his family, his country, and the continuance after his birth of his mother’s virginity; some predicted his divine and wonderful actions, while others foretold his sufferings, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into the heavens, and the signs by which each of these events was accompanied. But if any he ignorant of these facts, it is not difficult to obtain information by referring to the Sacred Books. Josephus, the son of Matthias, who was a priest, and moreover held in the highest repute by the Jews and Romans, may likewise be regarded as a notable witness to the truth concerning Christ (see Joseph. Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 4.); for impressed, no doubt, by the wonderful works wrought by our Lord, and the truthfulness of his doctrines, this writer evidently shrinks from calling him a man, but openly calls Him Christ, and records that he was condemned to the death of the cross, and appeared alive again the third day. Nor was he ignorant of numberless other wonderful predictions accomplished in Christ, and uttered by the holy prophets. He further testifies that many, both Jews and Greeks, followed after Christ and continued in His love; and that the people who bear His name had never lost their corporate existence. It appears to me that, in bearing witness to these things, he loudly proclaims as the truth implied by the works, that Christ is God. It appears, too, that, being struck by the lustre of our Lord’s miracles, he was led to steer a middle course, and did not vilify those who believed in Him, but, on the contrary, rather coincided in opinion with them. When I reflect on these things, I am seized with profound astonishment at the fact that Christianity was not, in the first place, embraced by the Hebrews prior to its reception by any other nation. It is true, indeed, that the sibyl and certain oracles foretold what was about to happen to Christ; yet all the Greeks must not on that account be accused of unbelief: these prophecies were, for the most part, written in verse, and were intelligible only to the few who by their erudition were able to understand more important truths than those commonly taught to the people. It was, as appears to me, by a Providence from above directing the harmonious sequence of events, that truth was declared, not by the prophets only, but also, in part, by men of other nations. It was, in fact, as if a musician, in order to elicit some rare melody, were to strike a supernumerary chord, or attach an additional chord to his instrument.

Having now shown that the Hebrews, although in the possession of numerous and most distinct prophecies concerning the coming of Christ, were less willing than the Greeks to embrace the faith that is in Him, let what has been said on the subject suffice. Yet let it by no means be hence accounted contrary to reason that the church should have been mainly built up by the conversion of other nations; for, in the first place, it is evident that, in divine and great affairs, God delights to bring to pass changes in a marvellous manner; and then, be it remembered, it was by the exercise of no common virtues that those who, at the very beginning, were at the head of religious affairs, maintained their influence. If they did not, indeed, possess resplendent gifts of eloquence, nor the power of convincing their hearers by means of mathematical demonstration, yet they accomplished the work they had undertaken. They gave up their property, neglected their kindred, were stretched upon a cross, and, as if endowed with bodies not their own, suffered divers excruciating tortures; neither seduced by the adulation of the rulers and people of any city, nor terrified by their menaces, they clearly evidenced by their conduct that they were supported in the struggle by the hope of a high reward. So that they, in fact, needed not to resort to verbal arguments; for without any effort on their part, their very deeds constrained the inhabitants of every city and of every house to give credit to their testimony even before they knew wherein it consisted.

Since then so divine and marvellous a change has taken place in the circumstances of men, that ancient superstitions and national laws have fallen into contempt; since many of the most celebrated writers among the Greeks have tasked their powers of eloquence in describing the Calydonian boar, the bull of Marathon, and other similar prodigies which have had a real or imaginary existence, why should not I rise above myself, and write a History of the Church? For I am persuaded that as the topic is not the achievements of men, it may appear almost incredible that such a history should be written by me, but, with God, nothing is impossible.

I at first felt strongly inclined to trace the course of events from the very commencement; but on reflecting that similar records of the past, up to their own time, had been compiled by the learned Clemens and Hegesippus, successors of the apostles, by Africanus the historian, and by Eusebius surnamed Pamphilus, a man intimately acquainted with the sacred scriptures and the writings of the Greek poets and historians, I merely drew up an epitome in two books of all that is recorded to have happened to the churches, from the ascension of Christ to the deposition of Licinius. Now, however, by the help of God, I will endeavour to relate the sequel of the history.

I shall record the transactions with which I have been connected, and also those concerning which I have been informed by persons who, from their own observation or otherwise, were well acquainted with them; and I shall embrace the history of our own and the preceding generation. But I have sought for records of events of earlier date amongst the established laws appertaining to religion, amongst the proceedings of the synods of the period, amongst the novelties that arose, and in the epistles of kings and priests. Some of these documents are preserved in palaces and churches, and others are dispersed, and in the possession of the learned; I thought seriously, at one time, of transcribing the whole, but on further reflection I deemed it better, on account of the prolixity of the documents, to give merely a brief synopsis of their contents; yet whenever controverted topics are introduced, I will readily transcribe freely from any work that may tend to the elucidation of truth. If any one who is ignorant of past events should conclude my history to be false because he meets with conflicting statements in other writings, let him know that since the dogmas of Arius and other more recent hypotheses have been broached, the rulers of the churches, differing in opinion among themselves, have transmitted in writing their own peculiar views, for the benefit of their respective followers; and further, be it remembered, these rulers convened councils and issued what decrees they pleased, often condemning unheard those whose creed was dissimilar to their own, and striving to their utmost to induce the reigning prince and nobles of the time to side with them. Intent upon maintaining the orthodoxy of their own dogmas, the partisans of each sect respectively formed a collection of such epistles as favoured their own heresy, omitting all documents of a contrary tendency. Such are the obstacles by which we are beset in our endeavours to arrive at a conclusion on this subject! Still, as it is requisite, in order to maintain historical accuracy, to pay the strictest attention to the means of eliciting truth, I felt myself bound to examine all writings of this class with great diligence.

Let not an impertinent or malignant spirit be imputed to me, for having dwelt upon the disputes of ecclesiastics among themselves, concerning the primacy and the preeminence of their own sect. In the first place, as I have already said, an historian ought to regard every thing as secondary in importance to truth; and, moreover, the purity of the doctrine of the Catholic church is evidenced by the fact of its being the most powerful, for often has it been tested by the attacks of opinionists of antagonistic dogmas: yet, the disposal of the lot being of God, the Catholic church has maintained its own ascendancy, has re-assumed its own power, and has led all the churches and the people to the reception of its own truth.

I have had to deliberate whether I ought to confine myself to the recital of events connected with the church under the Roman government, but it seemed more advisable to include, as far as possible, the record of transactions relative to religion among the Persians and barbarians. Nor is it foreign to ecclesiastical history to introduce in this work an account of those who were the fathers and originators of what is denominated monachism, and of their immediate successors, whose celebrity is well known to us either by observation or report. For I would neither be considered ungracious, and willing to consign their virtue to oblivion, nor yet be thought ignorant of their history; but I would wish to leave behind me such a record of their manner of life that others, led by their example, might attain to a blessed and happy end. As the work proceeds, these subjects shall, therefore, meet with due attention.

I now, in full reliance upon the help and propitiousness of God, proceed to the narrative of events; so here closes the introduction to the work.








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