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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

I CONSIDER it necessary to detail the proceedings of Constantine in relation to what is called the Oak of Mamre. This place is now called Terebinthus, and is about fifteen stadia distant from Hebron, which lies to the south, but is two hundred and fifty stadia distant from Jerusalem. It is recorded, that here the Son of God appeared to Abraham, with two angels, who had been sent against Sodom, and foretold the birth of his son. Here the inhabitants of the country, and of the regions round Palestine, the Phœnicians and the Arabians, assemble annually during the summer season to keep a feast; and many others, both buyers and sellers, resort thither on account of the fair. Indeed this feast is diligently frequented by all nations; by the Jews, because they boast of their descent from the patriarch Abraham; by the Greeks, because angels there appeared to men; and by Christians, because He who, for the salvation of mankind, was born of a virgin, there manifested himself to a godly man. This place was moreover honoured as the scene of divers religious exercises. Here some prayed to the God of all; some called upon the angels, poured out wine, burnt incense, or offered an ox, or he-goat, a sheep, or a cock: for they were all intent upon offering at this feast, for themselves and their neighbours, the most precious and beautiful sacrifices. And either from honour to the place, or from fear of Divine wrath, they all abstained from coming near their wives, although the women made their appearance at the feast, and were then more than ordinarily studious of their deportment and attire. Nor did they act imprudently in any other respect, although the tents were contiguous to each other, and they all lay promiscuously together. The place being under cultivation, contains no houses, with the exception of the buildings around Abraham’s oak and well. No one during the time of the feast drew water from that well, for, according to Grecian superstition, some placed burning lamps near it; some offered wine and libations; and others, gold, myrrh or incense: hence, as I suppose, the water was rendered useless by the variety of things cast into it. Whilst these proceedings were being carried on with usual solemnity by the Greeks, the mother-in-law of Constantine visited the place, and apprized the emperor of what was being done. On receiving this information, he rebuked the bishops of Palestine in no measured terms, because they had neglected their duty, and had permitted a holy place to be defiled by impure libations and sacrifices; and he expressed his godly indignation in an epistle which he wrote on the subject to Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, to Eusebius Pamphilus, and to the bishops of Palestine. He commanded these bishops to hold a conference on this subject with the Phœnician bishops, and to issue directions for the demolition of the altar, the destruction of the images by fire, and the erection of a church worthy of so ancient and so holy a place. The emperor finally enjoined that no libations or sacrifices should be offered on the spot, but that it should be exclusively devoted to the worship of God according to the law of the church; and that if any attempt should be made to restore the former rites, the bishops were to inform against the delinquent, in order that he might be subjected to the greatest punishment. The governors and priests of Christ strictly enforced the injunctions contained in the emperor’s letter.








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