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“On the Promises”
(Eus., H. E. vii. 24 and 25)
(1) Seeing that they bring forward a composition of Nepos,177177Nepos had apparently been Bishop of Arsenoe in Egypt, and was the author of a work (Ἔλεγχος Ἀλληγοριστῶν) putting forward grossly material views of the Millennium. Dionysius refuted it in a carefully prepared treatise in two books. This extract is from the second book, and deals chiefly with the authorship of the Revelation of St. John the Divine in a way very characteristic of his large-hearted and broad-minded spirit. on which they rely too much as showing irrefutably that the Kingdom of Christ will be on earth, though I accept and love Nepos for many other things, his faith, his laboriousness, his study of the Scriptures, and the many psalms he has written,178178Or Dionysius may mean that he had encouraged the singing of the Psalms in service. by which already many of the brethren are encouraged, and though I hold him in all the greater respect because he has gone to his rest before us, yet the truth is so dear to me and to be preferred that I can indeed applaud and give my full assent to right propositions, but must examine and correct whatever appears to be unsoundly stated. And if he were still with us and propounding his views merely by word of mouth, a discussion without writing would have sufficed to persuade and convince our opponents by way of question and answer. But now that this writing of his is published, which many think most convincing, and certain teachers hold the law and the prophets 83 of no account and have relinquished the following of the Gospels and depreciated the Epistles of the Apostles, while they parade the teaching of this book as if it were some great and hidden mystery and will not allow our simpler brethren to hold any high and noble opinion either about the glorious and truly Divine appearing of our Lord179179Cf. Tit. ii. 13, 2 Thess. ii. 8, etc. or about our rising from the dead and our gathering together and being made like unto Him,180180The reference is to 2 Thess. ii. 1 and 1 John iii. 2. but persuade them to hope for mean and passing enjoyments like the present in the Kingdom of God, it is necessary that we also should discuss the matter with our brother Nepos as if he were still alive.
Further on he adds—
(2) So being in the district of Arsenoe, where, as you know,181181It does not appear to whom Dionysius addressed this treatise, but he usually did address what he wrote to some particular person. this teaching prevailed long before, so that both schisms and the defection of whole churches have occurred, I called together the presbyters and teachers182182Here the two offices are conjoined as in 1 Tim. v. 17. The “teacher” as an officer of the Church is mentioned in several of the early Church Orders. among the brethren in the villages, such of the brethren as wished being also present, and invited them publicly to make an examination of the matter. And when some brought forward against me this book as an impregnable weapon and bulwark, I sat with them three days in succession from dawn till evening and tried to correct the statements made. During which time I was much struck with the steadiness, the desire for truth, the aptness in following an argument and the intelligence displayed by the 84 brethren, whilst we put our questions and difficulties and points of agreement in an orderly and reasonable manner, avoiding the mistake of holding jealously at any cost to what we had once thought, even though it should now be shown to be wrong, and yet not suppressing what we had to say on the other side, but, as far as possible, attempting to grapple with and master the propositions in hand without being ashamed to change one’s opinion and yield assent if the argument convinced us; conscientiously and unfeignedly, with hearts spread open before God, accepting what was established by the exposition and teaching of the holy Scriptures.
At last the champion and mouthpiece of this doctrine, the man called Coracion,183183Nothing more is known of him: either he had succeeded to the leadership since the death of Nepos, or on this particular occasion took the lead. in the hearing of all the brethren that were present agreed and testified to us that he would no longer adhere to it nor discourse upon it nor yet mention nor teach it, on the ground that he had been convinced by what had been said against it. And of the rest of the brethren some rejoiced at the conference and the reconciliation and harmonious arrangement which was brought about by it between all parties.
Further on he says this about the Revelation of John—
(3) Certain people184184The allusion is probably to Gaius of Rome and his school rather than to the Alogi, as they were called, of the East; but both these bodies were strongly opposed to Millenarian views. therefore before now discredited and altogether repudiated the book, both examining it chapter by chapter and declaring it unintelligible 85 and inconclusive and that it makes a false statement in its title.185185If this refers to a formal division into chapters, it disappeared afterwards, for a new division was devised in the sixth century, on which our present system is partly based. For they say it is not John’s, no nor yet a “Revelation,” because of the heavy, thick veil of obscurity which covers it:186186Dionysius plays here on the meaning of the Greek word for Revelation, ἀποκάλυψις, “unveiling.” He is fond of such a device. and not only is the author of this book not one of the Apostles but he is not even one of the saints nor a churchman at all;187187If that is the meaning of the words employed, then “saints” (ἅγιοι) is not used in its New Testament sense for the “faithful” generally, but a distinction is made more like the later use of the word for those who attained higher saintliness than the rest; but perhaps the phrase for “churchmen” implies “clerical or ecclesiastical persons,” and “saints” has its earlier sense. it is Cerinthus,188188Cerinthus was the earliest exponent of Gnostic views, and as such much abhorred by St. John the Apostle. the founder of the heresy that was called Cerinthian from him, and he desired to attribute his own composition to a name that would carry weight. For the substance of his teaching was this, that Christ’s Kingdom will be on earth, and he dreams that it will be concerned with things after which he himself, being fond of bodily pleasures and very sensual, hankered, such as the satisfying of his belly and lower lusts, that is eating and drinking and marrying and such means as he thought would provide him more decorously with these pleasures, feasts and sacrifices and the slaying of victims. I should not myself venture to reject the book, seeing that many brethren hold it in high esteem, but, reckoning the decision about it to be beyond my powers of mind, I consider the interpreting of its various contents to be recondite and matter for much wonder. For without fully understanding, I yet surmise that some deeper 86 meaning underlies the words, not measuring and judging them by calculations of my own; but giving the preference to faith,189189i. e. reckoning that it is a matter where faith rather than reason should act; or perhaps the translation should be “giving more weight to (the author’s) trustworthiness.” I have come to the conclusion that they are too high for me to comprehend, and so I do not reject what I have not taken in, but can only wonder at these visions which I have not even seen (much less understood).
Besides this, after examining the book as a whole and showing that it is impossible to understand it in its literal sense, he proceeds—
(4) So having completed practically the whole prophecy, the prophet190190This title is to be noticed, as the author himself never actually describes himself by it. Dionysius is much more cautious as to the authorship than Origen, his former master, who attributed the book to St. John the Evangelist without hesitation, according to Eusebius, H. E. vi. 25, 9. pronounces a blessing on those who keep it and indeed on himself also: for “blessed,” saith he, “is he that observeth the words of the prophecy of this book and I John who saw and heard these things.”191191Rev. xxii. 7, 8: but Dionysius has no authority for joining the latter clause on to the former, its construction being “it is I John who saw and heard.” That he was called John, therefore, and that the writing is John’s I will not dispute. For I agree that it is the work of some holy and inspired person but I should not readily assent to his being the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, whose is the Gospel entitled “According to John” and the General Epistle.192192i. e. the First Epistle of St. John; the second and third were not so described at first and rightly so. For I conclude that he is not the same (1) from the character of each, (2) from the style of the language and (3) from what 87 may be called the arrangement of the book. For the Evangelist nowhere inserts his name nor yet proclaims himself either in the Gospel or in the Epistle....
(5) But John nowhere speaks either in the first or in the third person about himself, whereas he that wrote the Revelation straightway at the beginning puts himself forward: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which he gave him to show to his servants speedily, and he sent and signified (it) by his angel to his servant John who bare witness of the word of God and of his testimony, even of all things that he saw.”193193Rev. i. 1, 2. One might almost think Dionysius was quoting from memory, for he follows no extant text in omitting “God” before “gave” (thus making Jesus Christ the subject and “him” = “to John”) and “the things which must come to pass” before “speedily”: also he substitutes “his testimony” for “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” though “his” still = “Jesus Christ.”
Then he also writes an Epistle: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia, grace to you and peace.”194194Rev. i. 4. Whereas the Evangelist did not put his name even at the head of the Catholic Epistle but began with the mystery of the Divine revelation195195Dionysius seems to contrast the “Divine revelation” of the Epistle which we can trust with that of the Book so-called about which he felt less sure. without any superfluous words: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes.”1961961 John i. 1.
For it is over this revelation that the Lord also pronounced Peter blessed, saying: “Blessed art thou Simon bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to thee, but my heavenly Father.”197197Matt. xvi. 17. Dionysius substitutes the adjective “heavenly” for “which is in heaven.” Nay, even in the second and third extant Epistles of John, short 88 though they are, John does not appear by name but he writes himself “the elder” anonymously. Whereas our author did not even consider it sufficient to mention himself by name once and then proceed with his subject, but he repeats the name again, “I John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and in the patience of Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”198198Rev. i. 9. Here again the text is somewhat inaccurate “in the patience of Jesus” having no support elsewhere. In fact, at the end also he says this: “Blessed is he that observeth the words of the prophecy of this book and I John who saw and heard these things.”199199Rev. xxii. 7. See note on p. 86, above. That he which wrote these things, therefore, is John, we must believe as he says so: but which John is not clear. For he does not say, as in many places in the Gospel, that he is the disciple beloved of the Lord, nor the one that reclined on His breast, nor yet the brother of James, nor yet the one that was the eyewitness and hearer of the Lord. Surely he would have used one of the aforesaid descriptions, when desirous of clearly identifying himself. And yet he does nothing of the kind, but calls himself our brother and partaker with us, and witness of Jesus and blessed for the seeing and hearing of the revelations. I suppose that many bore the same name as John the Apostle, who by reason of their love towards him and from their admiration and emulation of him and desire to be loved by the Lord like him, were glad to bear the same name with him, even as many a one among the children of the faithful is called Paul or Peter.200200It would seem likely, but by no means certain, that Dionysius is speaking of strictly baptismal names here. We have very slight grounds for being sure that the custom of connecting the giving of a name at baptism was universal as early as this. There is then another 89 John also in the Acts of the Apostles, the one called Mark whom Barnabas and Paul took with them and of whom it says again: “And they had John as their attendant.”201201See Acts xii. 25 and xiii. 5. But as to whether he is the writer, I should say no. For it is not written that he arrived in Asia with them, but “Paul and his company,” it says, “set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem.”202202Ibid., xiii. 13. And I think there was yet another among those who were in Asia, since they say there were two tombs in Ephesus and each of them are said to be the tomb of John.203203This assertion is taken almost verbatim from Eus., H. E. iii. 39, where a passage is also quoted from Papias in which John the Elder is mentioned as well as John the Apostle among the Lord’s disciples.
Again, from the thoughts and from the actual words and their arrangement this John may be reasonably reckoned different from the other.204204This is the second argument which Dionysius adduces, but he seems as if he now includes the third with it. See above. For the Gospel and the Epistle agree with each other and begin in a similar way. The one says “In the beginning was the Word:” and the other “That which was from the beginning.” The one says “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled in us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the Only-begotten from the Father:” the other uses the same or almost equivalent expressions, “That which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life, and the Life was manifested.”205205John i. 1, and 1 John i. 1, 2. For he starts in this way 90 because he is dealing, as he shows in what follows, with those who say that the Lord has not come in the flesh.206206Cf. 1 John iv. 2. For which reason he is careful to add also: “And we have seen and bear witness and announce unto you the eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us. That which we have seen and heard we announce also unto you.”207207Ibid., i. 2, 3. He is consistent with himself and does not diverge from his own propositions, but treats them throughout under the same heads and in the same terms, of which we will briefly recall; for instance, the attentive reader will find in each book frequent mention of the Life, the Light, the turning from darkness,208208It looks as if this phrase may be a marginal gloss on the Light, which has crept into the text, as it occurs nowhere in the writings of St. John nor elsewhere in the New Testament; but the same might be said of the “adoption” below, and one or two others of the other phrases are quite rare in St. John’s writings, so that they may be all instances of the thoughts, not the words being identical in the two books. constant reference to the Truth, Grace, Joy, the Flesh and the Blood of the Lord, the Judgment, the Forgiveness of sins, the Love of God towards us, the command to us to love one another and that we must keep all the commandments: again there is the conviction of the world, of the devil, of the antichrist, God’s adoption of us as Sons, the Faith, which is everywhere required of us, the Father and the Son everywhere: and generally throughout in describing the character of the Gospel and the Epistle one and the same complexion is to be observed in both. But the Revelation is quite different from them, foreign, out of touch and affinity with them, not having, one might almost say, one syllable in common. The Epistle contains no reminiscence nor subject dealt with in the Revelation 91 nor the Revelation in the Epistle (to say nothing of the Gospel), whereas Paul in his Epistles did give some indication even about those revelations which he has not actually described.209209The reference is to such passages as 2 Cor. xii. 1 ff., Gal. i. 12, ii. 2, etc.
And yet once more one can estimate the difference between the Gospel and Epistle and the Revelation210210This is the third argument. from the literary style. For the first two books are not only written in irreproachable Greek, but are also most elegant in their phrases, reasonings and arrangements of expression. No trace can be found in them of barbarous words, faulty construction or peculiarities in general. For St. John seems to have possessed both words, the Lord having graciously vouchsafed them to him; viz. both the word and knowledge of the word of speech.211211A rather forced and fanciful statement. Dionysius appears loosely to refer to 1 Cor. xii. 8, somewhat boldly substituting “of speech” (τῆς φράσεως) for St. Paul’s “of wisdom.” That this John had seen a Revelation and received knowledge and the gift of prophecy,212212Cf. 1 Cor. xiv. 6 and 8. I do not deny, but I observe his dialect and inaccurate Greek style, which employs barbaric idioms and sometimes even faulty constructions, which it is not now necessary to expose. For I have not mentioned this in order to scoff, let no one think so, but simply to point out the dissimilarity of the writings.
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