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Chapter XXI.—Of Marcellus, bishop of Apamea, and the idols’ temples destroyed by him.

The first of the bishops to put the edict in force and destroy the shrines in the city 147committed to his care was Marcellus, trusting rather in God than in the hands of a multitude. The occurrence is remarkable, and I shall proceed to narrate it. On the death of John, bishop of Apamea, whom I have already mentioned, the divine Marcellus, fervent in spirit,890890    Romans xii. 11 according to the apostolic law, was appointed in his stead.

Now there had arrived at Apamea the prefect of the East891891    Valesius points out that this was Cynegius, prefect of the East, who was sent by Theodosius to effect the closing of the idol’s temples. cf. Zos. iv. with two tribunes and their troops. Fear of the troops kept the people quiet. An attempt was made to destroy the vast and magnificent shrine of Jupiter, but the building was so firm and solid that to break up its closely compacted stones seemed beyond the power of man; for they were huge and well and truly laid, and moreover clamped fast with iron and lead.892892    καὶ σιδήρῳ καὶ μολίβδῳ προσδεδεμένοι. We are reminded of the huge cramps which must at one time have bound the stones of the Colosseum,—the ruins being pitted all over by the holes made by the middle-age pillagers who tore them away.

When the divine Marcellus saw that the prefect was afraid to begin the attack, he sent him on to the rest of the towns; while he himself prayed to God to aid him in the work of destruction. Next morning there came uninvited to the bishop a man who was no builder, or mason, or artificer of any kind, but only a labourer who carried stones and timber on his back. “Give me,” said he, “two workmen’s pay; and I promise you I will easily destroy the temple.” The holy bishop did as he was asked, and the following was the fellow’s contrivance. Round the four sides of the temple went a portico united to it, and on which its upper story rested.893893    I do not understand the description of this temple and its destruction precisely as Gibbon does. “διορύττων” does not seem to mean “undermining the foundations”; St. Matthew and St. Luke use it of the thieves who “dig through” or “break in.” The word = dig through, and so into. The columns were of great bulk, commensurate with the temple, each being sixteen cubits in circumference. The quality of the stone was exceptionally hard, and offering great resistance to the masons’ tools. In each of these the man made an opening all round, propping up the superstructure with olive timber before he went on to another. After he had hollowed out three of the columns, he set fire to the timbers. But a black demon appeared and would not suffer the wood to be consumed, as it naturally would be, by the fire, and stayed the force of the flame. After the attempt had been made several times, and the plan was proved ineffectual, news of the failure was brought to the bishop, who was taking his noontide sleep. Marcellus forthwith hurried to the church, ordered water to be poured into a pail, and placed the water upon the divine altar. Then, bending his head to the ground, he besought the loving Lord in no way to give in to the usurped power of the demon, but to lay bare its weakness and exhibit His own strength, lest unbelievers should henceforth find excuse for greater wrong. With these and other like words he made the sign of the cross over the water, and ordered Equitius, one of his deacons, who was armed with faith and enthusiasm, to take the water and sprinkle it in faith, and then apply the flame. His orders were obeyed, and the demon, unable to endure the approach of the water, fled. Then the fire, affected by its foe the water as though it had been oil, caught the wood, and consumed it in an instant. When their support had vanished the columns themselves fell down, and dragged other twelve with them. The side of the temple which was connected with the columns was dragged down by the violence of their fall, and carried away with them. The crash, which was tremendous, was heard throughout the town, and all ran to see the sight. No sooner did the multitude hear of the flight of the hostile demon than they broke out into a hymn of praise to God.

Other shrines were destroyed in like manner by this holy bishop. Though I have many other most admirable doings of this holy man to relate,—for he wrote letters to the victorious martyrs, and received replies from them, and himself won the martyr’s crown,—for the present I hesitate to narrate them, lest by over prolixity I weary the patience of those into whose hands my history may fall.

I will therefore now pass to another subject.


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