« Joannes, the Faster, bp. of Constantinople Joannes, bishop of Ephesus Joannes II, bishop of Jerusalem »

Joannes, bishop of Ephesus

Joannes (160) (called of Asia and of Ephesus), Monophysite bp. of Ephesus, born c. 516, and living in 585, a Syriac writer whose chief work was his History of the Church, in the extant portion of which he describes himself once as "John, who is called superintendent of the heathen and Breaker of Idols" (ii. 4), and twice as "John who is over the heathen, who was bp. of Ephesus" (ii. 41; iii. 15). Elsewhere he styles himself, "John bp. of Ephesus" (iv. 45), or simply, "John of Ephesus" (v. 1); and, lastly, "John of Asia, that is, John of Ephesus" (v. 7). Hence John of Ephesus is clearly the historian so often mentioned by Syriac writers as John bp. of Asia, "Asia" meaning the district of which Ephesus was the capital.

Dr. Land (Johann von Ephesus der erste syrische Kirchenhistoriker) discusses his identification with one or other of his numerous namesakes who wrote during the same period; and has pronounced in the negative.

What we know of the personal history of John of Ephesus is gathered from the meagre extracts from pt. ii. of his great work, preserved in the Chronicon of Dionysius; and from the extant pt. iii., which is to some extent an autobiography. Dionysius (ap. Assemani, Bibl. Or. 83–90) tells us that John's birthplace was Amid in N. Mesopotamia. He stood high in the confidence of the emperor Justinian, by whom he was commissioned in 542 as "Teacher of the heathen" in the four provinces of Asia, Caria, Phrygia, and Lydia. His success was such that in four years 70,000 persons adopted Christianity. In the third part of his history (ii. 44) John mentions that Deuterius was 35 years his fellow-labourer, and his successor in Caria. Together they had built 99 churches and 12 monasteries. John tells (iii. 36–37) how the work began among the mountains round Tralles. His chief monastery, Darira, rose upon the site of a famous temple which he had demolished.

In 546 he was entrusted with an inquiry into the secret practice of pagan rites by professing Christians. Members of all ranks were inculpated: Phocas, prefect of the capital, being informed against, poisoned himself. John was appointed to instruct the accused in Christian doctrine; and an imperial edict prescribed conversion within three months! Theophanes tells us that heathens and heretics were to be excluded from public office.

From pt. iii. of John's history we learn that in the 2nd year of Tiberius (A.D. 579), upon the rumour of a heathen plot to destroy the Christians of Baalbec, the emperor ordered an officer named Theophilus to suppress paganism in the East. Torture, crucifixion, the sword, wild beasts, were among the means employed. Numbers were accused; the prisons teemed with victims of every rank; and a permanent inquisition was established for their trial.

As bp. of Ephesus or "Asia," John appears to have supervised all the Monophysite congregations of Asia Minor. His 30 years of influence at the court of Justinian and his high personal qualities gave him very considerable authority among his own party. He tells us (v. 1) that in the reign of Justin II. he "was dwelling in the royal city and controlling all the revenues of all the congregations of the Faithful there and in every place." In a chapter written A.D. 581 he mentions his old intimacy with Tiberius at the court of Justin: "He and I were often together, and stood with the other courtiers before the serene Justin " (iii. 22).

John suffered grievously in the persecution instigated first by John Scholasticus, whom he calls John of Sirmin, and afterwards by Eutychius. Together with Paul of Aphrodisias (subsequently patriarch of Antioch), Stephen, bp. of Cyprus, and the bp. Elisha, John of Ephesus was imprisoned in the patriarch's palace. In the heated debates which followed, the four Monophysite bishops stoutly charged John of Sirmin with breach of the canons in annulling the orders of their clergy, and, when the patriarch demanded of them "a union such as that between Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch," declared their willingness provided they might drive out the council of Chalcedon from the church, as Cyril had driven out Nestarius. The vacillating emperor, of whom John testifies that for six years he had been friendly to the "orthodox," attempted to secure peace by drawing up a dogmatic formula, in the shape of an imperial edict, which he sent to the four captive bishops for revision. Their changes were admitted, but the "Nestorians and semi-Nestorians" of the court—so John puts it—scared the timid emperor into further alterations, of which the chief was an inserted clause, " that the customs of the church were to be maintained," which meant that the obnoxious council was still to be proclaimed from the diptychs. Weary of the dispute, and probably not understanding its grounds, Justin now signed the document, and required the subscription of John of Ephesus and his companions. They declined, and 33 days passed in constant wrangling between them and the patriarch. Meanwhile they were kept under close guard; the patriarch's creatures stripped them of everything; friends were denied admittance 561to their prison; and their personal followers were also confined in the dungeons of the palace. The misery of the four bishops was aggravated by the reproaches of the leading Monophysite laymen, who supposed that their obstinacy alone hindered a compromise which would stop the persecution. The cunning patriarch was careful to encourage this belief. At last his victims gave way, the patriarch promising upon oath that the council of Chalcedon should be sacrificed. The four bishops twice communicated with him; but when they reminded him of his promise, he referred them to the pope; he could not, for their sakes, risk a schism from Rome. Our historian touchingly describes the sorrow of himself and his companions over this fraud; even their opponents pitied them, until they once more faced them with galling taunts, which led to a second imprisonment (i. 17–25). The emperor made further fruitless attempts at conciliation. The upshot of a discussion before the senate was that the four bishops boldly uttered their anathema "upon the whole heresy of the two natures," and renounced communion with their deceivers for ever. Thereupon they were sentenced to "banishment." The sentence was at once carried out. They never saw each other again. John of Ephesus was confined in the hospital of Eubulus at Constantinople. Though helpless from gout and exposed to swarms of vermin, he was denied all assistance. As he lay in his filthy prison, it seemed to him that his feverish thirst was slaked and his misery comforted by a heavenly visitant, whose coming he describes with much pathos and simplicity. After a year he was removed to an island, where he remained 18 months, when the Caesar Tiberius ordered his release. For three years, however, he was under surveillance, until the patriarch died (A.D. 578). Before the outbreak of this persecution, John of Ephesus and Paul of Aphrodisias had argued publicly with Conon and Eugenius, the founders of the Cononites, nicknamed Tritheites, in the presence of the patriarch and his synod, by command of Justin (v. 3). Conon had vainly tried to win the support of John, who proved to him that he was a heretic and afterwards wrote him a letter of warning (v. 1–12). Eutychius, who, upon the death of John of Sirmin, was restored to the patriarchal throne, was hardly more tolerant of Monophysites than its late occupant. Persecution was renewed, and John of Ephesus again met with disgraceful injustice. By another imprisonment Eutychius wrung from him the resignation of a property which Callinicus, a chief officer of the court, had bestowed, and which John had largely improved and converted into a monastery. After being further deprived of his right of receiving five loaves at the public distributions, for which he had paid 300 darics, John was released.

Tiberius, Justin's successor, though unwilling to persecute, was overcome by popular clamour. The mob of the capital groundlessly suspected their new emperor of Arian leanings (iii. 13, 26). An edict was therefore published ordering the arrest of Arians, Manicheans, etc. Under cover of this, the "orthodox" were once more harried and plundered. The first victim was John of Ephesus (iii. 15), who had now lived many years and suffered much in Constantinople. He and his friends were incarcerated at Christmas in a miserable prison called the Cancellum (A.D. 578?); and after much fruitless argument were finally ordered to leave the city.

It is greatly to our historian's credit that, during the bitter strife which raged long among the Monophysites themselves, in the matter of the double election of Theodore and Peter to succeed Theodosius as their patriarch of Alexandria, he maintained an honourable neutrality, standing equally aloof from Paulites and Jacobites, although his sympathies were with Theodore, the injured patriarch (iv. 9–48). John wrote his account of this pernicious quarrel in 583, the 2nd year of Maurice; for he says that it had already lasted 8 years (iv. 11), and that he is writing an outline of events from the year of Alexander 886 (A.D. 575) onwards (iv. 13). In his anxiety to heal the schism, John sent 10 epistles to "the blessed Jacob" [JACOBUS BARADAEUS], protesting his own neutrality, and urging reconciliation between the two factions (iv. 46); and after Jacob's death (A.D. 581) his party made overtures to John of Ephesus, then living at the capital, to induce him to recognize Peter of Callinicus as patriarch of Antioch in place of Paul (iv. 45). In reply the historian rebuked them for violating the canons. John accuses both sides of an utter want of mutual charity, and an entire aversion to calm examination of the grounds of their quarrel. He adds that he has briefly recorded the main facts from the outset to the current year, 896 (A.D. 585)—the latest date observable in his work.

The Ecclesiastical History.—John states (pt. iii. bk. i. c. 3) that he has already written a history of the church, "beginning from the times of Julius Caesar, as far as to the sixth year of the reign of Justin II., son of the sister of Justinian." If, as Dr. Payne Smith assumes, pt. i. was a mere abridgment of Eusebius, its loss is not a great one. The disappearance of pt. ii. is more unfortunate, as it would probably have furnished much important matter for the reign of Justinian. It brought the history down to 571. Pt. iii. continues it to c. 585, thus covering the period between the 6th year of Justin II. and the 4th of Maurice. It was called forth by the persecution above mentioned, which broke out in the 6th or 7th year of Justin, and the writer often apologizes for want of chronological order, occasional repetitions, and even inconsistencies of statement (see esp. i. 3; ii. 50), as defects due to the stress of untoward circumstances: "This should be known to critics: many of these stories were penned in time of persecution . . . people conveyed away the papers inscribed with these chapters, and the other papers and writings, into divers places, and in some instances they remained hidden so long as two or three years in one place or another" (ii. 50). John had no memoranda of what he had already written, and never found opportunity for revision. With these drawbacks, the work possesses special interest as an original account. John 562was contemporary with most of the characters described; he writes of what he himself saw and heard and of doings in which he was personally concerned. For 30 years he was a trusted servant of Justinian; and Gibbon would probably have recognized in the second part of his history a valuable gauge of the servility and the malice of Procopius. Had Gibbon possessed the third part of John's work, he would hardly have surmised that "the sentiments of Justin II. were pure and benevolent," or believed that the four last years of that emperor "were passed in tranquil obscurity" (cf. iii. 1–6); had he read what John has to say of the worthless stepson of Belisarius he might have rated "the gallant Photius" less highly; and he would have learned that it was the thoughtless improvidence of Tiberius which forced the unhappy Maurice to appear a grasping niggard (cf. iii. 11; v. 20). As regards chronology, Assemani, who did not love a Monophysite, accuses John of inaccuracy, asserting that he used a peculiar Greek era, making almost all Justinian's acts and his death ten years later than the dates assigned by Evagrius, Theophanes, and Cedrenus. But in pt. iii. (v. 13) John gives the usual date for Justinian's death—Nov. 14, 876 [565]. Of Theophanes Gibbon has said that he is "full of strange blunders" and "his chronology is loose and inaccurate"; his verdict in regard to John of Ephesus would have been very different.

His attitude to the great controversy of his day is that of one thoroughly convinced that his own party holds exclusive possession of the truth. The Monophysites are "the orthodox," "the faithful"; their opponents "Synodites," "Nestorians," or at least "half-Nestorians"; the synod of Chalcedon is "the stumbling-block and source of confusion of the whole church"; "it sunders Christ our God into two natures after the Union, and teaches a Quaternity instead of the holy Trinity" (i. 10, 18); the four bishops taunt the patriarch with "the heresy of the two natures, and the blasphemies of the synod, and of the tome of Leo" (i. 18). Yet John does not labour to blacken the memory of his adversaries; the strong terms in which he speaks of the pride of power and savage tyranny of John Scholasticus are warranted or at least excused by facts (i. 5, 12, 37); and Baronius denounces John of Sirmin in language equally decided (H. E. ad ann. 564). In regard to Eutychius, John protests his adherence to truth: "Although we declare ourselves opposed to the excellent patriarch Eutychius, yet from the truth we have not swerved in one thing out of a hundred; nor was it from eagerness to revile and ridicule that we committed these things to writing" (iii. 22). His impartiality is manifest in his description of the great schism which rent asunder his own communion; unsparing in his censure of both factions, he refers their wicked and worse than heathenish rancour to the instigation of devils (iv. 19, 22, 39). Credulous John was, but credulity was a common attribute of his age. More serious objection might be taken to his approval of the cruelties connected with the suppression of heathenism (iii. 34) and his intolerance of "heresy" other than his own. In 550 he dug up and burnt the bones of Montanus, Maximilla, and Priscilla, the false prophets of Montanism (Extr. ap. Dionys.). Herein also he shared the temper of his contemporaries. The spirit of persecution is not the peculiar mark of any age, church, or sect. Apart from these blemishes we may recognize in him an historian who sincerely loved truth; a bishop who was upright and devoted; and a man whose piety rested upon a thorough knowledge of Scripture.

His style, like that of most Syriac writers, is verbose and somewhat unwieldy, but has the eloquence of simple truth and homely pathos.

The Third Part of the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesus was first edited from the unique MS. in the Brit. Mus. by Dr. Cureton (Oxf. 1853)—a splendid reproduction of the original—and translated into English by Dr. Payne Smith (Oxf. 1860) and into German by Schönfelder (München, 1862). These versions are of great assistance, many chapters being defective in the original.


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