Chapter XII.—Serapion and his Extant Works.
1. It is probable that others have preserved other memorials of Serapions 1831 literary industry, 1832 but there have reached us only those addressed to a certain Domninus, who, in the time of persecution, fell away from faith in Christ to the Jewish will-worship; 1833 and those addressed p. 258 to Pontius and Caricus, 1834 ecclesiastical men, and other letters to different persons, and still another work composed by him on the so-called Gospel of Peter. 1835
2. He wrote this last to refute the falsehoods which that Gospel contained, on account of some in the parish of Rhossus 1836 who had been led astray by it into heterodox notions. It may be well to give some brief extracts from his work, showing his opinion of the book. He writes as follows:
3. “For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely ascribed to them, knowing that such were not handed down to us.
4. When I visited you I supposed that all of you held the true faith, and as I had not read the Gospel which they put forward under the name of Peter, I said, If this is the only thing which occasions dispute among you, let it be read. But now having learned, from what has been told me, that their mind was involved in some heresy, I will hasten to come to you again. Therefore, brethren, expect me shortly.
5. But you will learn, brethren, from what has been written to you, that we perceived the nature of the heresy of Marcianus, 1837 and that, not understanding what he was saying, he contradicted himself.
6. For having obtained this Gospel from others who had studied it diligently, namely, from the successors of those who first used it, whom we call Docetæ 1838 (for most of their opinions are connected with the teaching of that school 1839 ) we have been able to read it through, and we find many things in accordance with the true doctrine of the Saviour, but some things added to that doctrine, which we have pointed out for you farther on.” So much in regard to Serapion.
On Serapion, see Bk. V. chap. 19, note 1.257:1832
The Greek reads: τοῦ δὲ Σαραπίωνος τῆς περὶ λόγους ἀσκήσεως καὶ ἄλλα μὲν εἰκὸς σώζεσθαι παρ᾽ ἐτέροις ὑπομνήματα257:1833
Of this Domninus we know only what is told us here. It is suggested by Daniell (in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. IV. 630) that this shows that the prohibition uttered by Severus against the Jews “must have been soon relaxed, if it ever was enforced.” But in regard to this it must be said, in the first place, that Severus decree was not levelled against the Jews, but only against conversion to Judaism,—against the fieri, not the esse, Judæos. The object of the edict was not to disturb the Jews in the exercise of their national faith, but to prevent their proselyting among the non-Jewish residents of the empire. If Domninus, therefore, fell from Christianity into Judaism on account of the persecution, it seems highly probable that he was simply a converted Jew, who gave up now, in order to avoid persecution, his new faith, and again practised the religion of his fathers. Nothing, therefore, can be concluded from Domninus case as to the strictness with which Severus law was carried out, even if we suppose Domninus to have fallen from Christianity into Judaism. But it must be remarked, in the second place, that it is by no means certain that Eusebius means to say that Domninus fell into Judaism, or became a Jew. He is said to have fallen into “Jewish will-worship” (ἐκπεπτωκότα ἐπὶ τὴν ᾽Ιουδαϊκὴν ἐθελοθρησκείαν). The word ἐθελοθρησκεία occurs for the first time in Col. ii. 23, and means there an “arbitrary, self-imposed worship” (Ellicott), or a worship which one “affects” (Cremer). The word is used there in connection with the Oriental theosophic and Judaistic errors which were creeping into the churches of Asia Minor at the time the epistle was written, and it is quite possible that the word may be used in the present case in reference to the same class of errors. We know that these theosophizing and Judaizing tendencies continued to exert considerable influence in Asia Minor and Syria during the early centuries, and that the Ebionites and the Elcesaites were not the only ones affected by them (see Harnack, Dogmengesch. I. 218 sq.). The lapse of any one into Ebionism, or into a Judaizing Gnosticism, or similar form of heresy—a lapse which cannot have been at all uncommon among the fanatical Phrygians and other peoples of that section—might well be called a lapse into “Jewish will-worship.” We do not know where Domninus lived, but it is not improbable that Asia Minor was his home, and that he may have fallen under the influence of Montanism as well as of Ebionism and Judaizing Gnosticism. I suggest the possibility that his lapse was into heresy rather than into Judaism pure and simple, for the reason that it is easier, on that ground, to explain the fact that Serapion addressed a work to him. He is known to us only as an opponent of heresy, and it may be that Domninus lapse gave him an opportunity to attack the heretical notions of these Ebionites, or other Judaizing heretics, as he had attacked the Montanists. It seems to the writer, also, that it is thus easier to explain the complex phrase used, which seems to imply something different from Judaism pure and simple.258:1834
See Bk. V. chap. 19, note 4.258:1835
On the so-called “Gospel of Peter,” see Bk. III. chap. 3, note 7.258:1836
Rhossus, or Rhosus, was a city of Syria, lying on the Gulf of Issus, a little to the northwest of Antioch.258:1837
This Marcianus is an otherwise unknown personage, unless we are to identify him, as Salmon suggests is possible, with Marcion. The suggestion is attractive, and the reference to Docetæ gives it a show of probability. But there are serious objections to be urged against it. In the first place, the form of the name, Μαρκιανός instead of Μαρκίων. The two names are by no means identical. Still, according to Harnack, we have more than once Μαρκιανοί and Μαρκιανισταί for Μαρκιωνισταί (see his Quellenkritik d. Gesch. d. Gnosticismus, p. 31 sqq.). But again, how can Marcion have used, or his name been in any way connected with, a Gospel of Peter? Finally, the impression left by this passage is that “Marcianus” was a man still living, or at any rate alive shortly before Serapion wrote, for the latter seems only recently to have learned what his doctrines were. He certainly cannot have been so ignorant of the teachings of the great “heresiarch” Marcion. We must, in fact, regard the identification as improbable.258:1838
By Docetism we understand the doctrine that Christ had no true body, but only an apparent one. The word is derived from δοκέω, “to seem or appear.” The belief is as old as the first century (cf. 1 John iv. 2; 2 John 7), and was a favorite one with most of the Gnostic sects. The name Docetæ, however, as a general appellation for all those holding this opinion, seems to have been used first by Theodoret (Ep. 82). But the term was employed to designate a particular sect before the end of the second century; thus Clement of Alexandria speaks of them in Strom. VII. 17, and Hippolytus (Phil. VIII. 8. 4, and X. 12; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Amer. ed.), and it is evidently this particular sect to which Serapion refers here. An examination of Hippolytus account shows that these Docetæ did not hold what we call Docetic ideas of Christs body; in fact, Hippolytus says expressly that they taught that Christ was born, and had a true body from the Virgin (see Phil. VIII. 3). How the sect came to adopt the name of Docetæ we cannot tell. They seem to have disappeared entirely before the fourth century, for no mention of them is found in Epiphanius and other later heresiologists. As was remarked above, Theodoret uses the term in a general sense and not as the appellation of a particular sect, and this became the common usage, and is still. Whether there was anything in the teaching of the sect to suggest the belief that Christ had only an apparent body, and thus to lead to the use of their specific name for all who held that view, or whether the general use of the name Docetæ arose quite independently of the sect name, we do not know. The latter seems more probable. The Docetæ referred to by Hippolytus being a purely Gnostic sect with a belief in the reality of Christs body, we have no reason to conclude that the “Gospel of Peter” contained what we call Docetic teaching. The description which Serapion gives of the gospel fits quite well a work containing some such Gnostic speculations as Hippolytus describes, and thus adding to the Gospel narrative rather than denying the truth of it in any part. He could hardly have spoken as he did of a work which denied the reality of Christs body. See, on the general subject, Salmons articles Docetæ and Docetism in the Dict. of Christ. Biog.258:1839
The interpretation of these last two clauses is beset with difficulty. The Greek reads τουτέστι παρὰ τῶν διαδόχων τῶν καταρξαμένων αὐτοῦ, οὓς Δοκητὰς καλοῦμεν, (τὰ γὰρ φρονήματα τὰ πλείονα ἐκείνων ἐστὶ τῆς διδασκαλίας), κ.τ.λ. The words τῶν καταρξαμένων αὐτοῦ are usually translated “who preceded him,” or “who led the way before him”; but the phrase hardly seems to admit of this interpretation, and moreover the αὐτοῦ seems to refer not to Marcianus, whose name occurs some lines back, but to the gospel which has just been mentioned. There is a difficulty also in regard to the reference of the ἐκείνων, which is commonly connected with the words τῆς διδασκαλίας, but which seems to belong rather with the φρονήματα and to refer to the διαδοχῶν τῶν καταρξαμένων. It thus seems necessary to define the τῆς διδασκαλίας more closely, and we therefore venture, with Closs, to insert the words “of that school,” referring to the Docetæ just mentioned.