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Chapter XXI.—The Bishops that were well known at that Time.

1. After Antoninus 1939 had reigned seven years and six months, Macrinus succeeded him. He held the government but a year, and was succeeded by another Antoninus. During his first year the Roman bishop, Zephyrinus, 1940 having held his office for eighteen years, died, and Callistus 1941 received the episcopate.

2. He continued for five years, and was succeeded by p. 269 Urbanus. 1942 After this, Alexander became Roman emperor, Antoninus having reigned but four years. 1943 At this time Philetus 1944 also succeeded Asclepiades 1945 in the church of Antioch.

3. The mother of the emperor, Mammæa 1946 by name, was a most pious woman, if there ever was one, and of religious life. When the fame of Origen had extended everywhere and had come even to her ears, she desired greatly to see the man, and above all things to make trial of his celebrated understanding of divine things.

4. Staying for a time in Antioch, she sent for him with a military escort. Having remained with her a while and shown her many things which were for the glory of the Lord and of the excellence of the divine teaching, he hastened back to his accustomed work.



i.e. Caracalla, who was slain on the 8th of April, 217. Four days later, Marcus Opilius Macrinus, prefect of the prætorians, was proclaimed emperor. After a reign of fourteen months, he was defeated and succeeded by Varius Avitus Bassianus, a cousin of Caracalla, and priest of the Phœnician Sun-god, from which fact is derived the name by which he is commonly known,—Elagabalus, or Heliogabalus. Upon his accession to the imperial power, he took the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, which became his official designation.


On Zephyrinus, see Bk. V. chap. 28, note 5.


As shown in the next note, a comparison of our best sources leads us to the year 222 as the date of the accession of Urban, and consequently of the death of Callistus. A careful comparison of the various sources, which differ in regard to the years of the several episcopates of Victor, Zephyrinus, and Callistus, but agree as to the sum of the three, leads to the result that Callistus was bishop for five years, and therefore his accession is to be put into the year 217, and the reign of Macrinus (see Lipsius, Chron. d. röm. Bischöfe, p. 171 sq.). This agrees, so far as the years of our era are concerned, with the statement of Eusebius in this chapter; but he wrongly puts Callistus’ accession into the first year of Alexander, which is a result of an error of a year in his reckoning of the dates of the emperors, which runs back to Pertinax (see Lipsius, p. 7 sq.). He does not assign Callistus’ accession to the first year of Heliogabalus because of a tradition connecting the two, but simply because his reckoning of the lengths of the various episcopates, which were given in the source used by him, led him to the year 217 for Callistus’ accession, and this, according to his erroneous table of the reigns of the emperors, was the first year of Heliogabalus. We thus see that Eusebius is in real, though not in apparent, agreement with the Liberian catalogue in regard to the date of Callistus’ accession, which may, therefore, be accepted as certain.

Nothing was known about the character and life of Callistus until the discovery of Hippolytus’ Philosophumena, or Refutation of All Heresies (see the next chapter, note 1). In Bk. IX. of that work is given a detailed description of him, from the pen of a very bitter opponent. At the same time, it can hardly be doubted that at least the groundwork of the account is true. According to Hippolytus, he was a slave; a dishonest banker, who was punished for his dishonesty; the author of a riot in a Jewish synagogue, who was sent as a criminal to the mines; finally, after various other adventures, the right-hand man of the bishop Zephyrinus, and after his death, his successor. According to Hippolytus, he was a Patripassian, and he introduced much laxer methods of church discipline than had hitherto been in vogue; so lax as greatly to scandalize Hippolytus, who was a very rigid disciplinarian. Whatever truth there may be in this highly sensational account (and we cannot doubt that it is greatly overdrawn), it is at least certain that Callistus took the liberal view of Christian morals and church discipline, over against the stricter view represented by Hippolytus and his party. It was, perhaps, owing to his popularity on this account that, after the death of Zephyrinus, he secured the episcopacy of Rome, for which Hippolytus was also a candidate. The latter tells us also that Zephyrinus “set him over the cemetery,”—a most interesting notice, as the largest catacomb in Rome bears the name of St. Callistus, and may be the very one of which Zephyrinus made him the superintendent.


Lipsius, in his Chron. d. röm. Bischöfe, p. 170 sq., shows that the only fixed point for a calculation of the dates of Urban and the three bishops preceding him, is the banishment by the Emperor Maximinus of Pontianus to Sardinia, which took place, according to the Liberian catalogue, while Severus and Quintinus were consuls; that is, in the year 235. The duration of Pontianus’ episcopate is shown by a comparison of the best sources to have been a little over five years (see chap. 23, note 3). This brings us to the year 230 as the date of Urban’s death. According to chap. 23, Urban was bishop eight years, and with this the Liberian catalogue agrees, so that this figure is far better supported than the figure nine given by the Chron. Accepting eight years as the duration of Urban’s episcopate, we are brought back to 222 as the date of his accession, which agrees with Eusebius’ statement in this chapter (see the previous note). There are extant Acta S. Urbani, which are accepted as genuine by the Bollandists, and assigned to the second century, but they cannot have been written before the fifth, and are historically quite worthless. For a good discussion of his supposed connection with St. Cecilia, which has played such an important part in ecclesiastical legend, see the article Urbanus in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. We have no certain knowledge of his life and character.


Elagabalus was slain in March, 222, after a reign of three years and nine months, and was succeeded by his cousin, Alexianus Bassianus, who assumed the names Marcus Aurelius Alexander Severus, by the last two of which he is commonly known.


Philetus, according to the Chron. (Armenian), became bishop in the sixth year of Caracalla (216), and was succeeded by Zebinus in the sixth year of Alexander Severus (227). Jerome puts his accession into the reign of Macrinus (217–218), and the accession of Zebinus into the seventh year of Alexander (228). The accession of Zebinus must have taken place at least as early as 231 (see chap. 23, note 4), and there remains therefore no reason to doubt the approximate accuracy of the latter dates. If the dates given for Philetus’ accession (216–218) be approximately correct, we must understand the words “at this time” of the present chapter, to refer back to the reign of Macrinus, or the accession of Alexander Severus, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. This does not seem natural, but we cannot say it is impossible. Knowing the unreliability of the dates given in the Chron., we are compelled to leave the matter undecided. He is called by the Armen. Philip, by Syncellus φίλητος ἢ φίλιππος. The latter assigns him an episcopate of eight years, which agrees with none of the figures given by the two versions of the Chronicle or by the History. We know nothing about the person or the life of Philetus.


On Asclepiades, see chap. 11, note 6.


Julia Mamæa or Mammæa (Eusebius, Μαμμαία) was the niece of Septimius Severus’ wife Julia Domna, the aunt of the Emperor Elagabalus, and the mother of the Emperor Alexander Severus, by the Syrian Gessius Marcianus. She accompanied Elagabalus to Rome, and had strength of character enough to protect her son from the jealousy of the latter, and to keep him comparatively pure from the vice and debauchery of the court. During the reign of her son she exerted great influence, which was in the main highly beneficial; but her pride and avarice finally proved fatal, both to her son and to herself. Her character seems to have been in the main pure and elevated; and she was apparently inclined to the same sort of religious syncretism which led her son to adopt many Christian principles of action, and to put the busts of Abraham and of Christ, with those of Orpheus, Apollonius of Tyana, and the best of the Roman emperors, in his private chapel (see Lampridius, Vita Sev. c. 29, 43). Eusebius calls Mammæa θεοσεβεστ€τη and εὐλαβής, and Jerome calls her a religiosa femina (de vir. ill. c. 54); but there is no evidence that she was a Christian. The date of Origen’s interview with her has been greatly disputed. Huet and Redepenning, accepting the order of events recorded in this chapter as chronological, put the interview in the early years of Alexander Severus, Redepenning assuming an otherwise unrecorded visit of Mammæa to Antioch, Huet connecting her visit there with the Persian expedition of Alexander. Huet assumes, upon the authority of Jerome’s Chron., that the Persian expedition took place in the early part of Alexander’s reign; but this is against all other ancient authorities, and must be incorrect (see Tillemont, Mem. III. 763 sq.). The only occasions known to us, on which Mammæa can have been in Antioch, were this expedition of her son (between 230 and 233) and the visit of her nephew Elagabalus to Antioch, after his victory over Macrinus in 218. At both these times Origen was quite probably in Cæsarea (see chap. 19, note 23, and p. 392, below), whence it is more natural to suppose him summoned than from Alexandria. If we put the interview in 218, we must suppose (as Tillemont suggests) that Eusebius is led by his mention of Alexander to give this account of his mother, and that he does not intend to imply that the interview took place after Alexander’s accession. There is nothing at all improbable in this. In fact, it seems more likely that he would mention the interview in connection with Alexander than in connection with Elagabalus, in spite of chronology. On the other hand, it is not impossible that the interview took place subsequently to the year 231, for Origen’s fame was certainly by that time much greater in Syria than fifteen years previous. At the same time, to accept this date disarranges seriously the chronological order of the account of Eusebius, for in chap. 24 we are told of those works which Origen wrote while yet in Alexandria; that is, before 231. Moreover, there is not the same reason for inserting this account of Mammæa at this point, if it occurred later in Alexander’s reign, that there is if it occurred in the reign of Elagabalus. We shall, therefore, do best to accept the earlier date with Tillemont, Westcott, and others.

Next: Chapter XXII