The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries

by Adolph (von) Harnack
translated and edited by James Moffatt
Second, enlarged and revised English edition;
London: Williams and Norgate / New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1908 (from the 2nd German edition)..
Theological Translation Library, volumes 19-20

From the German, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (1902, revised 1906, 1915, and finally 1924)

[[being updated (also consulting the 4th German edition) and adapted by RAK for use in 2004 America]]

[[Book 4, Chapter 3, page 307]]



The spread of heretical unions and of schismatical churches hardly possesses any independent value for the history of the expansion of Christianity; in the first place, these invariably follow the church and appear embedded in the same great stratum, while, in the second place, several of them, i.e., the Gnostic, are distinctly said to have directed their propaganda to Christians rather than to the heathen. "De verbi autem administratione,' says Tertullian of all Gnostics and Marcionites (de Proescr. Hoeret. xlii.), "quid dicam, cum hoc sit negotium -illis non ethnicos convertendi, sed nostros evertendi? hanc magis gloriam captant, si stantibus ruinam, non si iacentibus elevationem operentur . . . . ita flt, ut ruinas facilius operentur stantium aedificiorum quem exstructiones iacentium ruinarum " ("But what shall I say of the administration of the word, since they make it their business to subvert our people, not to convert, heretics ? This is the glory they seek-to compass the ruin of those who stand erect, not the elevation of the fallen......... Accordingly, they accomplish the ruin of standing edifices more easily than the erection of ruins which are fallen"). Similarly, he says of the Valentinians (adv. Val. i.): :Valentiniani, frequentissimum plane collegium inter haereticos, quia plurimum ex apostates veritatis " ("the Valentinians, no doubt a very numerous body of heretics, including a large number of apostates from the truth"). Compare, e.g., the conversion of the Roman presbyter Florinus, the erstwhile friend of Irenaeus. Tertullian is hardly exaggerating when he speaks thus. The [[308]] principles and doctrines of these Gnostic communities such that it was not easy for them to gain any except where some Christianity had gone before them. This is true of the Manichaean movement in the fourth century. It won most of its adherents among Christians or Christian catechumens (cp. above, vol. i. pp. 26 f., for the attractive power of Gnostic ideas in connection with Christian). It is not necessary, therefore, to enter into any details at this point upon the spread of the Simonians (cp. p. 105), the adherents of Menander (ibid.), of Basilides, of Valentinus (cp. Julian's Ep. xliii., ed. Hertlein), of Marcion (they spread from the East, during the days of Irenaeus, as far as the Rhone valley), of Carpocrates, or of the Ophite sects. It is enough for us to know that they (especially those mentioned third, fourth, and seventh in our list) were to be found everywhere, though in small numbers, throughout numerous provinces which had been evangelized by Christians, from the last thirty years of the second century onwards ; that they took advantage of the vital intercourse kept up by the churches; that they all made for Rome; and that from the end third century they gradually disappeared in the West, ensconcing themselves within the church or going over to, Manichaeanism, which was also spreading throughout the West about 300 A.D. Thus Optatus (i. 9) writes, circa 380 A.D.: "Haereticorum per provincias Africanas non solum vitia sed etiam noinina videbantur ignota" ("Throughout the African provinces the very names, much more the vices, of the heretics seemed unknown'). How different it was in Cypian's day! Optatus proceeds to instance Marcion, Praxeas, Sabellius, Valentinus, "and the rest, down to the very Cataphrygians." Ambrosiaster and Augustine bear the same testimony, Pilastrius of Brescia (c. 390 A.D.), in his great work, holds really a triumphal last judgment on over one hundred and fifty dead heresies; for by that time the old heresies had almost en disappeared in the West. It was otherwise in the East, yet even there only in the extreme eastern regions. Within the metropolitan sphere of Antioch to the borders of the empire the old heretical unions maintained and propagated themselves [[309]] much longer. We get an accurate. picture of them in the extensive anti-heretical work of Epiphanius, as well as in the works, letters, and regulations of Chrysostom, Nestorius, and Theodoret. Some of these unions, as we learn both from Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian (Scorpiace), avoided any conflict with the state from the outset, and refused to recognize the duty of martyrdom in the Christian's duty of confession (so the followers of Valentinus and Prodicus, cp. above, vol. i. p. 493). Yet even so, esoteric companies, as these unions were, could not attain any great size or importance. Finally, several items of evidence (eg., the Abercius inscription, the existence of worshippers of Oeo'v 6*i@og, the father of Gregory Naz., etc.) prove that in Asia Minor (and possibly elsewhere) there were many supporters of semi-Christian unions, who were well organized, and who were at the same time semi-pagans. Still, we know no particulars about such popular "churches" or about their significance. The laws against heretical gatherings for worship begin with Constantine's decree (Vita, III. 65), which orders their buildings to be demolished and forbids even meetings in private houses.

It would be entirely misleading to discuss the Montanist movement and its wide diffusion. Montanism must be viewed always as an inevitable movement within Christianity, which every provincial church had to meet. Still, it is significant for the history of the spread of Christianity that a Phrygian prophet, together with two prophetesses could gain such an enormous influence. By about 200 A.D. the names of the new prophets:were as well known to Christians in Syria and Egypt, Rome, North Africa, and Gaul as in Phrygia and Asia; thousands of Christians in the East and in the West alike believed the claim of Tymion and Pepuza to have been born in Nazareth and Jerusalem. Still, this appears to illustrate not the diffusion of Christianity but the vitality of Christian intercommunication and the opportuneness of the Phrygian prophetic utterances.

I shall merely give a brief account here of two movements outside the church, characterized by special width of range and energy, viz., the Marcionite and the Novatian. Marcion, who [[310]] came from Sinope (see above, p..188) to Rome about 140 A.D., was attacked by Polycarp of Smyrna. Justin, about 150 A.D., says that the Marcionite movement was to be met with everywhere in the empire (tV Kara' -trip /e'yov a'YO@wy 8ta' Tiv -rrep v Xf 8atlxo'pwv (rvXXi*ew 7ro'kXo'Vf werol'I?Ke iaxaO-037/Ata el/eLP=who, by aid of demons, has caused many of every race to blaspbeme," Apol. 26). We can verify its existence towards the close of the second century in almost all the provinces of the church; Philip of Gortyna (Crete), Dionysius in Corinth, Irenaeus in Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian in Carthage, Hippolytus and Rhodon in Rome, and Bardesanes in Edessa, all wrote against the Marcionites., Even in the course of the third century they were still refuted or noticed by many writers. Epiphanius observes that this heresy was to be found "still in Rome and Italy, Egypt and Palestine, Arabia and Syria, Cyprus and the Thebais, as well as even in Persia, [this is corroborated by the polemic of Aphraates in the fourth century] and elsewhere" (E'Tt Kai vu-v e'v Te 'P Ka' @P Ti 'ITaXia, e'y Ai-/V'7T(p TE Kai eV HaXato-,ril'ti, e'v 'Apa,8t' -rC Kai C'v Ti -TVpt'9$ e'v Ku'rpp Te Ka'i Oj7,8ai'8t,. ov' iA;v a'X>,a' Ka't @V Ti HEPO-ISL Kai e'v a>,>,oiv To'rog, Ha,r., xlii. 1). Theodoret tells (Ep. lxxxi.) how he converted no fewer than eight villages and their surrounding district (Ka't -rag 7reple KCIUe'vav) from Marcionitism (note that the, Marcionites had gone back from the town to the country, and erected villages of their own). In Ep. cxiii. the same bishop says that he converted over a thousand Marcionites, and similar exploits are told in connection with Nestorius and Chrysostom. Even in Armenia there were Marcionites; in fact, as the polemic of Esnik in the fifth century proves, they were a danger to the local church. Possibly they reached Armenia from Eastern Syria (Edessa), where Ephraem Syrus had vigorously disputed with them in the fourth century. The Arabic author Ehrist described them as quite a respectable church with a literature of their own. Of all the primitive heretical churches, the Marcionite is the only one which has left an inscription behind it (cp. above, p. 124), belonging to the beginning of the fourth century. The bishops and martyrs of the Marcionite [[311]] church are mentioned by early catholic writers (cp. Acta Pionii, xxi.; along with Pionius a Marcionite presbyter called Metrodorus was put to death, Eus., H.E., iv. 15. 46; cp. also Mart. Pal, p. 73, ed. Violet, Asclepius the bishop and martyr of the Marcionites; and finally a woman martyr at Caesarea, Eus., vii. 12).

The Novatian church, which had a fully equipped hierarchy on the lines of the catholic organization, arose in 250 A.D., and gradually fused itself with the remains of Montanism, especially in Phrygia. We can prove its existence in Rome ["infelicissimi pauci" is its name in Sixtus II.'s phrase (ad Novat. 2), but they were quite numerous; they had several churches in Rome even by the opening of the fifth century, and of course a bishop of their own; there is ample evidence to attest their importance during the fourth century], Africa (even in Mauretania; cp. Leo I., Ep. xii. 6), Spain (Pacian), Gaul (Marcian of Arles, Reticius of Autun, the letter of Innocent I. to Rouen, Ep. ii. 11), Upper Italy (Ambrose, de Paenit.), Alexandria [where they had several churches, and where they were numerous in the days of bishop Cyril], Syria (cp. the refutation of Novatianism by Busebius of Emesa), and above all in Asia Minor, particularly in Phrygia, where they had almost complete control of large districts [cp. the Church History of Socrates], and in the Hellespont. Their bishops were occasionally of high repute under Constantine and his successors, and in the case of one or two churches (e.g., that of Constantinople) we can draw up a list of Novatian bishops. Socrates even mentions one in Scythia.

To sketch the spread of Manichaeanism lies outside the purview of the present work; it did not originate till the last quarter of the third century, and even then, even during the first quarter of the fourth, it remained, so to speak , latent in the church.

[[end of 4.3.Appendix 1]]