Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saint John at Ephesus

Reading N°25 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

St. John the Evangelist
Domenichino (1581-1641)
The mysterious personage whose testimony is so stressed by Papias and whom he calls John the Ancient has always stirred the ingenuity of historians and exegetes. Our own opinion is that this person is the Apostle himself. Papias' text appears clear. True, Eusebius makes John out to be a different person; but his interpretation of the text, which he quotes, is apparently inspired by a desire to take from the Apostle John the authorship of the Apocalypse. The Bishop of Caesarea rejected the doctrine of this book and ascribed it to a writer of less authority. The following is the famous text of Papias, as recorded by Eusebius:
I shall not hesitate to append to the interpretations all that I ever learnt well from the presbyters and remember well, for of their truth I am confident. For, unlike most, I did not rejoice in them who say much, but in them who teach the truth, nor in them who recount the commandments of others, but in them who repeated those given to the faith by the Lord and derived from truth itself; but if ever anyone came who had followed the presbyters, I inquired into the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples, had said, and what Aristion and the presbyter John, the Lord's disciples, were saying.[1]
The Presbyter John, the Lord's disciple, is mentioned twice: once among those who had spoken (in the past), and once among those who were still speaking (in the present); this is because he is the sole survivor of the Apostles, because he alone of them still speaks. Moreover, the intention of showing that there is question of one and the same person is evident from the identity of the titles attached to the two names. It is always "the Presbyter John," John "the disciple of the Lord." Eusebius, whose antipathy for John's Apocalypse is well known, and who had it from Dionysius of Corinth that the Apocalypse was the work of a certain John, distinct from the Apostle John, eagerly seizes upon Papias' double mention of John and uses that fact as an argument for his view. He says:
This calls for attention: for it is probable that the second John is the one who saw the revelation which passes under the name of John.[2]
In his desire to strengthen the opinion which he wanted to have accepted, Eusebius appeals to two reasons which are not very cogent, namely: that the second John is called "Presbyter" - but so is the first - and that Ephesus has two monuments to John, which Eusebius lets us suppose are burial monuments - but the very term which Eusebius had to use, μνήματα, indicates "memorial" monuments. It is not surprising that two monuments of this kind should have been erected in honor of the same person.

Thus far, we have scarcely met the name of the Apostle John.[3] Up to the last years of the century of the Apostles, tradition as well as Scripture is almost silent about the labors of the second son of Zebedee. This "son of thunder" had not yet taken those sublime flights presaged by the impetuosity of his character and the ardor of his love. The "disciple that Jesus loved," whose head rested on the Savior's breast at the Last Supper, out of obedience to a divine mission from his Master[4] must have led a life of silence and prayer and recollection in the modest home where he received the Blessed Virgin. More than once our Lord restrained the imprudent vehemence of that ardor; and it was used in laying the foundations of an interior life that would some day reveal its great depth. In close association with the Blessed Mother, the soul of this virgin Apostle was enriched with unction and charity, while losing nothing of its force. The thunder of his voice would be heard, but at the hour and in the manner marked out by God.

After the Blessed Virgin's death, at which he was present,[5] after the death of the other Apostles, who were martyred for their faith, John was the only one left of the intimate group which had received the Savior's confidences. The eyes of the entire Church then turned to the beloved Apostle. Everyone felt a presentiment of some mysterious destiny in his regard. Once our Lord, speaking of John, had said:
So I will have him remain till I come, what is it to thee?[6]
And a rumor spread that this disciple would not die.[7] But Jesus had said also:
You shall indeed drink of the chalice that I drink of; and with the baptism wherewith I am baptized, you shall be baptized.[8]
At a date which cannot be determined with absolute exactness, between the death of Saints Peter and Paul and the destruction of Jerusalem, the Apostle John fixed his residence at Ephesus.[9] With some likelihood, we can date his arrival about the year 68. Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, speaks of a whole crowd of ancients gathered about John.[10] The departure of this colony is naturally explained by the dispersion that took place two years before the destruction of the Holy City.

Ephesus was in constant relation with Jerusalem. Many Jews lived in Ephesus and openly practiced their religion, thanks to the privileges which Hircanus had obtained for them from Dolabella.[11] These Jews came to Jerusalem in large numbers to perform their devotions in the Temple. Probably many of them were witnesses to the Pentecostal miracles, and it is not unlikely that a Christian community was formed in Ephesus at an early date. Its membership seems to have been composed mostly of disciples of John the Baptist. St. Paul, upon returning from Galatia, found at Ephesus certain insufficiently trained Christians who contented themselves with the precursor's baptism.[12] In spite of violent opposition, the preaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles succeeded there wonderfully, so that he said:
A great door and evident is opened unto me; and many adversaries.[13]
The First Epistle to Timothy informs us that Paul, prevented from continuing his apostolate at Ephesus, entrusted to this disciple, who was a native of the country, the direction of the Church which he had established there.[14]

It was a providential choice that John and his companions made in fixing upon the city of Ephesus for their residence. Being on the coast of Ionia, almost opposite the island of Samos, Ephesus occupied one of the choicest sites as a place of transit between the East and the West. Commercial activity, great though it was, did not absorb the people's minds. From time immemorial that city had been a great center of religious activity. Its temple, venerated throughout the world, kept alive, more than did any other place, the religious craving which was then disturbing so many pagan souls.

And so we presently see John and the group of his disciples becoming the center of an important movement, with the Churches of Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea soon placing themselves under his direction.


[1] Eusebius, H. E., III, xxxix, 4.
[2] Ibidem, 5.
[3] There is no further mention of him after the day when St. Paul came to Jerusalem to set forth his gospel before "James and Cephas and John," who were then regarded as "pillars" of the Church. (Gal. 2:1, 2, 9.)
[4] John 19:27.
[5] Probably at Jerusalem. "An arbitrary interpretation of an obscure text of the Council of Ephesus is the sole foundation on which is based the opinion which locates the last residence and the tomb of the Blessed Virgin at Ephesus. [...] The tradition which records that Jerusalem was the last home of the Holy Virgin rests, on the contrary, upon explicit testimony, which, it is true, only dates back to the fifth century." (Fouard, St. John and the Close of the Apostolic Age, p. 72.)
[6] John 21:22.
[7] John 21:23.
[8] Mark 10:39.
[9] The testimony of tradition is unanimous on this point. Harnack (Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, I, 320-381) and Jean Reville (Le quatrième évangile, pp. 9-18) have vainly tried to shake the authentic and reliable testimony of St. Irenaeus on this point. (Haereses, II, xxii, 5.)
[10] Eusebius, III, xxix.
[11] Josephus, Antiquities, XIV, x, 11-13.
[12] Acts 19:1-5.
[13] Cf. 1 Cor. 16:9.
[14] Cf. 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:18; 4:12.


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