Discussing the doctrine of the resurrection as taught and set forth by the church during the years, 80 A.D. to 250 A.D., we called attention in our preceding article to the writings on this subject of Athenagorus. We now continue with these fathers during these early years of the church in the New Dispensation, calling attention first to Minucius Felix.
We read of this writer in Vol. IV of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, pages 169 ff. Minucius Felix is said by Jerome to have been an advocate at Rome prior to his conversion to Christianity. Very little else is known of his history. And nothing is known with any certainty, except the dialogue, known as the Octavius of Minucius Felix, from which we will presently quote. ThisOctavius is a supposed argument between the heathen Caecilius and the Christian Octavius, the writer being requested to arbitrate between the disputants. The date of its composition is still a matter of keen dispute.
In chapter XXXTV the following argument is pursued: Moreover, it is not at all to be wondered at if this world is to be consumed by fire, since everything which has a beginning has also an end. And the ancient philosophers are not averse to the opinion of the probable burning up of the world. Yet it is evident that God, having made man from nothing, can raise him up from death into life. And all nature suggests a future resurrection. We now read the following:
But who is so foolish or so brutish as to dare to deny that man, as he could first of all be formed by God, so can again be re-formed; that he is nothing after death, and that he was nothing before he began to exist; and as from nothing it was possible for him to be born, so from nothing it may be possible for him to be restored? Moreover, it is more difficult to begin that which is not, than to repeat that which has been. (Is this necessarily true? Is it easier, for example, to make an egg, than to restore perfectly a shattered one?—H.V.) Do you think that, if anything is withdrawn from our feeble eyes, it perishes to God? Every body, whether it is dried up into dust, or is dissolved into moisture, or is compressed into ashes; or is attenuated into smoke, is withdrawn from us, but it is reserved for God in the custody of the elements. Nor, as you believe, do we fear any loss from sepulture, but we adopt the ancient and better custom of burying in the earth. See, therefore, how for our consolation all nature suggests a future resurrection. The sun sinks down and arises, the stars pass away and return, the flowers die and revive again, after their wintry decay the shrubs resume their leaves, seeds do not flourish again unless they are rotted: which in winter hide their verdure with a deceptive dryness. Why are you in haste for it to revive and return, while the winter is still raw? We must wait also for the spring-time of the body. And I am not ignorant that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, rather desire than believe that they shall be nothing after death; for they would prefer to be altogether extinguished, rather than to be restored for the purpose of punishment. And their error also is enhanced, both by the liberty granted them in this life, and by God’s very great patience, whose judgment, the more tardy it is, is so much the more just.
And in chapter XXXV the argument is advanced that the righteous and pious men shall be rewarded with never-ending felicity, but unrighteous men shall. be visited with eternal punishment. The morals of Christians are far more holy than those of the gentiles. This concludes our quotations from the writings of Minucius Felix. However, we WY quote, the Lord willing, from other church fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and others, in subsequent articles.
The names of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian are familiar to many of our readers. Clement of Rome and Theophilus of Antioch have also expressed themselves with respect to the resurrection.
Clement, known as Clement of Rome, in distinction from Clement of Alexandria, was probably a Gentile and a Roman. He seems to have been at Philippi with Paul (A.D. 57) when that first-born of the Western churches was passing through great trials of faith. There, with holy women and others, he ministered to the apostle and to the saints. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter XXIV, he writes, and we quote:
Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day (again) departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits (of the earth), how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit.
In chapter XXV of this epistle he speaks of a wonderful sign, the phoenix as an emblem of our resurrection, and we quote, leaving it to our readers to judge of its importance:
Let us consider that wonderful sign (of the resurrection) which takes place in Eastern lands, that is in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years [according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, a phoenix is a legendary bird which according to one account lived 500 years, burned itself to ashes on a pyre, and rose youthfully alive from the ashes to live another period—H.V.]. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up the nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Jeliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests than inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.
In a footnote of this chapter, it is stated that this fable respecting the phoenix is mentioned by Herodotus and by Pliny, and is used as above by Tertullian and by others of the Fathers. And then, in chapter XXVI of this epistle, Clement writes:
Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the, assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfill His promise? For the Scripture saith in a certain place, “Thou shalt raise me up, and I shall confess unto Thee;” and again, “I laid me down, and slept; I awaked, because Thou art with me”; and again, Job says, “Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things.” (It appears from the above that Clement believed this fable.)
Theophilus of Antioch also wrote on the resurrection. Little is known of the personal history of Theophilus. It is believed that he was born a pagan, and owed his conversion to Christianity to the grace of God and the careful study of the Holy Scriptures. In chapter VII, writing to his friend, Autolycus, he writes:
When thou shalt have put off the mortal, and put on incorruption, then shalt thou see God worthily. For God will raise thy flesh immortal with thy soul; and then, having become immortal, thou shalt see the Immortal, if now you believe on Him; and then you shall know that you have spoken unjustly against Him.
And in chapter VIII of this writing He writes the following:
But you do not believe that the dead are raised. When the resurrection shall take place, then you will believe, whether you will or no; and your faith shall be reckoned for unbelief, unless you believe now. And why do you not believe? Do you not know that faith is the leading principle in all matters? For what husbandman can reap, unless he first trust his seed to the earth? Or who can cross the sea, unless he first entrust himself to the boat and the pilot? And what sick person can be healed, unless first he trust himself to the care of the physician? And what art or knowledge can any one learn, unless he first apply and entrust himself to the teacher? If, then, the husbandman trusts the earth, and the sailor the boat, and the sick the physician, will you not place confidence in God, when you hold so many pledges at His hand? For first He created you out of nothing, and brought you into existence (for if your father was not, nor your mother, much more were you yourself at one time not in being), and formed you out of a small and moist substance, even out of the least drop, which at one time had itself no being; and God introduced you into this life. Moreover, you believe that the images made by men are gods, and do great things; and can you not believe that the God Who made you is able also to make you afterwards?
Also Justin Martyr writes on the resurrection. To him we have referred in the past. Justin Martyr was a Gentile, but born in Samaria, near Jacob’s well. He must have been well educated: he had traveled extensively, and he seems to have been a person enjoying at least a competence. The writings of Justin Martyr are among the most important that have come down to us from the second century. He was not the first that wrote an Apology in be half of the Christians, but his Apologies are the earliest extant. They are characterized by intense Christian fervor. He writes on the resurrection in what is known as Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection.
Justin Martyr speaks of the resurrection in theseFragments in several chapters. He speaks of the objections that are raised against the resurrection of the flesh. He also asks the question whether, when the members rise, they must discharge the same functions as now. Then he asks whether the deformed shall rise as deformed. It is interesting, I believe, to quote this passage of Justin Martyr:
Well, they say, if then the flesh rise, it must rise the same as it falls; so that if it die with one eye, it must rise one-eyed; if lame, lame; if defective in any part of the body, in this part the man must rise deficient. How truly blinded are they in the eyes of their hearts! For they have not seen on the earth blind men seeing again, and the lame walking by His word. All things which the Saviour did, He did in the first place in order that what was spoken concerning Him in the prophets might be fulfilled, “that the blind should receive sight, and the deaf hear,” and so on; but also to induce the belief’ that in the resurrection the flesh shall rise entire. For if on earth He healed the sicknesses of the flesh, &rid made the body whole, much more will He do this in the resurrection, so that the flesh shall rise perfect and entire. In this manner, then, shall those dreaded difficulties of theirs be healed.
In chapter X of these Fragments Justin Martyr writes that the resurrection of Christ proves that the body rises, and we quote:
If He had no need of the flesh, why did He heal it? And what is most forcible of all, He raised the dead. Why? Was it not to show what the resurrection should be? How then did He raise the dead? Their souls or their bodies? Manifestly both. If the resurrection were only spiritual, it was requisite that He, in raising the dead, should show the body lying apart by itself, and the soul living apart by itself. But now He did not do so, but raised the body confirming in it the promise of life. Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh? And wishing to confirm . . . . this, when His disciples did not know whether to believe He had truly risen in the body, and were looking upon Him and doubting, He said to them, “Ye have not yet faith, see that it is I”; and He let them handle Him, and showed them the prints of the nails in His hands. And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily; and He did eat honey-comb and fish. [but is it not Jesus Who-asks them whether they have any meat?—H.V.] And when He had thus shown them that there is truly a resurrection of the flesh, wishing to show them this also, that it is not impossible for flesh to ascent into heaven (as He had said that our dwelling-place is in heaven), “He was taken up into heaven while they beheld,” as He was in the flesh. If, therefore, after all that has been said, any one demand demonstration of the resurrection, he is in no respect different from the Sadducees, since the resurrection of the flesh is the power of God, and, being above all reasoning, is established by faith, and seen in works.
And then, in a concluding paragraph, this church father declares that the body, having been saved, will therefore rise. Justin Martyr speaks of the body as the home of the soul, and of the soul as the house of the spirit. These three, according to him, will be saved in all those who cherish a sincere hope and unquestioning faith in God. And inasmuch as the Saviour in the whole Gospel shows that there is salvation for the flesh, he deplores the lamentable fact that we should any longer endure those unbelieving and dangerous arguments of evil men who would reason that the soul is immortal but the body mortal. This, writes he, is what we used to hear from Pythagoras and Plato, even before we had learned the truth. But now He has come proclaiming the glad tidings of a new and strange hope to men, that He would not keep incorruption in incorruption, but would make corruption incorruption. Indeed Justin Martyr certainly believed in the resurrection of the dead, as was generally true of the saints of God throughout this early period of the church of God.