Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VI/Julius Africanus/Introductory Notice
[a.d. 200–232–245.] In a former volume, strengthened by a word from Archbishop Usher, I have not hesitated to claim for Theophilus of Antioch a primary place among Christian chronologists. It is no detraction from the fame of our author to admit this, and truth requires it. But the great Alexandrian school must again come into view when we speak of any considerable achievements, among early Christian writers, in this important element of all biblical, in fact, all historical, science. Africanus was a pupil of Heraclas, and we must therefore date his pupilage in Alexandria before a.d. 232, when Dionysius succeeded Heraclas in the presidency of that school. It appears that in a.d. 226 he was performing some duty in behalf of Emmaus (Nicopolis) in Palestine; but Heraclas, who had acted subordinately as Origen’s assistant as early as a.d. 218, could not have become the head of the school, even provisionally, till after Origen’s unhappy ordination. Let us assume the period of our author’s attending the school under Heraclas to be between a.d. 228 and a.d. 232, however. We may then venture to reckon his birth as circa a.d. 200. And, if he became “bishop of Emmaus,” it could hardly have been before the year 240, when he was of ripe age and experience. He adds additional lustre to the age of Gregory Thaumaturgus and Dionysius, as well as to that of their common mother in letters and theology, the already ancient academy of Pantænus and of Clement. His reviving credit in modern times has been largely due to the learned criticism of Dr. Routh, to whose edition of these Fragments the student must necessarily apply. Their chief interest arises from the important specimen which treats of the difficult question of the genealogies of our Lord contained in the evangelists. For a succinct statement of the points involved, and for a candid concession that they were not preserved to meet what modern curiosity would prefer to see established, I know of nothing more satisfactory than the commentary of Wordsworth, from which I have borrowed almost wholly one of my elucidations.
The reader will remember the specimen of our author’s critical judgment which is given with the works of Origen. He differed with that great author, and the Church Catholic has sustained his judgment as just. I regret that the Edinburgh editors thought it necessary to make the Letter to Origen concerning the Apocryphal Book of Susannah a mere preface to Origen’s answer. It might have been quoted there as a preface; but it is too important not to be included here, with the other fragments of his noble contributions to primitive Christian literature.
It does not clearly appear, from the Edinburgh edition, who the translator is; but here follows the
Translator’s Introductory Notice.
The principal facts known to us in the life of Africanus are derived from himself and the Chronicon of Eusebius. He says of himself that he went to Alexandria on account of the fame of Heraclas. In the Chronicon, under the year 226, it is stated that “Nicopolis in Palestine, which formerly bore the name of Emmaus, was built, Africanus, the author of the Chronology, acting as ambassador on behalf of it, and having the charge of it.” Dionysius Bar-Salibi speaks of Africanus as bishop of Emmaus.
Eusebius describes Africanus as being the author of a work called κεστοί. Suidas says that this book detailed various kinds of cures, consisting of charms and written forms, and such like. Some have supposed that such a work is not likely to have been written by a Christian writer: they appeal also to the fact that no notice is taken of the κεστοί by Jerome in his notice of Africanus, nor by Rufinus in his translation of Eusebius. They therefore deem the clause in Eusebius an interpolation, and they suppose that two bore the name of Africanus,—one the author of the κεστοί, the other the Christian writer. Suidas identifies them, says that he was surnamed Sextus, and that he was a Libyan philosopher.
The works ascribed to Africanus, beside the Cesti, are the following:—
1. Five Books of Chronology. Photius says of this work, that it was concise, but omitted nothing of importance. It began with the cosmogony of Moses, and went down to the advent of Christ. It summarized also the events from the time of Christ to the reign of the Emperor Macrinus.
2. A very famous letter to Aristides, in which he endeavoured to reconcile the apparent discrepancies in the genealogies of Christ given by Matthew and Luke.
3. A letter to Origen, in which he endeavoured to prove that the story of Susanna in Daniel was a forgery. A translation of this letter has been given with the Works of Origen.
The Acts of Symphorosa and her Seven Sonsare attributed in the mss. to Africanus; but no ancient writer speaks of him as the author of this work.
- Vol. ii. p. 87, this series.
- Vol. iv. p. 227.
- On St. Matt. i. 1–17.
- Vol. iv. p. 385.
- Hist. Eccl., vi. 31.
- Cod. 34.