The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 7

The pagan Paralios has just been converted after violent Christian-pagan rioting in Alexandria.

Paralios then concerned himself with his two other brothers, who were pagans living at Aphrodisias.  One of them was the scholasticos of the country, and was named Demochares.  The other was called Proclos, and was the sophist of the town.  He wrote a warning letter to them both, in which he recounted all that had happened.  He urged them to immediately turn their minds to the way of repentance and to embrace the cult of the One God, i.e. the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity.

He undertook to teach them from the facts what was the power of Christianity.  He reminded them from history, such as the rebellion of Illos and Pamprepios.

“Do you remember,” he said to them, “how many sacrifices we offered, as pagans, in Caria, to the gods of the pagans, when we asked them, these pretended gods, while dissecting the entrails and examining them by magic, to tell us whether, with Illos and Pamprepios and all those who rebelled with them, we would vanquish the emperor Zeno, of pious memory?  We received a multitude of oracles together with promises that the emperor Zeno would be unable to resist their sudden attack, and that the moment had come when Christianity would disintegrate and disappear, and when pagan worship would resume.   However the event showed that these oracles were false, just as happened with those given by Apollo to Croesus and to Pyrrhus the Epirote.”

He continued, “You know the following facts.  When we sacrificed afterwards, in those places outside the city, we were left deprived of any sign, any vision, any response, although previously we had become used to experiencing some illusion of this kind.   Plagued with confusion, we searched and asked ourselves what this meant.  We changed the place of sacrifice.  In spite of this these so-called gods remained mute and their worship without any effect.  Also, we thought that they were angry with us, and the idea eventually came to us that perhaps someone with us was privately opposed to what we were doing.  So we questioned each other and asked if we were all of the same opinion.  We then found that a young man had made the sign of the cross in the name of Christ, and that he that by this rendered our effort vain and our sacrifices ineffective, these so-called gods often fleeing from the name [of Christ] and the sign of the cross.  We did not know how to explain this.  Asclepiodotus and the other fornicators and magicians then set themselves to investigate.  One of them thought that he had imagined a solution to the problem and said, “The cross is a sign which indicates that a man has died a violent death.  So it is reasonable that the gods abhor figures of that sort.”

After reminding his brothers of these facts in the letter that he sent them, Paralios, the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, added, “And if that is true, my brothers, and if these gods run away from anything that reminds and shows them that people have died a violent death, why, in the mysteries of the Sun, do the so-called gods not appear to the initiates until the priest produces a sword stained with the blood of a man who has died a violent death?  Also the friends of the truth can testify by this that the sign of the cross made on his forehead by a young man showed that the so-called gods were nothing.  On the other hand, invoking the name of Jesus Christ, that this is the invocation of God and that it inspires fear in the wicked demons, showed that he who fled could be conquered.[1]  The violent murder of men was much sought-after by the gods of the pagans, because they are wicked demons.  They are like their father the devil, about whom our Saviour said, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning.’  It is for this reason that they only consent to make their revelations at the sight of a man who has been killed violently as a result of their machinations, and which facilitates their oracles.  It is again for this reason that they ordered that men should be sacrificed to them, as say those who have told the story of their belief, and even Porphyry, who rages against the truth.”

It is by these stories and warnings that Paralios sought to divert his brothers from error, under the inspiration of the great Stephen and of his [Paralios’] brother Athanasius.  He himself applied himself with such eagerness to the divine philosophy that many of the young students imitated him and embraced the monastic life in the convent of the admirable Stephen, who took them all into the threads of the apostolic teaching.  John also had the pleasure of enjoying his friendship.   Each of them is today a director in the convent, and equal in virtue to his predecessors, one of whom became the adjutant (βοηθός) of the cohort (τάξις) of the Prefect of Egypt, the other cultivated true philosophy, after having studied medicine and secular philosophy to a remarkable degree.  The great Stephen was the teacher of men of this standard.

When, after some time, Stephen, the common teacher of us all, was returned to God, Paralios returned with his brother Athanasius to Caria, to convert his brothers.  He founded there a Christian community, whose direction he relinquished, as was right, to his brother and his father.  A little time later he departed for “the eternal tents” and was received into the bosom of Abraham.  Athanasius lived for some time longer.  He also baptised many pagans in Caria, and by his conduct caused many people to become zealous, then he rejoined the divine Stephen and Paralios, who was their common pupil, and came to the end and the happiness reserved for those who have conquered in the faith of Christ.

Amen to that.   Such a picture of student life and conversion might be paralleled in our universities today, where the course of many a godly life is given the shape and direction that it will follow in later life.

Paralios may have begun in two minds, but he ended up a part of the great movement of mankind, to use life wisely, towards Christ our Saviour; a movement which is found in every age and nation, and of which I too am a humble member.

An interesting point in the letter of Paralios; he refers to Porphyry’s book against the Christians.  Is this evidence that it was still in wide circulation at this time, ca. 500?  It had been condemned by Constantine in 325, but this must have had no effect since Theodosius II reissues the edict in 448.  We need not suppose that the Theodosian edict had any more effect that Constantine’s; for late emperors had great difficulty in getting their laws put into force without local support.  Perhaps it was still circulating, and being read with interest, in Alexandria in 500 AD?

  1. [1]The French translator comments that the end of this sentence is obscure, and embarassed the Syrian who annotated the Life.

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