Early Writings:

Inscription of Abercius

J. B. Lightfoot writes (The Apostolic Fathers, pt. II, vol. I, pp. 498-499):


When I still supposed, as was then the universal opinion, that the Abercius of the epitaph was bishop of Hierapolis on the Maeander, I ventured to identify him, as others had done, with the Avircius Marcellus to whom an anonymous writer (Eus. H. E. v. 16) addresses a treatise in an early stage of the Montanist controversy (see Colossians p. 56). This identification becomes still more probable now that he has been shown to belong to Hieropolis of Lesser Phrygia; for this anonymous writer mentions one Zoticus of Otrous as his 'fellow-presbyter' (του συμπρεσβυτερου ημων Zωτικου Οτρηνου), and Otrous was only two miles from this Hierapolis. Starting from this identification, Duchesne (p. 30) places the date of this Montanist treatise at about A.D. 211. This date is founded on the statement of the anonymous author, that 'more than thirteen years' had elapsed since the death of Maximilla, during which there had been no war in the world either partial or general (ουτε μερικος ουτε καθολικος κοσμω γεγονε πολεμος), and even the Christians had enjoyed continuous peace (αλλα και ξριστιανοις μαλλον ειρηνη διαμονος). With Bonwetsch (Montanismus p. 146 sq), he calculates these thirteen years from A.D. 198, the year of Severus' Parthian victories, onward. But I do not see how a contemporary could possibly have spoken of A.D. 199-211 as a period of continuous peace either to the world or to the Church. The Eastern war was not ended in A.D. 198. A fierce war too was waged in Britain from A.D. 207-210, which demanded the emperor's own presence, and he died at York early in the next year (A.D. 211). This war could not have been overlooked or ignored. Meanwhile the Christians suffered severely, as the Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas show. The alternative is the period which was roughly coextensive with the reign of Commodus (A.D. 180-192); and I agree with Hilgenfeld (Ketzergeschichte p. 565), Keim (Rom. u. das Christenthum p. 638 sq), Volter (Zeitschr. f. Wiss. Theol. XXVII. 1883, p. 27), and Gorres (Jahrb. f. Protest. Theol. 1884, pp. 234, 424 sq), in regarding this as a far more probable solution. After the first year or two of this reign the Christians had almost continuous quiet. The empire also was at peace. There were indeed insignificant conflicts in A.D. 184, and the struggle in Britain afforded the emperor an excuse for assuming the name Britannicus, but it was wholly incomparable in magnitude or duration with the British war of Severus. The Antimontanist treatise therefore with which we are concerned would be written about the close of the reign of Commodus; and this must be somewhere about the date which Eusebius assigns to it, from the place which it occupies in his narrative. In this treatise the writer addresses Avircius Marcellus as a person of authority, and states that Avircius had urged him a very long time ago (εκ πλειστου οσου και ικανωτατου ξρονου) to write on the subject. The mode of address is quite consistent with his being a bishop, though he is not so styled. Thus Avircius Marcellus would have flourished during the reign of M. Aurelius, and might well have gone to Rome about the time (A.D. 163) mentioned by the legend.

Inscription of Abercius


Quasten gives this translation in Patrology, v. 1, p. 172.

1. The citizens of an eminent city, I made this (tomb)
2. In my lifetime, that I might have here a resting-place for my body.
3. Abercius by name, I am a disciple of the chaste shepherd,
4. Who feedeth His flocks of sheep on mountains and plains,
5. Who hath great eyes that look on all sides.
6. He taught me . . . faithful writings.
7. He sent me to Rome, to behold a kingdom
8. And to see a queen with golden robe and golden shoes.
9. There I saw a people bearing the splended seal.
10. And I saw the plain of Syria and all the cities, even Nisibis,
11. Having crossed the Euphrates. And everywhere I had associates
12. Having Paul as a companion, everywhere faith led the way
13. And set before me food the fish from the spring
14. Mighty and pure, whom a spotless Virgin caught,
15. And gave this to friends to eat, always
16. Having sweet wine and giving the mixed cup with bread.
17. These words, I, Abercius, standing by, ordered to be inscribed.
18. In truth, I was in the course of my seventy-second year.
19. Let him who understands and believes this pray for Abercius.
20. But no man shall place another tomb upon mine.
21. If one do so, he shall pay to the treasury of the Romans two thousand pieces of gold,
22. And to my beloved fatherland Hieropolis, one thousand pieces of gold.

Lightfoot gives this edition of the Greek text in the life of Abercius by Symeon Metaphrastes in The Apostolic Fathers, pt. II, vol. I, pp. 493-494. Lightfoot makes the note: "Various readings of the MSS are given in Spicil. Solesm. III. p. 532 sq (1855), Anal. Solesm. II. p. 169 sq (1884). I have selected those readings which accord with our other sources of infromation—the fragment of the actual tomb of Abercius, and the inscription on the tomb of Alexander."