Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Beheading of Marinus

In the mid third century, persecution had been fluctuating in intensity under Valerian. At first he was friendly, next hostile and once more friendly towards the end of his reign.

Eusebius transmits this fascinating account of a Christian solider in the Roman army named Marinus who was about to receive a promotion when another soldier objected that it was not lawful since he did not sacrifice to the emperors. From Church History 7.15:
Thereupon the judge, whose name was Ach├Žus, being disturbed, first asked what opinion Marinus held. And when he perceived that he continually confessed himself a Christian, he gave him three hours for reflection.

When he came out from the tribunal, Theotecnus, the bishop there, took him aside and conversed with him, and taking his hand led him into the church. And standing with him within, in the sanctuary, he raised his cloak a little, and pointed to the sword that hung by his side; and at the same time he placed before him the Scripture of the divine Gospels, and told him to choose which of the two he wished. And without hesitation he reached forth his right hand, and took the divine Scripture. Hold fast then, says Theotecnus to him, hold fast to God, and strengthened by him may thou obtain what you have chosen, and go in peace.
The imagery here is powerful whatever the actual details of the event may have been. First, there is a church building with a sanctuary. This demonstrates the historicity (also confirmed by recent archeology) of public buildings designated for Christian worship (not just living rooms and catacombs) well before the edict of Milan.

It is also a potent image of Christian piety in that the Scriptures were not brought out of the Church to him, he was brought into the Church to embrace the Scriptures. This is demonstrative of the fact that the divine Scriptures belong to the Church and can only be properly received from her.

It is also worth noting that Theotecnus doesn't just ask him "which do you believe?" but told him to choose and in doing so implied that he ought to make a physical gesture corresponding with his choice. His embrace of the Scriptures reminds me especially of the Eastern veneration of the gospels during the liturgy when the faithful go up to the altar after the gospel reading and literally kiss the book. This external veneration is a physical affirmation of the devotion Christians ought to have towards the Word of God as if, in the divine liturgy, the priest is asking "choose now which of the two (the world or the Word) you wish".

Marinus wisely chose the sword of God rather than the sword of man and in doing so forsook his rank in the army of Rome and was drafted into the army of martyrs.


Thos said...


Nice post. Your first point struck me also when I was reading the quote, that there is a physical, actual, visible space that is holy (a sanctuary). It seems it would be holy only if it had the Divine presence especially within, no?

About your second point, I am a little skeptical simply because the book itself would have been so costly and precious -- it would be off if they did let parishioners carry it about outside the church.

Regarding your third point, I thought you made it very well. We can "believe" or have "faith", but not confirm that faith with any actual gesture or work. I choose the Bible today, but still have a hard time being patient with my kids, with not being lazy, etc. I must ACT!

Peace in Christ,

~Joseph the Worker said...

I like your tie-in with the veneration of the gospels (and I think veneration of the cross would also apply here). The symbolism in the story here is deep and meaningful and helps give our veneration special meaning as well.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thos - I agree on the second point that Eusebius didn't intend to make an ecclesiological point here. I would prefer that he is recording actual history - that such an event or nearly such an event occurred (whether he knows about it through oral testimony or through another source is unclear).

But just because he didn't intend such a meaning doesn't mean I'm not ready and willing to read it into the text! :)