An useful digression concerning the time
when Simeon Metaphrastes lived, and the occasion of his writing. That his
living within the time of the great opposition against Saint-worship moved him
to devise such stories as made for the credit and advantage of that cause then
in danger. A brief historical account (even out of the records left by the
adversaries) of the great opposition in the Greek and
But for the better understanding of this mystery of iniquity, and what necessity there was of such desperate shifts when time was; ye shall know that this superstitious Simeon lived towards the end of that time of great and long opposition against idolatry in the Greek and Eastern Churches, by divers Emperors with the greatest part of their Bishops, Peers, and People, lasting from about the year of our Lord 720 till after 840, that is 120 years; which was not against images only, though they bear the name; but the worship of saints and their relics; the state whereof it will not be amiss to represent out of
such records of antiquity as our adversaries themselves have been pleased to leave us; if it be but for their sake who so often ask us whether there were ever any of our religion before Luther. Let us therefore hear what writers of their own sect, such as then lived and were eye-witnesses, will tell us.
Leo Isaurus (saith Theophanes, Miscell. lib. 21, cap. 23.) erred not only about the respective adoration of venerable images,” but about “intercession of the most chaste Mother of God, and all the Saints, whose relics also this most wicked man abominated like unto his masters the Mohammedans.”
This was the first of those Emperors; the next was Constantinus, whom they surnamed Copronymus, of whom the same author speaks as followeth: “This pernicious, inhuman, and barbarous Emperor, abusing his authority tyrannically, and not using it lawfully, at the very beginning made an Apostasy from God ans his undefiled Mother and all his Saints.”
Again, lib. 22, cap. 42, upon the twenty-sixth year of his reign:
“He shewed himself wicked, beyond the frenzy of the Mohammedans, to all that were Orthodox” —so he calls idolaters,— “under his Empire, Bishops, Monks, Laymen and other his subjects; everywhere, as well by writing as by speech, banishing, as unprofitable, the intercessions of the holy Virgin and Mother of God and of all the Saints, through which all succor is conveyed unto us, and causing their holy Relics
to be rejected and despised: and if the Relics of any notable Saint, sovereign both to body and soul, were known to lie anywhere, and were as the manner is, honored by those which were religious; presently he threatened such as these with death, as wicked doers, or else with proscriptions, banishment, and torture. As for the relics acceptable to God, and esteemed by the possessors as a treasure, they were taken from them from thenceforward to be made hateful things.”
Again, cap. 48, of the next year:
“If anyone getting a fall, or being in pain, chanced to utter the usual language of Christians, saying, O Mother of God, help me; or were found keeping vigils, &c., he was adjudged as the Emperor’s enemy, and styled immemorabilis, unworthy of memory: This was a title of infamy.”
Again, cap. 54, Anno regni 31:
“If one were found to have a Relic but to keep, (that is, though he worshipped it not,) yet nevertheless did Lichanodraco, the Emperor’s President, burn it, and punish him that had it as a wicked doer.” Thus far Theophanes.
Hear now what the Author of the Acts of Monk Stephen, whom the same Emperor made one of their Martyrs for patronizing idols, can tell us: hear what he saith of the great Council of Constantinople, held in this Emperor’s reign against Images.
“O Christ, how should I not admire thy lenity! —To that height did those most impudent
tongues yet further break out, that they were not afraid to utter that monstrous and impious speech, viz. That the very Virgin-Mother of God herself was now after her death unavailable, and no use to be made of her, nor could she help or protect anyone.”
The same author thus deplores the state of those times, abusing the words of Psalm 79.
“O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled, and made Jerusalem an heap of stones: the dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat of the fowls of the air, and the flesh of thy Saints unto the beasts of the earth; that is,” saith he, “the venerable and sacred Relics of the Martyrs,* which they cast partly into the fire, partly into the water, and (O villainous act whereby the whole world is damnified!) partly threw down into precipices.”
There is nothing yet in these relations will do any man hurt by engendering a misconceit; especially if he remember the tale is told by malicious adversaries, that counterfeit Relics were plentiful in those days as well as now, and that Hezekiah brake in pieces the brazen serpent made by God’s own commandment, a holy monument and a type of Christ, when it was once abused to idolatry.
After the death of this Emperor Constantine
*Quas partim igni, partim mari, partim denique (ô facinus orbi universo damnum serens!) prćcipitiis tradiderunt;
and his son, who reigned not long after him, the idolatrous faction, under Constantine his nephew and the queen-mother Irene, again for some years prevailed; and that so far as to pack a Council, called the Second of Nice, the Bishop of Rome having a main stroke therein; whereby the former Council of Constantinople was condemned, and the worship of Images again established. But Leo Armenius coming to the Empire, the Orthodox part again prevailed, as before they had done, during the reign of three Emperors more.
The last Emperor of the opposers of Idols was Theophilus, the last Patriarch John. And that to the very end the idolatry of Saint-worship was opposed more or less, as well as that of images, may be gathered out of that “Song of Triumph,” which the Greeks used to sing every first Sunday in Lent, for a memorial of their last and final conquest of the opposers of Images, ever since that time; where, in the hymn of Theodorus, Ode 8, I find this verse, “The sacred Relics of the Saints, and their Images, were not at all to be worshipped, said most wickedly the renouncers of piety, the barbarous Lezich and John.” This John is that Patriarch of Constantinople which I said was the last of the opposers of idols, and is often mentioned in this song, as is also Lezich, but what he was is uncertain.
But this whole story being delivered unto us only by professed enemies, if they should fasten no worse calumnies upon the opposite side than yet you have heard, you would think perhaps that
the patrons of idols then were far more ingenuous to their adversaries than we find their successors now. Hear therefore something of this kind also, that you may see, as they agreed with us in the same profession against idols, so did they also in suffering the like slanderous lies from their adversaries. In discoursing whereof I shall be nearer to the hypocrisy of liars than I was before.
In that great Council of 383 bishops, held at Constantinople against idols under Constantinus Copronymus, these two canons were, by some that wished well to saint-worship, though they consented against images, inserted into the first draught of the definition of the Synod; “1. If anyone should not confess the holy and ever virgin Mary, truly and properly Deipara (the mother of God) to be higher than any visible or invisible creature, and with a sincere faith implore not her intercession, let him be anathema. 2. If anyone shall not confess all the saints, which have been from the beginning of the world until now —to be honorable before God both in soul and body, or shall not entreat their prayers —let him be anathema:” which, when the definition came to be read in the council, the prevailing part of the fathers caused to be blotted out: whereupon that slander, fastened on them by their enemies, may seem to have taken the first hint; as if, forsooth, by their rejecting these two foisted cannons, they had, therefore, denied whatsoever was contained in
them; as that the Virgin Mary was Deipara, (the mother of God,) or that the saints were to be honored so much as with that honorable title of saints.
For Cedrenus would make us believe that this emperor Constantine published a general law, “that none of the servants of God should in anywise be called saints: yea, that such of their relics as were found should be despised, and their intercession not to be prayed for; because, said he, they can avail nothing. The profane wretch added, saith the same author, let no man pray for the intercession, no not of Mary, for she can do him no good; moreover, that she should not be called Deipara, that is, the mother of God.” Then he tells us, that he compared the blessed Virgin, after she was delivered of Christ, “to a purse emptied of the gold that was once in it.” The same with Cedrenus, almost word for word, hath Suidas; so that the one may seem to have been transcribed out of the other.
But Theosterictus, one who lived at the same time, (whereas Cedrenus was more than two hundred and forty years after,) seems much more ingenuous; for in his funeral oration upon Nicetus, a confessor of those times (under Leo Armenius), whose disciple he was, relating otherwise the same thing which Cedrenus and Suidas do, yet when he comes to the story of the purse, he brings in the Emperor expressly calling the Virgin Mary,
Deipara; but finds fault that he would not vouchsafe to her the name saint*.
Indeed it seems that at the wiping out of those forementioned canons, there passed something in the council, as is wont in such disputes, concerning an indifference or lawfulness in ordinary speech to mention such places as were dedicated to the memory of saints, without the addition of the name saint. For I find that Stephen the Monk, afterwards forsooth a martyr, at what time the Emperor sent some of the bishops and others unto him, to require his subscription to the decree of the council, thus expostulates with them: “Did ye not,” saith he, “discard this adjective saint from all the just, from all the apostles, from the prophets, martyrs, and other godly men? For it was bravely decreed by you, that if anyone were going to any of these, and were asked whither he went, he should answer, to the apostles, to the forty martyrs: or being asked whence he came, he should in like manner say, from the temple of the martyr Theodore, from the temple of the martyr George.”
But Theostericus tells the same thing of the Emperor Constantine himself.† “He deprived
* Ita Deiparens Maria (neque enim sanctam dignabatur nominare illam (saith Theosterictus) indignus ille) quo tempore Christum in se habebat, valde honoranda illa erat; ex quo autem tempore illum peperit, nihil differebat a reliquis.
† Sanctos martyres (saith he) quantum in ipso erat, honore privavit, cum prćceperit non esse illos sanctos appellandos sed simpliciter nominari Apostolos, quadraginta martyres, Theodorum Georgiam et alios similiter.
as much as in him lay the holy martyrs of honor, in that he commanded they should not be styled saints, but simply be named the apostles, the forty martyrs, Theodore, George, &c.” Whereby it appears that this law, whatsoever it was which these authors charge the Emperor with, was something that proceeded from the council itself, as Monk Stephen even now charged them. Besides, that it was something only about the calling of places dedicated to saints, though our authors, as calumniators use, tell it of saints at large. Lastly, that it seems to have grown upon some question, how far and in what kind saints were to be honored, which was occasioned by the wiping out of those canons aforementioned.
Joannes Curopalata and Cedrenus relate, that Michael Balbus, the last save one of the Emperors that opposed idols,* ordained that the word [saints] should not be set upon any images wheresoever they were painted. For this was, and as some say is yet, the fashion of the Greeks, to add the names of the saints to the images that are to represent them. Now if any such thing as this were done or discoursed of in the days of Constantinus, whom they call Copronymus, you may easily guess what fuel it might add to the fire of that slander we speak of.
But why should we trouble ourselves any longer to find out the original of that which we are certain was a notorious lie? For it is apparent in the definition of the council itself, which
is thus calumniously charged, that they both give the title of saints often to the apostles, fathers and others, and of Deipara to the blessed Virgin. I shall not need to recount every place where they give the title of saint to particulars; hear but what they say in general. “The saints which pleased God, and are by him honored with the dignity of saintship, though they be departed hence, yet to God they always live.”* Again, “It is unlawful for Christians to use the fashions of the Gentiles which worshipped demons or devils, and in a base and lifeless matter (they mean images) to dishonor the saints, which shall one day shine in such and so great grace and glory;” viz., to reign with Christ, and to judge the world, and to be made like to his glory, as they said a little before.† Concil. Nicen. 2. Act. 6. Tom. 4.
As for the other part of the calumny, about styling the Virgin Mary Deipara, hear not only what they practiced, but what they expressly decreed. —ibid. Tom 6.‡ “If any shall not
confess Emanuel to be truly God, and, therefore, the Holy
Virgin to be Deipara, the mother of
God —let him be anathema.” Here the blessed Virgin hath both the name of saint and mother of God given her. All this you shall
find in the sixth Act of the idolatrous council of Nice, where the enemies,
whilst they would confute the definition of the Synod at
Now judge whether Constantine and his council were guilty or not of what the idolatrous faction charged them with. But we may wonder the less at this notorious impudency of lying companions, seeing we have experience of the like calumnies fastened upon ourselves this day, though there be so many thousand eyes and ears, and writings too, which confute them.
And thus you have seen what manner of times they were about the end of which our Simeon Metaphrastes lived. Was it not high time, think you, for him and those hands to which he was beholden, for I will not charge him with all, to ply the old craft, and reinforce the legends with new lies, when the credit of saint-worship lay thus a-bleeding? It is not credible they would be so much wanting to themselves. And it is as apparent that those tales of the new strain, which we had out of Simeon, were coined in this age, and not before; for if any such thing had been known or delivered from elder times, how came it to pass no notice thereof was given us by any writer of ecclesiastical story, by any father, by any compiler
or forger of martyrs’ lives and miracles, till now? Certainly so miraculous and wonderful things as voices from heaven, and Christ descending thence in a cloud, and the like, had been worth the telling. But alas! they could tell us but little of these martyrs, save only the names and time of their suffering. And thus I end my digression, which yet I hope hath not been altogether impertinent to the present argument.