“The ancestry of the Reformers is to be found in the godly men and women who, even in the darkest days, by their simple evangelical piety, kept the fire on the altar from going out altogether
IN THE early ages of the Christian Era the flourishing cities of Syria
HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND
Jerusalem’s fall produced its greatest moral effect upon the
Jews into pagan art andthought.6In the days of the apostles this trans-Jordan region was
“The school of Antioch at that time surpassed almost every other in scientific and literary repute, and its methods dominated all theEast. Justinian, in the middle of the sixth century, wished tore build the cathedral of Constantinople, and from the school of Antioch he drew both his architects, Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus.”See footnote 11
Concerning the unrivaled skill and scholarship of Syria, one historian says:
“Now the primary characteristic of Byzantine architecture is its development of the method of roofing with domes. The most perfect specimen of this work is the great church of St. Sophia at Constantinople, whichSee footnote 12
itwas the pride of Justinian to have built.33 Two earlier churches had been burnt — Constantine’s church inA.D. 404, at the time of Chrysostom, and its successor in A.D. 532. Strictly speaking, Justinian’s St. Sophia — still standing and now used as a mosque — is not typical Byzantine architecture. It is quite unique. Nothing of the kind had preceded it; it was never successfully imitated. Its famous architect, Anthemius, has the proud distinction of having produced a workwithout peer or parallel in all the ages of building. “St. Sophia,” say M.Bayer, “has the double advantage of marking the advent of a new style and reaching at the same time such proportions as have never been surpassed in the East.”
In tracing the Celtic Church in Ireland, scholars are much impressed with the influence which these new styles, introduced by the Syrian architects, had on Western
architecture. The connection of this style with the West iswell established. The new principles of Syrian architecture were adoptedin Ireland.
From Constantinople Byzantine architecture rapidly passed westwards. Greek art was dead. Roman art was dead. In the sixth century, the only living, powerful, vivifying art was the art and the architecture of Byzantium. I have now to show you two thingsSee footnote 13
:first, how Byzantine art and architecture passed over to Gaul; and then, how from Gaul it passed to Ireland. In the first place, as to the transition of Byzantine architecture from Constantinople to Gaul, the time and place of transit are easily determined.
The splendor of the civilization built up in Syria can still be seen. The glory that remains is described in Howard Crosby Butler’s article, “A Land of Deserted Cities”:
“Few people appreciate the fact that today, at the dawn of the twentieth century, there are still parts of the old Roman Empire where no traveler of modern times has been; that there are ancient towns which no tourist has seen, temples and towers that no lover of classic architecture has yet delighted in, inscriptions in ancient Greek that no savant has as yet deciphered, whole regions, in fact, full of antiquities for which no Baedeker has been written, and which are not shown upon the latest maps.
Let the reader for a moment imagine himself withdrawn from the luxuriant landscapes of forest-capped hills and fresh green pastures with which he is familiar, and set down in this wasted land of barren gray hills, beneath a cloudless sky, and let him see before him in the distance a towering mass of broken walls and shattered colonnades, the mighty remnants of a city long deserted by civilized men, silent, sepulchral, with gates wide open and every house within untenanted even by wild beasts. Let him recall that this now lonely city was in existence before the days of Constantine the Great, while Rome was still mistress of the world and the Antonine emperors still sat upon the throne, that its magnificent churches were erected while our ancestors were bowing to Woden and Thor, that its spacious villas and its less pretentious, though still luxurious abodes, were built while the Anglo-Saxon was content with a hut of branches and skins, and then let him reflect that this once wealthy and thriving town has stood uninhabited for thirteen centuries, that no hand has been raised to add a single stone or to brace a tottering wall in all that time, and he will grasp something of the antiquity and something of the desolation of these dead cities
“Tangible remains of their civilization indicate that the people who inhabited the greater number of these smaller towns in northern and southern Syria composed a large, well-to-do middle class. They seem to have had no superiors living near them, for there is only one residence of special magnificence in northern Syria, and one in theSee footnote 15
south,and these may have been the houses of the local governors.
The apostles foresaw that the future success of the gospel would see many indifferent members coming into the fold. Paul declared that even in his day false brethren had entered in unawares. In their stand for the pure doctrines of Christianity, the churches of Syria were horrified at the license which many so-called Christian teachers took with the Scriptures, and they rebelled against the doctrines of Gnosticism which arose in the corrupted Christianity of the church in Alexandria.“The school of Antioch led a revolt against the Alexandrian exegesis of Holy Scripture, and founded a more critical method.”16 Lucian, the famous evangelical leader
“It is perhaps interesting to note that the inscriptions from this region (treated by Wm. Kelley Prentice), covering more than three centuries, show, in their phraseology, a primitive Christianity in that they are dedicated to “God and His Christ,” sometimes with mention of the Holy Spirit or the Trinity, but without invocation of the saints or even of the Virgin Mary. In this region, as in the Hauran, there are almost no Mohammedan remains, the prosperity of both regions having evidently ended with the Mohammedan conquest.”See footnote 18
EL-BARA AND OTHER CITIES
El-Bara, one of the silent cities on the road between Aleppo and Lattaquia, near Antioch, still contains villas, churches, funeral pyramids, and other edifices giving evidence of the past culture and education. Monograms cutin stone disclose the builder’s faith in Christ as the Alpha and Omega.19 At Djebel
befor us, who can be against us?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son, the Word of God, dwells here; let no evil enter.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in.
Upon thisSee footnote 20
rockI will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Baouda contains the ruins of a large market town. To reach it, the visitor passes over an old Roman road built evidently before the days of Christ. Baouda betrays the marks of having been a strictly commercial, financial
WHY SILENT AND DESERTED CITIES
To understand why these cities are silent and deserted, one must notice the policy of Imperial Christianity during the centuries prior to the time when the scourge of Mohammedanism fell on the Roman Empire in Asia. Immediately after the Council of Nicaea, 325, the inroads of the northern Goths became serious and demanded the attention of the Roman emperors. The victories of these invaders cut off much of the empire in the West and reduced it in Europe to only about
A CHURCH EVANGELICAL, NOT PAPAL
The fact that the East was full of Jews, and that the preponderance of converts in the early gospel communities was for a long time from among them, would indicate that the character of the beliefs and observances held by the Church of the East were modeled after the churches of Judea, not after Rome. Early believers for a long time called themselves Nazarenes, a title found in the words of Luke, who reported that the accusers of the apostle Paul said,
“For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a(Acts 24:5.)
ting-leaderof the sect of the Nazarenes.”
They also called themselves
“For ye,(1 Thessalonians 2:14.)
brethren,became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews.”
Paul did not pattern the plan of the local church after the heathen temple or after the Gentile models he might have found in his travels. The pattern given him was of God. What was that pattern? It was the first Christian church at Jerusalem and its duplicates in Judea. It would be difficult to imagine that the apostle Paul, laboring in regions all the way from Babylon to the western borders of Asia Minor, would organize the churches upon any other model. His congregations also were but repetitions of the original Christian communions in the province of Judea, particularly of the churches in Jerusalem. For some time, groups of Christian believers continued to meet in the synagogues on the Sabbath day with the Jews.(24) This fact indicates that the apostolic church, in its primitive organization, did not cast away everything connected with the synagogue. A
confirming indication of this is found in the decision of the Apostolic council recorded in the book of Acts, where the assembled delegates voted that they would not pass any ordinances other than the four which they had already sanctioned, because
“Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.”(Acts 15:21.)
The Gnostic theology of Alexandria which was followed by the Church of Rome, was hostile to anything Jewish, even Jewish Christianity. Therefore it is safe to conclude from these historic developments that primitive Syrian Christianity was not organized after the pattern of the Church of Rome, but followed an evangelical Judean and Biblical type of church organization. The thoughtful student cannot but be impressed with the heroic exploits achieved by the missionary churches, offsprings of the Syrian parent communion church, throughout vast domains. Here one finds the spiritual leadership of Lucian of Antioch, of Vigilantius, reputed to be the first supreme head of the Waldenses, and indirectly of Patrick, organizer of Celtic Christianity in Ireland. These leaders are presented fully in succeeding chapters
1. Muir, The Arrested Reformation, p. 49.420
2 O’Leary, The Syriac Church and Fathers, p. 29.
3 After having long contemplated a visit to these silent cities of Syria, the author several years ago was happily able to personally study their magnificent sites. After visiting the district on the other side of the Jordan River and in the area about Damascus, the party came
4 Foakes-Jackson, The History of the Christian Church, p. 33.
5 Matthew 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:31; Burgon and Miller, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, p. 123, and note 1.421
6 Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, 2 div. vol.1, pp. 29-56. Although he had read much regarding Decapolis, thewriter was surprised on visiting these places to behold the grandeurand the magnificence of the remains which still stand. Even now the traveler who goes eastward from the Jordan River is deeply impressed by the magnificent scenery of the area.
7 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, b. 3, ch. 5, p. 138, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.
8 Ibid., b. 4, ch. 6; b. 5, ch. 12.
9 O’Leary, The Syriac Church and Fathers, pp. 28, 29.
10 Ibid., p. 34.
11 Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church, p. 242.
12 Adeney, The Greek and Eastern Churches, p. 181.
13. Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church, p. 243.
14. Century Magazine, vol. 66, N. S. 44, pp. 217, 220.
15 Butler, Early Churches in Syria, pt. 1, p. 10.
16 Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, art. “AlexandrianTheology.”
17. In speaking of Syrian theology, we are following the lead of the majority of the church historians in using the term to designate that communion which we call the Church of the East. We constantly use the termChurch of the East to designate that great communion which, forcenturies, extended from the Euphrates River to Persia, India, centralAsia, and the Orient. Many writers call it the Nestorian Church, whichis incorrect and is a misnomer. It is often called the Assyrian Church.To use the term Church of the East to apply to the Greek OrthodoxChurch is confusing.
18. The Nation, vol. 95, p. 260.422
19. The author spent some time at El-Bara taking many photographs. Fromhere the party visited Dalozza, where we saw a large ruin of what issaid to have been the most beautiful private house in Syria. It seems tohave been a commodious villa planned for the use of a singlehousehold. Here it was possible to visualize the suburban villas ofthose first Christian Syrians with their beautiful landscapes and theirmagnificent views.
20 Prentice, Publication of an American Archeological Expedition to Syria,part 3. The last inscription is on a church building in Syria.
21 The author visited and inspected nine of these deserted cities. At El-Bara he found himself in a dangerous situation. For more than an hourhe was in the midst of an intertribal war. The fact that these silent cities lie far from the main lines of travel and in the midst of an excitable Mohammedan population undoubtedly accounts for the fact that for centuries they have been practically unvisited and unknown.
22 See the author’s discussion in Chapter 10, “How the Church Was Driven into the Wilderness.”
23.The Catholic Encyclopedia, art. “Calendar.”
24.The Catholic Encyclopedia, art. “Calendar.”