Eusebius of CaesareaUnless you're among theology wonks, church history isn't bound to start a stimulating discussion at the coffee klatch. My teenaged son and I are reading the Great Books as outlined by Veritas Press' Omnibus II. The first book we are studying, out of the blocks, is The Church History by Eusebius of Caesarea (c.265 - c.339). Why? As Christianity spread from the Middle East to areas throughout Europe and beyond it effected the culture, the music, the art, the literature of all those lands. Studying Western Civ inevitably involves studying the imprint of Christianity on the culture.
What has surprised me is how much I've enjoyed what I've read so far. Even more, how much my son has enjoyed it. The dinner table talk usually involves said son recapping the day's reading and discussion to his dad. "Did you know...?" is a common introduction.
Eusebius quotes Clement of Alexandria: a wonderful story about the apostle John, sort of a reverse prodigal son, and well worth your time. My little grandson's favorite book at our house is The Lost Sheep. Someday I will read this account of a lost sheep to him. Do you remember another time when John ran as fast as he could? This was the week's teaching highlight.
Listen to a story that is not a story but a true account of John the apostle preserved in memory. After the tyrant's death, he returned from the island of Patmos to Ephesus and used to go, when asked, to the neighboring Gentile districts to appoint bishops, reconcile churches, or ordain someone designated by the Spirit. Arriving at a city near by [Smyrna], he settled disputes among the brethren and then, noticing a spirited youth of superior physique and handsome appearance, commended him to the appointed bishop with the words: "I leave this young man in your keeping, with Christ as my witness."
When John returned to Ephesus, the churchman brought home the youth entrusted to his care, raised him, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his oversight, having put the seal of the Lord on him as the perfect safeguard. But some idle and dissolute youths corrupted him with lavish entertainment and then took him with them when they went out at night at night to commit robbery or worse crimes. Soon he joined them and, like a stallion taking the bit in mouth, he dashed off the straight road and down the precipice. Renouncing God's salvation, he went from petty offenses to major crimes and formed the young renegades into a gang of bandits with himself as chief, surpassing them all in violence and bloody cruelty.
Time passed, and John paid another visit. When he had finished his mission, John said, "Come now, Bishop, return the deposit that Christ and I left in your keeping with the church as witness." At first the bishop was dumbfounded, thinking that he was being dunned for funds he had never received. But John said, "I am asking for the young man and his soul."
"He is dead," groaned the old man, in tears.
"How did he die?"
"He is dead to God. He turned out vile and debauched: an outlaw. Now he is in the mountains, not the church, with an armed gang of men like himself."
The apostle tore his clothing, beat his head, and groaned, "A fine guardian I left for our brother's soul! But get me a horse and someone to show me the way." He rode off from the church, just as he was. When he arrived at the hideout and was seized by the outlaws' sentries, he shouted, "This is what I have come for: take me to the leader!" When John approached and the young leader recognized him, he turned and fled in shame. But John ran after him as hard as he could, forgetting his age, and calling out, "Why are you running away from me, child -- from your own father, unarmed and old? Pity me, child, don't fear me! I will give account to Christ for you and, if necessary, glady suffer death and give my life for yours as the Lord suffered death for us. Stop! Believe! Christ sent me."
The young man stopped, stared at the ground, threw down his weapons, and wept bitterly. Flinging his arms around the old man, he begged forgiveness, baptized a second time with his own tears but keeping his right hand hidden [as unworthy of forgiveness for all the bloodshed it caused]. John, however, assured him that he had found forgiveness for him from the Savior. He prayed, knelt down, and kissed that right hand as being cleansed through repentance. Then he led him back and did not leave him until--through prayer, fasting, and instruction--he had restored him to the church: a great example of true repentance and regeneration, the trophy of a visible resurrection.