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1. Scriptural Appellations and Names assumed by Christians

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER II. Names and classes of christians

1. Scriptural Appellations and Names assumed by Christians. 

The professors of the christian religion were originally denominated saints*. This is their usual appellation in the sacred Scriptures. This they apply, not only to apostles and teachers, but generally to the community of Christians. The inspired writers are indeed particularly styled, holy men of God, 2 Pet. 1:21. Timothy is denominated a man of God, Tim. 3:17. But it might also be shown from many passages that all Christians, without distinction, are included in the venerable appellation of saints. The term is derived from the Hebrew**, by which the Jews were denoted as God's chosen people, in distinction from all idolatrous nations. But, by the apostle Peter, the several prerogatives and titles of the people of God are ascribed also to all Christians. He denominates them a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, 1 Pet. 1:15. But he also teaches that this sanctity consists, not in mere outward forms of social worship, but in that piety which their holy calling requires them to cultivate, 2 Pet. 3:11 comp. Eph. 5:3, Col. 1:12, Col. 3:12.

The name was doubtless adopted for the sake of convenience, and not as implying that all were the true worshippers of the holy Jesus. For among Christians wicked persons were also found. Even a Judas Iscariot was numbered with the apostles. But, to the highest honor of Christianity, it should be said that her followers, generally, were men of a pure spirit, and sanctified the Lord God in their hearts. Such is the uniform testimony of her early historians and apologists. And even her enemies acknowledged, that the spotless character of her followers caused religion to be universally respected, and led to its introduction into every country.

The names which Christians assumed for themselves, such as, saints*, believers*, elect*, disciples*, brethren*, people of God*, and the like, were adopted from the Jews, and were expressive, severally, of some moral quality. But in process of time, the common acceptation of these terms became so different from their original application, that they ceased to be used as the distinctive appellations of their community, composed both of Jews and Gentiles. What name they should assume, became now a question on which they were greatly divided among themselves; and so much the more so because they had, from the first, refused all sectarian names. They would call no man master; neither would they receive any title which should imply that their religion was of human origin, as the writers of the fourth and fifth centuries began to assert. In this dilemma a name was providentially conferred on them, which soon gained ascendancy among friends and foes, and supplanted all others.

Of the origin of this name we have a distinct account in the eleventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles; where we are informed, that while Paul and Barnabas were laboring together at Antioch, the disciples of our Lord first began to be called Christians. The form of this word, Χριστιανόι, clearly proves it to be a Latin derivative from Χριστός, Christ. Nor is there the remotest probability that either the Christians, or the Jews would have invented this name. To the latter, this term was peculiarly offensive, 1 Cor. 1:23. The followers of Christ they styled Galileans, Acts 2:7, 24:5, or the sect of the Nazarenes, Acts 26:28, 1 Pet. 4:14,16. In the New Testament the phrase occurs in only two other passages, and in these in such a connection as to indicate the foreign origin of the word.

On the supposition that the pagan inhabitants of Antioch, in derision first promulgated the name of Christians as a nickname, it is easy to see how it might soon come into general use among the Romans. For that the Roman historians regarded Christians as an insignificant and contemptible faction, is evident from the language of Tacitus, who says that "Nero inflicted the severest punishments on those who were commonly denominated Christians. and were detested for their infamous crimes. Their name they derived from one Christus, who, in the reign of Tiberius suffered under Pontius Pilate." Suetonius, also, referring evidently to Christians, relates, that the Jews were expelled from Rome because of their ceaseless tumults, to which they were instigated by one named Chrestus. 

It would seem therefore, that the apostles themselves adopted the name which had been imposed upon them in derision, and rejoiced to bear this reproach. From the apostles, their followers adopted it, as the exclusive name of their body. To be denominated a Christian was, in the estimation of the christian professors and martyrs, their highest honor. This is forcibly illustrated in the narrative which Eusebius has copied from an ancient record, of one Sanclus in Vienna, who endured all the inhuman tortures which art could inflict. His tormentors hoped, by the continuance and severity of his pains, to extort from him some unfortunate acknowledgement; but he withstood them with unflinching fortitude, neither disclosing to them his name, nor his native land, nor his condition in life, whether freeman or slave. To all their interrogations he only replied, in the Latin tongue, I am a Christian, affirming that his name, his country, and his kindred, – all were included in this. Of the same import also was the deportment of the martyr Lucian as related by Chrysostom. To every interrogation he replied, I am a Christian. Of what country are you? I am a Christian. What is your occupation? I am a Christian. Who are your parents? I am a Christian. And such was his reply to every question.

It was a favorite sentiment with the primitive Christians, that the name of Christian would be sufficient to prevent all sectarian divisions, and to preserve and to perpetuate among them unity of faith and doctrine. I honor Peter, said Gregory Nazianzen, but I am not called by his name. I honor Paul, but I am not of Paul. The name I bear is derived from no man, but I am from God. No sect or church took their name from the apostles, observes Epiphanius." For we have never heard of the followers of Peter, Paul, Bartholomew or Thaddeus: But all the apostles, from the beginning, held one faith, and preached, not themselves, but Jesus Christ their Lord. For this reason they all gave the church one name, derived, not from themselves, but from their Lord Jesus Christ, after they had already begun to be called Christians at Antioch. As they all had one Lord, so were they also one, and bore the common name of Christians, professing themselves to be the followers of him, not as the head of their sect or party, but as the author of their common faith. They even refused the name of Christ's church, claiming to be only a christian church, i.e. a body of Christians. From this primitive church, various religious sects separated themselves, who assumed the names of Manichaeans, Simonians, Valentinians, Ebionites, etc.

Without attempting a full definition of all the names which have been ascribed to Christians by the fathers, I give a brief account of the principal appellations by which they were known.

  1. Catholics. While the church remained one and undivided, it was appropriately styled the Catholic church. But after the rise of different sects, who, notwithstanding their separation from the church, still claimed to be called Christians, then did the true believers assume the name of Catholics to distinguish themselves from these heretical sects. So that the Catholic church is the true church, in distinction from all heretics. None were allowed to be Christians who did not belong to this Catholic church. I am of the Catholic church, said Pionius the martyr, for Christ has no other.
  2. Ecclesiastics, men of the church, Eusebius, Origen, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Jerusalem, frequently use this term in distinction from Jews, gentiles, and heretics; and in such a connection as not to designate by it the priesthood, to whom the appellation of ecclesiastics appropriately belongs.
  3. Dogmatics*, men of the true faith. This term denotes those who held fast the sound doctrines of the church. Primarily, it was applied only to religious teachers and rulers in the church, but subsequently, it was so extended as to include all who were sound in the faith.
  4. Gnostics. Denoting such as are truly learned, in opposition to the pretensions of false teachers. By this, Christians were especially distinguished from an arrogant sect who claimed to be called by the same name. Clemens Alexandrinus, Irenaeus, and others, would intimate by this term that not merely the teachers, but all members of the catholic church, were in possession of true wisdom drawn from no corrupt fountain, and mixed with no foreign ingredient.
  5. Theophoroi*, Christophoroi*. These epithets, originally applied as titles of honor, became, in time, proper names. The former was first conferred upon Ignatius, who is usually quoted as Ignatius*. From him or some other ancient father, it passed into a sur-name, but whether from his declaration to the emperor Trajan that he bore Christ his God in his heart, or from the blessing of Christ bestowed upon him in his childhood, or from the name of Christ imprinted on his breast, or for some other reason, is not known. It is certain, however, that many other eminent Christians were so named. 
  6. Fishes (ΙΧΘΥΣ). An acrostic fancifully derived from the initials of the several appellations of our Saviour, Ιησοῦς Χριστός Θεος Υἱός Σωτήρ. The first letters of each are united in the word ΙΧΘΥΣ.

The names Christian, Christiana, Christopher, Theophilus, and the like, so common in every age of the church, though adopted for convenience, by implication denotes also, devotedness to the service of Christ, and the acknowledgement of his name and his divinity.

Phil. Rovenii, Reipublicae christianae libri duo, tractantes de variis hominum statibus, gradibus, officiis et functionibus in ecclesia Christi. Antverp. 1668. 4; J. H. Boehmer's Entwurf des Kirchenstaais der ersten drey Jahrhunderte. Hal. 1733. 8; Dissertationes xii juris ecclesiastici antiqui. Lips. 1711.8; Ziegler's Versuch einer pragmat. Geschichie der kirchlichen Verfassungs-Formen in den ersten vi Jahrh. d. Kirche. Lei})z. 1798. 8; Planck's Geschichte der Enistehuna u. Ausbildung der chr. kirchlichen Gesellschafts-Verfassung. Th. 1–5. Hannov. 1803–1805. 8; K. F. Eichhorn's Grundsatze des Kirchenrechst. Th. I. Goett. 1831. 8; Herm. Scholliner, De magistraiuujn eccl. origine et creatione. 17.57. 4; Jo. Fr. Buddei, Exercit. de origine, dignitate et usu nominis christiani. Jen. 1711. 4. S. Ejusd. Synt. Dissert. Theolog. p. 385 seq.; Jo. Fr. Hebenstreit, Devariis Christianorum nominihus. Jen. 1713. 4; Clir. Aug. Hermann, De ortu nominis Christianorun). Goetting. 1736. 4. S. EJMsd. Primir. Goetting. p. 130 seq.; Chr. Korlholt, Paganus ohtrectator, s. de calnmniis Geniilium in vet. christ. libr. iii. Lubec. 1703. 4; G. Fr. Gudii, Paganus Christianorum laudator et fautor. Lips. 1741. 4.

Tacitus;, Annal. lib. xv. e. 44.

Suetonius, Vita Claudii, c. 25.

Euseb, Hist. Eccles. lib. v. c. 1.

Chrysosiom. Horn. 46. torn. i. p. 532. ed. Franc.

Gregory Nuzianzen, Orat. 31. p. 506.

Epiphanius, Haeres. 42. p. 366. ed. Pet.

Clemens Alex. Strom. 7. p. 748. Compare Pearsonii Vindic. Ignat. P. II. c. 12.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

(** denotes Hebrew text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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