THE INSCRIPTION
 of  ABERICIUS
c. 190 ?
 

 



Adapted from two reviews of Henry Chadwick's edition of The Sentences of Sextus
 


The Inscription of Abercius (ca. 190)


Engl: tr. J. Quasten, Patrology, vol. 1, (Spectrum, Utrecht, 1950; rpr. Christian Classics Westminster, MD, 1990), p.172. Greek: TLG 1353.1 Monumenta eucharistica et liturgica vetustissima, vol. 1.1, ed. J. Quasten, ser. Florilegium patristicum tam veteris quam medii aevi auctores complectens, vol. 7.1, (Hanstein, Bonn: 1935) pp. 22, 24.


1. The citizen of an eminent city, I made this (tomb)

̓Εκλεκτῆς πόλεως ὁ πολείτης τοῦτ' ἐποίησα ζῶν,

2. In my lifetime, that I might have here a resting-place for my body.

ἵν' ἔχω καιρῷ σώματος ἔνθα θέσιν.

3. Abercius by name, I am a disciple of the chaste shepherd,

οὔνομ' Ἀβέρκιος ὁ ὢν μαθητὴς ποιμένος ἁγνοῦ,

4. Who feeds His flocks of sheep on mountains and plains,

ὃς βόσκει προβάτων ἀγέλας ὄρεσιν πεδίοις τε,

5. Who has great eyes that look on all sides.

ὀφθαλμοὺς ὃς ἔχει μεγάλους πάντη καθορῶντας.

6. He taught me... faithful writings.

οὗτος γάρ μ' ἐδίδαξε .... γράμματα πιστά·

7. He sent me to Rome, to behold a kingdom

εἰς Ῥώμην ὃς ἔπεμψεν ἐμὲν βασιλείαν ἀθρῆσαι

8. And to see a queen with golden robe and golden shoes.

καὶ βασίλισσαν ἰδεῖν χρυσόστολον χρυσοπέδιλον·

9. There I saw a people bearing the splendid seal.

λαὸν δ' εἶδον ἐκεῖ λαμπρὰν σφραγεῖδαν ἔχοντα.

10. And I saw the plain of Syria and all the cities, even Nisibis,

καὶ  Συρίης πέδον εἶδα καὶ ἄστεα πάντα,  Νισῖβιν, 

11. Having crossed the Euphrates. And everywhere I had associates

Εὐφράτην διαβάς, πάντη δ' ἔσχον συνομίλους 

12. Having Paul as a companion, everywhere faith led the way

Παῦλον ἔχων ἔποχον. πίστις πάντη δὲ προῆγε

13. And set before me for food the fish from the spring

καὶ παρέθηκε τροφὴν πάντη ἰχθὺν ἀπὸ πηγῆς

14. Mighty and pure, whom a spotless Virgin caught,

πανμεγέθη καθαρόν, ὃν ἐδράξατο παρθένος ἁγνή·

15. And gave this to friends to eat, always

καὶ τοῦτον ἐπέδωκε φίλοις ἔσθειν διὰ παντὸς

16. Having sweet wine and giving the mixed cup with bread.

οἶνον χρηστὸν ἔχουσα κέρασμα διδοῦσα μετ' ἄρτου.

17. These words, I, Abercius, standing by, ordered to be inscribed.

ταῦτα παρεστὼς εἶπον Ἀβέρκιος ὧδε γραφῆναι,

18. In truth, I was in the course of my seventy-second year.

ἑβδομηκοστὸν ἔτος καὶ δεύτερον ἦγον ἀληθῶς.

19. Let him who understands and believes this pray for Abercius.

ταῦθ' ὁ νοῶν εὔξαιτο ὑπὲρ Ἀβερκίου πᾶς ὁ συνῳδός.

20. But no man shall place another tomb upon mine.

οὐ μέντοι τύμβῳ τις ἐμῷ ἕτερόν τινα θήσει.

21. If one do so, he shall pay to the treasury of the Romans two thousand pieces of gold,

εἰ δ' οὖν, Ῥωμαίων ταμείῳ θήσει δισχίλια χρυσᾶ καὶ χρηστῇ πατρίδι

22. And to my beloved fatherland Hieropolis, one thousand pieces of gold.

̔Ιεροπόλει χίλια χρυσᾶ. 

 


 

The text of the inscription itself is of the greatest possible importance in connection with the symbolism of the early Church. The poem of sixteen verses which forms the epitaph shows plainly that the language used is one not understood by all; Let the brother who shall understand this pray for Abercius. The bishop's journey to Rome is merely mentioned, but on his way home he gives us the principal stages of his itinerary. He passed along the Syrian coast and, possibly, came to Antioch, thence to Nisibis, after-having traversed the whole of Syria, while his return to Hieropolis may have been by way of Edessa. The allusion to St. Paul the Apostle, which a gap in the text renders indecipherable, may originally have told how the traveller followed on his way back to his country the stages of St. Paul's third missionary journey, namely: Issus, Tarsus, Derbe, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia, and Apamea Cibotus, which would bring him into the heart of Phrygia. The inscription bears witness of no slight value to the importance of the Church of Rome in the second century. A mere glance at the text allows us to note: (1) The evidence of baptism which marks the Christian people with its dazzling seal; (2) The spread of Christianity, whose members Abercius meets with everywhere; (3) The receiving of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and of Mary, in the Eucharist, (4) under the species of Bread and Wine. The liturgical cultus of Abercius presents no point of special interest; his name appears for the first time in the Greek menologies and synaxaries of the tenth century, but is not found in the Martyrology of St. Jerome.

PITRA, in the Spicilegium Solesmense (Paris, 1855, III, 533; IV, 483); DUCHESNE, Abercius, eveque d'Hieropolis, in the Revue des questions historiques (1883), XXXIV, 533; LECLERCQ, in Dict. d arch ol. chr t. et de liturgie, I, 66- 87; LIGHTFOOT, Apostolic Fathers (London, 1889), II, i, 492-501.

H. LECLERCQ.

 

The theological importance of this text is evident. It is the oldest monument of stone mentioning the Eucharist. The chaste shepherd, of whom Abercius calls himself a disciple, is Christ. He has sent him to Rome to see the Church, `the queen with golden robe and golden shoes', and the Christians, the `people with the splendid seal'. The term seal (sphrangis) for Baptism was well known in the second century. Everywhere on his trip to Rome, he met coreligionists, who offered him the Eucharist under both species, bread and wine. The fish from the spring, mighty and pure, is Christ, according to the acrostic IXΘYΣ. The spotless Virgin who caught the fish is, according to the language of the time, the Virgin Mary, who conceived the Savior.

 


Adapted from E.A. Livingstone, Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford, 2000
 

 


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