Simonetta Carr

Pomponio Algerio and His Resolute Faith

 In 2008, the University of Padova erected a memorial plaque in Algerio’s honor, remembering how he was arrested and executed “for his religious beliefs, which he inflexibly defended” and how he “faced the stake with exceptional composure and courage.”

Most tourists to Rome stop by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, in Piazza Navona. Some drop a coin in the water and make a wish. Hardly anyone is aware that in the same square a young Italian man was boiled in a cauldron of oil, pitch, and turpentine for his religious convictions. And yet, the man’s young age, stubborn refusal to recant, and astonishing composure during that final, agonizing ordeal, have contributed to imprint his name in the history of the Protestant Reformation.
Algerio was born around 1531 in Nola, near Naples, Italy – the same birth-place of another famous dissenter, Giordano Bruno. That general area was also where a Spanish Reformer, Juan De Valdes, held a Protestant-leaning conventicle. Quite possibly, Algerio had already been exposed to dissenting ideas by the time he moved to the university of Padova (or Padua, as it is known outside of Italy).
In Padova, he lived with other students and professionals (including a physician and a jurist and his wife) near Porta Portello, the main city gate. More than simple room-mates, these people shared a desire to read new publications and join recent discussions.
It was not unusual. The University of Padova was known for its free exchange of ideas (which might have been a reason why Algerio moved there). The Italian Reformers Pier Paolo Vergerio and Peter Martyr Vermigli were famous alumni.
All this changed in 1555 with the election (by a slight margin) of Gian Pietro Carafa as pope, with the name of Paul IV. The mastermind behind the 1542 re-institution of the Italian Court of Inquisition, Carafa was determined to stamp out any ember of dissent. He was quoted as saying, “If our own father were a heretic, we would gather the wood to burn him.”[1]
Little is known about Algerio and his life. He is simply described as a young man with a short blond beard. From a court deposition, it appears that he was married. He was arrested in his home on May 9, 1555 and sent to the prison called “Le Debite” (“the dues” – originally meant for those who could not pay their debts), near the university.
Refusing to Budge
During three trials held in Padova between May and July 1555, Algerio didn’t pull any punches. He started by saying he didn’t know why he was being tried. “I declare as true the triune God in whom I place all my trust, and likewise confess Jesus Christ as true God and true man,”[2] he said. If he was in error, he was willing to be corrected, as long as the correction was according to the Scriptures, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul who warned the Galatians not to believe anyone – even an apostle of an angel of God – who preached something contrary to God’s Word.[3]
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The Abitinian Martyrs – The Christians Who Couldn’t Do Without a Lord’s Day Service

The first person to be tortured was the senator Dativus who, due to his position, was thought to have been an instigator (Fortunatianus had placed the blame on him). While Dativus was being prepared for torture, another Christian, Thelica, stepped forward to clarify that the meeting was a collective decision: “We are Christians. It was we who came together.” As expected, Thelica was the next to be placed on the rack. While torn apart by iron claws, he alternated prayers for his persecutors with exhortations.

“Sine dominico non possumus” (“We can’t do without the Lord’s Day”). This was the answer of a group of 49 Christians (31 men and 18 women) who were arrested for participating in a Lord’s Day service. They lived in or around Abitina, a city in today’s Tunisia which was at that time under Rome. It was the year 304, and Emperor Diocletian had launched an empire-wide persecution against Christians, forbidding their meetings, destroying their churches, and demanding them to hand over (tradere) their Scriptures.
Defying the emperor’s orders, this group, led by their presbyter Saturninus, continued to meet secretly for worship in private homes. Discovered and arrested, they were sent to Carthage, about 50 miles away, to be tried by proconsul Gaius Annius Anulinus.
Commenting on this arrest, the author of the Acts of the Abitinian Martyrs[1] – most likely an eye-witness – wrote: “As if a Christian could exist without the Lord’s Day, or the Lord’s Day exist without a Christian celebration! Do you not know, Satan, that the Christian is based on the Lord’s Day, and the Lord’s Day is based on a Christian, so that the one cannot survive without the other? When you hear the phrase ‘Lord’s Day,’ understand that it means the assembly of the Lord. And when you hear the bell ring, recognize that it is the Lord’s Day.”[2]
On their way to Carthage, the Christians encouraged each other by singing hymns. Once there, they unanimously refused to renounce their faith. Imprisoned, they were denied food, while any supporter who tried to bring supplies was sent away. This measure gave way to a small brawl outside the prison.
A Collective Decision
When an eager relative, Fortunatianus, rushed to rescue his sister Victoria by claiming that she and a few other women had been deceived, Victoria rose in protest. She had attended worship of her own free will and with full knowledge of what she was doing, she said. Fortunatianus should have known better. She had previously refused an arranged marriage by escaping through a window.
Moved by this family exchange, Anulinus tried to convince Victoria to listen to her brother. “I am a Christian, and my brothers are those who keep God’s commandments,” she replied. “These are my convictions, and I have never changed them. If I have participated to the Sunday service with my brothers and sisters, it is because I am a Christian.”[3]
Augustine of Hippo, writing a century later, gives a specific date for their trial: February 12, 304.
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The Women Who Helped Chrysostom

The only reason we know about these women is because of some letters by Chrysostom which have been preserved…But there are certainly many other women who have made invaluable contributions to the church, although they may never be remembered in this life.

Some time ago, I wrote about Olympias, a widow of noble birth who became one of John Chrysostom’s greatest supporters. But she was not alone. She lived in a community of women near the Great Church in Constantinople – in fact, only a wall separated their home from the bishop’s residence. Each of these women is worth of our attention.
We know some of them by name. Three sisters, Palladia, Elisanthia, and Martyria, were related to Olympias and, like her, were appointed deaconesses. When, after Chrysostom’s exile and death, Olympias was exiled, she left Marina in charge of the community. Later, Elisanthia took her place.
A noblewoman from Bithinia, Nicarete, joined the community after her husband died and after suffering an unjust confiscation of many of her goods. She devoted the rest of her property to help the poor. She is also remembered for healing many who would not be healed by conventional medicine. Apparently, she refused Chrysostom’s offer to appoint her as a deaconess.
When Chrysostom received the verdict that condemned him to exile, he called three of the deaconesses – Olympias, Pentadia, and Procla – as well as another woman, Salvina, to the baptistery, asked for their prayers, and instructed them to respect his successor, as long as he was properly elected and not seeking power. The women’s weeping at the news was so loud that Chrysostom asked a presbyter to escort them to their home, to avoid attacting the attention of the people outside.
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Sybil Mosely Bingham and the Challenges of Missionary Life in Hawaii

The Binghams stayed in Hawaii for twenty years and founded the Kawaiahaʻo Church. They also helped to develop a written Hawaiian alphabet. Besides the school, Sybil also started a weekly prayer meeting, attended by more than a thousand Hawaiian women.

Sybil’s admission to the mission field reminds me of a scene of a movie. She was asking for directions to her accommodations when a young man offered to take her there. The man, Hiram Bingham, was preparing to leave as a missionary to the Hawaiian Islands. He just had one problem: the mission board was reluctant to send unmarried people, and his fiancée had just broken off their engagement.
Sybil was a school teacher dreaming of joining a mission. It was common then for young Christian women to seek “higher” service to God by marrying a minister, going to a mission field, or both.
And there they were, in the same vehicle, both thinking of far-off fields. “I had taken cold by a night’s ride over the mountains,” Hiram explained, “and I wrapped a handkerchief about my neck, chin, and mouth, that cold evening, and this awakened ready sympathy in the sensitive heart of the young lady.”[1]
Hiram had heard of a young girl described as “a most amiable and thoroughly qualified companion for a missionary.” During the ride, Hiram’s “mind was intently querying whether this could be the very same.”[2]
When they arrived at their destination, they spoke for a while by the fire. “I measured the lines of her face and the expression of her features with more than an artist’s carefulness,”[3] Hiram wrote.
After discussing the matter with other men, Hiram asked a friend to contact Sybil and ask for an audience. The friend explained the matter to Sybil, leaving her with a verse meant to make a rejection rather difficult: “Rebecca said, ‘I will go” (Genesis 24:58).
But Sybil had no intention of rejecting Hiram’s proposal. She had been waiting for such an opportunity. And there was also a spark of romance. “Since that memorable evening when I was introduced to him, I find that he has secured my love,” Sybil wrote her sister. “God did indeed choose for me.”[4]
She and Hiram married less than two weeks later. On October 23, 1819, they sailed with seven other missionary couples on the Thaddeus, bound for Hawaii.
An Unfamiliar World
The 18,000-mile voyage was difficult, with the missionaries cramped in a small space, most suffering from seasickness – which might have been worse for Sybil and three other women who got pregnant during the trip. She also felt “like a pilgrim and a stranger” with “no abiding place,”[5] while everything she had loved on this earth moved further away.
The ship landed at Kailua-Kona, Big Island, on April 4, 1820. Before Sybil could even leave the boat, however, she had a first inkling that missionary life was not going to be what she had imagined. Before her departure, the secretary of the American Board of Foreign Missions (ABFM) had laid out the missionaries’ great commission.

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Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington

As the Church of England tightened its rules in preventing dissenters from obtaining a license to preach, she found a loophole in the legislation by calling preachers to minister in her private chapels, which was allowed. She stretched however the rule by enlarging her chapels and inviting thousands to attend the services. By the end of her life, she had 64 chapels registered under her name. But dissenting preachers faced another obstacle. Struggling to find admission to most colleges and seminaries, they lacked in proper education. Selina sought to remedy this too, by opening her own school, Trevecca College, in a renovated farmhouse. The college opened in 1768, with John Fletcher as principal.

And what if you save (under God) but one soul? [1]
This question, addressed to a still hesitant John Wesley, is a good summary of the life goal and drive of Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon.
Selina’s Early Life
Born in 1707 to an upper-class family in Northamptonshire, England, Selina faced challenges from an early age. She was only six when her parents separated over issues of money and alleged infidelity. She and her older sister Elizabeth stayed with their father, rejecting her mother’s claims over the family’s estate. Only after her mother’s death, Selina extended her assistance to her younger sister Mary, who had lived with their mother.
Selina’s marriage, at 21 years of age, to Theophilus Hastings, ninth earl of Huntingdon, brought her much happiness. Her letters reveal her love for her husband and their seven children, all born within the first ten years of marriage. But this early joy was marred by persistent health problems that forced Selina to spend much time at the thermal springs of Bath. She profoundly disliked the decadence of the place and missed her family, yearning to return home.
This dissatisfaction was only one aspect of her overall discontent. Amid problems of various kind, she was mostly dissatisfied with herself, a feeling that didn’t find relief in the Christianity she tried to live out in church attendance and charitable acts. What she lacked was a clear understanding of the gospel of grace.
From an early age, when the sight of a child in an open casket impressed on her the nearness of death, Selina had tried to live a godly life, but had felt increasingly inadequate. It was only in 1739 that her sister-in-law Margaret explained how she had finally found peace and assurance by simply believing that Christ had won the battle she had tried so hard to fight. Margaret directed Selina to some young pastors who were known by the disparaging name of Methodists. Selina thrived under their preaching.
Developments in Selina’s Theology
The countess’s sudden turn to Methodism was seen with disapproval by many of her relatives, who considered these preachers fanatic. Seven years later, her daughter Elizabeth, then 15, complained that her mother had become “righteous overmuch.”[2]
But Selina persisted. John and Charles Wesley became some of her closest friends and she supported their ministry. It was around this time that she encouraged John Wesley to preach to the miners near her home. To his objection, “Have they no churches and ministers already?” she replied, “They have churches, but they never go to them! And ministers, but they seldom or never hear them! Perhaps they might hear you.”[3]
John followed her advice in 1742, beginning a ministry that revolutionized his views and methods of preaching.
Eventually, Selina turned away from some of John Wesley’s teachings, particularly his belief that Christians can reach and must strive for perfection in this life. This doctrine, she felt, was driving her away from the assurance she had found in the simple message of salvation by faith alone. Because of this, she developed closer ties George Whitefield, who had also diverged from John Wesley on other issues, such as predestination. She appointed Whitefield as her chaplain in 1748.
Hard Providence
This change in her theology followed a difficult time of her life, when two of her children died of smallpox and, three years later, her husband died of a stroke. More than ever, she needed to hear the good news of the gospel, free from any condition.
But her trials didn’t stop. In 1758, her son Henry died of a mysterious illness which had deprived him of his sight. In 1763, her daughter Selina died of a violent fever. Throughout this trying time, she found much comfort in the words of preachers who had become her close friends, such as Howell Harris, John Berridge, John Fletcher, and William Romaine.
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Jennie Faulding Taylor and Her Team of Brave Women

Jennie’s team of female missionaries also set up centers for the elderly and a vocational school to prepare the orphaned girls to find occupations (at a time when education for women was limited in China).  At the same time, Timothy Richard held regular worship services and trained the boys. The center taught the women to sew, embroider, spin wool, and braid straw. While they worked, the women were encouraged to discuss the “wordless book” first created by C. H. Spurgeon.

In 1875, a serious drought in the north of China gave way to a dreadful four-year famine, with millions of deaths and a huge migration of people. Most casualties were in the province of Shanxi (an estimated 5.5 million deaths in four years). Timothy Richard, a Welsh Baptist missionary who had opened an orphanage in the area, wrote the renowned Hudson Taylor asking for some female missionaries to run it.
Brave Women
Taylor had a reputation for sending single female missionaries at a time when the concept was largely criticized. At this time, he was in England, nursing his failing health. After discussing this with his second wife, Jennie Faulding, she offered to go while he stayed in England with their children. She left with two single women, Anna Crickmay and Celia Horne. Anna and Celia were the first unmarried western women to go as missionaries into deep inland China.
Their courage was typical of female missionaries in China. Taylor’s first wife, Maria Dyer, had fought off a group of rioters in their home by stopping the hand of a murderer, grabbing and dragging into the house a man who had tried to throw a missionary off the roof, and then jumping off a fifteen-foot-high window to save her life. All this, while being six months pregnant. About ten years earlier, she had escaped from the same window by a rope on the day before she gave birth to her first daughter.
One of her predecessors, Mary Ann Aldersey (the first single woman missionary in China), helped two girls to escape their persecuting families by smuggling them out of their country.
The stories of these strong women could make for an exciting action movie. I might describe them more carefully in other articles. Here, however, I will focus on the work of Jennie Faulding.
Moving to China
Born in 1843 in London, Jennie graduated in 1865 from the Home and Colonial Training College. Graduating with her was her inseparable friend of thirteen years, Emily Blatchley. The same year, Jennie and Emily met Hudson and Maria Dyer Taylor at a prayer meeting. Deeply moved by the Taylors’ appeal for more missionaries, the young women continued to attend their meetings. By October, Emily had moved in with the Taylors as Hudson’s secretary and governess for their children: Grace, Herbert, Frederick, and Samuel.
In 1866, Jennie and Emily joined a group of volunteers in accompanying the Taylors back to China. Emily’s parents, who didn’t profess to be believers, didn’t have any objections, while Jennie’s father, a long-time supporter of Hudson, was hard to convince. The team finally left in May the same year, on the Lammermuir.
Once the ship arrived, all the missionaries dressed in Chinese clothes (the men even wore a fake braid, with the intent of letting their hair grow). This raised outraged objections from missionaries who found their attire unnecessary and demeaning, as well as a compromise with an idolatrous culture.
But Jennie soon discovered what Hudson had believed from the start: wearing Chinese clothes fostered acceptance and removed unnecessary obstacles. “If I had on English clothes,” she said, “the [Chinese] women would at first be afraid of me and, if I succeeded in winning their confidence, my dress would be the one subject of their thoughts.”[1]
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Helmuth James Graf von Moltke – Learning to Number His Days

The epistolary exchange between Helmuth and Freya is one of the most moving in history. Studded with Scriptures and with honest reflections on God’s work in their lives, they are also an invaluable testimony of how Christians can come to grips with the prospect of imminent death. Most of the time, Helmuth found it impossible to focus entirely on either death or life. As long as there was a possibility for him to present his side of the story, he kept developing his line of defense. At the same time, both he and Freya learned to say, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). 

“One thing Christianity and we National Socialists have in common, and only one: we demand the whole man.” These words, pronounced by Roland Freisler, State Secretary of the Reich, at the time of the trial of Helmuth von Moltke, were jarring.
“I wonder if he realized what he was saying?” Moltke wrote later. “This was grim earnest. ‘From whom do you take your orders? From the Beyond or from Adolf Hitler?’ ‘Who commands your loyalty and your faith?’ All rhetorical questions, of course. Anyhow, Freisler is the first National Socialist who has grasped who I am.”[1]
Every political accusation the party had leveled against Moltke – accusations he was well-prepared to disprove – were suddenly brushed aside to reveal the crux of the matter: Moltke’s loyalty to Christ.
Now, with the cards laid clearly on the table, Moltke felt thankful and energized. “Just think how wonderfully God prepared this, his unworthy vessel,” he wrote to his wife Freya.
He then went on to list many instances of God’s providence in his life.
Chosen and Molded
Born in March 1907 in Kreisau (now Krzyżowa, Poland) to a reputable Prussian family, at age 14 he left the Christian Science his parents had firmly embraced and became confirmed in the Evangelical Church of Prussia.
He later studied law and political sciences in Breslau, Vienna, Heidelberg, and Berlin. In 1931, he married Freya Deichman, who became his greatest earthly source of strength in this life. Four years later, he declined the chance to become a judge because the position would require him to join a party which had already reared its ugly head: the National Socialist German Party. Instead, he opened a law practice in Berlin, where he helped victims of Hitler’s régime t.
In spite of this, he was drafted in 1939 by the German military intelligence – an experience that confirmed in his mind the horrors of war. He learned of villages destroyed and thousands of people executed in senseless revenge. “Certainly more than a thousand people are murdered in this way every day, and another thousand German men are habituated to murder,” he wrote in 1941. “May I know this and yet sit at my table in my heated flat and have tea? Don’t I thereby become guilty too? What shall I say when I am asked: And what did you do during that time?”[2]
He joined a group of friends equally opposed to Nazism. Their three meetings in Kreisau led them to be known as the “Kreisau Circle.” Believing that Germany would be defeated in the war, they focused on post-war reconstruction.
Moltke opposed the assassination of Hitler. Regardless, he was arrested on the evening of January 19, 1944. Looking back, he recognized God’s hand in taking him out of the picture just as he was in danger of “being drawn into active participation for a putsch” – a violent attempt, which was actually brought to action in July of the same year. “I was pulled away,” he said, “and thus I am, and remain, free of any connection to the use of violence.”[3]
He gratefully recognized God’s hand in bringing him to Himself, after years of nominal Christianity. “He humbled me as I have never been humbled before, so that I had to lose all pride, so that at last I understand my sinfulness after 38 years, so that I learn to beg for his forgiveness and to trust to his mercy.”[4]
He recounted all of God’s mercies since he had been in prison: God had allowed him to communicate with Freya and prepare for his death; he had let him “experience to their utmost depth the pain of parting and the terror of death and the fear of hell, so that all that should be over too;” and had endowed him “with faith, hope, and love, with a wealth of these that is truly overwhelming.”[5]
The last realization was the cherry on the cake, as he stood before Freisler “as a Christian and nothing else.” To him, this was the greatest honor. “For what a mighty task your husband was chosen,” he wrote to Freya, “all the trouble the Lord took with him, the infinite detours, the intricate zigzag curves, all suddenly find their explanation in one hour on the 10th of January 1945. Everything acquires its meaning in retrospect, which was hidden.”
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Hannah More and Her Lasting Influence on Education and Christian Service

Her main focus was on education. Together with her sisters, she opened a Sunday School for the poor. At a time when there were no public schools, they provided both biblical instruction and basic general education. One school led to another until, within ten years, they had sixteen school in operation. Hannah wrote many of the books used in the schools. Against the mores of her time, she encouraged equal education for boys and girls. 

She has been described as the most influential woman in the British abolitionist movement – in fact, one of the most important women in 18th-century Britain. After her death in 1833, the Christian Observer dared to say: “What William Wilberforce was among men, Hannah More was among women.”
But her influence went beyond the sphere of social reforms. Her emphasis on education, particularly for the poor and for women, with her clear specifications on its goals, had a tremendous impact in Western society and in the church.
A Talented Woman
Hannah More was born on 2 February 1745 at Fishponds, north of Bristol, the fourth of five daughters. Her father Jacob, a schoolmaster, made sure that his daughters received a good education.
From the start, Hannah displayed an exceptional intelligence. By her late teens, she was already a teacher at the boarding school she had attended – a school her father had started and her sisters were managing. A lover of theatre, she wrote her first play, A Search for Happiness, before she turned eighteen. The play was later published and widely read.
In 1767, Hannah accepted a proposal of marriage from a wealthy country gentleman, William Turner, who was twenty years her senior. Perennially undecided, Turner postponed their wedding three times until, in 1773, he broke their engagement.
British law included provisions for such circumstances, since a long engagement took a woman beyond the normal marriageable age. Initially, Hannah declined the annuity offered by Turner but she eventually accepted a smaller amount, £200 – still a large sum in those days. Since this allowed her financial security and independence, Hannah decided not to marry.
By then, she was still bent on writing for the theatre. During her many trips to London, she came in contact with important artists, authors, actors, and politicians. Her most important friendship was with actor, playwright, and producer David Garrick, who sponsored and directed her highly successful play, Percy. From all indications, Hannah was on her way to stardom.
She soon became disillusioned with the empty lifestyle of the theatrical world. After Garrick’s death, she began to detach herself from it.
Finding Her Calling
In London, Hannah attended the church pastored by the renowned John Newton, whose writings she had come to admire. After conversing with him, she returned home with tens of copies of his sermons. She continued to correspond with him for the rest of his life.
Through Newton, she also met the young William Wilberforce, who encouraged her to use her talents for the good of others. He also introduced her to the Clapham community, a group of socially minded Christians, which included many leaders in the abolition movement. They influenced her commitment to evangelism and assistance to the needy. Apparently, she was the first woman involved in the abolitionist movement. Her contribution was mainly through pamphlets and poetry. She also sponsored the publication of Olaudah Equiano’s account of his life as a slave, and promoted the boycott of slave-grown sugar.
But her main focus was on education. Together with her sisters, she opened a Sunday School for the poor. At a time when there were no public schools, they provided both biblical instruction and basic general education. One school led to another until, within ten years, they had sixteen school in operation.
Hannah wrote many of the books used in the schools. Against the mores of her time, she encouraged equal education for boys and girls. This meant that, while girls had equal instruction in the academic subjects, boys were included in knitting and sewing lessons.
She also cared deeply for her students and their families. She advocated for a method of teaching that was engaging and inspiring. “Though serious instruction will not only be uninteresting but irksome if conveyed to youth in a mere didactic way, yet if their affections are suitably engaged, their hearts, so far from necessarily revolting, as some insist they will, often receive the most solemn truths with alacrity,”[1] she said.
Her care for her students was mirrored in the dedication of her friends and the teachers she employed.

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Melito of Sardis – Pastor, Theologian, and Poet

Melito’s poetry reaches exceptional peaks in his choice of words: “In the palpable darkness hid untouchable death, and the wretched Egyptians were grasping the darkness, while death sought out and grasped the Egyptian first-born at the angel’s command.”[8] He recounts with dramatic tones the confusion and desperation of the first-born who were powerless against the angel of death – one hopelessly trying to deceive death, another frantically grasping the darkness around him and holding onto an empty flicker of hope.

Melito is not a familiar name today. Until the last century, we could only find a mention of him in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, mostly in connection with the controversy over the day in which the feast of Pascha (Easter) was to be celebrated.
Eusebius tells us that Melito was a “bishop of the church of Sardis, and a man well known at that time.”[1] He lists him among Christian writers who flourished in those days and who passed on to new generations “the sound and orthodox faith received from apostolic tradition.”[2] He paired him with Irenaeus and “others which teach that Christ is God and man.”[3]
Eusebius also mentioned several of Melito’s writings which were influential in his day, including an apology to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and a letter on the canon of the books of the Old Testament.
Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, also mentions Melito and his death, which seems to be around the year 190. According to Eusebius, Polycrates described Melito as “the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit.”[4]
As the centuries rolled by, few people took notice of this important bishop. That is, until the twentieth century, when some discoveries of a homily by Melito stirred some scholars’ attention. The first discovery was made in 1932 by Frederic Kenyon, who found portions of the then anonymous homily inside a fifth-century codex. The identification was made in 1940, when Campbell Bonner located six papyri leaves in the University of Michigan which belonged to the same codex. A couple of decades later, an almost complete Greek copy of the same homily was found. Three decades later, this was followed by a copy in Coptic. Most scholars date the homily around AD 160-170.
Paschal Homily
Melito began his homily after reading Exodus 12 to his congregation – possibly during a celebration of the Paschal week (which, at that time, was kept as a single celebration). “Therefore, well-beloved,” he said, “understand how the mystery of the Pascha is both new and old, eternal and provisional.”[5]
According to Fr. John Behr (editor of the Popular Patristic Series, where we find the best translation of Peri Pascha), the homily, broken into lines as a poem, should be read out loud – the way it was heard by its early listeners. Only then can the reader fully enjoy its musical, poetic, and dramatic qualities.
Melito’s images are creative and effective. For example, the people of Egypt reacting to the death of their first-born children, are presented as a mother “stricken with woe, not outwardly only but inwardly. Not only were her garments torn, but also her delicate breasts.”[6] But the image is not complete. As this wailing mass of people surround Pharaoh, he becomes “clad in all Egypt like a tunic of grief.”[7]

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Hadrian of Nisida and Theodore of Tarsus – Seventh-Century Star Teachers

The two men also taught theology. They were both well learned in the Scriptures and the writings of the church fathers, and followed the literal (vs. allegorical) interpretation of the Bible taught at Antioch. Though faithful to the pope and to the decisions of the western councils, Theodore brought some wisdom from the eastern church fathers, such as the Cappadocians. And both Hadrian and Theodore stood firm against heresies and deviations from orthodox Christian doctrines.

Sharing a passion for learning and teaching, Hadrian of Nisida and Theodore of Tarsus partnered together to create a school that brought new resources, methods, and inspiration to England.
For those who think a scholar’s life is bound to be boring, this team will change your mind. In fact, reviewing Michael Lapidge’s Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian[1], scholar Michael M. Gorman envisions their lives as an action movie, starring Sean Connery as Theodore and Peter O’ Tool as Hadrian[2]. I would concur, except, since Theodore was from Turkey and Hadrian from Libya, I would choose actors from those regions.
From the Mediterranean to the North Sea
These men’s lives were eventful from the start. Both of them traveled to Italy, most likely as refugees during the Arab conquest of much of North Africa and today’s Middle East (644-645). It was a time when hundreds of Christians were fleeing those areas.
Hadrian was born around 637 in North Africa – probably in the Roman region of Cyrenaica, which he described in his writings. He was then only a child during the Arab conquest, and might have continued his education in Italy.
The only thing we know for certainty is that he became the abbot of a monastery in the island of Nisida in the Bay of Naples. This area, a place of luxury resorts during the Roman Empire, was still a popular region for those who wanted to escape the hot summers of Rome. There, Hadrian might have met Pope Vitalian, who was so impressed by the young man’s wisdom, erudition, and linguistic abilities that he chose him as an interpreter during at least two imperial embassies.
In 664, when Deusdedit, archbishop of Canterbury, died, the British bishops sent his elected successor, Wigheard, to Rome to be ordained by the pope. But the plague which was raging in the area was no respecter of titles, and Wigheard died in Rome in 667.
Not wanting to wait for the long process of having a new archbishop elected in Britain, Pope Vitalian offered the position to thirty-year-old Hadrian, who declined but suggested a chaplain named Andrew. But Andrew’s health was too poor for such an appointment.
Then Hadrian proposed a monk named Theodore of Tarsus, who lived in Rome. Theodore was rich in knowledge and experience. Born in Tarsus (now in Turkey) in 602, Theodore had been educated in the important scholarly centers of the East, such as Antioch, Constantinople, and Edessa.
Vitalian was at first hesitant. Brought up in the Byzantine Empire, Theodore had probably absorbed many customs of the eastern church. In fact, his head was still entirely shaven, after the habits of the Greek monks.
The pope finally agreed to the appointment, but added two conditions: Theodore was to be tonsured after the manner of western monks (shaving just the top of his head), and Hadrian was to accompany him to England, expressively to keep him from importing Greek customs into the western church.
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