Chap. X.

That John the Evangelist should not die.

THE CONCEIT of the long-living, or rather not dying of John the Evangelist, although it seem inconsiderable, and not much weightier than that of Joseph the wandring Jew:[1] yet being deduced from Scripture, and abetted by Authors of all times, it shall not escape our enquiry. It is drawn from the speech of our Saviour unto Peter after the prediction of his Martyrdom; Peter saith unto Jesus,2 Lord what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry untill I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me; then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that this disciple should not die.

Now the belief hath been received either grossly and in the general, that is not distinguishing the manner or particular way of this continuation, in which sense probably the grosser and undiscerning party received it. Or more distinctly apprehending the manner of his immortality; that is, that John should never properly die, but be translated into Paradise, there to remain with Enoch and Elias until about the coming of Christ; and should be slain with them under Antichrist, according to that of the Apocalyps. I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesie a thousand two hundred and threescore days cloathed in sack-cloth, and when they shall have finished their Testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomeless pit, shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.[3] Hereof, as Baronius observeth, within three hundred years after Christ, Hippolytus the Martyr was the first assertor, but hath been maintained by Metaphrastes, by Freculphus, but especially by Georgius Trapezuntius, who hath expresly treated upon this Text, and although he lived but in the last Century, did still affirm that John was not yet dead.

The same is also hinted by the learned Italian Poet Dante, who in his Poetical survey of Paradise, meeting with the soul of St. John, and desiring to see his body; received answer from him that his body was in earth, and there should remain with other bodys, until the number of the blessed were accomplished.

In terra è terra il mio corpo, & saragli
Tanto con gli altri, che il numero nostro
Con l'eterno proposito s'agguagli.

As for the gross opinion that he should not die, it is sufficiently refuted by that which first occasioned it, that is the Scripture it self, and no further off, than the very subsequent verse: Yet Jesus said not unto him, he should not die, but if I will that he tarry till I come, What is that to thee? And this was written by John himself, whom the opinion concerned; and as is conceived many years after, when Peter had suffered and fulfilled the prophesie of Christ.

For the particular conceit, the foundation is weak, nor can it be made out from the Text alledged in the Apocalyps: for beside that therein two persons are only named, no mention is made of John, a third Actor in this Tragedy. The same is also overthrown by History, which recordeth not only the death of John, but assigneth the place of his burial, that is Ephesus, a City in Asia minor, whither after he had been banished into Patmos by Domitian, he returned in the reign of Nerva, there deceased, and was buried in the days of Trajan. And this is testified by Jerom,4 by Tertullian,5 by Chrysostom and Eusebius, in whose days his Sepulchre was to be seen; and by a more ancient Testimony alleadged also by him, that is of Polycrates Bishop of Ephesus, not many successions after John; whose words are these in an Epistle unto Victor Bishop of Rome, Johannes ille qui supra pectus Domini recumbebat, Doctor optimus, apud Ephesum dormivit: many of the like nature are noted by Baronius, Jansenius, Estius, Lipellous, and others.

Now the main and primitive ground of this error, was a gross mistake in the words of Christ, and a false apprehension of his meaning; understanding that positively which was but conditionally expressed, or receiving that affirmatively which was but concessively delivered. For the words of our Saviour run in a doubtful strain, rather reprehending than satisfying the curiosity of Peter; as though he should have said, Thou hast thine own doom, why enquirest thou after thy Brothers? What relief unto thy affliction, will be the society of anothers? Why pryest thou into the secrets of Gods will? If he stay until I come, what concerneth it thee, who shalt be sure to suffer before that time? And such an answer probably he returned, because he fore-knew John should not suffer a violent death, but go unto his grave in peace. Which had Peter assuredly known, it might have cast some water on his flames, and smothered those fires which kindled after unto the honour of his Master.

Now why among all the rest John only escaped the death of a Martyr, the reason is given; because all others fled away or withdrew themselves at his death, and he alone of the Twelve beheld his passion on the Cross;[6] Wherein notwithstanding, the affliction that he suffered could not amount unto less then Martyrdom: for if the naked relation, at least the intentive consideration of that Passion, be able still, and at this disadvantage of time, to rend the hearts of pious Contemplators; surely the near and sensible vision thereof must needs occasion Agonies beyond the comprehension of flesh; and the trajections of such an object more sharply pierce the Martyred soul of John, than afterward did the nails the crucified body of Peter.

Again, They were mistaken in the Emphatical apprehension, placing the consideration upon the words, If I will: whereas it properly lay in these, when I come. Which had they apprehended as some have since, that is, not for his ultimate and last return, but his coming in Judgment and destruction upon the Jews; or such a coming, as it might be said, that that generation should not pass before it was fulfilled; they needed not, much less need we suppose such diuturnity. For after the death of Peter, John lived to behold the same fulfilled by Vespasian:[7] nor had he then his Nunc dimittis, or went out like unto Simeon;[8] but old in accomplisht obscurities, and having seen the expire of Daniels prediction, as some conceive, he accomplished his Revelation.

But besides this original and primary foundation, divers others have made impressions according unto different ages and persons by whom they were received. For some established the conceit in the disciples and brethren, which were contemporary unto him, or lived about the same time with him; and this was first the extraordinary affection our Saviour bare unto this disciple, who hath the honour to be called the disciple whom Jesus loved. Now from hence they might be apt to believe their Master would dispence with his death, or suffer him to live to see him return in glory, who was the only Apostle that beheld him to die in dishonour. Another was the belief and opinion of those times, that Christ would suddenly come: for they held not generally the same opinion with their successors, or as descending ages after so many Centuries; but conceived his coming would not be long after his passion, according unto several expressions of our Saviour grossly understood, and as we find the same opinion not long after reprehended by St. Paul:9 and thus conceiving his coming would not be long, they might be induced to believe his favourite should live unto it. Lastly, the long life of John might much advantage this opinion; for he survived the other twelve, he was aged 22 years when he was called by Christ, and 25 that is the age of Priesthood at his death, and lived 93 years, that is 68 after his Saviour, and died not before the second year of Trajan. Now having outlived all his fellows, the world was confirmed he might live still, and even unto the coming of his Master.

The grounds which promoted it in succeeding ages, were especially two. The first his escape of martyrdom: for whereas all the rest suffered some kind of forcible death, we have no history that he suffered any; and men might think he was not capable thereof: For as History informeth, by the command of Domitian he was cast into a Caldron of burning oyl, and came out again unsinged. Now future ages apprehending he suffered no violent death, and finding also the means that tended thereto could take no place, they might be confirmed in their opinion, that death had no power over him, that he might live always who could not be destroyed by fire, and was able to resist the fury of that element which nothing shall resist. The second was a corruption crept into the Latin Text, reading for Si, Sic eum manere volo; whereby the answer of our Saviour becometh positive, or that he will have it so; which way of reading was much received in former ages, and is still retained in the vulgar Translation; but in the Greek and original the word is ἐὰν, signifying Si or if, which is very different from ὄυτως, and cannot be translated for it: and answerable hereunto is the translation of Junius, and that also annexed unto the Greek by the authority of Sixtus Quintus.[10]

The third confirmed it in ages farther descending, and proved a powerfull argument unto all others following; because in his tomb at Ephesus there was no corps or relique thereof to be found; whereupon arose divers doubts, and many suspitious conceptions; some believing he was not buried, some that he was buried but risen again, others that he descended alive into his tomb, and from thence departed after. But all these proceeded upon unveritable grounds, as Baronius hath observed; who alledgeth a letter of Celestine Bishop of Rome, unto the Council of Ephesus, wherein he declareth the reliques of John were highly honoured by that City; and by a passage also of Chrysostome in the Homilies of the Apostles, That John being dead, did cures in Ephesus, as though he were still alive. And so I observe that Esthius discussing this point concludeth hereupon, Quod corpus ejus nunquam reperiatur, hoc non dicerent si veterum scripta diligenter perlustrassent.

Now that the first ages after Christ, those succeeding, or any other should proceed into opinions so far divided from reason, as to think of Immortality after the fall of Adam, or conceit a man in these later times should out-live our fathers in the first; although it seem very strange, yet is it not incredible. For the credulity of men hath been deluded into the like conceits; and as Ireneus and Tertullian mention, one Menander a Samaritan obtained belief in this very point; whose doctrin it was, that death should have no power on his disciples, and such as received his baptism should receive Immortality therewith. Twas surely an apprehension very strange; nor usually falling either from the absurdities of Melancholy or vanities of ambition. Some indeed have been so affectedly vain, as to counterfeit Immortality, and have stoln their death, in a hope to be esteemed immortal; and others have conceived themselves dead; but surely few or none have fallen upon so bold an errour, as not to think that they could die at all. The reason of those mighty ones, whose ambition could suffer them to be called gods, would never be flattered into immortality; but the proudest thereof have by the daily dictates of corruption convinced the impropriety of that appellation. And surely, although delusion may run high, and possible it is that for a while a man may forget his nature, yet cannot this be durable. For the inconcealeable imperfections of our selves, or their daily examples in others, will hourly prompt us our corruption, and loudly tell us we are the sons of earth.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 [On the Wandering Jew, see VII.xvii.5]

2 Iohn 21.[22 ff.]

3 [Revelation 11]

4 De Scriptor. Ecclesiast. [De viris illustribus.]

5 De anima.

6 [John 19; the text does not specify that "the disciple" was the only disciple there, but it mentions no others.]

7 [AD 70. The idea that Vespasian's destruction of Jerusalem is a sort of "return" of Jesus is peculiar, to say the least.]

8 [Luke 2: "25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." 1672 has "nunc dimittimus".]

9 Thes. 2.

10 [The Sistine Vulgate]

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