Apollonius Tyaneus and Simon Magus
Theosophist, June, 1881
In the “History of the Christian Religion to the year two hundred,” by Charles B. Waite, A.M., announced and reviewed in the Banner of Light (Boston), we find portions of the work relating to the great thaumaturgist of the second century A.D.—Apollonius of Tyana, the rival of whom had never appeared in the Roman Empire.
“The time of which this volume takes special cognizance is divided into six periods, during the second of which, A.D. 80 to A.D. 120, is included the ‘Age of Miracles,’ the history of which will prove of interest to Spiritualists as a means of comparing the manifestations of unseen intelligences in our time with similar events of the days immediately following the introduction of Christianity. Apollonius Tyaneus was the most remarkable character of that period, and witnessed the reign of a dozen Roman emperors. Before his birth, Proteus, an Egyptian god, appeared to his mother and announced that he was to be incarnated in the coming child. Following the directions given her in a dream, she went to a meadow to gather flowers. While there, a flock of swans formed a chorus around her, and, clapping their wings, sung in unison. While they were thus engaged, and the air was being fanned by a gentle zephyr, Apollonius was born.”
This is a legend which in days of old made of every remarkable character a “son of God” miraculously born of a virgin. And what follows is history.
“In his youth he was a marvel of mental power and personal beauty, and found his greatest happiness in conversations with the disciples of Plato, Chrysippus and Aristotle. He ate nothing that had life, lived on fruits and the products of the earth; was an enthusiastic admirer and follower of Pythagoras, and as such maintained silence for five years. Wherever he went he reformed religious worship and performed wonderful acts. At feasts he astonished the guests by causing bread, fruits, vegetables and various dainties to appear at his bidding. Statues became animated with life, and bronze figures from their pedestals, took the position and performed the labors of servants. By the exercise of the same power dematerializaton occurred; gold and silver vessels, with their contents, disappeared; even the attendants vanished in an instant from sight.
“At Rome, Apollonius was accused of treason. Brought to examination, the accuser came forward, unfolded his roll on which the accusation had been written, and was astounded to find it a perfect blank.
“Meeting a funeral procession he said to the attendants, ‘Set down the bier, and I will dry up the tears you are shedding for the maid.’ He touched the young woman, uttered a few words, and the dead came to life. Being at Smyrna, a plague raged at Ephesus, and he was called thither. ‘The journey must not be delayed,’ he said, and had no sooner spoken the words than he was at Ephesus.
“When nearly one hundred years old, he was brought before the Emperor at Rome, accused of being an enchanter. He was taken to prison. While there he was asked when he would be at liberty? ‘To-morrow, if it depends on the judge; this instant, if it depends on myself.’ Saying this, he drew his leg out of the fetters, and said, ‘You see the liberty I enjoy.’ He then replaced it in the fetters.
“At the tribunal he was asked: ‘Why do men call you a god?’
“‘Because,’ said he, ‘every man that is good is entitled to the appellation.’
“‘How could you foretell the plague at Ephesus?’
“He replied: ‘By living on a lighter diet than other men.’
“His answers to these and other questions by his accusers exhibited such strength that the Emperor was much affected, and declared him acquitted of crime; but said he should detain him in order to hold a private conversation. He replied: ‘You can detain my body, but not my soul; and, I will add, not even my body. Having uttered these words he vanished from the tribunal, and that same day met his friends at Puteoli, three days’ journey from Rome.
“The writings of Apollonius show him to have been a man of learning, with a consummate knowledge of human nature, imbued with noble sentiments and the principles of a profound philosophy. In an epistle to Valerius he says:
“‘There is no death of anything except in appearance; and so, also, there is no birth of anything except in appearance. That which passes over from essence into nature seems to be birth, and that which passes over from nature into essence seems, in like manner, to be death; though nothing really is originated, and nothing ever perishes; but only now comes into sight, and now vanishes. It appears by reason of the density of matter, and disappears by reason of the tenuity of essence; but is always the same, differing only in motion and condition.’
“The highest tribute paid to Apollonius was by the Emperor Titus. The philosopher having written to him, soon after his accession, counselling moderation in his government, Titus replied:
“‘In my own name and in the name of my country I give you thanks, and will be mindful of those things. I have, indeed, taken Jerusalem, but you have captured me.’
“The wonderful things done by Apollonius, thought to be miraculous, the source and producing cause of which Modern Spiritualism clearly reveals, were extensively believed in, in the second century, and hundreds of years subsequent; and by Christians as well as others. Simon Magus was another prominent miracle-worker of the second century, and no one denied his power. Even Christians were forced to admit that he performed miracles. Allusion is made to him in the Acts of the Apostles, viii: 9-10. His fame was world-wide, his followers in every nation, and in Rome a statue was erected in his honor. He had frequent contests with Peter, what we in this day would call miracle-matches in order to determine which had the greater power. It is stated in ‘The Acts of Peter and Paul’ that Simon made a brazen serpent to move, stone statues to laugh, and himself to rise in the air; to which is added: ‘as a set-off to this, Peter healed the sick by a word, caused the blind to see, etc.’ Simon, being brought before Nero, changed his form: suddenly he became a child, then an old man; at other times a young man. ‘and Nero, beholding this, supposed him to be the Son of God.’
“In ‘Recognitions,’ a Petrine work of the early ages, an account is given of a public discussion between Peter and Simon Magus, which is reproduced in this volume.
“Accounts of many other miracle-workers are given, showing most conclusively that the power by which they wrought was not confined to any one or to any number of persons, as the Christian world teaches, but that mediumistic gifts were then, as now, possessed by many. Statements quoted from the writers of the first two centuries of what took place will severely tax the credulity of the most credulous to believe, even in this era of marvels. Many of those accounts may be greatly exaggerated, but it is not reasonable to suppose that they are all sheer fabrications, with not a moiety of truth for their foundation; far less so with the revealments made to men since the advent of Modern Spiritualism. Some idea of the thoroughness with which every subject is dealt with in this volume may be formed when we state that in the index there are two hundred and thirteen references to passages relating to ‘Jesus Christ’; from which, also, it may be justly inferred that what is given must be of great value to those seeking information that will enable them to determine whether Jesus was ‘Man, Myth, or God.’ ‘The Origin and History of Christian Doctrines,’ also ‘The Origin and Establishment of the Authority of the Church of Rome over other Churches,’ are fully shown, and much light thrown upon many obscure and disputed questions. In a word, it is impossible for us, without far exceeding the limits prescribed for this article, to render full justice to this very instructive book; but we think enough has been said to convince our readers that it is one of more than ordinary interest, and a desirable acquisition to the literature of this progressive age.”1
Some writers tried to make Apollonius appear a legendary character, while pious Christians will persist in calling him an impostor. Were the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as well attested by history and he himself half as known to classical writers as was Apollonius no sceptic could doubt to-day the very being of such a man as the Son of Mary and Joseph. Apollonius of Tyana was the friend and correspondent of a Roman Empress and several Emperors, while of Jesus no more remained on the pages of history than as if his life had been written on the desert sands. His letter to Agbarus, the prince of Edessa, the authenticity of which is vouchsafed for by Eusebius alone—the Baron Munchausen of the patristic hierarchy—is called in the Evidences of Christianity “an attempt at forgery” even by Paley himself, whose robust faith accepts the most incredible stories. Apollonius, then, is a historical personage; while many even of the Apostolic Fathers themselves, placed before the scrutinizing eye of historical criticism, begin to flicker and many of them fade out and disappear like the “will-o’-the-wisp” or the ignis fatuus.
1. Second Edition, 1 vol., 8vo., pp. 455. Chicago: C. V. Waite & Co. Thomas J. Whitehead & Co., agents for New England, 5 Court Square, Room 9, Boston.