Leucius, the reputed author of large apocryphal additions to the N.T. history, which originated in heretical circles, and which, though now lost, were much current in early times. The fullest account is that given by Photius, who describes a book, called The Circuits of the Apostles, which contained the Acts of Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, and Paul, and purported to have been written by Leucius Charinus.
This second name Charinus is peculiar to Photius, earlier writers calling the author simply Leucius, a name variously altered by transcribers.
Photius characterizes the book as in style utterly unlike the genuine N.T. writings, and full of folly, self-contradiction, falsehood, and impiety. It taught the existence of two gods—an evil one, the God of the Jews, having Simon Magus as his minister, and a good one, from Whom Christ came.
It confounded the Father and the Son; denied the reality of Christ’s Incarnation, and gave a Docetic account of His life on earth and especially of His crucifixion. It condemned marriage and regarded all generation as the work of the evil principle; denied that demons were created by God; related childish stories of miraculous restoration to life, of both men and cattle; and in the Acts of John used language which the Iconoclasts regarded as favouring them.
From this description we can identify as the same work a collection of Apostolic Acts, from which extracts were read at the 2nd council of Nicaea, the story of Lycomedes being that made use of by the Iconoclasts, and the Docetic tales being from this work. In the council was next read a citation from Amphilochius of Iconium, denouncing certain heretical Acts of the Apostles, and in particular arguing against the truth of a story, evidently that to which we have just referred, because it represented St. John as on the Mount of Olives during the crucifixion, and so contradicted the gospel, which relates that he was close to the Cross.
With this evidence that the work read by Photius was in existence before the end of the 4th cent., we may probably refer to the same source a statement of Epiphanius that Leucius was a disciple of John and joined his master in opposing the Ebionites. Church writers frequently reject the doctrine of heretical apocrypha and yet accept stories told in such documents as true, provided there were no doctrinal reason for rejecting them. The Docetic Leucius, who denied the true manhood of our Lord, was at the opposite pole from the Ebionites, who asserted Him to be mere man, and therefore the Acts of John might well have contained a confutation of Ebionism.
The Acts of Leucius were in use among the Manichees in the time of St. Augustine. Faustus the Manichean appeals to Acts of the four apostles mentioned by Photius (Peter, Andrew, Thomas, and John), charging the Catholic party with wrongly excluding them from their canon. In several places Augustine refers to the same Acts, and he names as the author Leutius, the name being written in some MSS. Levitius or Leuticius.
In the passage last cited, the writer, supposed to be Evodius of Uzala, a contemporary of Augustine, quotes from the Acts of Andrew a story of Maximilla, the wife of the proconsul Egeas under whom St. Andrew suffered, who, to avoid having intercourse with her husband, without his knowledge substituted her maid in her own place; and on another occasion, when she and her companion were engaged hearing the apostle, an angel, by imitating their voices, deceived the husband into the belief that they were still in her bedchamber.
This story, which agrees with what Photius tells of the author’s condemnation of sexual intercourse, is much softened in the still extant Acts of Pseudo-Abdias, which are an orthodox recasting of a heretical original. We find still the names of Maximilla and Egeas; but Maximilla does not refuse intercourse with her husband, and only excites his displeasure because, on account of her eagerness to hear the apostle, she can be with him less frequently; and, without any angelic deception, providential means are devised to prevent Egeas from surprising his wife at the Christian meeting.
These Augustinian notices enable us to infer that it was the same work Philaster had in view when he stated that the Manichees had Acts purporting to be written by disciples of St. Andrew, and describing apostle’s doings when he passed from Pontus into Greece. He adds that these heretics had also Acts of Peter, John, and Paul, containing stories of miracles in which beasts were made to speak; for that these heretics counted the souls of men and of beasts alike. In the Gelasian decree on apocryphal books we read: “Libri omnes, quos fecit Leucius discipulus diaboli, apocryphi,” where we have various readings, Lucianus and Seleucius.
In the spurious correspondence between Jerome and Chromatius and Heliodorus, Jerome is represented as giving an orthodox version of certain authentic additions to St. Matthew’s narrative, of which a heretical version had been given by Leucius (or, as it is printed, Seleucus), the author of the Acts already mentioned. In the letter of Innocent to Exsuperius he condemns documents bearing the name of Matthew, of James the Less, of Peter and Paul written by Leucius, of Andrew written by Xenocharis and Leonidas the philosophers, and of Thomas. It has been conjectured that in Xenocharis an adjective has been joined with a proper name, and that we have here a corruption of Charinus.
In the Latin version of the apocryphal Descensus Christi ad inferos, two sons of the aged Simeon, named Leucius and Charinus, are represented as having died before our Lord, and as miraculously returning to bear witness to His triumphs in the under world. The writer clearly borrowed these names from the apocryphal Acts; did he there find warrant for regarding them as the names of distinct persons, or was Photius right in reporting both names to have been given to the same person?
It would seem that only the Acts of John and perhaps of Peter named Leucius as their author: the necessities of the fiction would require the Acts of Andrew to be attested by a different witness, possibly Charinus, and it is conceivable that Photius may have combined the names merely from his judging, no doubt rightly, that all the Acts had a common author.
Concerning the Acts of Paul in use among the Manicheans see LINUS and THECLA. Besides the authorities already cited, the Acts of Leucius are mentioned by Turribius, a Spanish bp. of the first half of the 5th cent., from whom we learn that they were used by the Priscillianists, and that the Acts of Thomas related a baptism, not in water but in oil, according to the Manichean fashion; and by Pseudo-Mellitus, who acknowledges the truth of apostolic miracles related by Leucius, but argues against his doctrine of two principles. Pacian says, “Phryges nobiliores qui se animatos a Leucio mentiuntur, se institutos a Proculo gloriantur.” On this passage Zahn mainly relies for dating the Acts of Leucius earlier than 160. But no other writer mentions a Montanist use of these Acts, and on this subject the authority of Pacian does not count for much. The context does not indicate that he had much personal knowledge of the sect, and his heretical notices appear to be derived from the Syntagma of Hippolytus, where we have no reason to think that he would have found any mention of Leucius.
It is highly probable that Pacian, as well as others of his contemporaries, believed that Leucius was a real companion of St. John, and therefore no doubt earlier than Montanus; but that he had any means of real knowledge as to this we have no reason to believe. Besides those authorities which mention Leucius by name, others speak of apocryphal Acts, and probably refer to the same literature.
Thus the Synopsis Scripturae ascribed to Athanasius speaks of books called the Travels of Peter, of John, and of Thomas; and by the second the Leucian story is probably intended. Eusebius tells of Acts of Andrew and of John; Epiphanius states that the Encratites used Acts of Andrew, John, and Thomas; that the Apostolici relied on Acts of Andrew and Thomas; and that those whom he calls Origeniani used Acts of Andrew. It is worth remarking that it is of the three apostles, Thomas, Andrew, and John, whose travels were written by Leucius, that Origen can tell where the lot of their preaching had fallen, viz. India, Scythia, and Asia respectively.
The testimonies we have cited are not earlier than the 4th cent., and several of them speak of Leucius as a Manichean; but Grabe, Cave, Mill, Beausobre, Lardner, and others consider that he lived in the 2nd cent.; and, as he therefore could not have been a Manichean, was probably a Marcionite. Some have identified him with the Marcionite LUCANUS. But no Marcionite would have chosen for the heroes of his narrative the Jewish apostles, John, Thomas, and Andrew.
Beausobre gives six arguments for the early date of Leucius, not one of which is conclusive, all being vitiated by the tacit assumption that Leucius was a real person, and not, as we hold, merely the fictitious name of an imaginary disciple of St. John, whom the forger chose to make the narrator of the story.
Zahn published some new fragments of Leucius, which increase our power of recognizing as Leucian things which different fathers have told without naming their authority. The Leucian character of these fragments is verified by various coincidences with the old. Names recur, e.g. Lycomedes. There is a story of a miracle performed on one Drusiana, who had submitted to die rather than have intercourse with her husband. This agrees with that of Maximilla and Egeas in revealing the violently Encratite principles of the author; cf. that told in the Acts of Thomas.
Zahn has argued the case for the early date of Leucius in a much more scientific way than previous supporters of the same thesis. He tries to show that there are statements in earlier writers really derived from Leucius, though his name is not given. All Zahn’s arguments do not seem to us conclusive, yet enough remains valid to lead us to regard the Leucian Acts as of the same age as the travels of Peter (which are the basis of the Clementines) and the Acts of Paul and Thecla. When a writer, who in one place quotes Leucius, elsewhere makes statements we know to be Leucian, they doubtless come from Leucius though he does not there name his authority; e.g.
Epiphanius names Leucius only once, but we may safely count as derived from Leucius his reference to the manner of John’s death and to John’s virginity. Further, in the immediate context of the passage where Epiphanius names Leucius, he names other heretics of the apostolic age, and the presumption that he found these names in Leucius becomes almost a certainty when in one of the new Leucian fragments one of them, Cleobius, is found as that of a person in John’s company.
Other names in the same context are Claudius, Merinthus, and the Pauline Demas and Hermogenes; concerning whom see the Acts of Thecla and the so-called Dorotheus. The Augustinian and Hieronymian notices may be treated similarly. We can identify as Leucian several statements which are described as found “in ecclesiastica historia” or “in patrum traditionibus,” and hence probably others reported with the same formulae are from the same source.
We next enumerate some of the statements which may be characterized as Leucian, naming some of the early writers who have repeated them.
(1) A Leucian fragment tells how John’s virginity had been preserved by a threefold interposition of our Lord, breaking off the Apostle’s designs each time that he attempted to marry. There is a clear reference to this story in a sermon ascribed to Augustine, and from this source probably so many of the Fathers have derived their opinion of John’s virginity, concerning which the canonical Scriptures say nothing.
The Leucian Acts, in conformity with their strong Encratism, seem to have dwelt much on the apostle’s virginity, describing this as the cause of our Lord’s love to him, and as the reason for his many privileges, particularly the care of the virgin mother. In Pistis Sophia the name of the apostle John has usually the title ó παρθéνος appended, and we may therefore set down Pistis Sophia as post-Leucian, but uncertainty as to its date prevents us from drawing any further inference. The earliest mention of John’s virginity is found in the epithet “spado” given to St. John by Tertullian, whence Zahn infers that Tertullian must have used the Acts of Leucius.
We think Zahn does not sufficiently allow for the probability in the case of one who is said to have lived so long, that a true tradition that he never married might have been preserved in the churches of Asia. Zahn contends that because Jerome uses the word “eunuchus” not “spado,” he is not copying Tertullian, but that both writers use a common source, viz. Leucius. But when the passage in Tertullian is read with the rest of the treatise, it appears more likely that the epithet is Tertullian’s own.
(2) Other evidence of Tertullian’s acquaintance with Leucius is found in his story of St. John’s having been cast into burning oil. Speaking of Rome he says, “Ubi apostolus Johannes, posteaquam in oleum igneum demersus nihil passus est, in insulam relegatur.” What was Tertullian’s authority? Now, though none of the extant fragments of Leucius relate to this, yet that these Acts contained the story is probable from the following evidence. Jerome commenting on Matt. xx. 23 states on the authority of “ecclesiasticae historiae” that the apostle had been “missus in ferventis olei dolium, et inde ad suscipiendam coronam Christi athleta processerit, statimque relegatus in Pathmos insulam.” Now Abdias, whose work is notoriously based on Leucius, has “proconsul jussit eum velut rebellem in dolio ferventis olei mergi, qui statim ut conjectus in aeneo est, veluti athleta, unctus non adustus de vase exiit.” The second passage will be seen to be the original, Jerome’s use of athleta receiving its explanation from Abdias. This conclusion is strengthened by another passage in Jerome, where, though he names Tertullian as his authority, he gives particulars not found in him, viz. the “dolium ferventis olei,” and that the apostle came out fresher and more vigorous than he had entered. We feel forced to believe that Jerome, who certainly used Leucius, found in it the statement about the boiling oil; and then there is a strong case for suspecting that this was also the authority of Tertullian.
But though Tertullian names Rome as the scene of the miracle, it may be doubted whether this was so in the Greek Leucius. The mention by Abdias of a “proconsul” suggests Asia. Hippolytus, however, agrees with Tertullian in placing John at Rome. Some of the earliest Fathers who try to reconcile Matt. xx. 23 with the fact that John did not suffer martyrdom, do not mention this story of the baptism in oil. A later story makes John miraculously “drink a cup” of poison with impunity.
(3) An acquaintance with Leucius by Clement of Alexandria has been inferred from the agreement of both in giving on John’s authority a Docetic account of our Lord. The “traditions of Matthias” may have been Clement’s authority; but that John is appealed to no doubt gives probability to the conjecture that Clement’s source is the Acts which treat of St. John, a probability increased on an examination of the story told by Clement as to John’s composition of Fourth Gospel at the request of his friends. In the Muratorian Fragment the request is urged by the apostle’s fellow-bishops in Asia; he asks them to fast three days, begging for a revelation of God’s will, and then it is revealed to Andrew that John is to write. The stories of Clement and the Muratorian writer are too like to be independent; yet it is not conceivable that one copied from the other; therefore they doubtless used a common authority, who was not Papias, else Eusebius, when he quotes the passage from Clement, would scarcely have failed to mention it. Now, several later writers tell the same story, agreeing, however, in additional particulars, which show that they did not derive their knowledge from either the Muratorian writer or Clement. Thus they tell that the cause of the request that John should write was the spread of Ebionite heresy, which required that something should be added concerning the divinity of our Lord to what St. John’s predecessors had told about His humanity; and that, in answer to their prayers, the apostle, filled with the Holy Ghost, burst into the prologue, “In the beginning was the Word.” Other verbal coincidences make it probable that this story was found in the Acts of Leucius, which Epiphanius tells us contained an account of John’s resistance to the Ebionite heresy; and if so, Leucius is likely to have been Clement’s authority also.
Combining the probabilities under the three heads enumerated, there seems reasonable ground for thinking that the Leucian Acts were 2nd cent., and known to Clement and Tertullian. Irenaeus, however, shows no sign of acquaintance with them, and Clement must have had some other source of Johannine traditions, his story of John and the robber being, as Zahn owns, not derived from Leucius; for no later writer who tells the story shews any sign of having had any source of information but Clement.
We cannot follow Zahn in combining the two statements of Theodoret that the Quartodecimans appealed to St. John’s authority, and that they used apocryphal Acts, and thence inferring that Leucius represented St. John as sanctioning the Quartodeciman practice. If so, we think other traces of this Leucian statement would have remained. Theodoret would have found in Eusebius that the churches of Asia appealed to St. John as sanctioning their practice, and that may have been a true tradition.
A brief notice will suffice of other probable contents of the work of Leucius. He appears to have mentioned the exile to Patmos, and as resulting from a decree of the Roman emperor; but that the emperor was not named is likely from the variations of subsequent writers. Zahn refers to Leucius the story of St. John and the partridge, told by Cassianus, who elsewhere shews acquaintance with Leucius. A different story of a partridge is told in a non-Leucian fragment. The Leucian Acts very possibly contained an account of the Virgin’s death. But the most important of the remaining Leucian stories is that concerning St. John’s painless death. Leucius appears to have given what purported to be the apostle’s sermon and Eucharistic prayer on the last Sunday of his life. Then after breaking of bread—there is no mention of wine—the apostle commands Byrrhus (the name occurs in the Ignatian epistles as that of an Ephesine deacon) to follow him with two companions, bringing spades with them. In a friend’s burying-place they dig a grave, in which the apostle laid himself down, and with joyful prayer blessed his disciples and resigned his soul to God. Later versions give other miraculous details; in particular that which Augustine mentions, that St. John lay in the grave not dead but sleeping, the dust heaped over him showing his breathing by its motions.
Besides the Acts Leucius has been credited with a quantity of other apocryphal literature. If, as we believe, he is only a fictitious personage, it is likely enough that the author of the romance wrote other like fictions, though our information is too scanty for us to identify his work. But there is no trustworthy evidence that he affixed the name of Leucius to any composition besides the Acts of Peter and John. From the nature of the case an apostle’s martyrdom must be related by one of the apostles’ disciples, but such a one would not be regarded as a competent witness to the deeds of our Lord Himself, and accordingly apocryphal gospels are commonly ascribed to an apostle, and not to one of the second generation of Christians. The only apparent evidence for a connexion of the name of Leucius with apocryphal gospels is the mention of the name in the spurious letter of Jerome to Chromatius and Heliodorus, a witness unworthy of credit even if his testimony were more distinct. Probably the orthodox, finding in the Acts which bore the name of Leucius plain evidence that the writer was heretical in his doctrine of two principles, still accepted him as a real personage of the sub-apostolic age, and when they met with other apocryphal stories, the doctrine of which they had to reject as heretical while willing to accept the facts related as mainly true, Leucius seemed a probable person to whom to ascribe the authorship.