The Roman emperor Septimus Severus (193-211) in the tenth year after his power was secured against his various rivals (202) appears to have accepted the fact of some persecution (Frend 1967: 239-242), though with respect to Christians, “persecution at this time was due to private and/or local initiative” (Grant 1970: 100) in contrast to the impression given by Eusebius (H.E. VI.1). “Apart from the years 202-203, and the situation which had developed between the Christians and pagans in Carthage, the reigns of Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla (211-217) were tolerant” as recognized by Tertullian (Frend 1967: 242; cf. Grant 1970: 97-100). However, persecution was severe in Alexandria, under Quintus Maecius Laetus, prefect of Egypt, where it touched the life of an adolescent whose father, Leonides, was executed, and who, but for his mother’s hiding of his clothes, would have followed in his father’s path. That youth was the budding biblical scholar, Origen (c. 185-254), who became in spite of his tender age the director of the greatest Christian school, in Alexandria from 203 to 231. Among the distinguished pupils of Origen is the person named Trypho.
And yet he is not included among those associated with Origen in the narrative of the church historian, Eusebius (c. 260-340), bishop of Caesarea, writing less than a century later. A century after Eusebius, the Latin biblical scholar, Jerome (c. 347-419), in his De viris inlustribus (“Lives of Illustrious Men”) provides what little is known. Jerome still knew of some extant letters from Origen to Trypho, among the four collections of those letters which Jerome had enumerated in his “Letter to Paula” (Epistle 33), but none seem to have survived. Jerome regarded Trypho as “very learned in the Scriptures” (J 57; NPNF 2 III (1892) 374), but of the “many of his works” to which Jerome refers as having been composed by Trypho, Jerome only identifies by title and content “On the red heifer in Deuteronomy <Jerome’s error since the referent occurs in Numbers 19:1-10>, and On the halves which with the pigeon and the turtledoves were offered by Abraham as recorded in Genesis <15:9-10>.”
Origen is noted for his extensive development of commentary literature. It is no surprise that among his pupils this tendency might also be predominant. No more precise dating of Trypho is currently possible, though it could be tempting to identify him as the martyr named in the “Acta Tryphonis,” among those affected by the “edict or edicts” of the emperor Decius (249-251) which appointed commissions “to supervise the sacrifices in Carthage, Spain, Alexandria and many other centres in Egypt” (Frend 1967: 302-303). “Deaths over the whole Empire may probably be numbered in hundreds rather than thousands, but they were enough to vindicate the martyr-spirit at the moment when it was in danger of foundering amid the outward prosperity of the Church” (Frend 1967: 308). Origen himself suffered torture but was not put to death, though he died but a few years later; of his students it is more difficult to say [cf. his Exhortatio ad martyrium, addressed to his patron Ambrosius (H.E. VI.28; Q2.1.4, pp. 69-73; Frend 1967: 287)].
Clyde Curry Smith
Bibliography (see link to abbreviations table below):
FOTC 100 84
Frend 1967 Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus, by William Hugh Clifford Frend. New York: New York University Press.
Grant 1970 Augustus to Constantine: The Thrust of the Christian Movement into the Roman World, by Robert McQueen Grant. New York, Evanston, and London: Harper and Row.
NPNF 2 III 1892 Jerome, De viris inlustribus, translated by Ernest Cushing Richardson, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo and New York: Christian Literature. Series 2, Volume III, pp. 359-384.
This article, received in 2001, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.