March 13, 2014

A Dying Man’s Epitaph

Sir William Ramsey first discovered fragments of the following stone epitaph in 1883:

Citizen of a famous city, I erected this (tomb) in my lifetime,
so that my body may one day repose in it.
My name is Abericus,
and I am a disciple of the Chaste Shepherd…
He it is who taught me the scriptures of faith …
He it is who sent me to Rome to contemplate
its majesty, to behold a Queen adorned
in golden apparel and shod with sandals of gold.
I beheld there a people marked with a shining
seal. I also saw the plain of Syria
and all the cities, and Nisibi, and beyond
the Euphrates; everywhere I discovered
my companions. With Paul for my guide,
I was led everywhere in faith; everywhere (faith)
served me as food a Fish from the Spring—large
and pure, (it had been) caught by an immaculate
She constantly offers it to her dearest friends
to eat; she likewise possesses the best of wine
which she serves for their drink with the bread.

I, Abericus, dictated this (text)
engraved in my presence;
I am seventy-two years old.
Let the brother who understands these lines
pray for Abericus. Let no one place
any other tomb above this one…*

Abericus was bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia (modern day Turkey). His use of the term “fish” as a reference to the Eucharist was common for early Christians, who may have begun the use of such symbols as code words while under the threat of Roman persecution. Here, Abericus uses it to refer to “food” that is “pure,” which an “immaculate Virgin” offers to her friends to “eat,” to whom she also offers “wine” to eat with “the bread.” The word “fish” thus plainly does refer to the Eucharist.

Abericus died around 200 A.D. As he says, he dictated this epitaph in anticipation of his own death. If there was to be one final marker for people to understand the meaning of his life—this was it. For this second century man, living in the shadow of the Apostles, there was no separation between this life and the life in the Eucharist. It was the one thing that mattered most to him.

For two thousand years, the Church has clung to this so-called superstitious notion. As the more than 120 stories posted along with this one attest, many from our modern times, a great number of real-life events speak to the fact the presence in which Abericus believed is much more than a mere notion.
(* Gaudoin-Parker, Michael, The Real Presence Through the Ages (New York, Alba House, 1993) p. 8.)


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