In the N. T. possible references may be found in St. Matt. xi.29 (tapeinos te kardia) from v.65 (87); II. Tim. i.18 (heurein eleos) from v.15 (38); [in Numb. xi.15 only does the phrase elsewhere occur, but in another tense]; Heb. xii.23 (pneumata dikaion) from v.64 (86).
Our apocryphon' is often referred to or quoted by early Fathers to a remarkable extent, considering the brevity of the piece and its merely episodic character in the main narrative. The following are specimens:
Justin Martyr (167), Apol. I.46, En barbarois de Abraam kai Ananias kai Azarias kai Misael kai Elias kai alloi polloi. The names of the Three occur in this form and order in v.88 of the Song only.
Clem. Alex. (220) in his Eclogæ propheticæ, § 1 quotes several verses with en to Daniel gegraptai.
Hippolytus (230) recognizes the Song of the Three in his comment on Daniel, in loc., as well as in the Fragment preserved in the "Catena Patrum in Psalmos et Cantica " (Ante-Nic. Christian Lib. p.484). In the former place he comments on the words kai diecheito he phlox, and says that the Three edrosizonto in reference to v.50; in the latter, on the verse " O Ananias, Azarias," etc., he notes that everything is called to praise, hina me hos eleutheron autexousion gomisthe.
Tertullian (240) de Orat. § 15, says that they prayed, "in fornace Babylonii regis orantes." In § 29 he quotes vv.26, 27.
Origen (254) Comm. in Ep. ad Rom. i. c.10, ii. c.9, VII. c.1; Comm. in Matt. XIII. c.2 (naming the LXX); and in de Oratione xiii. xiv.
Cyprian (258) De lapsis 31 and De dom. orat.8, quotes this piece, in the latter case agreeing with Th rather than O'. Pseudo-Cypr. (some of whose writings Professor Swete, Patristic Study, 1902, p.67, deems to be contemporary with Cyprian or nearly so) in Oratio ii.2 says "misisti angelum tuum cum roribus tuis," agreeing with O'.
Eusebius (342), in his first Fragm. on Daniel, comments on iii.49, hosei pneuma drosou diasurizon (Th), and quotes Psalm xxviii.7 as illustrative. (In Constantine's "To the Convention of Saints," given in the translation of Eusebius (Camb.1683), much mention is made of Daniel in Babylon, but there is no clear indication of knowledge of the additions.)
Athanasius (373) quoted the Song in Ep. Pasch. x.3 ; and in Agst. Arians ii.71 he employs the Song to "arraign the Arian irreligion" (Newman's translation).
Ephrem Syrus (378). His commentary on Daniel does not embrace the additions, but in his Morning Hymn, rendered by H. Burgess (Lond.1853), we have "Sprinkle me with Thy dew, like the young men in the furnace."
Cyril of Jerusalem (386) quotes both the Prayer of Azarias (v.29) and the Song (v.54) in Catech. II.18 and IX.3 respectively, without hesitation (ed. Reischl, Munich, 1848).
Ambrose (397) in Luc. VII. "Cantaverunt Hebraei cum vestigia eorum tactu flammæ rorantis humescerent."
Hieronymus Græcus Theologus (cent. IV?) de Trin. treats the hymn, flames and dew in the furnace, mia kaminos ousa, as an emblem of the Three in One.
Sulpicius Severus (400 ?) Hist. sacr. II. § 5 shews knowledge of this Song by writing of the Three as "deambulantes in camino psalmum Deo dicere cernerentur."
Chrysostom (407) De incomprehensibili Dei natura V.7, hoi treis paides en kamino diegon . . . . legousin, ouk estin hemin k.t.l. In Isaiam VI. epei kai hoi paides hoi treis touto auto elegon schedon en te kamino ontes; ouk estin hemin anoixai to stoma. Hom. IV. ad pop. Antioch. (de statuis) tas hieras ekeinas anepempon euchas. Also De incarnatione VI.
Rufinus (410) adv. Hieron. lib. II. upbraids Jerome for not reckoning the piece canonical.
Jerome. (420). In the Comes or Lectionary, the Song is made use of, but probably the Comes is not really Jerome's. (See art. Lectionary, D.C.A.962a.)
Theodoret (457) in Letter CXLVI. quotes v.63 amongst a string of canonical texts; and also deals with the whole in his Commentary on Daniel, as consolidated with chap. iii.
Sedulius (460 ?). In his poem De tribus pueris there is nothing which goes beyond the canonical record; but, strangely enough, in his Miraculorum recapitulatio prædictorum there are the lines
? . . . . flagrante camino
Servavit sub rore pios."
And equally in the prose version "rore sydereo puerorum membra proluit in camino." This shews a recognition of v.50 (de la Bigne, Bibliotheca Patrum, ed.4, 1624, pp.660, 661, 914).
Verecundus (552) wrote a comment on some of the ecclesiastical canticles including the prayers of Azarias and Manasses (printed in Spicilegium Solesmense, Vol. IV.).
It is manifest, therefore, that Early Christian writers regarded the Song as of much value and importance; were well acquainted with it, and often quoted it in much the same manner as the canonical books. Occasionally, however, a knowledge of it is not shewn where we should have expected it; and in some cases we know that those who quoted it denied, or doubted, its canonicity.
This Greek insertion in the book of Daniel has, on the whole, offered less scope for the exercise of artistic talent than the history of Susanna or even than that of Bel and the Dragon. The nature of its contents, which consists in the main of a prayer and a song, reasonably accounts for this paucity of illustration. It does not lend itself so readily as its two companions to pictorial treatment. Nevertheless a certain number of examples are not wanting.
Loisy in his Canon of the O. T. (1890, p.95) remarks, "Dès avant le IV^e siècle, on ornait les catacombes de peintures dont les sujets avaient été fournis par Tobie et les fragments de Daniel."
In a fresco from the cemetery of St. Hermes, the Three Children are represented, each over a separate stoke-hole (or what looks like one), with hands elevated as if in prayer or praise, most likely in reference to v.1 (24), (see D.C.A. art. Fresco, p.700a). Another picture of figures somewhat different, yet with outstretched hands, is given from Bottari in the same Dictionary under art. Furnace. There are sculptured representations of the Three on the high crosses at Moone Abbey, and at Kells (M. Stokes, Early Christian Art in Ireland, Lond.1887, II.22).
In the Utrecht Psalter, over the Song are depicted, as well as in other places, the sun and the moon, very appropriately (D.C.A. art. Sun), and in other illuminated Psalters, pictures of the Three in the furnace are not uncommon. Thus Brit. Mus. MS. Additional 11836 has an illumination of the furnace scene.
The under side of the wooden roof of Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, was painted about 1870 with the series of natural objects mentioned in the Song proper, and with the words appertaining to each. A few extracts from Benedicite are on scrolls in a modern window on the south side of the chancel of St. James' Church, Bury St. Edmunds.
It is a little surprising that the series of objects named in this Song has not been more frequently chosen for decorative purposes on roofs, walls, or windows of ecclesiastical buildings, where a long series would be appropriate. Perhaps the length of the series, and the difficulty of making any but an arbitrary selection, has something to do with the rarity of its appearance.
A set of not very satisfactory wood-engravings by MacWhirter and others, one illustration to each verse, was published in a small book under the title of the Song of the Three Children illustrated (London, 1887).
The verse "O ye wells," etc., is said to be a frequent motto for the floral well-dressings at Tissington, in Derbyshire, and elsewhere, on Ascension Day; and a more appropriate one could hardly be found. But in general the Song of the Three Children has not, for the reason given above, and doubtless others besides, proved a popular subject in art.