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Why was Archbishop of Carthage, Cyriacus, arrested?

Why was Archbishop of Carthage, Cyriacus, arrested?

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In Life and Letters in Roman Africa page 117, it is mentioned that Cyriacus, the Archbishop of Carthage was arrested by Arab rulers on complaints by his own Roman Catholic followers.

I find it very odd that Christians complained to Muslim Arab rulers about their own Archbishop. He was of course not teaching something heretical as Pope Gregory VII took his side which means he wasn't doing anything considered thoelogically wrong.

What were those complaints which lead to his arrest by the Arab authorities?

Turns out that he

[R]efused to perform uncanonical consecration, and for this reason some of his flock accused him before the Saracenic emir, who tortured him in a cruel manner.



Another side to ecclesiastical appointment was the increasingly common pattern [… ] in which the appointment of church officials was confirmed by Muslim authorities. This not only entailed frequent intrigue and cajoling at the caliphal court but also the accordance of caliphal decrees in exchange for payment.

This is from page 117 of A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews Under Early Islam by Simonsohn. Google Books link

Why was Archbishop of Carthage, Cyriacus, arrested? - History


Often called the Maghreb, North-West Africa is today divided from west to east into three countries, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Two thousand years ago the area was inhabited by a people called the Berbers, but when the region was conquered by the Roman Empire, it was also colonized by Roman settlers.

Following settlement by the Jewish Diaspora and then the preaching of the Gospel, by the second century the area had started to become a centre of Latin-speaking Orthodoxy. Gradually, both Roman settlers and Romanized Berbers became Christian. In this way the region was to produce figures such as the Church writer Tertullian (c 155 - c 202), the martyr St Cyprian of Carthage (+ 258), the Righteous Monica, her son the philosopher Blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo I (+ 430) (1), the martyr St Julia of Carthage (5th century) and many other saints of God.

In the early centuries the Church here was also to be much shaken and divided by various heresies and schisms. There was fanatical Donatism from the fourth century onwards, Manicheanism which so tempted the pagan Augustine, and then Arianism brought by the invading Germanic Vandals in the fifth century. This dissidence and the ensuing schisms were much coloured by ethnic tensions between the wealthier Roman settlers and the poorer native Berbers, some of whom for ethnic and social reasons wished to differentiate themselves from the colonists.

Thus, the heresies and schisms of the region were much conditioned by politically-motivated nationalism. The process here was therefore similar to the rise of the ethnic heresies of Monophysitism and Nestorianism of the Copts in North-East Africa and the Semites in the Middle East. Nevertheless, in those areas Orthodoxy survived, whereas in North-West Africa, where there were once hundreds of Orthodox dioceses and bishops, today there are none. What happened? Let us look and see what we can learn from this tragedy for today.

The beginning of the end of Orthodoxy in North-West Africa came in the year 647 with the arrival from the east of the first Arab invaders, bringing Islam with them. The capture of St Cyprian's great Christian Metropolia of Carthage in 698 and the gradual Islamization of dissident native Berbers followed. For the Orthodox, Islam was (as it still is) a Christian heresy, or rather a heresy of a heresy. Therefore, for political and ethnic Berber dissidents, Islam was just another opportunity to be independent of Roman colonial administration. However, this still does not explain why here in North-West Africa, Orthodoxy did not survive, unlike in Egypt and the Middle East, where native Orthodox Christianity has survived to this day. When and why then did Orthodoxy disappear in North-West Africa?

Undoubtedly, the main cause was the progressive emigration of Christians of colonial origin, who sought refuge from Islamic taxes elsewhere. Many of them had interests, property and family in other countries of the Western Mediterranean. In a word, they had somewhere else to go. Thus, on the capture of Carthage in 698, there was a huge exodus to Sicily, Spain and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This exodus especially affected the educated elite, including churchmen, many of whom were not of native Berber origin, but were descendants of the Latin-speaking settlers of Roman times. This emigration continued in the eighth century. Some were even to settle as far north as Germany, as is mentioned in a letter of Pope Gregory II (715-731) to St Boniface.

Nevertheless, many Christians stayed on in North-West Africa throughout the eighth century and relations between Muslims and the remaining Christians, who by now often belonged to the same Berber race, were mainly cordial. Letters from the Christian Maghreb to Rome from the ninth century prove that Christianity was still a living faith at that time too. Although in the tenth century a reference to forty episcopal towns must be more historic rather than real, nevertheless Orthodoxy continued and several bishops and dioceses were active (2). Relations continued with the Patriarchal See in Rome and towards the end of the century, under Pope Benedict VII (974-983), a certain priest called James was sent to Rome to be consecrated Archbishop of Carthage. However, it is from this end of the tenth century that we hear that Christians are abandoning even the local form of Latin, and as in the Middle East, are using Arabic to communicate.

Unlike in North-East Africa and the Middle East, it is in the eleventh century that Orthodoxy finally begins to disappear in the Maghreb. Communities become isolated and ever smaller. For example, the church in Kairouan in Tunisia disappears from history in 1046 with the victory of militant Muslims. A second exodus occurs now, further weakening the Christian presence. In a letter from the Pope of Rome dated 17 December 1053, we hear that there are only five bishops left in all the Maghreb and that they are to recognize Thomas, Archbishop of Carthage as their Metropolitan. Two other bishops, Peter and John, perhaps of Tlemcen in Algeria or Gafsa in Tunisia, are mentioned, but we do not even know the names of the other two bishops at this time. By 1073 the Archbishop of Carthage is called Cyriacus, and there are now only two bishops left in all of North-West Africa. By 1076 he was alone and another bishop, Servandus, for Tunis, had to be consecrated in Rome.

These are the last communications that we have between the Christian Maghreb and Rome, which was by now in any case undergoing its own Gregorian Revolution. From this time on it is clear that surviving Christian communities are ever smaller and fewer, as emigration continues. With the capture of the Christian centre of Tunis in 1159 by the militant Muslim leader Abd al-Mu'min, who in 1160 also chased the Normans from what is now Tunisia, there was a further weakening. Without the protection of the Normans, a third exodus of Christians, following that of the end of the seventh century and the mid-eleventh century, now occurred.

Without monastic centres and writers, the Christians of the Maghreb faced assimilation. Unlike in the Middle East, where there were great figures like St John Damascene, there was no-one to argue the Orthodox cause with understanding of Islam, its culture and its language. There are no literary monuments, no Patristic figures, writing in either Latin or Arabic, from this period. The old Orthodox culture of North-West Africa was disappearing. True, even after the eleventh century, isolated survivals continued. Thus a Christian community is recorded in 1114 in Qal'a in central Algeria. In the mid-twelfth century an Africanized Latin was still being spoken by Orthodox in Gafsa in the south of Tunisia - at a time when Latin was nowhere spoken in Western Europe. And in 1194 a church and community dedicated to the Mother of God is recorded in Nefta, in the south of Tunisia (3).

In the thirteenth century, the apogee of Papal power, Spanish and Italians tried to conquer North-West Africa for Catholicism, as the Spanish had done in the Iberian Peninsula, and convert the Arab-speaking Muslims. However, importing Dominicans and other Catholics and setting up tiny chapels on the coastal fringes of the Maghreb led them nowhere. Not only did they fail to convert Muslims, but some of these imported Catholics within a few years themselves became Muslim (4). Moreover, these new religious imports had no contact whatsoever with the few remaining native Christians of the far older Orthodox Tradition. The latter were faithful, not to the new medieval Catholicism, but to the ancient Orthodox life of North-West Africa.

Thirteenth and fourteenth century Catholicism came from a different planet from that of historic Maghreban Orthodoxy. Thus, even though Berber Christians continued to live in Tunis and Nefzaoua in the south of Tunisia up until the early fifteenth century, they did not recognize the new Catholicism. In the first quarter of the fifteenth century, we even read that the native Christians of Tunis, though much assimilated, extended their church, perhaps because the last Christians from all over the Maghreb had gathered there (5). Moreover, this is the last reference to native Christianity in North-West Africa. Tunis seems to have been the last citadel from over twelve hundred years of Orthodoxy in North-West Africa. With assimilation in the sea of Islam, native Christianity now died out all over the Maghreb.

Enfeebled by ethnic and social division, weakened by the emigration of their elite and deprived of monastic life, not persecuted as such but nevertheless reduced by Islam to second-class citizens, isolated from the outside world, the Orthodox of the Maghreb were over seven centuries assimilated into the Muslim universe. In about 1400, after 700 years of faithfulness, the lamp of Orthodoxy in North-West Africa went out through lack of oil. It left vestiges only in folklore and language. For example, to this day the Touareg word for 'sacrifice' is 'tafaske', derived from the Latin word for Easter 'Pascha'.

From their tragic history, we can learn various lessons for today:

Firstly, we can learn of the need for Christians of different nationalities to work together in justice, without treating each other as second-class citizens. Whether they are Roman or Berber, Greek or African, Ukrainian or Romanian, Russian or English, they must treat one another as Orthodox Christians, avoiding divisions, putting their Faith, and not their ethnicity, first.

Secondly, we can learn of the vital importance of monastic life and the spiritual and intellectual training given there for clergy, thus ensuring the future survival of the Faith. A local Church can survive even with emigration, providing that it has a monastic basis. Whether, it is in North-West Africa or modern Western Europe, the United States or Australia, a Church without monastic life is a Church destined to close.

Thirdly, we can learn that to oppose the heterodox counter-culture surrounding us, we must first understand it and explain our views in terms and language which it can understand. Whether it is in Arabic or English, French or German, Spanish or Portuguese, a Church which does not speak the local language and understand the local culture, is a Church whose young are doomed to assimilation.

Finally, we can learn that it is vital for Orthodox not to become isolated from one another. If Orthodox have contact with other Orthodox, especially in other countries, they are more likely to remain Orthodox, remaining faithful to the Tradition, resisting local assimilation through uniatization and other forms of secularism.

May the Saints of North-West Africa, led by St Cyprian, protect us!

1 Now called Annaba. In 1963 Matushka was the last Christian to be baptized in St Anne's church in Blessed Augustine's City of Annaba, before it was destroyed the very next day by Muslim bulldozers.

2 See P. 332 of Le Christianisme maghrébin (LCM) by Mohamed Talbi in Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands, M. Gervers and R. Bikhazi, Toronto, 1990. I am indebted to this valuable article, which is largely based on Arabic sources, for much of this article.


Ngô Đình Thục was born in Huế to an affluent Roman Catholic family as the second of the six surviving sons born to Ngô Đình Khả, a mandarin of the Nguyễn dynasty who served Emperor Thành Thái during the French occupation of Vietnam.

Thục's elder brother, Khôi, served as a governor and mandarin of the French-controlled Emperor Bảo Đại's administration. At the end of World War Two, both Khôi and Thục's younger brother Diệm were arrested for having collaborated with the Japanese. [2] Diệm was released, but Khôi was subsequently shot by the Việt Minh as part of the August Revolution of 1945 (and not buried alive as is sometimes stated). [3] All of Thục's brothers, including Diệm, Nhu and Cẩn, were politically active. Diệm had been Interior Minister under Bảo Đại in the 1930s for a brief period, and sought power in the late 1940s and 1950s under a Catholic anti-communist platform as various groups tried to establish their rule over Vietnam. After being appointed Prime Minister, Diệm used a rigged referendum to remove Bao Dai and declare himself president of South Vietnam in 1955. Diệm, Nhu and Cẩn were all later assassinated during and shortly after the 1963 South Vietnamese coup.

At age twelve, Thục entered the minor seminary in An Ninh. He spent eight years there before going on to study philosophy at the major seminary in Huế. Following his ordination as a priest on 20 December 1925, he was selected to study theology in Rome, and is often said to have earned three doctorates from the Pontifical Gregorian University in philosophy, theology, and Canon law this is not substantiated by the university's archives however. [4] He briefly lectured at the Sorbonne and gained teaching qualifications before returning to Vietnam in 1927. [4] He then became a professor at the College of Vietnamese Brothers in Huế, a professor at the major seminary in Huế, and Dean of the College of Providence. In 1938, he was chosen by Rome to direct the Apostolic Vicariate at Vĩnh Long. He was consecrated a bishop on 4 May 1938, being the third Vietnamese priest raised to the rank of bishop.

In 1950 Diệm and Thục applied for permission to travel to Rome for the Holy Year celebrations at the Vatican but went instead to Japan to lobby Prince Cường Để to enlist support to seize power. They met Wesley Fishel, an American academic consultant for the U.S. government. Fishel was a proponent of the anti-colonial, anti-communist third force doctrine in Asia and was impressed by Diệm. He helped the brothers organise contacts and meetings in the United States to enlist support. [5]

With the outbreak of the Korean War and McCarthyism in the early 1950s, Vietnamese anti-communists were a sought-after commodity in the United States. Diệm and Thục were given a reception at the State Department with the Acting Secretary of State James Webb, where Thục did much of the talking. Diệm and Thục also forged links with Cardinal Francis Spellman, the most politically influential cleric of his time, and Spellman became one of Diệm's most powerful advocates. Diệm then managed an audience with Pope Pius XII in Rome with his brother's help, and then settled in the US as a guest of the Maryknoll Fathers. [6] Spellman helped Diệm to garner support among right-wing and Catholic circles. Thục was widely seen as more genial, loquacious, and diplomatic than his brother, and it was acknowledged that Thục would be highly influential in the future regime. [7] As French power in Vietnam declined, Diệm’s support in America, which Thục helped to nurture, made his stock rise. Bảo Đại made Diệm the Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam because he thought Diệm's connections would secure foreign financial aid. [8]

Diệm's rule Edit

In October 1955, Diệm deposed Bảo Đại in a fraudulent referendum organised by Nhu and declared himself President of the newly proclaimed Republic of Vietnam, which then concentrated power in the Ngô family, who were dedicated Roman Catholics in a Buddhist majority country. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] Power was enforced through secret police and the imprisonment and torture of political and religious opponents. The Ngôs' policies and conduct inflamed religious tensions. The government was biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions. [16] Thuc, the most powerful religious leader in the country, was allowed to solicit "voluntary contributions to the Church" from Saigon businessmen, which was likened to "tax notices". [17] Thuc also used his position to acquire farms, businesses, urban real estate, rental property and rubber plantations for the Catholic Church. He also used Army of the Republic of Vietnam personnel to work on his timber and construction projects. [18]

Buddhist unrest and downfall of Diệm Edit

In May 1963, in the central city of Huế, where Thục was archbishop, Buddhists were prohibited from displaying the Buddhist flag during Vesak celebrations commemorating the birth of Gautama Buddha, when the government cited a regulation prohibiting the display of non-government flags at Thục's request. [19] A few days earlier, Catholics were encouraged to fly Vatican flags to celebrate Thục's 25th anniversary as bishop. Government funds were used to pay for Thục's anniversary celebrations, and the residents of Huế—a Buddhist stronghold—were also forced to contribute. These perceived double standards led to a Buddhist protest against the government, which was ended when nine civilians were shot dead or run over when the military attacked. Despite footage showing otherwise, the Ngôs blamed the Việt Cộng for the deaths, [20] [21] and protests for equality broke out across the country. Major Dang Sy, the commanding officer in the incident, later revealed that Archbishop Thục had personally given him the order to open fire. [22] Thục called for his brothers to forcefully suppress the protesters. Later, the Ngôs' forces attacked and vandalised Buddhist pagodas across the country in an attempt to crush the burgeoning movement. It is estimated that up to 400 people were killed or disappeared. [23]

Diệm was overthrown and assassinated together with Nhu on 2 November 1963. Ngô Đình Cẩn was sentenced to death and executed in 1964. Of the six brothers, only Thục and Luyện survived the political upheavals in Vietnam. Luyện, the youngest, was serving as ambassador in London, and Thục had been summoned to Rome for the Second Vatican Council. Because of the coup, Thục remained in Rome during the Council years (1962–65), and after the Council, none of the relevant governments - American, Vietnamese or The Vatican consented to him returning to Vietnam. [24] To evade punishment by the post-Diệm government, Archbishop Thục was not allowed to return to his duties at home and thus began his life in exile, initially in Rome. [25]

Apparently becoming convinced of a crisis devastating the Roman Catholic Church, and coming under the increasing influence of sedevacantist Catholics, Thục consecrated several bishops without a mandate from the Holy See. [26] In December 1975 he went to Palmar de Troya, where he ordained Clemente Domínguez y Gómez — who claimed to have repeatedly witnessed apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary — and others, and the following month he consecrated Dominguez and four of the Palmar sect as bishops on the recommendation of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. [27] [28] Thục stated that he had gone to Palmar de Troya on the spur of the moment, though contemporary sources show him to have been a regular visitor since 1968. [29]

Thục moved to Toulon, France, where he was assigned a confessional in the cathedral until about 1981. He at least once concelebrated the Mass of Paul VI (the new rite of Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969) in the vernacular. According to one sedevacantist journal, Thục served at the Mass of Paul VI as an acolyte several times. [30] Shortly after his arrival he consecrated Jean Laborie as an independent bishop, even though Laborie had been consecrated twice previously.

In May 1981 Thục consecrated a French priest, Michel-Louis Guérard des Lauriers, as bishop. [27] Des Lauriers was a Dominican, an expert on the dogma of the Assumption and advisor to Pope Pius XII, [31] and former professor at the Pontifical Lateran University. In October 1981, he consecrated two Mexican priests and former seminary professors, Moisés Carmona (of Acapulco) and Adolfo Zamora (of Mexico City). [32] Both of these priests were convinced that the Papal See of Rome was vacant and the successors of Pope Pius XII were heretical usurpers of papal office and power. In February 1982, in Munich's Sankt Michael church, Thục issued a declaration that the Holy See in Rome was vacant, intimating that he desired a restoration of the hierarchy to end the vacancy. However, his newly consecrated bishops became a fragmented group. Many limited themselves essentially to sacramental ministry and only consecrated a few other bishops. [33]

Thục may have performed other consecrations besides the five bishops at Palmar de Troya and the three sedevacantists in 1981. He is said to have consecrated two priests, Luigi Boni and Jean Gerard Roux, in Loano in Italy on 18 April 1982, but a Dr. Heller, of Una Voce in Munich, has said that Thục was with him in Munich on that date. [34] The bishops consecrated by Thục proceeded to consecrate other bishops for various Catholic splinter groups, many of them sedevacantists.

Thục departed for the United States in 1983 at the invitation of Bishop Louis Vezelis, a Franciscan former missionary priest who had agreed to receive episcopal consecration by the Thục line Bishop George J. Musey, assisted by co-consecrators, Bishops Carmona, Zamora and Martínez, in order to provide bishops for an "imperfect council" which was to take place later in Mexico in order to elect a legitimate Pope from among themselves. [ citation needed ] Thục began to be increasingly sought-out by the expatriate and refugee Vietnamese community, including old friends and contacts from Huế and Saigon. [35] They facilitated his extraction from the sedevacantist world and, after two formal excommunications in 1975 and 1983, Thục returned to the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in 1976 and definitively in 1984. [36] [37] Thục died at the monastery of the Vietnamese American religious Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix on 13 December 1984, at Carthage, Missouri, aged 87.

Slave of the Word

Cyprian (pictured left)(died 258 A.D.), Bishop of Carthage, said that Christians in his time were not giving “even . . . the tenths from our patrimony and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store.” In another statement, he says that the clergy receive “as they do in the gifts and donations of their brethren the tenth portion, as it were, of the fruits of the earth.” The emphasis of this passage is on the clergy receiving adequate support for their ministry, as the Levites and priests did in the Old Testament. Rather than urging Christians to tithe, he used the phrase “as it were,” which, according to Murray, “suggests that the reference to tithing is by way of comparison rather than an indication that Cyprian was instructing his readers to comply literally with this Old Testament principle.” Futhermore, G. W. Clarke said that this phrase proves that tithing was not practiced during Cyprian’s day. Cyprian appeared to believe that the tithe was the minimum and that it was voluntary.

Finally, a document from Syria around 225 A.D., the Didascalia Apostolorum, contains some important thoughts on tithing and the law-gospel relationship. Regarding the former, the document said that the laws of the “Second Legislation,” which were all the laws given after the Ten Commandments, should be avoided they were only given after Israel worshipped idols in the wilderness. Jesus fulfilled the law, that is, “set us loose from the bonds of the Second Legislation.” While it may appear at first that the document was supporting tithing to the bishop, it also said: “No more be bound with sacrifices and oblations, and with sin offerings, purifications, and vows . . . nor yet with tithes and firstfruits . . . . for it was laid upon them [i.e. the Israelites] to give all these things as of necessity, but you are not bound by these things. . . . Now thus shall your righteousness abound more than their tithes and firstfruits and part-offerings, when you shall do as it is written: Sell all thou hast, and give to the poor.” Thus, the old system of tithing has no place in Christianity since a new system has been instituted by the New Testament.

References and Resources :

Cyprian, Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise I: On the Unity of the Church 26 (ANF 5:429). For incidental references to tithing, see Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise IV: On the Lord’s Prayer 6, Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise V: An Address to Demetrianus 25 Epistle 65 1 Epistle 74 10.

Cyprian, “Letter 1,” 1.2 in The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage, trans & ann. G. W. Clarke, vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers 43 (New York: Newman, 1984), 1:52.

Murray, Beyond Tithing, 105.

G. W. Clarke, The Letters of St Cyprian of Carthage, Ancient Christian Writers 43 (New York: Newman Press, 1984), 157. Here’s the quote: “The tamquam must imply that a strict system of tithing did not operate at the time in this area.”

Powers, “Historical Study of the Tithe,” 27.

R. Hugh Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum: The Syriac Version Translated and Accompanied by the Verona Latin Fragments (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), lxxxvii–xci, 13󈝺, 96, 98, 224󈞆.


Early life and education Edit

John was born in Antioch in 347. [16] [17] Different scholars describe his mother Anthusa as a pagan [18] or as a Christian, and his father was a high-ranking military officer. [19] John's father died soon after his birth and he was raised by his mother. He was baptised in 368 or 373 and tonsured as a reader (one of the minor orders of the Church). It is sometimes said that he was bitten by a snake when he was ten years old, leading to him getting an infection from the bite. [20]

As a result of his mother's influential connections in the city, John began his education under the pagan teacher Libanius. [21] From Libanius, John acquired the skills for a career in rhetoric, as well as a love of the Greek language and literature. [22]

As he grew older, however, John became more deeply committed to Christianity and went on to study theology under Diodore of Tarsus, founder of the re-constituted School of Antioch. According to the Christian historian Sozomen, Libanius was supposed to have said on his deathbed that John would have been his successor "if the Christians had not taken him from us". [23]

John lived in extreme asceticism and became a hermit in about 375 he spent the next two years continually standing, scarcely sleeping, and committing the Bible to memory. As a consequence of these practices, his stomach and kidneys were permanently damaged and poor health forced him to return to Antioch. [24]

Diaconate and service in Antioch Edit

John was ordained as a deacon in 381 by the bishop Meletius of Antioch who was not then in communion with Alexandria and Rome. After the death of Meletius, John separated himself from the followers of Meletius, without joining Paulinus, the rival of Meletius for the bishopric of Antioch. But after the death of Paulinus he was ordained a presbyter (priest) in 386 by Flavian, the successor of Paulinus. [25] He was destined later to bring about reconciliation between Flavian I of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, thus bringing those three sees into communion for the first time in nearly seventy years. [26]

In Antioch, over the course of twelve years (386–397), John gained popularity because of the eloquence of his public speaking at the Golden Church, Antioch's cathedral, especially his insightful expositions of Bible passages and moral teaching. The most valuable of his works from this period are his Homilies on various books of the Bible. He emphasised charitable giving and was concerned with the spiritual and temporal needs of the poor. He spoke against abuse of wealth and personal property:

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: "This is my body" is the same who said: "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food", and "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me". What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well. [27]

His straightforward understanding of the Scriptures – in contrast to the Alexandrian tendency towards allegorical interpretation – meant that the themes of his talks were practical, explaining the Bible's application to everyday life. Such straightforward preaching helped Chrysostom to garner popular support. [2]

One incident that happened during his service in Antioch illustrates the influence of his homilies. When Chrysostom arrived in Antioch, Flavian, the bishop of the city, had to intervene with emperor Theodosius I on behalf of citizens who had gone on a rampage mutilating statues of the emperor and his family. During the weeks of Lent in 387, John preached more than twenty homilies in which he entreated the people to see the error of their ways. These made a lasting impression on the general population of the city: many pagans converted to Christianity as a result of the homilies. The city was ultimately spared from severe consequences. [7]

Archbishop of Constantinople Edit

In the autumn of 397, John was appointed archbishop of Constantinople, after having been nominated without his knowledge by the eunuch Eutropius. He had to leave Antioch in secret due to fears that the departure of such a popular figure would cause civil unrest. [28]

During his time as archbishop he adamantly refused to host lavish social gatherings, which made him popular with the common people, but unpopular with wealthy citizens and the clergy. His reforms of the clergy were also unpopular. He told visiting regional preachers to return to the churches they were meant to be serving—without any pay-out. [29] Also he founded a number of hospitals in Constantinople. [30] [31]

His time in Constantinople was more tumultuous than his time in Antioch. Theophilus, the patriarch of Alexandria, wanted to bring Constantinople under his sway and opposed John's appointment to Constantinople. Theophilus had disciplined four Egyptian monks (known as "the Tall Brothers") over their support of Origen's teachings. They fled to John and were welcomed by him. Theophilus therefore accused John of being too partial to the teaching of Origen. He made another enemy in Aelia Eudoxia, wife of emperor Arcadius, who assumed that John's denunciations of extravagance in feminine dress were aimed at herself. [7] Eudoxia, Theophilus and other of his enemies held a synod in 403 (the Synod of the Oak) to charge John, in which his connection to Origen was used against him. It resulted in his deposition and banishment. He was called back by Arcadius almost immediately, as the people became "tumultuous" over his departure, even threatening to burn the imperial palace. [32] [ unreliable source? ] There was an earthquake the night of his arrest, which Eudoxia took for a sign of God's anger, prompting her to ask Arcadius for John's reinstatement. [33] [ unreliable source? ]

Peace was short-lived. A silver statue of Eudoxia was erected in the Augustaion, near his cathedral, the Constantinian Hagia Sophia. John denounced the dedication ceremonies as pagan and spoke against the empress in harsh terms: "Again Herodias raves again she is troubled she dances again and again desires to receive John's head in a charger", [34] [ unreliable source? ] an allusion to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist. Once again he was banished, this time to the Caucasus in Abkhazia. [35] [ page needed ] His banishment sparked riots among his supporters in the capital, and in the fighting the cathedral built by Constantius II was burnt down, necessitating the construction of the second cathedral on the site, the Theodosian Hagia Sophia.

Around 405, John began to lend moral and financial support to Christian monks who were enforcing the emperors' anti-Pagan laws, by destroying temples and shrines in Phoenicia and nearby regions. [36] [ unreliable source? ]

Exile and death Edit

The causes of John's exile are not clear, though Jennifer Barry suggests that they have to do with his connections to Arianism. Other historians, including Wendy Mayer and Geoffrey Dunn, have argued that "the surplus of evidence reveals a struggle between Johannite and anti-Johannite camps in Constantinople soon after John's departure and for a few years after his death". [37] Faced with exile, John Chrysostom wrote an appeal for help to three churchmen: Pope Innocent I, Venerius, the bishop of Mediolanum (Milan), and the third to Chromatius, the bishop of Aquileia. [38] [39] [40] In 1872, church historian William Stephens wrote:

The Patriarch of the Eastern Rome appeals to the great bishops of the West, as the champions of an ecclesiastical discipline which he confesses himself unable to enforce, or to see any prospect of establishing. No jealousy is entertained of the Patriarch of the Old Rome by the patriarch of the New Rome. The interference of Innocent is courted, a certain primacy is accorded him, but at the same time he is not addressed as a supreme arbitrator assistance and sympathy are solicited from him as from an elder brother, and two other prelates of Italy are joint recipients with him of the appeal. [41]

Pope Innocent I protested John's banishment from Constantinople to the town of Cucusus (Göksun) in Cappadocia, but to no avail. Innocent sent a delegation to intercede on behalf of John in 405. It was led by Gaudentius of Brescia Gaudentius and his companions, two bishops, encountered many difficulties and never reached their goal of entering Constantinople. [42]

John wrote letters which still held great influence in Constantinople. As a result of this, he was further exiled from Cucusus (where he stayed from 404 to 407) to Pitiunt (Pityus) (in modern Georgia) where his tomb is a shrine for pilgrims. He never reached this destination, as he died at Comana Pontica on 14 September 407 during the journey. His last words are said to have been "Δόξα τῷ Θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν" (Glory be to God for all things). [33]

Veneration and canonization Edit

John came to be venerated as a saint soon after his death. Almost immediately after, an anonymous supporter of John (known as pseudo-Martyrius) wrote a funeral oration to reclaim John as a symbol of Christian orthodoxy. [37] But three decades later, some of his adherents in Constantinople remained in schism. [43] Saint Proclus, archbishop of Constantinople (434–446), hoping to bring about the reconciliation of the Johannites, preached a homily praising his predecessor in the Church of Hagia Sophia. He said, "O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint." [44]

These homilies helped to mobilize public opinion, and the patriarch received permission from the emperor to return Chrysostom's relics to Constantinople, where they were enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles on 28 January 438. The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates him as a "Great Ecumenical Teacher", with Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. These three saints, in addition to having their own individual commemorations throughout the year, are commemorated together on 30 January, a feast known as the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs. [45]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church there are several feast days dedicated to him:

  • 27 January, Translation of the relics of Saint John Chrysostom from Comana to Constantinople [46]
  • 30 January, Synaxis of the Three Great Hierarchs [46]
  • 14 September, Repose of Saint John Chrysostom [46]
  • 13 November, celebration was transferred from 14 September by the 10th century AD as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross became more prominent. [46] According to Brian Croke, 13 November is the date news of John Chrysostom's death reached Constantinople. [47]

Homilies Edit

Paschal Homily Edit

The best known of his many homilies is an extremely brief one, the Paschal Homily (Hieratikon), which is read at the first service of Pascha (Easter), the midnight Orthros (Matins), in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

General Edit

Chrysostom's extant homiletical works are vast, including many hundreds of exegetical homilies on both the New Testament (especially the works of Saint Paul) and the Old Testament (particularly on Genesis). Among his extant exegetical works are sixty-seven homilies on Genesis, fifty-nine on the Psalms, ninety on the Gospel of Matthew, eighty-eight on the Gospel of John, and fifty-five on the Acts of the Apostles. [48]

The homilies were written down by stenographers and subsequently circulated, revealing a style that tended to be direct and greatly personal, but formed by the rhetorical conventions of his time and place. [49] In general, his homiletical theology displays much characteristic of the Antiochian school (i.e., somewhat more literal in interpreting Biblical events), but he also uses a good deal of the allegorical interpretation more associated with the Alexandrian school. [48]

John's social and religious world was formed by the continuing and pervasive presence of paganism in the life of the city. One of his regular topics was the paganism in the culture of Constantinople, and in his homilies he thunders against popular pagan amusements: the theatre, horseraces, and the revelry surrounding holidays. [50] In particular, he criticizes Christians for taking part in such activities:

If you ask [Christians] who is Amos or Obadiah, how many apostles there were or prophets, they stand mute but if you ask them about the horses or drivers, they answer with more solemnity than sophists or rhetors. [51]

One of the recurring features of John's homilies is his emphasis on care for the needy. [52] Echoing themes found in the Gospel of Matthew, he calls upon the rich to lay aside materialism in favor of helping the poor, often employing all of his rhetorical skills to shame wealthy people to abandon conspicuous consumption:

Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold? [53]

Along these lines, he wrote often about the need for almsgiving and its importance alongside fasting and prayer, e.g. “Prayer without almsgiving is unfruitful.” [54]

Homilies against Jews and Judaizing Christians Edit

During his first two years as a presbyter in Antioch (386–387), John denounced Jews and Judaizing Christians in a series of eight homilies delivered to Christians in his congregation who were taking part in Jewish festivals and other Jewish observances. [55] It is disputed whether the main target were specifically Judaizers or Jews in general. His homilies were expressed in the conventional manner, utilizing the uncompromising rhetorical form known as the psogos (Greek: blame, censure). [ citation needed ]

One of the purposes of these homilies was to prevent Christians from participating in Jewish customs, and thus prevent the perceived erosion of Chrysostom's flock. In his homilies, John criticized those "Judaizing Christians", who were participating in Jewish festivals and taking part in other Jewish observances, such as the shabbat, submitted to circumcision and made pilgrimage to Jewish holy places. [56] There had been a revival of Jewish faith and tolerance in Antioch in 361, so Chrysostom's followers and the greater Christian community were in contact with Jews frequently, and Chrysostom was concerned that this interaction would draw Christians away from their faith identity. [57]

John claimed that synagogues were full of Christians, especially Christian women, on the shabbats and Jewish festivals, because they loved the solemnity of the Jewish liturgy and enjoyed listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and applauded famous preachers in accordance with the contemporary custom. [58] A more recent theory is that he instead tried to persuade Jewish Christians, who for centuries had kept connections with Jews and Judaism, to choose between Judaism and Christianity. [59] He also refers to Jews as outsiders, illnesses, idolaters, lewd, and beast-like. [60]

Due to Chrysostom's stature in the Christian church, both locally and within the greater church hierarchy, his sermons were fairly successful in spreading anti-Jewish sentiment. This prompted the introduction of anti-Jewish legislation and social regulations, increasing the separation between the two communities. Despite being in a pluralistic world, Chrysostom and many other early Christians aimed to establish a community that was distinct from all others, and limited the presence of non-Christians. [ citation needed ]

Since there were only two other ordained individuals in Antioch who were legally recognized as able to preach Christianity, Chrysostom was able to reach a majority of the local population, especially with his skills in the art of orating. [61] He held great social and political power in Antioch, and was able to determine where one was or was not allowed to physically go he frequently spoke about acts of violence taking place in Jewish spaces to dissuade Christians from going there. [62]

In Greek the homilies are called Kata Ioudaiōn (Κατὰ Ἰουδαίων), which is translated as Adversus Judaeos in Latin and Against the Jews in English. [63] The original Benedictine editor of the homilies, Bernard de Montfaucon, gives the following footnote to the title: "A discourse against the Jews but it was delivered against those who were Judaizing and keeping the fasts with them [the Jews]." [63]

According to Patristics scholars, opposition to any particular view during the late 4th century was conventionally expressed in a manner, utilizing the rhetorical form known as the psogos, whose literary conventions were to vilify opponents in an uncompromising manner thus, it has been argued that to call Chrysostom an "anti-Semite" is to employ anachronistic terminology in a way incongruous with historical context and record. [64] This does not preclude assertions that Chrysostom's theology was a form of anti-Jewish supersessionism. [65]

Anglican priest James Parkes called Chrysostom's writing on Jews "the most horrible and violent denunciations of Judaism to be found in the writings of a Christian theologian". [66] According to historian William I. Brustein, his sermons against Jews gave further momentum to the idea that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. [67] Steven Katz cites Chrysostom's homilies as “the decisive turn in the history of Christian anti-Judaism, a turn whose ultimate disfiguring consequence was enacted in the political antisemitism of Adolf Hitler.” [68]

Homily against homosexuality Edit

According to Robert H. Allen, "Chrysostom's learning and eloquence spans and sums up a long age of ever-growing moral outrage, fear and loathing of homosexuality." [69] His most notable discourse in this regard is his fourth homily on Romans 1:26, [70] where he argues as follows:

All these affections then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored, than the body in diseases. . [The men] have done an insult to nature itself. And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more sense of shame than men. [71]

He says the active male victimizes the passive male in a way that leaves him more enduringly dishonored than even a victim of murder since the victim of this act must "live under" the shame of the "insolency". [71] The victim of a murder, by contrast, carries no dishonor. He asserts that punishment will be found in hell for such transgressors and that women can be guilty of the sin as much as men. Chrysostom argues that the male passive partner has effectively renounced his manhood and become a woman – such an individual deserves to be "driven out and stoned". He attributes the cause to "luxury". "Do not, he means (Paul), because you have heard that they burned, suppose that the evil was only in desire. For the greater part of it came of their luxuriousness, which also kindled into flame their lust". [71]

According to scholar Michael Carden, Chrysostom was particularly influential in shaping early Christian thought that same-sex desire was an evil – altering the traditional interpretation of Sodom as a place of inhospitality, to one where the sexual transgressions of the Sodomites became paramount. [72]

Treatises Edit

Apart from his homilies, a number of John's other treatises have had a lasting influence. One such work is John's early treatise Against Those Who Oppose the Monastic Life, written while he was a deacon (sometime before 386), which was directed to parents, pagan as well as Christian, whose sons were contemplating a monastic vocation. [73] Chrysostom wrote that, already in his day, it was customary for Antiochenes to send their sons to be educated by monks. [74]

Another important treatise written by John is titled On the Priesthood (written 390/391, it contains in Book 1 an account of his early years and a defence of his flight from ordination by bishop Meletios of Antioch, and then proceeds in later books to expound on his exalted understanding of the priesthood). Two other notable books by John are Instructions to Catechumens and On the Incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature. [75] In addition, he wrote a series of letters to the deaconess Olympias, of which seventeen are extant. [76]

Liturgy Edit

Beyond his preaching, the other lasting legacy of John is his influence on Christian liturgy. Two of his writings are particularly notable. He harmonized the liturgical life of the Church by revising the prayers and rubrics of the Divine Liturgy, or celebration of the Holy Eucharist. To this day, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite typically celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom as the normal Eucharistic liturgy, although his exact connection with it remains a matter of debate among experts. [77]

During a time when city clergy were subject to criticism for their high lifestyle, John was determined to reform his clergy in Constantinople. These efforts were met with resistance and limited success. He was an excellent preacher [77] whose homilies and writings are still studied and quoted. As a theologian, he has been and continues to be very important in Eastern Christianity, and is generally considered among the Three Holy Hierarchs of the Greek Church, but has been less important to Western Christianity. His writings have survived to the present day more so than any of the other Greek Fathers. [2]

Influence on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and clergy Edit

Regardless of his lesser influence than, say, Thomas Aquinas, John's influence on church teachings is interwoven throughout the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (revised 1992). [ citation needed ] The Catechism cites him in eighteen sections, particularly his reflections on the purpose of prayer and the meaning of the Lord's Prayer: [ citation needed ]

Consider how [Jesus Christ] teaches us to be humble, by making us see that our virtue does not depend on our work alone but on grace from on high. He commands each of the faithful who prays to do so universally, for the whole world. For he did not say "thy will be done in me or in us", but "on earth", the whole earth, so that error may be banished from it, truth take root in it, all vice be destroyed on it, virtue flourish on it, and earth no longer differ from heaven. [78]

Christian clerics, such as R. S. Storr, refer to him as "one of the most eloquent preachers who ever since apostolic times have brought to men the divine tidings of truth and love", and the 19th-century John Henry Newman described John as a "bright, cheerful, gentle soul a sensitive heart". [79]

Music and literature Edit

John's liturgical legacy has inspired several musical compositions. Particularly noteworthy [ citation needed ] are Sergei Rachmaninoff's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 31, composed in 1910, [80] one of his two major unaccompanied choral works Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41 and Ukrainian composer Kyrylo Stetsenko's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Arvo Pärt's Litany sets Chrysostom's twenty-four prayers, one for each hour of the day, [81] for soli, mixed choir and orchestra. And the compositions of Alexander Grechaninovs "Liturgy of Johannes Chrysostomos No. 1, Op. 13 (1897)", "Liturgy of Johannes Chrysostomos No. 2, Op.29 (1902)", "Liturgia Domestica (Liturgy Johannes Chrysostomos No. 3), Op. 79 (1917)" and "Liturgy of Johannes Chrysostomos No. 4, Op. 177 (1943)" are noteworthy. [ citation needed ]

James Joyce's novel Ulysses includes a character named Mulligan who brings 'Chrysostomos' into another character (Stephen Dedalus)'s mind because Mulligan's gold-stopped teeth and his gift of the gab earn him the title which St. John Chrysostom's preaching earned him, 'golden-mouthed': [82] "[Mulligan] peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Chrysostomos." [83]

The legend of the penance of Saint John Chrysostom Edit

A late medieval legend (not included in the Golden Legend) relates that, when John Chrysostom was a hermit in the desert, he was approached by a royal princess in distress. [ citation needed ] [84] The Saint, thinking she was a demon, at first refused to help her, but the princess convinced him that she was a Christian and would be devoured by wild beasts if she were not allowed to enter his cave. He therefore admitted her, carefully dividing the cave in two parts, one for each of them. In spite of these precautions, the sin of fornication was committed, and in an attempt to hide it the distraught saint took the princess and threw her over a precipice. He then went to Rome to beg absolution, which was refused. Realising the appalling nature of his crimes, Chrysostom made a vow that he would never rise from the ground until his sins were expiated, and for years he lived like a beast, crawling on all fours and feeding on wild grasses and roots. Subsequently, the princess reappeared, alive, and suckling the saint's baby, who miraculously pronounced his sins forgiven. This last scene was very popular from the late 15th century onwards as a subject for engravers and artists. [ citation needed ] The theme was depicted by Albrecht Dürer around 1496, [85] Hans Sebald Beham and Lucas Cranach the Elder, among others. Martin Luther mocked this same legend in his Die Lügend von S. Johanne Chrysostomo (1537). [86] [87] The legend was recorded in Croatia in the 16th century. [88] [ non-primary source needed ]

Relics Edit

John Chrysostom died in the city of Comana in the year 407 on his way to his place of exile. There his relics remained until 438 when, thirty years after his death, they were transferred to Constantinople during the reign of the empress Eudoxia's son, the emperor Theodosius II (408–450), under the guidance of John's disciple, Proclus, who by that time had become archbishop of Constantinople (434–447). [ citation needed ]

Most of John's relics were looted from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 and taken to Rome, but some of his bones were returned to the Orthodox Church on 27 November 2004 by Pope John Paul II. [89] [90] [91] Since 2004 the relics have been enshrined in the Church of St. George, Istanbul. [92]

The skull, however, having been kept at the monastery at Vatopedi on Mount Athos in northern Greece, was not among the relics that were taken by the crusaders in the 13th century. In 1655, at the request of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the skull was taken to Russia, for which the monastery was compensated in the sum of 2000 rubles. In 1693, having received a request from the Vatopedi Monastery for the return of Saint John's skull, Tsar Peter the Great ordered that the skull remain in Russia but that the monastery was to be paid 500 rubles every four years. The Russian state archives document these payments up until 1735. The skull was kept at the Moscow Kremlin, in the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God, until 1920, when it was confiscated by the Soviets and placed in the Museum of Silver Antiquities. In 1988, in connection with the 1000th Anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, the head, along with other important relics, was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and kept at the Epiphany Cathedral, until being moved to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour after its restoration. [ citation needed ]

Today, the monastery at Vatopedi posits a rival claim to possessing the skull of John Chrysostom, and there a skull is venerated by pilgrims to the monastery as that of Saint John. Two sites in Italy also claim to have the saint's skull: the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence and the Dal Pozzo chapel in Pisa. The right hand of Saint John [93] [ unreliable source? ] is preserved on Mount Athos, and numerous smaller relics are scattered throughout the world. [94]

Widely used editions of Chrysostom's works are available in Greek, Latin, English, and French. The Greek edition is edited by Sir Henry Savile (eight volumes, Eton, 1613) the most complete Greek and Latin edition is edited by Bernard de Montfaucon (thirteen volumes, Paris, 1718–38, republished in 1834–40, and reprinted in Migne's "Patrologia Graeca", volumes 47–64). There is an English translation in the first series of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (London and New York, 1889–90). A selection of his writings has been published more recently in the original with facing French translation in Sources Chrétiennes. [ citation needed ]


Little is known for certain of Cyril's early life. He was born circa 376, in the town of Didouseya, Egypt, modern-day El-Mahalla El-Kubra. [8] A few years after his birth, his maternal uncle Theophilus rose to the powerful position of Patriarch of Alexandria. [9] His mother remained close to her brother and under his guidance, Cyril was well educated. His writings show his knowledge of Christian writers of his day, including Eusebius, Origen, Didymus the Blind, and writers of the Church of Alexandria. He received the formal Christian education standard for his day: he studied grammar from age twelve to fourteen (390–392), [10] rhetoric and humanities from fifteen to twenty (393–397) and finally theology and biblical studies (398–402). [10]

In 403, he accompanied his uncle to attend the "Synod of the Oak" in Constantinople, [11] which deposed John Chrysostom as Archbishop of Constantinople. [12] The prior year, Theophilus had been summoned by the emperor to Constantinople to apologize before a synod, over which Chrysostom would preside, on account of several charges which were brought against him by certain Egyptian monks. Theophilus had them persecuted as Origenists. [13] Placing himself at the head of soldiers and armed servants, Theophilus had marched against the monks, burned their dwellings, and ill-treated those whom he captured. [14] Theophilus arrived at Constantinople with twenty-nine of his suffragan bishops, and conferring with those opposed to the Archbishop, drafted a long list of largely unfounded accusations against Chrysostom, [15] who refused to recognize the legality of a synod in which his open enemies were judges. Chrysostom was subsequently deposed.

Patriarch of Alexandria Edit

Theophilus died on 15 October 412, and Cyril was made Pope or Patriarch of Alexandria on 18 October 412, but only after a riot between his supporters and those of his rival Archdeacon Timotheus. According to Socrates Scholasticus, the Alexandrians were always rioting. [1]

Thus, Cyril followed his uncle in a position that had become powerful and influential, rivalling that of the prefect in a time of turmoil and frequently violent conflict between the cosmopolitan city's pagan, Jewish, and Christian inhabitants. [16] He began to exert his authority by causing the churches of the Novatianists to be closed and their sacred vessels to be seized.

Dispute with the Prefect Edit

Orestes, Praefectus augustalis of the Diocese of Egypt, steadfastly resisted Cyril's ecclesiastical encroachment onto secular prerogatives. [17]

Tension between the parties increased when in 415, Orestes published an edict that outlined new regulations regarding mime shows and dancing exhibitions in the city, which attracted large crowds and were commonly prone to civil disorder of varying degrees. Crowds gathered to read the edict shortly after it was posted in the city's theater. Cyril sent the grammaticus Hierax to discover the content of the edict. The edict angered Christians as well as Jews. At one such gathering, Hierax read the edict and applauded the new regulations, prompting a disturbance. Many people felt that Hierax was attempting to incite the crowd—particularly the Jews—into sedition. [18] Orestes had Hierax tortured in public in a theatre. This order had two aims: one to quell the riot, the other to mark Orestes' authority over Cyril. [19] [17]

Socrates Scholasticus recounts that upon hearing of Hierex's severe and public punishment, Cyril threatened to retaliate against the Jews of Alexandria with "the utmost severities" if the harassment of Christians did not cease immediately. In response to Cyril's threat, the Jews of Alexandria grew even more furious, eventually resorting to violence against the Christians. They plotted to flush the Christians out at night by running through the streets claiming that the Church of Alexander was on fire. When Christians responded to what they were led to believe was the burning down of their church, "the Jews immediately fell upon and slew them" by using rings to recognize one another in the dark and killing everyone else in sight. When the morning came, Cyril, along with many of his followers, took to the city's synagogues in search of the perpetrators of the massacre. [20]

According to Socrates Scholasticus, after Cyril rounded up all the Jews in Alexandria he ordered them to be stripped of all possessions, banished them from Alexandria, and allowed their goods to be pillaged by the remaining citizens of Alexandria. Scholasticus indicates that all the Jews were banished, while John of Nikiû says only those involved in the ambush. Susan Wessel says that, while it is not clear whether Scholasticus was a Novationist (whose churches Cyril had closed), he was apparently sympathetic towards them, and makes clear Cyril's habit of abusing his episcopal power by infringing on the rights and duties of the secular authorities. Wessel says ". Socrates probably does not provide accurate and unambiguous information about Cyril's relationship to imperial authority". [21]

Nonetheless, with Cyril's banishment of the Jews, however many, "Orestes [. ] was filled with great indignation at these transactions, and was excessively grieved that a city of such magnitude should have been suddenly bereft of so large a portion of its population." [20] Because of this, the feud between Cyril and Orestes intensified, and both men wrote to the emperor regarding the situation. Eventually, Cyril attempted to reach out to Orestes through several peace overtures, including attempted mediation and, when that failed, showed him the Gospels, which he interpreted to indicate that the religious authority of Cyril would require Orestes' acquiescence in the bishop's policy. [22] Nevertheless, Orestes remained unmoved by such gestures.

This refusal almost cost Orestes his life. Nitrian monks came from the desert and instigated a riot against Orestes among the population of Alexandria. These monks had resorted to violence 15 years before, during a controversy between Theophilus (Cyril's uncle) and the "Tall Brothers" the monks assaulted Orestes and accused him of being a pagan. Orestes rejected the accusations, showing that he had been baptised by the Archbishop of Constantinople. A monk named Ammonius threw a stone hitting Orestes in the head. The prefect had Ammonius tortured to death, whereupon the Patriarch honored him as a martyr. However, according to Scholasticus, the Christian community displayed a general lack of enthusiasm for Ammonius's case for martyrdom. The prefect then wrote to the emperor Theodosius II, as did Cyril. [23] [24]

Murder of Hypatia Edit

The Prefect Orestes enjoyed the political backing of Hypatia, an astronomer, philosopher and mathematician who had considerable moral authority in the city of Alexandria, and who had extensive influence. At the time of her death, she was probably over sixty years of age. Indeed, many students from wealthy and influential families came to Alexandria purposely to study privately with Hypatia, and many of these later attained high posts in government and the Church. Several Christians thought that Hypatia's influence had caused Orestes to reject all conciliatory offerings by Cyril. Modern historians think that Orestes had cultivated his relationship with Hypatia to strengthen a bond with the pagan community of Alexandria, as he had done with the Jewish one, in order to better manage the tumultuous political life of the Egyptian capital. [25] A mob, led by a lector named Peter, took Hypatia from her chariot and murdered her, hacking her body apart and burning the pieces outside the city walls. [26] [27]

Neoplatonist historian Damascius (c. 458 – c. 538) was "anxious to exploit the scandal of Hypatia's death", and attributed responsibility for her murder to Bishop Cyril and his Christian followers. [28] Damascius's account of the Christian murder of Hypatia is the sole historical source attributing direct responsibility to Bishop Cyril. [29] Some modern studies represent Hypatia's death as the result of a struggle between two Christian factions, the moderate Orestes, supported by Hypatia, and the more rigid Cyril. [30] According to lexicographer William Smith, "She was accused of too much familiarity with Orestes, prefect of Alexandria, and the charge spread among the clergy, who took up the notion that she interrupted the friendship of Orestes with their archbishop, Cyril." [31] Scholasticus writes that Hypatia ultimately fell "victim to the political jealousy which at the time prevailed". News of Hypatia's murder provoked great public denunciation, not only of Cyril but of the whole Alexandrian Christian community.

Conflict with Nestorius Edit

Another major conflict was between the Alexandrian and Antiochian schools of ecclesiastical reflection, piety, and discourse. This long running conflict widened with the third canon of the First Council of Constantinople which granted the see of Constantinople primacy over the older sees of Alexandria and Antioch. Thus, the struggle between the sees of Alexandria and Antioch now included Constantinople. The conflict came to a head in 428 after Nestorius, who originated in Antioch, was made Archbishop of Constantinople. [32]

Cyril gained an opportunity to restore Alexandria's pre-eminence over both Antioch and Constantinople when an Antiochine priest who was in Constantinople at Nestorius' behest began to preach against calling Mary the "Mother of God" (Theotokos). As the term "Mother of God" had long been attached to Mary, the laity in Constantinople complained against the priest. Rather than repudiating the priest, Nestorius intervened on his behalf. Nestorius argued that Mary was neither a "Mother of Man" nor "Mother of God" as these referred to Christ's two natures rather, Mary was the "Mother of Christ" (Greek: Christotokos). Christ, according to Nestorius, was the conjunction of the Godhead with his "temple" (which Nestorius was fond of calling his human nature). The controversy seemed to be centered on the issue of the suffering of Christ. Cyril maintained that the Son of God or the divine Word, truly suffered "in the flesh." [33] However, Nestorius claimed that the Son of God was altogether incapable of suffering, even within his union with the flesh. [34] Eusebius of Dorylaeum went so far as to accuse Nestorius of adoptionism. By this time, news of the controversy in the capital had reached Alexandria. At Easter 429 A.D., Cyril wrote a letter to the Egyptian monks warning them of Nestorius's views. A copy of this letter reached Constantinople where Nestorius preached a sermon against it. This began a series of letters between Cyril and Nestorius which gradually became more strident in tone. Finally, Emperor Theodosius II convoked the Council of Ephesus (in 431) to solve the dispute. Cyril selected Ephesus [10] as the venue since it supported the veneration of Mary. The council was convoked before Nestorius's supporters from Antioch and Syria had arrived and thus Nestorius refused to attend when summoned. Predictably, the Council ordered the deposition and exile of Nestorius for heresy.

However, when John of Antioch and the other pro-Nestorius bishops finally reached Ephesus, they assembled their own Council, condemned Cyril for heresy, deposed him from his see, and labelled him as a "monster, born and educated for the destruction of the church". [35] Theodosius, by now old enough to hold power by himself, annulled the verdict of the Council and arrested Cyril, but Cyril eventually escaped. Having fled to Egypt, Cyril bribed Theodosius's courtiers, and sent a mob led by Dalmatius, a hermit, to besiege Theodosius's palace, and shout abuse the Emperor eventually gave in, sending Nestorius into minor exile (Upper Egypt). [35] Cyril died about 444, but the controversies were to continue for decades, from the "Robber Synod" of Ephesus (449) to the Council of Chalcedon (451) and beyond.

Cyril regarded the embodiment of God in the person of Jesus Christ to be so mystically powerful that it spread out from the body of the God-man into the rest of the race, to reconstitute human nature into a graced and deified condition of the saints, one that promised immortality and transfiguration to believers. Nestorius, on the other hand, saw the incarnation as primarily a moral and ethical example to the faithful, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Cyril's constant stress was on the simple idea that it was God who walked the streets of Nazareth (hence Mary was Theotokos, meaning "God bearer", which became in Latin "Mater Dei or Dei Genitrix", or Mother of God), and God who had appeared in a transfigured humanity. Nestorius spoke of the distinct "Jesus the man" and "the divine Logos" in ways that Cyril thought were too dichotomous, widening the ontological gap between man and God in a way that some of his contemporaries believed would annihilate the person of Christ.

The main issue that prompted this dispute between Cyril and Nestorius was the question which arose at the Council of Constantinople: What exactly was the being to which Mary gave birth? Cyril affirmed that the Holy Trinity consists of a singular divine nature, essence, and being (ousia) in three distinct aspects, instantiations, or subsistencies of being (hypostases). These distinct hypostases are the Father or God in Himself, the Son or Word (Logos), and the Holy Spirit. Then, when the Son became flesh and entered the world, the pre-Incarnate divine nature and assumed human nature both remained, but became united in the person of Jesus. This resulted in the miaphysite slogan "One Nature united out of two" being used to encapsulate the theological position of this Alexandrian bishop.

According to Cyril's theology, there were two states for the Son of God: the state that existed prior to the Son (or Word/Logos) becoming enfleshed in the person of Jesus and the state that actually became enfleshed. The Logos Incarnate suffered and died on the Cross, and therefore the Son was able to suffer without suffering. Cyril passionately argued for the continuity of a single subject, God the Word, from the pre-Incarnate state to the Incarnate state. The divine Logos was really present in the flesh and in the world—not merely bestowed upon, semantically affixed to, or morally associated with the man Jesus, as the adoptionists and, he believed, Nestorius had taught.

Mariology Edit

Cyril of Alexandria became noted in Church history because of his spirited fight for the title "Theotokos [36] " during the First Council of Ephesus (431).

His writings include the homily given in Ephesus and several other sermons. [37] Some of his alleged homilies are in dispute as to his authorship. In several writings, Cyril focuses on the love of Jesus to his mother. On the Cross, he overcomes his pain and thinks of his mother. At the wedding in Cana, he bows to her wishes. Cyril created the basis for all other mariological developments through his teaching of the blessed Virgin Mary, as the "Mother of God." [38] The conflict with Nestorius was mainly over this issue, and it has often been misunderstood. "[T]he debate was not so much about Mary as about Jesus. The question was not what honors were due to Mary, but how one was to speak of the birth of Jesus." [38] St. Cyril received an important recognition of his preachings by the Second Council of Constantinople (553 d.C.) which declared

"St. Cyril who announced the right faith of Christians" (Anathematism XIV, Denzinger et Schoenmetzer 437).

Cyril was a scholarly archbishop and a prolific writer. In the early years of his active life in the Church he wrote several exegetical documents. Among these were: Commentaries on the Old Testament, [39] Thesaurus, Discourse Against Arians, Commentary on St. John's Gospel, [40] and Dialogues on the Trinity. In 429 as the Christological controversies increased, the output of his writings was so extensive that his opponents could not match it. His writings and his theology have remained central to the tradition of the Fathers and to all Orthodox to this day.


Athanasius was born to a Christian family in the city of Alexandria [6] or possibly the nearby Nile Delta town of Damanhur sometime between the years 293 and 298. The earlier date is sometimes assigned due to the maturity revealed in his two earliest treatises Contra Gentes (Against the Heathens) and De Incarnatione (On the Incarnation), which were admittedly written about the year 318 before Arianism had begun to make itself felt, as those writings do not show an awareness of Arianism. [1]

However Cornelius Clifford places his birth no earlier than 296 and no later than 298, based on the fact that Athanasius indicates no first hand recollection of the Maximian persecution of 303, which he suggests Athanasius would have remembered if he had been ten years old at the time. Secondly, the Festal Epistles state that the Arians had accused Athanasius, among other charges, of not having yet attained the canonical age (30) and thus could not have been properly ordained as Patriarch of Alexandria in 328. The accusation must have seemed plausible. [1] The Orthodox Church places his year of birth around 297. [6]

Education Edit

His parents were wealthy enough to give him a fine secular education. [1] He was, nevertheless, clearly not a member of the Egyptian aristocracy. [7] Some Western scholars consider his command of Greek, in which he wrote most (if not all) of his surviving works, evidence that he may have been a Greek born in Alexandria. Historical evidence, however, indicates that he was fluent in Coptic as well given the regions of Egypt where he preached. [7] Some surviving copies of his writings are in fact in Coptic, though scholars differ as to whether he himself wrote them in Coptic originally (which would make him the first patriarch to do so), or whether these were translations of writings originally in Greek. [8] [7]

Rufinus relates a story that as Bishop Alexander stood by a window, he watched boys playing on the seashore below, imitating the ritual of Christian baptism. He sent for the children and discovered that one of the boys (Athanasius) had acted as bishop. After questioning Athanasius, Bishop Alexander informed him that the baptisms were genuine, as both the form and matter of the sacrament had been performed through the recitation of the correct words and the administration of water, and that he must not continue to do this as those baptized had not been properly catechized. He invited Athanasius and his playfellows to prepare for clerical careers. [9]

Alexandria was the most important trade centre in the whole empire during Athanasius's boyhood. Intellectually, morally, and politically—it epitomized the ethnically diverse Graeco-Roman world, even more than Rome or Constantinople, Antioch or Marseilles. [9] Its famous catechetical school, while sacrificing none of its famous passion for orthodoxy since the days of Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Dionysius and Theognostus, had begun to take on an almost secular character in the comprehensiveness of its interests, and had counted influential pagans among its serious auditors. [10]

Peter of Alexandria, the 17th archbishop of Alexandria, was martyred in 311 in the closing days of the persecution, and may have been one of those teachers. His successor as bishop of Alexandria was Alexander of Alexandria (312–328). According to Sozomen "the Bishop Alexander 'invited Athanasius to be his commensal and secretary. He had been well educated, and was versed in grammar and rhetoric, and had already, while still a young man, and before reaching the episcopate, given proof to those who dwelt with him of his wisdom and acumen' ".(Soz., II, xvii) [1]

Athanasius' earliest work, Against the Heathen – On the Incarnation (written before 319), bears traces of Origenist Alexandrian thought (such as repeatedly quoting Plato and using a definition from Aristotle's Organon) but in an orthodox way. Athanasius was also familiar with the theories of various philosophical schools, and in particular with the developments of Neo-Platonism. Ultimately, Athanasius would modify the philosophical thought of the School of Alexandria away from the Origenist principles such as the "entirely allegorical interpretation of the text". Still, in later works, Athanasius quotes Homer more than once (Hist. Ar. 68, Orat. iv. 29).

Athanasius knew Greek and admitted not knowing Hebrew [see, e.g., the 39th Festal Letter of St. Athan.]. The Old Testament passages he quotes frequently come from the Septuagint Greek translation. Only rarely did he use other Greek versions (to Aquila once in the Ecthesis, to other versions once or twice on the Psalms), and his knowledge of the Old Testament was limited to the Septuagint. [11] [ full citation needed ] The combination of Scriptural study and of Greek learning was characteristic of the famous Alexandrian School. [ citation needed ]

Bishop (or Patriarch, the highest ecclesial rank in the Centre of the Church, in Alexandria) Alexander ordained Athanasius a deacon in 319. [12] [ page needed ] In 325, Athanasius served as Alexander's secretary at the First Council of Nicaea. Already a recognized theologian and ascetic, he was the obvious choice to replace his ageing mentor Alexander as the Patriarch of Alexandria, [13] [ page needed ] despite the opposition of the followers of Arius and Meletius of Lycopolis. [12]

At length, in the Council of Nicaea, the term "consubstantial" (homoousios) was adopted, and a formulary of faith embodying it was drawn up by Hosius of Córdoba. From this time to the end of the Arian controversies the word "consubstantial" continued to be the test of orthodoxy. The formulary of faith drawn up by Hosius is known as the Nicene Creed. [14] [ page needed ] However, "he was not the originator of the famous 'homoousion' (ACC of homoousios). The term had been proposed in a non-obvious and illegitimate sense by Paul of Samosata to the Fathers at Antioch, and had been rejected by them as savouring of materialistic conceptions of the Godhead." [1]

While still a deacon under Alexander's care (or early in his patriarchate as discussed below) Athanasius may have also become acquainted with some of the solitaries of the Egyptian desert, and in particular Anthony the Great, whose life he is said to have written. [9]

Opposition to Arianism Edit

In about 319, when Athanasius was a deacon, a presbyter named Arius came into a direct conflict with Alexander of Alexandria. It appears that Arius reproached Alexander for what he felt were misguided or heretical teachings being taught by the bishop. [15] Arius' theological views appear to have been firmly rooted in Alexandrian Christianity. [16] He embraced a subordinationist Christology which taught that Christ was the divine Son (Logos) of God, made, not begotten, heavily influenced by Alexandrian thinkers like Origen, [17] and which was a common Christological view in Alexandria at the time. [18] Arius had support from a powerful bishop named Eusebius of Nicomedia (not to be confused with Eusebius of Caesarea), [19] illustrating how Arius's subordinationist Christology was shared by other Christians in the Empire. Arius was subsequently excommunicated by Alexander, and he would begin to elicit the support of many bishops who agreed with his position. [ citation needed ]

Patriarch Edit

Papal styles of
Pope Athanasius I
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious stylePope and Patriarch
Posthumous styleSaint

Frances A. M. Forbes writes that when the Patriarch Alexander was on his death-bed he called Athanasius, who fled fearing he would be constrained to be made bishop. "When the Bishops of the Church assembled to elect their new Patriarch, the whole Catholic population surrounded the church, holding up their hands to Heaven and crying "Give us Athanasius!" The Bishops had nothing better. Athanasius was thus elected, as Gregory tells us. " (Pope Gregory I, would have full access to the Vatican Archives). [20]

T. Gilmartin, (Professor of History, Maynooth, 1890), writes in Church History, Vol. 1, Ch XVII: "On the death of Alexander, five months after the termination of the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius was unanimously elected to fill the vacant see. He was most unwilling to accept the dignity, for he clearly foresaw the difficulties in which it would involve him. The clergy and people were determined to have him as their bishop, Patriarch of Alexandria, and refused to accept any excuses. He at length consented to accept a responsibility that he sought in vain to escape, and was consecrated in 326, when he was about thirty years of age." [14] [ page needed ]

Athanasius' episcopate began on 9 May 328 as the Alexandrian Council elected Athanasius to succeed after the death of Alexander, and was consecrated in A.D. 326.". [14] [ page needed ] Patriarch Athanasius spent over 17 years in five exiles ordered by four different Roman Emperors, not counting approximately six more incidents in which Athanasius fled Alexandria to escape people seeking to take his life. [13]

During his first years as bishop, Athanasius visited the churches of his territory, which at that time included all of Egypt and Libya. He established contacts with the hermits and monks of the desert, including Pachomius, which proved very valuable to him over the years. [13]

"During the forty-eight years of his episcopate, his history is told in the history of the controversies in which he was constantly engaged with the Arians, and of the sufferings he had to endure in defence of the Nicene faith. We have seen that when Arius was allowed to return from exile in 328, Athanasius refused to remove the sentence of excommunication." [14] [ page needed ]

First exile Edit

Athanasius' first problem lay with Meletius of Lycopolis and his followers, who had failed to abide by the First Council of Nicaea. That council also anathematized Arius. Accused of mistreating Arians and Meletians, Athanasius answered those charges at a gathering of bishops in Tyre, the First Synod of Tyre, in 335. There, Eusebius of Nicomedia and other supporters of Arius deposed Athanasius. [12] On 6 November, both sides of the dispute met with Emperor Constantine I in Constantinople. [21] At that meeting, the Arians claimed Athanasius would try to cut off essential Egyptian grain supplies to Constantinople. He was found guilty, and sent into exile to Augusta Treverorum in Gaul (now Trier in Germany). [12] [13] [ page needed ] [22]

When Athanasius reached his destination in exile in 336, Maximin of Trier received him, but not as a disgraced person. Athanasius stayed with him for two years. [23] Constantine died in 337 and was succeeded by his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius, and Constans. Paul I of Constantinople, who had also been banished by Constantius, also found shelter with Maximin, who cautioned the Emperor Constans against the Arians, revealing their plots. [ citation needed ]

Second exile Edit

When Emperor Constantine I died, Athanasius was allowed to return to his See of Alexandria. Shortly thereafter, however, Constantine's son, the new Roman Emperor Constantius II, renewed the order for Athanasius's banishment in 338. 'Within a few weeks he set out for Rome to lay his case before the Church at large. He had made his appeal to Pope Julius, who took up his cause with whole-heartedness that never wavered down to the day of that holy pontiff's death. The pope summoned a synod of bishops to meet in Rome. After a careful and detailed examination of the entire case, the primate's innocence was proclaimed to the Christian world.'. [1] During this time, Gregory of Cappadocia, an Arian bishop, was installed as the Patriarch of Alexandria, usurping the absent Athanasius. Athanasius did, however, remain in contact with his people through his annual Festal Letters, in which he also announced on which date Easter would be celebrated that year. [13] [ page needed ]

In 339 or 340, nearly one hundred bishops met at Alexandria, declared in favour of Athanasius, [24] and vigorously rejected the criticisms of the Eusebian faction at Tyre. Plus, Pope Julius I wrote to the supporters of Arius strongly urging Athanasius's reinstatement, but that effort proved in vain. Pope Julius I called a synod in Rome in 340 to address the matter, which proclaimed Athanasius the rightful bishop of Alexandria. [25]

Early in the year 343 we find Athanasius had travelled, via Rome, from Alexandria, North Africa, to Gaul nowadays Belgium / Holland and surrounding areas, where Hosius of Córdoba was bishop, the great champion of orthodoxy in the West. Together they set out for Serdica. A full Council of the Church was convened / summoned there in deference to the Roman pontiff's wishes. The travel was a mammoth task in itself. At this great gathering of prelates, leaders of the Church, the case of Athanasius was taken up once more, that is, Athanasius was formally questioned over misdemeanours and even murder, (a man called Arsenius and using his body for magic – an absurd charge. They even produced Arsenius' severed hand.) [22]

The Council was convoked for the purpose of inquiring into the charges against Athanasius and other bishops, on account of which they were deposed from their sees by the Semi-Arian Synod of Antioch (341), and went into exile. It was called according to Socrates, (E. H. ii. 20) by the two Emperors, Constans and Constantius but, according to Baronius by Pope Julius (337–352), (Ad an. 343). One hundred and seventy six attended. Eusebian bishops objected to the admission of Athanasius and other deposed bishops to the Council, except as accused persons to answer the charges brought against them. Their objections were overridden by the orthodox bishops, about a hundred were orthodox, who were the majority. The Eusebians, seeing they had no chance of having their views carried, retired to Philoppopolis in Thrace, where they held an opposition council, under the presidency of the Patriarch of Antioch, and confirmed the decrees of the Synod of Antioch. [14] [ page needed ]

Athanasius' innocence was reaffirmed at the Council of Serdica. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. Meanwhile, the Eusebian party had gone to Philippopolis, where they issued an anathema against Athanasius and his supporters. The persecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigour, and Constantius was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if Athanasius attempted to re-enter his see, he should be put to death. Athanasius, accordingly, withdrew from Serdica to Naissus in Mysia, where he celebrated the Easter festival of the year 344. [1] It was Hosius who presided over the Council of Serdica, as he did for the First Council of Nicaea, which like the 341 synod, found Athanasius innocent. [26] He celebrated his last Easter in exile in Aquileia in April 345, received by bishop Fortunatianus. [27]

Eastern Bishop Gregory of Cappadocia died, probably of violence in June of 345. The emissary to the Emperor Constantius sent by the bishops of the Council of Serdica to report the finding of the Council, who had been met at first with most insulting treatment, now received a favourable hearing. Constantius was forced to reconsider his decision, owing to a threatening letter from his brother Constans and the uncertain conditions of affairs on the Persian border, and he accordingly made up his mind to yield. But three separate letters were needed to overcome the natural hesitation of Athanasius. He passed rapidly from Aquileia to Treves, from Treves to Rome and from Rome by way of the northern route to Adrianople, Edirne, and Antioch, Ankara, where he met Constantius. He was accorded a gracious interview by the Emperor, and sent back to his See in triumph, and began his memorable ten years of peace, which lasted to the third exile, 356. [1]

Pope Julius died in April 352, and was succeeded by Liberius. For two years Liberius had been favourable to the cause of Athanasius but driven at last into exile, he was induced to sign an ambiguous formula, from which the great Nicene text, the "homoousion", had been studiously omitted. In 355 a council was held at Milan, where in spite of the vigorous opposition of a handful of loyal prelates among the Western bishops, a fourth condemnation of Athanasius was announced to the world. With his friends scattered, Hosius in exile, and Pope Liberius denounced as acquiescing in Arian formularies, Athanasius could hardly hope to escape. On the night of 8 February 356, while engaged in services in the Church of St. Thomas, a band of armed men burst in to secure his arrest. It was the beginning of his third exile. [1]

T. Gilmartin, (Professor of History, Maynooth, 1890), writes in Church History, Vol. 1, Ch XVII: By Constantius' order, the sole ruler of The Roman Empire at the death of his brother Constans, the Council of Arles in 353, was held, which was presided over by Vincent, Bishop of Capua, in the name of Pope Liberius. The fathers terrified of the threats of the Emperor, an avowed Arian, they consented to the condemnation of Athanasius. The Pope refused to accept their decision, and requested the Emperor to hold another Council, in which the charges against Athanasius could be freely investigated. To this Constantius consented, for he felt able to control the Council in Milan. [14] [ page needed ]

Three hundred bishops assembled in Milan, most from the West, only a few from the East, in 355. They met in the Church of Milan. Shortly, the Emperor ordered them to a hall in the Imperial Palace, thus ending any free debate. He presented an Arian formula of faith for their acceptance. He threatened any who refused with exile and death. All, with the exception of Dionysius (bishop of Milan), and the two Papal Legates, viz., Eusebius of Vercelli and Lucifer of Cagliari, consented to the Arian Creed and the condemnation of Athanasius. Those who refused were sent into exile. The decrees were forwarded to the Pope for approval, but were rejected, because of the violence to which the bishops were subjected. [14] [ page needed ]

Third exile Edit

Through the influence of the Eusebian faction at Constantinople, an Arian bishop, George of Cappadocia, was now appointed to rule the see of Alexandria. Athanasius, after remaining some days in the neighbourhood of the city, finally withdrew into the desert of Upper Egypt, where he remained for a period of six years, living the life of the monks, devoting himself to the composition of a group of writings "Apology to Constantius", the "Apology for his Flight", the "Letter to the Monks", and the "History of the Arians". [1]

Constantius, renewing his previous policies favouring the Arians, banished Athanasius from Alexandria once again. This was followed, in 356, by an attempt to arrest Athanasius during a vigil service. [28] Athanasius fled to Upper Egypt, where he stayed in several monasteries and other houses. During this period, Athanasius completed his work Four Orations against the Arians and defended his own recent conduct in the Apology to Constantius and Apology for His Flight. Constantius' persistence in his opposition to Athanasius, combined with reports Athanasius received about the persecution of non-Arians by the new Arian bishop George of Laodicea, prompted Athanasius to write his more emotional History of the Arians, in which he described Constantius as a precursor of the Antichrist. [13]

Constantius ordered Liberius into exile in 356 giving him three days to comply. He was ordered into banishment to Beroea, in Thrace. He sent expensive presents if he were to accept the Arian position, which Liberius refused. He sent him five hundred pieces of gold "to bear his charges" which Liberius refused, saying he might bestow them on his flatterers as he did also a like present from the empress, bidding the messenger learn to believe in Christ, and not to persecute the Church of God. Attempts were made to leave the presents in The Church, but Liberius threw them out. Constantius hereupon sent for him under a strict guard to Milan, where in a conference recorded by Theodore, he boldly told Constantius that Athanasius had been acquitted at Serdica, and his enemies proved calumniators (see: "calumny") and impostors, and that it was unjust to condemn a person who could not be legally convicted of any crime. The emperor was reduced to silence on every article, but being the more out of patience, ordered him into banishment. [14] [ page needed ]

Liberius went into exile. Constantius, after two years went to Rome to celebrate the twentieth year of his reign. The ladies joined in a petition to him that he would restore Liberius. He assented, upon condition that he should comply with the bishops, then, at court. He subscribed the condemnation of Athanasius, and a confession or creed which had been framed by the Arians at Sirmium. And he no sooner had recovered his see that he declared himself for the Creed of Niceae, as Theodoret testifies. (Theodoret, Hist. lib. ii. c. 17.). [29] The Emperor knew what he wanted people to believe. So did the bishops at his court. Athanasius stuck by the orthodox creed. [22] Constantius was an avowed Arian, became sole ruler in 350, at the death of his brother, Constans. [14] [ page needed ]

T. Gilmartin, (Professor of History, Maynooth, 1890), writes in Church History, Vol. 1, Ch XVII:

The Arians sought the approval of an Ecumenical Council. They sought to hold two councils. Constantius, summoned the bishops of the East to meet at Seleucia in Isauria, and those of the West to Rimini in Italy. A preliminary conference was held by the Arians at Sirmium, to agree a formula of faith. A "Homoeon" creed was adopted, declaring The Son to be "like the Father". The two met in autumn of 359. At Seleucia, one hundred and fifty bishops, of which one hundred and five were semi-Arian. The semi-Arians refused to accept anything less than the "Homoiousion", (see: Homoiousian), formulary of faith. The Imperial Prefect was obliged to disband, without agreeing on any creed. [14]

Acacius, the leader of the "Homoean" party went to Constantinople, where the Sirmian formulary of faith was approved by the "Home Synod", (consisted of those bishops who happened to be present at the Court for the time), and a decree of deposition issued against the leaders of the semi-Arians. At Rimini were over four hundred of which eighty were Arian, the rest were orthodox. The orthodox fathers refused to accept any creed but the Nicene, while the others were equally in favour of the Sirmian. Each party sent a deputation to the Emperor to say there was no probability to agreement, and asked for the bishops to return to their dioceses. For the purpose of wearing-down the orthodox bishops (Sulpitius Severius says), Constantius delayed his answer for several months, and finally prevailed on them to accept the Sirmian creed. It was after this Council that Jerome said: " . the whole world groaned in astonishment to find itself Arian." [14] [ page needed ]

The Arians no longer presented an unbroken front to their orthodox opponents. The Emperor Constantius, who had been the cause of so much trouble, died on 4 November 361 and was succeeded by Julian. The proclamation of the new prince's accession was the signal for a pagan outbreak against the still dominant Arian faction in Alexandria. George, the usurping bishop, was flung into prison and murdered. An obscure presbyter of the name of Pistus was immediately chosen by the Arians to succeed him, when fresh news arrived that filled the orthodox party with hope. An edict had been put forth by Julian permitting the exiled bishops of the "Galileans" to return to their "towns and provinces". Athanasius received a summons from his own flock, and he accordingly re-entered his episcopal capitol on 22 February 362. [1]

In 362 he convened a council at Alexandria, and presided over it with Eusebius of Vercelli. Athanasius appealed for unity among all those who had faith in Christianity, even if they differed on matters of terminology. This prepared the groundwork for his definition of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. However, the council also was directed against those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the human soul of Christ, and Christ's divinity. Mild measures were agreed on for those heretic bishops who repented, but severe penance was decreed for the chief leaders of the major heresies. [30]

With characteristic energy he set to work to re-establish the somewhat shattered fortunes of the orthodox party and to purge the theological atmosphere of uncertainty. To clear up the misunderstandings that had arisen in the course of the previous years, an attempt was made to determine still further the significance of the Nicene formularies. In the meanwhile, Julian, who seems to have become suddenly jealous of the influence that Athanasius was exercising at Alexandria, addressed an order to Ecdicius, the Prefect of Egypt, peremptorily commanding the expulsion of the restored primate, on the ground that he had never been included in the imperial act of clemency. The edict was communicated to the bishop by Pythicodorus Trico, who, though described in the "Chronicon Athanasianum" (XXXV) as a "philosopher", seems to have behaved with brutal insolence. On 23 October the people gathered about the proscribed bishop to protest against the emperor's decree but Athanasius urged them to submit, consoling them with the promise that his absence would be of short duration. [1]

Fourth exile Edit

In 362, the new Emperor Julian, noted for his opposition to Christianity, ordered Athanasius to leave Alexandria once again. Athanasius left for Upper Egypt, remaining there with the Desert Fathers until Julian's death on 26 June 363. Athanasius returned in secret to Alexandria, where he soon received a document from the new emperor, Jovian, reinstating him once more in his episcopal functions. [1]

His first act was to convene a council which reaffirmed the terms of the Nicene Creed. Early in September 363 he set out for Antioch on the Orontes, bearing a synodal letter, in which the pronouncements of this council had been embodied. At Antioch he had an interview with the new emperor, who received him graciously and even asked him to prepare an exposition of the orthodox faith. The following February Jovian died and in October, 364, Athanasius was once more an exile. [1]

Fifth exile Edit

Two years later, the Emperor Valens, who favoured the Arian position, in his turn exiled Athanasius. This time Athanasius simply left for the outskirts of Alexandria, where he stayed for only a few months before the local authorities convinced Valens to retract his order of exile. [13] Some early reports state that Athanasius spent this period of exile at his family's ancestral tomb [12] in a Christian cemetery. It was during this period, the final exile, that he is said to have spent four months in hiding in his father's tomb. (Soz., "Hist. Eccl.", VI, xii Soc., "Hist. Eccl.", IV, xii). [1]

The accession of Valens gave a fresh lease of life to the Arian party. He issued a decree banishing the bishops who had been deposed by Constantius, but who had been permitted by Jovian to return to their sees. The news created the greatest consternation in the city of Alexandria itself, and the prefect, in order to prevent a serious outbreak, gave public assurance that the very special case of Athanasius would be laid before the emperor. But Athanasius seems to have divined what was preparing in secret against him. He quietly withdrew from Alexandria, 5 October, and took up his abode in a country house outside the city. Valens, who seems to have sincerely dreaded the possible consequences of another popular outbreak, within a few weeks issued orders allowing Athanasius to return to his episcopal see. [1]

In 366 Pope Liberius died and was succeeded by Pope Damasus, a man of strong character and holy life. Two years later, in a council of the Church, it was decreed that no Bishop should be consecrated unless he held the Creed of Nicea. (F. A. Forbes). [20]

Final years and death Edit

After returning to Alexandria in early 366, Athanasius spent his final years repairing all the damage done during the earlier years of violence, dissent, and exile. He resumed writing and preaching undisturbed, and characteristically re-emphasized the view of the Incarnation which had been defined at Nicaea. On 2 May 373, having consecrated Peter II, one of his presbyters as his successor, Athanasius died peacefully in his own bed, surrounded by his clergy and faithful supporters. [9]

In Coptic literature, Athanasius is the first patriarch of Alexandria to use Coptic as well as Greek in his writings. [8]

Polemical and theological works Edit

Athanasius was not a speculative theologian. As he stated in his First Letters to Serapion, he held on to "the tradition, teaching, and faith proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers." [12] He held that not only was the Son of God consubstantial with the Father, but so was the Holy Spirit, which had a great deal of influence in the development of later doctrines regarding the Trinity. [12]

Athanasius' "Letter Concerning the Decrees of the Council of Nicaea" (De Decretis), is an important historical as well as theological account of the proceedings of that council, and another letter from 367 is the first known listing of all those books now accepted as the New Testament. [12] (Earlier similar lists vary by the omission or addition of a few books.) [ citation needed ]

Examples of Athanasius' polemical writings against his theological opponents include Orations Against the Arians, his defence of the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Letters to Serapion in the 360s, and On the Holy Spirit), against Macedonianism and On the Incarnation. [31]

Athanasius also authored a two-part work, Against the Heathen and The Incarnation of the Word of God. Completed probably early in his life, before the Arian controversy, [32] they constitute the first classic work of developed Orthodox theology. In the first part, Athanasius attacks several pagan practices and beliefs. The second part presents teachings on the redemption. [12] Also in these books, Athanasius put forward the belief, referencing John 1:1–4 , that the Son of God, the eternal Word (Logos) through whom God created the world, entered that world in human form to lead men back into the harmony from which they had earlier fallen away. [ citation needed ]

His other important works include his Letters to Serapion, which defends the divinity of the Holy Spirit. In a letter to Epictetus of Corinth, Athanasius anticipates future controversies in his defence of the humanity of Christ. Another of his letters, to Dracontius, urges that monk to leave the desert for the more active duties of a bishop. [13]

Athanasius also wrote several works of Biblical exegesis, primarily on Old Testament materials. The most important of these is his Epistle to Marcellinus (PG 27:12–45) on how to incorporate Psalm saying into one's spiritual practice. Excerpts remain of his discussions concerning the Book of Genesis, the Song of Solomon, and Psalms. [ citation needed ]

Perhaps his most notable letter was his Festal Letter, written to his Church in Alexandria when he was in exile, as he could not be in their presence. This letter clearly shows his stand that accepting Jesus as the Divine Son of God is not optional but necessary:

I know moreover that not only this thing saddens you, but also the fact that while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith. Who then has lost more, or who possesses more? He who holds the place, or he who holds the Faith? [33]

Biographical and ascetic Edit

His biography of Anthony the Great entitled Life of Antony [34] (Βίος καὶ Πολιτεία Πατρὸς Ἀντωνίου, Vita Antonii) became his most widely read work. Translated into several languages, it became something of a best seller in its day and played an important role in the spreading of the ascetic ideal in Eastern and Western Christianity. [13] It depicted Anthony as an illiterate yet holy man who continuously engaged in spiritual exercises in the Egyptian desert and struggled against demonic powers. It later served as an inspiration to Christian monastics in both the East and the West. [35]

Athanasius' works on asceticism also include a Discourse on Virginity, a short work on Love and Self-Control, and a treatise On Sickness and Health (of which only fragments remain). [ citation needed ]

Misattributed works Edit

There are several other works ascribed to him, although not necessarily generally accepted as being his own. These include the so-called Athanasian creed (which is today generally seen as being of 5th-century Galician origin), and a complete Expositions on the Psalms (PG 27: 60–545). [12]

Athanasius was originally buried in Alexandria, Egypt, but his remains were later transferred to the Chiesa di San Zaccaria in Venice, Italy. During Pope Shenouda III's visit to Rome (4–10 May 1973), Pope Paul VI gave the Coptic Patriarch a relic of Athanasius, [36] which he brought back to Egypt on 15 May. [37] The relic is currently preserved under the new Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. However, the majority of Athanasius's corpse remains in the Venetian church. [38]

All major Christian denominations which officially recognize saints venerate Athanasius. Western Christians observe his feast day on 2 May, the anniversary of his death. The Catholic Church considers Athanasius a Doctor of the Church. [5] For Coptic Christians, his feast day is Pashons 7 (now circa 15 May). Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendars remember Athanasius on 18 January. [ citation needed ]

Gregory of Nazianzus (330–390, also a Doctor of the Church), said: "When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the Church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith." [9]


We have little idea what brought Perpetua to faith in Christ, or how long she had been a Christian, or how she lived her Christian life. Thanks to her diary, and that of another prisoner, we have some idea of her last days&mdashan ordeal that so impressed the famous Augustine that he preached four sermons about her death.

Perpetua was a Christian noblewoman who, at the turn of the third century, lived with her husband, her son, and her slave, Felicitas, in Carthage (in modern Tunis). At this time, North Africa was the center of a vibrant Christian community. It is no surprise, then, that when Emperor Septimius Severus determined to cripple Christianity (he believed it undermined Roman patriotism), he focused his attention on North Africa. Among the first to be arrested were five new Christians taking classes to prepare for baptism, one of whom was Perpetua.

Her father immediately came to her in prison. He was a pagan, and he saw an easy way for Perpetua to save herself. He entreated her simply to deny she was a Christian.

"Father do you see this vase here?" she replied. "Could it be called by any other name than what it is?"

"Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian."


Martyrdom of Justin Martyr

Montanist movement begins

Bishop Hippolytus of Rome is martyred

In the next days, Perpetua was moved to a better part of the prison and allowed to breast-feed her child. With her hearing approaching, her father visited again, this time, pleading more passionately: "Have pity on my gray head. Have pity on me, your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favored you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life."

He threw himself down before her and kissed her hands. "Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers think of your mother and your aunt think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride!"

Perpetua was touched but remained unshaken. She tried to comfort her father&mdash"It will all happen in the prisoner's dock as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power"&mdashbut he walked out of the prison dejected.

The day of the hearing arrived, Perpetua and her friends were marched before the governor, Hilarianus. Perpetua's friends were questioned first, and each in turn admitted to being a Christian, and each in turn refused to make a sacrifice (an act of emperor worship). Then the governor turned to question Perpetua.

At that moment, her father, carrying Perpetua's son in his arms, burst into the room. He grabbed Perpetua and pleaded, "Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!"

Hilarianus, probably wishing to avoid the unpleasantness of executing a mother who still suckled a child, added, "Have pity on your father's gray head have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor."

Perpetua replied simply: "I will not."

"Are you a Christian then?" asked the governor.

"Yes I am," Perpetua replied.

Her father interrupted again, begging her to sacrifice, but Hilarianus had heard enough: he ordered soldiers to beat him into silence. He then condemned Perpetua and her friends to die in the arena.

Perpetua, her friends, and her slave, Felicitas (who had subsequently been arrested), were dressed in belted tunics. When they entered the stadium, wild beasts and gladiators roamed the arena floor, and in the stands, crowds roared to see blood. They didn't have to wait long.

Immediately a wild heifer charged the group. Perpetua was tossed into the air and onto her back. She sat up, adjusted her ripped tunic, and walked over to help Felicitas. Then a leopard was let loose, and it wasn't long before the tunics of the Christians were stained with blood.

This was too deliberate for the impatient crowd, which began calling for death for the Christians. So Perpetua, Felicitas, and friends were lined up, and one by one, were slain by the sword.

Nineteenth Century

One of the child-saints in the Russian Orthodox Church is the six-year-old boy Gavriil Belostoksky from the village Zverki. According to the legend supported by the church, the boy was kidnapped from his home during the holiday of Passover while his parents were away. Shutko, who was a Jew from Białystok, was accused of bringing the boy to Białystok, piercing him with sharp objects and draining his blood for nine days, then bringing the body back to Zverki and dumping it at a local field. A cult developed, and the boy was canonized in 1820. His relics are still the object of pilgrimage. On All Saints Day, 27 July 1997, the Belarusian state TV showed a film alleging the story is true. The revival of the cult in Belarus was cited as a dangerous expression of antisemitism in international reports on human rights and religious freedoms [58][59][60][61][62] which were passed to the UNHCR.

  • 1823–35 Velizh blood libel: After a Christian child was found murdered outside of this small Russian town in 1823, accusations by a drunk prostitute led to the imprisonment of many local Jews. Some were not released until 1835.
  • 1840 Damascus affair: In February, at Damascus, a Catholic monk named Father Thomas and his servant disappeared. The accusation of ritual murder was brought against members of the Jewish community of Damascus.
  • 1840 Rhodes blood libel: The Jews of Rhodes, under the Ottoman Empire, were accused of murdering a Greek Christian boy. The libel was supported by the local governor and the European consuls posted to Rhodes. Several Jews were arrested and tortured, and the entire Jewish quarter was blockaded for twelve days. An investigation carried out by the central Ottoman government found the Jews to be innocent.
  • In 1844 David Paul Drach, the son of the Head Rabbi of Paris and a convert to Christianity, wrote in his book De L’harmonie Entre L’eglise et la Synagogue, that a Catholic priest in Damascus had been ritually killed and the murder covered up by powerful Jews in Europe referring to the 1840 Damascus affair [See above]
  • In March 1879, ten Jewish men from a mountain village were brought to Kutaisi, Georgia to stand trial for the alleged kidnapping and murder of a Christian girl. The case attracted a great deal of attention in Russia (of which Georgia was then a part): “While periodicals as diverse in tendency as Herald of Europe and Saint Petersburg Notices expressed their amazement that medieval prejudice should have found a place in the modern judiciary of a civilized state, New Times hinted darkly of strange Jewish sects with unknown practices.” The trial ended in acquittal, and the orientalist Daniel Chwolson published a refutation of the blood libel.
  • 1882 Tiszaeszlár blood libel: The Jews of the village of Tiszaeszlár, Hungary were accused of the ritual murder of a fourteen-year-old Christian girl, Eszter Solymosi. The case was one of the main causes of the rise of antisemitism in the country. The accused persons were eventually acquitted.
  • In 1899 Hilsner Affair: Leopold Hilsner, a Czech Jewish vagabond, was accused of murdering a nineteen-year-old Christian woman, Anežka Hrůzová, with a slash to the throat. Despite the absurdity of the charge and the relatively progressive nature of society in Austria-Hungary, Hilsner was convicted and sentenced to death. He was later convicted of an additional unsolved murder, also involving a Christian woman. In 1901, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Tomáš Masaryk, a prominent Austro-Czech philosophy professor and future president of Czechoslovakia, spearheaded Hilsner’s defense. He was later blamed by Czech media because of this. In March 1918, Hilsner was pardoned by Austrian emperor Charles I. He was never exonerated, and the true guilty parties were never found.

How an apocalyptic plague helped spread Christianity

(CNN) - Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed relics from an apocalyptic plague that some Christians believed heralded the end of the world - an idea that likely helped spread the faith centuries ago.

A team from the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor unearthed the remains in a funerary complex in the ancient city of Thebes. (The city is now known as Luxor.)

As archaeologists excavated the site earlier this month, they found remnants of bodies covered in a thick layer of lime. The lime was significant, as it was used in the ancient world as a form of disinfectant to prevent contamination.

Nearby, there was evidence of an enormous bonfire, used to incinerate the remains of plague victims, and three kilns used for lime production.

Pottery located in the kilns enabled the scientists to date the discovery to the middle of the third century, the time of a gruesome epidemic known as the “plague of Cyprian.”

Cyprian, the mid-third century bishop of Carthage, provides us with the most detailed description of the plague’s terrible effects. In his essay “De mortalitate” ("On Mortality"), Cyprian wrote:

“The intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting the eyes are on fire with the infected blood that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction.”

In many cases, Cyprian went on to say, blindness and deafness would ensue.

At its height the epidemic is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in the city of Rome alone. Among them were two Roman emperors: Hostilian and Claudius II Gothicus.

The effects were just as extreme elsewhere in the empire. Sociologist Rodney Stark writes that as much as two-thirds of the population in Alexandria, Egypt, died.

Modern scientists may believe that the disease was smallpox, but to Cyprian it was a portent of the end of the world. Interestingly, this belief may have actually helped the spread of Christianity.

Cyprian noted that Christians were also dying from the plague, but suggested that only non-Christians had anything to fear.

His compatriot Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria - one of the most hard-hit areas - wrote that it was a period of unimaginable joy for Christians.

The fact that even Roman emperors were dying and pagan priests had no way to explain or prevent the plague only strengthened the Christian position.

The experience of widespread disease and death and the high probability that they themselves might die made Christians more willing to embrace martyrdom.

And that, somewhat paradoxically, helped the faith thrive, providing early publicity that Christianity is worth dying for.

Add to this the fact that the epidemic coincided with the first Roman legislation affecting Christians, and martyrdom became both a possibility and a more reasonable option: When death is always around the corner, why not make yours count?

As the martyr Apollonius is reported to have said at his trial, “It is often possible for dysentery and fever to kill so I will consider that I am being destroyed by one of these.”

The harrowing images of putrefying bodies and burning pyres of corpses also influenced early Christian descriptions of hell and the afterlife, which were already filled with fire and brimstone.

With the spread of the plague, these threats seemed increasingly real. Now that hell had become a place on earth, Christians were increasingly eager to avoid it in the afterlife.

The epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity.

Candida Moss is a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and author of "The Myth of Persecution."

Watch the video: Matins and Divine Liturgy w. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros (July 2022).


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