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A Hstory Of The Councils Of The Church Volumes 1 to 5 by Charles Joseph Hefele D.D.

SEC. 4. First Half of the Third Century

THE series of synods of the third century opens with that of Carthage, to which Agrippinus bishop of that city had called the bishops of Numidia and of proconsular Africa. S. Cyprian speaks of this Synod in his seventy-first and seventy-third letters, saying that all the bishops present declared baptism administered by heretics to be void; and he supports his own view on this subject by what had passed in this ancient Synod of Carthage. This Synod was probably the most ancient of Latin Africa; for Tertullian, who recalls the Greek synods as a glory, tells not of one single council being held in his country. According to Uhlhorn it was about 205, according to Hesselburg about 212, that the work of Tertullian, de Jejuniis,. was composed; therefore the Synod in question must have been held either after 205 or after 212. It has not been possible up to this time to verify this date more exactly. But the newly-discovered φιλοσφούμενα, falsely attributed to Origen, and which were probably written by Hippolytus, have given more exact dates; and Döllinger, relying upon this document, has placed the date of this Synod of Carthage between 218 and 222. The Philosophoumena relate, indeed, that the custom of re-baptizing—that is to say, of repeating the baptism of those who had been baptized by heretics—was introduced under the Bishop of Rome, Callistus (in some churches in communion with him). One can scarcely doubt but that this passage referred to Bishop Agrippinus and his Synod at Carthage; for S. Augustine and S. Vincent of Lérins say expressly that Agrippinus was the first who introduced the custom of re-baptism. The Synod of Carthage, then, took place in the time of Pope Callistus I., that is to say, between 218 and 222. This date agrees with the well-known fact that Tertullian was the first of all Christian writers who declared the baptism of heretics invalid; and it may be presumed that his book de Baptismo exerted a certain influence upon the conclusions of the Council of Carthage. It is not contradicted by the forty-sixth (forty-seventh) apostolic canon, which orders bishops, under pain of deposition, to re-baptize those who had been baptized by a heretic; for it is known that these so-called apostolic canons were composed some centuries later.

S. Cyprian speaks, in his sixty-sixth letter, of a synod held long before (jampridem) in Africa, and which had decided that a clergyman could not be chosen by a dying person as a guardian; but nothing shows that he understood by that, the synod presided over by Agrippinus, or a second African council.

The great Origen gave occasion for two synods at Alexandria. About the year 228, being called into Achaia on account of the religious troubles reigning there, Origen passed through Palestine, and was ordained priest at Cæsarea by his friends Alexander Bishop of Jerusalem and Theoctistus Bishop of Cæsarea, although there were two reasons for his non-admission to holy orders: first, that he belonged to another diocese; and secondly, that he had castrated himself. It is not known what decided him or the bishops of Palestine to take this uncanonical step. Demetrius of Alexandria, diocesan bishop of Origen, was very angry with what had been done; and if we regard it from the ecclesiastical point of view, he was right. When Origen returned to Alexandria, Demetrius told him of his displeasure, and reproached him with his voluntary mutilation. But the principal grievance, without doubt, had reference to several false doctrines held by Origen: for he had then already written his book de Principiis and his Stromata, which contain those errors; and it is not necessary to attribute to the Bishop of Alexandria personal feelings of hatred and jealousy in order to understand that he should have ordered an inquiry into Origen’s opinions under the circumstances. Origen hastened to leave Alexandria of his own accord, according to Eusebius; whilst Epiphanius says, erroneously, that Origen fled because, shortly before, he had shown much weakness during a persecution. His bitterest enemies have never cast a reproach of this nature at him. Demetrius, however, assembled a synod of Egyptian bishops and priests of Alexandria in 231, who declared Origen unworthy to teach, and excluded him from the Church of Alexandria. Demetrius again presided over a second synod at Alexandria, without this time calling his priests, and Origen was declared to be deprived of the sacerdotal dignity. An encyclical letter published by Demetrius made these resolutions known in all the provinces.

According to S. Jerome and Rufinus, a Roman assembly, probably called under Pope Pontian, shortly after deliberated upon this judgment; and Origen after that sent to Pope Fabian (236–250) a profession of faith, to explain and retract his errors. Several writers have thought that the word senatus must not be understood in the sense of a synod, and that we are to consider it only as an assembly of the Roman clergy. Döllinger, on the contrary, presumes that Origen had taken part in the discussions of the priest Hippolytus with Pope Callistus and his successors (Origen had learned to know Hippolytus at Rome, and he partly agreed with his opinions), and that for this reason Pontian had held a synod against Origen.

A little before this period, and before the accession of Pope Fabian, a synod was certainly held at Iconium in Asia Minor, which must have been of great authority in the controversy which was soon to begin on the subject of the baptism of heretics. Like the Synod of Carthage, presided over by Agrippinus, that of Iconium declared every baptism conferred by a heretic to be invalid. The best information upon this Council has been furnished us by the letter which Bishop Firmilian of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, who showed himself so active in this controversy, addressed to S. Cyprian. It says: “Some having raised doubts upon the validity of baptism conferred by heretics, we decided long ago, in the Council held at Iconium in Phrygia, with the Bishops of Galatia, Cilicia, and the other neighbouring provinces, that the ancient practice against heretics should be maintained and held firm (not to regard baptism conferred by them).” Towards the end of the letter we read; “Among us, as more than one Church has never been recognised, so also have we never recognised as holy any but the baptism of that Church. Some having had doubts upon the validity of baptism conferred by those who receive new prophets (the Montanists), but who, however, appear to adore the same Father and the same Son as ourselves, we have assembled in great number at Iconium: we have very carefully examined the question (diligentissime tractavimus), and we have decided that all baptism administered outside the Church must be rejected.” This letter then speaks of the Council of Iconium as of a fact already old; and it says also, that it was occasioned by the question of the validity of baptism administered by Montanists. Now, as Firmilian wrote this letter about the middle of the third century, it follows that the Council of Iconium, of which he often speaks as of an ancient assembly held long before (jampridem), took place about twenty years before the writing of his letter Dionysius Bishop of Alexandria, about the middle of the third century, also says: “It is not the Africans (Cyprian) who have introduced the custom of re-baptizing heretics: this measure had been taken long before Cyprian (πρὸ πολλοῦ), by other bishops at the Synod of Iconium and of Synnada.”

In these two passages of his letter to S. Cyprian, Firmilian gives us a fresh means of fixing the date of the Synod of Iconium, saying formally several times: “We assembled ourselves at Iconium; we have examined the question; we have decreed,” etc. It results from this, that he was himself present at this Synod. On the other side, the jampridem and other similar expressions justify us in placing this Synod in the first years of Firmilian’s episcopate. Now we know from Eusebius that Firmilian flourished so early as in the time of the Emperor Alexander Severus (222–235) as Bishop of Cæsarea; so that we can, with Valesius and Pagi, place the celebration of the Synod of Iconium in the years 230–235. Baronius, by a very evident error, assigns it to the year 258.

According to all probability, we must refer to the Synod of Iconium a short passage of S. Augustine, in the third chapter of his third book against Cresconius, in which he speaks of a synod composed of fifty Eastern bishops.

Dionysius the Great, Bishop of Alexandria, speaks, we have seen, not only of the Synod of Iconium, but also of a Synod of Synnada, a town also situated in Phrygia. In this Synod, he says, the baptism by heretics was also rejected. We may conclude from his words that the two assemblies took place about the same time. We have no other information on this subject.

We know very little about the concilium Lambesitanum, which, says S. Cyprian, in his fifty-fifth letter to Pope Cornelius, had been held long before in the Lambesitana Colonia (in Numidia) by ninety bishops, and condemned a heretic named Privatus (probably Bishop of Lambese) as guilty of several grave offences.” The Roman priests also mention this Privatus in their letter to S. Cyprian; but they do not give any further information concerning him.

A better known council was that which was held about the year 244, at Bostra in Arabia Petræa (now Bosrah and Bosserat), on account of the errors of Beryllus, bishop of this town. It is known that Beryllus belonged to the party of the Monarchians, generally called Patripassianists. This bishop held other erroneous opinions, which were peculiar to himself, and which it is now very difficult to distinguish.

The attempt made by the Arabian bishops to bring back Beryllus from his errors having failed, they called in Origen to their aid, who then lived at Cæsarea in Palestine. Origen came and conversed with Beryllus, first in private, then in presence of the bishops. The document containing the discussion was known to Eusebius and S. Jerome; but it was afterwards lost. Beryllus returned to the orthodox doctrine, and later expressed, it is said, his gratitude to Origen in a private letter.

Another controversy was raised in Arabia about the soul, as to whether it passed away (fell asleep) with the body, to rise (awake) at the resurrection of the body. At the request of one of the great Arabian synods, as Eusebius remarks, Origen had to argue against these Hypnopsychites, and he was as successful as in the affair of Beryllus. The Libellus Synodicus adds that fourteen bishops were present at the Synod, but it does not mention, any more than Eusebius, the place where it was held.

About the same period must also have been held two Asiatic synods, on the subject of the anti-Trinitarian (Patripassian) Noetus; S. Epiphanius is the only one to mention them, and he does so without giving any detail, and without saying where they took place. The assertion of the author of Prædestinatus, that about this time a synod was held in Achaia against the Valesians, who taught voluntary mutilation, is still more doubtful, and very probably false. The very existence of this sect is doubtful.

We are on more solid historical ground when we approach the tolerably numerous synods which were celebrated, chiefly in Africa, about the middle of the third century. The letters of S. Cyprian especially acquaint us with them. He first speaks, in his sixty-sixth letter, of an assembly of his colleagues (the bishops of Africa), and of his fellow-priests (the presbyters of Carthage), and so of a Carthaginian Synod, which had to decide upon a particular case of ecclesiastical discipline. A Christian named Geminius Victor, of Furni in Africa, had on the approach of death appointed a priest named Geminius Faustinus as guardian to his children. We have seen above, that an ancient synod of Africa, perhaps that held under Agrippinus, had forbidden that a priest should be a guardian, because a clergyman ought not to occupy himself with such temporal business. The Synod of Carthage, held under S. Cyprian, renewed this prohibition, and ordained, in the spirit of that ancient council, that no prayers should be said or sacrifices (oblationes) offered for the deceased Victor, as he had no claim to the prayers of priests who had endeavoured to take a priest from the holy altar. In the letter of which we speak, S. Cyprian gave an account of this decision to the Christians of Furni. The Benedictines of Saint Maur presume that this letter was written before the outbreak of the persecution of Decius, which would place this Synod in the year 249.

SEC. 5. First Synods at Carthage and Rome on account of Novatianism and the “Lapsi” (251)

The schism of Felicissimus and the Novatian controversy soon afterwards occasioned several synods. When, in 248, S. Cyprian was elected Bishop of Carthage, there was a small party of malcontents there, composed of five priests, of whom he speaks himself in his fortieth letter. Soon after the commencement of the persecution of Decius (at the beginning of the year 250) the opposition to Cyprian became more violent, because in the interest of the discipline of the Church he would not always regard the letters of peace which some martyrs without sufficient consideration gave to the lapsi. He was accused of exaggerated severity against the fallen, and his own absence (from February 250 until the month of April or May 251) served to strengthen the party which was formed against him. An accident caused the schism to break out. Cyprian had from his retreat sent two bishops and two priests to Carthage, to distribute help to the faithful poor (many had been ruined by the persecution). The deacon Felicissimus opposed the envoys of Cyprian, perhaps because he considered, the care of the poor as an exclusive right of the deacons, and because he would not tolerate special commissioners from the bishop on such a business. This took place at the end of 250, or at the beginning of 251. Felicissimus had been ordained deacon by the priest Novatus unknown to Cyprian, and without his permission, probably during his retreat Now, besides the fact that such an ordination was contrary to all the canons of the Church, Felicissimus was personally unworthy of any ecclesiastical office, on account of his deceitfulness and his corrupt manners. Cyprian, being warned by his commissioners, excommunicated Felicissimus and some of his partisans on account of their disobedience; but the signal for revolt was given, and Felicissimus soon had with him those five priests who had been the old adversaries of Cyprian, as well as all those who accused the bishop of being too severe with regard to the lapsi, and of despising the letters of the martyrs. These contributed to give to the opposition quite another character. Till then it had only been composed of some disobedient priests; henceforth the party took for a war-cry the severity of the bishop with regard to the lapsi. Thus not only the lapsi, but also some confessors (confessores) who had been hurt by the little regard that Cyprian showed for the libelli pacis, swelled the ranks of the revolt. It is not known whether Novatus was in the number of the five priests who were the first movers of the party. By some it is asserted, by others denied. After, having in vain recalled the rebels to obedience, Cyprian returned to Carthage, a year after the festival of Easter in 251; and he wrote his book de Lapsis as a preparation for the Synod which he assembled soon afterwards, probably during the month of May 251. The Council was composed of a great number of bishops, and of some priests and deacons: he excommunicated Felicissimus and the five priests after having heard them, and at the same time set forth the principles to be followed with regard to the lapsi, after having carefully examined the passages of Scripture treating of this question. All the separate decrees upon this subject were collected into one book, which may be considered as the first penitential book which had appeared in the Church; but unfortunately it is lost. Cyprian makes us acquainted with the principal rules in his fifty-second letter: namely, that all hope must not be taken away from the lapsed, that, in excluding them from the Church, they may not be driven to abandon the faith, and to fall back again into a life of heathenism; that, notwithstanding, a long penance must be imposed upon them, and that they must be punished proportionally to their fault.1 It is evident, continues Cyprian, that one must act differently with those who have gone, so to speak, to meet apostasy, spontaneously taking part in the impious sacrifices, and those who have been, as it were, forced to this odious sacrilege after long struggles and cruel sufferings: so also with those who have carried. with them in their crime their wife, their children, their servants, their friends, making them also share their fall, and those who have only been the victims, who have sacrificed to the gods in order to serve their families and their houses; that there should no less be a difference between the sacrificati and the libellatici, that is to say, between those who had really sacrificed to the gods, and those who, without making a formal act of apostasy, had profited by the weakness of the Roman functionaries, had seduced them, and had made them give them false attestations; that the libellatici must be reconciled immediately, but that the sacrificati must submit to a long penance, and only be reconciled as the moment of their death approached; finally, that as for the bishops and priests, they must also be admitted to penance, but not again permitted to discharge any episcopal or sacerdotal function.

Jovinus and Maximus, two bishops of the party of Felicissimus, who had been reproved before by nine bishops for having sacrificed to the gods, and for having committed abominable sacrilege, appeared before the Synod of Carthage. The Synod renewed the sentence originally given against them; but in spite of this decree, they dared again to present themselves, with several of their partisans, at the Synod of Carthage, held the following year.

Cyprian and the bishops assembled around him decided to send their synodical decisions of 251 to Rome, to Pope Cornelius, to obtain his consent with regard to the measures taken against the lapsi. It was the more necessary to understand each other on the subject of these measures, as the Roman Church had also been troubled by the Novatian schism. Pope Cornelius assembled at Rome in the autumn—probably in the month of October 251—a synod composed of sixty bishops, without counting the priests and deacons. The Synod confirmed the decrees of that of Carthage, and excommunicated Novatian and his partisans. The two authors who have preserved these facts for us are Cyprian and Eusebius. It must be remarked that several editors of the acts of the councils, and several historians, misunderstanding the original documents, have turned the two Synods of Carthage and Rome (251) into four councils. The Libellus Synodicus also speaks of another council which must have been held the same year at Antioch, again on the subject of the Novatians; but one can hardly rely on the Libellus Synodicus when it is alone in relating a fact.

The Novatian schism could not be extirpated by these synods. The partisans of Felicissimus and of Novatian made great efforts to recover their position. The Novatians of Carthage even succeeded in putting at their head a bishop of their party named Maximus, and they sent many complaints to Rome on the subject of Cyprian’s pretended severity, as, on the other side, the persecution which was threatening made fresh measures necessary with regard to the lapsi. Cyprian assembled a fresh council at Carthage on the Ides of May 252, which sixty-six bishops attended. It was probably at this council that two points were discussed which were brought forward by the African Bishop Fidus. Fidus complained at first that Therapius Bishop of Bulla (near Hippo) had received the priest Victor too soon into the communion of the Church, and without having first imposed upon him the penance he deserved. The Synod declared that it was evidently contrary to the former decisions of the councils, but that they would content themselves for this time with blaming Bishop Therapius, without declaring invalid the reconciliation of the priest Victor, which he had effected. In the second place, Fidus enunciated the opinion that infants should be baptized, not in the first days after their birth, but eight days after; to observe, with regard to baptism, the delay formerly prescribed for circumcision. The Synod unanimously condemned this opinion, declaring that they could not thus delay to confer grace on the new-born.

The next principal business of the Synod was that concerning the lapsi; and the fifty-fourth letter of S. Cyprian gives us an account of what passed on this subject. The Synod, he says, on this subject decided that, considering the imminent persecution, they might immediately reconcile all those who showed signs of repentance, in order to prepare them for the battle by means of the holy sacraments: Idoneus esse non potest ad martyrium qui ab Ecclesia non armatur ad prælium. In addressing its synodical letter to Pope Cornelius (it is the fifty-fourth of S. Cyprian’s letters), the Council says formally: Placuit nobis, sancto Spiritu suggerente. The heretic Privatus, of the colonia Lambesitana, probably bishop of that town, who, as we have seen, had been condemned, again appeared at the Council; but he was not admitted. Neither would they admit Bishops Jovinus and Maximus, partisans of Felicissimus, and condemned as he was; nor the false Bishop Felix, consecrated by Privatus after he became a heretic, who came with him. They then united themselves with the fallen bishop Repostus Saturnicensis, who had sacrificed during the persecution, and they gave the priest Fortunatus as bishop to the lax party at Carthage. He had been one of S. Cyprian’s five original adversaries.

A short time after, a new synod assembled at Carthage on the subject of the Spanish bishops Martial and Basilides. Both had been deposed for serious faults, especially for having denied the faith. Basilides had judged himself to be unworthy of the episcopal dignity, and declared himself satisfied if, after undergoing his penance, he might be received into lay communion. Martial had also confessed his fault; but after some time they both appealed to Rome, and by means of false accounts they succeeded in gaining over Pope Stephen, who demanded that Basilides should be replaced in his bishopric, although Sabinus had been already elected to succeed him. Several Spanish bishops seem to have supported the pretensions of Basilides and Martial, and placed themselves, it appears, on their side; but the Churches of Leon, of Asturia, and of Emerita, wrote on this subject to the African bishops, and sent two deputies to them—Bishops Sabinus and Felix, probably the elected successors of Basilides and Martial Felix Bishop of Saragossa supported them with a private letter. S. Cyprian then assembled a council composed of thirty-seven bishops; and we possess the synodical letter of the assembly, in his sixty-eighth epistle, in which the deposition of Martial and Basilides is confirmed, the election of their successors is declared to be legitimate and regular, the bishops who had spoken in favour of the deposed bishops are censured, and the people are instructed to enter into ecclesiastical communion with their successors.

SEC. 6. Synods relative to the Baptism of Heretics (255–256)

To these synods concerning the lapsi, succeeded three African councils on the subject of baptism by heretics. We have seen that three former councils—that of Carthage, presided over by Agrippinus; two of Asia Minor, that of Iconium, presided over by Firmilian, and that of Synnada, held at the same period—had declared that baptism conferred by heretics was invalid. This principle, and the consequent practice in Asia Minor, would appear to have occasioned, towards the end of the year 253, a conflict between Pope Stephen and the bishops of Asia Minor, Helenus of Tarsus and Firmilian of Cæsarea, sustained by all the bishops of Cilicia, of Cappadocia, and the neighbouring provinces; so that Stephen, according to Dionysius the Great, threatened these bishops with excommunication because they repeated the baptism conferred by heretics. Dionysius the Great mediated with the Pope in favour of the bishops of Asia Minor; and the letter which he wrote prevented their being excluded from the Church. The first sentence of this letter would even allow it to be supposed that peace was completely re-established, and that the bishops of Asia Minor had conformed to the demand of the Pope. However, later on, Firmilian is again found in opposition to Rome.

The Easterns then stirred up the controversy on the baptism of heretics before S. Cyprian; and when Eusebius says, πρῶτος τῶν τότε Κυπριανός, κ.τ.λ., this passage must be thus understood: Cyprian was the most important, and in this sense the first, of those who demanded the re-baptism of heretics.

Let us now turn our attention to Africa, and particularly to S. Cyprian. Some African bishops being of the opinion that those who abandoned heretical sects to enter the Church must not be re-baptized, eighteen bishops of Numidia, who held a different opinion, and rejected baptism by heretics, asked of the Synod of Carthage of 255 if it were necessary to re-baptize those who had been baptized by heretics or schismatics, when they entered the Church. At this Synod, presided over by S. Cyprian, there were twenty-one bishops present: the seventieth epistle of Cyprian is nothing but the answer of the Synod to the eighteen Numidian bishops. It declares “that their opinion about the baptism of heretics is perfectly right; for no one can be baptized out of the Church, seeing there is only one baptism which is in the Church,” etc.

Shortly afterwards, Cyprian being again consulted on the same question by Quintus, bishop in Mauritania, who sent him the priest Lucian, sent in answer the synodical letter of the Council which had just separated; and besides, in a private letter joined to this official document, he stated his personal opinion on the validity of the baptism of heretics, and answered some objections.

All the bishops of Africa were probably not satisfied with these decisions; and some time after, about 256, Cyprian saw himself obliged to assemble a second and larger council at Carthage, at which no fewer than seventy-one bishops were present. S. Cyprian relates that they treated of a multitude of questions, but the chief point was the baptism of heretics. The synodical letter of this great assembly, addressed to Pope Stephen, forms S. Cyprian’s seventieth letter. The Council also sent to the Pope the letter of the preceding Synod to the eighteen Numidian bishops, as well as the letter of S. Cyprian to Quintus, and reiterated the assertion “that whoso abandoned a sect ought to be re-baptized;” adding, “that it was not sufficient (parum est) to lay hands on such converts ad accipiendum Spiritum sanctum, if they did not also receive the baptism of the Church.” The same Synod decided that those priests and deacons who had abandoned the catholic Church for any of the sects, as well as those who had been ordained by the sectarian false bishops, on re-entering the Church, could only be admitted into lay communion (communio laicalis). At the end of their letter, the Synod express the hope that these decisions would obtain Stephen’s approval: they knew, besides, they said, that many do not like to renounce an opinion which has once been adopted; and more than one bishop, without breaking with his colleagues, will doubtless be tempted to persevere in the custom which he had embraced. Besides this, it is not the intention of the Synod to do violence to any one, or to prescribe a universal law, seeing that each bishop can cause his will to be paramount in the administration of his Church, and will have to render an account of it to God. “These words,” Mattes has remarked, “betray either the desire which the bishops of Africa had to see Stephen produce that agreement by his authority, which did not yet exist, and which was not easy to establish; or else their apprehensions, because they knew that there was a practice at Rome which did not accord with the opinion of Cyprian.” This last was, in fact, the case; for Pope Stephen was so little pleased with the decisions of the Council of Carthage, that he did not allow the deputies of the African bishops to appear before him, refused to communicate with them, forbade all the faithful to receive them into their houses, and did not hesitate to call S. Cyprian a false Christian, a false apostle, a deceitful workman (dolosus operarius). This is at least what Firmilian relates. Pope Stephen then pronounced very explicitly, in opposition to the Africans, for the validity of the baptism of heretics, and against the custom of repeating the baptism of those who had already received it from heretics. The letter which he wrote on this occasion to Cyprian has unfortunately been lost, and therefore his complete argument is unknown to us; but Cyprian and Firmilian have preserved some passages of the letter of Stephen in their writings, and it is these short fragments, with the comments of Cyprian and Firmilian, which must serve to make known to us with some certainty the view of Stephen on the baptism of heretics.

It is commonly admitted that S. Cyprian answered this violence of Stephen’s by assembling the third Council of Carthage; but it is also possible that this assembly took place before the arrival of the letter from Rome. It was composed of eighty-seven bishops (two were represented by one proxy, Natalis Bishop of Oëa) from proconsular Africa, from Numidia, and from Mauritania, and of a great number of priests and of deacons. A multitude of the laity were also present at the Synod. The acts of this Synod, which still exist, inform us that it opened on the 1st September, but the year is not indicated. It is probable that it was in 256.

First was read the letter of the African Bishop Jubaianus to Cyprian on the baptism of heretics, and the answer of Cyprian; then a second letter from Jubaianus, in which he declared himself now brought to Cyprian’s opinion. The Bishop of Carthage then asked each bishop present freely to express his opinion on the baptism of heretics: he declared that no one would be judged or excommunicated for differences of opinion; for, added he, no one in the assembly wished to consider himself as episcopus episcoporum, or thought to oblige his colleagues to yield to him, by inspiring them with a tyrannical fear (perhaps this was an allusion to Pope Stephen). Thereupon the bishops gave their votes in order, Cyprian the last, all declaring that baptism given by heretics was invalid, and that, in order to admit them into the Church, it was necessary to re-baptize those who had been baptized by heretics.

About the same time Cyprian sent the deacon Rogatian with a letter to Firmilian Bishop of Cæsarea, to tell him how the question about the baptism of heretics had been decided in Africa. He communicated to him at the same time, it appears, the acts and documents which treated of this business. Firmilian hastened to express, in a letter still extant, his full assent to Cyrian’s principles. This letter of Firmilian’s forms No. 75 of the collection of the letters of S. Cyprian: its contents are only, in general, an echo of what S. Cyprian had set forth in defence of his own opinion, and in opposition to Stephen; only in Firmilian is seen a much greater violence and passion against Stephen,—so much so, that Molkenbuhr, Roman Catholic Professor at Paderborn, has thought that a letter so disrespectful towards the Pope could not be genuine.

We are entirely ignorant of what then passed between Cyprian and Stephen, but it is certain that church communion was not interrupted between them. The persecution which soon afterwards broke out against the Christians under the Emperor Valerian, in 257, probably appeased the controversy. Pope Stephen died as a martyr during this persecution, in the month of August 257. His successor Xystus received from Dionysius the Great, who had already acted as mediator in this controversy on the baptism of heretics, three letters in which the author earnestly endeavoured to effect a reconciliation; the Roman priest Philemon also received one from Dionysius. These attempts were crowned with success; for Pontius, Cyprian’s deacon and biographer, calls Pope Xystus bonus et pacificus sacerdos, and the name of this Pope was written in the diptychs of Africa. The eighty-second letter of Cyprian also proves that the union between Rome and Carthage was not interrupted, since Cyprian sent a deputation to Rome during the persecution, to obtain information respecting the welfare of the Roman Church, that of Pope Xystus, and in general about the progress of the persecution. Soon after, on the 14th September 258, Cyprian himself fell, in his turn, a victim to the persecution of Valerian.

It remains for us now, in order fully to understand the controversy on the baptism of heretics, to express with greater precision the opinions and assertions of Cyprian and Stephen.

1. We must ask, first of all, which of the two had Christian antiquity on his side.

a. Cyprian says, in his seventy-third letter: “The custom of baptizing heretics who enter the Church is no innovation amongst us: for it is now many years since, under the episcopate of Agrippinus of holy memory, a great number of bishops settled this question in a synod; and since then, up to our days, thousands of heretics have received baptism without difficulty.” Cyprian, then, wishing to demonstrate the antiquity of his custom, could not place it earlier than Agrippinus, that is to say, than the commencement of the third century (about 220 years after Christ); and his own words, especially the “since then” (exinde), show that it was Agrippinus who introduced this custom into Africa.

b. In another passage of the same letter, Cyprian adds: “Those who forbid the baptism of heretics, having been conquered by our reasons (ratione), urge against us the custom of antiquity (qui ratione vincuntur, consuetudinem nobis opponunt).” If Cyprian had been able to deny that the practice of his adversaries was the most ancient, he would have said: “They are wrong if they appeal to antiquity (consuetudo); it is evidently for us.” But Cyprian says nothing of the kind: he acknowledges that his adversaries have antiquity on their side, and he only tries to take its force from this fact, by asking, “Is antiquity, then, more precious than truth? (quasi consuetudo major sit veritate);” and by adding, “In spiritual things we must observe what the Holy Spirit has (afterwards) more fully revealed (id in spiritualibus sequendum, quod in melius fuerit a Spiritu sancto revelatum).” He acknowledges, therefore, in his practice a progress brought about by the successive revelations of the Holy Spirit.

c. In a third passage of this letter, S. Cyprian acknowledges, if possible more plainly, that it was not the ancient custom to re-baptize those who had been baptized by heretics. “This objection,” he says, “may be made to me: What has become of those who in past times entered the Church from heresy, without having been baptized?” He acknowledges, then, that in the past, in præteritum, converts from heresy were not re-baptized. Cyprian makes answer to this question: “Divine mercy may well come to their aid; but because one has erred once, it is no reason for continuing to err (non tamen, quia aliquando erratum est, ideo semper errandum est).” That is to say, formerly converts were not re-baptized; but it was a mistake, and for the future the Holy Spirit has revealed what is best to be done (in melius a Spiritu sancto revelatum).

d. When Pope Stephen appealed to tradition, Cyprian did not answer by denying the fact: he acknowledges it; but he seeks to diminish the value of it, by calling this tradition a human tradition, and not legitimate (humana traditio, non legitima).

e. Firmilian also maintained that the tradition to which Stephen appealed was purely human, and he added that the Roman Church had also in other points swerved from the practice of the primitive Church—for example, in the celebration of Easter. This example, however, was not well chosen, since the Easter practice of the Roman Church dates back to the prince of the apostles.

f. Firmilian says, in another passage of this same letter, that it was anciently the custom also in the African Churches not to re-baptize the converts: “You Africans,” he says, “can answer Stephen, that having found the truth, you have renounced the error of your (previous) custom (vos dicere Afri potestis, cognita veritate errorem vos consuetudinis reliquisse).” Nevertheless, Firmilian thought that it was otherwise in Asia Minor, and that the custom of re-baptizing converts was traced back to a very far-off period; but when he wishes to give the proof of it, he only finds this one: “We do not remember (!) when this practice began amongst us.” He appeals, in the last place, to the Synod of Iconium, which we know was not held until about the year 230.

g. It is worthy of remark, that even in Africa all the bishops did not pronounce in favour of the necessity of a fresh baptism, which would certainly have been the case if the practice of Agrippinus and Cyprian had always prevailed in Africa.

h. A very important testimony in favour of Stephen, and one which proves that the ancient custom was not to re-baptize, is given by the anonymous author of the book de Rebaptismate, a contemporary and probably a colleague of Cyprian. This author says that the practice maintained by Stephen, that of simply laying hands on the converts without re-baptizing them, is consecrated by antiquity and by ecclesiastical tradition (vetustissima consuetudine ac traditione ecclesiastica), consecrated as an ancient, memorable, and solemn observance by all the saints, and all the faithful (prisca et memorabilis cunctorum emeritorum sanctorum et fidelium solemnissima observatio), which has in its favour the authority of all the churches (auctoritas omnium Ecclesiarum), but from which unhappily some have departed, from the mania for innovations.

i. S. Vincent of Lérins agrees with the author we have just quoted, when he says that Agrippinus of Carthage was the first who introduced the custom of re-baptizing, contra divinum canonem, contra universalis Ecclesiæ regulam, contra morem atque instituta majorum; but that Pope Stephen condemned the innovation and re-established the tradition, retenta est antiquitas, explosa novitas.

k. S. Augustine also believes that the custom of not re-baptizing heretics is an apostolical tradition (credo ex apostolica traditione venientem), and that it was Agrippinus who was the first to abolish this very safe custom (saluberrima consuetudo), without succeeding in replacing it by a better custom, as Cyprian thought.

l. But the gravest testimony in this question is that of the Philosophoumena, in which Hippolytus, who wrote about 230, affirms that the custom of re-baptizing was only admitted under Pope Callistus, consequently between 218 and 222.

m. Before arriving at the conclusion to be deduced from all these proofs, it remains for us to examine some considerations which appear to point in an opposite direction.

(a.) In his book de Baptismo, which he wrote when he was still a Cátholic, and before this work in a Greek document, Tertullian shows that he did not believe in the validity of baptism conferred by heretics. But, on considering it attentively, we find that he was not speaking of all baptism by heretics, but only of the baptism of those who had another God and another Christ. Besides, we know that Tertullian is always inclined to rigorism, and he certainly is so on this point; and then, living at Carthage at the commencement of the third century, being consequently a contemporary of Agrippinus, perhaps even being one of his clergy, he naturally inclined to resolve this question as Agrippinus resolved it, and his book de Baptismo perhaps exerted an influence upon the resolutions of the Synod of Carthage. Also Tertullian does not pretend that it was the primitive custom of the Church to re-baptize: his words rather indicate that he thought the contrary. He says, Sed circa hæreticos sane quid custodiendum sit, digne quis retractet; that is to say, “It would be useful if some one would study afresh (or examine more attentively) what ought to be done about heretics, that is to say, in relation to their baptism.”

(β.) Dionysius the Great says, in a passage which Eusebius has preserved: “The Africans were not the first to introduce this practice (that of re-baptizing converts): it is more ancient; it was authorized by bishops who lived much earlier, and in populous Churches.” However, as he only mentions the Synods of Iconium and of Synnada before the Africans, his expression much earlier can only refer to these assemblies, and he adduces no earlier testimony for the practice of Cyprian.

(γ.) Clement of Alexandria certainly speaks very disdainfully of baptism by heretics, and calls it a foreign water; he does not, however, say that they were in the habit of renewing this baptism.

(δ.) The Apostolical Canons 45 and 46 (or 46 and 47, according to another order) speak of the non-validity of baptism by heretics; but the question is to know what is the date of these two canons: perhaps they are contemporary with the Synods of Iconium and of Synnada, perhaps even more recent.

We are hardly able to doubt, then, that in the ancient Church, those who returned to the orthodox faith, after having been baptized by heretics, were not re-baptized, if they had received baptism in the name of the Trinity, or of JESUS.

2. Let us see now whether Pope Stephen considered as valid baptism conferred by all heretics, without any exception or condition. We know that the Synod of Arles in 314, as well as the Council of Trent, teaches that the baptism of heretics is valid only when it is administered in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Were the opinions and assertions of Stephen agreeable to this doctrine of the Church?

At first sight Stephen appears to have gone too far, and to have admitted all baptism by heretics, in whatever manner it was conferred. His chief proposition, as we read it in S. Cyprian, is expressed in these terms: Si quis ergo a quacunque hæresi venerit ad nos, nil innovetur nisi quod traditum est, ut manus illi imponatur in pœnitentiam. He seems, then, to declare valid all baptism by heretics, in whatever manner it might have been administered, with or without the formula of the Trinity. Cyprian argues, in a measure, as if he understood Stephen’s proposition in this sense. However,

a. From several passages in the letters of S. Cyprian, we see that Pope Stephen did not thus understand it.

(α.) Thus (Epist. 73, p. 130) Cyprian says: “Those who forbid the baptism of heretics lay great stress upon this, that even those who had been baptized by Marcion were not re-baptized, because they had already been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Thus Cyprian acknowledges that Stephen, and those who think with him, attribute no value to the baptism of heretics, except it be administered in the name of Jesus Christ.

(β.) Cyprian acknowledges in the same letter (p. 133), that heretics baptize in nomine Christi.

(γ.) Again, in this letter, he twice repeats that his adversaries considered as sufficient baptism administered out of the Church, but administered in nomine Christi.

(δ.) Cyprian, in answering this particular question—if baptism by the Marcionites is valid—acknowledges that they baptize in the name of the Trinity; but he remarks that, under the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, they understand something different from what the Church understands. This argument leads us to conclude that the adversaries of S. Cyprian considered baptism by the Marcionites to be valid, because they conferred it in the name of the Trinity.

b. Firmilian also gives testimony on the side of Stephen.

(α.) He relates, indeed, that about twenty-two years before he had baptized a woman in his own country who professed to be a prophetess, but who, in fact, was possessed by an evil spirit. Now, he asks, would Stephen and his partisans approve even of the baptism which she had received, because it had been administered with the formula of the Trinity (maxime cui nec symbolum Trinitatis defuit)?

(β.) In the same letter Firmilian sums up Stephen’s opinion in these terms: In multum proficit nomen Christi ad fidem et baptismi sanctificationem, ut quicunque et ubicunque in nomine Christi baptizatus fuerit, consequatur statim gratiam Christi.

c. If, then, Cyprian and Firmilian affirm that Pope Stephen held baptism to be valid only when conferred in the name of Christ, we have no need to have recourse to the testimony either of S. Jerome, or of S. Augustine, or of S. Vincent of Lérins, who also affirm it.

d. The anonymous author of the book de Rebaptismate, who was a contemporary even of S. Cyprian, begins his work with these words: “There has been a dispute as to the manner in which it is right to act towards those who have been baptized by heretics, but still in the name of Jesus Christ: qui in hæresi quidem, sed in nomine Dei nostri Jesu Christi, sinttincti.”

e. It may again be asked if Stephen expressly required that the three divine Persons should be named in the administration of baptism, and if he required it as a condition sine qua non, or if he considered baptism as valid when given only in the name of Jesus Christ. S. Cyprian seems to imply that the latter was the sentiment of Pope Stephen, but he does not positively say so anywhere; and if he had said it, nothing could have been legitimately concluded against Pope Stephen, for Cyprian likes to take the words of his adversaries in their worst sense. What we have gathered (α δ and b a) tends to prove that Pope Stephen regarded the formula of the Trinity as necessary. Holy Scripture had introduced the custom of calling by the short phrase, baptism in the name of Christ, all baptism which was conferred in virtue of faith in Jesus Christ, and conformably to His precepts, consequently in the name of the Holy Trinity, as is seen in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistle to the Romans. It is not, then, astonishing that Pope Stephen should have used an expression which was perfectly intelligible at that period.

f. In this discussion Pope Stephen seems to believe that all the heretics of his time used the true formula of baptism, consequently the same formula among themselves, and the same as the Church. He declares this opinion clearly in these words, adduced from his letter by Firmilian: Stephanus in sua epistola dixit: hæreticos quoque ipsos in baptismo convenire; and it was on this account, added the Pope, that the heretics did not re-baptize those who passed from one sect to another. To speak thus, was certainly to affirm that all the sects agreed in administering baptism with the formula prescribed by our Lord.

S. Cyprian also attributes to Pope Stephen words which can be explained very well if we study them with reference to those quoted by Firmilian. According to S. Cyprian, Stephen had said: “We must not re-baptize those who have been baptized by heretics, cum ipsi hæretici proprie alterutrum ad se venientes non baptizent;” that is to say, the different sects have not a special baptism of their own (proprie non baptizent): and it is for this reason that heretics do not re-baptize those who pass from one sect to another. Now if the different sects have not special baptism, if they baptize in the same way—conveniunt in baptismo—as Firmilian makes Pope Stephen affirm, they hold necessarily the universal and primitive mode of Christian baptism; consequently they use the formula of the Trinity.

It is difficult to say whether, in admitting this hypothesis, Stephen falls into an historical error: for, on one side, S. Irenæus accuses the Gnostics of having falsified the baptismal formula, and of having used different erroneous formulas; and consequently he contradicts Stephen; and, on the other side, S. Augustine appears to agree with him, saying: Facilius inveniuntur hæretici qui omnino non baptizent quam qui non illis verbis (in nomine Patris, etc.) baptizent.

g. We may be inclined to make an objection against Stephen on the subject of the Montanists. There is no doubt, in fact, that Stephen considered the baptism of these heretics to be valid, while the Church afterwards declared it to be of no value. But Stephen’s opinion is not in this contrary to the doctrine of the Church; neither did the Council of Nicæa (can. 19) mention the Montanists among those whose baptism it rejected. It could not do so any more than Stephen; for it was not until long after the time of Stephen and of the Council of Nicæa that a degenerate sect of Montanists fell away into formal anti-Trinitarianism.

3. It remains for us to understand what, according to Stephen’s opinion, was to be done with the converts after their reception into the Church. These are Stephen’s words on this subject: Si quis crgo a quacumque hæresi venerit ad nos, nil innovetur nisi quod traditum est, ut manus illi imponatur in pœnitentiam. There is a sense which is often given to this passage, as follows: “No innovation shall be made; only what is conformable to tradition shall be observed; hands shall be laid on the convert in sign of penitence.” But this interpretation is contrary to grammatical rules. If Stephen had wished to speak in this sense, he would have said: Nihil innovetur, sed quod traditum est observetur, etc. Hence Mattes translates the words of Stephen thus: “Nothing shall be changed (as regards the convert) but what it is according to tradition to change; that is to say, that hands shall be laid upon him,” etc.

Stephen adds, in pœnitentiam, that is, that “it is necessary that a penance should be imposed on the convert.” According to the practice of the Church, a heretic who enters into the Church ought first to receive the sacrament of penance, then that of confirmation. One may ask, if Stephen required these two sacraments, or if he only required that of penance? Each of these sacraments comprehended the imposition of hands, as some words of Pope Vigilius clearly indicate; and consequently by the expression, manus illi imponatur, Stephen may understand the administration of the two sacraments. To say that there is only in pœnitentiam in the text, is not a very strong objection; for this text is only a fragment, and Cyprian has transmitted to us elsewhere other texts of Stephen’s thus abridged. The manner in which the adversaries of Pope Stephen analysed his opinions shows that this Pope really required, besides penance, the confirmation of the converts. Thus, in his seventy-third letter, Cyprian accuses his adversaries of self-contradiction, saying: “If baptism out of the Church is valid, it is no longer necessary even to lay hands on the converts, ut Spiritum Sanctum consequatur et signetur;” that is to say: You contradict yourselves if you attribute a real value to baptism by heretics; you must also equally admit the validity of confirmation by heretics. Now you require that those who have been confirmed by heretics should be so again. S. Cyprian here forgets the great difference which exists between the value of baptism and of confirmation; but his words prove that Stephen wished that penance and confirmation should be bestowed upon converts.

The same conclusion is to be drawn from certain votes of the bishops assembled at the third Council of Carthage (256). Thus Secundinus Bishop of Carpi said: “The imposition of hands (without the repetition of baptism, as Stephen required) cannot bring down the Holy Spirit upon the converts, because they have not yet even been baptized.” Nemesianus Bishop of Thubuni speaks still more clearly: “They (the adversaries) believe that by imposition of hands the Holy Spirit is imparted, whilst regeneration is possible only when one receives the two sacraments (baptism and confirmation) in the Church.” These two testimonies prove that Stephen regarded confirmation as well as penance to be necessary for converts.

4. What precedes shows that we must consider as incorrect and unhistorical the widespread opinion, that both Stephen and Cyprian carried things to an extreme, and that the proper mean was adopted by the Church only as the result of their differences.

5. It is the part of Dogmatic Theology, rather than of a History of the Councils, to show why Cyprian was wrong, and why those who had been baptized by heretics should not be re-baptized. Some short explanation on this point will, however, not be out of place here.

S. Cyprian repeated essentially Tertullian’s argument, yet without naming it, and thus summed it up: “As there is only one Christ, so there is only one Church: she only is the way of salvation; she only can administer the sacraments; out of her pale no sacrament can be validly administered.” He adds: “Baptism forgives sins: now Christ left only to the apostles the power of forgiving sins; then heretics cannot be possessed of it, and consequently it is impossible for them to baptize.” Finally, he concludes: “Baptism is a new birth; by it children are born to God in Christ: now the Church only is the bride of Christ; she only can, therefore, be the means of this new birth.”

In his controversy against the Donatists (who revived Cyprian’s doctrine on this point), S. Augustine demonstrated with great completeness, and his accustomed spiritual power, two hundred and fifty years afterwards, that this line of argument was unsound, and that the strongest grounds existed for the Church’s practice defended by Stephen. The demonstration of S. Augustine is as simple as powerful. He brought out these three considerations:—

a. Sinners are separated spiritually from the Church, as heretics are corporally. The former are as really out of the Church as the latter: if heretics could not legally baptize, sinners could not either; and thus the validity of the sacrament would absolutely depend upon the inward state of the minister.

b. We must distinguish between the grace of baptism and the act of baptism: the minister acts, but it is God who gives the grace; and He can give it even by means of an unworthy minister.

c. The heretic is, without any doubt, out of the Church; but the baptism which he confers is not an alien baptism, for it is not his, it is Christ’s baptism, the baptism which He confers, and consequently a true baptism, even when conferred out of the Church. In leaving the Church, the heretics have taken many things away with them, especially faith in Jesus Christ and baptism. These fragments of Church truth are the elements, still pure (and not what they have as heretics), which enable them by baptism to give birth to children of God.

After S. Augustine, S. Thomas Aquinas, S. Bonaventura, the editors of the Roman Catechism, and others, have discussed the question anew; and the principal propositions upon which the whole subject turns are the following:—

(α.) He who baptizes is a simple instrument, and Christ can use any instrument whatever, provided that he does what Christ (the Church) wills that he should do. This instrument only performs the act of baptism; the grace of baptism comes from God. Thus any man, even a heathen, can administer baptism, provided that he will do as the Church does; and this latitude with respect to the administrant of baptism is not without reason: it is founded upon this, that baptism is really necessary as a means of salvation.

(β.) Baptism, then, by a heretic will be valid, if it is administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and with the intention of doing as the Church does (intentio faciendi, quod facit ecclesia).

(γ.) Should he who has thus been baptized, after remaining a long time in heresy, acknowledge his error and his separation from the Church, he ought, in order to be admitted into the Church, to submit to a penance (manus impositio ad pœnitentiam); but it is not necessary to re-baptize him.

(δ.) The sacraments are often compared to channels through which divine grace comes to us. Then, when any one is baptized in a heretical sect, but is baptized according to the rules, the channel of grace is truly applied to him, and there flows to him through this channel not only the remission of sins (remissio peccatorum), but also sanctification and the renewal of the inner man (sanctificatio et renovatio interioris hominis); that is to say, he receives the grace of baptism.

(ε.) It is otherwise with confirmation. From the time of the apostles, they only, and never the deacons, their fellow-workers, had the power of giving confirmation. Now, too, it is only the legitimate successors of the apostles, the bishops, who can administer this sacrament in the Church. If, therefore, any one has been confirmed whilst he was in heresy, he can have been so only by a schismatical or heretical bishop or priest; so that his confirmation must be invalid, and it is necessary that the imposition of hands should be repeated, ut Spiritum sanctum consequatur et signetur.

Doctor Mattes has brought out, with much depth, in the dissertation which we have already frequently quoted, the different reasons for believing that baptism and marriage may be administered by those who are not Christians.

SEC. 7. Synod of Narbonne (255–260)

The councils of Christian Africa have chiefly occupied our attention so far: we are now to direct attention to those of the other countries of the Roman Empire, and first to those of Gaul. It is known that, about the middle of the third century, seven missionary bishops were sent into Gaul by Pope Fabian, and that one of them was S. Paul, first bishop of Narbonne. The acts of his life which have reached us speak of a synod held at Narbonne on his account between 255 and 260. Two deacons, whom the holy bishop had often blamed for their incontinence, wished to revenge themselves on him in a diabolical manner. They secretly put a pair of women’s slippers under his bed, and then showed them in proof of the bishop’s impurity. Paul found himself obliged to assemble his colleagues in a synod, that they might judge of his innocence or culpability. While the bishops continued the inquiry for three days, an eagle came and placed itself upon the roof of the house where they were assembled. Nothing could drive it away, and during those three days a raven brought it food. On the third day Paul ordered public prayer that God would make known the truth. The deacons were then seized by an evil spirit, and so tormented, that they ended by confessing their perfidy and calumny. They could only be delivered through prayer, and they renewed their confession. Instead of judging Paul, the bishops threw themselves at his feet, and with all the people entreated his intercession with God. The eagle then took flight towards the East.

Such is the account given in the Acts. They are ancient, but full of fables, and, as Remi Ceillier and others have already shown, cannot constitute a serious historical document.

SEC. 8. Synods at Arsinöe and Rome (255–260)

We have, unlike the case last considered, the most thoroughly historical records of the assembly over which Dionysius the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, presided at Arsinöe, and of which he speaks himself in Eusebius. Nepos, an Egyptian bishop, also a very venerable man, and author of some Christian canticles, had fallen into the error of the Millenarians, and had endeavoured to spread it. Dying some time after, he could not be judged; and his primate, Dionysius the Great, had to content himself with refuting the opinions which he had propagated. He did so in two books, περὶ ἐπαγγελιῶν. Besides this, about 255, Dionysius being near to Arsinöe, where the errors of Nepos had made great progress, assembled the priests (of Nepos) and the teachers of the place, and prevailed upon them to submit their doctrine to a discussion which should take place before all their brethren, who would be present at it. In the debate they relied upon a work by Nepos, which the Millenarians much venerated. Dionysius disputed with them for three days; and both parties, says Dionysius himself, showed much moderation, calmness, and love of truth. The result was, that Coration, chief of the party of Nepos, promised to renounce his error, and the discussion terminated to the satisfaction of all.

Some years later, about 260, the same Dionysius the Great, from his manner of combating Sabellius, gave occasion for the holding of a Roman synod, of which we shall speak more at length in giving the history of the origin of Arianism.

SEC. 9. Three Synods at Antioch on account of Paul of Samosata (264–269)

Three synods at Antioch in Syria occupied themselves with the accusation and deposition of the bishop of that town, the well-known anti-Trinitarian, Paul of Samosata.

Sabellius had wished to strengthen the idea of unity in the doctrine of the Trinity, by suppressing the difference between the persons, and only admitting, instead of the persons, three different modes of action in the one person of God; consequently denying the personal difference between the Father and the Son, and identifying them both. In his doctrinal explanation of the mystery of the Trinity, Paul of Samosata took an opposite course: he separated the one from the other, the Father and the Son, far too much. He set off, as Sabellius did, from a confusion of the divine persons, and regarded the Logos as an impersonal virtue of God in no way distinct from the Father. In JESUS he saw only a man penetrated by the Logos, who, although miraculously born of a virgin, was yet only a man, and not the God-man. His inferior being was ἐκπαρθένου; his superior being, on the contrary, was penetrated by the Logos. The Logos had dwelt in the man Jesus, not in person, but in quality, as virtue or power (οὐκ οὐσιωδῶς ἀλλὰ κατὰ ποιότητα). Moreover, by an abiding penetration, He sanctified him, and rendered him worthy of a divine name. Paul of Samosata further taught, that as the Logos is not a person, so also the Holy Spirit is only a divine virtue, impersonal, belonging to the Father, and distinct from Him only in thought.

Thus, while Paul on one side approached Sabellianism, on the other side he inclined towards the Subordinatians of Alexandria. We will not discuss whether Jewish errors, of which Philastrius accuses him, were mixed with this monarchianism, as this is merely an accessory question. Theodoret says more accurately, that Paul sought, by his anti-Trinitarian doctrines, to please his protectress and sovereign Zenobia, who was a Jewess, and consequently held anti-Trinitarian opinions.

The new error was so much the more dangerous, as the ecclesiastical and political position of its author was of great importance. He filled the highest see in the East. We know also, that in 264 or 265 a great number of bishops assembled at Antioch; particularly Firmilian of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, Gregory Thaumaturgus and his brother Athenodorus, the Archbishop Helenus of Tarsus in Cilicia, Nicomas of Iconium, Hymenæus of Jerusalem, Theotecnus of Cæsarea in Palestine (the friend of Origen), Maximus of Bostra, and many other bishops, priests, and deacons. Dionysius the Great of Alexandria had also been invited to the Synod; but his age and infirmities prevented him from going in person, and he died a short time after. He had wished at least to be able in writing to defend the doctrine of the Church against Paul of Samosata, as he had before defended it against Sabellius. According to Eusebius, he addressed a letter to the church at Antioch, in which he would not even salute the bishop. Without entirely confirming this statement furnished by Eusebius, Theodoret relates that in that letter Dionysius exhorted Paul to do what was right, whilst he encouraged the assembled bishops to redoubled zeal for orthodoxy. From these testimonies we may conclude that Dionysius wrote three letters—one to Paul, another to the bishops in Synod, a third to the church at Antioch; but it is also true that one single letter might easily contain all that Eusebius and Theodoret attribute to Dionysius.

In a great number of sessions and discussions they sought to demonstrate the errors of Paul, and entreated him to return to orthodoxy; but the latter, cleverly dissembling his doctrine, protested that he had never professed such errors, and that he had always followed the apostolic dogmas. After these declarations, the bishops being satisfied, thanked God for this harmony, and separated.

But they found that they were soon obliged to assemble again at Antioch. Firmilian appears to have presided over this fresh assembly, as he had over the first: its exact date is not certainly known. The Synod explicitly condemned the new doctrine introduced by Paul. As, however, Paul promised to renounce and retract his errors (as he had absolutely rejected them as his in the first Synod), Firmilian and the bishops allowed themselves to be deceived a second time.

Paul did not keep his promise, and soon, says Theodoret, the report was spread that he professed his former errors as before. However, the bishops would not cut him off immediately from communion with the Church: they tried again to bring him back to the right way by a letter which they addressed to him; and it was only when this last attempt had failed that they assembled for the third time at Antioch, towards the close of the year 269. Bishop Firmilian died at Tarsus in going to this Synod. According to Athanasius, the number of assembled bishops reached seventy, and eighty according to Hilarius. The deacon Basil, who wrote in the fifth century, raises it even to a hundred and eighty. Firmilian being dead, Helenus presided over the assembly, as we are expressly assured by the Libellus Synodicus. Besides Helenus, Hymenæus of Jerusalem, Theotecnus of Cæsarea in Palestine, Maximus of Bostra, Nicomas of Iconium, and others, were present. Among the priests who were present at the Synod, Malchion was especially remarkable, who, after having taught rhetoric with much success at Antioch, had been ordained priest there on account of the purity of his manners and the ardour of his faith. He was chosen by the bishops assembled at Antioch as the opponent in discussion of Paul of Samosata, on account of his vast knowledge and his skill in logic. The notaries kept an account of all that was said. These documents still existed in the time of Eusebius and of Jerome; but we have only some short fragments preserved by two writers of the sixth century—Leontius of Byzantium and Peter the deacon.

In these disputations Paul of Samosata was convicted of error. The Council deposed him, excommunicated him, and chose in his place Domnus, son of his predecessor Demetrian Bishop of Antioch. Before dissolving itself, the Council sent to Dionysius Bishop of Rome, to Maximus of Alexandria, and to the bishops of all the provinces, an encyclical letter, which we still possess in greater part, in which was an account of the errors and manners of Paul of Samosata, as well as of the deliberations of the Council respecting him. It is there said, “that Paul, who was very poor at first, had acquired great riches by illegal proceedings, by extortions and frauds, professedly promising his protection in lawsuits, and then deceiving those who had paid him. Besides, he was extremely proud and arrogant: he had accepted worldly employments, and preferred to be called ducenarius rather than bishop; he always went out surrounded by a train of servants. He was reproached with having, out of vanity, read and dictated letters while walking; with having, by his pride, caused much evil to be said of Christians; with having had a raised throne made for him in the church; with acting in a theatrical manner—striking his thigh, spurning things with his foot, persecuting and scorning those who during his sermons did not join with the clappers of hands bribed to applaud him; with having spoken disparagingly of the greatest doctors of the Church, and with applause of himself; with having suppressed the Psalms in honour of Christ, under the pretext that they were of recent origin, to substitute for them at the feast of Easter hymns sung by women in his honour; with having caused himself to be praised in the sermons of his partisans, priests and chorepiscopi. The letter further declared that he had denied that the Son of God descended from heaven, but that he personally had allowed himself to be called an angel come from on high; that, besides, he had lived with the subintroducti, and had allowed the same to his clergy. If he could not be reproached with positive immorality, he had at least caused much scandal. Finally, he had fallen into the heresy of Artemon; and the Synod had thought it sufficient to proceed only on this last point. They had therefore excommunicated Paul, and elected Domnus in his place. The Synod prayed all the bishops to exchange the litteras communicatorias with Domnus, whilst Paul, if he wished, could write to Artemon. It is with this ironical observation that the great fragment of the synodical letter preserved by Eusebius terminates. It is thought that in Leontius of Byzantium are to be found some more fragments of this letter treating of Paul’s doctrine. Much more important is an ancient tradition, that the Synod of Antioch must have rejected the expression ὁμοούσιος. This is, at least, what semi-Arians have maintained; whilst S. Athanasius says “that he had not the synodical letter of the Council of Antioch before his eyes, but that the semi-Arians had maintained, in their Synod of Ancyra of 358, that this letter denied that the Son was ὁμοούσιος τῷ πατρί.” What the semi-Arians affirmed is also reported by Basil the Great and Hilary of Poitiers. Thus it is impossible to maintain the hypothesis of many learned men, viz. that the semi-Arians had falsified the fact, and that there was nothing true about the rejection of the expression ὁμοούσιος by the Synod of Antioch. The original documents do not, however, show us why this Synod of Antioch rejected the word ὁμοούσιος; and we are thrown upon conjectures for this point.

Athanasius says that Paul argued in this way: If Christ, from being a man, did not become God—that is to say, if He were not a man deified—then He is ὁμοούσιος with the Father; but then three substances (οὐσίαι) must be admitted—one first substance (the Father), and two more recent (the Son and the Spirit); that is to say, that the divine substance is separated into three parts.

In this case Paul must have used the word ὁμοούσιος in that false sense which afterwards many Arians attributed to the orthodox: in his mind ὁμοούσιος must have signified the possessor of a part of the divine substance, which is not the natural sense of the word. Then, as Paul abused this expression, it may be that for this reason the Synod of Antioch should absolutely forbid the use of the word ὁμοούσιος. Perhaps Paul also maintained that the ὁμοούσιος: answered much better to his doctrine than to that of the orthodox: for he could easily name as ὁμοούσιος with the Father, the divine virtue which came down upon the man Jesus, since according to him this virtue was in no way distinct from the Father; and in this case, again, the Synod would have sufficient ground for rejecting this expression.

These explanations would be without any use if the two creeds which were formerly attributed to this Council of Antioch really proceeded from it. In these creeds the word ὁμοούσιος is not only adopted, but great stress is laid upon it. The two creeds also have expressions evidently imitated from the Nicene Creed,—a fact which shows that they could not have proceeded from the Synod of Antioch. If in 269 such a profession of faith in the mystery of the Holy Trinity had been written at Antioch, the Fathers of Nicæa would have had much easier work to do, or rather Arianism would not have been possible.

We have already said that the synodical letter of the Council of Antioch was addressed to Dionysius Bishop of Rome. The Synod did not know that this Pope died in the month of December 269: thus the letter was given to his successor, Felix I., who wrote immediately to Bishop Maximus and the clergy of Alexandria to define the orthodox faith of the Church with greater clearness against the errors of Paul of Samosata.

Paul continued to live in the episcopal palace, notwithstanding his deposition, being probably supported by Zenobia; and he thus obliged the orthodox to appeal to the Emperor Aurelian after this prince had conquered Zenobia and taken Antioch in 272. The Emperor decided that “he should occupy the episcopal house at Antioch who was in connection with the bishops of Italy and the see of Rome.” Paul was then obliged to leave his palace with disgrace, as Eusebius relates.

We have up to this time spoken of three Synods of Antioch, all of them held with reference to Paul of Samosata; but a certain number of historians will admit only two, as we think, wrongly. The synodical letter of the last Council of Antioch says distinctly that Firmilian went twice on this account to Antioch, and that on his third journey to be present at a new synod, consequently at a third, he died. As the synodical letter is the most trustworthy source which can be quoted in this case, we ought to prefer its testimony to Theodoret’s account, who mentions only two Synods of Antioch. As for Eusebius, whose authority has been quoted, it is true that he first mentions only one synod, then in the following chapter another Synod of Antioch; but this other he does not call the second—he calls it the last. What he says in the twenty-seventh chapter shows that he united into one only the first and second Synods. “The bishops,” he says, “assembled often, and at different periods.” But even if Eusebius had spoken of only two synods, his testimony would evidently be of less value than the synodical letter.

It is with these Synods of Antioch that the councils of the third century terminate. The Libellus Synodicus certainly mentions another synod held in Mesopotamia; but it was only a religious conference between Archelaus Bishop of Carchara (or, more correctly, Caschara) in Mesopotamia, and the heretic Manes. As for the pretended Eastern Synod in the year 300, in which the patriarchs of Rome, of Constantinople (an evident anachronism), of Antioch, and of Alexandria, are said to have granted to the Bishop of Seleucia the dignity of patriarch of the whole of Persia, it is a pure invention.








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