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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

THE question had been started a little before, whether God has a corporeal existence, and the form of man; or whether he is incorporeal, and without either the human or any other bodily shape? From this question arose strifes and contentions among a very great number of persons, some favouring one opinion on the subject, and others patronising the opposite. The major part of the more simple ascetics, asserted that God is corporeal, and has a human figure: but most others condemned their judgment, and contended that God is incorporeal, and void of all form whatever. This was the view taken by Theophilus bishop of Alexandria, who in the church before all the people inveighed against those who attributed to God a human form, expressly teaching that the Divine Being is wholly incorporeal. When the Egyptian ascetics were apprised of this, they left their monasteries and came to Alexandria; where they excited a tumult against the bishop, accusing him of impiety, and threatening to put him to death. Theophilus aware of his danger, after some consideration had recourse to this expedient to extricate himself from it. Going to the monks, he in a conciliatory tone thus addressed them: “In seeing you, I behold the nice of God.” The fury of these men being a little moderated by this expression, they replied: “If you really admit that God’s countenance is such as ours, anathematize Origen’s book; for some have drawn arguments from them in contrariety to our opinion. If you refuse to do this, expect to be treated by us as an impious person, and the enemy of God.” “Do not be angry with me,” said Theophilus, “and I will readily do what you require: for I myself also disapprove of Origen’s works, and consider those who countenance them deserving of censure.” Thus he succeeded in appeasing the monks at that time; and probably the whole matter would have been set at rest, had it not been for another circumstance which happened immediately after. The monasteries in Egypt were under the superintendence of four devout persons named Discorus, Ammonius, Eusebius, and Euthymius: these men were brothers, and had the appellation of the Long Monks given them on account of their stature. They were moreover no less distinguished for the sanctity of their lives, than the extent of their erudition, and for these reasons their reputation was very high at Alexandria. Theophilus in particular, the prelate of that city, loved and honoured them exceedingly: insomuch that he constituted Discorus, one of them, bishop of Hermopolis against his will, having forcibly drawn him from his retreat. Two of the others he entreated to continue with him, and with difficulty prevailed upon them to do so, by the exercise of his episcopal authority: when therefore he had invested them with the clerical office, he committed to their charge the management of ecclesiastical affairs. They, constrained by necessity, performed the duties thus imposed on them with credit to themselves; nevertheless they felt severely the privation of philosophical pursuits, and such ascetic exercises as their new position rendered impracticable. When however in process of time, they observed the bishop to be devoted to gain, and greedily intent on the acquisition of wealth, believing this example injurious to their own souls, they refused to remain with him any longer, declaring that they loved solitude, and greatly preferred it to living in the city. As long as he was ignorant of the true motive for their departure, he earnestly begged them not to leave him; but when he perceived that they were dissatisfied with his conduct, he became excessively irritated, and threatened to do them all kinds of mischief. Regardless of his menaces they retired into the desert; upon which Theophilus, who was evidently of a hasty and malignant temperament, raised a great clamour against them, and set in motion every contrivance likely to do them injury. After this he viewed with jealous dislike their brother Discorus also, bishop of Hermopolis; being extremely annoyed at the esteem and veneration in which he was held by the ascetics. Aware however that these persons would be perfectly safe from his malevolence unless he could alienate the minds of the monks from them, he used this artifice to effect it. He well knew that Discorus and his brothers in their theological discussions with him, had often maintained that the Deity was incorporeal, and by no means had a human form; because, they argued, such a constitution would involve the necessary accompaniment of human passions, as Origen and other ancient writers have demonstrated. Now although Theophilus entertained the very same opinion respecting the Divine nature, yet to gratify his vindictive feelings, he did not hesitate to impugn what he and they had rightly taught: and by this means he succeeded in imposing upon the credulity of the sincere but ignorant monks, the greater part of whom were quite illiterate men. Sending letters to the monasteries in the desert, he advises them not to give heed either to Discorus or his brothers, inasmuch as they affirmed that God had not a body. “Whereas,” says he, “the sacred Scripture testifies that God has eyes, ears, hands, and feet, as men have; the partisans of Discorus, being followers of Origen, introduce the blasphemous dogma that God has neither eyes, ears, feet, nor hands.” Abusing the simplicity of these monks by this sophism, he stirred up a hot dissension among them. Such as had a cultivated mind indeed were not beguiled by this plausibility, and therefore still adhered to Discorus and Origen; but the more ignorant who greatly exceeded the others in number, inflamed by an ardent zeal without knowledge, immediately raised an outcry against their brethren. A division being thus made, both parties branded each other as impious; the one side being reproachfully termed “Origenists,” and the other “Anthropomorphitæ,” between whom violent altercation arose, and an inextinguishable war. Theophilus on receiving intimation of the success of his device, went to Nitra where the monasteries are, accompanied by a multitude of persons, and armed the monks against Discorus and his brethren; who being in danger of losing their lives, made their escape with great difficulty. John bishop of Constantinople was ignorant meanwhile of the things that were doing in Egypt; but the eloquence of his discourses rendered him increasingly celebrated. He first enlarged the prayers contained in the nocturnal hymns, for the reason I am about to assign.








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