Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

I SHALL commence my recital with Egypt and the two men named Macarius, who were the celebrated chiefs of Scetis and of the neighbouring mountain: the one was a native of Egypt, the other was called Politicus, which means a citizen, and was of Alexandrian origin. They were both so wonderfully endowed with divine knowledge and philosophy that the demons regarded them with terror, and they wrought many extraordinary works and miraculous cures. The Egyptian, it is said, restored a dead man to life, in order to convince a heretic of the truth of the resurrection from the dead. He lived about ninety years, sixty of which he passed in the deserts. When in his youth he commenced the study of philosophy, he progressed so rapidly that the monks surnamed him “old child,” and at the age of forty he was ordained priest. The other Macarius became a priest at a later period of his life; he was proficient in all the exercises of asceticism, some of which he devised himself: his abstinence was so great that his skin dried up, and the hairs of his beard ceased to grow. Pambonius, Heraclius, Cronius, Paphnutius, Putubastes, Arsisius, Serapion the Great, Piturion, who dwelt near Thebes, and Pachomius, the founder of the monks called the Tabennesians, flourished at the same place and period. The attire and customs of this sect differed in some respects from those of other monks. Its members were, however, devoted to virtue, they contemned the things of the earth, excited the soul to heavenly contemplation, and prepared it to quit the body with joy. They were clothed in skins in remembrance of Elias, it appears to me, because they thought that the virtue of the prophet would be thus retained in their memory, and that they would be enabled like him to resist manfully the seductions of pleasure, to be influenced by similar zeal, and be incited to the practice of sobriety, by the hope of an equal reward. It is said that the peculiar vestments of these Egyptian monks had reference to some secret connected with their philosophy, and did not differ from those of others without some adequate cause. They wore their tunics without sleeves, in order to teach that the hands ought not to be ready to do evil. They wore a covering on their heads called a cowl, to show that they ought to live with the same innocence and purity as infants who are nourished with milk, and wear a covering of the same form. Their girdle, and a species of scarf which they wear across the back, shoulders, and arms, admonish them that they ought to be always ready in the service of God. I am aware that other reasons have been assigned for their peculiarity of attire, but what I have said appears to me to be sufficient. It is said that Pachomius at first dwelt alone in a cave, but that a holy angel appeared to him, and commanded him to assemble some young monks, to instruct them in the practice of philosophy, and to inculcate the laws which were about to be delivered to him. A tablet was then given to him, which is still carefully preserved. Upon this tablet were inscribed injunctions by which he was bound to permit every one to eat, to drink, to work, and to fast, according to his capabilities of so doing: those who ate heartily were to be subjected to arduous labour, and the ascetic were to have more easy tasks assigned them; he was commanded to have many cells erected, in each of which three monks were to dwell, who were to take their meals at a common refectory in silence, and with a veil thrown over the head and face, so that they might not be able to see each other or any thing but what was on or under the table: they were not to admit strangers to eat with them, with the exception of travellers, to whom they were to show hospitality; those who desired to live with them were first to undergo a probation of three years, during which time the most laborious and painful tasks were to be imposed upon them. They were to clothe themselves in skins, and to wear woollen tiaras adorned with purple nails, and linen tunics and girdles. They were to sleep in their tunics and garments of skin, reclining on long chairs closed on each side, which were to serve as their couches. On the first and last days of the week they were to approach the altar and partake of the communion of the holy mysteries, and were then to unloose their girdles, and throw off their robes of skin. They were to pray twelve times every day, and as often during the evening, and were to offer up the same number of prayers during the night. At the ninth hour they were to pray thrice, and when about to partake of food they were to sing a psalm before each prayer. The whole congregation was to be divided into twenty-four classes, each of which was to be distinguished by one of the letters of the Greek alphabet; thus, the name of Iota was given to the most simple, and that of Zeta or of Xi to the most erudite, and the names of the other letters were, according to the same principle, bestowed on the other classes.

These were the laws by which Pachomius ruled his own disciples. He was a man of great philanthropy and piety; he could foresee future events, and was frequently admitted to intercourse with the holy angels. He resided at Tabennis in Thebais, and hence the name Tabennesians, used to designate those who lived according to the same rules; they subsequently attained great renown; and in process of time became so numerous that they numbered upwards of seven thousand men. About thirteen of them dwelt with Pachomius in the island Tabennis; the others were dispersed throughout Egypt and Thebais. They all observed one and the same rule of life, and possessed every thing in common. They regarded the congregation established in the island Tabennis as their mother, and the rulers of it as their fathers and their princes.

About the same period Apollonius became celebrated by his profession of monastic philosophy. It is said that from the age of fifteen he devoted himself to philosophy in the solitudes of the deserts, and that when he attained the age of forty, he went, according to a divine command, he then received, to dwell in regions inhabited by men. He likewise dwelt in Thebais. He was greatly beloved of God, and was endowed with the power of performing miraculous cures and notable works. He was exact in the observance of duty, and instructed others in philosophy with great goodness and kindness. He invariably obtained from God whatever he asked in prayer, but he was so wise that he always proffered prudent requests and such as the Divine Being is ever ready to grant.

I believe that Anuphus the divine lived about this period. I have been informed that from the time of the persecution, when he first avowed his attachment to Christianity, he never uttered a falsehood, nor desired the things of the earth. All his prayers and supplications to God were duly answered, and he was instructed by a holy angel in every virtue. Let, however, what we have said of the Egyptian monks suffice. The same species of philosophy was about this time cultivated in Palestine, whither it had been transported from Egypt, and Hilarion the divine acquired great celebrity. He was a native of Tanata, a village situated near the town of Gaza, towards the south, and near a torrent which falls into the sea, and is known by the same name as the village. When he was studying grammar at Alexandria, he went out into the desert to see Antony, the divine and celebrated monk, and discoursed with him concerning his mode of life and philosophy. A very short time afterwards, he fixed his residence with him, but did not enjoy the quietude he had anticipated, on account of the multitudes who flocked around Antony. He, therefore, soon returned to his own country, and finding his parents dead, he distributed his patrimony among his brethren and the poor, without reserving any thing for himself. He then went to dwell in a desert situated near the sea, and about twenty stadia from his native village. His cell was constructed of planks, broken tiles and straw, and was of such a height and length that no one could stand in it without bending the head, or lie down in it without drawing back the legs: for in every thing he strove to accustom himself to hardship and to the subjugation of sensuality. The practice of temperance was never carried to a greater height than by him; he endured cold and heat, hunger and thirst, and other sufferings, and resisted the desires of the mind and of the body. He was irreproachable in conduct, grave in discourse, and diligent in the study of sacred writ. He was so beloved by God that even now many diseases are healed and demons expelled at his tomb. It is remarkable that he was first interred in the island of Cyprus, but that his remains are now deposited in Palestine; for it so happened that he died during his residence in Cyprus, and was buried by the inhabitants with great honour and respect. But Hesychius, one of the most renowned of his disciples, stole the body, conveyed it to Palestine, and interred it in his own monastery. From that period an annual festival was celebrated in honour of his memory, for it is the custom in Palestine to bestow this honour on those who have attained renown by their sanctity, such as Aurelius, Antedon, Alexion, a native of Bethagatonia, and Alaphion, a native of Asalia, who, during the reign of Constantius, lived so religiously and so virtuously in the practice of philosophy, that many Pagans were led by their example to embrace Christianity.

About the same period, Julian pursued a course of such rigid austerity at Edessa, that he might be said to live as if he were incorporeal, for he seemed to be freed from flesh, and to possess nothing but skin and bones. Ephraim, the Syrian, has written an account of his life. God himself confirmed the high opinion which men had formed of him, for he bestowed on him the power of expelling demons and of healing all kinds of diseases, without having recourse to the remedies of the physician, but simply by prayer.

Besides the above, many other ecclesiastical philosophers flourished in the territories of Edessa and of Amida, and in the regions around the mountain Gangalion: among these were Daniel and Simeon. But I shall now say nothing further of the Syrian monks. I shall at some future time, if God will, describe them more fully. It is said that Eustathius, bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, founded a society of monks in Armenia, Paphlagonia, and Pontus, and imposed upon them a rule of life, containing directions as to what meats they were to partake of or to avoid, what garments they were to wear, and what customs they were to adopt. Some assert that he was the author of the ascetic writings commonly attributed to Basil of Cappadocia. It is said that his great austerity led him into certain extravagancies which were contrary to the laws of the church. Many persons, however, justify him from this accusation, and throw the blame upon some of his disciples, who condemned marriage, refused to pray to God in the houses of married persons, despised married priests, fasted on Lord’s days, held their assemblies in private houses, contemned those who partook of animal food, clothed themselves in peculiar garments, different from those of others, and introduced many other strange customs and innovations. Many women were deluded by them and left their husbands, but, not being able to practise continence, they fell into adultery. Other women, under the pretext of religion, cut off their hair, and arrayed themselves in men’s apparel. The bishops of the neighbourhood of Gangris, the metropolis of Paphlagonia, assembled themselves together, and declared that all those who imbibed these opinions should be cut off from the Catholic Church, unless they would renounce them. It is said that, from that time, Eustathius refrained from his former peculiarity of attire, and habited himself like other priests, thus proving that he had not been influenced by motives of selfish arrogance, but by the desire of attaining to divine asceticism. He was as renowned for the sanctity of his discourse as for the purity of his life. To confess the truth, he was not eloquent, nor had he ever studied the art of eloquence, yet he possessed naturally such strong powers of persuasion that he induced several men and women, who were living in fornication and adultery, to enter upon a chaste course of life. It is related that a certain man and woman, who, according to the custom of the church, had devoted themselves to a life of virginity, were accused of holding illicit intercourse with each other; finding that his remonstrances produced no effect upon them, he sighed deeply and said, that a woman who had been legally married had on one occasion heard him discourse on the advantage of continence, and was thereby so deeply affected that she voluntarily abstained from legitimate intercourse with her own husband; and that the weakness of his powers of conviction was on the other hand attested by the fact, that the parties above mentioned persisted in their illegal course. Such were the men who originated the practice of monastic discipline in the regions above mentioned.

Although the Thracians, the Illyrians, and the other European nations possessed no congregations of monks, yet there were many men devoted to Christian philosophy among them. Of these, Martin, the descendant of a noble family of Sabaria in Pannonia, was the most illustrious. He was originally a noted warrior, and the commander of armies; but accounting the service of God to be a more honourable profession, he embraced a life of philosophy, and retired, in the first place, to Illyria. Here he zealously defended the orthodox doctrines against the attacks of the Arian bishops, and was in consequence persecuted and driven from the country. He then went to Milan, and dwelt alone. He was soon, however, obliged to quit his place of retreat on account of the machinations of Auxentius, bishop of that region, who was opposed to the Nicene faith, and he went to an island called Gallinaria, where he remained for some time, subsisting solely upon roots. Gallinaria is a small and desert island lying in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Martin was afterwards appointed bishop of Tours. He was so richly endowed with miraculous gifts that he restored a dead man to life, and performed other signs as wonderful as those wrought by the apostles. We have heard that Hilarion, a man noted for the sanctity of his life and conversation, lived about the same time, and in the same country: like Martin, he was obliged to flee from his place of abode, on account of his zeal in defence of the faith. I have now related what I have been able to ascertain concerning the individuals who were celebrated about this period for their piety and philosophy. There were many others who were noted in the Church about the same period on account of their great eloquence, and among these the most distinguished were, Eusebius, bishop of Emessa; Titus, bishop of Bostra; Serapion, bishop of Thmius; Basil, bishop of Ancyra; Eudoxius, bishop of Germanicia; Acacius, bishop of Cæsarea; and Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem. The numerous and excellent writings which they have bequeathed to posterity demonstrate the truth of what I have asserted.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com