| HOME | |< | << | The accession of Victor, c. A.D. 189 | The episode of Callistus | The case of Blastus | The Epistle of the Asian synod | The Epistle of the Gallican synod | The Christian year | Some eastern synods: Caesarea | Alexandria: Bishop Demetrius | Syria: Bishop Serapion | Controversy in Phrygia | The evidence of the Synodicon | Conciliar action | >> |
The accession of Victor as bishop of Rome took place about 188-90. He had a Latin name, and the later Roman tradition, preserved in the Liber Pontificalis, says that he was an African by birth and that his father's name was Felix. Jerome spoke of books which he had written in the Latin tongue. It looks as if a native Latin element asserted itself when he became bishop.
There were two young men at the time of his accession who were destined to become leaders in the controversies of the next generation and thorns in the sides of future bishops of Rome. One was Tertullian, whom we have already introduced, a brilliant young lawyer whose conversion, whether in Rome or Carthage, is generally assigned to the neighbourhood of the year 190; the other was Hippolytus, who was probably ordained a presbyter by Victor, but possibly by Eleutherus. We have made use already of his attempt to reduce to written form his conception of the old Roman church order as it existed in Victor's time or even earlier. He was a great scholar and a rugged traditionalist of the school of Justin and Irenaeus. He and Tertullian were both rigorists with regard to morals and church discipline, but seem to have been satisfied with the way in which the Roman church was conducted in the time of Victor. Both of them viewed with displeasure the rise to power of the humble-born Callistus, who favoured the new 'monarchian' theology of Praxeas who had come and gone in the later years of Eleutherus, or the first year or two of Victor.
By mere chance we are able to read in the pages of Hippolytus a detailed and ill-natured story of an episode which occurred early in the episcopate of Victor and before the assassination of Commodus on 31 December 192. The first scene, in fact, may belong to the episcopate of Eleutherus. There was a wealthy official of the imperial court, named Carpophorus, who happened to be a Christian, and had a Christian slave named Callistus, a young man of great energy and ability, with a gift for managing affairs and influencing people. Callistus and Hippolytus were of the same age; and as Hippolytus died as a martyr in 235, they are not likely to have been any older than twenty-five to thirty in the year 190.
Carpophorus entrusted his promising young slave with sums of money and he acted as a financial agent, making loans or accepting deposits. The time came when he found himself insolvent, and there were clients who wanted their money back. Carpophorus, too, wanted an accounting. Callistus attempted to escape by sea, and when he found he was pursued, he plunged into the water with the intention of drowning himself, Hippolytus says. He was rescued, however, and sent to a slave-prison. After that we see him vainly endeavouring to rectify the finances of his 'bank'. Finally he made an appearance in a Jewish synagogue on the sabbath day, with the object of collecting sums of money which were due to him from Jewish creditors, he said, but with the hope of making a martyr of himself, Hippolytus says; there was a commotion, and he was arrested and sent to the mines in Sardinia, not as a Christian, Hippolytus is careful to explain, but as a criminal. In the Sardinian mines, the convicts did not live very long. Hippolytus himself ended his days there as a martyr, and perhaps he thought more kindly of Callistus then.
Now Victor had influence with Marcia, who was the mistress of the emperor's harem, and on the whole appears to have used her great personal influence for good. She was virtually empress. She was a devout woman, Hippolytus says, and anxious to perform some good work. There were a number of Christians now in the imperial service; Carpophorus himself was one, and Hyacinthus, who was a eunuch attached to the palace and also a Christian presbyter, was another. Marcia's influence with the Emperor Commodus was strong enough |376 to secure the release of all those who had been condemned as Christians, and Hyacinthus was despatched to Sardinia with a written order to that effect. The name of Callistus was not on the list which Victor had supplied, but he begged on his knees to be taken back to Rome, and his request was granted. His health had suffered, and on his return he was sent by Victor to a town on the sea-coast named Antium, and a small monthly allowance was made to him on grounds of compassion; not as a confessor, Hippolytus insists, thereby implying that there were some who did regard him as a confessor. No doubt all the captives who returned to the church after their terrible ordeal were greeted with affection and pride.
This man, who was despised by Hippolytus as a slave, an adventurer and a criminal, became his hated rival in the Roman church; the patron of the opposition school of theology; and finally his rival as bishop. The theological divisions which were the ostensible and very real cause of this grave schism obviously had their social and political and personal antecedents. There were, as there always are, some non-theological factors involved.
When Victor became bishop c. 188-9 he inherited some theological problems from his predecessor. The affair of Praxeas, and the condemnation of the Montanists has already been discussed. We assigned it to the last years of Eleutherus, but the first years of Victor are not impossible. We also assigned to the episcopate of Eleutherus the affair of Florinus, the Roman presbyter who embraced the doctrines of Valentine. Irenaeus wrote a letter to Victor about certain books of his which were still being read by the faithful; but the days of Valen-tinianism in Rome were over; martyrdom and monarchianism were winning the day.
The affair of Blastus may conveniently be taken here. It was an article of his creed that the Passover must be kept on the fourteenth of the Jewish month Nisan; he was a 'Quartodeciman', a 'fourteenth-ite'. Irenaeus wrote him an Epistle to which he gave the ominous title Concerning Schism. The book no longer exists, but the title suggests that Blastus had taken too strong a line in organizing his liturgical protest against the traditional practice of the Roman church; |377 Hippolytus, in the Libellus, says that he was introducing Judaism secretly. It seems that he was the chief of a die-hard group, probably in the Asian community, which observed the Jewish Passover rite and expected everyone else to do the same; it would appear that the common Asian custom was to keep the fourteenth as the anniversary of the death of Christ, neglecting its connexion with the Passover.
The Roman bishop had suffered a good deal from the vagaries of the Asian minority in his see-city, and made up his mind to bring about a measure of uniformity. The trouble may not have been entirely calendrical. The Asian group had contributed in its time to the stability of the Roman church, but it was also capable of giving trouble. Many of the teachers whose peculiar views had disturbed the church of Rome had come from Asia; we think of the Logos theology of Justin, the New Prophecy of Montanus, the monarchianism of Praxeas, and doubtless the 'Judaism' of Blastus. It would seem that Victor had decided that the time had come to end the privileged position which had been granted to the Asians by Xystus seventy years before and confirmed by Anicetus after his conference with Polycarp. He knew that this would involve him in conflict with Ephesus, and he realized that it would be necessary for him to get the support of powerful churches overseas. No doubt he did so. He had the support of Irenaeus on the Paschal question, and possibly of other Asians too. He held a synod at Rome and wrote letters to the leading bishops overseas requesting them to hold synods, too, and consider the matter.
The consideration of the same question by the whole catholic church through concerted regional synods is a landmark in Christian history as important as the Council of Nicaea itself. We have not seen the church acting simultaneously before, and it is interesting to see how it does it. The 'more powerful leadership' of the Roman church, of which Irenaeus had spoken, is very evident, for it is Victor who initiates action; but the work of consideration remains regional. The details cannot be fully ascertained but the story as a whole is perfectly clear. A time came when Victor found that he had enough support to justify action. At some point, he wrote a letter to Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, requesting him to call a synod of bishops to consider the matter, and it would appear that he included in the letter some reference to what might happen if the Asians did not comply with his requests. This, at any rate, is where the controversy begins to come clearly into view;
|378 but matters must have proceeded a long way before such a point was reached. "We do not possess a copy of the letter which he wrote to Polycrates, but very fortunately Eusebius has preserved some extracts from the reply which Polycrates made to it; and these are very revealing. They give us our last good picture from Asia Minor.
Polycrates called a synod of the Asian bishops, who unanimously supported him in defending their ancestral customs. They authorized him to write a firm letter, which he did. He is not to be moved by threats, he says. He may be a small man (can Victor have said that?) but the support which he has received shows that he has not worn his grey hairs in vain. He has lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and seven of his family have been bishops; he is the eighth. He has conferred with bishops from all over the world. Greater men than he have said that we should obey God rather than men; it is a form of citation which recalls a favourite phrase of Irenaeus, 'A better man than we are has said'; it would appear to be an Asian idiom; these two men, Irenaeus and Polycrates, were much of an age, and had the same ecclesiastical background.
It is a spirited reply, and the information which it gives is of great historical value. The sixty-five years of Polycrates 'in the Lord' had begun about A.D. 125 or 130. He was at least twenty-five when Polycarp died. In his highly episcopal family he had mixed with men who remembered John and those other disciples. Victor, in his Epistle, seems to have alluded to the Roman founders, St Peter and St Paul, in support of the Roman custom; for Polycrates states that 'great lights' had fallen asleep in Asia too. He commences his list of them with St Philip and St John, taking them in the order of their deaths.
Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters; and another daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit, and now rests at Ephesus.
And there is John too, who reclined upon the breast of the Lord; he became a priest, wearing the petalon, and was both witness [martus] and teacher; he sleeps in Ephesus.
And there is Polycarp in Smyrna, both bishop and 'witness', and Thraseas both bishop and 'witness', from Eumeneia, who fell asleep in Smyrna.
|379 And what need to mention Sagaris, bishop and 'witness', who sleeps in Laodicea.
And Papirius too, the blessed, and Melito the eunuch who ever lived his life in the Holy Spirit, and lies in Sardis awaiting the visitation [episkope] from heaven.
(Polycrates, Epistle to Victor, in Eusebius, E.H. v, 24, 2-6.)
This catalogue or litany of glorious and well-remembered names is a part of the appeal to apostolic and catholic history which was being stirred up everywhere by the controversy. These are the witnesses on which the churches of Hierapolis and Ephesus and Smyrna and Laodicea and Sardis depended to establish their case. These are the real and spiritual signatures to the conciliar letter. Others must find more glorious names if they can.
We cannot help noting the same stress on martyrdom and asceticism, along with episcopacy and apostolic origin, which we have noted in the records of the Montanist controversy. Polycrates belongs to the Asian tradition, and writes in strong figures of speech. The word martus, or witness, means no more than confessor if so required. The word 'eunuch' probably means no more than an ascetic and celibate, and the description of St John is expressed in figures of speech drawn from the Jerusalem Temple, the petalon being the golden plate which the high priest wore on his forehead. James the Just is described by Hegesippus in a very similar way; 'he alone went into the sanctuary', and so forth. The concept of the apostolic founder as a mystical and priestly personage was no foible of Polycrates. We remember the ordination prayer of Hippolytus in which the apostles are regarded as having established sanctuaries everywhere after the pattern of the Jerusalem Temple; Irenaeus and Clement treat the apostolate as a form of the priesthood; and Paul describes his apostolate to the Gentiles in priestly terms (Romans xv. 16).
The answer of Victor to Polycrates was a sentence of excommunication. We must give the actual words of Eusebius based on his study of the original documents.
Victor, the president of the church of the Romans, without any trepidation, attempted to cut off the paroikiai of all Asia, together with the adjoining |380 churches, from the common unity, as heretics, and actually certifies it [or denounces them] by means of documents, proclaiming that all the brethren in those parts were entirely cut off from communion.
But this was not by any means pleasing to all the bishops; indeed they replied urging him strongly to think upon those things which belong to peace and to neighbourly unity and to love; and the actual words of these bishops are extant, in which they assail Victor with great severity; among whom was Irenaeus, who wrote a letter in the name of the Gallican brethren over whom he presided, in which he laid it down that the mystery of the Lord's resurrection should be celebrated only on the Lord's day, and also bestows a great deal of advice on Victor, in a suitable manner, to the effect that he should not cut off whole churches of God on account of their preserving the tradition of an ancient custom.
(Eusebius, E.H. v, 24, 9-11.)
In the days of Eleutherus, Irenaeus had glorified the stability and orthodoxy of the Roman church; he had said that it was necessary for all other churches to convene there (or agree with it, as some scholars translate the word); and it had been established that a majority of churches did agree with it on the point under debate. Nevertheless, it now fell to his duty to voice the general disagreement with the bishop of Rome in his policy towards the minority group. It was made clear that the church as a whole would not support any attempt to force the liturgical custom of the majority upon apostolic churches which had inherited a different one.
Eusebius preserves parts of the conciliar Epistle issued by Irenaeus, and we have made considerable use of it in reconstructing our history. He traces back the differences of custom to the most ancient period of church history; he points to the policy of toleration which had existed in Rome for seventy years; he supports the Roman Easter, but he asks for a recognition of divergences. His role is that of an ambassador for peace, as it had been in the Montanist affair rather more than ten years earlier.
The question which naturally arises is whether this inter-episcopal and inter-synodical procedure had been employed before. Eusebius says that Victor attempted to cut off the Asian churches from the common unity as if they were heretics ; so that it looks very much as if the heretical schools had been cut off from the common unity by concerted action of this kind, and it becomes likely that the world-wide agreement of the catholic church on such points of common interest had |381 been effected and registered during the previous generation by the exchange of episcopal and conciliar letters, and also that the church of Rome, with its old tradition and its international character, had exercised considerable influence, and even taken the lead.
The visits to Rome of overseas bishops, like Polycarp and Avircius, are thought by some scholars to be related to the leadership of the Roman church in action of this kind. The letter of the Gallican Christians addressed to Rome and Asia in 178 seems to be in line with this supposition; and Irenaeus, who acted as a mediator in that dispute, was acting as a mediator in this one, Eusebius says. The interlocking conciliar system must have been operating in the church fairly widely before its appearance in our records on a large scale in connexion with the Paschal question.
We are thus able to complete our survey of the second-century church order by a consideration of the conciliar system and the festal calendar.
The ancient world understood, better than the modern, how much the lives of men are influenced and even governed by the recurrence of nights and days and seasons and years, which are conditioned in their turn by the revolutions and variations of suns and moons. The first moon of spring was a disturbing and exciting moon. The Jews called it Nisan, and held their Pascha or Passover when it was full. On the fourteenth day of that moon, they fasted all day, they killed their lamb in the Temple (so long as it was standing), and then, when the sun set and the full moon rose, they ate it in their houses and thought upon the deliverance from Egypt, when the angel of death passed over them and smote the Egyptians; they drank the cup of blessing; they partook of the spotless lamb; they ate of the unleavened bread.
It was at this spring festival that Jesus had been crucified, and when it came round, the tides of faith and feeling rose to their highest point. The scroll of the Gospel was brought out and the narrative of the Passion read. The day was kept as a solemn fast; it was the day when the bridegroom was taken from them, and the Lord had said that they would fast in that day. The new converts were baptized; the faith of the veteran Christians was renewed.
|382 The argument about the day among the Christians was an intricate one, and it is probable that we do not altogether follow it. The Asian Christians had a custom which dated from the time of John, and very likely from the time of Paul, which consecrated the actual day of the Jewish Passover. The divergence in Asia seems to have arisen from a divergence in the Gospel records. According to Matthew the Lord had kept the Passover before his death, and therefore Christians should do the same; according to John he had not; he had died on the Passover day, and Christians should observe it simply as the anniversary of his death. He was the true Paschal Lamb.
The Romans looked at it in a different way. They were more concerned with the days of the week. Everybody agreed that the Lord had been crucified on a Friday, and risen again on a Sunday. The important day was the Sunday which came immediately after the Passover. The Passover might come on any day of the week; but the Romans always observed the following Sunday with a fast on the preceding days; there was some divergence in detail, Irenaeus says, but in Hippolytus the fast was on the Friday and the Saturday; Good Friday and Holy Saturday (as we call them now) and these were the days which were devoted to the baptismal rite.
It is a curious fact that the Sunday after the Passover was a festal day in its own right in the old Jewish calendar, according to the Sadducee computation;it was the Omer or First-fruits which the Pharisees kept on Nisan sixteen. It looks very much as if the Asian custom had been fixed originally in accordance with the Pharisee computation, and the Roman in accordance with the Sadducee.
This festival of the Omer was the first of the fifty days which led up to Pentecost, and the church observed these days. They were suitable for baptisms, Tertullian says, though Easter Eve was the best of all days for that. No fast should be kept during this period, and there should be no bending of the knee. According to the Epistle of the Apostles it was the time when Christians should look for the return of their Lord.
There is some evidence that attempts were being made to work out a |383 fixed system of festivals based on the Roman calendar. The Basilidians of Alexandria had their festival of the birthday of the Christ on 6 or 10 January, thus consecrating the pagan New Year. They studied such matters in Alexandria and made close calculations, but, like other learned men, they did not always agree. There were some who preferred the Syrian New Year or birth of the sun on 18 November, as we learn from Clement of Alexandria and Epiphanius. Hippolytus in Rome spent much time on research of this sort and worked out the dates of the Annunciation and the Passion for 25 March; it followed that the Nativity occurred on 25 December, which coincided with the old Roman New Year festival of the Saturnalia. Somewhat similar calculations were being made by the obscure sect called the Alogi. The Phrygians, at some time or another, fixed their Paschal day for 25 March, which was the high day of their god Attis, who also had a sanctuary in Rome. At the time of the great Paschal controversy these calculations may not have been much more than speculations; but they eventually captured for Christian use the old pagan rituals of the great turning-points of the sun's year.
Eusebius, who studied in the library at Caesarea before he became the bishop of that city, found a quantity of correspondence which had been preserved there ever since the days of the Paschal controversy, and he was therefore in a position to say a good deal about the various councils and conciliar Epistles. We have mentioned the Epistles issued by Victor, Polycrates and Irenaeus, on behalf of Rome, Asia and Gaul respectively. Eusebius had also seen the Epistle which was issued by a synod in Pontus, which was presided over by Palmas of Amastris as the senior bishop; he was the same Palmas who had been addressed by Dionysius of Corinth about thirty years before. Bachyllus was bishop of Corinth now, and had issued a letter on his own account; Eusebius does not mention a synod there. A Palestinian synod was held at Caesarea, and was presided over by Theophilus of Caesarea and Narcissus of Jerusalem, a rather peculiar arrangement, one would think; Cassius, bishop of Tyre, and Clarus, bishop of Ptolemais, were among those who attended it. The Epistle which was sent out by this council was preserved in the Caesarean archives. It treated at length of the |384 'tradition concerning the Pascha which had come down to them out of the succession of the apostles', and concluded by saying,
Take care that copies of our Epistle be sent to every paroikia, that we may not be responsible in the case of those who readily delude their own souls.
(Eusebius, E.H. v, 25.)
– from which we infer that there were churches in Palestine and southern Syria which kept the Christian Pascha on the Jewish day. The Jewish Christians would certainly do so.
There is an additional note of great interest,
We inform you that they observe the same day as we do in Alexandria; for letters have been sent from us to them and from them to us, so that we may keep the holy day harmoniously and together.
This letter seems to prove the existence of a regional church organization for the Gentile churches in Palestine and Southern Syria, whose presiding bishop might be either the bishop of Caesarea, or the bishop of Aelia; more likely the former, since that was the custom which established itself in later times. This network of churches depended on Alexandria for guidance in regard to the calendar. This is not surprising, since Alexandria was a centre of astronomical study; and we doubtless have here the beginning of a custom by which the bishop of Alexandria issued' Festal Epistles' on the Feast of the Epiphany (which was already being kept in that city) informing the church at large when the Pascha would fall. Alexandria supported Rome on the question of the Paschal tradition, and no doubt Victor had assured himself of this before attacking the Asians. Clement, who was by now the head of the Alexandrian School, in succession to Pantaenus, wrote a treatise Concerning the Pascha, of which a few scraps are preserved in the Paschal Chronicle ; but it is not at all clear that he took the same line as his bishop. He may have favoured the Quartodeciman side.
Alexandria, like Rome, had a strong man as bishop, and his date of accession was about 190. He must have been a young man, since he administered his paroikia for over forty years. According to Jerome, he was a rustic of no great intellectual ability, and, if this is true, it makes it all the more remarkable that the school which he controlled had such
|385 a liberal policy. He was the bishop, according to the tenth-century annalist Eutychius, who appointed other bishops, for the first time, in the land of Egypt. There were three of these, he says, which would have been a sufficient number to consecrate a new bishop. The effect of the change would be to lift the responsibility for an episcopal appointment out of the control of the presbyters and lodge it in an episcopal college. However, Jerome says that the appointment of the bishop of Alexandria from among the presbyters and by the presbyters continued into the time of Heraclas, the successor of Demetrius; Eutychius makes it continue down to the time of the Council of Nicaea.
Eusebius also has a record of a council in the far-Syrian kingdom of Osrhoene, presumably in the capital city of Edessa, which agreed with all these councils in supporting the Roman position. This city came under strict Roman control in the year 195, and the council probably represented the views of the western influx of population and the pro-Roman element in the population. There is evidence of serious divisions along these lines in Edessa at this time; for the tradition speaks of a new bishop named Palut, who was consecrated by Serapion of Antioch, who is quite erroneously said to have been consecrated by Zephyrinus of Rome.
Theophilus, the scholar and author, had been succeeded by Maxi-minus, and Maximinus by Serapion about 191 or 192. There is no evidence at all about the views of Serapion on the Paschal question; the controversies in which we find him engaged are with Montanists and Docetae. In the first of these he preserves for us interesting evidence about Phrygian synods of an earlier date; in the second he preserves interesting evidence about an apocryphal Gospel.
The omission of any reference to Antioch by Eusebius in connexion with the Paschal controversy strongly suggests that it did not agree with Rome in spite of the line taken in Osrhoene. It may be that the east in general sympathized with the Asians and supported the Quartodeciman position. Later evidence confirms this conclusion. Athanasius says that in his time, Cilicia, Mesopotamia and Syria were Quartodeciman; and Chrysostom, who was an Antiochene himself, says that Antioch was formerly Quartodeciman. These statements explain the
|386 silence of Eusebius, and prove that the Asians had wide-spread support. We are reminded of the general attitude of Theophilus; Syria is not entirely at one with the Greco-Roman world. On the other hand, Jerusalem is in line with Rome through its affiliation with Alexandria; and this is a new alignment, though it is not unlike the understanding between Palestine and Rome which is suggested in the Books of Clement.
There is no news about the Paschal controversy from Phrygia, but the controversy over the New Prophecy was blazing fiercely. In the last years or year of Commodus, that is to say about 190 or 191, there were great arguments in Ancyra, the modern Ankara, one of the chief cities of northern Galatia, a country which had been settled by invading Gauls as much as four centuries before, giving their name to the whole region where they settled, and later to the Roman Province into which it was incorporated.
Two visitors from the Phrygian Pentapolis were invited to be present. One of them was something of an expert on the history of the New Prophecy; but unfortunately his name is not recorded; he is referred to as ' the Anonymous'. His companion was Zoticus of Otrous, who, perhaps, is to be distinguished from Zoticus of Cumana, who had confronted Maximilla in the earlier days of the movement. The discourses and arguments of the Anonymous were so effective that the local presbyters requested him to leave them a written memorandum of what he had said. He had been asked to write a treatise on the subject a long time before by his neighbour, the venerable Avircius Marcellus of Hierapolis, but had hesitated to do so because he did not want to incur the accusation of seeking to add a new document to the 'New Testament' of the gospel; but, on reaching home, he addressed himself to the task. He dedicated his book to Avircius and sent off a copy to Ancyra.
His sensitiveness on the subject of the New Testament indicates that the limits of the New Testament were a subject of hot discussion between the churchmen and the prophets. He is the first writer to use this name for the list of apostolic books which were read in church.
About the same time, 'the fortieth year after Montanus began his pretended prophesying', Apollonius wrote on the same subject. He was |387 much concerned about a certain Alexander, an ex-bandit and ex-martyr, who was flourishing with his prophetess somewhere in Asia or Phrygia and indulging in high living at the expense of the widow and orphan.
Tell me [asks Apollonius], does a prophet dye his hair? Does a prophet paint his eyelids? Does a prophet love adornment? Does a prophet play at gaming-tables and dice? Does a prophet lend out money on usury? Let them agree as to whether these things are permitted or not, and I for my part will prove that they took place among them.
(Apollonius in Eusebius, E.H. v, 18, 11.)
It looks as if Apollonius was an Ephesian. He refers inquirers about Alexander to the official records of Asia, and mentions the name of the proconsul under whom Alexander was condemned for the crime of robbery at Ephesus, prior to his imprisonment as a martyr. This statement reminds us of the story of Callistus at Rome, and there may be two sides to it in both cases. It was a strong recommendation, apparently, for any new teacher or prophet, to have spent time in gaol; we have Praxeasand Noetus and Theodotus, all from Asia. Apollonius uses the Revelation of John, and mentions a story about the apostle John raising a dead man in Ephesus, which is a point of contact with the Acts of John. He dates the encounter with Maximilla by the martyrdom of Thraseas, which is said by Polycrates to have taken place in Smyrna. He may have been the successor of Polycrates as bishop of Ephesus; a fifth-century writer, Predestinatus, gives him this title.
The Anonymous mentions a persecution at Apamea on the Meander, in which Gaius and Alexander, a catholic Alexander it would seem, bore their witness; and he says that on this occasion the martyrs from the church severed themselves from the communion of the martyrs from the Phrygian heresy. He says that frightful tales were being circulated among the orthodox about the deaths of Montanus and Maximilla and Theodotus, but he doubts their truth. He is the more judicious writer of the two, and probably the better informed.
At the end of the ninth century a catalogue of historic synods was drawn up by some unknown writer who made use of ancient sources. This book is called the Synodicon or Libellus Synodicus. Its earliest |388 entries concern the synods which dealt with the Montanist and Paschal controversies. Our first impression might be that these particulars were derived from the pages of Eusebius himself, with the aid of a rather free use of the imagination; but the Synodicon is a serious compilation and is entitled to as much respect as the fifth-century Philip of Side, or the eighth-century Georgios Hamartolos, or the tenth-century Eutychius. Any one of them may be following some ancient authority of real merit. Furthermore, it appeared that the details which it gave about the Montanist synods of an earlier date were worthy of consideration.
Similar details are supplied for the councils held about the Paschal question; there were thirteen bishops at the council in Gaul presided over by Irenaeus, fourteen in Rome under Victor, fourteen in Jerusalem under Narcissus, twelve in Caesarea under Theophilus, fourteen in Pontus under Palmas (whose name appears as Plasmas) and eighteen in Osrhoene, the name of the president not being given. It will be seen that this is the list of Eusebius, except that it slips in a synod at Jerusalem under Narcissus in addition to a synod at Caesarea under Theophilus, whereas Eusebius speaks of a synod at Caesarea only, presided over by both bishops. The Synodicon adds a council of eighteen bishops in Mesopotamia, which looks like a duplication of that at Osrhoene, and a synod at Corinth under Bacchyllus, without giving the number of bishops.
Eusebius has no synod in Mesopotamia or Corinth, though he says that Bacchyllus of Corinth wrote a letter on his own account. Nevertheless, the list in the Synodicon looks like his, with added particulars. Is there any reason to suppose that these particulars were invented? Is there any purpose that would be served in the ninth century by inventing them? Now Eusebius had before him the original documentary records of the Montanist and Quartodeciman synods to which he refers, with conciliar Epistles and lists of bishops attending. He gives a few very short extracts from these, and in one instance he mentions actual signatures, two of which he copies. These documents existed in his time, and there is no reason why they should not have been preserved, or possibly some more complete catalogue of them. It is quite within the bounds of possibility, therefore, that the compiler of the Synodicon could have had access to these Caesarean documents or some precis of them; his numbers could have been derived from such a source. The |389 larger number of bishops present at Hierapolis under Claudius Apolinarius is quite consistent with the impression which we receive of church organization in Phrygia; bishops appear to have been numerous there. The other numbers are rather uniform perhaps; but they rather suggest that twelve was regarded as a quorum or minimum number of bishops for a regional council, just as it was thought of as the appropriate number of presbyters to be associated with a bishop in the local paroikia, according to the Palestinian and Alexandrian traditions. On the other hand, Narcissus of Jerusalem is given fourteen bishops at his council, and Theophilus of Caesarea twelve at his; and this agrees exactly with the number of Gentile predecessors of Narcissus in the Jerusalem episcopal list, and the numbers of presbyters allotted to Zacchaeus of Caesarea in the Clementine books. If these are fictions, they interlock in a truly remarkable manner.
When we turn to the other early councils on other theological questions, which are listed in the Synodicon, we find weakness and confusion; and no numbers are given. We are entitled to infer that he drew his particulars of the Montanist and Paschal synods from a distinct source of better quality, and did not invent details where his source did not supply them.
There is a chance, therefore, that he is right about his additional synod in Aelia, and that Eusebius is wrong in combining it with Caesarea. Did Eusebius, in working from notes which he had made, lose track of an Aelian council under Narcissus, and come to regard the list of signatures to it as an episcopal succession? The double presidency which he affirms for the Caesarean council might have corresponded to conditions in his own day, when Caesarea claimed metropolitical rights over Aelia, and yet Aelia had a certain dignity and independence as the successor of Jerusalem. Caesarea was his own see, and the picture which he gives would be in line with its claims. Or alternatively did Narcissus, when signing the conciliar letter, enumerate his predecessors as co-witnesses with him to the ' tradition concerning the Pascha which had come down to them out of the succession of the apostles'? In just that style Polycrates had appealed to the tradition of Philip and John; and Victor, apparently, to that of Peter and Paul. Narcissus could appeal in the same way to the tradition of James the Just. This would explain how Eusebius found himself in possession of this episcopal list, and at the same time it would explain the numbers given in the Synodicon.
The picture which has emerged from this study is the objective operative counterpart of the generalized statements about the doctrinal unity of the church which were given by Irenaeus in the Refutation. The addition which it makes to it is the interlocking regional councils of bishops, which seem to have come earlier in the more numerous and ancient churches of the east than in the more missionary west, where Rome was the only great apostolic see, Corinth and Athens coming a poor second and third. Its position there could not be rivalled, and its grandeur would increase. How far it had won or lost in prestige in the Paschal controversy is a matter for debate. It was on the winning side over the actual point of the controversy, but it was not supported in its effort to excommunicate the Asian churches, which were not without friends. The geographical distribution is almost exactly the same as it was in the days of Dionysius of Corinth, thirty years earlier; then it was Italy, Greece, Pontus, Bithynia and Crete; now it is Italy, Greece, Pontus, Bithynia, Palestine and Alexandria, with a friendly voice from distant Osrhoene. The other group extends along the old Pauline trail from Ephesus to Antioch; it is made up of Asia, Phrygia, Cilicia, Syria and Mesopotamia. The cultural and political duality of the Empire seems to be represented here in ecclesiastical terms.
The church councils were a remarkable development. The men who attended them had been elected or appointed with the consent of the communities which they served. They were the first representative bodies of a democratic character in history. They proceeded by means of free debate and the discussion of differences. They had no central executive which could impose their decisions on dissentient churches. They could only proceed by registering general agreements.
The bishops were often strong men with considerable powers; for the democratic tone of the church life was not incompatible with vigorous leadership. They stepped into their place in the succession, and appeared at the council table as spokesmen of their several traditions. It was not the merits of the various ways of celebrating the Pascha that were under discussion; the object was to discover what the apostolic custom had been, on the assumption that the apostles had bequeathed a single tradition to the church. The outcome of the inquiry was that, in this case, they had bequeathed a double tradition, and in |391 consequence the heirs of the secondary tradition were not to be disturbed.
A hundred years before this time, the various churches had depended for their external unity on their relations with the apostle or apostolic man on whom they depended for guidance and direction; a generation later we find them related to one another through the episcopate, which had inherited the functions of guidance and direction from the apostolic founders, and was also integrated constitutionally with the local ecclesia and its presbytery. By now the bishop was in a stronger position constitutionally than he had been in the days of Ignatius and Onesimus and Polycarp; and this increased strength was based on the fact that he was an elected, ordained, responsible officer, constitutionally related to his people and to the church at large; his authority being limited, however, by the form of 'apostolic' tradition to which he belonged, and for which he spoke. Ignatius had seen these possibilities in the episcopate as it existed in his time, and had commended the holding of synods on a wide geographical basis.
Along with the development of regional councils went the growing influence and importance of those bishops who were the logical men, for geographical or historical reasons, to preside over them. Irenaeus in Gaul, Victor in Rome, Bacchyllus perhaps in Corinth, Polycrates in Asia, Apollinarius during an earlier conflict in Hierapolis, Serapion in Antioch, Theophilus in Caesarea, and Demetrius in Alexandria, were becoming what were later to be called metropolitans; bishops of mother-churches. Palmas of Pontus may be an exception; it is said that he presided because he was the senior. The wider authority or influence of the greater bishops was no new thing. It may, indeed, be a primitive feature and represent the area of the original apostolic mission. It was certainly anticipated by Ignatius, who called himself bishop of Syria, and seems to regard the church of Rome as possessing a similar position of regional leadership in the west.
<< | top | >>