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§ 134. The Origenistic Controversy in Egypt and Constantinople. Theophilus and Chrysostom a.d. 399–407.


Meanwhile a second act of this controversy was opened in Egypt, in which the unprincipled, ambitious, and intriguing bishop Theophilus of Alexandria plays the leading part. This bishop was at first an admirer of Origen, and despised the anthropomorphite monks, but afterwards, through a personal quarrel with Isidore and the “four tall brethren,” who refused to deliver the church funds into his hands, he became an opponent of Origen, attacked his errors in several documents (399–403),15301530   In his Epistola Synodica ad episcopos Palaestinos et ad Cyprios, 400, and in three successive Epistolae Paschales, from 401-403, all translated by Jeromeand forming Epp. 92, 96, 98, and l00 of his Epistles, according to the order of Vallarsi. They enter more deeply into the topics of the controversy than Jerome’s own writings against Origen. Jerome(Ep. 99 ad Theophilum) pays him the compliment: “Rhetoricae eloquentiae jungis philosophos, et Demosthenem atque Platonem nobis consocias.” and pronounced an anathema on his memory, in which he was supported by Epiphanius, Jerome, and the Roman bishop Anastasius. At the same time he indulged in the most violent measures against the Origenistic, monks, and banished them from Egypt. Most of these monks fled to Palestine; but some: fifty, among whom were the four tall brethren, went to Constantinople, and found there a cordial welcome with the bishop John Chrysostom in 401.

In this way that noble man became involved in the dispute. As an adherent of the Antiochian school, and as a practical theologian, he had no sympathy with the philosophical speculation of Origen, but he knew how to appreciate his merits in the exposition of the Scriptures, and was impelled by Christian love and justice to intercede with Theophilus in behalf of the persecuted monks, though he did not admit them to the holy communion till they proved their innocence.

Theophilus now set every instrument in motion to overthrow the long envied Chrysostom, and employed even Epiphanius, then almost an octogenarian, as a tool of his hierarchical plans. This old man journeyed in mid-winter in 402 to Constantinople, in the imagination that by his very presence he would be able to destroy the thousand-headed hydra of heresy, and he would neither hold church fellowship with Chrysostom, who assembled the whole clergy of the city to greet him, nor pray for the dying son of the emperor, until all Origenistic heretics should be banished from the capital, and he might publish the anathema from the altar. But he found that injustice was done to the Nitrian monks, and soon took ship again to Cyprus, saying to the bishops who accompanied him to the sea shore: “I leave to you the city, the palace, and hypocrisy; but I go, for I must make great haste.” He died on the ship in the summer of 403.

What the honest coarseness of Epiphanius failed to effect, was accomplished by the cunning of Theophilus, who now himself travelled to Constantinople, and immediately appeared as accuser and judge. He well knew how to use the dissatisfaction of the clergy, of the empress Eudoxia, and of the court with Chrysostom on account of his moral severity and his bold denunciations.15311531   According to Socrates (H.E. vi. 4) another special reason for the disaffection was, that Chrysostomalways ate alone, and never accepted an invitation to a banquet, either on account of dyspepsia or habitual abstemiousness. But by the people he was greatly esteemed and loved as a man and as a preacher. In Chrysostom’s own diocese, on an estate “at the oak”15321532   Πρὸς τὴν δρῦν, Synodus ad Quercum. The estate belonged to the imperial prefect Rufinus, and had a palace, a large church, and a monastery. Sozomen, viii. 17. in Chalcedon, he held a secret council of thirty-six bishops against Chrysostom, and there procured, upon false charges of immorality, unchurchly conduct, and high treason, his deposition and banishment in 403.15331533   Among the twenty-nine charges were these: that Chrysostomcalled the Saint Epiphanius a fool and demon; that he wrote a book full of abuse of the clergy; that he received visits from females without witnesses; that he bathed alone and ate alone! See Hefele, ii. p. 78 sqq. Chrysostom was recalled indeed in three days in consequence of an earthquake and the dissatisfaction of the people, but was again condemned by a council in 404, and banished from the court, because, incensed by the erection of a silver statue of Eudoxia close to the church of St. Sophia, and by the theatrical performances connected with it, he had with unwise and unjust exaggeration opened a sermon on Mark vi. 17 ff., in commemoration of John the Baptist with the personal allusion: “Again Herodias rages, again she raves, again she dances, and again she demands the head of John [this was Chrysostom’s own name] upon a charger.”15341534   Πάλιν Ἡρωδίας μαίνεται, πάλιν ταράσσεται, πάλιν ὀρχεῖται, πάλιν ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν τοῦ Ἰωάννου ζητεῖ λαβεῖν.Comp. Socr. H. E. vi. 18. Eudoxia was a young and beautiful woman, who despised her husband, and indulged her passions. She died four years after the birth of her son Theodosius the Younger, whose true father is said to have been the comes John. Comp, Gibbon, ch. xxxii. From his exile in Cucusus and Arabissus he corresponded with all parts of the Christian world, took lively interest in the missions in Persia and Scythia, and appealed to a general council. His opponents procured from Arcadius an order for his transportation to the remote desert of Pityus. On the way thither he died at Comana in Pontus, a.d. 407, in the sixtieth year of his age, praising God for everything, even for his unmerited persecutions.15351535   Δόξα τῷ Θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν, were his last words, the motto of his life and work.

Chrysostom was venerated by the people as a saint, and thirty years after his death, by order of Theodosius II. (438), his bones were brought back in triumph to Constantinople, and deposited in the imperial tomb. The emperor himself met the remains at Chalcedon, fell down before the coffin, and in the name of his guilty parents, Arcadius and Eudoxia, implored the forgiveness of the holy man. The age could not indeed understand and appreciate the bold spirit of Origen, but was still accessible to the narrow piety of Epiphanius and the noble virtues of Chrysostom.

In spite of this prevailing aversion of the time to free speculation, Origen always retained many readers and admirers, especially among the monks in Palestine, two of whom, Domitian and Theodorus Askidas, came to favor and influence at the court of Justinian I. But under this emperor the dispute on the orthodoxy of Origen was renewed about the middle of the sixth century in connection with the controversy on the Three Chapters, and ended with the condemnation of fifteen propositions of Origen at a council in 544.15361536   It was only a σύνοδος ἐνδημοῦσα, i.e., a council of the bishops just then in Constantinople, and is not to be confounded with the fifth ecumenical council at Constantinople in 553, which decided only the controversy of the Three Chapters. Comp. Mansi, Conc. tom. ix. fol. 395-399 (where the fifteen canons are given); Walch, Ketzerhistorie, vii. 660; and Gieseler, K. Gesch. i. ii. p. 368. Since then no one has ventured until recent times to raise his voice for Origen, and many of his works have perished.

With Cyril of Alexandria the theological productivity of the Greek church, and with Theodoret the exegetical, became almost extinct. The Greeks thenceforth contented themselves for the most part with revisions and collections of the older treasures. A church which no longer advances, goes backwards, or falls in stagnation.


III. The Christological Controversies.


Among the works on the whole field of the Christological controversies should be compared especially the already cited works of Petavius (tom. iv. De incarnatione Verbi), Walch (Ketzerhistorie, vol. v.-ix.), Baur, and Dorner. The special literature will be given at the heads of the several sections.



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