Heresy and Suspension of Bonosus (§ 1).

    Final Condemnation of Bonosus (§ 2).

    Bonosians in Spain and Southern Gaul (§ 3).

    Sympathy between Bonosians and Arians (§ 4).

    Relation between Bonosus and the Bonosians (§ 5).

1. Heresy and Suspension of Bonosus.

From a letter written to Anysius of Thessalonica and the other Illyrian bishops, soon after the Synod of Capua (winter of 391-392), by either Pope Siricius or an unknown Italian bishop, we learn certain facts about a bishop Bonosus, whose see is not given. He had been accused, apparently by neighboring bishops, but of what does not clearly appear in the letter, except that he had asserted that Mary bore other children to Joseph, after the birth of Jesus. The case came before this synod at Capua, called by the emperor Theodosius to put an end to the schism at Antioch (see MELETIUS OF ANTIOCH); but the synod referred it to the bishops whose dioceses bordered on those of both parties, especially the Macedonian prelates. The decision was in favor of suspension, a temporary provision being made for the administration of Bonosus's diocese. He wrote to St. Ambrose to know whether he was bound to heed this sentence, and Ambrose counseled patience. Meantime the bishops hesitated to make the sentence absolute, and would have been glad of the opinion of the writer of the letter. He, however, whether Siricius or some one else, declared that it did not belong to him "to decide as if by authority of a synod"; the responsibility, he told them, rested on them of forming such a decision that neither the accused nor the accusers should be able to evade it. So much consideration was not usually shown to "heretics"; there may have been circumstances connected with the case which we do not know. But to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary was a serious offense from the stand point of the time (see HELVIDIUS). Ambrose speaks (De instit. virg., v, 35) of a bishop being accused of this "sacrilege"–probably meaning Bonosus. It is, therefore, evident that at this time Bonosus was accused of no worse or further heresies.

2. Final Condemnation of Bonosus.

Some twenty years later we hear more of Bonosus in two letters of Innocent I–one to Marcian of Naďssus, northwest of Sardica, and a later one to the bishops of Illyria. From them it appears that Bonosus had been definitely condemned by his fellow bishops, and had then founded a separate ecclesiastical organization of his own. For the avoiding of scandal, those who had been ordained by him were, if they wished it, received back into the Church as clerics. Innocent allows this only in the case of those ordained by Bonosus before his condemnation; but here again his heresy is not specified. Twenty years later still (431), Marius Mercator names Marcellus, Photinus, "and lately the Sardican bishop, Bonosus, who was condemned by Pope Damascus, among the followers of Ebion." There is practically no doubt that this is the same Bonosus; in this case, and accepting the statement of Marius, we have learned that Bonosus was bishop of Sardica, and that his errors had grown, after 392, into dynamistic Monarchianism. We have no further information as to the fate of his following in the Balkan peninsula. The mention of him in the so-called Decretum Gelasii, even if it was written by Gelasius, and the anathemas pronounced against him by Vigilius in 552 and 553 prove nothing on this point. If Gregory I in his Epistola ad Quiricum really named the Bonosiaci with the Cataphrygians as heretics who needed rebaptism because they did not believe in Christ the Lord, this is not very strong evidence for the continued existence of the body, and tells nothing of its locality.

3. Bonosians in Spain and Southern Gaul.

The case is different with the repeated mentions of Bonosiaci or Bonosiani by the writers of Spain and southern Gaul. Gennadius quotes the Spanish bishop Audentius (end of fourth century) as having specially written against them, which proves at least that Gennadius knew them; he speaks in another place of "Photinians, who now are called Bonosians." A little later Avitus of Vienne mentions them in two well-known passages; in one he expresses himself in relation to King Gundobad (see BURGUNDIANS) as willing to accept their baptism. The 17th canon of the so-called Second Synod of Arles (generally placed 443-452) shows the same conciliatory attitude; but the Third Synod of Orléans (538) tells us that the Bonosians rebaptized their converts, which may be taken to show that their baptism was not then recognized by the other side. About the same time, according to Isidore of Seville, Justinian of Valencia was writing against them his lost Liber responsionum contra Bonosianos, qui Christum adoptivum filium et non proprium dicunt. While for Gaul the latest reference is given by the Synod of Clichy in 626 or 627; showing thus their gradual extinction there, in Spain they were attracting attention fifty years later; the Synod of Toledo in 675, declaring that Christ was the Son of God by nature, not by adoption, was plainly directed against them. On the other hand, the mention of Bonosus–not of the Bonosians–in the Adoptionist controversy (see ADOPTIONISM) does not prove that they lasted to the eighth century in Spain, nor is the medieval view that Adoptionism was a revival of the heresy of Bonosus worth considering. They really disappear with the end of the seventh century.

4. Sympathy between Bonosians and Arians.

That these mentions of Bonosians from the fifth to the seventh centuries are not merely the survival of an old term of opprobrium, but that they really existed in Spain and southern Gaul at that period has long been justly accepted. It is still further confirmed by a passage of Avitus, whose true reading (Bonosiacorum for bonorum) has only lately been established. Writing to Sigismund, his convert


son of the Arian king Gundobad, he gives the information that the latter had formally promised to set up a Bonosian community in his kingdom by the establishment of a bishop of their faith, and that this body was recruited from the Arians. This would explain the attitude of Gennadius toward their baptism. Avitus took an opposite view, either to conciliate the king, who at that time gave hopes of his conversion, or from motives of general policy. The Bonosians began to be absorbed into, the Arian body; toward the end of Gundobad's reign Avitus had hopes that they would entirely disappear, if the king could be induced to let his promises to them lapse into oblivion. The later history shows that this hope proved false, because the sect was not confined to Burgundian territory; and it is not surprising that sharp measures were taken against those who remained obdurate in their heresy under Catholic rule. Only one thing can be urged against the correctness of the account here given–the recognition of the validity of Bonosian baptism by the synod said to have been held at Arles about 450; but this really tells the other way, for general support is now accorded to the theory put forth in the eighteenth century that this second synod of Arles never had any existence, the canons attributed to it being nothing but a collection of various older synodical decisions made toward the end of the fifth century, and canon xvii having then first been heard of. Accordingly it is safe to say that the Bonosians in the generally Arian territories of the Burgundians and the West-Goths were the followers of Bonosus of Sardica, though the name Bonosus was not an uncommon one.

5. Relation between Bonosus and the Bonosians.

Isidore of Seville says expressly that they had sprung "from a certain bishop Bonosus," and the "plague of the Bonosians" did not begin in the Burgundian kingdom, since Avitus speaks of it as ab infernalibus latebris excitata. The district in which Bonosus of Sardica labored bordered on territories held in his time by the West-Goths, and relations may well have remained close between that region and the West-Goths of the south of Gaul; so that the passage of his teaching from the Balkan peninsula into the Burgundian kingdom, which was in close contact with the West-Goths, is perfectly possible, and we may safely conclude to accept the statement of Marius Mercator.


The wide-spread acceptance of the Adoptionist view of the person of Christ from the apostolic time throughout the Middle Ages and beyond (Ebionites, Shepherd of Hermas, Theodotas of Rome, Paul of Samosata, the Paulicians, most medieval sects, many Anabaptists, and others) makes it easy to account for this aspect of the teaching of the Bonosians as well as for the Spanish Adoptionism of the eighth century without the supposition of its independent origin in either case. For much valuable information on the early origin and the persecution of Adoptionist Christology cf. F. C. Conybeare, The Key of Truth; A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia. The Armenian Text edited and translated with illustrative Documents and Introduction (Oxford, 1898).

A. H. N.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ceillier, Auteurs sacrés, v, 708-711; C. W. F. Walch, Historie der Ketzereien, iii, 598-625, Leipsic, 1766; A. Helfferich, Der westgothische Arianismus, Berlin, 1860; C. Binding, Das burgundisch-romanische Königreich, vol. i, Leipsic, 1868; Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vols. ii, iii; DCB, i, 330-331.


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