Posted by: ken98 | December 2, 2009

The Original Tele-Evangelist – Paul of Samosata

Day 82 – Ken here
(DEF v.1, ch.16, pp.550-560)

The Story
The 10 Persecutions- the story of Christianity and the periods of either Peace or Persecution in the first 4 centuries before the empire became Christian under Constantine (circa 320)
(10 is a suspicious number – very biblical, and smacking of later monastic historical fiddling to get it to jive with the 10 commandments, etc.)

  • Peace? – Gibbon notes the very spurious edicts of Tiberius (circa 0) Pontius Pilate notifying Tiberius of the unjust death of Jesus) reported by Tertullian in his Apology
  • Peace? – and Gibbon notes again the even more spurious edict of Marcus Antoninus (circa 180) thanking Christians for saving his army with their prayers during the Marcomanni wars
  • Peace – Under emperor Septimus Severus, peace in the church
  • Peace for 38 years – under successors to emperor Severus, church made regular “gifts” to governors to prevent persecution (protection money) (211-249)
  • Peace under empress Julia Mammaea, and her son emperor Alexander – they both worship Christ, as well as Orpheus, Apollonius, and Abraham (although the source for this is the comedy/history of the Augustan Histories)
  • Persecution on death of emperor Alexander, emperor Maximin Thrax kills favorites of Alexander in political purge – a great number are Christian, this becomes known as a Persecution of 235 (235)
  • Peace under emperor Philip the Arab (244) open to Christianity (it was, after all a Syrian religion)
  • Persecution – On Philip’s death, Decius tries to deliver the empire from a “recent and criminal superstition” – very severe persecution of Christians
  • Peace & Persecution – Valerian at is lenient, then follows Decius’ example and severely persecutes, Gallienus is lenient (253 – 260)
  • Peace – from Gallienus on, to Diocletian we have 40 years of peace (260 – 300) until the famous persecutions under Diocletian’s last days
    Example of Paul of Samasota

  • Gibbon’s theme: the new Christian bishops are threats to the state – a state within a state (and actually viewing it from the outside, he was probably right)
  • New bishops are wealthy, powerful, corrupt
  • Paul of Samasota, a Syrian bishop, governed in Syria, wealthy, powerful, political
  • Probably would have been a martyr, had he not had a divergent opinion about the trinity that rocked Egypt and Syria
  • Through friendship with Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra and the East, he lived for four years in his see, in a state of seige
  • Emperor Aurelian caused a trial (after defeating Zenobia), and had him dispossessed of the considerable property of the bishopric

  • Church was peaceful and prosperous under emperor Diocletian, until the very end (284-303)
  • As the peace continued, and the church became richer, bishops became more tyrannical and secular, and politics and manners became the same as the rest of the Roman political world – worldly, violent, power/money-driven
  • Christian Persecutions - painting from 1883 - The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer by Jean Leon Gerome - a popular image, but not a very true one

    Christian Persecutions - painting from 1883 - The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer by Jean Leon Gerome - a popular image, but not a very true one

    Gibbon on Paul of Samasota (from Eusebius)

    We only have the scandalous side of Paul’s story because Paul took a losing minority position on an evolving doctrinal point about the trinity (involving precisely when Jesus became God – at birth, or baptism). Because he was a heretic, Eusebius (a contemporary fellow bishop, and a historian/writer) felt free to expose and attack Paul without regard for Paul’s reputation as the bishop of one of the most important cities in the world. Antioch was a fabulously rich and populous city, and the church there was huge – so this provides a rare glimpse (albeit through Eusebius’ scorn-colored glasses) to see how far the church had evolved from primitive first century clandestine gatherings to major power player on the world stage.

    Eusebius of Caesarea - foe of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch

    Eusebius of Caesarea - foe of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch

    This per Gibbon (based in a large part on Eusebius): “The story of Paul of Samosata, who filled the metropolitan see of Antioch while the East was in the hands of Odenathus and Zenobia, may serve to illustrate the condition and character of the times. The wealth of that prelate was a sufficient evidence of his guilt, since it was neither derived from the inheritance of his fathers, nor acquired by the arts of honest industry.

    But Paul considered the service of the church as a very lucrative profession. His ecclesiastical jurisdiction was venal and rapacious; he extorted frequent contributions from the most opulent of the faithful, and converted to his own use a considerable part of the public revenue. By his pride and luxury the Christian religion was rendered odious in the eyes of the Gentiles. His council chamber and his throne, the splendour with which he appeared in public, the suppliant crowd who solicited his attention, the multitude of letters and petitions to which he dictated his answers, and the perpetual hurry of business in which he was involved, were circumstances much better suited to the state of a civil magistrate than to the humility of a primitive bishop. When he harangued his people from the pulpit, Paul affected the figurative style and the theatrical gestures of an Asiatic sophist, while the cathedral resounded with the loudest and most extravagant acclamations in the praise of his divine eloquence. Against those who resisted his power, or refused to flatter his vanity, the prelate of Antioch was arrogant, rigid, and inexorable; but he relaxed the discipline, and lavished the treasures of the church on his dependent clergy, who were permitted to imitate their master in the gratification of every sensual appetite. For Paul indulged himself very freely in the pleasures of the table, and he had received into the episcopal palace two young and beautiful women, as the constant companions of his leisure moments.

    He is degraded from the see of Antioch. A.D. 270. Notwithstanding these scandalous vices, if Paul of Samosata had preserved the purity of the orthodox faith, his reign over the capital of Syria would have ended only with his life; and had a reasonable persecution intervened, an effort of court might perhaps have placed him in the rank of saints and martyrs. Some nice and subtle errors, which he imprudently adopted and obstinately maintained, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, excited the zeal and indignation of the Eastern churches. From Egypt to the Euxine Sea, the bishops were in arms and in motion.

    Several councils were held, confutations were published, ex-communications were pronounced, ambiguous explanations were by turns accepted and refused, treaties were concluded and violated, and at length Paul of Samosata was degraded from his episcopal character by the sentence of seventy or eighty bishops who assembled for that purpose at Antioch, and who, without consulting the rights of the clergy or people, appointed a successor by their own authority. The manifest irregularity of this proceeding increased the numbers of the discontented faction; and as Paul, who was no stranger to the arts of courts, had insinuated himself into the favour of Zenobia, he maintained above four years the possession of the episcopal house and office.

    The victory of Aurelian changed the face of the East, and the two contending parties, who applied to each other the epithets of schism and heresy, were either commanded or permitted to plead their cause before the tribunal of the conqueror. This public and very singular trial affords a convincing proof that the existence, the property, the privileges, and the internal policy of the Christians, were acknowledged, if not by the laws, at least by the magistrates of the empire. As a Pagan and as a soldier, it could scarcely be expected that Aurelian should enter into the discussion, whether the sentiments of Paul or those of his adversaries were most agreeable to the true standard of the orthodox faith. His determination, however, was founded on the general principles of equity and reason.

    The sentence is executed by Aurelian. A.D. 274. He considered the bishops of Italy as the most impartial and respectable judges among the Christians, and, as soon as he was informed that they had unanimously approved the sentence of the council, he acquiesced in their opinion, and immediately gave orders that Paul should be compelled to relinquish the temporal possessions belonging to an office, of which, in the judgment of his brethren, he had been regularly deprived. But while we applaud the justice, we should not overlook the policy of Aurelian, who was desirous of restoring and cementing the dependence of the provinces of the capital, by every means which could bind the interest or prejudices of any part of his subjects.” (DEF v.1, ch.16, pp.556-557).


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