Reader Mode Text to speech

CHAPTER III. – HERESIES OF THE THIRD CENTURY. -1.-Praxeas. 2.-Sabellius. 3. -Paul of Samosata. 4.-Manes. 5.- Tertullian. 6.-Origen. 7.-Novatus and Novatian. 8.-Nipos. The Angelicals and the Apostolicals.

  1. Praxeas, a native of Phrigia, was at first a Montanist, but afterwards becoming an enemy of Montanus, he caused him to be condemned by Pope Zepherinus, concealing his own heresy at the same time. Being soon discovered, he retracted his opinions, but soon afterwards openly proclaimed them. He denied the mystery of the Trinity, saying that in God there was but one person and one nature, which he called the Father. This sole person, he said, descended into the womb of the Virgin, and being born of her by means of the incarnation, was called Jesus Christ. According to this impious doctrine, then, it was the Father who suffered death, and on that account his followers were called Patripassionists. The most remarkable among his disciples were Berillus, Noetus, and Sabellius. Berillus was Bishop of Bostris in Arabia; he said that Christ, before his incarnation, had no divinity, and in his incarnation had no divinity of his own, but only that of the Father. Noel Alexander says that Origen refuted him, and brought him back to the Catholic faith (1). Noetus, more obstinate in error, said that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost were but one person and one God; he and his followers were cut off from the Church, and, as he died impenitent, he was refused Christian burial (2). The most celebrated promoter of this error was Sabellius.
  2. Sabellius was born in the Ptolemais in Africa, and lived in the year 227. He shed a greater lustre, if we may say so, on the heresy of his master, and on that account this impious sect was called Sabellians. He denied the distinction of the three persons in the Trinity, and said they were but three names to distinguish the different operations of the Divinity. The Trinity, he said, was like the sun, in which we distinguish the light, the heat, and the form, though the sun be but one and the same. The light represents the Son, the heat the Holy Ghost, and the figure or substance of the sun itself the Father, who, in one person alone, contained the Son and the Holy Ghost (3). This error we will refute in the last part of the work.

(1) Nat. Alex. t. 7, s. 3, c. 3, ar. 1, ex Euseb.; Van Ranst, p. 65.

(2) Nat, Alex, ibid, c. 3, ar. 7; Van Ranst, p. 48.

(3) Nat. Alex. t. 7, c. 3, ar. 7; Orsi, t. 2, l. 5, n. 14; Hermant, 1. 1, c. 60; Fleury, I. 7, n. 35.

  1. Paul of Samosata was Bishop of Antioch. Before his appointment to the see he was poor, but afterwards, by extortion and sacrilege, by selling justice, and making false promises, he amassed a great deal of wealth. He was so vain and proud that he never appeared in public without a crowd of courtiers; he was always preceded by one hundred servants, and followed by a like number, and his own praises were the only subjects of his sermons; he not only abused those who did not flatter him, but frequently also offered them personal violence; and at length his vanity arrived at such a pitch that he had a choir of courtezans to sing hymns in his praise in the church; he was so dissolute in his morals that he had always a number of ladies of lax morals in his train. In fine, this impious prelate crowned all his crimes with heresy. The first of his blasphemies was, that Jesus Christ never existed until he was born of the Virgin, and hence he said he was a mere man; he also said that in Jesus there were two persons and two sons of God, one by nature and the other by adoption; he also denied the Trinity of the Divine persons, and although he admitted the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, not, however, denying, as Orsi thinks, personal existence to the Son and the Holy Ghost, yet he did not recognize either one or the other as persons of the Trinity, attributing to the Father alone the incarnation and passion (4). His disciples inserted those errors in their profession of faith, and in the formula of Baptism, but N. Alexander says that it is uncertain whether Paul was the author of this heresy.
  2. Manes was the founder of the Manicheans, and he adopted this name on account of taking to himself the title of the Paraclete, and to conceal the lowliness of his condition, since he was at first only a slave in Persia, but was liberated and adopted by an old lady of that country. She sent him to the public academy to be educated, but he made little progress in learning. Whatever he wanted in learning he made up in impudence, and on that account he endeavoured to institute a new sect; and, to enlist the peasantry under the banner of his heresy, he studied magic with particular attention. To acquire a name for himself he undertook to cure the King of Persia’s son, who was despaired of by the physicians. Unfortunately for him, however, the child died, notwithstanding all his endeavours to save him, and he was thrown into prison, and would have been put to death only he bribed the guards to let him escape. Misfortune, however, pursued him : after travelling through various countries, he fell again into the King’s hands, who ordered him to be flayed alive with a sharp-pointed reed; his body was thrown to the beasts, and his skin hung up in the city gate, and thus the impious Manes closed his career. He left many followers after him, among whom was St. Augustine, in his youth, but, enlightened by the Almighty, he abandoned his errors, and became one of his most strenuous opponents (5).

(4) Orsi, t. 3, l. 8, n. 15; Gotti de Vera Rel. t. 2, c, 11, s. 2; N. Alex. t. 7, c. 3, ar. 8, sec. 2; Hermant, t. 1, c. 63; Fleury, t. 2, l. 8, n. 1.

(5) Baron. Ann. 277, ex n. 1; Nat. Alex. t. 7, c. 3, ar. 9, sec. 1.

The errors of Manes can be classed under the following heads : 1st. He admitted the plurality of Gods, alleging that there were two principles, one of good and the other of evil. Another of his errors was, that man had two souls one bad, which the evil principle created, together with the body, and another, good, created by the good principle, which was co-eternal, and of the same nature with God. All the good actions which man performs he attributes to the good soul, and all the evil ones he commits to the bad soul. He deprived man of free-will, saying that he was always carried irresistibly forward by a force which his will could not resist. He denied the necessity of baptism, and entirely abolished that sacrament. Among many other errors, the Manicheans detested the flesh, as being created by the evil principle, and, therefore, denied that Jesus Christ ever took a body like ours, and they were addicted to every sort of impurity (6). They spread almost over the entire world, and though condemned by many Popes, and persecuted by many Emperors, as Dioclesian, Gratian, and Theodosius, but especially by Justin and Justinian, who caused many of them to be burned alive in Armenia, still they were not annihilated till the year 1052, when, as Baronius relates, Henry II., finding some of them lurking in France, caused them to be hanged. The refutation of this heresy we have written in the book called the Truth of the Faith (7).

  1. Tertullian was born, as Fleury (8) relates, in Carthage, and his father was a centurion in the Pretorian Bands. He was at first a Pagan, but was converted about the year 197, and was a priest for forty years, and died at a very advanced age. He wrote many works of the highest utility to the Church, on Baptism, Penance, Idolatry, on the Soul, on Proscriptions, and an Apology for the Christians, which has acquired great celebrity. Although in his book on Proscriptions he calls Montanus a heretic, still, according to the general opinion of authors, he fell into Montanism himself. Baronius says that he was cut off from the Church, and excommunicated by Pope Zepherinus (9). Tertullian was a man of the greatest austerity; he

had the greatest veneration for continence; he practised extraordinary watchings, and on account of a dispute he had with the clergy of Rome, he attached himself to the Montanists, who, to the most rigid mortification, joined the belief that Montanus was the Holy Ghost. N. Alexander proves, on the authority of St. Jerome, St. Hilary, St. Pacianus, St. Optatus, and St. Augustine, that he asserted the Church could not absolve adulterers, that those who married a second time were adulterers, and that it was not lawful to fly from persecution. He called the Catholics, Psichici, or Animals. Fleury says (10), that Tertullian taught that the soul was a body, of a palpable form, but transparent, because one of the Prophetesses heard so in a vision. Both Fleury and Noel Alexander say (11), that he forsook the Montanists before his death, but a sect, who called themselves Tertullianists after him, remained in Carthage for two hundred years, until the time of St. Augustine, when they once more returned to the bosom of the Church.

(6) Nat. Alex ibid, vide sec. 2; Hermant, t. 1, c. 65; Fleury, t. 2, L 8, n. 1012; Baron. Ann. 277, . 1, & seq.; Graves, in sec. 3.

(7) Verità della Fede, part 3, c. 2, sec. 2.

(8) Fleury, t. 1, L 4, n. 47.

(9) Baron. Ann. 201, n. 3, & seq. ad. 11; Fleury, t. 1, l. 25 & 26; Orsi,t. 3, l. 8, n. 28.

(10) Fleury, t. I, 1. 5, n. 25

(11) Fleury, t. 1, I. 6, n. 3, cum St. Augus. & Nat. Alex. t. 6, c. 3, ar. 8, n. 9

  1. Origen was an Egyptian, and his early days were spent in Alexandria. His father was St. Leonidas the Martyr, who had him educated in every branch of sacred and profane literature (12). It is said his own father held him in the highest veneration, and that often while he slept he used to kiss his bosom, as the temple where the Holy Ghost dwelt (13). At the age of eighteen he was made Catechist of the Church of Alexandria, and he discharged his duties so well that the very pagans flocked to hear him. Plutarch, who afterwards became an illustrious martyr of the faith of Christ, was one of his disciples. In the height of the persecution he never ceased to assist the confessors of Christ, despising both torments and death. He had the greatest horror of sensual pleasures, and it is related of him that for fear of offending against chastity, and to avoid temptation, he mutilated himself, interpreting the 12th verse of the 19th chapter of St. Matthew in a wrong sense (14). He refuted the Arabians, who denied the immortality of the soul, and converted Berrillus, as we have already seen, who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. He also converted Ambrose from the errors of the Valentinians. He was so desirous of martyrdom, that his mother was obliged to take away his clothes, to prevent him from going to his father, who was in prison for the faith. All this, however, was to no purpose; he avoided her vigilance, flew to his father, and when he would not be allowed to speak to him, he exhorted him by letter to persevere in the faith. At the age of eighteen he was Prefect of the studies of Alexandria. When he was composing his Commentaries on the Scriptures, he dictated to seven or eight amanuenses at the same time. He edited different editions of the Scriptures, compiling the Tetrapla, the Hexapla, and the Octapla, The Tetrapla had four columns in each page; in the first was the version of the seventy, or Septuagint, in the second that of Aquila, in the third that of Simmachus, and in the fourth that of Theodotian. The Hexapla had six columns, and, besides the former, contained the Hebrew text and a Greek translation. Finally, the Octapla contained, besides the former, two other versions, compiled by some Hebrews. His name was so famous at that time that all the priests and doctors consulted him in any difficult matter. Presuming too much on his wisdom, he fell into different errors, by wishing to interpret many texts of Scripture in a mystical, rejecting the literal, sense.

Those, he says, who adhere to the letter of the Scripture will never see the kingdom of God (15), hence we should seek the spirit of the word, which is hidden and mysterious. He is defended by some; but the majority condemn him, although he endeavoured to clear himself by saying that he wrote his sentiments merely as opinions, and subjected them to the judgment of his readers (16).

(12) Nat. Alex. t. 1, ar. 12.

(13) Fleury, I. 5, n. 2; Orsi, l. 5, n. 27.

(14) Nat. Alex. t. 7, nr. 12.

(15) Origen, Stromata, l. 10.

(16) Orsi, l. 6, n. 61.

He was obliged to go into Achaia, a country at that time distracted by various heresies. In his journey he persuaded two bishops of Palestine whom he visited, that it would be of great service to the Church if he was ordained priest (17). Yielding to his suggestions they ordained him, and this so displeased Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, that in a council he deposed and excommunicated him. Several other bishops, however, received him in his misfortunes, and entertained him honourably. Orsi, on the authority of Eusebius, tells us (18), that, in the persecution of Decius he was imprisoned a long time, loaded with irons, and a great iron ring on his neck; and that he was not only tortured in the legs in a horrible manner, but was likewise put on the rack. Dionisius, Eusebius says (19), wrote him a letter, or rather a small treatise,, to animate and console him; and from that circumstance, Cardinal Orsi (20) proves the fallacy of Du Pin’s conjecture, that the sentence passed against him by Demetrius, was enforced under his successors Aracla and Dionisius. Origen did not long survive the torments he endured in that persecution. He died in Tyre, in the year 253, the sixty-ninth of his age (21).

Bernini tells us, on the authority of St. Epiphanius (22), (thinking, however, that this was foisted into St. Epiphanius’s works by the enemies of Origen) that he denied the faith by offering incense to idols, to avoid the indignities and insults inflicted on him by an Ethiopian, and that he was then freed from prison, and his life spared. After that he went from Alexandria to Jerusalem, and at the request of the clergy and people went into the pulpit to preach. It happened, however, that opening the book of the Psalms, to explain them, the first words he read were those of the 49th Psalm : ” God said to the sinner, why dost thou declare my justices and take my covenant into thy mouth ? ” Struck dumb with sorrow, he began to weep bitterly, and left the pulpit without saying a word. Not only St. Epiphanius, but Eusebius (23) before him, bear witness to Origen’s fall. Although Bernini (24) says this story is quite fabulous, yet Petavius, Daniel Uerius, Pagi, and especially Noel Alexander (25), say it is a fact. Roncaglia (26) is of opinion that Noel Alexander’s arguments are groundless, and that Baronius’s opinion carries more weight with it.

(17) Nat. Alex, ibid; Orsi, n. 30. (18) Orsi, t. 3, l. 7, n. 33. (19) Euseb. His. Eccl. l. 6. (20) Orsi. t. 3, I. 7, n. 33.

(21) Orsi, loc. cit.; Hermant, t. 1, c. 68; Bar. Ann. 204, n. 8; V. Ranst, p. 42; Graves, s. 3. (22) Bernin. Istor. t. 1, c. 1, p. 125. (26) Rone. not. in Natal, loc. cit. (23) Euseb. l. 6; Hist. Eccl. c. 59.(24) Baron. Ann. 253, n. 117, & seq. cum Graves, loc. cit. (25) Petav. in Animadv. in St. Epiph. Heres. 64; Huetius, l. 1; Orig. c. 4; Pagius ad an. 251, n. 19; Nat. Alex. t. 7, diss. 15, q. 2, art, unic.

We can decide nothing as to the salvation of Origen, though Baronius says that St. Simeon Salus saw him in hell; still, all is a mystery known to God alone. We know, however, on the authority of Baronius, that his doctrine was condemned by Pope Anastasius and Pope Gelasius, and afterwards by the fifth general council (27).

The substance of the errors of Origen, as well as I could collect from the works of Noel Alexander, Fleury, Hermant, Orsi, Van Ranst (who gives a great deal of information in a small space), and others, was all included in his Periarchon, or Treatise on Principles. This treatise, Fleury says, was translated by Rufinus, who endeavoured to correct it as much as possible. The intent of Origen in this work was to refute Valentine, Marcion, and Ebion, who taught that men are either essentially good or essentially wicked. He said that God alone was good and immutable, but that his creatures were capable of either good or evil, by making use of their free will or a good purpose, or perverting it for a wicked one. Another of his opinions was that the souls of men were of the same nature as the celestial spirits, that is, composed of spirit and matter; that they were all created before the beginning of the world, but that, as a punishment for some crimes committed, they were shut up in the sun, moon, and other planets, and even in human bodies, as it were in a prison, to punish them for a time; after which, being freed from their slavery by death, they went to heaven to receive the reward of their virtues, or to hell to suffer the punishment of their sins, but such rewards and punishments were not eternal. Hence, he said, the blessed in heaven could be banished from that abode of happiness for faults committed there, and that the punishment of the devils and the damned would not last for all eternity, because at the end of the world Jesus Christ would be again crucified, and they would participate in the general redemption. He also said that before the creation of this world there existed many others, and that after this had ceased to exist many more would be created, for, as God was never idle, so he never was without a world.

(27) Baron. Ann. 400, &c.

He taught many other erroneous opinions; in fact his doctrine is entirely infected with the maxims of Plato, Pythagoras, and the Manicheans. Cassiodorus, speaking of Origen, says, I wonder how the same man could contradict himself so much; for since the days of the Apostles he had no equal in that part of his doctrine which was approved of, and no one ever erred more grossly in the part which was condemned. Cabassutius (28) says, that Pope Gelasius, following the example of Anastatius, gave this entence relative to Origen in the Roman council : “We declare that those works of Origen which the blessed Jerome does not reject can be read, but we condemn all others with their author.”

After the death of Origen his followers disturbed the Church very much by maintaining and propagating his errors. Hermant (29) relates that Pope Anastasius had a great deal of difficulty in putting down the troubles occasioned by the Origenists in Rome, who got footing there under the auspices of Melania, by means of the priest Rufinus. The author of the notes on Floury, says, that Anastasius wrote to John of Jerusalem to inform him of how matters were going on, and that he, on that account, cut off Rufinus from the Church. In the reign of the Emperor Justinian, some Origenist monks who lived in a laura founded by St. Saba, under the abbot Nonnus, began to disseminate their errors among this brethren, and in a short time infected the principal laura, but were expelled by the abbot Gelasius. Favoured, however, by Theodore of Cesarea, they got possession of the great laura again, and expelled the greater part of the monks who disagreed with them. In the meantime, Nonnus died, and his successor George being deposed for immorality by his own party, the Catholic monks again got possession of the laura, and elected Conon, one of this party, abbot (30). Finally, in the twelfth canon of the second council of Constantinople, both Origen and all those who would persist in defending his doctrine were condemned (31).

(28) Cabassut. Notit. Hist. Cone. Constan. II. an. 553, n. 14. in fin.. (29) Hermant, t. 1, c, 132. (30) Orsi, t.

18, l. 41, n. 1 & 5, ad 7,(31) Orsi, al luogo cit. n. 70

  1. Novatus and Novatian. Novatus was a priest of the Church of Carthage. St. Cyprian relates that he was a man of a turbulent disposition, seditious and avaricious, and that his faith was suspected by the bishops. He was accused of robbing the orphans and widows, and appropriating to his own use the money given him for the use of the Church. It is said he allowed his father to die of starvation, and afterwards refused to bury him; and that he caused the death of his wife by giving her a kick, and causing premature labour. He was also one of the principal agents in getting the deacon Felicissimus ordained priest without the leave or knowledge of St. Cyprian, his bishop, and was one of the principal leaders of the schism of Novatian, exciting as many as he could to oppose the lawful Pope, Cornelius (32).

We now come to speak of the character and errors of Novatian. Being possessed by an evil spirit he was baptized in bed during a dangerous fit of sickness, and when he recovered he neglected getting the ceremonies of baptism supplied, and never received confirmation, which, according to the discipline of the Church in those days, he ought to have received after baptism, and his followers, for that reason, afterwards rejected this sacrament. He was afterwards ordained priest, the bishop dispensing in the irregularity he incurred by being baptized in bed. Hence his ordination gave great umbrage both to the clergy and people. While the persecution was raging the deacons begged of him to leave his place of concealment, and assist the faithful, who were dragged to the place of punishment; but he answered, that he did not henceforward intend to discharge the duties of a priest; that he had his mind made up for other objects. This was nothing less than the Popedom, which he had the ambition to pretend to, puffed up by the applause he received for his oratorical powers. At this time, Cornelius was elected Pope, and he, by intrigue, got himself consecrated privately by three ignorant bishops whom he made intoxicated.

Thus he was the first anti-Pope who ever raised a schism in the Church of Rome. But what will not ambition do? While he administered the Eucharist to his partizans, he exacted an oath from each of them, saying, ” Swear to me, by the blood of Jesus Christ, that you will never leave my party and join Cornelius” (33).

(32) Baron. An. 254, n. 50.; Nat. t. 7, c. 3, or. 3, 4; Fleury, t. 1, 1. 6, n. 51.

(33) Nat, loc. cit.; Baron, n. 61, &c.

The errors of Novatus and Novatian were the following: they denied that the Church could use any indulgence with those who became idolaters through fear of persecution, or that she could grant pardon for any mortal sin committed after baptism, and they denied the sacrament of confirmation. Like the Montanists, they condemned second marriages, and refused communion on the point of death to those who contracted them (34).

  1. These were not the only heretics who disturbed the Church during this century. Nipos, an Egyptian bishop, about the year 284, again raked up the errors of the Millenarians, taking the promise of the Apocalypse in a literal sense, that Jesus Christ would reign on earth for the space of a thousand years, and that the saints should enjoy all manner of sensual delights. The Angelicals offered the supreme adoration which should be given to God alone, to the angels; adored them as the creators of the world, and pretended to lead angelic lives themselves.

The Apostolicals said it was not lawful for any one to possess property of any sort, and that the riches of this life were an insurmountable obstacle to salvation. These heretics received no married persons into this sect (35).

(34) Nat. Alex, ibid; Van Ranst, p. 45, 46; Fleury, cit. n. 51; Hermant, t. 1, c. 48, 51. (35) Nat. Alex. t. 7, c. 3, ar. 6, 9; Van Ranst, p. 47 & 64; Berti, t. 1, s. 3, c. 3.