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Rise Of Schisms In Consequence O





The Diocletian persecution and its various continuations, on account of
the severity of the persecution and its great extent, seriously strained
the organization of the Church for a time, and in at least three important
Church centres gave rise to schisms, of which two were of some duration.
The causes for these schisms, as in the case of the schisms connected with
the Decian persecution, are to be found in the confusion caused by the
enforced absence of bishops from their sees and in the administration of
discipline. In the latter point the activity of the confessors no longer
plays any part, as the authority of the bishops in the various communities
is now undisputed by rival. It was a question of greater or less rigor in
readmitting the lapsed to the communion of the Church. For the canons of
discipline in force in Alexandria, see the Canonical Epistle of Peter of
Alexandria, ANF, VI, 269 ff. (MSG, 18:467.) They were regarded by the
rigorist party in Alexandria as too lax. Of the three schisms known to
have arisen from the Diocletian persecution, that in Alexandria is known
as the Meletian schism, and three selections are given bearing on it. For
the proposals of the Council of Nicaea to bring about a settlement and
union, see the Epistle of the Synod of Nicaea, Socrates, Hist. Ec., I,
9 (given below, 61, II, b). The schism continued until the fifth
century. The schism at Rome, known as the schism of Heraclius, was much
less important. It was caused by the party advocating greater laxity in
discipline, and was for a time difficult to deal with on account of long
vacancies in the Roman episcopate. The duration of the schism could not
have been long, but the solution of the questions raised by it is unknown.
In fact, the history of the Roman church is exceedingly obscure in the
half-century preceding the Council of Nicaea. The third schism, that of the
Donatists in North Africa, which broke out in Carthage, was the most
considerable in the Church before the schisms arising from the
christological controversies. For the Donatist schism, see 61, 67, 72.


(a) Epistle of Hesychius, Pachomius, Theodorus, and Phileas to
Meletius. (MSG, 10:1565.)


The Meletian schism.


The following epistle was written in the name of these four
bishops, probably by Phileas, bishop of Thmuis, one of the number,
to Meletius, bishop of Lycopolis. The four were in prison when it
was written. It is the most important document bearing on the
schism, and is important as setting forth the generally accepted
legal opinion of the time regarding ordination and the authority
of bishops. The document exists only in a Latin translation from a
Greek original, and appears to form, with the two following
fragments, a continuous narrative, possibly a history of the
Church, but nothing further is known of it. For an account of the
Meletian schism see Socrates, Hist. Ec., 1, 6 ff. The text of
these selections bearing on the Meletian schism is to be found in
Routh, op. cit., IV, 91 ff.


Hesychius, Pachomius, Theodorus, and Phileas to Meletius, our friend and
fellow-minister in the Lord, greeting. In simple faith, regarding as
uncertain the things which have been heard concerning thee, since some
have come to us and certain things are reported foreign to divine order
and ecclesiastical rule which are being attempted, yea, rather, which are
being done by thee, we were not willing to credit them when we thought of
the audacity implied by their magnitude, and we thought that they were
uncertain attempts. But since so many coming to us at the present time
have lent some credibility to these reports, and have not hesitated to
attest them as facts, we, greatly astonished, have been compelled to write
this letter to thee. And what agitation and sadness have been caused to us
all in common and to each of us individually by the ordination performed
by thee in parishes not pertaining to thee, we are unable sufficiently to
express. We have not delayed, however, by a short statement, to prove thy
practice wrong.

In the law of our fathers and forefathers, of which thou also art not
thyself ignorant, it is established, according to the divine and
ecclesiastical order (for it is all for the good pleasure of God and the
zealous regard for better things), that it has been determined and settled
by them that it is not lawful for any bishop to perform ordinations in
other parishes than his own. This law is exceedingly important and wisely
devised. For, in the first place, it is but right that the conversation
and life of those who are ordained should be examined with great care;
and, in the second place, that all confusion and turbulence should be done
away with. For every one shall have enough to do in managing his own
parish, and in finding, with great care and many anxieties, suitable
subordinates among those with whom he has passed his whole life, and who
have been trained under his hands. But thou, considering none of these
things, nor regarding the future, nor considering the law of our holy
Fathers and those who have put on Christ in long succession, nor the honor
of our great bishop and father, Peter,(89) on whom we all depend in the
hope which we have in the Lord Jesus Christ, nor softened by our
imprisonments and trials, and daily and multiplied reproaches, nor the
oppressions and distress of all, hast ventured on subverting all things at
once. And what means will be left for thee for justifying thyself with
respect to these things?

But perhaps thou wilt say, I did this to prevent many from being drawn
away with the unbelief of many, because the flocks were in need and
forsaken, there being no pastor with them. Well, but it is most certain
that they were in no such destitution; in the first place, because there
were many going among them and able to visit them; and, in the second
place, even it there were some things neglected by them, representation
should have come from the people, and we should have duly considered the
matter. But they knew that they were in no want of ministers, and
therefore they did not come to seek thee. They knew that either we were
wont to warn them from such complaint or there was done, with all
carefulness, what seemed profitable; for it was done under correction and
all was considered with well-approved honesty. Thou, however, giving such
careful attention to the deceits of certain men and their vain words,(90)
hast, as it were, stealthily leaped forward to the performance of
ordinations. For if, indeed, those accompanying thee constrained thee to
this and compelled thee and were ignorant of the ecclesiastical order,
thou oughtest to have followed the rule and have informed us by letter;
and in that way what seemed expedient would have been done. And if
perchance some persuaded thee to credit their story, who said to thee that
it was all over with us--a matter which could not have been unknown to
thee, because there were many passing and repassing by us who might visit
thee--even if this had been so, yet oughtest thou to have waited for the
judgment of the superior father and his allowance of this thing. But
thinking nothing of these matters, and hoping something different, or
rather having no care for us, thou hast provided certain rulers for the
people. For now we learn that there are also divisions, because thy
unwarrantable ordination displeased many.

And thou wert not readily persuaded to delay such procedure or restrain
thy purpose, no, not even by the word of the Apostle Paul, the most
blessed seer and the man who put on Christ, the Apostle of us all; for he,
in writing to his dearly loved Timothy, says: "Lay hands suddenly on no
man, neither be partaker of other men's sins." [I Tim. 5:22.] And thus he
at once shows his own consideration of him, and gives his example and
exhibits the law according to which, with all carefulness and caution,
candidates are chosen for the honor of ordination. We make this
declaration to thee, that in the future thou mayest study to keep within
the safe and salutary limits of the law.


(b) Fragment on the Meletian Schism. (MSG, 10:1567.)


For the connection of the Meletians with Arianism, see Socrates,
Hist. Ec., I, 6. Text in Routh, op. cit., IV, 94.


Meletius received and read this epistle, and he neither wrote a reply, nor
repaired to them in prison, nor went to the blessed Peter [bishop of
Alexandria]. But when all these bishops, presbyters, and deacons had
suffered in the prison,(91) he at once entered Alexandria. Now in that
city there was a certain person, Isidorus by name, turbulent in character,
and possessed with the ambition of being a teacher. And there was also a
certain Arius, who wore the habit of piety and was in like manner
possessed with the ambition of being a teacher. And when they discovered
the object of Meletius's passion and what it was he sought, hastening to
him and regarding with malice the episcopal authority of the blessed
Peter, that the aim and desire of Meletius might be made manifest, they
discovered to Meletius certain presbyters, then in hiding, to whom the
blessed Peter had given authority to act as diocesan visitors for

Alexandria. And Meletius, recommending them to improve the opportunity
given them for rectifying their error, suspended them for a time, and by
his authority ordained two persons in their places, one of whom was in
prison and the other in the mines. On learning these things, the blessed
Peter, with much endurance, wrote to the people of Alexandria in the
following terms. [See next selection.]


(c) Peter of Alexandria. Epistle to the Church in Alexandria. (MSG,
18:510.)


For Peter of Alexandria, see DCB. Peter was in hiding when he
wrote the following to the Alexandrian church in 306. He died 312
as a martyr.


Peter to the brethren in the Lord, beloved and established in the faith of
God, peace. Since I have discovered that Meletius acts in no way for the
common good, for he does not approve the letter of the most holy bishops
and martyrs, and invading my parish, has assumed so much to himself as to
endeavor to separate from my authority the priests and those who had been
intrusted with visiting the needy, and, giving proof of his desire for
pre-eminence, has ordained in the prison several unto himself; now take ye
heed to this and hold no communion with him, until I meet him in company
with some wise men, and see what designs they are which he has thought
upon. Fare ye well.


(d) Epitaph of Eusebius, Bishop of Rome. Cf. Kirch, n. 534.


Schism of Heraclius.


The following epitaph was placed on the tomb of Eusebius, bishop of Rome
(April 18 to August 17, 310 A. D.), by Damasus, bishop of Rome (366-384.)

I, Damasus, have made this:
Heraclius forbade the fallen to lament their sin,
Eusebius taught the wretched ones to weep for their crimes.
The people was divided into parties by the increasing madness.
Sedition, bloodshed, war, discord, strife arose.
At once they were equally smitten by the ferocity of the tyrant.(92)
Although the guide of the Church(93) maintained intact the bonds of peace.
He endured exile joyful under the Lord as judge,
And gave up this earthly life on the Trinacrian shore.(94)





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Previous: The Diocletian Persecution



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