Saturday, May 30, 2020

Eusebius, EH.7.30: Pastoral Letter Condemning Paul of Samosata

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryHere is Book 7, chapter 30.

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter coveys the pastoral letter issued from the synod which condemned Paul of Samosata. It was directed to Dionysius of Rome and Maximus of Alexandria, a mark of the importance of these two churches, as well as to other churches throughout the provinces.

It denounces the “perverse heterodoxy” of Paul of Samosata.

It notes that input was sought from the respected bishops Dionysius of Alexandria and Firmilian of Cappodocia. Dionysius was unable to come but sent a letter addressed to the church at Antioch, since he did not deem Paul worthy of being addressed as their bishop. Firmilian, on the other hand, had visited twice and had initially been deceived by Paul’s claim to have changed his views. He had died while on a third journey to see into the matter.

In addition to his doctrinal errors, Paul’s character is also assailed in the letter. He is accused of having used his office for financial gain and of seeking worldly honors as a ducenarius (a procurator of high rank who had a salary of at least 200 sestaria). He liked to “strut” in the marketplaces, surrounded by a sycophantic entourage. In his pride he engaged in theatrical behavior. He removed psalms that addressed Christ as Lord but encouraged the singing of his own praises. Questions are raised about his interactions with a group of “spiritual sisters” known as the subintroductae. Finally, he is accused of partaking in the heresy of Artemas (Artemon; cf. EH.5.28).

The close of the letter is cited in which Paul is excommunicated and replaced as bishop by Domnus, the “son” (probably meaning his protégé) of the former orthodox bishop Demetrian.

Having been defrocked, however, Paul and his supporters held on to the church building in Antioch, until the orthodox appealed to the emperor Aurelian who sided with them against Paul and removed him.

It is noted by Eusebius that despite Aurelian’s favor in this particular episode, he later stirred up persecution against the Christians and was only held back by the providential hand of God. In reflection Eusebius notes that the rulers of this world never find it easy “to proceed against the churches of Christ” unless God permits this for their chastening.

Aurelius was succeeded by Probus, and Probus by Carus with his sons, Carinus and Numerianus. Next came Diocletian who brought about the great persecution and “destruction of the churches” in Eusebius’s own day.

The chapter ends by turning to succession in the church of Rome as Felix succeeded Dionysius as bishop.


This chapter describes the church discipline enacted against Paul of Samosata. Not only his theology but also his ethics were attacked. It also anticipates the sufferings coming under Diocletian, by offering a theology of persecution. So, the orthodox were pressed from within and without, but they also continued to persevere from one bishop to another.


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