Chapter VII.—Dissension between Theophilus Bishop of Alexandria and the Monks of the Desert. Condemnation of Origens Books.
The question had been started a little before, 851 whether God is a corporeal existence, and has the form of man; or whether he is incorporeal, and without human or, generally speaking, any other bodily shape? From this question arose strifes and contentions among a very great number of persons, some favoring one opinion on the subject, and others patronizing the opposite. Very many of the more simple ascetics asserted that God is corporeal, and has a human figure: but most others condemn their judgment, and contended that God is incorporeal, and free of all form whatever. With these latter Theophilus bishop of Alexandria agreed so thoroughly that in the church before all the people he inveighed against those who attributed to God a human form, expressly teaching that the Divine Being is wholly incorporeal. When the Egyptian ascetics were apprised of this, they left their monasteries and came to Alexandria; where they excited a tumult against the bishop, accusing him of impiety, and threatening to put him to death. Theophilus becoming aware of his danger, after some consideration had recourse to this expedient to extricate himself from the threatened death. Going to the monks, he in a conciliatory tone thus addressed them: In seeing you, I behold the face of God. The utterance of this saying moderated the fury of these men p. 143 and they replied: If you really admit that Gods countenance is such as ours, anathematize Origens book; 852 for some drawing arguments from them oppose themselves to our opinion. If you will not do this, expect to be treated by us as an impious person, and the enemy of God. But as far as I am concerned, said Theophilus, I will readily do what you require: and be ye not angry with me, for I myself also disapprove of Origens works, and consider those who countenance them deserving of censure. Thus he succeeded in appeasing and sending away the monks at that time; and probably the whole dispute respecting this subject would have been set at rest, had it not been for another circumstance which happened immediately after. Over the monasteries in Egypt there were four devout persons as superintendents named Dioscorus, Ammonius, Eusebius, and Euthymius: these men were brothers, and had the appellation of the Tall Monks given them on account of their stature. They were moreover distinguished both for the sanctity of their lives, and the extent of their erudition, and for these reasons their reputation was very high at Alexandria. Theophilus in particular, the prelate of that city, loved and honored them exceedingly: insomuch that he constituted one of them, Dioscorus, bishop of Hermopolis 853 against his will, having forcibly drawn him from his retreat. Two of the others he entreated to continue with him, and with difficulty prevailed upon them to do so; still by the exercise of his authority as bishop he accomplished his purpose: when therefore he had invested them with the clerical office, he committed to their charge the management of ecclesiastical affairs. They, constrained by necessity, performed the duties thus imposed on them successfully; nevertheless they were dissatisfied because they were unable to follow philosophical pursuits and ascetic exercises. And as in process of time, they thought they were being spiritually injured, observing the bishop to be devoted to gain, and greedily intent on the acquisition of wealth, and according to the common saying leaving no stone unturned for the sake of gain, they refused to remain with him any longer, declaring that they loved solitude, and greatly preferred it to living in the city. As long as he was ignorant of the true motive for their departure, he earnestly begged them to abide with him; but when he perceived that they were dissatisfied with his conduct, he became excessively irritated, and threatened to do them all kinds of mischief. But they making little account of his menaces retired into the desert; upon which Theophilus, who was evidently of a hasty and malignant temperament, raised not a small clamor against them, and by every contrivance earnestly sought to do them injury. He also conceived a dislike against their brother Dioscorus, bishop of Hermopolis. He was moreover extremely annoyed at the esteem and veneration in which he was held by the ascetics. Being aware, however, that he would be able to do no harm to these persons unless he could stir up hostility in the minds of the monks against them, he used this artifice to effect it. He well knew that these men in their frequent theological discussions with him, had maintained that the Deity was incorporeal, and by no means had a human form; because [they argued] such a constitution would involve the necessary accompaniment of human passions. Now this has been demonstrated by the ancient writers and especially Origen. Theophilus, however though entertaining the very same opinion respecting the Divine nature, yet to gratify his vindictive feelings, did not hesitate to pervert what he and they had rightly taught: but imposed upon the majority of the monks, men who were sincere but rude in speech, 854 the greater part of whom were quite illiterate. Sending letters to the monasteries in the desert, he advised them not to give heed either to Dioscorus or to his brothers, inasmuch as they affirmed that God had not a body. Whereas, said he, according to the sacred Scripture God has eyes, ears, hands, and feet, as men have; but the partisans of Dioscorus, being followers of Origen, introduce the blasphemous dogma that God has neither eyes, ears, feet, nor hands. By this sophism he took advantage of the simplicity of these monks and thus a hot dissension was stirred up among them. Such as had a cultivated mind indeed were not beguiled by this plausibility, and therefore still adhere to Dioscorus and Origen; but the more ignorant who greatly exceeded the others in number, inflamed by an ardent zeal without knowledge, immediately raised an outcry against their brethren. A division being thus made, both parties branded each other as impious; and some listening to Theophilus called their brethren Origenists, and impious and the others termed those who were convinced by Theophilus Anthropomorphitæ. On this account violent altercation arose, and an inextinguishable war between the monks. Theophilus on receiving intimation of the success of his device, went to Nitria where the monasteries are, accompanied by a multitude of persons, and armed the monks against Dioscorus and his brethren; who being p. 144 in danger of losing their lives, made their escape with great difficulty.
While these things were in progress in Egypt John bishop of Constantinople was ignorant of them, but flourished in eloquence and became increasingly celebrated for his discourses. Moreover he first enlarged the prayers contained in the nocturnal hymns, for the reason I am about to assign.
By Audius or Audæus, the founder of the Audian heresy. Cf. Epiphan. Hær. LXX.; Walch, Histor. der Ketzereien, Vol. III. p. 300; also Iselin, Audios und die Audianer, in Jahrbücher für Protestant. Theologie, April, 1890; p. 298 seq.143:852
On the dispute concerning Origens views, see below, chap. 13.143:853
There were two cities named Hermopolis in Egypt; the most important of these in the Thebaid was known as Hermopolis proper, whereas the other (the one here alluded to) was situated in lower Egypt and designated Hermopolis parva.143:854
2 Cor. xi. 6.