Chapter XXII.—Of Sisinnius Bishop of the Novatians. His Readiness at Repartee.
It will not be out of place here, I conceive, to give some account of Sisinnius. He was, as I have often said, 897 a remarkably eloquent man, and well-instructed in philosophy. But he had particularly cultivated logic, and was profoundly skilled in the interpretation of the holy Scriptures; insomuch that the heretic Eunomius often shrank from the acumen which his reasoning displayed. As regards his diet he was not simple; for although he practised the strictest moderation, yet his table was always sumptuously furnished. He was also accustomed to indulge himself by wearing white garments, and bathing twice a day in the public baths. And when some one asked him why he, a bishop, bathed himself twice a day? he replied, Because it is inconvenient to bathe thrice. Going one day from courtesy to visit the bishop Arsacius, he was asked by one of the friends of that bishop, why he wore a garment so unsuitable for a bishop? and where it was written that an ecclesiastic should be clothed in white? Do you tell me first, said he, where it is written that a bishop should wear black? When he that made the inquiry knew not what to reply to this counter-question: You cannot show, rejoined Sisinnius, that a priest should be clothed in black. But Solomon is my authority, whose exhortation is, “Let thy garments be white.” 898 And our Saviour in the Gospels appears clothed in white raiment: 899 moreover he showed Moses and Elias to the apostles, clad in white garments. His prompt reply to these and other questions called forth the admiration of those present. Again when Leontius bishop of Ancyra in Galatia Minor, who had taken away a church from the Novatians, was on a visit to Constantinople, Sisinnius went to him, and begged him to restore the church. But he received him rudely, saying, Ye Novatians ought not to have churches; for ye take away repentance, and shut out Divine mercy. As Leontius gave utterance to these and many other such revilings against the Novatians, Sisinnius replied: No one repents more heartily than I do. And when Leontius asked him Why do you repent? That I came to see you, said he. On one occasion John the bishop having a contest with him, said, The city cannot have two bishops. 900 Nor has it, said Sisinnius. John being irritated at this response, said, You see you pretend that you alone are the bishop. I do not say that, rejoined Sisinnius; but that I am not bishop in your estimation only, who am such to others. John being still more chafed at this reply, said, I will stop your preaching; for you are a heretic. To which Sisinnius good-humoredly replied, I will give you a reward, if you will relieve me from so arduous a duty. John being softened a little by this answer, said, I will not make you cease to preach, if you find speaking so troublesome. So facetious was Sisinnius, and so ready at repartee: but it would be tedious to dwell further on his witticisms. Wherefore by means of a few specimens we have illustrated what sort of a person he was, deeming these as sufficient. I will merely add that he was celebrated for erudition, and on account of it all the bishops who succeeded him loved and honored him; and not only they but all the leading members of the senate also esteemed and admired him. He is the author of many works: but they are characterized by too great an affectation of elegance of diction, and a lavish intermingling of poetic expressions. On which account he was more p. 153 admired as a speaker than as a writer; for there was dignity in his countenance and voice, as well as in his form and aspect, and every movement of his person was graceful. On account of these features he was loved by all the sects, and he was in especial favor with Atticus the bishop. But I must conclude this brief notice of Sisinnius.
Cf. V. 10 and 21.152:898
Eccl. ix. 8.152:899
Matt. 17:2, Mark 9:3, Luke 9:29. On the clothing of the clergy, see Bingham, Christ. Antiq. VI. 4. 18.152:900
The canons forbade the existence of two authoritative bishops in one city. Cf. V. 5, note 3. It was supposed to be an apostolic tradition that prescribed this practice, and the faithful always resisted and condemned any attempts to consecrate a second bishop in a city. Thus when Constantius proposed that Liberius and Felix should sit as co-partners in the Roman see and govern the church in common, the people with one accord rejected the proposal, crying out “One God, one Christ, one bishop.” The rule, however, did not apply to the case of coadjutors, where the bishop was too old or infirm to discharge his episcopal duties. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. II. 13.