Note on the Messalians or Massalians.
(Tillemont, Mémoires, Tom. VIII., Seconde Partie. Condensed.)
St. Epiphanius distinguishes two sorts of persons who were called by the name of Messalians, the one and the more ancient were heathen, the other were Christian in name.
The Messalians who bore the Christian name had no beginning, nor end, nor chief, nor fixed faith. Their first writers were Dadoes, Sabas, Adelphus, Hermes, Simeon and some p. 241 others. Adelphus was neither monk nor clerk, but a layman. Sabas had taken the habit of an anchorite and was surnamed “the Eunuch,” because he had mutilated himself. Adelphus was of Mesopotamia and was considered their leader, so that they are sometimes called “Adelphians.” They are also called “Eustathians.” “Euchites” is the Greek equivalent of “Messalians” in Hebrew. They were also called “Enthusiasts” or “Corentes” because of the agitation the devils caused them, which they attributed to the Holy Spirit.
St. Epiphanius thought that these heretics sprang up in the time of Constance, although Theodoret does not put them down until the days of Valentinian. They came from Mesopotamia, but spread as far as Antioch by the year 376.
They pretended to renounce the world, and to give up their possessions, and under the habit of monks they taught Manichæan impieties, and others still more detestable.
Their principal tenet was that everyone inherited from his ancestors a demon, who had possession of his soul from the moment of his birth, and always led it to evil. That baptism cut away the outside branches of sin, but could not free the soul of this demon, and that therefore its reception was useless. That only constant prayer could drive out this demon. That when it was expelled, the Holy Spirit descended and gave visible and sensible marks of his presence, and delivered the body from all the uprisings of passion, and the soul from the inclination to evil, so that afterwards there was no need of fasting, nor of controlling lust by the precepts of the Gospel.
Besides this chief dogma, gross errors, contrary to the first principles of religion, were attributed to them. That the divinity changed itself in different manners to unite itself to their souls. They held that the body of Christ was infinite like his divine nature; they did not hesitate to say that his body was at first full of devils which were driven out when the Word took it upon him. 276 They claimed that they possessed clear knowledge of the state of souls after death, read the hearts and desires of man, the secrets of the future and saw the Holy Trinity with their bodily eyes. They affirmed that man could not only attain perfection but equal the deity in virtue and knowledge.
They never fasted, slept men and women together, in warm weather in the open streets. But certain say that before attaining to this liberty of license three years of mortification were required.
The most well-known point of their discipline is that they forbade all manual labour as evil, and unworthy of the spiritual.
Harmenopulus in his Basilicæ (Tom. I. Lib. ix.) says that they held the Cross in horror, that they refused to honour the Holy Virgin, or St. John the Baptist, or any of the Saints unless they were Martyrs; that they mutilated themselves at will, that they dissolved marriages, that they foreswore and perjured themselves without scruple, that women were appointed as mistresses of the sect to instruct and govern men, even priests.
Although so opposed to the faith of the Church, yet for all this the Messalians did not separate themselves from her communion. They did not believe in the Communion as a mystery which sanctifies us, which must be approached with fear and faith, but only came to the holy Table to hide themselves and to pass for Catholics, for this was one of their artifices. When asked, they had no hesitation in denying all that they believed, and were willing to anathematize those who thought with them. And all this they did without fear, because they were taught they had attained perfection, that is impassibility.
Vide Theodoret, H. E., Lib. iv., cap. xi.
Photius tells us that John of Antioch wrote against these heretics.
St. Maximus the Abbot speaks of this heresy as still existing in the VIIth Century, and as practising the most abominable infamies. Photius bears witness of its resuscitation p. 242 in his days in Cappadocia with its wonted corruptions. Harmenopulus remarks that a certain Eleutherius of Paphlagonia had added to it new crimes, and that in part it became the source of the sect of the Bogomiles, so well known in the decadence of the Greek empire.
They were therefore Nestorians.