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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > P > Paul of Samosata

Paul of Samosata

Bishop of Antioch. Several synods, probably three, were held against him about 264-66. St. Dionysius of Alexandria had desired to attend the first of these, but was prevented by his infirmities. Firmilian of Cæsarea, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, his brother Athenodorus, and many others, were present. Paul held the civil office of Procurator ducenarius, and was protected by Zenobia, the famous Queen of Palmyra. He was a wealthy man, and had many obsequious followers among neighbouring bishops. Many defended his doctrine, and he declared himself orthodox. In the first meetings the bishops were satisfied. At another Paul was condemned, but promised to retract his errors. This he failed to do. A final council was summoned. Firmilian died on the way to it. The principal part was taken by a priest of Antioch, Malchion, who was an accomplished man of letters and head of the school of Greek literature at Antioch, In disputation with Paul he plainly convicted him of heresy, and procured his deposition. A letter written by Malchion in the name of the synod and addressed to Pope Dionysius of Rome, Maximus of Alexandria, and all the bishops and clergy throughout the world, has been preserved by Eusebius in part; a few fragments only remain of the shorthand report of the disputation.

The letter accuses Paul of acquiring great wealth by illicit means, of showing haughtiness and worldliness, of having set up for himself a lofty pulpit in the church, and of insulting those who did not applaud him and wave their handkerchiefs, and so forth. He had caused scandal by admitting women to live in his house, and had permitted the same to his clergy. Paul could not be driven from his see until the emperor Aurelian took possession of Antioch in 272. Even then he refused to vacate the house belonging to the church. An appeal was made to Aurelian, and the pagan emperor, who was at this time favourable to Christians, decided most justly, says Eusebius (vii, 30, 19), that the house should be given up to those to whom the bishops in Italy and the city of Rome should write; — evidently it had been argued before him that the question of legitimacy depended on communion with Rome, to be granted after examination by the pope and his council. Paul was driven out in utter disgrace by the civil power. Of his life no more is known to us. His doctrine was akin to the dynamistic Monarchianism of Theodotus, and he was nicknamed a follower of Artemas. We can gather these points: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are but a single Person (prosopon). The Son or Logos is without hypostasis, being merely the wisdom and science of God, which is in Him as reason is in a man. Before all worlds He was born as Son (Logos prophorikos) without a virgin; he is without shape and cannot be made visible to men. He worked in the Prophets, especially in Moses (let us remember that Zenobia was a Jewess, and that this monarchianism may have been intended to please her), and in a far higher way in the Son of David who was born by the Holy Ghost of a Virgin. The Christ, the Saviour, is essentially a man, but the Holy Ghost inspired Him from above. The Father and the Son are one God, whereas Christ is from the earth with a personality of his own. Thus there are two Persons in Christ. The Logos as Wisdom dwelt in the man Jesus, as we live in houses, and worked in Him as inspiration, teaching Him and being with Him, and was united with Him not substantially (or essentially, ousiodos), but qualitatively (kata poioteta). Mary did not bring forth the Word, for she did not exist before the worlds, but a man like to us. Paul denied the inference that there are two Sons. The Son of the Virgin is great by Wisdom, who dwelt in no other so.

Union of two Persons is possible only by agreement of will, issuing in unity of action, and originating by love. By this kind of union Christ had merit; He could have had none had the union been by nature. By the unchangeableness of His will He is like God, and was united to Him by remaining pure from sin. By striving and suffering He conquered the sin of our first parent, and was joined to God, being one with Him in intention and action. God worked in Him to do miracles in order to prove Him the Redeemer and Saviour of the race. By the ever growing and never ceasing movement of friendship He has joined Himself to God so that He can never be separated through all eternity, and His Name is above every Name as a reward of love. Judgment is made over to Him; He may be called "God from the Virgin", "God from Nazareth". He is said to have pre-existed, but this means by predestination only. The baptism of Christ, as usual was regarded by Paul as a step in His junction with the Logos. If He had been God by nature, Paul argued, there would be two Gods. He forbade hymns to Christ, and openly attacked the older (Alexandrian) interpretations of Scripture.

The party of Paul did not at once disappear. The Council of Nicæa declared the baptism conferred by the Paulianists to be invalid. There is something, though not much, of his teaching in the Lucianist and Arian systems which issued from Antioch. But their Christology was the very opposite of his, which was rather to reappear in a modified form in Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodorus, Nestorius, and even Theodoret, though these later Antiochenes warmly rejected the imputation of any agreement with the heretic Paul, even in Christology.

It must be regarded as certain that the council which condemned Paul rejected the term homoousios; but naturally only in a false sense used by Paul; not, it seems because he meant by it an unity of Hypostasis in the Trinity (so St. Hilary), but because he intended by it a common substance out of which both Father and Son proceeded, or which it divided between them, — so St. Basil and St. Athanasius; but the question is not clear. The objectors to the Nicene doctrine in the fourth century made copious use of this disapproval of the Nicene word by a famous council.

The fragments are best collected by Routh, "Rell. SS.", III. Further fragments in Pitra, "Analecta sacra", III-IV. The letter of St. Dionysius is spurious. That of six bishops to Paul is usually rejected, but Harnack thinks it genuine, following Hagemann.

Sources

HARNACK, Gesch. der Altchristl. Litt., I (1893); BARDENHEWER, Gesch. der Altkirchlichen litt., II (1903); HEFELE, Councils, I (tr. 1883); RÉVILLE, La Christologie de Paul de Samosate in Etudes de critique et d'histoire (Paris, 1896).

About this page

APA citation. Chapman, J. (1911). Paul of Samosata. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11589a.htm

MLA citation. Chapman, John. "Paul of Samosata." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11589a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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