Epistle to Paul of Samosata by Malchion


Paul of Samosata: used pre-deaconesses and women singers of hymns honoring him. Was forced to turn loose of the church by civil authority.
In Name of the Synod of Antioch, Against Paul of Samosata.

[a.d. 270.] Eusebius1 speaks of Malchion as a man accomplished in other branches of learning2 and well-versed in Greek letters in particular, and as holding the presidency of the Sophists' school at Antioch. Jerome says that he taught rhetoric most successfully in the same city. This synod met apparently about a.d. 269, and dealt with Paul of Samosata. You will note that in AD 270 there are only bishops, presbyters and deacons in the church. Bishops, typically, covered a large area of many churches because they were the early evangelists. There were no "deaconesses" in these early churches.

The urge to keep the "sisters" around the church did not cease with condemnation and in time widows past age 60 and perpetual virgins were kept at churches. However, the order of Deaconess as a female deacon has no historical precedent. Click to see our index of resources.

The codes and laws of the Emperor Justinian in the middle of the sixth century give considerable information as to the status of the deaconess. The beautiful building of St. Sophia (now a mosque) was built by Justinian, and the number of clergy to be attached was fixed by law: one hundred deacons, and forty deaconesses at the cathedral.

The Epistle of the Bishops against Paul

The pastors who had assembled about this matter, prepared by common consent an epistle addressed to Dionysius, bishop of Rome, and Maximus of Alexandria, and sent it to all the provinces. In this they make manifest to all their own zeal and the perverse error of Paul, and the arguments and discussions which they had with him, and show the entire life and conduct of the man. It may be well to put on record at the present time the following extracts from their writing:

To Dionysius and Maximus, and to all our fellows in the ministry throughout the world, both bishops and presbyters and deacons, and to the whole Catholic Church under heaven, Helenus and Hymenaeus and Theophilus and Theotecnus and Maximus, Proclus, Nicomas, and Aelianus, and Paul and Bolanus and Protogenes and Hierax and Eutychius and Theodorus and Malchion and Lucius, and all the others who are with us, dwelling in the neighbouring cities and nations, both bishops and presbyters and deacons, together with the churches of God, send greeting to our brethren beloved in the Lord.

1. After some few introductory words, they proceed thus:-We wrote to many of the bishops, even those who live at a distance, and exhorted them to give their help in relieving us from this deadly doctrine; among these, we addressed, for instance, Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, and Firmilian of Cappadocia, those men of blessed name. Of these, the one wrote to Antioch without even deigning to honour the leader in this error by addressing him; nor did he write to him in his own name, but to the whole district, of which letter we have also subjoined a copy.

And Firmilian, who came twice in person, condemned the innovations in doctrine, as we who were present know and bear witness, and as many others know as well as we.

But when he (Paul) promised to give up these opinions, he believed him; and hoping that, without any reproach to the Word, the matter would be rightly settled, he postponed his decision; in which action, however, he was deceived by that denier of his God and Lord, and betrayer of the faith which he formerly held.

And now Firmilian was minded to cross to Antioch; and he came as far as Tarsus, as having already made trial of the man's infidel iniquity. But when we had just assembled, and were calling for him and waiting for his arrival, his end came upon him.

2. After other matters again, they tell us in the following terms of what manner of life he was:-But there is no need of judging his actions when he was outside (the Church), when he revolted from the faith and turned aside to spurious and illegitimate doctrines. Nor need we say any thing of such matters as this, that,

whereas he was formerly poor and beggarly, having neither inherited a single possession from his fathers, nor acquired any property by art or by any trade, he has now come to have excessive wealth by his deeds of iniquity and sacrilege, and by those means

by which he despoils and concusses the brethren,
casting the injured unfairly in their suit,
and promising to help them for a price,

yet deceiving them all the while and to their loss,
taking advantage of the readiness of those in difficulties
to give in order to get deliverance from what troubled them, and thus supposing that gain is godliness.

Eusebius VII:30.7 "Whereas he has departed from the rule of faith, and has turned aside after base and spurious teachings, it is not necessary,-since he is without,-that we should pass judgment upon his practices: as for instance in that although formerly destitute and poor, and having received no wealth from his fathers, nor made anything by trade or business,

he now possesses abundant wealth through his iniquities and sacrilegious acts,

and through those things which he extorts from the brethren,
depriving the injured of their rights
and promising to assist them for reward,

yet deceiving them, and plundering those who in their trouble are ready to give that they may obtain reconciliation with their oppressors,

Neither need I say any thing about his pride and the haughtiness with which he assumed worldly dignities, and his wishing to be styled procurator

[the name given under the Emperors to those procurators who received 200 sestertia of annual salary.]

rather than bishop, and his strutting through the market-places, and reading letters and reciting them [Letters, e.g. from Zenobia.] as he walked in public, and his being escorted by multitudes of people going before him and following him;

so that he brought ill-will and hatred on the faith by his haughty demeanour and by the arrogance of his heart.

Nor shall I say any thing of the quackery which he practises in the ecclesiasticalassemblies,

in the way of courting popularity and making a great parade, and astounding by such arts the minds of the less sophisticated; nor of his setting up for himself a lofty tribunal and throne, so unlike a disciple of Christ; nor of his having a secretum

[(from the Latin secerno, to separate) was the name given to the elevated place, railed in and curtained, where the magistrate sat to decide cases.]

and calling it by that name, after the manner of the rulers of this world;
nor of his striking his thigh with his hand and beating the tribunal with his feet;

nor of his censuring and insulting those who did not applaud him nor shake their handkerchiefs,

[alluding to the custom of shaking the oraria or linen handkerchiefs as a token of applause. [Elucid. II.]

as is done in the theatres, nor bawl out and leap about after the manner of his partisans, both male and female,

who were such disorderly listeners to him,
but chose to hear reverently and modestly as in the house of God;

nor of his unseemly and violent attacks in the congregation upon the expounders of the Word who have already departed this life,

and his magnifying of himself, not like a bishop, but like a sophist and juggler;

nor of his putting a stop to the psalms sung in honour of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the recent compositions of recent men,

and preparing women to sing psalms in honour of himself in the midst of the Church.

in the great day of the Paschal festival, which choristers one might shudder to hear. And besides, he acted on those bishops and presbyters,

who fawned upon him in the neighbouring districts and cities,
to advance the like opinions in their discourses to their people.

3. For we may say, to anticipate a little what we intend to write below, that he does not wish to acknowledge that the Son of God came down from heaven. And this is a statement which shall not be made to depend on simple assertion; for it is proved abundantly by those memoranda which we sent you, and not least by that passage in which he says that Jesus Christ is from below.

And they who sing his praise and eulogise him among the people, declare that their impious teacher has come down as an angel from heaven.

And such utterances the haughty man does not check, but is present even when they are made.

And then again there are these women-these adopted sisters,

[suneisa/ktouj gunai=kaj, priests'-housekeepers. See Lange on Nicephorus vi. 30, and B. Rhenanus on Rufinus, vii. The third canon of the Nicene Council in the Codex Corbeiensis has this title, De subintroductis id est adoptivis sororibus, Of the subintroduced, that is, the adopted sisters. See also on the abuse, Jerome, in the Epistle to Eustochius. They appear also to have been called commanentes and agapetae. See the note of Valesius in Migne. [Vol. ii. p. 47, and (same vol.) Elucidation II. p. 57.] Canon 3: All members of the clergy are forbidden to dwell with any woman, except a mother, sister, or aunt.

Agapetae (agapetai, beloved). In the first century of the Christian era, the Agapetae were virgins who consecrated themselves to God with a vow of chastity and associated with laymen. In the beginning this community of spiritual life and mutual support, which was based on St. Paul s First Epistle to the Corinthians (ix, 5), was holy and edifying.

But later it resulted in abuses and scandals, so that councils of the fourth century forbade it. The origin of this association was very probably that these virgins, who did not live in community, required laymen to look after their material interests, and they naturally chose those who, like themselves, had takes a vow of chastity. St. Jerome asked indignantly (Ep., xxii, ad Eustochium) after it had degenerated, Unde in ecclesias Agapetarum pestis introiit? A letter St. Cyprian shows that abuses of this kind developed in Africa and in the East (Ep., iv., Ed. Hartel). The Council of Ancyra, in 314, forbade virgins consecrated to God to live thus with men as sisters.

This did not correct the practice entirely, for St. Jerome arraigns Syrian monks for living in cities with Christian virgins. The Agapetae are sometimes confounded with the subintroductae, or woman who lived with clerics without marriage, a class against which the third canon of the Council of Nice (325) was directed. The word Agapetae was also the name of a branch of the Gnostics in 395, whose tenet was that the relations of the sexes were purified of impropriety if the mind was pure. They taught that one should perjure himself rather than reveal the secrets of his sect.

as the people of Antioch call them-who are kept by him and by the presbyters and deacons with him, whose incurable sins in this and other matters, though he is cognisant of them, and has convicted them, he connives at concealing, with the view of keeping the men subservient to himself, and preventing them, by fear for their own position, from daring to accuse him in the matter of his impious words and deeds.

Besides this, he has made his followers rich, and for that he is loved and admired by those who set their hearts on these things. But why should we write of these things?

For, beloved, we know that the bishop and all the clergy ought to be an example in all good works to the people.
Nor are we ignorant of the fact that many have fallen away through introducing these women into their houses, while others have fallen under suspicion.

So that, even although one should admit that he has been doing nothing disgrace fill in this matter, yet he ought at least to have avoided the suspicion that springs out of such a course of conduct. lest perchance some might be offended, or find inducement to imitate him.

For how, then, should any one censure another, or warn him to beware of yielding to greater familiarity with a woman, lest perchance he might slip, as it is written:11 if, although he has dismissed one, he has still retained two with him, and these in the bloom of their youth, and of fair countenance; and if when he goes away he takes them with him; and all this, too, while he indulges in luxury and surfeiting?

4. And on account of these things all are groaning and lamenting with themselves; yet they have such a dread of his tyranny and power that they cannot venture on accusing him. And of these things, as we have said already, one might take account in the case of a man who held Catholic sentiments and belonged to our own number; but as to one who has betrayed12 the mystery (of the faith), and who swaggers [danced away] with the abominable heresy of Artemas,-for why should we hesitate to disclose his father?-we consider it unnecessary to exact of him an account for these things.

5. Then at the close of the epistle they add the following words:-We have been compelled, therefore, to excommunicate this man, who thus opposeth God Himself, and refuses submission, and to appoint in his place another bishop for the Church Catholic, and that, as we trust, by the providence of God-namely, the son of Demetrianus, a man of blessed memory, and one who presided over the same Church with distinction in former times, Domnus by name, a man endowed with all the noble qualities which become a bishop. And this fact we have communicated to you in order that ye may write him, and receive letters of communion14 from him. And that other may write to Artemas, if it please him; and those who think with Artemas may hold communion with him, if they are so minded.

Continuing from Eusebius:

18 As Paul had fallen from the episcopate, as well as from the orthodox faith, Domnus, as has been said, became bishop of the church at Antioch.

19 But as Paul refused to surrender the church building, the Emperor Aurelian was petitioned; and he decided the matter most equitably,

ordering the building to be given to those to whom the bishops of Italy and of the city of Rome should adjudge it.

Thus this man was driven out of the church, with extreme disgrace, by the worldly power.

20 Such was Aurelian's treatment of us at that time; but in the course of his reign he changed his mind in regard to us, and was moved by certain advisers to institute a persecution against us. And there was great talk about this on every side.

21 But as he was about to do it, and was, so to speak, in the very act of signing the decrees against us, the divine judgment came upon him and restrained him at the very verge of his undertaking, showing in a manner that all could see clearly,

that the rulers of this world can never find an opportunity against the churches of Christ, except the hand, that defends them permits it, in divine and heavenly judgment, for the sake of discipline and correction, at such times as it sees best.

22 After a reign of six years, Aurelian was succeeded by Probus. He reigned for the same number of years, and Carus, with his sons, Carinus and Numerianus, succeeded him. After they had reigned less than three years the government devolved on Diocletian, and those associated with him. Under them took place the persecution of our time, and the destruction of the churches connected with it. 23 Shortly before this, Dionysius, bishop of Rome, after holding office for nine years, died, and was succeeded by Felix.


Deaconess Index

Church Fathers Index

Home Page

Counter added 12.07.04 p 734 1.20.08 534. 10.oy.19 901

<img src="cgi-bin/Count.cgi?df=piney/counter_Malchion.Letter.to.Paul.of.Samosata.html.dat">