Alexander of Alexandria
Icon of St. Alexander of Alexandria (Veljusa Monastery, North Macedonia)
|Church||Coptic Orthodox Church|
|Predecessor||Achillas of Alexandria|
|Successor||St. Athanasius "the Apostolic"|
|Died||February 26 or April 17, 326 or 328|
|Feast day||February 26, April 17 (Roman Catholic)|
May 29 (Eastern Orthodox)
|Venerated in|| Coptic Orthodox Church |
Eastern Catholic Churches
Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
|Title as Saint||Patriarch of Alexandria|
Alexander I of Alexandria, 19th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. During his patriarchate, he dealt with a number of issues facing the Church in that day. These included the dating of Easter, the actions of Meletius of Lycopolis, and the issue of greatest substance, Arianism. He was the leader of the opposition to Arianism at the First Council of Nicaea. He also is remembered for being the mentor of the man who would be his successor, Athanasius of Alexandria, who would become one of the leading Church fathers.
Comparatively little is known of Alexander's early years. During his time as a priest he experienced the bloody persecutions of Christians by Emperors Galerius and Maximinus Daia.
Alexander became patriarch on the passing of Achillas of Alexandria, whose own remarkably short reign was thought by some to have been brought about by his breaking the command of his own predecessor, Peter of Alexandria, to never readmit Arius into communion.
Alexander himself faced three primary challenges during his term as patriarch. The first of these was a schismatic sect, led by Erescentius, which was disputing the timing of Easter. Alexander found himself put in the position of writing a special treatise on the controversy, in which he cited earlier statements regarding the matter by Dionysius of Alexandria. Alexander's own efforts, while they did serve to quiet the dispute, were not enough to quiet the controversy themselves, although the First Council of Nicaea, held during his tenure, did resolve the matter.
His second major concern was the matter of Meletius of Lycopolis, who continued to slander Alexander, as he had earlier done to Achillas. Meletius went so far as to lodge a formal complaint with the court of the Emperor Constantine I, although no unusual attention was given it.
More important, however, was the fact that Meletius had seemed to establish some form of working alliance with Arius. Meletius also consecrated bishops of his own, without his superior's consent. This controversy would continue unabated until the Council at Nicaea, where Alexander allowed Meletius to return to the church, effectively ending Meletius' alliance with Arius.
The last, and most important, of the problems Alexander faced was the issue of Arius himself. Alexander's predecessor, Achillas, had not only allowed Arius to return to the church, but had given him the oldest church in Alexandria, a position which allowed him to exercise a great influence on the Christian community of Alexandria. In fact, Arius was even a contender for the post of patriarch of Alexandria at the death of Achillas.
The conflict between the two began in earnest when Alexander declared the unity of the Trinity in one of his sermons. Arius immediately responded by labeling Alexander's statement Sabellianism, which had already been rejected by that time. The controversy quickly escalated, and Arius developed ever increasing support for his position, winning over a number of deacons, and at least one presbyter, who started to ordain presbyters of his own. Arius continued to draw even more attention and support, to the point that Alexander found himself having to summon two separate assemblies of his priests and deacons to discuss the matter. Neither of these assemblies, though, reached any firm conclusions, or helped to limit the spread of Arius' beliefs.
Alexander then called a synod of the church of Alexandria and its neighboring province of Mareotis in 320, for the specific intention of deciding what action would be taken regarding this increasingly problematic matter. At the synod, thirty-six presbyters and forty-four deacons, including Athanasius of Alexandria, agreed to a condemnation of Arianism and signed a document to that effect. Arius remained successful in spreading his new belief elsewhere, particularly in Mareotis and Libya, where Arius convinced the bishop Secundus of Ptolemais and Thomas of Marmarica to join him. Arius' success in dividing the leaders of the church made the chance of a formal schism a very real one.
In 321, Alexander called a general council of the entire church of the nation. The council gathered no fewer than one hundred participants. At this council, Arius continued to argue his earlier position, that the Son could not be co-eternal with the father, and even went on to say that the Son was not similar to the Father in substance. This last statement was received with horror by the assembled council, who placed Arius under anathema until he recanted his positions.
Arius left for Palestine, where he received support from a number of bishops, who expressed their opinion of the matter to Alexander. One of these supporters, Eusebius of Nicomedia, had close connections with the imperial court in Byzantium, and helped to spread Arius' ideas further. The widespread growth of this movement, and the reaction to such from the established church, led to the emperor himself writing a letter to the involved parties calling for the return of unity to the church and an end to this protracted dispute about what he characterized as petty arguments over unintelligible minutiae.
Arius' followers in Alexandria began to engage in violence in defense of their beliefs, prompting Alexander to write an encyclical to all of his brother bishops in Christendom, in which he related the history of Arianism and his opinion of the flaws of the Arian system. In doing so, he was obliged to indicate to them the actions of Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had assembled a provincial council of the church of Bithynia to discuss Arius. This body reviewed the actions that Alexander and his predecessors had taken, and, based on their review, formally admitted Arius to the communion of the Syriac church. Other figures, including Paulinus of Tyrus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Patrophilus of Scythopolis, also indicated their support of Arius, allowing his followers to assemble for the Divine Office as they had earlier done in Alexandria.
Arius is believed to have written his Thalia at around this time, which gathered even more support for his cause. This book, combined with Arius' other works and Alexander's opposing works, exacerbated the dispute between the supporters and opponents of Arius. In this atmosphere and on the advice of his deacon Athanasius, Alexander wrote in defense of his own position a confession of faith. He sent this tome to all the bishops of Christianity, asking them to endorse his position by placing their own signatures on the copies. He received about 250 signatures to his work, including about 100 from his own diocese, as well as 42 from Asia, 37 from Pamphylia, 32 from Lycia, 15 from Cappadocia, and various others. He also maintained individual correspondence with Alexander of Constantinople, protesting the violence of the Arians and promulgation of Arius's views on the influence of females, as well as with Pope Sylvester I, Macarius of Jerusalem, Asclepius of Gaza, Longinus of Ashkelon, Macarius of Ioannina, Zeno of Tyrus, and many others on the issues of Arianism.
The dispute over Arianism had become a serious problem, which threatened to damage the peace and unity of the church and of the empire. Constantine, now sole claimant to the throne after the execution of Licinius, wrote a letter "to Athanasius and Arius". Constantine wrote the letter from Nicomedia, so some have concluded that Eusebius of Nicomedia, the bishop of Nicomedia and a supporter of Arius, may have been involved in the composition of the letter. The letter was given to Hosius of Córdoba, a respected older bishop, to deliver to the disputants in Alexandria. In the letter, Constantine requested that Alexander and Arius end their dispute.
Shortly after receiving the message from Constantine, Alexander requested another general council of the diocese, which seems to have confirmed its agreement with the profession of faith Alexander had earlier circulated an agreement to the use of the theological term "consubstantial". It also reaffirmed the excommunication of Arius and the condemnation of the followers of Meletius, which, of course, angered the Arians of Alexandria even more. Arius himself formally complained to the emperor over his treatment by Alexander. In response, Constantine called for Arius to plead his case before an ecumenical council of the church, to be held at Nicaea in Bithynia on 14 June 325, the first such council ever called into existence.
Alexander came to the council with a party which included Potamon of Heraclea, Paphnutius of Thebes, and Alexander's deacon, Athanasius, who acted as his spokesman. Alexander was himself supposed to preside over the meeting, but felt that he could not serve as both presiding official and chief accuser. On that basis, he turned over the presidency to Hosius of Cordova. After lengthy discussion, the council issued a decision which, among other things, confirmed the anathema of Arius, authorized Alexander, at his urging, to allow Meletius to retain his episcopal title, but not be able to exercise any episcopal powers. Those Meletius had appointed could also retain their titles, but would only be elevated to the status of bishop on the death of one of the bishops consecrated by Alexander. It also gave Alexander the right to decide the timing of Easter on his own, asking him only to communicate his decision to Rome and the rest of Christendom. It also issued a statement that the Egyptian church would be allowed to retain its traditions regarding clerical celibacy. In this regard, Alexander followed the advice of Paphnutius of Thebes, who encouraged him to allow priests to be married after taking holy orders.
Five months after returning to Alexandria from Nicaea, Alexander died. One source places his death on the 22nd of Baramudah, or April 17. As he was dying, he is said by some to have named Athanasius, his deacon, as his successor.
Several of the works which we are told to have been written by Alexander have not survived. History mentions a collection of letters he wrote regarding the Arian controversy. Only two of these letters survive to this day. There is also an extant homily, De anima et corpore (On the soul and the body) which is attributed to Alexander in a Syriac version. The Coptic version however attributes the homily to Athanasius.
Another work, the Enconium of Peter the Alexandrian, is attributed to him. This book survives in five codices. The work can be reconstructed based on the extant fragments and a translation in the History of the Patriarchs. It contains the biblical allusions, traditions, and portrayal of the martyrdom of Peter. It has been said to be one of the best examples of the literary style of the time, based on its complex literary structure, the competency of its theology, and general literary style.
Alexander is venerated as a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. Alexander is described by the Roman Catholic Church as "a man held in the highest honor by the people and clergy, magnificent, liberal, eloquent, just, a lover of God and man, devoted to the poor, good and sweet to all, so mortified that he never broke his fast while the sun was in the heavens."
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Arianism is a nontrinitarian Christological doctrine which asserts the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was begotten by God the Father at a point in time, a creature distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to him, but the Son is also God. Arian teachings were first attributed to Arius, a Christian presbyter in Alexandria of Egypt. The term "Arian" is derived from the name Arius; and like "Christian", it was not a self-chosen designation but bestowed by hostile opponents—and never accepted by those on whom it had been imposed. The nature of Arius's teaching and his supporters were opposed to the theological views held by Homoousian Christians, regarding the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father.
Athanasius of Alexandria, also called Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor or, primarily in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Athanasius the Apostolic, was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His intermittent episcopacy spanned 45 years, of which over 17 encompassed five exiles, when he was replaced on the order of four different Roman emperors. Athanasius was a Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.
Eusebius of Nicomedia was the man who baptised Constantine the Great. He was a bishop of Berytus in Phoenicia. He was later made the Bishop of Nicomedia, where the imperial court resided. He lived finally in Constantinople from 338 up to his death.
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.
The First Council of Constantinople was a council of Christian bishops convened in Constantinople in AD 381 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I. This second ecumenical council, an effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, except for the Western Church, confirmed the Nicene Creed, expanding the doctrine thereof to produce the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and dealt with sundry other matters. It met from May to July 381 in the Church of Hagia Irene and was affirmed as ecumenical in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon.
Saint Meletius was a Christian bishop of Antioch from 360 until his death in 381. He was opposed by a rival bishop named Paulinus and his episcopate was dominated by the schism, usually called the Meletian schism. As a result, he was exiled from Antioch in 361–362, 365–366 and 371–378. One of his last acts was to preside over the First Council of Constantinople in 381.
Arius was a Libyan presbyter and ascetic, and priest in Baucalis in Alexandria, Egypt. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead in Christianity, which emphasized God the Father's uniqueness and Christ's subordination under the Father, and his opposition to what would become the dominant Christology, Homoousian Christology, made him a primary topic of the First Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine the Great in 325.
Macarius of Jerusalem ; was Bishop of Jerusalem from 312 to shortly before 335, according to Sozomen. He is recognized as a saint within the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
Eustathius of Antioch, sometimes surnamed the Great, was a Christian bishop and archbishop of Antioch in the 4th century. His feast day in the Orthodox Church is February 21.
Hosius of Corduba, also known as Osius or Ossius, was a bishop of Corduba and an important and prominent advocate for Homoousion Christianity in the Arian controversy that divided the early Christianity.
Saint Lucian of Antioch, known as Lucian the Martyr, was a Christian presbyter, theologian and martyr. He was noted for both his scholarship and ascetic piety.
Semi-Arianism was a position regarding the relationship between God the Father and the Son of God, adopted by some 4th century Christians. Though the doctrine modified the teachings of Arianism, it still rejected the doctrine that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-eternal, and of the same substance, or consubstantial, and was therefore considered to be heretical by many contemporary Christians. Semi-Arianism is a name frequently given to the Trinitarian position of the conservative majority of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the 4th century, to distinguish it from strict Arianism.
Marcellus of Ancyra was a Bishop of Ancyra and one of the bishops present at the Council of Ancyra and the First Council of Nicaea. He was a strong opponent of Arianism, but was accused of adopting the opposite extreme of modified Sabellianism. He was condemned by a council of his enemies and expelled from his see, though he was able to return there to live quietly with a small congregation in the last years of his life.
The First Synod of Tyre or the Council of Tyre was a gathering of bishops called together by Emperor Constantine I for the primary purpose of evaluating charges brought against Athanasius, the Patriarch of Alexandria.
Gregory of Cappadocia served as Patriarch of Alexandria between 339 and 345. The appointment was made due to political pressure on Emperor Constantius II by Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had been one of the strong opponents of Patriarch Athanasius I and a supporter of Arianism from the very beginning.
Subordinationism is a belief that began within early Christianity that asserts that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being. Various forms of subordinationism were believed or condemned until the mid-4th century, when the debate was decided against subordinationism as an element of the Arian controversy. In 381, after many decades of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity, the First Council of Constantinople condemned Arianism.
The Arian controversy was a series of Christian theological disputes that arose between Arius and Athanasius of Alexandria, two Christian theologians from Alexandria, Egypt. The most important of these controversies concerned the substantial relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
The Melitians, sometimes called the Church of the Martyrs, were an early Christian sect in Egypt. They were founded about 306 by Bishop Melitius of Lycopolis and survived as a small group into the 8th century. The point on which they broke with the larger Catholic church was the same as that of the contemporary Donatists in the province of Africa: the ease with which lapsed Christians were received back into communion. The resultant division in the church of Egypt is known as the Melitian schism.
The Councils of Alexandria started in 231 AD as a council of bishops and priests met at Alexandria, Egypt, called by Bishop Demetrius for the purpose of declaring Origen of Alexandria unworthy of the office of teacher, and of excommunicating him.
Constantine the Great's (272–337) relationship with the four Bishops of Rome during his reign is an important component of the history of the Papacy, and more generally the history of the Catholic Church.
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Pope Alexander of Alexandria
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| Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria |
313–326 or 328