1902 Encyclopedia > Paul of Samosata

Paul of Samosata
Bishop of Antioch
(200 to 275 AD)




PAUL OF SAMOSATA, bishop of Antioch from about 260 A.D., is famous in church history as the author of the last attempt to replace the doctrine of the essential (phy-sical) divinity of Christ by the old view of the human personality of the Redeemer. The effort was not success-ful even within his own community. At an Oriental general council, held at Antioch as early as the year 264, his teaching was investigated; but no conclusion was come to because it was alleged Paul had been cunning enough to disguise his real opinions. A second synod was equally abortive; but at a third (probably in the year 268), after a discussion between Paul and a presbyter named Mal-chion—a sophist of Antioch, and head of a scholastic institution—the metropolitan was excommunicated and his successor appointed. Under the protection of Zenobia, however, Paul continued in his office for four years longer; and the church of Antioch was split into two factions. In the year 272 the city was taken by the emperor Aurelian, who decided in person that the church-building belonged to the bishop who was in epistolary communication with the bishops of Rome and Italy. This decision of course proceeded on political considerations; and indeed it is probable that behind the theological con-troversy there had been all along a political disagreement, the opponents of Paul being enemies of Zenobia and ad-herents of the Roman party. About the life of Paul we know scarcely anything. His enemies, indeed, describe him as an unspiritual prelate, an empty preacher, an arro-gant man of the world, and a crafty sophist; but this portrait must not be too readily accepted. We are told that he preferred the title of Ducenarius to that of bishop. This probably implies that he actually was a procurator ducenarius, a civil post of considerable dignity, and we may well believe that he was very conscious of his posi-tion, maintained its formalities with some pride, and used it to give effect to his peculiar views. As an accomplished theologian he strenuously opposed the old expositors, i.e., the theologians of Alexandria, and prohibited the use in public worship of all those church hymns in which the essential divinity of Christ found expression.
His doctrine was no novelty, but merely a development of primitive Christian belief as represented, e.g., by Her-nias, and at a later time by the so-called Alogi in Asia Minor, and the Theodotians and Artemonites in Rome. Even in Syria it was not extinct at the end of the 3d century (see the Acta Archelai); but in the great churches of the empire—especially in the West and in Egypt—the Logos-Christology was already in the ascendant. And, since the previous state of things had passed from memory, it soon came to be regarded as " heresy " and " innovation " to think of Christ as most Christians had thought in the 2d century. It was chiefly Origen and his philosophical dis-ciples, however, who had brought about the victory of the Logos-Christology, and discredited contrary opinions not only as unchurchly but also as unscientific. Thus the under-taking of Paul was no longer in harmony with the times. And yet his much-abused doctrine, as is now more and more clearly perceived, deserves the highest respect, inasmuch as it is an attempt to express the significance of Christ's person without the aid of cosmology or philosophical theories. The leading outlines of his Christology are as follows. God is to be conceived as one person; from Him, however, there proceeds eternally as force a Logos (_____), who may be called " Son." This Logos worked in the prophets, and at last, in the highest degree and in a unique manner, in Jesus. Jesus is in His own nature a man, originating in time ; He is " from beneath." But, by means of inspiration and indwelling, the divine Logos worked upon Him " from above." A physical union is out of the question, because the Logos Himself is no "_____." To this divine endowment of Jesus corresponds His tried moral perfection. Through the unchangeableness of His mind and will He became like God; through love He be-came one with Him. For, said Paul, " the only kind of unity which can exist between two persons is that of disposition and direction of will, which comes to pass through love; only that which results from love has value, what-ever is physical is worthless." Thus during all His life the Redeemer moved steadily onward, the Father enabling Him to perform mighty works, and finally He proved His indissoluble union in love with God by His death. As the reward of victory for His love and for His work among men He has received from God the name which is above every name; God has invested Him with divine honour, so that now we may call Him "the God born of the virgin." Since Jesus was eternally foreordained by God, we may even speak of a pre-existence of Christ; and Paul goes so far as to use these words : "By the grace of God, and through progressive development under trial, Christ became God."

Although Paul was excommunicated, his teaching did not remain altogether without effect in the church. It had a marked influence on Lucian, and through him on Arianism. But it is in the Christological statements of Theodore of Mopsuestia, of Diodorus, and of Theodoret that we can most clearly recognize the influence of the teaching of Paul of Samosata.





Sources.—Euseb., H. E., vii. 27-30. Compare also the collection in Routh, Reliq. Sacr., iii. pp. 286 sq., 300 sq., 326 sq.

Literature.—Bernhardt, Geschichte des röm. Reiches seit dem Tode Valerian's, pp. 170 sq., 178 sq., 306 sq.; Hefele, Conciliengesch., 2d ed., p. 135 ; Lipsius, Chronologie der röm. Bischöfe (1869); Feuerlin, De haeresi Pauli Sam. (1741); Ehrlich, De erroribus Pauli Sam. (1745) ; Schwab, Diss. de Pauli Sam. vita atque doctrina (1839); Harnack, art. ''Monarchianismus," in Realencylcl. f. Theol. u. Kirche, 2d ed., x. p. 178 sq. (A. HA.)






The above article was written by: Prof. Adolf Harnack, University of Giessen.



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