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Alexander of Alexandria

Alexander of Alexandria

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Alexander of Alexandria (died 326 or 328) was the nineteenth Patriarch of Alexandria
Patriarch of Alexandria
The Patriarch of Alexandria is the Archbishop of Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt. Historically, this office has included the designation of Pope , and did so earlier than that of the Bishop of Rome...

 from 313 to his death. During his patriarchate, he dealt with a number of issues relevant to a church's positions on issues facing the church. These included the dating of Easter
Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

, the actions of Meletius of Lycopolis
Meletius of Lycopolis
Meletius was bishop of Lycopolis in Egypt. He is known to us mainly as the founder and namesake of the Melitians , one of several scismatic sects in early church history which were concerned about the ease with which lapsed Christians reentered the Church. See also DonatismThe details of his life...

, and the issue of Arianism
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

 among them. He was the leader of the opposition to Arianism at the First Council of Nicaea
First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325...

. He also is remembered for being the mentor of the man who would be his successor, Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria [b. ca. – d. 2 May 373] is also given the titles St. Athanasius the Great, St. Athanasius I of Alexandria, St Athanasius the Confessor and St Athanasius the Apostolic. He was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His long episcopate lasted 45 years Athanasius of Alexandria [b....

, who would become one of the leading Church fathers.

Biography


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
Galerius
Galerius , was Roman Emperor from 305 to 311. During his reign he campaigned, aided by Diocletian, against the Sassanid Empire, sacking their capital Ctesiphon in 299. He also campaigned across the Danube against the Carpi, defeating them in 297 and 300...

 and Maximinus Daia.

Alexander became patriarch on the passing of Achillas of Alexandria
Achillas of Alexandria
Pope Achillas of Alexandria was the eighteenth Pope of Alexandria between 312 and 313....

, 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
Arius
Arius was a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt of Libyan origins. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead, which emphasized the Father's divinity over the Son , and his opposition to the Athanasian or Trinitarian Christology, made him a controversial figure in the First Council of...

 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
Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

. 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
Dionysius of Alexandria
Pope Dionysius of Alexandria, named "the Great," was the Pope of Alexandria from 248 until his death on November 17, 265 after seventeen years as a bishop. He was the first Pope to hold the title "the Great" . We have information on Dionysius because during his lifetime, Dionysius wrote many...

. 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
First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325...

, held during his tenure, did resolve the matter.

Meletius of Lycopolis


His second major concern was the matter of Meletius of Lycopolis
Meletius of Lycopolis
Meletius was bishop of Lycopolis in Egypt. He is known to us mainly as the founder and namesake of the Melitians , one of several scismatic sects in early church history which were concerned about the ease with which lapsed Christians reentered the Church. See also DonatismThe details of his life...

, 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
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

, 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
Arius
Arius was a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt of Libyan origins. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead, which emphasized the Father's divinity over the Son , and his opposition to the Athanasian or Trinitarian Christology, made him a controversial figure in the First Council of...

. 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.

Arianism


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
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

 in one of his sermon
Sermon
A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic, usually expounding on a type of belief, law or behavior within both past and present contexts...

s. Arius immediately responded by labeling Alexander's statement Sabellianism
Sabellianism
In Christianity, Sabellianism, is the nontrinitarian belief that the Heavenly Father, Resurrected Son and Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons in God Himself.The term Sabellianism comes from...

, 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 deacon
Deacon
Deacon is a ministry in the Christian Church that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions...

s, and at least one presbyter
Presbyter
Presbyter in the New Testament refers to a leader in local Christian congregations, then a synonym of episkopos...

, who started to ordain
Ordination
In general religious use, ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination itself varies by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is...

 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
Synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...

 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
Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria [b. ca. – d. 2 May 373] is also given the titles St. Athanasius the Great, St. Athanasius I of Alexandria, St Athanasius the Confessor and St Athanasius the Apostolic. He was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His long episcopate lasted 45 years Athanasius of Alexandria [b....

, 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
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

, 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
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

 a very real one.

In 321, Alexander called a general council of the entire church of the nation. The council gathered no less 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
Anathema
Anathema originally meant something lifted up as an offering to the gods; it later evolved to mean:...

 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
Eusebius of Nicomedia
Eusebius of Nicomedia was the man who baptised Constantine. He was a bishop of Berytus in Phoenicia, then of Nicomedia where the imperial court resided in Bithynia, and finally of Constantinople from 338 up to his death....

, had close connections with the imperial court in Byzantium, and helped to spread Arius' ideas furthter. 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
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

, and Patrophilus of Scythopolis
Patrophilus of Scythopolis
Patrophilus was the Arian bishop of Scythopolis in the early-mid 4th century AD. He was an enemy of Athanasius who described him as a πνευματόμαχος or "fighter against the Holy Spirit"...

, 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
Pamphylia
In ancient geography, Pamphylia was the region in the south of Asia Minor, between Lycia and Cilicia, extending from the Mediterranean to Mount Taurus . It was bounded on the north by Pisidia and was therefore a country of small extent, having a coast-line of only about 75 miles with a breadth of...

, 32 from Lycia
Lycia
Lycia Lycian: Trm̃mis; ) was a region in Anatolia in what are now the provinces of Antalya and Muğla on the southern coast of Turkey. It was a federation of ancient cities in the region and later a province of the Roman Empire...

, 15 from Cappadocia
Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine...

, and various others. He also maintained individual correspondence with Alexander of Constantinople
Alexander of Constantinople
Saint Alexander of Constantinople was bishop of Byzantium and the bishop of Constantinople . Information from the Synaxarion mention that Alexander was originally from Calabria in Italy and his parents were George and Vryaine...

, 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
Macarius of Jerusalem
Saint Macarius of Jerusalem was Bishop of Jerusalem from 312 to shortly before 335, according to Sozomen.St. Athanasius, in one of his orations against Arianism, refers to St. Macarius as an example of "the honest and simple style of apostolical men." The date 312 for Macarius's accession to the...

, 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
Hosius of Córdoba
Hosius of Corduba , also known as Osius or Ossius, was a bishop of Cordova and one of the prominent advocates of what became Catholic Christianity in the Arian controversy which divided the IV century early Christian Church...

, 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
Consubstantiality
Consubstantial is an adjective used in Latin Christian christology, coined by Tertullian in Against Hermogenes 44, used to translate the Greek term homoousios...

". 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
Ecumenical council
An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice....

 of the church, to be held at Nicaea
Iznik
İznik is a city in Turkey which is primarily known as the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea, the first and seventh Ecumenical councils in the early history of the Church, the Nicene Creed, and as the capital city of the Empire of Nicaea...

 in Bithynia on 14 June 325, the first such council ever called into existence.

First Council of Nicaea


Alexander came to the council with a party which included Potamon of Heraclea, Paphnutius of Thebes
Paphnutius of Thebes
Paphnutius of Thebes, also known as Paphnutius the Confessor, was bishop of a city in the Upper Thebaid in the early fourth century, and one of the most interesting possible members of the First Council of Nicaea in 325...

, 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 anaethema 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
Paphnutius of Thebes
Paphnutius of Thebes, also known as Paphnutius the Confessor, was bishop of a city in the Upper Thebaid in the early fourth century, and one of the most interesting possible members of the First Council of Nicaea in 325...

, 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.

Writings


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
Codex
A codex is a book in the format used for modern books, with multiple quires or gatherings typically bound together and given a cover.Developed by the Romans from wooden writing tablets, its gradual replacement...

. 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.

Veneration


Alexander is venerated as a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, and the Eastern Orthodox church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

. 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."

External links