Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Paphnutius, Bishop and Confessor

Article

The holy confessor Paphnutius was an Egyptian, and after having spent several years in the desert, under the direction of the great Saint Antony, was made bishop in Upper Thebais. He was one of those confessors who, under the tyrant Maximin Daia, lost their right eye, and were afterwards sent to work in the mines. Sozomen and Theodoret add, that his left ham was cut; by which we are to understand that the sinews were cut so as to render the left leg entirely useless. Eusebius takes notice that this punishment was inflicted on many Christians in that bloody reign. Peace being restored to the church, Paphnutius returned to his flock, bearing all the rest of his life the glorious marks of his sufferings for the name of his crucified master. The Arian heresy being broached in Egypt, he was one of the most zealous in defending the Catholic faith, and for his eminent sanctity, and the glorious title of confessor, (or one who had confessed the faith before the persecutors, and under torments,) was highly considered in the great council of Nice. Constantine the Great, during the celebration of that synod, sometimes conferred privately with him in his palace, and never dismissed him without kissing respectfully the place where the eye he had lost for the faith was once situated.

The fathers of the council of Nice, in the third canon, strictly forbid all clergymen to entertain in their houses any woman, except a mother, aunt, sister, or such as could leave no room for suspicion. Socrates and Sozomen relate, that the bishops were for making a general law, forbidding all bishops, priests, deacons, and sub-deacons, to live with their wives whom they had married before their ordination; but that the confessor Paphnutius rose up in the midst of the assembly and opposed the motion, saying, that it was enough to conform to the ancient tradition of the church, which forbade the clergy marrying after their ordination. These authors add, that the whole council came into his way of thinking, and made no new law on that point. On account of the silence of other writers, and on the testimonies of Saint Jerom, Saint Epiphanius, and others, Bellarmin and Orsi suspect that Socrates and Sozomen were misinformed in this story. There is, however, nothing repugnant in the narration; for it might seem unadvisable to make too severe a law at that time against some married men, who, in certain obscure churches, might have been ordained without such a condition. Saint Paphnutius remained always in a close union with Saint Athanasius, and the other Catholic prelates. He and Saint Potomon, bishop of Heraclea, with forty-seven other Egyptian bishops, accompanied their holy patriarch to the council of Tyre, in 335, where they found much the greater part of the members who composed that assembly to be professed Arians. Paphnutius seeing Maximus, bishop of Jerusalem, among them, and full of concern to find an orthodox prelate who had suffered in the late persecution, in such bad company, took him by the hand, led him out, and told him he could not see that one who bore the same marks as he in defence of the faith, should be seduced and imposed upon by persons who were resolved to oppress the most strenuous assertor of its fundamental article. He then let him into the whole plot of the Arians, which, till that moment had been a secret to the good bishop of Jerusalem, who was by this means put upon his guard against the crafty insinuations of hypocrites, and fixed for ever in the communion of Saint Athanasius. We have no particular account of the death of Saint Paphnutius; but his name stands in the Roman Martyrology on the 11th of September.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Paphnutius, Bishop and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 11 September 2016. Web. 25 November 2017. <>