Pictorial Catholic Library – Antioch

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The First Centre of the Catholic Church

The city in which the disciples of our Lord were first called Christians. It was the chief centre of the Gentile Church, and here the chief apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and other apostolic men, such as Saint Barnabas, laboured. Besides this, Antioch had a title to special pre-eminence in the fact that it was for a time the actual see of Saint Peter, who founded the Church and held it, according to Saint Jerome, for seven years. He was succeeded by Saint Evodius and Saint Ignatius. Moreover, the civil greatness of the city combined with its traditional glory, as Saint Peter’s see, to give it a high rank among the Churches of the world. It is no wonder, then, that Antioch should have been regarded in early times as the third among the episcopal cities of the Catholic world. The difficulty rather lies in the fact that the third, instead of the second, place was assigned to it, and that it ranked after Alexandria, the see of Saint Mark. This apparent anomaly may be explained by the civil superiority of Alexandria, and this is the solution actually given by Baronius; or, again, it may be said that Saint Peter only fixed his see at Antioch for a time, whereas he placed his representative Saint Mark as the permanent bishop of Alexandria.

However, the bishops of Antioch did net even maintain their rank as third among Christian bishops, though it was theirs by ancient privilege. At the Second and Fourth Councils, they permitted the bishop of Constantinople to assume the next place after the Roman bishop, so that Antioch became the fourth among the patriarchates. Shortly after the Fourth General Council, Antioch fell lower still. Anatolius, bishop of Constantinople in Saint Leo’s time, ordained a patriarch of Antioch, and this infringement of the independence which belonged to Antioch as a patriarchate came to be regarded as a settled custom.

The patriarchate of Antioch embraced the following provinces: Phoenicia prima et secunda, Cilicia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Osroene, Euphratesia, Syria secunda, Isauria and Palestine. It is doubtful whether Persia was subject to it. Antioch claimed jurisdiction over Cyprus, but the latter asserted its independence at the Council of Ephesus, and at a later date Anthlmus, metropolitan of Cyprus, resisted Peter the Fuller, who claimed authority as patriarch of Antioch. Anthimus professed to have found the body of Saint Barnabas in the island and so to have proved the apostolic foundation of his Church. The territory of Antioch was abridged further by the rise of the patriarchate of Jerusalem. At Chalcedon, Juvenal of Jerusalem secured the three Palestines as his own patriarchate. This he did by an agreement with Maximus of Antioch, which was ratified Dy the council and the Papal legates.

The bishop of Tyre held the first place among the metropolitans subject to Antioch; he was called protothronos, and he had the right of consecrating the new patriarch, though in the middle of the fifth century, as we have seen, this privilege was usurped by Constantinople. The patriarch consecrated the metropolitans; they consecrated the bishops, though Pope Leo wished, that even bishops should not be consecrated without the patriarch’s approval.

Under the Emperors Zeno and Anastasius at the end of the fifth century, Monophysite patriarchs were placed at Antioch, and this Monophysite patriarchate lasts to the present day, though the patriarch’s residence was removed to Tagrit and later to Diarbekir. There was a Greek orthodox patriarch, who generally resided at Constantinople, but he too fell away in the general defection of the Greeks from Catholic unity. This schismatic patriarchate of the orthodox Greeks still continues. At the end of the eleventh century, the conquests of the crusaders led to the establishment of a Latin patriarchate.

At present, besides the Syro-Monophysite or Jacobite, and the Greek schismatic patriarch, there are

the Latin Catholic patriarch, who, at present, does not really govern any Church in the East;

the Greek Malchite patriarch, for the united Greeks;

the Syrian patriarch, for those of the Syrian rite who returned in the seventeenth century from Monophysite error to the Church;

the Maronite patriarch, who has authority over all Maronite settlements.

Among the many councils assembled at Antioch, special importance belongs

(1) to three councils held between 264 and 269 against Paul of Samosata. At the third council, in 269, Paul was deposed and his formula that the Son was of one substance (homoousios) with the Father condemned, probably because Paul meant by it, that the Son pre-existed only as an attribute of the Father, not as a distinct Person, just as reason in man is a mere faculty, not a distinct person. The fathers of the council addressed an encyclical letter to Dionysius of Rome, Maximus of Alexandria, and to the other bishops. Dionysius died that same year, but his successor, Felix I, published a decisive statement of the Catholic faith against the errors of the heresiarch. Paul, however, maintained possession of the episcopal house; whereupon the orthodox applied to the emperor Aurelian, who decreed that the bishop’s house was to belong to him “with whoir the Italian bishops and the Roman see were in communion.”

(2) To the Synod in enaesniis, held in 341. It consisted of nine bishops, met to consecrate the “Golden Church” begun by Constantine the Great, whence the name en egkainiois. The majority of the Fathers held the Catholic faith, and had no thought of betraying it; and hence their 25 canons relating to matters of discipline attained to great authority throughout the Church. But they were deceived by the Eusebian party, renewed the sentence of deposition against Athanasius, and put forth four Creeds, which, though they approach the Nicene confession, still fall short of it by omitting the decisive word “consubstantial.”

Apart from its influence as a patriarchate and as the meeting-place of councils, Antioch also wielded great powers over the Church as a school of theology and of scriptural exegesis. This school already existed in the fourth century, when Dorotheus and Lucian – who died, as a martyr, in 311 – were its chief ornaments. The Antiochenes were learned and logical, the enemies of allegorical interpretation and of mysticism, but their love of reasoning and their common sense degenerated at times into a rationalistic tendency, so much so that Theodore of Mopsuestia has ever been regarded as the forerunner of Nestorius. But undoubtedly, Antioch rendered great services in the literal interpretation of Scripture. Unlike the Alexandrians, the great scholars of Antioch turned aside from allegorical interpretations, and were distinguished for their critical spirit and grammatical precision. Among their foremost commentators were – Diodore, bishop of Tarsus, (+ about 394), formerly priest at Antioch, whose writings, though vehemently denounced for their Nestorian tendency, and no longer extant, once enjoyed a vast reputation; John Chrysostom, the greatest of all literal expositors; Theodore of Mopsuestia (+ 429), like Diodorus, inclining to Nestorianism, but gifted with talents which can still be discovered even in the fragments and Latin translations of his commentaries which survive, and known among the Nestorians as “the commentator” par excellence; Theodoret (+ about 458), whose commentaries on Saint Paul are “perhaps unsurpassed” for “appreciation, terseness of expression and good sense.”

MLA Citation