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Paul of Samosata

Paul of Samosata, patriarch of Antioch (260-272), was, if we may credit the encyclical letter of his ecclesiastical opponents preserved in Eusebius's History, bk. vii. ch. 30, of humble origin.

He was certainly born farther east at Samosata, and may have owed his promotion in the Church to Zenobia, queen of Palmyra. The letter just mentioned is the only indisputably contemporary document concerning him and was addressed to Dionysius and Maximus, respectively bishops of Rome and Alexandria, by seventy bishops, priests and deacons, who attended a synod at Antioch in 269 and deposed Paul.

Their sentence, however, did not take effect until late in 272, when the emperor Aurelian, having defeated Zenobia and anxious to impose upon Syria the dogmatic system fashionable in Rome, deposed Paul and allowed the rival candidate Domnus to take his place and emoluments. Thus it was a pagan emperor who in this momentous dispute ultimately determined what was orthodox and what was not; and the advanced Christology to which he gave his preference has ever since been upheld as the official orthodoxy of the Church. Aurelian's policy moreover was in effect a recognition of the Roman bishop's pretension to be arbiter for the whole Church in matters of faith and dogma.

Scholars will pay little heed to the charges of rapacity, extortion, pomp and luxury made against Paul by the authors of this letter. It also accuses him not only of consorting himself with two "sisters" of ripe age and fair to look upon; but of allowing his presbyters and deacons also to contract platonic unions with Christian ladies. No actual lapses however from chastity are alleged, and it is only complained that suspicions were aroused, apparently among the pagans.

The real gravamen against Paul seems to have been that he clung to a Christology which was become archaic and had in Rome and Alexandria already fallen into the background.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.