Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, Confessor
THIS saint was a learned and eminent father of the fourth age, an intimate friend of St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen, though much younger than they were. He was a native of Cappadocia, and of a noble family: in his youth he studied oratory and the law, afterwards pleaded at the bar, acquired a great reputation for his probity, and discharged the office of judge, when St. Gregory Nazianzen recommended to him the affairs of his friends.1 Amphilochius was yet young, when, by the advice of his friend St. Gregory, he bid adieu to the world and its honours, in order to serve God in retirement, before the year 373, as appears from St. Bazil.2 The place of his retreat was a solitary part of Cappadocia, called Ozizala, so barren that no corn grew in all that country. St. Gregory Nazianzen supplied his friend with that commodity, who in return requited him with presents of fruits and legumes, the produce of a garden which he cultivated. Amphilochius’s aged and infirm father followed him into his retreat, and the saint acquitted himself of the obligations of a most dutiful son, by the tender care he took of him. An acquaintance which he had contracted with St. Basil, had been improved into a strict league of friendship, and when that holy doctor was made archbishop of Cæsarea, our saint would have followed him thither, if he had not been prevented by two obstacles. The first was, the necessity of attending his father, and affording him the comfort of his presence. The second was a fear lest his friend should engage him in the ecclesiastical ministry; which apprehension made him on all occasions shun St. Basil, from the time he was raised to the dignity of metropolitan, as that saint testifies.3 But God, who called him to that charge which he dreaded, conducted him to it by means against which he never thought of taking any precautions. Divine Providence led him to Iconium, at a time when that Church was destitute of a pastor. This city was capital of the second Pisidia, otherwise called Lycaonia. Upon information that he was passing through the country, the clergy and people with one voice elected him bishop. Amphilochius, astonished at this accident, thought of nothing but betaking himself to flight; but God deprived him of the means of executing such a design. St. Basil, who looked upon his ordination as something miraculous, wrote to compliment him upon it, and exhorted him strenuously to oppose vice and heresies,4 and correct ill customs, never suffering himself to be drawn into a connivance at what is evil, because it is become fashionable, or authorised by example; for he was not to be led, but to guide others. It was some time before our saint could be comforted. His father also was extremely grieved at his promotion, which deprived him of the support of his old age; and he laid the blame on St. Gregory Nazianzen, as if he had by some contrivance concurred to it. St. Amphilochius, immediately after his ordination, which was in 374, paid a visit to St. Basil at Cæsarea, and preached, as was usual for bishops who were strangers, before the people, who relished his sermons above those of any stranger they had heard. St. Amphilochius often consulted St. Basil upon difficult points of doctrine and discipline, which the other answered with extraordinary modesty, showing that he rather sought an opportunity of receiving instructions himself. He invited St. Amphilochius to come again to Cæsarea, for the festival of St. Eupsychius, and our saint seems to have complied with his request: but was not able to do it again in 375, on account of sickness. Soon after this, St. Basil, in a dangerous fit of illness, recommended to him the care of his own church of Cæsarea, in case of death.
In 376, St. Amphilochius held a council at Iconium against the Macedonian heretics, who denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost. He assisted at the general council of Constantinople against the same heretics in 381, and at another council in the same city in 383. In a law enacted by Theodosius in 381, he is regarded as one of the centres of the Catholic communion in the East. Theodoret relates,5 that St. Amphilochius, when he was at Constantinople, petitioned the emperor Theodosius that by a law he would forbid the Arians to hold their assemblies, or to blaspheme the Son of God, which the emperor judged too rigorous and refused to do. Amphilochius returning some time after to the palace, and seeing Arcadius the emperor’s son, who had been already proclaimed emperor, close by his father, saluted the father but took no notice of the son: and when Theodosius put him in mind to do it refused to comply. Whereupon Theodosius fell into a passion. Then the bishop said to him: “You cannot bear an injury done to the emperor your son; and how can you suffer those who dishonour the Son of God.” The emperor, surprised at his reply, immediately made a law extant in the Code, whereby he forbade the Arians, Eunomians, Macedonians, and Manichees to hold their meetings: to these heretics he afterwards added the Apollinarists. Theodoret informs us, that St. Amphilochius zealously opposed the rising heresy of the Messalians or Euchites, that is, the Prayers; for the word Messal in Syriac, and Euchites in Greek have the same signification. These were a set of fanatics, who sprung up in Mesopotamia, and gave much disturbance to the Church; pretending to an extraordinary perfection, they placed the whole essence of religion in prayer alone, rejected the use of the sacraments, and all other practices of religion, even fasting, lived in the fields with their wives and children, leading idle, vagabond lives, meeting every night and morning in their oratories, (which were buildings open at the top,) by the light of lamps, to sing spiritual songs, and applying themselves to prayer without interruption, especially reciting often the Lord’s prayer.6 St. Epiphanius tells us, they explained the texts of scripture concerning selling all their goods, and of praying without intermission, according to the rigour of the letter. They pretended to visions and wonderful illuminations, in which much is to be ascribed to a heated imagination, though it seems not to be doubted but, by the divine permission, they sometimes suffered extraordinary impulses and illusions from the devil; in which it is easy to discover in the imperfect relations which we have of them, an affinity with the modern fanatics of several sects, as those of the Cevennes amongst the Huguenots,7 the Convulsionarists among the Jansenists at Paris,8 and several English sects.
St. Amphilochius procured the condemnation of the Messalians in the council of Sida in Pamphilia, wherein he presided, and he confuted them by several works. Of these and his other writings we have nothing extant except large fragments quoted by the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, by Theodoret, Facundus, St. John Damascen, Photius, &c.; for the eight sermons ascribed to him by Combefis, are unworthy his pen, and evidently of a later date, perhaps the works of Amphilochius of Cyzicus, the friend of Photius in 860. The life of St. Basil attributed to our saint is a fabulous piece, and appears plainly the work of a modern Greek: and the poem to Seleucus, containing an enumeration of the canonical books, has the style of St. Gregory Nazianzen, who perhaps wrote it for St. Amphilochius, though he has given also a catalogue of the sacred books in his three hundred and thirty-eighth poem. St. Gregory Nazianzen, calls St. Amphilochius a pontiff without reproach, an angel, and a herald of the truth. By the testimony of this father we are assured that our saint cured the sick by his prayers, the invocation of the Holy Trinity, and the oblation of the sacrifice. We find no mention made of St. Amphilochius beyond the year 394, about which time he seems to have died in a good old age. He is honoured in the Roman Martyrology, and by the Greeks on the 23d of November. See Ceillier, t. 7. p. 307. And on his three Greek lives, Combefis in S. Amphilochio, p. 228. et Fabricius Bibl. Gr. t. 9. p. 52.
Note 6. On the Messalians or Massalians, see St. Epiph. (hær. 80,) S. Jerom. Prolem. in dial. adv. Pelag. &c.; also Jos. Assemani Bibl. Orient. vol. 1, p. 128; vol. 4, p. 171, and Euthymij Zigabeni Panoplia, tit. 26, and his Victoria et Triumphus de sectâ Messalianorum, published in Tollius’s Insignia Itinerarij Italici, p. 106, and Hermenopilus de sectis, p. 570. [back]
Note 7. See their history published by the famous Flechier, bishop of Nismes. [back]
Note 8. See on the Convulsionarists, Jos. Languet, bishop of Soissons, afterwards archbishop of Sens, in his relation of them taken from their own writers, &c. [back]