Thursday 13 August 2015

St Timothy of Alexandria - Part I

There are few of the fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion who escape uncritical censure on the part of the Eastern Orthodox. Uncritical, because based on a few polemical comments deriving from the period of the Christological controversies and failing entirely to take into account any of the writings and historical records deriving from the Oriental Orthodox communities in which they were active.

St. Timothy falls into this category of unreasonably maligned figures. Condemned as both a murderer and Eutychian, he has passed into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox histories as a figure entirely without any redeeming features.

Yet, as is often the case, the truth is very different. St. Timothy reveals himself, in his letters and theological writings, and in the historical record, as a kind and eirenic figure, struggling with more effort than even the Chalcedonians against the heresy of Eutyches, while also seeking to reverse the Chalcedonian settlement.

The major features of his life and episcopate can be usefully divided into the historical periods of the controversy surrounding the murder of Proterius, his extended period of exile, his return and influence upon the Emperor Basiliscus, and theologically into his activities against the Eutychians, his writings against the Chalcedonian settlement and his eirenic approach to the reconciliation of members of the Proterian party.

The Consecration of St Timothy

St. Timothy had been a monk in the desert monasteries when St. Cyril had him brought, against his own inclination, to Alexandria and ordained a priest. When the Alexandrians heard that the Emperor Marcian had died, in 457, they were able to take advantage of the absence of Dionysius, the general whose forces had propped up the usurping patriarchate of Proterius, and consult among themselves to elect a true successor of St.  Dioscorus.[i]

The Alexandrian Church agreed upon St Timothy. He was considered as having the same faith as St. Dioscorus, being well versed in the Fathers, a man of ascetic lifestyle but with the ability to pastor the Church. The monks and people carried him to one of the major Churches in the city where he was consecrated by two Egyptian bishops and St Peter the Iberian, who had left his monastic home in Palestine and was staying in Alexandria at that time. According to Zachariah’s Chronicle, while he was being carried to his consecration the people, priests and monks heard a spiritual voice saying ‘Consecrate him by force, even though he be unwilling, and set him on the throne of St. Mark’.[ii]

Grillmeier rather confusingly states[iii] that St. Timothy was only consecrated by two bishops: St. Peter the Iberian and Eusebius of Pelusium. He can only come to this judgement by ignoring the account of Zacharias and following solely the account of the Chalcedonian historian Evagrius Scholasticus[iv]. Evagrius notes that St. Peter and Eusebius were present at the consecration, but he does not say that only St. Peter and Eusebius were present, this is stated only in the partisan account provided by the Proterian clergy after their expulsion. Unfortunately, Grillmeier repeatedly shows a marked bias against St. Timothy and often appears to present historical material in an unfair manner.

Grillmeier says that St. Timothy was secretly consecrated after the death of St. Dioscorus, but this also appears not to reflect either Zacharias or Evagrius, since both state that the consecration of St. Timothy took place during the period after the death of Emperor Marcian in 457, while St. Dioscorus died in exile at Gangra in 454. Neither was the consecration in secret. In fact it was well known that there were now two rival bishops of Alexandria in the city, and the general Dionysius hurriedly returned with his army, took St Timothy prisoner and caused the slaughter of many Christians in the city. In fact things became so difficult in the city that eventually St. Timothy had to be restored.[v]

Zachariah comments on the relative strength of the two churches in Alexandria. At the baptisms during the feast of Pascha, those reading out and recording the names of the candidates being presented to St. Timothy grew weary with the great number. Only five candidates were presented at this time to Proterius. In fact the people of the city rose up and chased Proterius out of the church he had made his own.

The Murder of Proterius

It was during this tumult that the death of Proterius occurred. Zacharias says,

“When Proterius continued to threaten the Romans, and to display his rage against them; because they took his gold, but did not fill their hands with the blood of his enemies : then, indeed, a certain Roman was stirred to anger in his heart, and was boiling over with rage ; and he invited Proterius to look round and he would show him the corpses of the slain as they lay. And suddenly and secretly, he drew his sword and stabbed Proterius in the ribs along with his Roman comrades, and they despatched him, and dragged him to the Tetrapylum, calling out respecting him as they went along, “This is Proterius.” And others suspected that it was some crafty plot. But the Romans left the body, and went away. Then the people, perceiving this, became also greatly excited, and they dragged off the corpse, and burnt it with fire in the Hippodrome.”[vi]

So Zachariah is clear that one of the Roman mercenary troops killed Proterius, not from any theological impulse but out of irritation at his constant demands for force to be applied to those who opposed him.

If we turn to Evagrius, who is a Chalcedonian, we find that he also notes,

“….the account given of the transaction by the writer of the life of Peter, also says that Proterius was not killed by the populace, but by one of the soldiers.” [vii]

And Grillmeier also notes that the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian also writes of Proterius being killed by a Roman soldier.[viii]

But then, rather perversely, he states that these references are unconvincing. He chooses instead to rely entirely on the naturally partisan statements of the Proterian clergy who had fled Alexandria after Proterius’ death. Their description of the events in Alexandria are rather different.

“When Dionysius, on account of the urgency of these disorders, had occupied the city with the utmost dispatch, and was taking prompt measures to quench the towering conflagration of the sedition, some of the Alexandrians, at the instigation of Timotheus, according to the written report made to Leo, despatched Proterius when he appeared, by thrusting a sword through his bowels, after he had fled for refuge to the holy baptistery. Suspending the body by a cord, they displayed it to the public in the quarter called Tetrapylum, jeering and vociferating that the victim was Proterius; and, after dragging it through the whole city, committed it to the flames; not even refraining themselves from tasting his intestines, like beasts of prey.” [ix]

Now this passage seems most unlikely? Do we really imagine that Christians, of whichever party, would resort to cannibalism? This account, despatched to Leo of Rome, continues,

“And while undisturbed peace was prevailing among the orthodox people of our country and Alexandria, Timotheus, immediately after the holy synod at Chalcedon, being at that time a presbyter, severed himself from the Catholic church and faith, together with only four or five bishops and a few monks, of those who, as well as himself, were infected with the heretical errors of Apollinaris and his followers; on account of which opinions they were then deposed by Proterius, of divine memory, and the general synod of Egypt, and duly experienced the motion of the imperial will, in the sentence of banishment.”

Now this passage is clearly misleading and mischievous. We know already that almost the entire population of Alexandria supported St. Timothy, and the fact that the escaping Proterians numbered only a handful shows that in fact it was they who were in the minority? What was this ‘general Synod of Egypt’ that banished St. Timothy? It is a fabrication since in fact St. Timothy was restored to Alexandria specifically because he was so much loved and respected by the Church.

Even Grillmeier has to note that Leo of Rome was misled as to the following of St. Timothy in Alexandria and thought that only four bishops supported him. This could not be further from the truth. The letter to Leo of Rome continues,

“And after the interval of only one day, while Proterius, beloved of God, was occupying, as usual, the episcopal residence, Timotheus, taking with him the two bishops who had been justly deposed, and the clergy who, as we have said, were condemned to banishment with them, as if he had received rightful ordination at the hands of the two, though not one of the orthodox bishops of the whole Egyptian diocese was present, as is customary on occasion of the ordinations of the bishop of the church of Alexandria—he possesses himself, as he presumed, of the archiepiscopal see, though manifestly guilty of an adulterous outrage on the church, as already having her rightful spouse in one who was performing the divine offices in her, and canonically occupied his proper throne.”

Clearly this also is a partisan statement. Even if Proterius were not guilty of the violent excesses which he seems to have urged against the Alexandrians, and the evidence suggests he was, nevertheless he remained a promoter of Chalcedon and was an agent of the Imperial power. A heretic cannot ‘canonically occupy’ any episcopal throne, and by this light alone was reasonably considered a false bishop by the Alexandrians. He had been intruded while their own dearly beloved St. Dioscorus was still alive.

“The blessed man could do nothing else than give place to wrath, according to what is written, and take refuge in the venerable baptistery from the assault of those who were pursuing him to death, a place which especially inspires awe even into barbarians and savages, though ignorant of its dignity, and the grace which flows from it.  Notwithstanding, however, those who were eager to carry into execution the design which Timotheus had from the first conceived, and who could not endure that his life should be protected by those undefiled precincts, neither reverenced the dignity of the place, nor yet the season (for it was the solemnity of the saving paschal feast), nor were awe-struck at the priestly office which mediates between God and man; but put the blameless man to death, cruelly butchering him with six others.”

“They then drew forth his body, covered with wounds, and having dragged it in horrid procession with unfeeling mockery through almost every part of the city, ruthlessly loaded the senseless corpse with indignity, so far as to tear it limb from limb, and not even abstain from tasting, like beasts of prey, the flesh of him whom but just before they were supposed to have as a mediator between God and man. They then committed what remained of the body to the flames, and scattered the ashes to the winds, exceeding the utmost ferocity of wild beasts.”

No wonder that Leo of Rome was filled with such indignation against St Timothy when he read this account. Yet the evidence is entirely found only in this letter. Evagrius cannot believe it himself and has to record that,

“Zacharias, however, while treating at length of these events, is of opinion that the greater part of the circumstances thus detailed actually occurred, but through the fault of Proterius, by his instigation of serious disturbances in the city, and that these outrages were committed, not by the populace, but by some of the soldiery; grounding his opinion on a letter addressed by Timotheus to Leo.” [x]

How can we believe these unseemly accusations against a bishop? Even more how can we believe them when the record of Zachariah shows what sort of man St Timothy was. Immediately on becoming sole bishop of Alexandria we find,

“But Timothy, when he appeared before them as the only chief priest of Alexandria, showed that he was really what a priest should be. For the silver and the gold that were given to the Romans in the days of Proterius, he expended upon the poor, and the widows, and the entertaining of strangers, and upon the needy in the city. So that, in a short time, the rich men, perceiving his honourable conduct, lovingly and devotedly supplied him with funds, both gold and silver.”

How like St. Severus this is. For in his case, when he succeeded to the throne of the See of Antioch he closed the episcopal baths, and dismissed the chefs who had prepared fine foods for his Chalcedonian predecessor and lived simply as a monk. We may reasonably ask why St. Timothy is remembered as someone worthy of such affection if in fact he was the prime agent in an episcopal murder. Zachariah provides the reason behind this campaign of vilification.

“The presbyters and all the clergy belonging to the Proterian party, since they knew all his virtues and his angelic mode of life, and the devotion of the citizens to him, joined themselves together and made libels in which they entreated him that they might be received. They also promised that they would go to Rome to Leo, and admonish him concerning the novelties which he had written in the Tome.”

But the jealousy and hatred of the citizens against these persons were great, on account of the events which had occurred in the days of Proterius, and the various sufferings which they had endured. So they would not consent to their reception.”

St. Timothy is well attested as an eirenic patriarch. He insisted that those who came over to the Orthodox from the Proterian party should be received on the provision of a signed statement of faith and a rejection of Chalcedon and the Tome, being received even in their clerical rank after one years probation. But on this occasion his peaceable intent could not prevail over the anger of the people, who had seen so many killed on the streets of Alexandria at Proterius’ instigation. As Zachariah records, the outcome provoked the false accounts of events which were then sent to Leo of Rome, the Emperor and many other bishops. Zachariah says,

“This was the reason why matters were disturbed and thrown into confusion. For when these men were ignominiously refused, they betook themselves to Rome, and there they told about the contempt of the canons, and about the dreadful death of Proterius; and they said that he died for the sake of the Synod and for the honour of Leo; and that they themselves, also, had endured many indignities; and further, that Timothy had come forward in a lawless manner and taken the priesthood.”[xi]

So in fact we have three sources, and even Evagrius, a fourth, contradicting or at least questioning the account proposed by the Proterian party. Yet Grillmeier still chooses to assume that the contradicted account is the true one. He notes that “there is no word of regret about this outrage from any anti-Chalcedonian”. But why should there be if in fact the records are clear that it had nothing to do with St Timothy at all.

Unfortunately Leo of Rome chose to listen to the Proterian account and took it as the truth. He wrote to the Proterian bishops now seeking support in Constantinople and informed them that he had already urged the Emperor to intervene. He consoled them by the thought that the anti-Chalcedonians in Alexandria would receive no mercy from the Emperor when he acted, because he had already been stirred by Leo to,

“…not allow murderous spirits whom no reverence for place or time could deter from shedding their rule’s blood, to gain anything from his clemency, more particularly when they desire to reconsider the council of Chalcedon to the overthrow of the Faith.” [xii]

Indeed in his letter to the Emperor he had already refused to allow the Emperor to call a council to try and reconcile the parties, and had described the Christians in Alexandria as ‘blasphemous parricides’, because they had, as he supposed, murdered their spiritual father. He warns the Emperor that the mere presence of those who should be cut off from the name of Christian ‘dim your own splendour, most glorious Emperor’. He dismisses the petition of the Orthodox in Alexandria, describing it as ‘the fiction of heretics’. One wonders if Leo of Rome truly believed that cannibalism took place in Alexandria. Nevertheless he urges the Emperor to act, and has nothing but opprobrium to heap upon St. Timothy.

Yet this is all based only on hearsay and the word of a small group of embittered men who had lost much and had everything to gain by spinning as gross a libel as possible. Leo was already mistaken in thinking that only a handful of people supported St. Timothy in Alexandria and Egypt, even Chalcedonian historians suggest that in fact Proterius had been murdered by his own mercenaries, and the Emperor Leo, when writing to Anatolius of Constantinople records what must be convincing since he is not an anti-Chalcedonian, and describes,

“the before-mentioned Timotheus, whom the people of Alexandria and their dignitaries, senators, and ship-masters request for their bishop, and what relates to the other transactions, as intimated by the tenor of the petitions, as well as regarding the synod at Chalcedon, to which these parties by no means assent.” [xiii]

So it is clear that even the Emperor knew that Leo of Rome was misled and misleading when he claimed that hardly anyone supported St. Timothy. In fact the people, their leaders and the merchants in the city all demanded St. Timothy for their bishop. If the Proterian account was deceitful in this respect then it is legitimate to consider it an unreliable witness in any other respect.

The Exile of St Timothy

Of course none of these considerations bore any weight with the Emperor, or those bishops who responded to the Imperial request for opinions about the consecration of St. Timothy. Indeed anyone receiving what was presented by Leo of Rome as a reliable and lurid account of episcopal murder could hardly fail to find against St. Timothy. Anatolius of Constantinople, agreeing with Leo of Rome, counselled the Emperor not to call a council, but to rather send out letters to bishops in every place. Zachariah suggests that the reason Anatolius did not wish a council to be held was that he was concerned that his own prerogatives might suffer if the 28th canon of Chalcedon should be repealed.

Fortunately Zachariah has preserved the letter which St. Timothy wrote to the Emperor Leo defending his faith against the accusations of the Proterians and Leo of Rome. In it he presents his own faith in the incarnation, saying,

“For thus also the three hundred and eighteen blessed fathers taught concerning the true Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that He became man, according to His dispensation, which He Himself knows. And with them I agree and believe, as do all others who prosper in the true faith. For in it there is nothing difficult, neither does the definition of the faith which the fathers proclaimed require addition. And all (whoever they be) holding other opinions and corrupted by heresy, are rejected by me. And I also myself flee from them. For this is a disease which destroys the soul, namely, the doctrine of Apollinaris, and the blasphemies of Nestorius, both those who hold erroneous views about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Who became flesh from us; and introduce into Him the cleavage in two, and divide asunder even the dispensation of the only-begotten Son of God: and those, on the other hand, who say with respect to His Body that it was taken from Heaven, or that God the Word was changed, or that He suffered in His own Nature; and who do not confess that to a human body what pertains to the soul derived from us was united.

And I say to any who have fallen into one or other of these heresies, ‘You are in grievous error, and you do not know the Scriptures.’ And with such I do not hold communion, nor do I love them as believers. But I am joined, and united, and truly agreeing with the faith which was defined at Nicea; and it is my care to live in accordance with it.”

Now when Leo of Rome wrote to the Emperor Leo he dealt with the issue of the possibility of St Timothy being reconciled. He says,

“Nor need we now state all that makes Timothy accursed, since what has been done through him and on his account, has abundantly and conspicuously come to the knowledge of the whole world, and whatever has been perpetrated by an unruly mob against justice, all rests on his head, whose wishes were served by its mad hands. And hence, even if in his profession of faith he neglects nothing, and deceives us in nothing, it best consorts with your glory absolutely to exclude him from this design of his because in the bishop of so great a city the universal Church ought to rejoice with holy exultation, so that the true peace of the LORD may be glorified not only by the preaching of the Faith, but also by the example of men’s conduct.”


“But you see, venerable Emperor, and clearly understand, that in the person, whose excommunication is contemplated, it is not only the integrity of his faith that must be considered; for even, if that could be purged by any punishments and confessions, and completely restored by any conditions, yet the wicked and bloody deeds that have been committed can never be done away by the protestations of plausible words.”

This makes it clear that there was nothing objectionable in St. Timothy’s confession, and that whatever he said could never be acceptable in Leo of Rome’s eyes, because he had chosen to believe the report of a handful of Proterians. It was in the matter of his supposed conduct that St Timothy was considered irredeemable.

Thus it came about that St. Timothy found himself banished to Gangra. Not on account of any heresy but because it was claimed that he had acted uncanonically and was implicated in the murder of Proterius. Gangra is in northern Turkey, and on his journey into exile he was taken into Palestine and up the coast. Throughout his journey crowds came out to seek his blessing,

“But when the cities and the inhabitants of Palestine and the seacoast heard it, they came to him to be sanctified, and that the sick among them gain healing for their diseases through the grace of God which was attached to his person; and they snatched torn pieces of stuff from his garments, that they might have them to protect them from evil.” [xiv]

It is clear that the people and clergy of Alexandria had a great affection for St. Timothy, and that this respect and veneration extended outside of Alexandria and Egypt, and was held by many faithful Orthodox throughout the region. Even in his exile it seems that St. Timothy was able to continue his good works. We read,

“…the believing, virtuous, and miracle-working Timothy, was the friend of the poor; because he used to receive gifts from the believers of Alexandria and Egypt and other places, and to make liberal distribution for the relief of the needy.” [xv]

Now even here in Gangra St Timothy was not able to find relief from those who wished him ill. Gennadius, who had become the patriarch of Constantinople after Anatolius, moved the Emperor to have St. Timothy sent even further from any civilised place, and so he found himself sent by boat, even in the middle of winter, to Cherson, a region far away and north of the Crimea. Much of the animosity felt against him was due to the correspondence which he maintained with the Orthodox, both against the Eutychians and the Chalcedonians.

St. Timothy continued to win supporters in high places. His writings were studied even in Constantinople.

“In consequence of these writings, those persons who understood the matter left Gennadius of Constantinople and joined in communion with Acacius the presbyter and Master of the Orphans, the brother of Timocletus the composer, who joined the believers, and strenuously opposed the Nestorians; and he also set verses to music, and they used to sing them. And the people were delighted with them, and they flocked in crowds to the Orphan Hospital.”[xvi]

[i] Hamilton F.J. & Brooks E.W. trans. Zachariah of Mitylene, Syriac Chronicle, Book 4. 1899, Ch 1. p. 64. [ii] Hamilton & Brooks, op.cit.  p.65.
[iii] Grillmeier A. Christ in Christian Tradition (Mowbray, 1996), Vol 2. Part 4. p.10
[iv] Walford E. Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, (Bagster, 1846), p.70.
[v] Hamilton & Brooks, op.cit.  p.65.
[vi] Hamilton & Brooks, op.cit.  p.66.
[vii] Walford, op.cit., p.70.
[viii] Grillmeier A., op.cit., p.11, n.23.
[ix] Walford, op.cit., p.71.
[x] Walford, op.cit., p.74.
[xi] Hamilton & Brooks, op.cit.  p.66.
[xii] Leo of Rome, Letter CLVIII Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol XII.
[xiii] Walford E., op.cit. p.76.
[xiv] Hamilton & Brooks, op.cit. p.77.
[xv] Hamilton & Brooks, op.cit.  p.79.
[xvi] Hamilton & Brooks, op.cit.  p.80.

No comments:

Post a Comment