Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XI.—Alexander.

1. But as on account of his great age Narcissus was no longer able to perform his official duties, 1822 the Providence of God called to the office with him, by a revelation given him in a night vision, the above-mentioned Alexander, who was then bishop of another parish. 1823

p. 257 2. Thereupon, as by Divine direction, he journeyed from the land of Cappadocia, where he first held the episcopate, to Jerusalem, in consequence of a vow and for the sake of information in regard to its places. 1824 They received him there with great cordiality, and would not permit him to return, because of another revelation seen by them at night, which uttered the clearest message to the most zealous among them. For it made known that if they would go outside the gates, they would receive the bishop foreordained for them by God. And having done this, with the unanimous consent of the bishops of the neighboring churches, they constrained him to remain.

3. Alexander, himself, in private letters to the Antinoites, 1825 which are still preserved among us, mentions the joint episcopate of Narcissus and himself, writing in these words at the end of the epistle:

4. “Narcissus salutes you, who held the episcopate here before me, and is now associated with me in prayers, being one hundred and sixteen years of age; and he exhorts you, as I do, to be of one mind.”

These things took place in this manner. But, on the death of Serapion, 1826 Asclepiades, 1827 who had been himself distinguished among the confessors 1828 during the persecution, succeeded to the episcopate of the church at Antioch. Alexander alludes to his appointment, writing thus to the church at Antioch:

5. “Alexander, a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ, to the blessed church of Antioch, greeting in the Lord. The Lord hath made my bonds during the time of my imprisonment light and easy, since I learned that, by the Divine Providence, Asclepiades, who in regard to the true faith is eminently qualified, has undertaken the bishopric of your holy church at Antioch.”

6. He indicates that he sent this epistle by Clement, 1829 writing toward its close as follows:

“My honored brethren, 1830 I have sent this letter to you by Clement, the blessed presbyter, a man virtuous and approved, whom ye yourselves also know and will recognize. Being here, in the providence and oversight of the Master, he has strengthened and built up the Church of the Lord.”



The extreme age of Narcissus at this time is evident from the fact that Alexander, writing before the year 216 (see note 4), says that Narcissus is already in his 116th year. The translation of Alexander to Jerusalem must have taken place about 212 (see chap. 8, note 6), and hence Narcissus was now more than 110 years old. The appointment of Alexander as Narcissus’ assistant involved two acts which were even at that time not common, and which were later forbidden by canon; first the translation of a bishop from one see to another, and secondly the appointment of an assistant bishop, which made two bishops in one city. The Apost. Canons (No. 14) ordain that “a bishop ought not to leave his own parish and leap to another, although the multitude should compel him, unless there be some good reason forcing him to do this, as that he can contribute much greater profit to the people of the new parish by the word of piety; but this is not to be settled by himself, but by the judgment of many bishops and very great supplication.” It has been disputed whether this canon is older or younger than the fifteenth canon of Nicæa, which forbids unconditionally the practice of translation from one see to another. Whichever may be the older, it is certain that even the Council of Nicæa considered its own canon as liable to exceptions in certain cases, for it translated Eustathius from Beræa to Antioch (see Sozomen, H. E. I. 2). The truth is, the rule was established—whether before or for the first time at the Council of Nicæa—chiefly in order to guard against the ambition of aspiring men who might wish to go from a smaller to a greater parish, and to prevent, as the Nicene Canon says, the many disorders and quarrels which the custom of translation caused; and a rule formed on such grounds of expediency was of course liable to exception whenever the good of the Church seemed to demand it, and therefore, whether the fourteenth Apostolic Canon is more ancient than the Nicene Council or not, it certainly embodies a principle which must long have been in force, and which we find in fact acted upon in the present case; for the translation of Alexander takes place “with the common consent of the bishops of the neighboring churches,” or, as Jerome puts it, cunctis in Palestina episcopis in unum congregatis, which is quite in accord with the provision of the Apostolic Canons. There were some in the early Church who thought it absolutely unlawful under any circumstances for a bishop to be translated (cf. Jerome’s Ep. ad Oceanum; Migne, Ep. 69, §5), but this was not the common view, as Bingham (Antiq. VI. 4. 6) well observes, and instances of translation from one see to another were during all these centuries common (cf. e.g. Socrates, H. E. VII. 36), although always of course exceptional, and considered lawful only when made for good and sufficient reasons. To say, therefore, with Valesius that these Palestinian bishops violated a rule of the Church in translating Alexander is too strong. They were evidently unconscious of anything uncanonical, or even irregular in their action, though it is clear that they regarded the step as too important to be taken without the approval of all the bishops of the neighborhood. In regard to assistant bishops, Valesius correctly remarks that this is the first instance of the kind known to us, but it is by no means the only one, for the following centuries furnish numerous examples; e.g. Theotecnus and Anatolius in Cæsarea (see below, Bk. VII. chap. 32), Maximus and Macarius in Jerusalem (see Sozomen, H. E. II. 20); and so in Africa Valerius of Hippo had Augustine as his coadjutor (Possidius, Vita. Aug. chap. 8; see Bingham’s Antiq. II. 13. 4 for other instances and for a discussion of the whole subject). The principle was in force from as early as the third century (see Cyprian to Cornelius, Ep. 40, al. 44 and to Antonianus, Ep. 51, al. 55) that there should be only one bishop in a city, and we see from the works of various Fathers that this rule was universally accepted at an early date. The eighth canon of Nicæa refers to this principle in passing as if it were already firmly established, and the council evidently did not think it necessary to promulgate a special canon on the subject. Because of this principle, Augustine hesitated to allow himself to be ordained assistant bishop of Hippo; and although his scruples were overcome at the time, he afterward, upon learning of the Nicene Canon, considered the practice of having a coadjutor illegal and refused to ordain one for himself. But, as the instances referred to above and many others show, not all the Church interpreted the principle as rigidly as Augustine did, and hence under certain circumstances exceptions were made to the rule, and were looked upon throughout the Church as quite lawful. The existence of two bishops in one city as a matter of compromise, for the sake of healing a schism, formed one common exception to the general principle (see Bingham, II. 13. 2), and the appointment of coadjutors, as in the present case, formed another.


Of what city in Cappadocia Alexander was bishop we are not told by Eusebius, nor by our other ancient authorities. Valesius (note on this passage) and Tillemont (Hist. eccles. III. p. 415) give Flaviopolis or Flaviadis as the name of the city (upon the authority of Basilicon, Jur. Græco-Rom. Tom. I. p. 295, according to Tillemont). But Flaviopolis was a city of Cilicia, and hence Tillemont conjectures that it had once been taken from Cappadocia and attached to Cilicia, and that its inhabitants retained the memory of Alexander, their early bishop. The report seems to rest upon a very slender foundation; but not having access to the authority cited, I am unable to form an opinion as to the worth of the tradition.


εὐχῆς καὶ τῶν τόπων ἱστορίας ἕνεκεν.


Αντινόεια (Antinoë or Antinoöpolis) was a city of Egypt founded by Hadrian in honor of Antinous (see Bk. IV. chap. 8, note 3). This is the first mention of a church there, but its bishops were present at more than one council in later centuries (see Wiltsch’s Geography and Statistics, p. 59, 196, 473). This letter must have been written between 212, at about which time Alexander became Narcissus’ coadjutor (see chap. 8, note 6), and 216, when Origen visited Palestine (see chap. 19, note 23). For at the time of that visit Alexander is said to have been bishop of Jerusalem, and no mention is made of Narcissus, who must therefore have been already dead (see Bk. V. chap. 12, note 1). The fragments of Alexander’s epistles quoted in this chapter are given in Routh’s Rel. Sacræ, II. p. 161 sq., and in English in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, VI. p. 154.


On Serapion, see Bk. V. chap. 19, note 1.


The Chron. puts the accession of Asclepiades in the first year of Caracalla (211 a.d.). Harnack (Zeit des Ignatius, p. 47) believes that this notice rests upon better knowledge than the notices of most of the Antiochian bishops, because in this case the author departs from the artificial scheme which he follows in the main. But Harnack contends that the date is not quite correct, because Alexander, who suffered under Severus, was still in prison when Asclepiades became bishop, and therefore the latter’s accession must be put back into Severus’ reign. He would fix, therefore, upon about 209 as the date of it, rightly perceiving that there is good reason for thinking the Chron. at least nearly correct in its report, and that in any case his accession cannot be carried back much beyond that, because it is quite probable (from the congratulations which Alexander extends to the church of Antioch) that there had been a vacancy in that church for some time after the death of Serapion (a thing not at all unnatural in the midst of the persecutions of the time), while Serapion was still alive as late as 203 (see Bk. V. chap. 19, note 1). But it seems to me that there is no good ground for making any alteration in the date given by the Chron., for we know that at the very end of Severus’ reign the persecution broke out again with considerable severity, and that it continued, at least in Africa, for some time after Caracalla’s accession (see Tertullian’s ad Scap.). The general amnesty issued by Caracalla after the murder of his brother Geta in 212 (see Dion Cassius, LXXVII. 3) seems first to have put a definitive end to the persecutions. There is therefore no ground for confining Alexander’s imprisonment to the reign of Severus. It may well have run into the time of Caracalla, and hence it is quite possible that Asclepiades did not become bishop until after the latter became emperor, so that it is not necessary to correct the date of the Chron. It is impossible to determine with certainty the length of Asclepiades’ episcopate (see chap. 21, note 6). Of Asclepiades himself we know no more than is told us in this chapter. He seems to have been a man of most excellent character, to judge from Alexander’s epistle. That epistle, of course, was written immediately after Asclepiades’ appointment.


Literally “confessions” (μολογίαις).


On Clement of Alexandria, see above, Bk. V. chap. 11.


κύριοί μου ἀδελφοί.

Next: Chapter XII