Examples from Church History, confirming the words of Moses,—Nestorius, Photinus, Apollinaris.
[29.] Here, perhaps, some one will require us to illustrate the words of holy Moses by examples from Church History. The demand is a fair one, nor shall it wait long for satisfaction.
For to take first a very recent and very plain case: what sort of trial, think we, was that which the Church had experience of the other day, when that unhappy Nestorius, 462 all at once metamorphosed from a sheep into a wolf, began to make havoc of the flock of Christ, while as yet a large proportion of those whom he was devouring believed him to be a sheep, and consequently were the more exposed to his attacks? For who would readily suppose him to be in error, who was known to have been elected by the high choice of the Emperor, and to be held in the greatest esteem by the priesthood? who would readily suppose him to be in error, who, greatly beloved by the holy brethren, and in high favor with the populace, expounded the Scriptures in public daily, and confuted the pestilent errors both of Jews and Heathens? Who could choose but believe that his teaching was Orthodox, his preaching Orthodox, his belief Orthodox, who, that he might open the way to one heresy of his own, was zealously inveighing against the blasphemies of all heresies? But this was the very thing which Moses says: “The Lord your God doth try you that He may know whether you love Him or not.”
[30.] Leaving Nestorius, in whom there was always more that men admired than they were profited by, more of show than of reality, whom natural ability, rather than divine grace, magnified, for a time in the opinion of the common people, let us pass on to speak of those who, being persons of great attainments and of much industry, proved no small trial to Catholics. Such, for instance, was Photinus, in Pannonia, 463 who, in the memory p. 139 of our fathers, is said to have been a trial to the Church of Sirmium, where, when he had been raised to the priesthood with universal approbation, and had discharged the office for some time as a Catholic, all of a sudden, like that evil prophet or dreamer of dreams whom Moses refers to, he began to persuade the people whom God had intrusted, to his charge, to follow “strange gods,” that is, strange errors, which before they knew not. But there was nothing unusual in this: the mischief of the matter was, that for the perpetration of so great wickedness he availed himself of no ordinary helps. For he was of great natural ability and of powerful eloquence, and had a wealth of learning, disputing and writing copiously and forcibly in both languages, as his books which remain, composed partly in Greek, partly in Latin, testify. But happily the sheep of Christ committed to him, vigilant and wary for the Catholic faith, quickly turned their eyes to the premonitory words of Moses, and, though admiring the eloquence of their prophet and pastor, were not blind to the trial. For from thenceforward they began to flee from him as a wolf, whom formerly they had followed as the ram of the flock.
[31.] Nor is it only in the instance of Photinus that we learn the danger of this trial to the Church, and are admonished withal of the need of double diligence in guarding the faith. Apollinaris 464 holds out a like warning. For he gave rise to great burning questions and sore perplexities among his disciples, the Churchs authority drawing them one way, their Masters influence the opposite; so that, wavering and tossed hither and thither between the two, they were at a loss what course to take.
But perhaps he was a person of no weight of character. On the contrary, he was so eminent and so highly esteemed that his word would only too readily be taken on whatsoever subject. For what could exceed his acuteness, his adroitness, his learning? How many heresies did he, in many volumes, annihilate! How many errors, hostile to the faith, did he confute! A proof of which is that most noble and vast work, of not less than thirty books, in which, with a great mass of arguments, he repelled the insane calumnies of Porphyry. 465 It would take a long time to enumerate all his works, which assuredly would have placed him on a level with the very chief of the Churchs builders, if that profane lust of heretical curiosity had not led him to devise I know not what novelty which as though through the contagion of a sort of leprosy both defiled all his labours, and caused his teachings to be pronounced the Churchs trial instead of the Churchs edification.
Nestorius was a native of Germanicia, a town in the patriarchate of Antioch, of which Church he became a Presbyter. On the See of Constantinople becoming vacant by the death of Sisinnius, the Emperor Theodosius sent for him and caused him to be consecrated Archbishop. He was at first extremely popular, and so eloquent that people said of him (what was much to be said of a successor of Chrysostom), that there had never before been such a bishop. He was condemned by the Council of Ephesus, in 431. The emperor, after ordering him to return to the monastery to which he formally belonged, eventually banished him to the great Oasis, whence he was harried from place to place till death put an end to his sufferings, in 440. Evagrius, I. 7.138:463
Photinus, bishop of Sirmium in Pannonia, was a native of Galatia, and a disciple of Marcellus of Ancyra. Bishop Pearson (on the Creed, Art. 11) has an elaborate note, in which he collects together many notices of him left by the ancients. These agree with Vincentius in representing him as a man of extraordinary ability and of consummate eloquence. His heresy consisted in the denial of our blessed Lords divine nature, whom he regarded as man, and nothing more, ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος, and as having had no existence before his birth of the Virgin. He was condemned in several synods, the fifth of which, a Council of the Western bishops, held at Sirmium, in 350, deposed him. But in spite of the deposition, so great was his popularity, that he could not even yet be removed. The following year however he was by another council, held at the same place, again condemned, and sent into banishment. He died in Galatia in 377. See Cave, Hist. Lit., who refers with praise to a learned dissertation on Photinus by Larroque.139:464
Apollinaris the younger (a contemporary of Photinus), bishop of Laodicea in Syria, was one of the most distinguished men of the age in which he lived. Epiphanius (Hær. lxxvii. 2), referring to his fall into heresy, says that when it first began to be spoken of, people would hardly credit it, so great was the estimation in which he was held. His heresy, which consisted in the denial of the verity of our Lords human nature, the Divine Word supplying the place of the rational soul, and in the assertion that his flesh was not derived from the Virgin, but was brought down from heaven, was condemned by the Council of Constantinople, in 381 (Canon I.). It was in reference to the latter form of it that the clause “of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary” was inserted in the Nicene Creed.139:465
This work of which St. Jerome speaks in high terms (de Viris Illustr., c. 104), has not come down to us, nor indeed have his other writings, except in fragments.