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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Secret History


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has not been proofread.
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The Anecdota
or Secret History

 p362  Appendix II

The Christian Heresies

It was the intention of Procopius to write a book on the subject of the doctrines of Christianity and the long and often bitter debates in the course of which these were formulated, as definitely stated in Chap. xi.33 of the Secret History — a promise which he repeated in the eighth book of the Histories, xxv.13. It is most unfortunate that he was prevented from fulfilling this promise, for his point of view was that of a liberal who was puzzled by the earnestness with which his contemporaries entered into the discussion of these matters (cf. Chap. xi.25 and Book V.iii.6). For the whole Roman world was deeply agitated by the discussions of the churchmen, and all, even the man in the street, and often the  p363 women, held decided opinions and beliefs which they were more than ready to defend. Even the Emperor himself, as well as the Empress, felt called upon to support the cause of orthodoxy, and they were constantly concerned either to persuade or to force all dissenters into conformity (Chap. xiii.7).

The numerous and varied heresies which had developed already are themselves sufficient evidence of the important place which Christianity held in the consciousness of the people. The Arian heresy had been definitely condemned by the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), but it was not extinguished by an edict, and it persisted long after the time of Justinian. Other less important heresies mentioned by Procopius were those of the Eunomians, the Sabbatiani and the Montani. Other groups at variance with the state religion were the Manichaeans, devotees of an independent religion, though often regarded as a perversion of Christianity, the Samaritans, whose creed was older than that of Christianity, and the Polytheists, who seem to have included, for Procopius, the adherents of the ancient religions of Greece and of Rome.

As to doctrine, the Arians maintained that the three Persons of the Trinity are not of the same substance: that the Son is indeed like the Father, but not identical in essence. Their central tenet was expressed in the Greek word homoiousion as contrasted with the homoousion of the doctrine of Athanasius which became orthodox through the adoption of the Nicene Creed. The Eunomians similarly held that God alone is ungenerate. The Montani were led by Montanus, assisted by two pious women, who claimed the gift of prophecy and announced that the  p364 end of the world was imminent, a belief which probably consoled them in their act of self-immolation (Chap. xi.23). The Sabbatiani were an offshoot of the Novatiani; for heresies sprang from other heresies as well as from the central body of belief. This group had originated in a contested election and developed independent doctrines only after their schism. The Manichaeans and the Samaritans were monotheistic but had a theology independent of the Christian system. The Polytheists of course had no body of doctrine as such.

These and many other heresies which Procopius did not have occasion to mention were both defended and attacked with great violence, and the consequent disputes held the active interest of the civilized world for many centuries before and after the age of Justinian. See Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, or Smith and Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography.

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Page updated: 9 Jun 20