Serapion of Antioch

By COGwriter

Serapion (spelled Seraphion by the Orthodox) was a second century church leader in Antioch.

Here is what The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions about him:

St. Serapion Bishop of Antioch (190-211). Known principally through his theological writings. Of these Eusebius (Hist. eccl., V, 19) mentions a private letter addressed to Caricus and Pontius against the Montanist heresy (Healy P. J. Transcribed by Herman F. Holbrook. St. Serapion. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

An Anti-Montanist

Eusebius records that along with Serapion of Antioch, that Apollonius of Ephesus, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Thraseas of Eumenia opposed the Montantist heresies (since Apollinaris of Hierapolis and Thraseas of Eumenia were Quartodecimans, it is likely that Serapion was as well):

This same Apollonius states in the same work that, at the time of his writing, it was the fortieth year since Montanus had begun his pretended prophecy...

Serapion, who, as report says, succeeded Maximinus at that time as bishop of the church of Antioch, mentions the works of Apolinarius against the above-mentioned heresy. And he alludes to him in a private letter to Caricus and Pontius, in which he himself exposes the same heresy, and adds the following words:

"That you may see that the doings of this lying band of the new prophecy, so called, are an abomination to all the brotherhood throughout the world, I have sent you writings of the most blessed Claudius Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia." In the same letter of Serapion the signatures of several bishops are found, one of whom subscribes himself as follows: "I, Aurelius Cyrenius, a witness, pray for your health." And another in this manner: "Aelius Publius Julius, bishop of Debeltum, a colony of Thrace. As God liveth in the heavens, the blessed Sotas in Anchialus desired to cast the demon out of Priscilla, but the hypocrites did not permit him" (Eusebius Book V, Chapters 18-19).

Of the Montanists, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia:

the date of Thraseas is therefore about 160, and the origin of Montanism must be yet earlier...We hear of no false doctrines at first...St. Jerome's account, written in 384...describes them as Sabellians in their idea of the Trinity (Chapman J. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Montanists. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

One of the so-called Montanist Oracles was:

"I am the Father and the Son and the Paraclete." (Didymus, De trinitate iii. 41. 1.) (Assembled in P. de Labriolle, La crise montaniste (1913), 34-105, by Bates College, Lewston (Maine) http://abacus.bates.edu/Faculty/Philosophy%20and%20Religion/rel_241/texts/montanism.html 01/31/06).

This is one of the first references to a trinitarian view of the Godhead (the other earliest one was from the heretic Valentinus). The paraclete is a term used to signify the Holy Spirit (it is from the Greek term parakletos).

Since the true Church of God is binitarian, it is logical that any affiliated with it would have opposed any trinitarian teachings. Roman leaders seemed to be tolerant of the Montanists until sometime after Serapion and others in Asia Minor condemned them (Rome finally condemned the Montanists, but not for this doctrine).

Interestingly, notice a quote from Serapion:

That ye may see also that the proceedings of this lying confederacy, to which is given the name of New Prophecy, is abominated among the whole brotherhood throughout the world, I have sent you letters of the most blessed Claudius Apollinarius, who was made bishop of Hierapolis in Asia. (Serapion. From the epistle to Caricus and Ponticus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Roberts & Donaldson).

This is a reference to from Serapion to the workings of Montanus. At this time, the Church of Rome and those in Alexandria had not yet denounced Montanus, but tended to support him. Thus, Serapion was warning against the rise of the Greco-Roman confederation that was forming. Serapion called them a "lying confederacy." Serapion is one of many to recognize that in the second/third centuries there were two groups that claimed Christianity--and while Montanus was eventually denounced by that confederacy, they ended up accepting "Gregory the Wonderworker" and accepting more and more false doctrines (see also Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries?).

A Recognized Leader by the Eastern Orthodox

The Antiochian Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church both claim Serapion, not only as a saint, but as one in its bishops in its apostolic succession list:

1 St. Peter the Apostle 37-67
2 St. Evodius 67-68
3 St. Ignatios I Nurono (the Illuminator) 68-107
4 St. Heron 107-127
5 St. Korneilos 127-154
6 St. Heros 154-169
7 St. Theophilos 169-182
8 St. Maximos I 182-191
9 St. Seraphion 191-211

Source: Syriac Orthodox Resources. Chronological List of the Patriarchs of Antioch. http://sor.cua.edu/Patriarchate/PatriarchsChronList.html 01/14/06.

Serapion condemned the so-called Gospel of Peter which is first known writing that claimed that the Lord's Day was Sunday as he apparently accidently visited a church that he thought was supposed to be faithful, but instead found that they were in the "other group" (see also Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries?):

For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the rest of the apostles as Christ Himself. But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name, we as experienced persons reject, knowing that no such writings have been handed down to us. When, indeed, I came to see you, I supposed that all were in accord with the orthodox faith (Serapion of Antioch. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From the book concerning the Gospel of Peter--Eusebius Church History VI,12. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors; American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).

Interestingly:

Ultimately, the only certain fact about the date of the origin of the Gospel of Peter is that it was written before 190 C.E. (at that time, Serapion, the bishop of Antioch, condemned it by name). How long before cannot be determined with any degree of certainty (Bernhard A. Gospel of Peter, Additional Information. http://gospels.net/additional/peteradditional.html 09/15/05).

Here is the Greek and another translation about Serapion's position on the false Gospel of Peter:

Ημεις γαρ, αδελφοι, και Πετρον και τους αλλους αποστολους αποδεχομεθα ως Χριστον, τα δε ονοματι αυτων ψευδεπιγραφα ως εμπειροι παραιτουμεθα, γινωσκοντες οτι τα τοιαυτα ου παρελαβομεν. εγω γαρ γενομενος παρ υμιν, υπενοουν τους παντας ορθη πιστει προσφερεσθαι, και μη διελθων το υπ αυτων προφερομενον ονοματι Πετρου ευαγγελιον, ειπον οτι ει τουτο εστιν μονον το δοκουν υμιν παρεχειν μικροψυχιαν, αναγινωσκεσθω· νυν δε μαθων οτι αιρεσει τινι ο νους αυτων εφωλευεν, εκ των λεχθεντων μοι, σπουδασω παλιν γενεσθαι προς υμας, ωστε, αδελφοι, προσδοκατε με εν ταχει. ημεις δε, αδελφοι, καταλαβομενοι οποιας ην αιρεσεως ο Μαρκιανος, {ος} και εαυτω εναντιουτο, μη νοων α ελαλει, α μαθησεσθε εξ ων υμιν εγραφη, εδυνηθημεν {γαρ} παρ αλλων των ασκησαντων αυτο τουτο το ευαγγελιον, τουτ εστιν, παρα των διαδοχων των καταρξαμενων αυτου, ους Δοκητας καλουμεν, τα γαρ πλειονα φρονηματα εκεινων εστι της διδασκαλιας, χρησαμενοι παρ αυτων διελθειν και ευρειν τα μεν πλειονα του ορθου λογου του σωτηρος, τινα δε προσδιεσταλμενα, α και υπεταξαμεν υμιν.

For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ, but the pseudepigrapha that go by their name we reject, as experienced men, knowing that we did not recieve such things. For I myself, when I was with you, had in mind that you all were bearing into the right faith, and, without going through the gospel borne forth by them in the name of Peter, I said that, if this was all that seems to bring about pettiness for you, let it be read. But having now learned from what was said to me that their mind was holing up in some heresy, I shall hasten to be with you again; wherefore, brethren, expect me in quickness. But we, brethren, taking in of what kind of heresy Marcianus was, who also contradicted himself, not thinking about what he was saying, which things you will learn from the things that I have written to you, were enabled by others who studied this same gospel, that is, by the successors of those who began it, whom we called docetics, for most of the thoughts are of their teaching, using [material] from them to go through and find that most things are of the right word of the savior, but some things are spurious, which things we order out for you. (http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelpeter.html viewed 04/18/12)

The above is very important, because it shows that the original books of the New Testament were "received" or "handed down to us," and thus were known before any later Greco-Roman councils on canonization (see also The New Testament Canon - From the Bible and History). Notice that Serapion did not consider that the Alexandrians (and by extension, Romans and others) who accepted the so-called Gospel of Peter to be part of the true faith nor those who accepted Marcion (whom Rome tolerated for some time).

Specifically notice that Serapion, like Polycarp, denounced Marcion:

Moreover, brethren, we, having discovered to what kind of heresy Marcion adhered, and seen how he contradicted himself, not understanding of what he was speaking, as you will gather from what has been written to you -for, having borrowed this said Gospel from those who were familiar with it from constant perusal, namely from the successors of those who were his leaders in the heresy, whom we call Docetae (for most of the opinions held by him are derived from their teaching), we were able to read it through; and while we found most of its contents to agree with the orthodox account of the Saviour, we found some things inconsistent with that, and these we have set down below for your inspection (Serapion of Antioch. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From the book concerning the Gospel of Peter--Eusebius Church History VI,12. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors; American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).

Marcion was probably the first heretic to write against Sabbath observance.

Yet Serapion praised Apollinaris of Hierapolis:

I have sent you letters of the most blessed Claudius Apollinarius, who was made bishop of Hierapolis in Asia (Serapion of Antioch. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From the epistle to Caricus and Ponticus. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors; American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).

It is likely that this suggests that up until the time of Serapion, that those in Antioch were also Quartodecimans, since Apollinaris of Hierapolis was.

And this also seems to have been suggested by Polycrates of Ephesus (and the 4th century historian Eusebius), who wrote about the time of Serapion that the Churches in Asia kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, like the Jews (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapters 23,25). And even as late as the Council of Nicea, there still were those in Syria (Antioch was in ancient Syria) who still insisted in observing Passover on the 14th (Bagatti, Bellarmino.  Translated by Eugene Hoade.  The Church from the Gentiles in Palestine, Part 1, Chapter 1.  Nihil obstat: Ignatius Mancini. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 28 Februarii 1970.  Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, p.47), though apparently they were in the minority.

So, Serapion was in fellowship with one or more major leaders in Asia Minor and had issues with those who accepted the so-called Gospel of Peter (which many in Alexandria and Rome did) as well as those who tolerated Marcion (which Rome did).

Serapion's Succession

During the time of Serapion, the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus unleashed persecution that was severe towards those in Antioch. Serapion and Septimius Severus apparently both died the same year. While Serapion of Antioch may have been part of the true church (he was just outside of Asia Minor, and would have probably been a Syrian), it does not appear that Serapion was succeeded by one who was faithful to Church of God teachings, as he was praised by one who was not a Quartodeciman.

About this time, Clement of Alexander was hiding out in Asia Minor (probably not too far from Antioch). Clement wrote a treatise titled "Against the Judaizers, which he dedicated to Alexander, the bishop" (see Eusebius, Church History, VI, 13) of apparently Cappadocia.

Clement "seeks to refute the arguments of the Judaizers. From this we can argue that Alexander from the beginning of his rule had to do with the Judaeo-Christians in regards to the celebration of Easter" (Bagatti, Bellarmino.  Translated by Eugene Hoade.  The Church from the Gentiles in Palestine, Part 1, Chapter 1.  Nihil obstat: Ignatius Mancini. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 28 Februarii 1970.  Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, p.14).

In other words, Clement and Alexander (who once was bishop of Cappadocia) were opposed to the biblical practice of observing Passover (it was not called "Easter" then) as Jesus, John, and true Christians did (this same Alexander also praised Clement, so he obviously was supportive of him).

Both Alexander of Alia Capitolina/Jerusalem and Clement of Alexandria often mixed pagan practices with their forms of Christianity. The "bishops of Alia Capitolina" has long before compromised doctrine (it was not called Jerusalem officially when Alexander was there).

Eusebius records (Church History, Book VII, Chapter 11, Verses 4-5, p. 125):

But, on the death of Serapion, Asclepiades...succeeded to the episcopate of the church at Antioch. Alexander alludes to his appointment, writing thus to the church at Antioch:

"Alexander, a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ, to the blessed church of Antioch, greeting in the Lord. The Lord has 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."

Since the "successor" to Serapion, Asclepiades, received a letter of approval from Alexander of Jerusalem/Alia Capitolina and Clement of Alexander who were against various biblical practices for Christians, it is reasonable to conclude that Asclepiades was NOT in the true Church of God as. This is probably a change to the type of person that those who went along with the allegorizers liked. And this marked the end of any possibly faithful succession in Antioch.

Concluding Comments

Since Serapion taught against the Montanist heretics, condemned the false Gospel of Peter, condemned the Marcionites heretics, and praised the Quartodeciman Apollinaris, it is possible that he was part of the true Church of God.

Of course, in retrospect, we humans cannot be certain who were or were not true Christians at that time. But it appears that Serapion may have been one. But even if he was not, the bulk of his writings suggest a theology closer to that held by the Churches of God, than the Orthodox or Catholic faiths. And that helps demonstrate that it is the COGs who hold positions most consistent with truly orthodox Christianity, than the majority who now profess Christianity do.

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