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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

September 11

St. Paphnutius, Bishop and Confessor

THE HOLY confessor Paphnutius was an Egyptian, and after having spent several years in the desert, under the direction of the great St. Antony, was made bishop in Upper Thebais. He was one of those confessors who, under the tyrant Maximin Daia, lost their right eye, and were afterwards sent to work in the mines. Sozomen and Theodoret add, that his left ham was cut; by which we are to understand that the sinews were cut so as to render the left leg entirely useless. Eusebius takes notice that this punishment was inflicted on many Christians in that bloody reign. Peace being restored to the church, Paphnutius returned to his flock, bearing all the rest of his life the glorious marks of his sufferings for the name of his crucified master. The Arian heresy being broached in Egypt, he was one of the most zealous in defending the Catholic faith, and for his eminent sanctity, and the glorious title of confessor, (or one who had confessed the faith before the persecutors, and under torments,) was highly considered in the great council of Nice. Constantine the Great, during the celebration of that synod, sometimes conferred privately with him in his palace, and never dismissed him without kissing respectfully the place where the eye he had lost for the faith was once situated.  1
  The fathers of the council of Nice, in the third canon, strictly forbid all clergymen to entertain in their houses any woman, except a mother, aunt, sister, or such as could leave no room for suspicion. 1 Socrates 2 and Sozomen 3 relate, that the bishops were for making a general law, forbidding all bishops, priests, deacons, and sub-deacons, to live with their wives whom they had married before their ordination; but that the confessor Paphnutius rose up in the midst of the assembly and opposed the motion, saying, that it was enough to conform to the ancient tradition of the church, which forbade the clergy marrying after their ordination. These authors add, that the whole council came into his way of thinking, and made no new law on that point. On account of the silence of other writers, and on the testimonies of St. Jerom, St. Epiphanius, and others, Bellarmin and Orsi 4 suspect that Socrates and Sozomen were misinformed in this story. 5 There is, however, nothing repugnant in the narration; for it might seem unadvisable to make too severe a law at that time against some married men, who, in certain obscure churches, might have been ordained without such a condition. St. Paphnutius remained always in a close union with St. Athanasius, and the other Catholic prelates. He and St. Potomon, bishop of Heraclea, with forty-seven other Egyptian bishops, accompanied their holy patriarch to the council of Tyre, in 335, where they found much the greater part of the members who composed that assembly to be professed Arians. Paphnutius seeing Maximus, bishop of Jerusalem, among them, and full of concern to find an orthodox prelate who had suffered in the late persecution, in such bad company, took him by the hand, led him out, and told him he could not see that one who bore the same marks as he in defence of the faith, should be seduced and imposed upon by persons who were resolved to oppress the most strenuous assertor of its fundamental article. He then let him into the whole plot of the Arians, which, till that moment had been a secret to the good bishop of Jerusalem, who was by this means put upon his guard against the crafty insinuations of hypocrites, and fixed for ever in the communion of St. Athanasius. We have no particular account of the death of St. Paphnutius; but his name stands in the Roman Martyrology on the 11th of September. See Stilting, p. 778.  2
Note 1. On account of this canon St. Basil would not suffer a certain priest to keep a woman servant who was seventy years old. St. Basil, ep. 55, t. 3. [back]
Note 2. L. 1, c. 11. [back]
Note 3. L. 1, c. 23. [back]
Note 4. L. 12, n. 48. [back]
Note 5. It is indeed certain that though the modern Greeks are content to forbid clergymen to marry after their ordination, and do not exclude from Orders those who are married before, yet the ancient discipline of the Greek Church was contrary, and the same with that of the Latin. St. Jerom and St. Epiphanius lived before Socrates; the former assures us, (adv. Vigilant, p. 281,) that the churches of the East, of Egypt, and of Rome, took none for clerks but such as were continent, or if they had wives, lived as if they had none. These are the three great patriarchates, Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch; for this last is what he calls the East. St. Epiphanius says (Hæres. 59, Cathar. n. 4,) that he who has been married but once is not admitted to be a deacon, priest, bishop, or subdeacon, whilst his wife is alive, unless he abstained from her; especially in those places where the canons are exactly observed. He objects to himself, that in certain places some of the clergy had children. To which he answers: “This is not done according to the canon, but through sloth and negligence, or on account of the multitude of the people, and because other persons are not found for those functions.”
  This law was evidently in force in Egypt; for Synesius, when chosen bishop of Cyrene or Ptolemais, hoped to put a bar to his ordination by alleging (ep. 10, p. 248,) that he would not be separated from his wife. He was, notwithstanding, ordained bishop; whether this law was dispensed with, or whether, as is most probable, he afterwards complied with it. Socrates, indeed, says, that customs varied in this article in some parts; that he had seen in Thessaly, that a clerk is excommunicated if he cohabited with his wife, though he had married her before his ordination; and that the same custom was observed in Macedon and Greece; that in the East that rule was generally observed, though without the obligation of an express law. SS. Jerom and Epiphanius were certainly better informed of the canons and discipline of the Church of Syria and Palestine, where they both spent part of their lives, than the Constantinopolitan lawyer could be; whose relation is rejected by some, who think it not reconcilable with their testimony, though the fact is not a point of such importance as some who misrepresent the relation, seem desirous to make it.
  The celibacy of the clergy is merely an ecclesiastical law, though perfectly conformable to the spirit of the gospel, and doubtless derived from the apostles. In the modern Greek church a married man is not compelled to quit his wife before he can be admitted to Orders, though this was the ancient discipline of the oriental, no less than of the western churches. However, this rule, though established by express canons, in the principal churches, yet, for some time (as Socrates was well informed) was, in certain places, a law only of custom. St. Epiphanius tells us, that contrary examples were abuses unless they were done by express dispensation, necessary where ministers were scarce; and violence was sometimes used by the people in the choice of persons the best qualified among the converts that were engaged in a state of wedlock. Nor could the law of celibacy be imposed on married persons, but by the voluntary consent of the parties. Yet such dispensations were not allowed in any of the principal churches. Socrates should have called contrary examples, where a dispensation had not been granted, abuses, had he been as well informed as St. Epiphanius and St. Jerom. See Stilting, Diss. ante Tomum 3. Septembris, § 8, p. 13, 14, 18. In Gaul, Urbicus, bishop of Clermont, in the beginning of the fourth century, who had formerly been a senator, after his ordination returned to his wife; but to expiate this transgression retired into a monastery; and, after doing penance there, returned to the government of his diocess, as St. Gregory of Tours relates. (Hist. l. 1, c. 39.) All agree that this proves the law to have been observed in Gaul. A like example demonstrates the same law in the Eastern churches. For Antoninus, bishop of Ephesus, was accused before St. Chrysostom among other things to have cohabited with his wife whom he had left at his ordination, as Palladius mentions in Vita S. Chrysostomi. [back]