Philoxenus himself took an active role in establishing the limits for legitimate usage of mystical language when he denounced the teachings of Stephen bar Sudaili, an Edessan monk who settled in Palestine (c. 512-15). Philoxenus wrote to two priests in Edessa, Abraham and Orestes, warning them against the universalist and pantheistic tendencies of Stephen's teaching about the end times. The initial cause for concern was that Stephen had allegedly written on the wall of his cell, All nature is consubstantial with the Divine Essence.'89 In expressing his views, he made use of ideas that were current at the time and that looked for inspiration to the writings of Evagrius Ponticus.90 But Philoxenus resisted the implications that St Peter and Judas would enjoy the same glory, that the baptism of pagans was superfluous and that the saved would have the same nature as God.91 At approximately the same time and in the same region, fierce controversies were raging and (though the primary material does not provide a satisfactory overview of the situation) it seems that one major problem was the question of whether Christians could in a very real sense become 'equals to Christ'. Whether or not any given person ever held to these views, it is more than clear that orthodox leaders felt a response was called for.
One of the aims in denouncing this pantheistic, universalist eschatology was to establish parameters within which Christians could continue to appropriate the theological legacy about salvation that we have been considering. By precluding any direct identification of human and divine natures, by decisively asserting that equality to Christ is not a possible outcome, in short, by rejecting a potential interpretation of Origen's thinking as mediated through Evagrius (and probably re-worked by subsequent enthusiasts), the orthodox fathers were providing a frame of reference in which certain traditional claims could be preserved and understood in terms of highly articulate standards of Christological and Trinitarian orthodoxy. The debates ofthe mid-sixth century were at least in part concerned to reconcile an important theological insight drawn from liturgy with standard principles of doctrinal theology. It would be a mistake to think of this process as a tidying-up necessitated by cultural conservatism or theological inertia; rather, it represents the creative appropriation
89 Philoxenus, To Abraham and Orestes (ed. Frothingham, 42-3).
90 See A. Guillaumont, Evagre le Pontique, 302-32; it is open to question, however, how much of Stephen's teaching should be ascribed to Evagrius. One can dissent from Guillaumont's attribution of certain ideas and systems to Evagrius himself even as one gratefully acknowledges the scope and profundity of Guillaumont's work. For more on Stephen, Frothingham's seminal Stephen bar Sudaili, the Syrian mystic retains its value.
91 Philoxenus, To Abraham and Orestes (ed. Frothingham, 30, 32).
Was this article helpful?