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Socrates Scholasticus (380-439), also known as Socrates of Constantinople, was a 5th-century Greek Christian church historian, a contemporary of Sozomen and Theodoret. He is the author of a Historia Ecclesiastica (“Church History”, Ἐκκλησιαστική Ἱστορία) which covers the history of late ancient Christianity during the years 305 to 439. The purpose of the history is to continue the work of Eusebius of Caesarea (1.1). It relates in simple Greek language what the Church experienced from the days of Constantine to the writer’s time. Ecclesiastical dissensions occupy the foreground, for when the Church is at peace, there is nothing for the church historian to relate (7.48.7). Socrates’ account is in many respects well-balanced. He is careful not to use hyperbolic titles when referring to prominent personalities in the church and the government and even criticizes Eusebius for his excessive praises to Emperor Constantine the Great in his Vita Constantini. The Historia Ecclesiastica is one of the few sources of information about Hypatia, the female mathematician and philosopher of Alexandria, who was brutally murdered by a mob. Socrates unequivocally condemns the actions of the mob, declaring, “Surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort.”
- Historia Ecclesiastica
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“At this time it was resolved to abolish the [office of] the presbyter penitentiary in the churches, for the following reason. When the Novatianists separated themselves from the Church because they did not want to communicate with those who had lapsed during the persecution in the time of Decius, the bishops added to the ecclesiastical institutes the presbyter in charge of repentance, so that those who had sinned after Baptism might confess their sins before this appointed presbyter. This rule prevails until the present time among all the other sects. Only those minded to the homoousios, and the Novatianists, like-minded with them according to faith, have set aside the [office of
the] presbyter penitentiary. Indeed, the Novatianists never admitted its addition in the beginning. The (homoousians], now prevailing in the Churches, after long retaining [this office], abrogated it in the time of Bishop Nectarius because of a certain incident that took place in a church.
A certain woman of the nobility came to the presbyter penitentiary and confessed in succession the sins which she had committed after Baptism. The presbyter instructed the woman to fast and to pray ceaselessly, so that with her confession she might also have some works to show, worthy of repentance. In the course of time the woman denounced herself [as guilty of ] another lapse. For she related that a deacon of the church had had sexual traffic with her.
With this statement preparations were made to expel the deacon from the church, but the people started a commotion; for not only were they offended because of what had happened but also because the deed had brought infamy and outrage upon the Church. When priestly men began to be disparaged as a result of this, a certain Eudaemon, a presbyter of the church and an Alexandrian by birth, convinced Bishop Nectarius to abolish [the office of ] the presbyter penitentiary, and to leave each person to his own conscience in the matter of participating in the Mysteries; for only in this way could the Church be safeguarded against defamation.
Having heard this from Eudaemon I have not hesitated to commit it to writing in the present work. For, as I have often said, I have made every effort to ascertain the events from each of those best acquainted with them, and to investigate them thoroughly, lest I
might write something that is not true. So I said to the Presbyter Eudaemon; ‘Whether your advice, O Presbyter, has been of profit to the Church or not, God only knows; but I see that it provides an excuse for not rebuking one another’s sins and for not keeping the precept of the Apostle which declares: Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather rebuke them.
On this matter I have said enough.”
–Historia Ecclesiastica, 5: 19 (Written 439 A.D.)
“Nestorius had an associate whom he had brought from Antioch, a priest named Anastasius; he had the highest esteem for this man and consulted him in his most important affairs.
When this Anastasius was preaching one day in the Church, he said, ‘Let no one call Mary Theotokos: for Mary was only a woman ; and it is impossible that God be born of a woman.’
These words created a great sensation, and troubled many both of the clergy and the laity. Up to this point they had been taught to acknowledge Christ as God, and by no means to separate his humanity from his divinity.
While great offense was taken in the Church… Nestorius, eager to establish Anastasius’ proposition -for he did not wish to have the man esteemed so highly by him found guilty of blasphemy- delivered several public discourses on the subject, in which he assumed a controversial attitude and totally rejected the title of Theotokos…. the discussion that ensued divided the Church. It was like people fighting in the dark, all parties uttering the most confused and contradictory assertions.”
-Historia Ecclesiastica, 7: 32 (Written 439 A.D.)
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