April 13, 2011

The Validity of Episcopal Transfers from One See to Another

By Socrates Scholasticus

After this there was another debate concerning the election of a bishop of Constantinople. Many were in favor of Philip, of whom we have already made mention; but a still greater number advocated the claims of Proclus. And the candidacy of Proclus would have succeeded, had not some of the most influential persons interfered, on the ground of its being forbidden by the ecclesiastical canon that a person nominated to one bishopric should be translated to that of another city. The people believing this assertion, were thereby restrained; and about four months after the deposition of Nestorius, a man named Maximian was promoted to the bishopric, who had lived an ascetic life, and was also ranked as a presbyter. He had acquired a high reputation for sanctity, on account of having at his own expense constructed sepulchral depositaries for the reception of the pious after their decease, but was 'rude in speech' (2 Corinthians 11:6) and inclined to live a quiet life.

But since some parties by appealing to a prohibition in the ecclesiastical canon, prevented the election of Proclus, because of his previous appointment to the see of Cyzicus, I wish to make a few remarks on this subject.

Those who then presumed to interpose such a cause of exclusion do not appear to me to have stated the truth; but they were either influenced by prejudice against Proclus, or at least have been themselves completely ignorant both of the canons, and of the frequent and often advantageous precedents that had been established in the churches.

Eusebius Pamphilus relates in the sixth book of his Ecclesiastical History, that Alexander bishop of a certain city in Cappadocia, coming to Jerusalem for devotional purposes, was detained by the inhabitants of that city, and constituted bishop, as the successor of Narcissus; and that he continued to preside over the churches there during the remainder of his life.

So indifferent a thing was it among our ancestors, to transfer a bishop from one city to another as often as it was deemed expedient. But if it is necessary to place beyond a doubt the falsehood of the statement of those who prevented the ordination of Proclus, I shall annex to this treatise the canon bearing on the subject. It runs thus:

"If any one after having been ordained a bishop should not proceed to the church unto which he has been appointed, from no fault on his part, but either because the people are unwilling to receive him, or for some other reason arising from necessity, let him be partaker of the honor and functions of the rank with which he has been invested, provided he intermeddles not with the affairs of the church wherein he may minister. It is his duty however to submit to whatever the Synod of the province may see fit to determine, after it shall have taken cognizance of the matter" [Canon 21 of the Council of Antioch; see also Canon 15 of the First Ecumenical Council and Apostolic Canon 14 and 15].

Such is the language of the canon. That many bishops have been transferred from one city to another to meet the exigencies of peculiar cases, I shall now prove by giving the names of those bishops who have been so translated.

Perigenes was ordained bishop of Patras: but inasmuch as the inhabitants of that city refused to admit him, the bishop of Rome directed that he should be assigned to the metropolitan see of Corinth, which had become vacant by the decease of its former bishop; here he presided during the rest of his days.

Gregory was first made bishop of Sasima, one of the cities of Cappadocia, but was afterwards transferred to Nazianzus.

Melitius after having presided over the church at Sebastia, subsequently governed that of Antioch.

Alexander bishop of Antioch transferred Dositheus bishop of Seleucia, to Tarsus in Cilicia.

Reverentius was removed from Arca in Phoenicia, and afterwards to Tyre.

John was transferred from Gordum a city of Lydia, to Proconnesus, and presided over the church there.

Palladius was transferred from Helenopolis to Aspuna; and Alexander from the same city to Adriani.

Theophilus was removed from Apamea in Asia, to Eudoxiopolis anciently called Salambria.

Polycarp was transferred from Sexantaprista a city of Mysia, to Nicopolis in Thrace.

Hierophilus from Trapezopolis in Phrygia to Plotinopolis in Thrace.

Optimus from Agdamia in Phrygia to Antioch in Pisidia; and Silvanus from Philippopolis in Thrace to Troas.

This enumeration of bishops who have passed from one see to another is sufficient for the present; concerning Silvanus who was removed from Philippopolis in Thrace to Troas I deem it desirable here to give a concise account....

Maximian, having peacefully governed the church during two years and five months, died on the 12th of April, in the consulate of Areobindus and Aspar. This happened to be on the fifth day of the week of fasts which immediately precedes Easter. The day of the week was Thursday. Then the Emperor Theodosius wishing to prevent the disturbances in the church which usually attend the election of a bishop, made a wise provision for this affair; for in order that there might be no dispute again about the choice of a bishop and tumult thus arise, without delaying, before the body of Maximian was interred, he directed the bishops who were then in the city to place Proclus in the episcopal chair. For he had received already letters from Cælestinus bishop of Rome approving of this election, which he had forwarded to Cyril of Alexandria, John of Antioch, and Rufus of Thessalonica; in which he assured them that there was no impediment to the translation to another see, of a person who had been nominated and really was the bishop of some one church. Proclus, being thus invested with the bishopric, performed the funeral obsequies of Maximian: but it is now time briefly to give some account of him also.

Source: Church History (Book 7, Chapters 35, 36, 40)