« Petrus, abbat of St. Augustine's monastery Philaster, bp. of Brixia Philippus of Tralles »

Philaster, bp. of Brixia

Philaster (Philastrius), bp. of Brixia (Brescia), in the latter part of the 4th cent. His successor in the see, Gaudentius, used every year to preach a panegyrical sermon on the anniversary of his death (July 18). One of these (preached on the 14th anniversary) is extant, and from its vague laudatory statements we have to extract our scanty information concerning his life and work. We learn from it that he was not a native of Brescia. From what country he came we are not told; Spain or Africa has been conjectured. He is commended for zeal in the conversion of Jews and heathen, and in the confutation of heresies, especially of Arianism; and is said to have incurred stripes for the vehemence of his opposition to that then dominant sect. He travelled much; at Milan he withstood bp. Auxentius, the Arian predecessor of St. Ambrose; at Rome he was highly successful in his defence of orthodoxy. Finally he settled down at Brescia, where he is said to have been a model of all pastoral virtues.

The only details we have for dating his episcopate or the duration of his life are that he took part as bp. of Brescia in a council at Aquileia in 381 (see its proceedings in the works of Ambrose, ii. 802, or p. 935, Migne); and that he must have died before 397, the year of Ambrose's death, since that bishop interested himself in the appointment of his successor. St. Augustine mentions having seen Philaster at Milan in company with St. Ambrose; this was probably some time during 384–387. Possibly Philaster had been commended to the church of Brescia by Ambrose, who would know of his opposition to Auxentius. The notices of Philaster in ecclesiastical writers are collected in the Bollandist Life (AA. SS. July 18, vol. iv. p. 299). He is now chiefly interesting as the author of a work on heresies, portions of which, having been copied by St. Augustine, became stock materials for haeresiologists. Augustine having been asked by Quodvultdeus to write a treatise on heresies, refers him in reply (Ep. 222) to the works of Epiphanius and Philastrius, the former of whom had enumerated 20 heresies before our Lord's coming and 60 since the ascension, the latter 28 before and 128 after. Augustine refuses to believe that Epiphanius, whom he accounts far the more learned of the two, could have been ignorant of any heresies known to Philaster, and explains the difference of enumeration as arising from the word heresy not being one of sharply defined application, thus leading one to count opinions as heresies which were not so reckoned by the other. As a matter of fact, Philaster, in his excessive eagerness to swell his list of heresies, has included many items which must be struck out unless we count every erroneous opinion as a heresy; and when he has completed his list of heretical sects called after their founders, he adds a long list of anonymous heresies, apparently setting down all the theological opinions with which he disagreed, and branding those who held them as heretics. Thus those are set down as heretics who imagined, as many excellent Fathers did, that the giants of Gen. vi. 2 were the offspring of angels (c. 108); thought that any uncertainty attached to the calculation of the number of the years since the creation of the world (c. 112); denied the plurality of heavens (c. 94) or asserted an infinity of worlds (c. 115), or imagined that there are fixed stars, being ignorant that the stars are brought every evening out of God's secret treasure-houses, and as soon as they have fulfilled their daily task are conducted back thither again by the angel who directs their course (c. 133). It is to be feared he regards those as heretics (c. 113) who call the days of the week by their heathen names, instead of the scriptural names first day, second day, etc.; and some of his transcribers have rebelled on being asked to write down those as heretics who believe (c. 154) that the ravens brought flesh as well as bread to Elijah, who surely would never have used animal food. But it is not true that all heresies enumerated by Philaster, but unnoticed by Epiphanius, are such as can be thus accounted for. When Augustine, at length yielding to his correspondent's request, wrote a short treatise on heresies, he first gives an abstract of the 60 post-Christian heresies discussed by Epiphanius, and then adds a list of 23 more from Philastrius, remarking that this author gives others also, but that he himself does not regard them as heresies.

The relation between Philaster and Epiphanius is important because of the theory of Lipsius, now generally accepted [see HIPPOLYTUS], that both writers drew from a common source, namely, the earlier treatise of Hippolytus against heresies. To establish this theory it is necessary to exclude the supposition of a direct use of Epiphanius by Philaster, which might seem the more obvious way of accounting for coincidences between the two.

It is chronologically possible for Philaster to have read the treatise of Epiphanius which appeared in 376 or 377. At what period of 840his life Philaster's work was written we cannot tell. The notes of time in it are confusing. He, or his transcriber, places his own date (c. 106) over 400 years after Christ, and (c. 112) about 430. In c. 83 he speaks of the Donatists, "qui Parmeniani nunc appellantur a Parmenione quodam qui eorum nuper successit erroribus et falsitati." Parmenianus became Donatist bp. of Carthage c. 368, and died in 391; and the "nuper" would lead us to think that Philaster wrote early in this episcopate. But the form Parmenio, if not a transcriber's error, seems to shew that Philaster knew little of African affairs. Lipsius suggests that Philaster mentions Praxeas and Hermogenes as African heretics (c. 54). because he got their names from Tertullian. Philaster's anonymous heresy (c. 84) seems plainly identified by Augustine (Haer. 70) with Priscillianism, the breaking out of which is dated in Prosper's Chronicle a.d. 379. But Philaster's silence as to the name Priscillian seems to indicate an earlier date.

However, the complete independence of his treatment shews that Philaster did not use the work of Epiphanius. Eager as he was to swell his list of heresies, he does not mention the Archontici, Severiani, Encratitae, Pepuziani, Adamiani, Bardesianistae, and others, with whom Epiphanius would have made him acquainted; and in the discussion of all heresies later than Hippolytus, which are common to Epiphanius and Philaster, the two agree neither in matter nor in order of arrangement. Hence Lipsius inferred that the agreements as to earlier heresies must be explained by the use of a common source. This also accounts for a striking common feature, viz. the enumeration by both of pre-Christian heresies. Hegesippus (see Eus. H. E. iv. 22) had spoken of seven Jewish sects (τῶν ἐπτὰ αἱρέσεων) and had given their names; and it would seem from the opening of the tract of Pseudo-Tertullian that Hippolytus began his treatise by declining to treat of Jewish heresies. His two successors then might easily have been tempted to improve on their original by including pre-Christian heresies.

Concerning the N.T. canon, Philaster states (c. 88) that it had been ordained by the apostles and their successors that nothing should be read in the Catholic church but the law, the prophets, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, 13 Epistles of St. Paul, and the seven other epistles which are joined to the Acts of the Apostles. The omission of the Apocalypse and Hebrews seems intended only to exclude them from public church reading. In c. 60 he treats as heretical the denial that the Apocalypse is St. John's, and in c. 69 the denial that the Ep. to the Hebrews is St. Paul's. He accounts for difficulties as to the reception of the latter as arising from its speaking of our Lord as "made" (c. iii. 2), and from the apparent countenance given to Novatianism in vi. 4; x. 26. Consequently the public reading of this epistle is not universal: "[leguntur] tredecim epistolae ipsius, et ad Hebraeos interdum."

The first printed ed. of Philaster appeared at Basle in 1539; the most noteworthy subsequent edd. are by Fabricius in 1721, containing an improved text and a valuable commentary, and by Galeardus in 1738, giving from a Corbey MS. now in St. Petersburg chapters on six heresies, omitted in previous eds., but which are required to make the total of 156 mentioned by St. Augustine. This complete text has been reprinted by Oehler in his Corpus Haeresiologum, vol. i. The latest ed. is by F. Marx, in the Corpus Script. Eccl. Lat. (Vienna, 1898). See also Zahn, Gesch. der N.T. Kanons (1890), ii. 1, p. 233.


« Petrus, abbat of St. Augustine's monastery Philaster, bp. of Brixia Philippus of Tralles »
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