« Prosper, St., a native of Aquitaine Proterius, St., patriarch of Alexandria Prudentius, Marcus (?) Aurelius Clemens »

Proterius, St., patriarch of Alexandria

Proterius, St., patriarch of Alexandria, was presbyter and church-steward under Dioscorus, and left in charge of the church when Dioscorus went to the council of Chalcedon. After Dioscorus was deposed by that council, the emperor Marcian ordered a new election to the see. The suffragan bishops, except 13 detained at Constantinople by a resolution of the council (Chalced. c. 30), were assembled in synod; and the chief laymen of Alexandria came as usual to express their mind and assent to the prelate's choice (cf. Liberat. Breviar. c. 14, and Evagr. ii. 5). There was great difficulty in reaching a conclusion; for the majority of the Alexandrian church people were profoundly aggrieved by the action of the council. In their eyes Dioscorus was still their rightful "pope," the representative of Cyril and of Athanasius. Ultimately, however, opposition to the imperial mandate was felt impracticable. It was resolved to elect, and then all favoured Proterius, who was consecrated and enthroned (a.d. 452); but the passions of the Dioscorian and anti-Dioscorian parties broke .out at once into tumultuous dissension, which Evagrius likens to the surging of the sea. Proterius sending Leo the usual announcement of his elevation, Leo asked some definite assurance of his orthodoxy (Leo, Ep. 113, in Mar. 453), and received a letter which he regarded as "fully satisfactory," shewing Proterius to be a "sincere assertor of the Catholic dogma," inasmuch as he had cordially accepted the Tome (Epp. 127, 130). Thereupon (Mar. 454) he wrote again to Proterius, advising him to clear himself from all suspicion of Nestorianizing, by reading to his people certain passages from approved Fathers, and then shewing that the Tome did but hand on their tradition and guard the truth from perversions on either side. Leo took care, in thus addressing the "successor of St. Mark," to dwell on that evangelist's relation to St. Peter as of a disciple to a teacher; and he bespeaks the support of the Alexandrian see in this resistance to the unprincipled ambition of Constantinople, which in the 28th canon, so called, of Chalcedon had injured the "dignity" of the other great bishoprics (Ep. 129). Another question prolonged the correspondence. The Nicene Fathers were believed to have commissioned the Alexandrian bishops to ascertain and signify the right time for each coming Easter. Leo had consulted Cyril as to the Easter of 444; and he now, in 454 applied to Proterius, through the emperor, for his opinion as to the Easter of 455, which the Alexandrian Paschal table appeared to him to place too late (Epp. 121, 127). Proterius replied to Leo at some length (Ep. 133, Apr. 454) that Egypt and the East would keep Apr. 24 as Easter Day, and expressed his belief that all Christians everywhere would "observe one faith, one baptism, and one most sacred paschal solemnity."

Proterius had troubles with his own clergy. Not long after the council a priest named Timotheus and a deacon named Peter (nicknamed Mongus) refused to communicate with him, because in his diptychs he ignored Dioscorus and commemorated the council of Chalcedon. He summoned them to return to duty; they refused, and he pronounced in synod their deposition (Liberat. c. 15; Brevic. Hist. Eutych. or Gesta in causa Acacii, in Mansi, vii. 1062). Four or five bishops and a few monks appear to have actively supported them, and to have been included in their condemnation and in the imperial sentence of exile which followed (Ep. Aegypt. Episc. ad Leonem Aug. in Mansi, vii. 525). The monks in Egypt, as elsewhere, were generally attached to the Monophysite position, which they erroneously identified with the Cyrilline. They took for granted that the late council had been practically striking at Cyril through Dioscorus; and that Christ's single personality was at stake. Thus, besides those monks who had overtly taken part with Timotheus and Peter, others apparently had suspended communion with the archbishop; and Marcian had addressed them in gentle and persuasive terms, assuring them that the doctrine of "one Christ," symbolized by the term Theotokos, had been held sacrosanct at Chalcedon, and exhorting them therefore to join with the Catholic church of the orthodox, which was one (Mansi; vii. 481). But the schism, once begun, was not thus to be abated; the zealous seceders raised a cry, which has practically never died out, that the Egyptian adherents 867of the council of Chalcedon were a mere state-made church, upheld by the court against the convictions of the faithful. To this day the poor remnant of orthodoxy in Egypt bears a name which is a stigma, Melchites or "adherents of the king." (Cf. Renaudot, Hist. Patr. Alex. p. 119; Neale, Hist. Patr. Alex. ii. 7. They both add that the orthodox accepted the term.) Even after Dioscorus died in exile Proterius was ignored and disclaimed, and knew that he was the object of a hatred that was biding its time, and "during the greater part of his pontificate," as Liberatus tells us, depended for safety on a military guard. At last, in Jan. 457, Marcian died, and the Monophysites thought they saw their opportunity. Some malcontent Egyptian bishops renewed their outcry against the council (Eulogius, in Phot. Bibl. 130, p. 283, ed. Bekk.); and Timotheus, returning to Alexandria, began those intrigues which won him his title of "the Cat." [TIMOTHEUS AELURUS.] The "dux" Dionysius being absent in Upper Egypt, Timotheus found it the easier to gather a disorderly following and obtain irregular consecration. Dionysius, returning, expelled Timotheus; and the latter's partisans in revenge rushed to the house of Proterius, and after besetting him for some time in the adjacent church of Quirinus, ran him through with a sword in its baptistery, and he died under many wounds with six of his clerics. His corpse was dragged by a cord across the central place called Tetrapylon, and then through nearly the whole city, with hideous cries, "Look at Proterius!" Beaten as if it could still suffer, torn limb from limb, and finally burnt, its ashes were "scattered to the winds." The day was Easter Day, Mar. 31, 457. See also Evagr. ii. 8; Le Quien, ii. 412; Neale, Hist. Alex. ii. 12.


« Prosper, St., a native of Aquitaine Proterius, St., patriarch of Alexandria Prudentius, Marcus (?) Aurelius Clemens »
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