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Home > Fathers of the Church > Synod of Gangra (4th Century)

Synod of Gangra (4th Century)

Background

With regard to the Synod of Gangra we know little beside what we learn from its own synodal letter. Three great questions naturally arise with regard to it.

1. What was its date?

2. Who was the Eustathius it condemned?

3. Who was its presiding officer?

I shall briefly give the reader the salient points with regard to each of these matters.

1. With regard to the date, there can be no doubt that it was after Nice and before the First Council of Constantinople, that is between 325 and 381. Socrates seems to place it about 365; but Sozomen some twenty years earlier. On the other hand, Remi Ceillier inconsistently with his other statements, seems to argue from St. Basil's letters that the true date is later than 376. Still another theory has been urged by the Ballerini, resting on the supposition that the Eusebius who presided was Eusebius of Cæsarea, and they therefore fix the date between 362 and 370. With this Mr. Ffoulkes agrees, and fixes the date, with Pagi, at 358, and is bold enough to add, and this was unquestionably the year of the Council. But in the old collections of canons almost without exception, the canons of Gangra precede those of Antioch, and Blondel and Tillemont have sustained this, which perhaps I may call the traditional date.

2. There does not seem to be any reasonable ground to doubt that the person condemned, Eustathius by name, was the famous bishop of Sebaste. This may be gathered from both Sozomen and Socrates, and is confirmed incidentally by one of St. Basil's epistles. Moreover, Eustathius's See of Sebaste is in Armenia, and it is to the bishops of Armenia that the Synod addresses its letter. It would seem in view of all this that Bp. Hefele's words are not too severe when he writes, Under such circumstances the statement of Baronius, Du Pin, and others (supported by no single ancient testimony) that another Eustathius, or possibly the monk Eutactus, is here meant, deserves no serious consideration, though Tillemont did not express himself as opposed to it.

The story that after his condemnation by the Synod of Gangra Eustathius gave up wearing his peculiar garb and other eccentricities, Sozomen only gives as a report.

3. As to who was the president, it seems tolerably certain that his name was Eusebius— if Sozomen indeed means it was Eusebius of Constantinople, it is a blunder, yet he had the name right. In the heading of the Synodal letter Eusebius is first named, and as Gangra and Armenia were within the jurisdiction of Cæsarea, it certainly would seem natural to suppose that the Eusebius named was the Metropolitan of that province, but it must be remembered that Eusebius of Cappadocia was not made bishop until 362, four years after Mr. Ffoulkes makes him preside at Gangra. The names of thirteen bishops are given in the Greek text.

The Latin translations add other names, such as that of Hosius of Cordova, and some Latin writers have asserted that he presided as legate à latere from the pope, e.g., Baronius and Binius. Hefele denies this and says: At the time of the Synod of Gangra Hosius was without doubt dead. But such has not been the opinion of the learned, and Cave is of opinion that Hosius's episcopate covered seventy years ending with 361, and (resting on the same opinion) Pagi thinks Hosius may have attended the Synod in 358 on his way back to Spain, an opinion with which, as I have said, Mr. Ffoulkes agrees. It seems also clear that by the beginning of the sixth century the Synod of Gangra was looked upon at Rome as having been held under papal authority; Pope Symmachus expressly saying so to the Roman Synod of 504. (Vide Notes on Canons vij. and viij.)

It remains only further to remark that the Libellus Synodicus mentions a certain Dius as president of the Synod. The Ballarini suggest that it should be Βίος, an abbreviation of Eusebius. Mr. Ffoulkes suggests that Dius is probably Dianius, the predecessor of Eusebius. Lightfoot fixes the episcopate of Eusebius Pamphili as between 313 and 337; and states that that of Eusebius of Cæsarea in Cappadocia did not begin until 362, so that the enormous chronological difficulties will be evident to the reader.

As all the proposed new dates involve more or less contradiction, I have given the canons their usual position between Neocæsarea and Antioch, and have left the date undetermined.

Synodical Letter

Eusebius, Ælian, Eugenius, Olympius, Bithynicus, Gregory, Philetus, Pappus, Eulalius, Hypatius, Proæresius, Basil and Bassus, assembled in the holy Synod at Gangra, to our most honoured lords and fellow-ministers in Armenia wish health in the Lord.

Forasmuch as the most Holy Synod of Bishops, assembled on account of certain necessary matters of ecclesiastical business in the Church at Gangra, on inquiring also into the matters which concern Eustathius, found that many things had been unlawfully done by these very men who are partisans of Eustathius, it was compelled to make definitions, which it has hastened to make known to all, for the removal of whatever has by him been done amiss. For, from their utter abhorrence of marriage, and from their adoption of the proposition that no one living in a state of marriage has any hope towards God, many misguided married women have forsaken their husbands, and husbands their wives: then, afterwards, not being able to contain, they have fallen into adultery; and so, through such a principle as this, have come to shame. They were found, moreover, fomenting separations from the houses of God and of the Church; treating the Church and its members with disdain, and establishing separate meetings and assemblies, and different doctrines and other things in opposition to the Churches and those things which are done in the Church; wearing strange apparel, to the destruction of the common custom of dress; making distributions, among themselves and their adherents as saints, of the first-fruits of the Church, which have, from the first, been given to the Church; slaves also leaving their masters, and, on account of their own strange apparel, acting insolently towards their masters; women, too, disregarding decent custom, and, instead of womanly apparel, wearing men's clothes, thinking to be justified because of these; while many of them, under a pretext of piety, cut off the growth of hair, which is natural to woman; [and these persons were found] fasting on the Lord's Day, despising the sacredness of that free day, but disdaining and eating on the fasts appointed in the Church; and certain of them abhor the eating of flesh; neither do they tolerate prayers in the houses of married persons, but, on the contrary, despise such prayers when they are made, and often refuse to partake when Oblations are offered in the houses of married persons; contemning married presbyters, and refusing to touch their ministrations; condemning the services in honour of the Martyrs and those who gather or minister therein, and the rich also who do not alienate all their wealth, as having nothing to hope from God; and many other things that no one could recount. For every one of them, when he forsook the canon of the Church, adopted laws that tended as it were to isolation; for neither was there any common judgment among all of them; but whatever any one conceived, that he propounded, to the scandal of the Church, and to his own destruction.

Wherefore, the Holy Synod present in Gangra was compelled, on these accounts, to condemn them, and to set forth definitions declaring them to be cast out of the Church; but that, if they should repent and anathematize every one of these false doctrines, then they should be capable of restoration. And therefore the Holy Synod has particularly set forth everything which they ought to anathematize before they are received. And if any one will not submit to the said decrees, he shall be anathematized as a heretic, and excommunicated, and cast out of the Church; and it will behoove the bishops to observe a like rule in respect of all who may be found with them.

Canons

Canon 1

If any one shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven] let him be anathema.

Canon 2

If any one shall condemn him who eats flesh, which is without blood and has not been offered to idols nor strangled, and is faithful and devout, as though the man were without hope [of salvation] because of his eating, let him be anathema.

Canon 3

If any one shall teach a slave, under pretext of piety, to despise his master and to run away from his service, and not to serve his own master with good-will and all honour, let him be anathema.

This canon is framed in accordance with the doctrine of the Apostle, in 1 Timothy 6:1. Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And again the same Apostle teaches his disciple Titus that he should exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. Titus 2:9-10 These texts are likewise cited by Balsamon and Zonaras.

Canon 4

If any one shall maintain, concerning a married presbyter, that is not lawful to partake of the oblation when he offers it, let him be anathema.

Canon 5

If any one shall teach that the house of God and the assemblies held therein are to be despised, let him be anathema.

Canon 6

If any one shall hold private assemblies outside of the Church, and, despising the canons, shall presume to perform ecclesiastical acts, the presbyter with the consent of the bishop refusing his permission, let him be anathema.

Both these canons, [V. and VI.] forbid the existence of conventicles, and conventicle services. It already appears from the second article of the Synodal Letter of Gangra, that the Eustathians, through spiritual pride, separated themselves from the rest of the congregation, as being the pure and holy, avoided the public worship, and held private services of their own. The ninth, tenth, and eleventh articles of the Synodal Letter give us to understand that the Eustathians especially avoided the public services, when married clergy officiated. We might possibly conclude, from the words of the sixth canon: μὴ συνόντος τοῦ πρεσβυτέρου κατὰ γνώμην τοῦ ἐπισκόπου, that no priest performed any part in their private services; but it is more probable that the Eustathians, who did not reject the priesthood as such, but only abhorred the married clergy, had their own unmarried clergy, and that these officiated at their separate services. And the above-mentioned words of the canon do not the least contradict this supposition, for the very addition of the words κατὰ γνώμην τοῦ ἐπισκόπου indicate that the sectarian priests who performed the services of the Eustathians had received no permission to do so from the bishop of the place. Thus did the Greek commentators, Balsamon, etc., and likewise Van Espen, interpret this canon.

Canon 7

If any one shall presume to take the fruits offered to the Church, or to give them out of the Church, without the consent of the bishop, or of the person charged with such things, and shall refuse to act according to his judgment, let him be anathema.

Canon 8

If anyone, except the bishop or the person appointed for the stewardship of benefactions, shall either give or receive the revenue, let both the giver and the receiver be anathema.

Canon 9

If any one shall remain virgin, or observe continence, abstaining from marriage because he abhors it, and not on account of the beauty and holiness of virginity itself, let him be anathema.

Zonaras writes: Virginity is most beautiful of all, and continence is likewise beautiful, but only if we follow them for their own sake and because of the sanctification which comes from them. But should anyone embrace virginity, because he detests marriage as impure, and keep himself chaste, and abstains from commerce with women and marriage, because he thinks that they are in themselves wicked, he is subjected by this canon to the penalty of anathema.

This canon is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratian's Decretum, Pars I., Dist. xxx., c. v., and again Dist. xxxi., c. ix.

Canon 10

If any one of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord's sake shall treat arrogantly the married, let him be anathema.

Canon 11

If anyone shall despise those who out of faith make love-feasts and invite the brethren in honour of the Lord, and is not willing to accept these invitations because he despises what is done, let him be anathema.

Canon 12

If any one, under pretence of asceticism, should wear a peribolæum and, as if this gave him righteousness, shall despise those who with piety wear the berus and use other common and customary dress, let him be anathema.

The βήροι (lacernæ) were the common upper garments worn by men over the tunic; but the περιβόλαια were rough mantles worn by philosophers to show their contempt for all luxury. Socrates (H. E., ii. 43) and the Synodal Letter of Gangra in its third article say that Eustathius of Sebaste wore the philosopher's mantle. But this canon in no way absolutely rejects a special dress for monks, for it is not the distinctive dress but the proud and superstitious over-estimation of its worth which the Synod here blames.

Canon 13

If any woman, under pretence of asceticism, shall change her apparel and, instead of a woman's accustomed clothing, shall put on that of a man, let her be anathema.

The synodal letter in its sixth article also speaks of this. Exchange of dress, or the adoption by one sex of the dress of the other, was forbidden in the Pentateuch Deuteronomy 22:5, and was therefore most strictly interdicted by the whole ancient Church. Such change of attire was formerly adopted mainly for theatrical purposes, or from effeminacy, wantonness, the furtherance of unchastity, or the like. The Eustathians, from quite opposite and hyper-ascetical reasons, had recommended women to assume male, that is probably monk's attire, in order to show that for them, as the holy ones, there was no longer any distinction of sex; but the Church, also from ascetical reasons, forbade this change of attire, especially when joined to superstition and puritanical pride.

Canon 14

If any woman shall forsake her husband, and resolve to depart from him because she abhors marriage, let her be anathema.

Van Espen: It would seem that the Eustathians chiefly disapproved of the use of marriage, and under pretext of preserving continence induced married women to abstain from its use as from something unlawful, and to leave their husbands, separating from them so far as the bed was concerned; and so the Greek interpreters understand this canon; for the Eustathians were never accused of persuading anyone to dissolve a marriage a vinculo.

Canon 15

If anyone shall forsake his own children and shall not nurture them, nor so far as in him lies, rear them in becoming piety, but shall neglect them, under pretence of asceticism, let him be anathema.

The fathers of this Synod here teach that it is the office and duty of parents to provide for the bodily care of their children, and also, as far as in them lies, to mould them to the practice of piety. And this care for their children is to be preferred by parents to any private exercises of religion. In this connection should be read the letter of St. Francis de Sales. (Ep. xxxii, Lib. 4.)

Canon 16

If, under any pretence of piety, any children shall forsake their parents, particularly [if the parents are] believers, and shall withhold becoming reverence from their parents, on the plea that they honour piety more than them, let them be anathema.

Zonaras notes that the use of the word particularly shows that the obligation is universal. The commentators all refer here to St. Matthew xv., where our Lord speaks of the subterfuge by which the Jews under pretext of piety defrauded their parents and made the law of God of none effect.

Canon 17

If any woman from pretended asceticism shall cut off her hair, which God gave her as the reminder of her subjection, thus annulling as it were the ordinance of subjection, let her be anathema.

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:10, represents the long hair of women, which is given them as a natural veil, as a token of their subjection to man. We learn from the Synod of Gangra, that as many Eustathian women renounced this subjection, and left their husbands, so, as this canon says, they also did away with their long hair, which was the outward token of this subjection. An old proverb says: duo si faciunt idem, non est idem. In the Catholic Church also, when women and girls enter the cloister, they have their hair cut off, but from quite other reasons than those of the Eustathian women. The former give up their hair, because it has gradually become the custom to consider the long hair of women as a special beauty, as their greatest ornament; but the Eustathians, like the ancient Church in general, regarded long hair as the token of subjection to the husband, and, because they renounced marriage and forsook their husbands, they cut it off.

Canon 18

If any one, under pretence of asceticism, shall fast on Sunday, let him be anathema.

Eustathius appointed the Lord's day as a fast, whereas, because Christ rose from the grave and delivered human nature from sin on that day, we should spend it in offering joyous thanks to God. But fasting carries with it the idea of grief and sorrow. For this reason those who fast on Sunday are subjected to the punishment of anathema.

Canon 19

If any of the ascetics, without bodily necessity, shall behave with insolence and disregard the fasts commonly prescribed and observed by the Church, because of his perfect understanding in the matter, let him be anathema.

Canon 20

If any one shall, from a presumptuous disposition, condemn and abhor the assemblies [in honour] of the martyrs, or the services performed there, and the commemoration of them, let him be anathema.

Epilogue

These things we write, not to cut off those who wish to lead in the Church of God an ascetic life, according to the Scriptures; but those who carry the pretence of asceticism to superciliousness; both exalting themselves above those who live more simply, and introducing novelties contrary to the Scriptures and the ecclesiastical Canons. We do, assuredly, admire virginity accompanied by humility; and we have regard for continence, accompanied by godliness and gravity; and we praise the leaving of worldly occupations, [when it is made] with lowliness of mind; [but at the same time] we honour the holy companionship of marriage, and we do not contemn wealth enjoyed with uprightness and beneficence; and we commend plainness and frugality in apparel, [which is worn] only from attention, [and that] not over-fastidious, to the body; but dissolute and effeminate excess in dress we eschew; and we reverence the houses of God and embrace the assemblies held therein as holy and helpful, not confining religion within the houses, but reverencing every place built in the name of God; and we approve of gathering together in the Church itself for the common profit; and we bless the exceeding charities done by the brethren to the poor, according to the traditions of the Church; and, to sum up in a word, we wish that all things which have been delivered by the Holy Scriptures and the Apostolical traditions, may be observed in the Church.

This epilogue is lacking in the ancient epitome; and while it occurs after Canon XX. in the versions of Dionysius Exiguus and of Isidore Mercator, it is not numbered as a canon. Moreover in John of Antioch's Collection and in Photius's Nomocanon, the number of canons is said to be 20. Only the Greek Scholiasts number it as Canon XXI., but its genuineness is unquestioned.

About this page

Source. Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3804.htm>.

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