Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume II/Socrates/Book V/Chapter 16

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Chapter XVI.—Demolition of the Idolatrous Temples at Alexandria, and the Consequent Conflict between the Pagans and Christians.

At the solicitation of Theophilus bishop of Alexandria the emperor issued an order at this time for the demolition of the heathen temples in that city; commanding also that it should be put in execution under the direction of Theophilus. Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost to expose the pagan mysteries to contempt. And to begin with, he caused the Mithreum[1]

to be cleaned out, and exhibited to public view the tokens of its bloody mysteries. Then he destroyed the Serapeum, and the bloody rights of the Mithreum he publicly caricatured; the Serapeum also he showed full of extravagant superstitions, and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. The pagans of Alexandria, and especially the professors of philosophy, were unable to repress their rage at this exposure, and exceeded in revengeful ferocity their outrages on a former occasion: for with one accord, at a preconcerted signal, they rushed impetuously upon the Christians, and murdered every one they could lay hands on. The Christians also made an attempt to resist the assailants, and so the mischief was the more augmented. This desperate affray was prolonged until satiety of bloodshed put an end to it. Then it was discovered that very few of the heathens had been killed, but a great number of Christians; while the number of wounded on each side was almost innumerable. Fear then possessed the pagans on account of what was done, as they considered the emperor’s displeasure. For having done what seemed good in their own eyes, and by their bloodshed having quenched their courage, some fled in one direction, some in another, and many quitting Alexandria, dispersed themselves in various cities. Among these were the two grammarians Helladius and Ammonius, whose pupil I was in my youth at Constantinople.[2]

Helladius was said to be the priest of Jupiter, and Ammonius of Simius.[3]

Thus this disturbance having been terminated, the governor of Alexandria, and the commander-in-chief of the troops in Egypt, assisted Theophilus in demolishing the heathen temples. These were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church; for the emperor had instructed Theophilus to distribute them for the relief of the poor. All the images were accordingly broken to pieces, except one statue of the god before mentioned, which Theophilus preserved and set up in a public place; ‘Lest,’ said he, ‘at a future time the heathens should deny that they had ever worshiped such gods.’ This action gave great umbrage to Ammonius the grammarian in particular, who to my knowledge was accustomed to say that ‘the religion of the Gentiles was grossly abused in that that single statue was not also molten, but preserved, in order to render that religion ridiculous.’ Helladius however boasted in the presence of some that he had slain in that desperate onset nine men with his own hand. Such were the doings at Alexandria at that time.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. See III. 2.
  2. Cf Introd. p. 8.
  3. πιθήκου, ‘the ape-god.’