Orthodoxy and Heresy in IVth century
We can assume that there was a first meeting of the Eastern bishops invited by the imperial vicar of Philippopolis – held on the city’s Acropolis (as suggested by Leslie Barnard in his study of the Council of Serdica in 343) or at the stadium where it met The “Thracian National Assembly” of the autonomous ancient city, probably before they left for Serdica, where the ecumenical council convened in 343 was to be held. With the constitution of a separate eastern council in Philippopolis, there is every reason to locate, as the venue of the council sessions of 344, an early Christian basilica in Palestinian-Roman style (at the address of the metropolitan house of today’s Roman Catholic bishop of the city Plovdiv, Blvd. “Kn. Maria Luiza” №3). The early Christian church is astonishing in its size (including the atrium and the courtyard): its total length is 86.30 m (the length of the nave with the apse is 56.50 m) and its width is 38.50 m; it is the largest building of its kind from the IV-VI century in the Balkans – for comparison, the Basilica of Constantine in Rome is 100 m long by 76 m wide, and the basilica in Pompeii – 67 m by 25 m.
The hypothesis presented by the author that the basilica is dedicated to one of the divine names – the Divine Wisdom (Sofia), Power (Dynamis) or Peace (Irini), according to the current practice and policy, sounds plausible.
In the course of archeological excavations, after raising a mortar over the lower layer of the mosaic in the Great Basilica, an extremely valuable inscription was found with the name of the bishop inscribed in it, at the time the mosaic was arranged, but about 2/3 of it is missing. In general, the surviving last sentence would read as follows: “ἐτελειώθη ἡ μούσωσις ἐπισκοπέοντος [—] κιανοῦ”, ie “the mosaic was made during the episcopate of [-] Kian.” As it is quite possible that this is an epic. Eutykian Filipopolski, host of the counter-council, signed his synodal message. It is an indisputable fact, however, that the bishop of the epigraphic monument in question was from the pro-Arian party, as the Roman practice of erasing memory, damnatio memoriae (in the sense of abolitio nominis, erasing the name in inscriptions) was applied to this inscription.
The religious formula of the Council of Philippopolis, which is translated and published in the dissertation for the first time in Bulgarian, has reached us, preserved in Latin by the Bishop of Poitiers Hilary.
The Eastern Council addressed its encyclical in the first place to the heads of the main ancient begging cathedrals, having “priority in honor” – to Gregory, Bishop of Alexandria (replacing St. Athanasius, condemned in the East), to the Bishop of Nicomedia, as well as to the Carthaginian Church and its Donat. Bishop Donatus, although mentioned third after the bishops of Alexandria and Nicomedia, left his name in the Latin name of the conciliar message “Synodal Letter to Donatus of Carthage” – an anti-Nicene association between heresy and schism. The search for support from the African clergy in North Africa is very well judged, because it is self-evident that the African bishops will not support the aspirations of the Bishop of Rome to interfere in the internal church affairs of the North African church.
The Eastern Encyclical, prepared and sent by Philippopolis but presented as Serdica, was also addressed to three Campanian bishops – to the bishop of Campania Desiderius, to Fortunatus, bishop of Naples in Campania, and, thirdly, to Eutychius of Ariminas in Campania. Finally, Bishop Maxim Salonski in Dalmatia and Bishop Sinferuntius, who was named without a chair, follow by name. Consequently, there were supporters in the West of the Eastern position for the non-recognition of Bishops Athanasius and Markel, a sign of disagreement with the claims of the authorities and the initiatives of the Bishop of Rome. This explains the fact that the group of Italian bishops-members of the Council of Serdica is too small. Western participants in the council questioned the metropolitan autonomy of the Eastern bishops and their councils, and this provoked the latter to fight fiercely in defense of the autonomy of the metropolitan administrative system. Thus bishops from the pro-Nicene West sacrificed the administrative criteria in favor of the Orthodoxy of the faith (this was their absolute criterion), ie in 343 the purity of the religion stood against the metropolitan autonomy.
The study of “the influence of Arianism on the development of the doctrine of the Roman supremacy” is a complex and difficult topic, on which much has been written and very contradictory. Much more text concerns the Council of Serdica, because the canonical activity in Serdica is analyzed in detail, in order to conclude that the Council of Serdica recognizes the Bishop of Rome the right to appeal and review judgments over bishops, but not in the sense of the right to judge as higher instance, and this jurisdiction has a subsequent council convened by it.
Despite the expressed hypotheses, assumptions and conclusions related to the Athanasian party and the anti-Nicaean opposition and the nuances in the positions of the individual church groups at this historical moment, during which the ideas of the Church were formed and its law was built, I deliberately refrained from definite definitions; but the main conclusion is drawn, – that despite the numerical small number of convinced and zealous Arians among the members of the Council of Philopolis, most of whom were representatives of Donician conservatism and the anti-Athanasius party, this council remained in church history as a “symbol and emanation of heresy and schism.”
Special attention is paid to archeology and epigraphy in the present dissertation. This is partly due to my local patriotism as a citizen of Plovdiv, and the uplifted spirit and tone in the city, which in 2019 was the European Capital of Culture, and right now it is exactly 1675 years since the end of the meetings of the church forum in ancient Plovdiv. It is also important to correctly interpret the religious symbolism and perspective of the data from the auxiliary sciences, which we draw from the archaeological excavations of the ancient episcopal basilica in Philippopolis, related to the counter-council of 343-344, which will give new dimensions of understanding. for historical facts, events, personalities.
The Arian crisis of the 4th century did not attract enough attention from modern Bulgarian researchers, at the moment, the present study is the only systematic work in the native science, the topic of which is the Council of Philippopolis from 343-344. the heterodox theological currents in the times of the Arian turmoil, long left on the periphery of the research interests of specialists in church history.
The formation of the early Christian culture in Philippopolis is a synthesis of the ideological worldview of different religious and ethnic groups in the specific cultural and historical situation. From the standpoint of the historical-cultural process, there is a possibility for a future separate serious culturological substantiation of archeological finds from the “great basilica”/”bishop’s basilica” of the late-ancient Philippopolis (considered as a venue for the cathedral meetings), proposing explicitly formulated hypotheses regarding the interpretation of the semantics of monuments of art in the ideological structure of temple architecture in the analysis of their iconography. For this purpose, it is recommended to apply the hermeneutic principle of contextual authenticity and the structural-conceptual (ideographic, semiotic, iconological) methods of revealing the semantics of monuments of art in the analysis of their iconography.
As a conclusion, it is necessary to understand that in the IV century the imperial councils became more frequent, and the purpose of their convening was to define and establish a doctrinal consensus. The bishops met and agreed on a matter or about an exposition of the faith, convinced of their Orthodoxy, and sought the imperial favor of recognizing their version of Christianity as the Orthodox faith of the empire. The motto of Constantius’ policy can be taken as: cujus est region, illius est religio (whose power is his, and his religion). Legislatively and rhetorically speaking, the “orthodoxy” of the emperor, ie his religion or personal bias towards a certain trend, became official for the empire in late antiquity and created a label of heretics for those who did not share it.