Aggression/Violence in the early Church

I am struggling with certain allegations of the early church using violence and I was wondering if anyone could point me to some sources discussing this topic.
Some of the allegations include the following:
1. The use of parabalani by early patriarchs. For example: St. Cyril is said to be involved in the murder of Hypatia through the use of parabalani. (fromm what I understand the evidence is little to none)
2. There are allegations that St. Dioscorus employed monks and parabalani during Ephesus II, and it is also alleged that he was involved in a violent attack on Flavian (Chalcedon takes a serious stance on this). 
3. The Melkite Pope Proterius allegedly being murdered by coptic mobs

There are probably more, but these are the ones I was looking to learn more about. I also know that politics played an unfortunate role in the early church and that, in the end, everyone involved were humans and that no one is perfect. I just want to learn more about this and if they are true, are there any official condemnations by the Coptic church?
Pray for me. 


  • About Hypatia, here's a post by Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart:

    Also this very good historical analysis by a rather brilliant Atheist blogger:

    As for points 2 and 3, may God have mercy on of us, not only those who commit or facilitate physical violence, but also on us who do violence to our brothers and sisters through our injustice, our negligence, our deeds, our thoughts and our lack of care and compassion for them. May God have mercy on us who lord over others with our charity, our wealth, our poverty, our power and our pride and self righteousness.

    O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

    But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

    Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
  • Thanks Cyril. I also found that Socrates Scholasticus, the person who wrote on the account of Hypatia's death, studied in Constantinople under 2 pagan scholars who led anti-Christian riots. It is highly plausible that there was an element of bias. He also appears to favor Novation schismatics, a sect of Christianity at the time, and appears hostile towards Cyril. 

    I don't mean to discredit his account, but I think it is important to note this. I also am still looking for accounts of the incident from a christian or unbiased perspective.
  • edited March 2015
    And this is why Socrates' account is important if you read in between the lines. He doesn't put direct blame to St. Cyril or the Church as the ringleaders of violence, but as the shamed Church for having some members do these things. It's like hearing in the news the stories of sexually abusive priests. Was the Pope of Rome encouraging this behavior? No! But there is a great shame.

    As for St. Dioscorus, it was not the Parabalani (although they were a troublesome group, and perhaps the imperial forces may have encouraged their behavior). It was the imperial forces. Emperor Theodosius was ruthless. Any decision by the Church he considered imperial law. He also burned down many pagan and heretic worshipping places, and it was him who sent St. John Chrysostom to his suffering and death. So it's not surprising when the same emperor would also take the decisions of Ephesus 449 into law and beat up those who have been declared heretics. This same policy was repeated towards St. Dioscorus, who was beaten up for rejecting Chalcedon, and you might also hear similar stories with St. Samuel the Confessor, Bishop Mena, brother of Pope St. Benjamin, and on the Chalcedonian side, Pope Vigilius of Rome to force him to condemn the Three Chapters and Maximus the Confessor to force him to accept Monotheletism. When you have blood shed against those who do not accept Chalcedon, it is not surprising that a weak-spirited Coptic mob seeking revenge for the blood-shed they experienced would kill the imperially-placed (and forced) Pope Proterius, who was also much more bloody and ruthless in kicking out any anti-Chalcedonians.
  • edited March 2015
    Thanks for that minasoliman. Do you know of any online sources that discuss what you have written? 

    I want to add that we know the Pope of Rome spoke up against the actions of sexual abuse. Do we know if Cyril condemned the murder of Hypatia, or if Dioscorus condemned the violence against Flavian? 

  • edited March 2015
    There is no such thing as an official declaration by a patriarch to condemn a specific action made. For St. Cyril's case, his sermons speak for what is ideal behavior, and in them you can see, ideally, he wouldn't support such violence. At the same time, there was no "democracy". So to speak out against the emperor was only done when one of their own was hurt, and even then there was more silence than protest.

    For St. Dioscorus' case, there was a lot more turbulence. By the time Flavian was condemned (and even then, it's still disputed whether he really was beaten in the council, since there were indications he was alive and writing after his alleged death!), the emperor was killed, Pulcheria usurped the throne with her new husband, who made plans to undermine St. Dioscorus, form a new council and send St. Dioscorus off to his exile and beating.

    To ask for an official press view on a situation is only a contemporary phenomenon and it's rarely done in ancient times. You can at best infer, and there is a lot of information that can help understand what may have been their opinions on the situation.

    Part of the argument is also to understand the cultural situations of the time. You can't judge ancient socio-political "morality" by today's standards.

    I advise you read "The Council of Chalcedon Re-examined" by Fr. V.C. Samuel as a starter.
  • Thanks minasoliman. I was thinking that what you said may be the case. It's unfortunate that events like these can taint reputations, and be taken out of context by people who think they have a full picture of what took place. It makes sense that we live in a much different culture. Where we may see everything chronicled very well during events of our time, and we may know the feelings and intentions of many involved, it is difficult to see the same for events in history. 

    In the Cyril-Hypatia case, the earliest account of the murder is very possibly biased and it does not directly implicate Cyril (written by Socrates Scholasticus) . This is the only contemporary account of the event. The next earliest account is written 200 years later by Damascius. That is like someone today trying to describe events that took place in 1815. He does not directly implicate Cyril, but he strongly implies that he was involved due to speculated jealousy of Hypatia and her following. 
    It is also important to note that several of Hypatia's students became bishops of the church and continued to admire and respect her as a teacher even after their ordination (Synesius is an example).
    Here is a nice unbiased source that sums up and chronicles a lot of the events surrounding the murder of Hypatia: 
  • @MinaSoliman

    Where on earth do you find the time to study Medicine with all this knowledge?? You're not even barely over 30 yet, and you show immense knowledge about our Church, our rites, and detailed issues like this.

    Well done habibi.

    God protect you and give you every blessing possible.

    Your parents must be saints.

    Love you man,
  • Here is my short article on the Philosophy of History in the Councils of Egypt in Late Antiquity discussing violence in the Late Antique Egyptian Church. Tell me what you think.
  • nothing came up.
    looks like we need to sign up or log in.
    any chance you could send a p.m. with the article?
    (if it is not copyright to that website)
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