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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Acacius, Bishop of Beroea

Acacius ( 4 ), bp. of Beroea, in Syria, c. A.D. 379–436. He was apparently a Syrian by birth, and in his early youth adopted the ascetic life in the monastery of Gindarus near Antioch, then governed by Asterius (Theod. Vit. Patr. c. 2). Not much is known with certainty of this period of his life. He appears, however, to have been prominent as a champion of the orthodox faith against the Arians, from whom he suffered (Baluz. Nov. Collect. Conc. p. 746), and it is specially mentioned that he did great service in bringing the hermit Julianus Sabbas from his retirement to Antioch to confront this party, who had falsely claimed his support (Theod. Vit. Patr. 2, H. E. iv. 24). We find him in Rome, probably as a deputy from the churches of Syria when the Apollinarian heresy was treated before pope Damasus (Baluz. Conc. 763). After the return of Eusebius of Samosata from exile, A.D. 378, Acacius was consecrated to the see of Beroea (the modern Aleppo) by that prelate (Theod. H. E. v. 4). As bishop he did not relax the strictness of his asceticism, and like Ambrose (August. Confess. vi. 3), throwing the doors of his house open to every comer, he invited all the world to witness the purity and simplicity of his life (Soz. H. E. vii. 28). He attended the council of Constantinople in 381 (Theod. v. 8). The same year, on the death of Meletius, taking a prominent part in the consecration of Flavian to the bishopric of Antioch [See Flavianus], thus perpetuating the Eustathian schism, he incurred displeasure both in East and West, and was cut off from communion with the church of Rome (Soz. vii. 11). The council of Capua at the close of 391 or 392 received Acacius again into communion, together with the prelates of Flavian's party (Ambros. Ep. 9; Labb. Conc. ii. 1072); while Flavian himself, through the exertions of Acacius, received letters of communion not only from Rome, but also from Theophilus of Alexandria and the Egyptian bishops. The whole merit of this success was ascribed by the bishops of the East to "their father" Acacius (Socr. vi. 9; Soz. viii. 3; Theod. v. 23; Labb. Conc. iii. p. 391; Pallad. p. 39). Acacius was one of the most implacable of the enemies of Chrysostom. He bore part in the infamous "Synod of the Oak," A.D. 403; took the lead in the Synod of 404, after Chrysostom's return from exile; and joined in urging Arcadius to depose him (Pallad. p. 82). He added acts of open violence to his urgency with the timid emperor, until he had gained his end in the final expulsion of the saint, June 20, 404. Nor was his hostility even now satiated. Acacius sent to Rome one Patronus, with letters accusing Chrysostom of being the author of the conflagration of his own church. The pope treated the accusation with deserved contempt, and Acacius was a second time suspended from communion with Rome (Pallad. p. 35), which he did not regain till 414, and then chiefly through Alexander of Antioch. The letter sent to the pope by Acacius, with those of Alexander, was received with haughty condescension, and an answer was returned readmitting the aged prelate on his complying with certain conditions ( Conc. ii. 1266–8). His communion with Alexander was fully restored, and we find the two prelates uniting in ordaining Diogenes, a "bigamus" (Theod. Ep. 110). Acacius's enmity to Chrysostom's memory seems however to have been unquenched; and on the succession of Theodotus of Antioch, A.D. 421, he took the opportunity of writing to Atticus of Constantinople to apologize for the new bishop's having, in defiance of his better judgment, yielded to popular clamour and placed Chrysostom's name on the diptychs (Theod. v. 34; Niceph. xiv. 26, 27). On the rise of the Nestorian controversy Acacius endeavoured to act the part of a peacemaker, for which his age of more than 100 years, and the popular reverence which had gained for him the title of "the father and master of all bishops," well qualified him. With the view of healing the breach between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius, he wrote a pacificatory reply to a violent letter of the former (A.D. 430). In the general council which followed at Ephesus, A.D. 431, he entrusted his proxy to Paul of Emesa. The influence of the aged Acacius was powerful at court. Theodosius wrote to him in most reverential terms beseeching him to give his endeavours and prayers for the restoration of unity to the distracted church. Acacius was also appealed to by Pope Sixtus III. for the same object (Baluz. Conc. pp. 721, 754, 757; Labb. Conc. iii. 1087).

Acacius disapproved of Cyril's anathemas of Nestorius, which appeared to him to savour of Apollinarianism; but he spent his last days in promoting peace between the rival parties, taking part in the synod held at the emperor's instance in his own city of Beroea, A.D. 432, by John of Antioch, and doing all in his power, both by personal influence and by letters to Cyril and to the Roman bp. Coelestinus to bring about an agreement. He ultimately succeeded in establishing friendly communion between John and Cyril. He saw the peace of the church re-established, and died full of days and honour, aged, it is said, more than 110 years, A.D. 436.

Three letters are still extant out of the large number that he wrote, especially on the Nestorian controversy: two to Alexander of Hierapolis, Baluzius, Nov. Collect. Concil. c. xli. p. 746, c. lv. p. 757; and one to Cyril, ib. c. xxii. p. 440; Labbe, Conc. vol. iii. p. 382 (Cave, Hist. Lit. i. 417; Tillemont, Mem. eccl. vol. xiv.; Hefele, Konz. Gesch. Bd. ii.).


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Acacius, Bishop of Beroea'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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