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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Nectarius, Archbaptist of Constantinople
Nectarius (4), archbp. of Constantinople a.d. 381â€“397 or 398, successor to St. Gregory of Nazianzus. When Gregory resigned, Nectarius was praetor of Constantinople. He was of noble family, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, an elderly man, widely known for his admirable character, still only a catechumen. Preparing for a journey to Tarsus, he called on the bp. of Tarsus, Diodorus, who was attending the council, to ask if he could take letters for him. The appearance and manners of his visitor struck Diodorus so forcibly that he at once determined that he should be advanced as a candidate; and, alleging some other business, took the praetor to call on the bp. of Antioch, who, though laughing at the idea of such a competitor, asked Nectarius to put off his journey a short time. When the emperor Theodosius desired the bishops at the council to suggest candidates, reserving to himself the right of choosing one of them, the bp. of Antioch put at the bottom of his list, in compliment to the bp. of Tarsus, the name of the praetor. The emperor, reading the lists, declared his choice to be Nectarius. The Fathers were amazed. Who and what was this Nectarius? He was not even baptized. Astonishment at the emperor's unexpected choice was great. Even the bp. of Tarsus seems not to have known this disqualification. The startling information did not move Theodosius. The people of Constantinople were delighted at the news. The whole council agreed. Nectarius was baptized. The dress of a neophyte was changed for the robes of the bishop of the imperial city. The praetor, a few days previously a catechumen, became at once president of the second general council. He ruled the church upwards of 16 years, and made an admirable prelate. His name heads the 150 signatures to the canons of the second general council. The 3rd canon declares that "the bp. of Constantinople shall hold the first rank after the bp. of Rome, because Constantinople is new Rome."
The bishops of the West were not disposed to accept the election, and asked for a common synod of East and West to settle the succession. Accordingly the emperor Theodosius, soon after the close of the second general council, summoned the bishops of his empire to a fresh synodâ€”not, however, as the Latins wished, at Alexandria, but at Constantinople. There were assembled here, early in the summer of 382, very nearly the same bishops who had been at the second general council. On arriving they received a letter from the synod of Milan, inviting them to a great general council at Rome. They replied that they must remain where they were, because they had not made preparations for so long a ,journey, and were only authorized by their colleagues to act at Constantinople. They sent three of their numberâ€”Syriacus, Eusebius, and Priscianâ€” with a synodal letter to pope Damasus, archbp. Ambrose, and the other bishops assembled in council at Rome.
The Roman synod to which this letter was addressed was the 5th under Damasus. No certain account remains of its proceedings, nor of how its members treated the question of Nectarius. Theodosius, however, sent commissaries to Rome in support of the statements of his synod, as we learn from the letters of pope Boniface. In his 15th letter (to the bishops of Illyria) he shews that the church in Rome had finally agreed to recognize both Nectarius and Flavian. St. Ambrose, in his 63rd letter, adduces the election of Nectarius as an approval of his own by the East.
Six graceful letters from Nectarius remain in the correspondence of his illustrious predecessor Gregory. In the first he expresses his hearty good wishes for his episcopate. The last is of great importance, urging him not to be too liberal in tolerating the Apollinarians.
In 383 a third synod at Constantinople was held. In spite of the decrees of bishops and emperor, the Arians and Pneumatomachians continued to spread their doctrines. Theodosius summoned all parties to the imperial city for a great discussion in June, hoping to reconcile all differences. Before the proceedings, he sent for the archbishop and told him of his intention that all questions should be fully debated. Nectarius returned home, full of profound anxiety, and consulted the Novatianist bp. Agelius, who agreed with him in doctrine and was held in high personal esteem. Agelius felt himself unsuited for so grave a controversy; but he had a reader, Sisinnius, a brilliant philosopher and theologian, to whom he proposed to entrust the argument with the Arians. Sisinnius suggested that they should produce the testimonies of the old Fathers of the church on the doctrine of the Son, and first ask the heads of the several parties whether they accepted these authorities or desired to anathematize them. The archbishop and the emperor gladly agreed to this scheme. When the bishops met, the emperor asked: Did they respect the teachers who lived before the Arian division? They said, Yes. He then asked: Did they acknowledge them sound and trustworthy witnesses of the true Christian doctrine? The divisions this question produced shewed that the sectaries were bent on disputation. The emperor ordered each party to draw up a written confession of its doctrine. When this was done, the bishops were summoned to the imperial palace, Nectarius and Agelius for the orthodox, Demophilus (formerly bp. of Constantinople) for the Arians, Eleusius of Cyzicus for the Pneumatomachians, and Eunomius for the Anomoeans. The emperor received them with kindness and retired into a room alone with their written confessions. After praying God for enlightenment, he rejected and destroyed all except that of the orthodox, because the others introduced a division into the Holy Trinity. The sectaries thereupon sorrowfully returned home. The emperor now forbade all sectaries, except the Novatianists, to hold divine service anywhere, to publish their doctrines or to ordain clergy, under threat of severe civil penalties.
In 385 died Pulcheria, the emperor's daughter, and his wife Placilla. The archbishop asked Gregory of Nyssa to preach the funeral sermons on both occasions.
Towards the close of his episcopate Nectarius abolished the office of presbyter penitentiary, whose duty appears to have been to receive confessions before communion. His example was followed by nearly all other bishops. The presbyter penitentiary was added to the ecclesiastical roll about the time of the Novatianist schism, when that party declined to communicate with those who had lapsed in the Decian persecution. Gradually there were fewer lapsed to reconcile, and his duties became more closely connected with preparation for communion. A disgraceful occurrence induced Nectarius to leave the participation in holy communion entirely to individual consciences and abolish the office.
Nectarius died in 397 or 398, and was succeeded by St. John Chrysostom. (Theod. H. E. v. viii. etc.; Socr. H. E. v. viii. etc.; Soz. H. E. vii. viii. etc.; Theoph. Chronogr. 59. etc.; Nectarii Arch. CP. Enarratio in Patr. Gk. xxxix. p. 1821; Mansi, Concil. t. iii. p. 521, 599, 633, 643, 694, etc.; Hefele, Hist. Christ. Councils , tr. Oxenham (Edinb. 1876), vol. ii. pp. 344, 347, 378, 380, 382, etc.
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Nectarius, Archbaptist of Constantinople'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/n/nectarius-archbaptist-of-constantinople.html. 1911.
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