Alexander of Alexandria
Our father among the saints Alexander of Alexandria was the Pope of Alexandria and leader of the Church of Alexandria during the early part of the fourth century. During his reign he had to deal with major issues that confronted the Church as it gained its freedom from Roman persecutions, including the rise of Arianism and the dating of Pascha. He was a leader of the opposition to the heresy of Arianism at the First Ecumenical Council. He is remembered on May 29.
Little is known of Alexander’s early life. He is thought to have been born about the year 250, probably in Alexandria. As a priest he experienced the persecutions of Christians under the emperors Galerius and Maximinus. Upon the repose of Achillas of Alexandria in 313, he came to lead the Church of Alexandria as the thirteenth Pope in succession since the Apostle Mark.
Alexander was faced with three significant issues upon his elevation. These were the dating of Pascha, the efforts of Melitius of Lycopolis to undermine him, and Arianism.
A schismatic sect, led by Erescentius, disputed the timing of the date for Pascha. While the controversy was not fully settled until the decision of the First Ecumenical Council, Alexander prepared a special treatise that defused the issue until the Council decision in which he cited the earlier statements of Dionysius on the matter.
Alexander inherited the challenge to the ruling bishop of Alexandria by his subordinate Melitius, Bishop of Lycopolis, who had also challenged Achillas before him. Being among those who required strict repentance, Melitius and his sect questioned the reception of lapsed Christians on return to the Church during the persecutions. In addition to formally complaining to the court of Emperor Constantine I, to no effect, Melitius had begun to consecrate bishops of his own in territories outside that under his authority without Alexander’s agreement. Melitius appeared also to have established an alliance with Arius. The controversy and alliance with Arius ended at the Council at Nicea at which Alexander allowed Melitius to return to Alexandria church without authority to consecrate bishops.
Alexander’s greatest challenge was Arius himself. Alexander’s position had been compromised by the actions of his predecessor, Achillas, who had not only allowed Arius to return to the church, but had also assigned him the oldest church in Alexandria. In this position Achillas gave Arius the ability to exert great influence on the Christian community in Alexandria. Arius drew increasing support in Alexandria, to the point that Alexander called local two meetings of his priests and deacons to limit Arius’ actions. In neither meeting were firm conclusions reach that could stem the spread of Arius’ beliefs. In 320, Alexander called a synod of the church in Alexandria that agreed on a condemnation of Arius.
Not withstanding this condemnation, Arius continued to spread his belief into Mareotis and Libya. In 321, Alexander convened a council of the Alexandria diocese that included over one hundred participants. At the council Arius argued his position that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father and that the Son was not similar to the Father in substance. The last statement was received in horror and the assembled council went on to place Arius under anathema until he recanted his positions.
Arius forthwith left for Palestine where he settled with friends and continued to spread his heresy. Alexander then wrote a confession of faith that he sent to all the bishops in Christendom asking them to endorse his position. The dispute over Arianism continued as a serious problem and soon brought the Emperor Constantine I into the fray. Constantine wrote to Alexander and Arius requesting they end their dispute. Alexander remained adamant about his position and at another general council of his diocese the excommunication of Arius was reaffirmed. Arius then formally complained to Constantine about his treatment by Alexander. Constantine directed Arius to plead his case before a general council of the church, to be convened at Nicea in Asia Minor on June 14, 325.
After lengthy discussion the council confirmed the anathema against Arius. The Council also authorized Alexander, with his urging, to allow Melitius to retain his episcopal title but without authority to exercise any episcopal powers. The council also gave Alexander the right to calculate the timing of Pascha with the duty of communicating his decision to all of Christendom. The council also allowed the Egyptian church to retain its traditions concerning celibacy of the clergy.
Alexander of Alexandria
|Archbishop of Alexandria
313 - 326