Paul of Samosata

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Paul of Samosata was a third-century Syrian theologian and heretical bishop of Antioch. To defend Christianity's monotheism against charges of tritheism, Paul espoused a definition of the relationship among the three persons of the Godhead that denied the personal distinction of the divine Son and Holy Spirit in contrast to God the Father, thus contradicting the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.


Little is known of the life of Paul of Samosata. He is believed to have been born about the year 200 in Samosata into a family of humble origin, according to Eusebius of Caesarea. He was elected bishop of Antioch in the year 260. Due to his heretical monarchianist views, he was challenged and heard before at least three councils. At a council in 269 at Antioch he was convicted of heresy and deposed as bishop. Domnus was elected as his successor. His deposition was reported in a letter to the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, Dionysius and Maximus, that has been preserved by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History.

Although deposed, Paul still considered himself the bishop of Antioch. Because of his close relationship as an official with Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra in Syria, Paul was able to retain occupancy of the bishop’s residence. This situation continued until 272, when the Roman emperor, Aurelian, defeated Zenobia, thus removing her as Paul's protector. Acting on an appeal by the Christians in Antioch to the emperor, Aurelian ordered Paul to leave the bishop’s residence. The appeal also alleged that Paul was haughty, led an immoral life, and had illicitly acquired much wealth, amongst other allegations.

As Aurelian was a pagan, doctrinal issues were not involved in this event; it does, however, bear witness to the relationship between the Roman emperor and Christians, who were Roman citizens, when persecutions were not in progress.

Paul is believed to have died about 275.


Paul of Samosata espoused views on the nature of the Trinity that had their beginnings in the second-century teachings of Theodotus of Byzantium. Theodotus had said that Jesus was a man who had been endowed with the Holy Spirit in a monotheistic argument that came to be referred to as monarchianism. A number of variations on monarchianism evolved, including that referred to as dynamic or adoptionistic monarchianism. Paul’s views led to a depersonalizing of the Logos, making it an inherent rationality of God, and to a doctrine and meaning of the word homoousia in reference to the Logos and the Father that denied the personal subsistence of the pre-incarnate Word. This teaching and the word homoousia were condemned by the Synod of bishops at a council in Antioch in 269.

While the word “homoousia” was included in the condemnation of Paul’s heresy, in the sense of Paul’s usage, this was to have consequences in “Christological” arguments in the following centuries. During the First Ecumenical Council of 325 the bishops affirmed the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as homoousios, meaning of the “same substance.” While the meaning of homoousia as used by the 325 council differed from the meaning used by the 269 council, the association from the 269 condemnation that the word homoousia as heretical was used by the Arian and Nestorian forces in their defenses against charges of heresy raised by the Orthodox.

Succession box:
Paul of Samosata
Preceded by:
Bishop of Antioch
Succeeded by:
Domnus I
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