Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, in Egypt, Confessor
THE SURNAME of the Scholastic, which was given him, is a proof of the reputation which he acquired, by his penetrating genius, and by his extensive learning, both sacred and profane. He presided some time in the catechetical school of Alexandria, but, to apply himself more perfectly to the science of the saints, to which he had always consecrated himself, his studies, and his other actions, he retired into the desert, and became a bright light in the monastic state. St. Athanasius assures us in his life of St. Antony, that in the visits which Serapion paid to that illustrious patriarch, St. Antony often told on his mountain, things which passed in Egypt at a distance; and that at his death, he left him one of his tunics of hair. St. Serapion was drawn out of his retreat, to be placed in the episcopal see of Thmuis, a famous city of Lower Egypt, near Diospolis, to which Stephanus and Ptolemy give the title of a metropolis. The name in the Egyptian tongue signified a goat, which animal was anciently worshipped there, as St. Jerom informs us. St. Serapion was closely linked with St. Athanasius in the defence of the Catholic faithfor which he was banished by the Emperor Constantius; whence St. Jerom styles himself a confessor. Certain persons, who confessed God, the Son consubstantial to the Father, denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost. This error was no sooner broached, but our saint strenuously opposed it, and informed St. Athanasius of this new inconsistent blasphemy; and that zealous defender of the adorable mystery of the Trinity, the fundamental article of the Christian faith, wrote against this rising monster. The four letters which St. Athanasius wrote to Serapion, in 359, out of the desert, in which at that time he lay concealed, were the first express confutation of the Macedonian heresy that was published. St. Serapion ceased not to employ his labours to great advantage, against both the Arians and Macedonians. He also compiled an excellent book against the Manichees, in which he shows that our bodies may be made the instruments of good, and that our souls may be perverted by sin; that there is no creature of which a good use may not be made; and that both just and wicked men are often changed, the former by falling into sin, the latter by becoming virtuous. It is, therefore, a self-contradiction to pretend with the Manichees that our souls are the work of God, but our bodies of the devil, or the evil principle.1 St. Serapion wrote several learned letters, and a treatise on the Titles of the Psalms, quoted by St. Jerom, which are now lost. At his request, St. Athanasius composed several of his works against the Arians; and so great was his opinion of our saint, that he desired him to correct, or add to them what he thought wanting. Socrates relates2 that St. Serapion gave an abstract of his own life, and an abridged rule of Christian perfection in very few words, which he would often repeat, saying: The mind is purified by spiritual knowledge, (or by holy meditation and prayer,) the spiritual passions of the soul by charity, and the irregular appetites by abstinence and penance. This saint died in his banishment in the fourth age, and is commemorated on this day in the Roman Martyrology. See his works, those of St. Athanasius in several places, St. Jerom, Catal. c. 99. Socrates, l. 4. c. 23. Sozom. l. 4. c. 9. Photius, Cod. 85. Tillem. t. 8. Ceillier, t. 6. p. 36.
Note 1. A Latin translation of St. Serapions book against the Manichees, given by F. Turrianus the Jesuit, is published in the Bibliotheca Patrum, printed at Lyons, and in F. Canisiuss Lectiones Antiquæ, t. 5. part 1. p. 35. The learned James Basnage, who republished this work of Canisius, with curious additions and notes, has added the Greek text, t. 1. p. 37. [back]