The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 7, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

He made a persuasive argument

Paphnutius lived in time of disagreement over orthodoxy

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Sometimes, people of our era believe that every situation we face is a new one for humanity.

So, it might be asked, what could a fourth century saint with the unusual name of Paphnutius have in common with 21st century Christians?

As it turns out, several things.

St. Paphnutius is sometimes called "the Great" to distinguish him from other people named Paphnutius - apparently it wasn't always such an unusual name.

He was an Egyptian and a desert monk under St. Anthony - the founder of Christian monasticism - until Paphnutius was named the Bishop of Upper Thebaid.

Because of his staunch faith, he was arrested during the persecution of Christians under Maximinus. As a penalty, he was tortured, losing his right eye and having the tendons cut in one leg. Next, he was condemned to the mines. That was a common and particularly severe penalty for Christians.

When he was released, Paphnutius turned his attention to opposing Arianism, a heresy that said the Father and the Son were not of the same substance. In opposing Arianism, Paphnutius was an ally of St. Athanasius and the other orthodox bishops.

Paphnutius was a leader at the Council of Nicaea - the first general church council - in 325. He convinced the other participants to allow married men to be ordained and consecrated as bishops, in keeping with the practice common in the early church (1Tm 3:1-7). He did oppose allowing priests or bishops to marry after ordination.

At the Council of Tyre, in 335, the orthodox bishops discovered that a majority of the other bishops were Arians. Looking around the room, Paphnutius noticed among the ranks of the Arians Bp. Maximus of Jerusalem, who had suffered greatly in the last persecution because of his orthodox beliefs.

So Paphnutius took Maximus outside and told him how it pained him, after all Maximus had been through, to see him join with the heretics. Maximus was so moved that he went back into the hall and sat among the allies of St. Athanasius. He was loyal to the church after that.

While the exact date of Paphnutius' death is not known, it is believed that he died in about 350. We celebrate his feast on Sept. 11.

As we listen to various debates in the church, including whether there should be a married clergy, remember St. Paphnutius and other early leaders who faced some of the questions with which we still grapple.

(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints and 365 Saints.)

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