Auxentius, Bishop of Durostorum

Auxentius, Bishop of Durostorum

Zlatomira Gerdzhikova


Institute fo Balkan Studies & Center of Thracology DOI
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences 27 June 2020
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Abstract: Auxentius is a 4th century bishop of Durostorum, student and associate of the Gothic bishop Ulfila. In 383 he was forced to leave his see and the Balkans and settled in Mediolanus as a headed the Arian community in the city.

Key words: Auxentius, Durostorum, Mediolanum, Ulfila


Auxentius of Durostorum is one of the few bishops from the Balkans with preserved texts – his panegyric on Ulfila, the bishop of the Goths.[1] However, we know too little about his life and work and most of the information is uncertain or the result of speculations. Scholars has established that Auxentius of Durostorum was the same Auxentius, Arian bishop of Milan, with whom Ambrose of Mediolanus was to meet for a debate before the emperor.[2] Although we do not have specific information that would allow us to say categorically that this is the same Auxentius, in this article we will present all available information.

Auxentius' text on Ulfila reaches us as part of the compilation of the fifth-century Arian bishop Maximinus, the so-called Dissertation Maximini (Dissertation Maximini contra Ambrosium).[3] Dissertatio Maximini is a compilation of various documents that include tests of adherents of the Nicene dogma - de Trinitate; Contra Aucentium; The synod; Fide I-II; the minutes of the Council of Aquileia of 381, as well as the writings of the Arian bishops Palladium of Ratiaria and Auxentius of Durostorum. The compilation is important mainly because of the preserved scholia and comments.

According to Liebeschutz, Maximinus included the panegyric of Auxentius in his compilation only to show the symbol of the faith of Ulfila, as well as his theological closeness to Palladium of Ratiaria and Secundian of Singidunum, condemned at the Council of Aquileia in 381.[4] The latter also attended the council in Constantinople in 383.[5]

Auxentius was ordained as bishop of Durostorum ca. 374 (Diss. Max. 24) We have no information about his time as bishop of the city, we only know that as a disciple of Ulfila he was a follower of the doctrine adopted at the Council of Rimini. From the text of Auxentius we learn only that he was a disciple of Ulfila from an early age and in 383 accompanied him to Constantinople, where the latter died at the age of 83. The rest of the testimony of the bishop does not contain personal information, but presents the dogmatic beliefs of the two bishops [6]and is a kind of praise for the work of Ulfila.

According to Auxentius himself, he was a follower of the late homoeans, such as Ulfila himself, Palladius, bishop of Ratiaria, and Secundian, bishop of Singidunum. According to Auxentius, Ulfila believed that the Father is the perfect and absolute Existence - he is unborn, beginningless, infinite, invisible, incalculable, incommunicable, unchangeable, exalted above all and surpasses all with his perfection (Diss. Max. 42-43). Unlike the Father, the Son is an immanent world. Auxentius defines him as the Son of the Great God, the Great Lord, the Great Ruler, the Great Sacrament, the Great Light, the Redeemer and Savior (Diss. Max. 44). "The Son is of the Father, after the Father, for the Father's sake, and for the glory of the Father." However, Auxentius rejects the idea of ​​the separation of God the Father and accepts the birth of the Son as the work of the will of God the Father, while the Nicene Creed teaches the birth of the Son by nature and not by the will of the Father. In the text of Auxentius that has come down to us, there is no statement about the time of the birth of the Son, an extremely important part of the teachings of Arius.

After the law of Theodosius I of 383 (C.Th. XIV.1.4), Auxentius was forced to leave his see and flee to Mediolanum.[7] It is from there that the testimonies of Auxentius, the Scythian Arian bishop who heads the local Arian community, come. The reason for the statement is the testimony of Ambrose himself, who in his Sermon against Auxentius on the surrender of one of the city's basilicas for the needs of the Arians identified him as a bishop of Scythia, who while he was there bore the name Mercury. However, Ambrose does not explicitly state that Auxentius was a bishop of Durostorum, but only that he committed acts of which he is ashamed to change his name. He does not deny, however, that he was a bishop and as such committed "shameful deeds.

If we accept this testimony as true, then the information about the bishop of Durostorum will significantly increase (Ambr. Ep. 75A (21A); Ep. 76 (20); Rufinus HE 2.15-16; Soz. HE 7.13; Socr. HE 5.11; Theod. HE 5.17; Paulinus V. Ambr. 12-13). In connection with the failed debate between the two bishops of Mediolanum, we have two letters from Ambrose and his sermon against Auxentius, as well as some information about the context of the conflict, which we find in church histories, the life of Ambrose and some separate letters and writings of bishops.

In 383, immediately after Ulfila's death, Emperor Theodosius took action to remove the Arian bishops from their sees. As a result of the application of this law, Auxentius was forced to leave his see at Durostorum and settle in Mediolanum, where, under the patronage of the mother of Emperor Valentinian II, Justina, the Arians had the opportunity to exist peacefully.[8] It was his stay in Mediolanum that would set him up as an opponent of Ambrose. Upon his arrival in the city, Auxentius became one of the key figures in the clash between the followers of the Arian and Nicaean views.

We should mention that Auxentius preached to the pagans in the city and tried to attract them to Christianity. Very interesting and important information if we combine it with the fact of the Goths presence in the city.[9]

The tense relations between the Arian and Nicaean communities in Mediolanum have not only their prehistory in the election of Ambrose as bishop after the death of the Arian bishop Auxentius, but also in the religious policy of the emperors Valentinian II and Theodosius I. While the minor Valentinian followed his mother's policy and supported Arianism, Theodosius I during the first years of his reign took a series of actions to destroy them. In the context of this complex politico-religious situation, Auxentius proved to be the leader of the Arian church in Mediolanum and the main hope for its survival under the aggressive attacks of Ambrose.

Relations between Arians and Catholics deteriorated further when, in 385, Valentinian asked Ambrose to provide one of the city's basilicas for the use of Arian worship.[10] Until then, the Arian community had been using the court, which was clearly insufficient. Ambrose explicitly refused.

We learn about the conflict of 386 mainly from two letters of Ambrose and his sermon against Auxentius. Pauline of Nola also mentions the event in his life on Ambrose, as well as some of the church historians (Ambr. Ep. 75A, 30; Ep, 76, 27; Paulinus, Vita Ambrosii, 12, 13, 20; Augustine, Confessions, 9.7. 15; Rufinus, HE, 2.15, 16; Theodoret, HE, 5.13; Socrates, HE, 5.11; Sozomen, HE, 7.13.). The information is very scarce and one-sided, which gives rise to different interpretations of the chronology and topography of the conflict.[11] All scholars agree only on the beginning of the conflict - 385. Then Ambrose was called to appear before the consistory of the emperor where he was asked to hand over one of the basilicas for use by the Arians for their religious needs. The dating is based on the sermon of Ambrose against Auxentius in 386, which mentions that that happened "the previous year."

The request to provide a church to the Arian party in Mediolanum did not happen for the first time in 385.

This is where the different versions of what happened next begin. Some scholars have the following events over a period of two years, beginning with Holy Week 385, and in particular, April 4, 385 (Friday). The court tried to "take" the basilica from the Catholics by persuasion and weak military pressure, but refused on Holy Tuesday. At the same time, Valentinian was not in town and will not return there until the end of the year. At the beginning of the following year, the emperor had already returned to Milan, presumably under the influence of his mother Justin and aided by Auxentius,[12] he issued a law on January 23, 386 (CTh. XVI.1.4), authorizing the Arians to perform their services and anyone who obstructs them must be held accountable for committing a criminal offense. According to Ambrose, it was Auxentius who was the basis for the enactment of the law of 386. We have little reason to doubt the bishop's assumption, especially after the events that followed.[13]

The subsequent action of the law was an invitation from the emperor to Ambrose to discuss the possible problems that the new law would create with Auxentius. The fourteen-year-old emperor is expected to be the judge of the public debate.[14] Ambrose refuses to take part in such a farce (Ambr. Ep. 75 (21)). The actions of the emperor are well known - the siege of the basilica, this time the siege lasted several days and nights. Supported by his Christian community, Ambrose succeeded in winning, and the emperor refused to take further action.

What is important for this article is the choice of Auxentius as an opponent of Ambrose in the public discussion. Such "challenges" are traditional for the Roman elite and usually involve well-trained members of the elite in the art of rhetoric. Ambrose's education and administrative experience before he was ordained a bishop are well known to us, which gives us the right to place Auxentius somewhere at his level of education.


[1] "Panegeric" is a term I use because the text doesn't have a "title". Some researchers call it a "letter," others a "praise."

[2] It is also argued that these are two different bishops. The last publication of the surviving manuscript of Auxentius was by Gryson (Gryson, 1980, 59), who did not accept the thesis that this was the bishop of Durostorum. Grison accepts Amrosius' claim to change the name as a cunning tactic to discredit him. Nouroy also takes Grison's side (Nouroy, 1988, 11, note 24).

[3] Bammel, 1980, 391–403.

[4] Liebeshcuetz, 2005.

[5] Heather, Matthews, 1991, 136.

[6] The theological side of Auxentius' text is examined in detail by Захаров, 2008.

[7] Most likely this happened at the end of 383 but no later than 384. Liebeschuetz, 2005, 129.

[8] McLynn, 1994, 184.

[9] McLynn ,1994, 187.

[10] Lenox-Conyngham, 1982, 353–363.

[11] Lenox-Conyngham, 1982, 354–360.

[12] Liebeschuetz, 2005, 132.

[13] McLynn, 1994, 187.

[14] Liebeschuetz, 2005, 132.


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