Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

( Antiocheia, Antiochia )

I. ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE CITY

Of the vast empire conquered by Alexander the Great many states were formed, one of which comprised Syria and other countries to the east and west of it. This realm fell to the lot of one of the conqueror's generals, Seleucus Nicator, or Seleucus I, founder of the dynasty of the Seleucidæ. About the year 300 B. C. he founded a city on the banks of the lower Orontes, some twenty miles from the Syrian coast, and a short distance below Antigonia, the capital of his defeated rival Antigonus. The city, which was named Antioch, from Antiochus, the father of Seleucus, was meant to be the capital of the new realm. It was situated on the northern slope of Mount Silpius, on an agreeable and well-chosen site, and stretched as far as the Orontes, which there flows from east to west. It grew soon to large proportions; new quarters or suburbs were added to it, so that ultimately it consisted of four towns enclosed by as many distinct walls and by a common rampart, which with the citadel reached to the summit of Mount Silpius. When Syria was made a Roman province by Pompey (64 B. C. ), Antioch continued to be the metropolis of the East. It also became the residence of the legates, or governors, of Syria. In fact, Antioch, after Rome and Alexandria, was the largest city of the empire, with a population of over half a million. Whenever the emperors came to the East they honoured it with their presence. The Seleucidæ as well as the Roman rulers vied with one another in adorning and enriching the city with statues, theatres, temples, aqueducts, public baths, gardens, fountains, and cascades; a broad avenue with four rows of columns, forming covered porticoes on each side, traversed the city from east to west, to the length of several miles. Its most attractive pleasure resort was the beautiful grove of laurels and cypresses called Daphne, some four or five miles to the west of the city. It was renowned for its park-like appearance, for its magnificent temple of Apollo, and for the pompous religious festival held in the month of August. From it Antioch was sometimes surnamed Epidaphnes. The population included a great variety of races. There were Macedonians and Greeks, native Syrians and Phœnecians, Jews and Romans, besides a contingent from further Asia ; many flocked there because Seleucus had given to all the right of citizenship. Nevertheless, it remained always predominantly a Greek city. The inhabitants did not enjoy a great reputation for learning or virtue ; they were excessively devoted to pleasure, and universally kown for their witticisms and sarcasm. Not a few of their peculiar traits have reached us through the sermons of St. John Chrysostom , the letters of Libanius, the "Misopogon" of Julian, and other literary sources. Their loyalty to imperial authority could not always be depended upon. In spite of these defects there was at all times in Antioch a certain number of men, especially in the Jewish colony, who were given to serious thoughts, even to thoughts of religion. After the fifth century Antioch lost much of its size and importance. It was visited by frequent earthquakes, by not less than ten from the second century B. C. to the end of the sixth century of the Christian era. Twice it was captured and sacked by the Persians, in A. D. 260 and 540. On the latter occasion it was almost completely destroyed, but was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian I (527-565) on a much smaller scale, and called Theopolis. It is said that no small portion of his walls remained until 1825, a specimen of the military architecture of the sixth century. In 638 it was taken by the Mohammedans, was restored to the Byzantine Empire in 969, and reconquered by the Seljuks in 1084. From 1098 until 1268 it was in the hands of the Crusaders and their descendants; the Sultan Bibars of Egypt took it in 1268; and in 1517 it came with Syria under the Turkish Empire. The former populous metropolis of the East is now the small town of Antakia with about 20,000 inhabitants (see A LEPPO ).

II. CHRISTIANITY OF ANTIOCH

Since the city of Antioch was a great centre of government and civilization, the Christian religion spread thither almost from the beginning. Nicolas, one of the seven deacons in Jerusalem, was from Antioch ( Acts 6:5 ). The seed of Christ's teaching was carried to Antioch by some disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene, who fled from Jerusalem during the persecution that followed upon the martyrdom of St. Stephen ( Acts 11:19-20 ). They preached the teachings of Jesus, not only to the Jewish colony but also to the Greeks or Gentiles, and soon large numbers were converted. The mother-church of Jerusalem having heard of the occurrence sent Barnabas thither, who called Saul from Tarsus to Antioch (ib., 22, 25). There they laboured for a whole year with such success that the followers of Christ were acknowledged as forming a distinct community, "so that at Antioch the disciples were first named Christians " (ib., 26). Their charity was exhibited by the offerings sent to the famine-stricken brethren in Judea. St. Peter himself came to Antioch ( Galatians 2:11 ), probably about the year 44, and according to all appearances lived there for some time. The community of Antioch, being composed in part of Greeks or Gentiles, had views of its own on the character and conditions of the new religion. There was a faction among the disciples in Jerusalem which maintained that the Gentile converts to Christianity should pass first through Judaism by submitting to the observances of the Mosaic law , such as circumcision and the like. This attitude seemed to close the gates to the Gentiles, and was strongly contested by the Christians of Antioch. Their plea for Christian liberty was defended by their leaders, Paul and Barnabas, and received full recognition in the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem ( Acts 15:22-32 ). Later on St. Paul defends this principle at Antioch even in the face of Peter ( Galatians 2:11 ). Antioch became soon a centre of missionary propaganda. It was thence that St. Paul and his companions started on their journey for the conversion of the nations. The Church of Antioch was also fully organized almost from the beginning. It was one of the few original churches which preserved complete the catalogue of its bishops. The first of these bishops, Evodius, reaches back to the Apostolic age. At a very early date the Christian community of Antioch became the central point of all the Christian interests in the East. After the fall of Jerusalem ( A. D. 70) it was the real metropolis of Christianity in those countries.

In the meantime the number of Christians grew to such an extent, that in the first part of the fourth century Antioch was looked upon as practically a Christian city. Many churches were erected there for the accommodation of the worshippers of Christ. In the fourth century there was still a basilica called "the ancient" and "apostolic". It was probably one of the oldest architectural monuments of Christianity ; an ancient tradition maintained that it was originally the house of Theophilus, the friend of St. Luke ( Acts 1:1 ). There were also sanctuaries dedicated to the memory of the great Apostles, Peter, Paul, and John. Saint Augustine speaks (Sermo, ccc., n. 5) of a "basilica of the holy Machabees " at Antioch, a famous shrine from the fourth to the sixth century (Card. Rampolla, in "Bessarione", Rome, 1897-98, I-II). Among the pagan temples dedicated to Christian uses was the celebrated Temple of Fortune (Tychæion). In it the Christians of Antioch enshrined the body of their great bishop and martyr Ignatius. There was also a martyrium or memorial shrine of Babylas, a third-century martyr and bishop of Antioch, who suffered death in the reign of Decius. For the development of Christian domestic architecture in the vicinity of the great city see De Vogué, "Architecture civile et religieuse de la Syrie Centrale" (Paris, 1867-77), and the similar work of Howard Crosby Butler (New York, 1903). The very important monastic architecture of the vicinity will be described under S IMEON S TYLITES and B YZANTINE A RCHITECTURE . The Emperor Constantine (306-337) built a church there, which he adorned so richly that it was the admiration of all contemporaries (St. John Chrys., "Hom. in Ep. ad Eph.", X, 2; Eus., "Vita Const.", III, 50, and "De laud. Const.", c. 9). It was completely pillaged, but not destroyed, by Chosroes in 540. the Church of Antioch showed itself worthy of being the metropolis of Christianity in the east. In the ages of persecution it furnished a very large quota of martyrs, the bishops setting the example. It may suffice to mention St. Ignatius at the beginning of the second century; Asclepiades under Septimius Severus (193-211); and Babylas under Decius (249-251). It produced also a number of great men, who either in writing or otherwise distinguished themselves in the service of Christianity. The letters of the afore-mentioned St. Ignatius are very famous. Theophilus wrote in the latter part of the second century an elaborate defense and explanation of the Christian religion. In later ages there were such men as Flavian, who did much to reunite the Christians of Antioch divided by the Arian disputes; St. John Chrysostom, afterwards Bishop of Constantinople, and Theodoret, afterwards Bishop of Cyrus in Syria. Several heresies took their rise in Antioch. In the third century Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch, professed erroneous doctrines. Arianism had its original root not in Alexandria but in the great Syrian city, Antioch; Nestorianism sprang from it through Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius of Constantinople. A peculiar feature of Antiochene life was the frequency of conflict between the Jews and the Christians ; several grievous seditions and massacres are noted by the historians from the end of the fourth to the beginning of the seventh century (Leclercq, Dict. d'arch. et de liturg. chrét., I, col 2396).

III. PATRIARCHATE OF ANTIOCH

When the early organization of the Church was developed, the Church of Antioch, owing to its origin and influence, could not fail to become a centre of special higher jurisdiction. Traces of this power were seen in the very first ages. Towards the end of the second century Serapion, Bishop of Antioch gave instructions on the Apocryphal Gospel of St. Peter to the Christians of Rhossus, a town not of Syria but of Cilicia. Tradition has it that the same Serapion consecrated the third Bishop of Edessa, which was then outside of the Roman Empire. The councils held about the middle of the third century in Antioch called together bishops from Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and the provinces of Eastern Asia Minor. Dionysius of Alexandria spoke of these bishops as forming the episcopate of the Orient, among whose members Demetrian of Antioch was mentioned in the first place. At the Council of Ancyra (314) presided over by Bishop Vitalis of Antioch, about the same countries were represented through the bishops of the principal cities. In general, the Churches in the "East", as this complexus of Roman provinces was known (cf. Oriens Christianus), gravitated towards the Church of Antioch, whose bishop from remote antiquity exercised a certain jurisdiction over them. This custom was sanctioned by the Council of Nicæa (325). The Fathers of this assembly decreed in the sixth canon that the privileges of the Church of Antioch should be maintained. According to the second canon of the Council of Constantinople (381) the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Antioch comprised, and was restricted to the civil diocese of the Orient which included all the eastern-most provinces of the Roman Empire. In the Council of Ephesus (431) the Bishops of Cyprus were declared independent of Antioch; and in that of Chalcedon (451) the three provinces of Palestine were detached from Antioch and placed under the Bishop of Jerusalem (see C YPRUS ). From the foregoing it is evident that, while in the early ages the jurisdiction of Antioch extended over the Christian communities in the countries outside the Roman Empire, its proper limits were Syria, Palestine, and Eastern Asia Minor. Gradually it was so restricted that by the middle of the fifth century it was confined to the northern part of the civil diocese of the Orient and the countries outside of the Roman Empire. The title given to the Bishop of Antioch on account of this higher jurisdiction was that of "Partriarch", which he held in common with other dignitaries of a similar rank. His jurisdiction could be exercised not only with regard to the faithful within his territory, but also over the ordinary and the metropolitan bishops of his patriarchate. It seems worthy of mention here that early in the fourth century, the Roman Church possessed at Antioch both urban and rural properties, both in the old and the "new" parts of the city, and even in the Jewish quarter. ( Liber Pontificalis ed. Duchesne, I, 177, 195; cf. cxlix sq.) The patriarchate of Antioch lost much of its importance after the middle of the fifth century owing to many adverse circumstances. The Bishops of Constantinople, who aspired to the first rank in the Eastern Church , acquired gradually, and long maintained, a controlling influence over the Church of Antioch. In the latter part of the fifth century the Monophisites, under Peter Fullo, endeavoured to take possession of the patriarchal see. After the death of their leader Severus (539) they elected their own patriarchs of Antioch. During the centuries that followed the conquest of Antioch by the Saracens (638), the succession of orthodox incumbents of the patriarchal see was irregular ; and they had to suffer much from the new conquerors of the city, who showed a marked preference for the Monophysite patriarchs (see M OHAMMEDANISM ). When the Greek schism was consummated in the eleventh century, the orthodox patriarchate of Antioch, owing to traditional Byzantine influence, was drawn into it, and remained schismatic despite repeated efforts of the Apostolic See for a reunion. At present the Greek patriarch resides in Damascus, the city of Antioch having long since lost all political importance. It was not only the Monophysites who dismembered thus early the patriarchate of Antioch. The Nestorians who emigrated into Persia after their condemnation at Ephesus (431) soon became so strong that at the end of the fifth century their bishop, Babæus of Seleucia, made himself independent of Antioch, and established a new patriarchate with its centre in Seleucia, afterwards in Bagdad. Those Syrians who remained united with Rome (now known as the Chaldæans) continued to acknowledge a patriarch of their own. He is called Patriarch of Babylonia and lives in Mosul. Among the other oriental communities united with Rome there are three which have all their patriarchs of Antioch, viz. the Maronites, the Melchites, and the Catholic Syrians (see G REEK C HURCH , U NIAT ).

IV. LATIN PATRIARCHATE OF ANTIOCH

When the crusaders took possession of Antioch in 1098, they reinstated at first the Greek patriarch, then John IV. About two years afterwards the said dignitary found that he was unfitted to rule over Western Christians, and withdrew to Constantinople. Thereupon the Latin Christians elected (1100) a patriarch of their own, an ecclesiastic by the name of Bernard who had come to the Orient with the crusaders. From that time Antioch had its Latin patriarchs, until in 1268 Christian, the last incumbent, was put to death by the Sultan Bibars, during the conquest of the city. The Greeks also continued to choose their patriarchs of Antioch, but these lived generally in Constantinople. The jurisdiction of the Latin patriarchs in Antioch extended over the three feudal principalities of Antioch, Edessa, and Tripolis. Towards the end of the twelfth century the island of Cyprus was added. In practice they were far more dependent upon the popes than their predecessors, the Greek patriarchs. After the fall of Antioch (1268) the popes still appointed patriarchs, who, however, were unable to take possession of the see. Since the middle of the fourteenth century they have been only titular dignitaries. The title of Latin Patriarch of Antioch is yet conferred; but the recipient resides in Rome and is a member of the chapter of the basilica of St. Mary Major.

V. SYNODS OF ANTIOCH

Owing to the special position of Antioch many synods were held there. A belief, that some find expressed for the first time by Pope Innocent I (407-417; Mansi, Conc., III, 1055) but that others locate about 787 ( Herder, K. L., I, 112), was current in the past that the Apostles held a council in Antioch (see C ANONS, A POSTOLIC ). We are informed by this text (Pitra, Jur. Eccl. Gr. Hist., I, 90-93) that the name of Christians was formally assigned to the followers of the Saviour by the Apostles, and that special instructions were given to the Apostolic missionaries and to their converts. These canons, according to Cardinal Hergenröther ( Herder, K. L., l. c.), are apocryphal, "a mere compilation from the data of the (canonical) Acts and from other writers". About the year 251 a council was held, or planned to be held, at Antioch, on the subject of Novatianism to which Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, was inclined. The bishops chiefly interested in it, apart from Fabius, were Helenus of Tarsus, Firmilian of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, and Theocritus of Cæsarea in Palestine, who invited also Dionysius of Alexandria. The matter had no further consequence, since Fabius died shortly afterwards and was succeeded by Demetrian, whose views on the reconciliation of the apostates were less extreme. Between the years 264 and 268 three different synods were held on account of erroneous doctrines on the nature of Jesus Christ and His relation to God, attributed to Paul, Bishop of Antioch, and a native of Samosata. Bishops from Syria, Palestine, Arabia, Cilicia, Cappadocia, Pontus, and Lycaonia took part in these deliberations. Finally, in the third synod, they deposed Paul, convicted him of heresy, and elected Domnus in his place. Under the protection of the Princess Zenobia of Palmyra, Paul was able to maintain himself for some time. He was expelled in the end (272) by a decree of the Emperor Aurelian (270-275).

Most of the synods held during the fourth century reflected the struggles that followed upon the Arian controversy. The council of 330 deposed the orthodox Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch ; and for a long time the see was in possession of the Arians. In the council held in 340 Athanasius of Alexandria was deposed, and a certain Gregory, from Cappadocia, was consecrated in his stead. The intruder could take possession of his see only under a military escort. The deposition of Athanasius was ratified in the synod of the following year (341), which was held on the occasion of the dedication of the "great", or "golden" church mentioned above as built by Constantine. The twenty-five disciplinary canons passed by this council were afterwards received by the universal Church. The four creeds adopted, though not heretical, still depart from the symbol of faith made at Nicæa. Several other synods were held in quick succession. In that of 344 the Arian bishop, Stephen of Antioch, was deposed for misconduct. In the symbol of faith adopted by this council the Semi-Arian views found expression; at the same time it was directed against the Arians, the Sabellians, but also against St. Athanasius. The synods of 358, 361, and 362 revealed and asserted the predominance of the Arians. The Bishop Eudoxius condemned both the orthodox and the Semi-Arian views. A new bishop was elected in the person of Meletius, who was thought by many to be on the side of Arianism, and the Arians proclaimed their loyalty to the party in spite of defections. At the accession of the Emperor Jovian (363) a council was held in Antioch, at which the bishops agreed to the Nicene faith, though they added at the end a Semi-Arian declaration. At last, in 368, a large number of Oriental bishops, assembled in Antioch, broke with Arianism altogether. They gave their assent to the Nicene faith as it had been expressed by Pope Damasus and a Roman synod in 369; viz., that the Father and Son, and Holy Ghost were one substance. The synod held in 388 forbade any revenge for the death of a bishop killed by the heathens ; another synod held in 390 condemned the sect of the Messalians. The synods of the fifth and sixth centuries were usually concerned with the theological controversies of the time. Thus the council of 424 decreed the expulsion of Pelagius from the city. Phases of the Nestorian and Monophysite controversies were dealt with in the synods of 432, 447, 451, 471, 478, 481, 482, 508, 512, 565. A synod of the year 445 rendered a decision in the matter of Athanasius, Bishop of Perrha, accused of misconduct and brought before the patriarch of Antioch. Finally, a synod held about the year 542 was caused by the Origenistic controversies in Palestine. During the period of Latin domination two synods were held at Antioch. In 1139 Radulf, the second Latin Patriarch of Antioch, was deposed for having aspired to complete independence from Rome, and for cruel treatment inflicted on some ecclesiastics. In 1204 the Cardinal-Legate Peter decided certain claims on the principality of Antioch in favour of the Count of Tripolis, against Armenia, which was placed under interdict. Ecclesiastical life in Antioch became all but extinct from the time that the city was permanently taken by the Mohammedans.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Proverbs 3:27-34
27 Refuse no kindness to those who have a right to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
2 Whoever lives blamelessly, who acts uprightly, who ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 8:16-18
16 'No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Thomas of Villanueva
September 22: Augustinian bishop. Born at Fuentellana, Castile, Spain, he was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter