Acacius, BISHOP OF BEREA, b. in Syria c. 322; d. c. 432. While still very young he became a monk in the famous community of solitaries, presided over by Asterius, at a place just outside Antioch. He seems to have been an ardent champion of orthodoxy during the Arian troubles, and suffered greatly for his courage and constancy. After Eusebius of Samosata returned from exile, on the death of Valens in 378, he gave public recognition to the great services of Acacius and ordained him to the See of Beroea. We next hear of Acacius in Rome, apparently as a deputy on the part of Meletius and the Fathers of the Antiochene Synod, when the questions connected with the heresy of Apollinaris came up for discussion before Pope Damasus. While fulfilling this difficult embassy he attended the meeting of the prelates summoned to decide upon the errors of Apollinaris, and subscribed the profession of faith in the “Two Natures.” It was thus largely due to his efforts that the various schismatical movements at Antioch were ended. A little later we find him at Constantinople, whither he had gone to take part in the second General Council, convened in 381 to reemphasize the Nicene definitions and to put down the errors of the Macedonians or Pneumatomachians. Meletius of Antioch died in the same year and Acacius, unfortunately, took part in the illegitimate consecration of Flavian. For this constructively schismatical proceeding-schismatical in the sense that it was an explicit violation of the agreement entered into between Paulinus and Meletius and tended unhappily to keep the Eustathian party in power Acacius fell under the displeasure of Pope Damasus, who refused to hold communion with him and his supporters. This Roman excommunication lasted some ten or eleven years until the Council of Capua readmitted him to unity in 391 or 392 (Labbe, Conc., II, 1072). In 398 Acacius, who was now in his seventy-sixth year, was charged once more with a delicate mission to the Roman Church. Having been selected by Isidore of Alexandria to convey to Pope Siricius the news of St. John Chrysostom’s election to the See of Constantinople, he was especially exhorted by the Egyptian metropolitan to do all in his power to remove the prejudice which still existed in the West against Flavian and his party. In this, as in the previous embassy, he displayed a tactfulness that disarmed all opposition. The reader will find in the pages of Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret an estimate of the high value which the entire Oriental episcopate put upon the services of Acacius, who is described as “famous throughout the world” (Theod., V, xxiii). We now come to the two incidents in the career of this remarkable man which throw so perplexing a light upon the problem of his real character that he may be called one of the enigmas of ecclesiastical history. We refer to his sustained hostility towards St. John Chrysostom and to his curious treatment of Cyril of Alexandria during the Nestorian controversy.
Acacius was always an avowed rigorist in conduct and enjoyed great repute for piety. Sozomen (VII, xxviii) tells us that he was “rigid in observing all the regulations of the ascetic life” and that when raised to the episcopate his life was lived practically and austerely” in the open”. Theodoret is consistent in his admiration for his many episcopal qualities and calls him “an athlete of virtue” (V, iv). Early in the episcopate of St. John Chrysostom, in the year 398, Acacius came to Constantinople, where he was treated with less distinction than he had apparently looked for. Whatever may have been the nature of the slight put upon him, he seems to have felt it keenly; for Palladius, St. John’s biographer, records a most unepiscopal saying of the injured prelate to the effect that he would one day give his brother of Constantinople a taste of his own hospitality—ego auto artow chutran (Pallad., Vita Chrys., VI, viii, in P.G., XLVII, 22-29). It is certain, at any rate, that from this time forth, Acacius showed himself indefatigable in working for the great orator-bishop’s removal and was not the least active of those who took part in the disgraceful “Synod of the Oak” in the year 403. Indeed, he was one of the notorious “four” whom the Saint particularly named as men at whose hands he could not expect to obtain common justice. In every one of the various synods convened for the Saint’s undoing, the restless old man of Berea took a leading and almost acrimonious part, and even made a laborious, but happily futile, effort to win over Pope Innocent to his uncharitable view. He was excommunicated for his pains and remained under ban until 414. Nor was his implacability quenched either by his great antagonist’s death or by the lapse of time. Fourteen years after St. John had died in exile, Acacius is found writing to Atticus of Constantinople, in 421, to apologize for the conduct of Theodotus of Antioch, who had, in spite of his better judgment, placed the Saint’s name upon the diptychs. The same perplexing inconsistency of character, considering his advanced years, his profession, and the wide repute for sanctity he enjoyed, may be seen also in the attitude which Acacius maintained towards Nestorius. When his violent plea for leniency towards the heresiarch failed to produce its effect, he worked adroitly to have Cyril hoist with his own petard and charged with Apollinarianism at Ephesus. Acacius spent the last years of his life in trying, with edifying inconsistency, to pour the water of his charity upon the smouldering embers of the feuds which Nestorianism had left in its train. His letters to Cyril and to Pope Celestine make curious reading on this score; and he has the amazing distinction of having inspired St. Epiphanius to write his “History of Heresies” (Haer., i, 2, in P.G., XLI, 176). He died at the extraordinary age of one hundred and ten years.