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Aelia Flaccilla

Empress, wife of Theodosius the Great, died c. A.D. 385 or 386

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Flaccilla (Plakilla), AELIA, empress, wife of Theodosius the Great, died c. A.D. 385 or 386. Like Theodosius himself, his first wife, Aelia Flaccilla, was of Spanish descent. She may have been the daughter of Claudius Antonius, Prefect of Gaul, who was consul in 382. Her marriage with Theodosius probably took place in the year 376, when his father, the comes Theodosius, fell into disfavor and he himself withdrew to Cauca in Gallaecia, for her eldest son, afterwards Emperor Arcadius, was born towards the end of the following year. In the succeeding years she presented two more children to her husband, Honorius (384), who later became emperor, and Pulcheria, who died in early childhood, shortly before her mother. Gregory of Nyssa states expressly that she had three children; consequently the Gratian mentioned by St. Ambrose, together with Pulcheria, was probably not her son. Flaccilla was, like her husband, a zealous supporter of the Nicene Creed and prevented the conference between the emperor and the Arian Eunomius (Sozomen, Hist. eccl., VII, vi). On the throne she was a shining example of Christian virtue and ardent charity. St. Ambrose describes her as “a soul true to God” (Fidelis anima Deo.—”De obitu Theodosii”, n. 40, in P.L., XVI, 1462). In his panegyric St. Gregory of Nyssa bestowed the highest praise on her virtuous life and pictured her as the helpmate of the emperor in all good works, an ornament of the empire, a leader of justice, an image of beneficence. He praises her as filled with zeal for the Faith, as a pillar of the Church, as a mother of the indigent. Theodoret in particular exalts her charity and benevolence (Hist. eccles., V, xix, ed. Valesius, III, 192 sq.). He tells us how she personally tended cripples, and quotes a saying of hers: “To distribute money belongs to the imperial dignity, but I offer up for the imperial dignity itself personal service to the Giver.” Her humility also attracts a special meed of praise from the church historian. Flaccilla was buried in Constantinople, St. Gregory of Nyssa delivering her funeral oration. She is venerated in the Greek Church as a saint, and her feast is kept on September 14. The Bollandists, (Acta SS., September, IV, 142) are of the opinion that she is not regarded as a asaint but only as a venerable, but her name stands in the Greek Menaea and Synaxaria followed by the words of eulogy, as is the case with the other saints (cf. e.g. Synaxarium eccl. Constantinoplae, ed. Delehaye, Brussels, 1902, col. 46, under September 14)

J. P. KIRSCH


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