Heretical sect which originated in Mesopotamia about 360 and survived in the East until the ninth century
Messalians (Praying folk; participle Pa’el of t.6Y, Aramaic for “to pray”), an heretical sect which originated in Mesopotamia about 360 and survived in the East until the ninth century. They are also called Euchites from the Greek translation of their Oriental name (euchetai from euchomai, to pray); Adelphians from their first leader; Lampetians from Lampetius, their first priest (ordained about 458); Enthusiasts from their peculiar tenet of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost by Whom they thought themselves inspired or possessed (enthous). The non-Christian sect of the Euphemites were also called Messalians, and Epiphanius (Hoer., lxxx), our sole informant about these, considers them the forerunners of the Christian Messalians. The non-Christian Messalians are said to have admitted a plurality of gods, but to have worshipped only one, the Almighty (Pantokrator). They were forcibly suppressed by Christian magistrates and many of them put to death. Hence they became self-styled Martyriani. The Christian Messalians were a kind of Eastern Circumeellions or vagrant Quietists. Sacraments they held to be useless, though harmless, the only spiritual power being prayer, by which one drove out the evil spirit which baptism had not expelled, received the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and arrived at union with God, becoming so perfect that the passions ceased to trouble. They disregarded discipline in the matter of fasting, wandered from place to place, and in summer were accustomed to sleep in the streets. To avoid persecution they would conform to ecclesiastical usages, profess orthodoxy, and deny any heretical doctrines ascribed to them. They engaged in no occupations, were solely occupied in prayer, as they said, or rather in sleep, as Theodoret sarcastically remarks. The intensity of their prayer brought them into immediate communication with the Godhead. When they had reached the passionless state (apatheia, “apathy”), they saw the Trinity, the three Divine Persons becoming one and dwelling within them. They likewise saw the evil spirits that go through the world for the ruin of souls, and trod them under foot. In fact every man had within him a demon, who could only be replaced by the Holy Ghost. Even Christ’s body was full of demons once. Flavian, the Bishop of Antioch, tried to suppress them in his city about 376. By feigning sympathy he made Adelphius disclose his real doctrines; and then he banished him and his followers. They then wandered to the southeast of Asia Minor. Amphilochius of Iconium caused them to be again condemned at the Synod of Side (388 or 390). Letoius, Bishop of Melitene, finding some monasteries tainted with this Quietism, burnt them and drove the wolves from the sheepfold, as Theodoret narrates. The “Asceticus”, “that filthy book of this heresy”, as it is called in the public acts of the Third General Council (431), was condemned at Ephesus, after it had already been condemned by a Council of Constantinople in 426 and by the local council at which Amphilochius of Side presided. Yet the sect continued to exist. At first it included only laymen. Lampetius, one of the leaders after the middle of the fifth century was a priest, having been ordained by Alypius of Caesarea. He was degraded from his priesthood on account of unpriestly conduct. He wrote a book called “The Testament”. Salmon refers to a fragment of an answer by Severus of Antioch to this work of Lampetius (Wolf, “Anecdota Grwca”, III, 182). In Armenia in the middle of the fifth century strict decrees were issued against them, and they were especially accused of immorality; so that their very name in Armenian became the equivalent for “filthy”. The Nestorians in Syria did their best to stamp out the evil by legislation; the Messalians ceased to exist under that name, but revived under that of the Bogomili. In the West they seem hardly to have been known; when the Marcianists, who held somewhat the same tenets as the Messalians, were mentioned to Gregory the Great, he professed never to have heard of the Marcian heresy.
J. P. ARENDZEN