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Asterius the Sophist


Born in Cappadocia; died c. a.d. 341. He was a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, but unlike his teacher, who died a martyr, Asterius apostatized in the persecution of Maximinus. St. athanasius, who is the chief source for his life, calls him the "sacrificer" because of his apostasy, and, on his return to the faith, the "advocate" of Arian doctrines. As a well-trained sophistSt. Athanasius calls him "the many-headed sophist"he was a persuasive speaker and a voluminous writer. He exercised considerable influence as he traveled from place to place, participating even in synodal discussions. He has been characterized as perhaps the first Arian writer. At any rate, Arius employed his works in his polemic against the Nicene teachings, and by his own example encouraged their circulation. The Syntagmation of Asterius, known only through excerpts quoted by Athanasius and Marcellus of Ancyra, is Arian in its treatment of the Son. According to Marcellus, Asterius drew copiously on the writings or official pronouncements of Eusebius of Nicomedia and other Arian-minded bishops to support his position. His Refutation of Marcellus is lost. The church historian Socrates (Hist. eccl. 1.36) stated that Asterius accused Marcellus of sabellianism; St. Jerome (De vir. ill. 94), that he wrote commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans, on the Gospels, and on the Psalms, and many other works, all of which were long regarded as lost. Since the 1930s, however, M. Richard and E. Skard have discovered 31 homilies, of which 29 are on the Psalms, and 27 fairly large fragments of the Commentary on the Psalms. Nine of the homilies were preached in Easter Week. These finds not only reveal the ability of Asterius as a preacher and theologian, but also furnish valuable information on Antiochene exegesis. It is now clear that Asterius represented a moderate form of Arianism.

Bibliography: j. quasten, Patrology 3:194197, with copious bibliog. g. bardy, Recherches sur St. Lucien d'Antioche et son école (Paris 1936). e. skard, "Asterios von Amaseia und Amasios der Sophist," Symbolae Osloenses 20 (1940) 86132.

[m. r. p. mcguire]

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