The thirteenth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (231-247) (feast day: 8 Kiyahk). He studied theology at the CATECHETICAL SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA under ORIGEN, who selected him as his assistant to teach beginning students (Eusebius Historia ecclesiastica 6. 15). When Origen had difficulties with the authorities, Heraclas succeeded him as head of the school; he taught the advanced classes. He retained his veneration for his mentor, though he differed with him on many theological issues and supported the decisions of the synods convened by DEMETRIUS I in condemning Origen’s teachings and doctrines.
He was elected to succeed Demetrius as patriarch. Heraclas maintained the principles of his predecessor but attempted in vain to bring Origen back from Palestine. He nominated DIONYSIUS THE GREAT (later patriarch of Alexandria) to take his place at the Catechetical School. A new convert from paganism, Dionysius attained tremendous knowledge of the scriptures and orthodox doctrines and assisted Heraclas in the discharge of his episcopal duties.
Persecution of Christians intensified under Emperor Maximinus, who issued special orders to concentrate on killing the church leaders responsible for combating paganism and spreading Christianity. It was on this occasion that Origen wrote his treatise on martyrdom, which he dedicated to Ambrosius and Protecticus, two presbyters from Caesarea who suffered excruciating tortures at the hands of imperial agents.
The personality and vast religious knowledge of Heraclas attracted many notable figures to Alexandria, among whom Africanus the historian and annalist stands out. The status of metropolitan Alexandria and the Coptic church rose to great heights in the Christian world, and with it the stature of the patriarchate of Heraclas, who presumably was the first head of the church to bear the title of POPE. He remained at the helm of the Coptic church for sixteen years.
- Altaner, B. Patrology, Eng. trans. H. Graef. London, 1958.
- Bardenhewer, O. Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur, 3 vols. Freiburg, Germany, 1902-1912.
- Duchesne, L. Early History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, pp. 341ff. London, 1909.
- Quasten, J. Patrology, 3 vols. Utrecht and Antwerp, 1975.
AZIZ S. ATIYA