SARAPION OF TMUIS, SAINT, or Serapion
A fourth-century bishop of Tmuis who supported the orthodox patriarch Saint ATHANASIUS I THE APOSTOLIC in the Arian controversy (feast day, 21 March). Apparently he received a good education because Saint Jerome claims that the epithet Scholasticus was added to his name because of his eloquence and erudition. He was a monk and an abbot and was bishop of Tmuis in the Delta by 339, for Athanasius addressed his festal letter for that year to Sarapion as bishop. Sarapion was a disciple of Saint ANTONY OF EGYPT, who, on his death in 356, left Sarapion one of his two sheepskins.
Sarapion directed questions about the Holy Spirit to Athanasius, who in 359-360 wrote him at least four letters on that subject. Athanasius also wrote an account (356-358) of the death of the heretical theologian ARIUS, which he sent to Sarapion. At about the same time, or slightly earlier, Athanasius, then in exile, sent an embassy, including Sarapion, to represent him before Emperor Constantius II. From this evidence, it appears that Sarapion was Athanasius’ closest ally and colleague among the bishops of Egypt, although from the style of Athanasius’ letters, Sarapion was probably the junior partner.
Far from conciliating the emperor to Athanasius, Sarapion was deposed by Constantius and became known as a “confessor.” When Epiphanius (Panarion 73.26) states that Ptolemaeus went to the Synod of Seleucia in 359 as the bishop of Tmuis, one cannot be certain whether Sarapion was still in exile (making Ptolemaeus an Arian replacement) or had died.
Sarapion wrote numerous works, most of which have not survived. Jerome states that he wrote a commentary on the titles of the Psalms and a number of epistles to various people. There was once a collection of at least twenty-three of his letters in circulation, but few of them are extant, the longest being one written to some monks at Alexandria. Sarapion wrote a brief letter to an ailing bishop, Eudoxius, and one to the disciples of Antony on the occasion of their leader’s death in 356.
Sarapion’s best-known work, an attack against MANICHAEANISM, is a good example of polemic biblical argumentation, even if it suffers from some ignorance of Manichaean theology. In this work it is noteworthy that Sarapion in discussing the nature of Christ uses the term homoios (“of like substance”) not homoousius (“of one substance”), as Athanasius would undoubtedly have preferred.
A sacramentary (technically, an euchologion) in a manuscript from the Monastery of Mount Athos is comprised of thirty prayers, followed by a treatise on the Father and Son. Sarapion’s name is found in two of the prayers, and many assume that he is responsible for the entire collection, which is dated to the middle of the fourth century. This sacramentary contains the first definite use of the Sanctus in eucharistic liturgy.
Other writings of doubtful authenticity have been ascribed to Sarapion, but none with the certainty of those mentioned above.
- Brightman, F. E. “The Sacramentary of Serapion of Thmuis.” Journal of Theological Studies 1 (1900):88-113, 247-77.
- Casey, R. P. Serapion of Thmuis Against the Manichees. Harvard Theological Studies 15. Cambridge, Mass., 1931.
- Quasten, J. Patrology, Vol. 3. The Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature. Utrecht, 1960.
C. WILFRED GRIGGS