TRANSLATION OF BISHOP
The transference of a bishop from the see for which he was consecrated to some other diocese. This practice is forbidden by Canon 15 of the Council of NICAEA (325), which states: “On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must be wholly done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one after this decree of the holy and great Synod shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.” This prohibition is based on the assumption that translation is motivated by ambition, which is detrimental to the proper organization of the various church parishes, both large and small.
Saint ATHANASIUS (326-373) condemned the practice of abandoning one’s parish as tantamount to divorce on the part of the bishop, since his parish is his spouse.
The fourteenth Apostolical Canon allows the translation of bishops only for valid reasons: “A bishop is not to be allowed to leave his own parish, and pass over into another, although he may be pressed by many to do so, unless there be some proper cause constraining him, as if he can confer some greater benefit upon the persons of that place in the word of godliness. And this must be done not of his own accord, but by the judgment of many bishops, and at their earnest exhortation.”
On this basis, Alexandrus was translated from the bishopric of Cappadocia to Jerusalem, an episode commemorated in the Coptic Synaxarion on 12 Baramudah and 1 Baramhat and mentioned by various church historians.
Canon 21 of the Council of Antioch (341) decrees that “a bishop may not be translated from one parish to another, either intruding himself of his own suggestion, or under compulsion by the people, or by constraint of the bishops, but he shall remain in the Church to which he was allotted by God from the beginning, and shall not be translated from it, according to the decree formerly passed on the subject.”
GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS (329-389) was consecrated against his will in 372 as priest to the see of Sasima, a small village in Cappadocia. Nevertheless, he remained in Nazianzus as a suffragan to help his father, the bishop of Nazianzus, until the latter’s death in 374. Gregory then retired to Seleucia, but he was called to Constantinople in 379 to support the adherents to the Nicene faith, who had neither pastor nor church. During the Council of Constantinople, he was appointed bishop of Constantinople. The Egyptian and Macedonian bishops who attended the council disputed the validity of his appointment. He resigned saying, “I will be a second Jonah. I will give myself for the salvation of our ship [the church], though I am an innocent of the storm. Let the lot fall upon me and cast me into the sea. . . . I reluctantly ascended the episcopal chair and gladly I now come down.” (Schaff, 1891, Vol. 2, pp. 918-19).
PROCLUS (d. 446 or 447), patriarch of Constantinople, was consecrated bishop of Cyzicus, but the people there refused to receive him, so he remained in Constantinople as a much-admired preacher. In 434 he was enthroned by the bishops at Constantinople, and the scruples felt about translation had been removed by the letters of Celestine, bishop of Rome, to CYRIL I of Alexandria (412-444), JOHN OF ANTIOCH, and Rufus of Thessalonica on the subject of translation (ibid., p. 175). Proclus then sent both to Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch the usual synodical letters announcing his appointment, both of whom approved of it.
Socrates, in his Ecclesiastical History (7.30), explains his opinion of the validity of translations from one see to another. Defending the translation of Proclus, he lists the names of thirteen bishops who were transferred from one see to another.
K. J. von Hefele (1956, p. 33), in his comment on the fifteenth canon of the Council of Nicaea, said that “the interest of the Church often rendered it necessary to make exceptions. These
exceptional cases increased almost immediately after the holding of the Council of Nicaea, so that in 382, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus considered this law among those which had long been abrogated by custom.”
One such was the translation of Bishop Siderius in the fourth century from his see in the villages of Palaebisca and Hydrax on the fringe of the Libyan desert to the metropolitan see of the Pentapolis. In hope of reviving the small spark of orthodoxy in Ptolemïas, Athanasius, pope of Alexandria, promoted Siderius to that see.
This curious page of ecclesiastical history was revealed by Synesius, bishop of Ptolemïas (c. 370-414), in his Epistle 77, to Theophilus of Alexandria (385-412), from which it is known that Siderius was a young active officer who had just come home from the army on civil duty. Orion, the bishop of Erythron, was an old man, and the inhabitants of two large villages in the diocese, Palaebisca and Hydrax, impatient with the lack of supervision, clamored for a bishop of their own and for the appointment of Siderius. Siderius was accordingly consecrated. No permission was received from the pope of Alexandria, and only a single bishop could be found to officiate, contrary to the Apostolic Canons, which command that a bishop be ordained preferably by three bishops but at least by two. But these were the times of the Arians (see ARIANISM), and the majority of the people were heretics. Thus, in view of the immense utility of the appointment, Pope Athanasius overlooked its irregularity, considering that in such perilous times the laws could not always be closely observed, and shortly afterward, he promoted Siderius to the metropolitan see of Ptolemïas.
Pope KHA’IL I (744-767), said, “Sword or fire or casting to lions or exile or captivity,—these are things that trouble me not; but I will not enter into what is not lawful, nor incur my own excommunication, which I subscribed with my own hand and initiated, to the effect that no bishop shall become patriarch. For the excellent fathers excommunicated him who shall take a degree in the hierarchy by the help or favour of the government.”
The only instances of translation in the Coptic church are the translation and promotion of Kha’il, bishop of Fuwwah, to the metropolitan see of Ethiopia by Pope JOHN VI (1189-1216); and the translation and promotion of CHRISTODOULOS III, bishop of Jerusalem, to the metropolitan see of Ethiopia by Pope PETER VI (1718-1726).
In the twentieth century the Coptic church has continued to adhere to that custom, with the exception of the translations of Metropolitan Yu‘annis of Beheira and Minufiyyah to become Pope JOHN XIX (1928-1942), of Metropolitan Macarius of Asyut to become pope (1944-1945), and of Metropolitan Yusab of Jirja to become Pope YUSAB II (1946-1956).
- Hefele, K. J. von. “Notes.” In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ser. 2, Vol. 14, ed. 1956. Schaff and H. Wace. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956.
- Schaff, P. History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, Vol. 2, pp. 918-19. Edinburgh, 1891.
EMILE MAHER ISHAQ