An Alexandrian life
Achillas is less well-known than his contemporary Arius. But while one has gone down in history as one of the most notorious of all heretics, the other is honoured as one who kept the faith.
Achillas was, through and through, a man of Alexandria (pictured), where he was born some time in the 3rd century. The city was one of the theological centres of Christendom – which made it an attractive target for heretics. Sabellius showed up in the early 3rd century, teaching that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all just different modes of one divine person.
Heresies and patriarchs
St Theonas, the “pope” of Alexandria, excommunicated Sabellius. His successor, Peter, had to contend with Meletius, who preached that those who had fallen away in persecution would have to be re-baptised. Peter also disciplined Arius.
Achillas succeeded Peter. As a former head of Alexandria’s catechetical school, Achillas was unlikely to be deceived by theological error. But he was able to be deceived by as smooth an operator as Arius.
Arius seems to have convinced Achillas that he, Arius, had changed and should be allowed back into the fold of the Church. Achillas eventually realised his mistake and started to oppose Arius publicly. He died without seeing the final victory of orthodoxy.
St Jerome lamented that “because as a spark in Alexandria he was not put out, Arius became a conflagration that laid waste the world.” But for his efforts, Achillas has nevertheless been recognised as a saint.
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