Saint Pulcheria: Fought Heresies and Drove Out the Barbarians


A Saint who fought firmly against two heresies: Nestorianism and Eutychianism, which, although having division between them, had the same end goal: the denial of the Incarnation and the role of the Virgin Mary in the salvation of mankind.

Newsdesk (19/07/2021 21:50, Gaudium Press) In the fifth century, in Byzantium – also known as Constantinople, and now Istanbul – there lived a virgin Empress. She was Saint Pulcheria, who fought firmly against two heresies and drove off the barbarians who threatened to invade the capital of the Eastern Empire.

Canticle of Psalms

Born the daughter of Emperor Arcadius in 399 and baptized by St. John Chrysostom, Pulcheria took a vow of virginity at the age of 14.

To make her consecration to God irrevocable, she made it public by donating to the Basilica of Constantinople a beautifully carved altar table adorned with gold and precious stones. On the table was an inscription stating that it had been offered by Pulcheria to the Church as a pledge of her virginity and for the prosperity of the reign of her brother Theodosius – who later became Emperor with the title Theodosius II.

Saint Pulcheria and her two younger sisters sang psalms in the Imperial Palace, according to the established times of the Divine Office, pleading God’s protection for them and the Empire continually threatened by the barbarians.

From her wealth, she funded the building of hospitals and monasteries, as well as several churches in honour of the Blessed Virgin.

At the age of fifteen, she became ruler of the Eastern Empire, as her brother Theodosius was still a boy. Perfectly fluent in both Greek and Latin, she expressed herself with elegance in her speeches and writings.

Attila did not dare attack Constantinople

At that time, barbarians infested the Western Empire: important cities such as Cologne and Reims suffered terrible attacks; Rome was invaded and sacked in 410 by Alaric, the Arian king of the Visigoths.

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Shortly thereafter, Attila, king of the Huns, who had conquered several regions but who dared not attack Constantinople, went to Greece and took Athens. Due to the presence and prayers of St. Pulcheria, this terrible barbarian chieftain turned away from the capital of the Eastern Empire.

In her deep love for the Church, Pulcheria hated evil and fought firmly against two heresies that were spilling their poison into many regions of the Empire: Nestorianism and Eutychianism, which, although having division between them, had the same end goal: the denial of the Incarnation and the role of the Virgin Mary in the salvation of mankind.

St. Pulcheria devoted herself to her brother’s education, but later, as Emperor, he allowed himself to fall into a sluggish lifestyle.
She arranged for Theodosius II to marry a daughter of a pagan philosopher from Athens, who was baptized Eudhoxia. Shortly afterward, moved by jealousy, Eudhoxia forced her sister-in-law from the Court.

Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, began to preach a heresy that denied that Our Lady was the Mother of God. The weak Emperor Theodosius II approved Nestorianism. But in 431, the Council of Ephesus – a city in present-day Turkey – condemned Nestorius, and Theodosius soon after exiled him.

Saint Leo the Great appeals to Saint Pulcheria

Emperor Theodosius II died in 450 after a fall from a horse. Pulcheria, having previously held the title of Empress for several years, once again took the reins of government.

Soon after, to help stabilize her authority, she married Marcian, a fervent Catholic and a well-skilled military general. Marcian thus became Emperor and, at the request of the Saint, respected her vow of virginity.

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When Attila attempted to claim from the new Emperor the stipend of the heavy tributes that Theodosius II had paid him annually, Marcian loftily replied, “I have gold for my friends and iron for my enemies.” Attila gave up attacking the Empire of the East and went off to threaten that of the West.

In Constantinople, there appeared another heretic named Eutyches, the abbot of a monastery. He accepted only the divine and not the human nature of Christ. This heresy was known as “monophysitism”.

Pope Saint Leo the Great earnestly asked Saint Pulcheria to come to the aid of threatened orthodoxy; she and Marcian convened a Council in Chalcedon, in 451, near Constantinople.

This Council, in which 350 bishops took part, proclaimed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one Person with two natures – the divine and the human – referred to as the “Hypostatic Union”. Thus the heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches were condemned, and by imperial decree, the latter was expelled from his monastery and exiled.

Two years later, at the age of 54, Saint Pulcheria died. Her Memorial is celebrated on September 10.


One of the most beautiful episodes in History

Some comments made by Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira about Saint Pulcheria:

“Look, what a beautiful thing! Byzantium, a dazzling, lovely capital, with its sumptuous churches, its palaces, its stadiums, its schools, its luxury! There was installed an Empress who sings the Psalms with her virgin sisters, and in this way repels the barbarians who invaded the Empire, and protects that stronghold of Christendom against all deterioration.

“This chorus of the Empress with her virgin sisters, singing Psalms for the protection of the Empire, is one of the most beautiful episodes that history may have presented to human consideration. […]

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“It is interesting to note what is told […] concerning Attila. When he came from Hungary to invade the Roman Empire of the West, he did not immediately address the latter, but went down and threatened the Empire of the East.

“There he was defeated, and only then did he head for the Empire of the West, where he produced tremendous devastations which left that whole Empire shaken, shaken, to fall under other shocks which were soon to come.

“Here is the effect of the presence of a holy Empress serving as a ‘lightning rod’ and driving away terrible enemies, so that the Empire of the East came to fall a thousand years after the fall of the Empire of the West.”

(In fact, the Roman Empire of the West was invaded by barbarians and disappeared in 476. That of the East fell in 1453, when Mohammed II took Constantinople.)

“We must ask Saint Pulcheria to obtain for us the grace to understand and make us understand these truths, and to exercise our task in temporal society with renewed ardour, because we understand well how this is within the plans of Providence.”

By Paul Francis Martos

1 Cf. DARRAS, Joseph Epiphane. Histoire Génerale de l’Église. Paris: Louis Vivès. 1889, v. XII, pp. 56-66; 1869, v. XIII, p. 269. Cf. ROHRBACHER, René-François. Life of the Saints. São Paulo: Editora das Américas. 1959, v. XVI, pp. 125-134.

The post, Saint Pulcheria Fought Heresies and Drove out the Barbarians appeared first on Gaudium Press.

Read More: Spirituality, barbarians, eutichianism, heresies, Emperor Theodosius II, Nestorianism, Paul Francis Martos, PLINIO CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Saint Pulcheria, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Leo the Great, Gaudium Press

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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