Universal Brotherhood Path – June 1901

HYPATIA: II — John Toland

or the history of a most beautiful, most virtuous, most learned, and every-way accomplished Lady, who was torn to pieces by the Clergy of Alexandries, to gratify the pride, emulation, and cruelty of their Archbishop, commonly but undeservedly styled, St.Cyril.

Magnum aliquid inflat, efferum, immane, impium.
     — sen. medea, oct. 3, scen. 1, lin. ib

London, A. D. 1753 British Museum


hypatia is esteemed and caressed by the public; is consulted by the magistrates in all important cases, and sometimes sat among them.

All this, some will say, we readily grant, that Hypatia was a Lady of most eminent learning, and that Synesius, with probably not a few of her other disciples, esteemed her to be a miracle of Virtue and Prudence; but what did the rest of the world think of her conduct, what marks of approbation or favour did she receive from the Public?

To this enquiry, which is very natural in this place, we answer; that never woman was more caressed by the Public, and yet that never woman had a more unspotted character. She was held an Oracle for her wisdom, which made her be consulted by the magistrates in all important cases; and this frequently drew her among the greatest concourse of men, without the least censure of her manners.

The proof of so rare a felicity we choose to give in the words of the historian Socrates: "By reason of the confidence and authority (says he) which she had acquired by her learning, she sometimes came to the Judges with singular modesty; nor was she anything abashed, to appear thus among a crowd of men; for all persons, on the score of her extraordinary discretion, did at the same time both reverence and admire her."

The same things are confirmed by Niceforus Callistus, Suidas, Hesychius Illustris, and indeed by whom not? So far was she from that blameable timidity, which is contracted by a wrong education; or from that conscious backwardness, which is inspired by guilt. That the Governors and magistrates of Alexandria regularly visited her, that all the city (as Damascius and Suidas relate) paid court to her, is a distinction with which no woman was ever honoured before. And to say all in a word, when Nicephorus Gregoras, above quoted, intended to pass the highest compliment on the Princess Eudocia, he thought he could not better hit, than by calling her "another Hypatia."


synesius's recommendatory letter to hypatia in behalf of two young gentlemen, on a suit depending at alexandria.

It was during this prosperous gale of public favour, that Hypatia's devoted friend Synesius sent her this recommendatory letter on the behalf of two young gentlemen, that had a claim depending at Alexandria:

"Although Fortune cannot take everything from me, yet she has a mind to strip me of all she can; she that of many sons, and good, has me bereft. But to be ambitious of doing the best things, and to assist the unjustly oppressed, is what she shall never take from me; for far be it from me that she should ever be able to conquer my mind. Therefore I hate injustice, since this I may do still; and am also desirous to repress it, but that is one of the things taken out of my power, and which I lost before my children.

'Once the Milesians valiant were.'

Time also was, when I could be useful to my friends, and when you were wont to call me 'others' good;' as turning to the profit of other men my interest with persons in great authority, whom I made to serve me as so many hands. Now I am left destitute of all, unless you have any power; for you, together with virtue, I reckon 'a Good,' of which none will be "able to rob me. But you have, and will always have, Power, by reason "of the excellent use you make of your credit. Wherefore let Niceus and "Philolaus, virtuous youths and relations, return masters of their own, "through the care of all who honour you, whether private men or magistrates."

Thus, as a necessary part of her history, I have inserted at length, all the letters written to Hypatia by Synesius, except the 15th, whereof I have given the substance; and the 33rd in the collection of his letters, which is too short to contain any instruction; as likewise the 154th, which, being too long, I have abridged above.


hypatia married, yet said to die a maidisidorus, her husband, the most eminent philosopher of his time.

It would be as great a prodigy in Nature as Hypatia was herself, if a lady of such beauty, modesty, wisdom, and virtue, were not by many eagerly sought in marriage: and, in effect, we find that she was actually married to the philosopher Isidorus, though Suidas says she died a maid; which is not so irreconcilable a thing as people may be apt to imagine on first thoughts, but, as we shall shew, very likely to be true. This Isidorus succeeded Marinus in the school, and his life has been written by Damascius, one of Theon's scholars, who therefore had all imaginable opportunities to know whatever regarded Hypatia and Isidorus. His life was abridged by Photius, but we have it not so perfect as he left it; for besides the extreme confusion and incorrectness which appears through the whole, the learned Valesius gave the world expectations, that he would, one time or other, publish it twice larger than that we read now in Photius. However, in such as it still is, Damascius bestows such eulogies on Isidorus, as put him almost above Humanity; yet, no way concerning Hypatia, I pass them over in silence. I frankly confess, that I more than suspect many of the things he reports; as knowing that Damascius was a great Visionary, and, like Philostratus with respect to Appollonius Tyaneus, designed to oppose Isidorus to those Christian saints who were celebrated for their miraculous and supernatural attainments. But this ought not to affect his credit in matters of an ordinary nature, and therefore I do not in the least hesitate to believe him, when he positively affirms that Hypatia was wife to Isidorus.


in what sense it might be said, that though hypatia was married, yet she died a maid.

Suidas likewise makes her the wife of the same Isidorus, though he be the very man who tells us she died a virgin. That matter, considering the great uncertainty in which we are left by the meditated destruction or casual decay of authentic writers, I conceive to stand thus. Damascius says, that Isidorus had another wife, whose name was Domna, by which he had a son called Proclus. She died the fifth day after her delivery, and, according to his panegyrist, "she rid the philosopher of an evil beast and a bitter wedlock." Now supposing this to happen some time before the tragical end of Hypatia, and that the latter was betrothed to Isidorus, it might very well be said that she was his wife, and yet that she died a maid. The author of an epigram that was made upon her, seems to have been of the same opinion:

"The Virgin's starry sign whene'er I see,
Adoring, on thy Words I think and thee:
For all thy virtuous Works celestial are,
As are thy learned words beyond compare,
Divine Hypatia, who dost far and near
Virtue's and Learning's spotless star appear. "

The allusion, I say, to the constellation Virgo, and the epithet of "Spotless," would induce me to believe that the writer reckoned her a Virgin as well as Suidas; but I shall conclude nothing from so slender a conjecture, besides that her character is no way concerned in this particular, though as a historian I would omit nothing that might illustrate my subject. For this reason it is, that I cannot pass over uncensured a reflection of Damascius, who gravely says that "Isidorus was far superior to Hypatia, not only as a man to a woman, but as a philosopher to a geometrician." Good and egregious reasoning! as if her skill in Geometry or Astronomy, had been any hindrance to her improvement in every part of Philosophy, wherein she is by so many confessed to surpass those of her own, if not of former time; or as if we in England, for example, did reckon King James superior to Queen Elizabeth; because the first, forsooth, was a man, and the last a woman. But I observed before that Damascius was a sad visionary.


hypatia's lovers, one of whom she cured of his passion, in a very particular manner.

A lady of such uncommon merit and accomplishments as Hypatia, daily surrounded with a circle of young gentlemen, many of them distinguished by their fortune or quality; besides her frequently appearing in public assemblies, and receiving visits from persons of the first rank, could not possibly fail being sometimes importuned with addresses of gallantry. Such attempts the severest virtue cannot avoid, though it can deny encouragement, and make success to be despaired. How many trials of this kind Hypatia may have overcome we are left to imagine rather than to know, through the silence of historians, who either thought it below their gravity to record such things, or that the works of those who descended to particulars are lost. One instance, however, has escaped the common wreck of good books; nor can I doubt but several others might be contained in the life of Isidorus, out of which there is reason to believe, that Suidas picked what I am going to relate.

He acquaints us, therefore, that one of her own scholars made warm love to her, whom she endeavoured to cure of his passion by the precepts of Philosophy; and that some reported she actually reclaimed him by music, which he judiciously explodes; music having ever been deemed rather an incentive to love, than an antidote against it. But he says, with much greater probability, that the spark vehemently soliciting her (not to be sure without pleading the irresistible power of her beauty) at a time when she happened to be under an indisposition ordinary to her sex; she took a handkerchief, and throwing it in his face, said: "This is what you love, young fool, and not any thing that is beautiful."

For the Platonic Philosophers held Goodness, Wisdom, Virtue, and such other things, as by reason of their intrinsic worth are desirable for their own sakes, to be the only real Beauties, of whose divine symmetry, Charms, and Perfection, the most superlative that appear in bodies are but faint resemblances. This is the right notion of Platonic Love. Wherefore Hypatia's procedure might very well put a student of Philosophy at Alexandria to the blush, and quite cure him too (which Suidas assures us was the effect) but would never rebuke a beau in St. James's Park, nor perhaps some bachelors of divinity at our modern universities.


the close intimacy between hypatia and orestes the governor of alexandria, very displeasing to cyril the bishop.

At the time that Hypatia thus reigned the brightest ornament of Alexandria, Orestes was Governor of the same place for the Emperor Theodosius, and Cyril bishop or Patriarch. As Orestes was a person educated suitable to his rank, he could not but take notice of those perfections in Hypatia which all the world admired; and, as he was a wise governor, he would not be so far wanting to his charge, as not to ask her advice in matters difficult or dangerous, when everybody else consulted her as an Oracle. This created, of course, an intimacy between them that was highly displeasing to Cyril, who mortally hated Orestes. But because this emulation proved fatal to Hypatia, I shall take the subject a little higher. 'Tis observed by Socrates, Nicephorus, and others, that Cyril (who was elevated to the See by sedition and force against one Timothy an Arch-deacon of no extraordinary reputation) intermeddled more in temporal or civil matters, than his predecessors took upon them to do, and that the example was greedily followed by his successors; who not keeping within the bounds of their priestly ordination, took upon them an arbitrary kind of principality, and the absolute disposal of affairs. The first act of authority that Cryil exercised was, to shut up the churches of the Novatians, from which step he proceeded to seize upon their sacred vessels and church-ornaments, till at length he robbed their Bishop Theopemptus of all he had. Yet these Novatians professed the same doctrine to a tittle that he did, and differed only in some points of discipline. But they must be mere novices in Ecclesiastical history, who know not that discipline has been ever reckoned of greater consequence than doctrine; if one may judge by the commotions that have happened in churches, or the duration of their schisms. The reason is obvious. For if a man believes otherwise than his teacher, and yet prudentially conforms to the public ritual and discipline, or perhaps eagerly stickles for it as thinking it the most conducing to order, be his speculations what you will, still he preserves the Unity of the church; or, in other words, he obeys his Spiritual Governors, and teaches others by his example to do the like; whereas if his belief be ever so right or at least ever so agreeable, to that prescribed in the society whereof he is a member; yet if he boggles at any part of the public ritual and discipline and rends the unity of the church; that is, he weakens the government of the Clergy. These were the maxims of those times, and hence it sprung, that schism is counted so damnable a sin in their writings, a sin more dreadful than any other, that it may the better serve for a — Scare-Crow.


cyril expels the jews out of alexandria; orestes complains to the emperor; cyril and orestes become irreconcilable enemies.

One main reason why Cyril could not bear the Governor, as we are told by Socrates, was that "Orestes hated the principality of the bishops; as well because they transferred to themselves much of the power belonging to those appointed Governors by the Emperor; as, in particular, because Cyril would needs be prying into his actions."

Their enmity became sufficiently known to the public by a sedition raised against Orestes, occasioned by one Hierax, a pitiful school-master, but a professed admirer of the Bishop, and a most diligent attendant at his sermons, where he was sure to clap and re-clap, according to the rare custom of those times. The Jews spying him in the Theatre, while the Governor was there on some public business, cried out that he came purposely thither to cause mischief; and the uproar, whereof the particulars may be read in the just quoted Socrates, terminated in this, that Cyril expelled all the Jews out of the City, where they had lived in great opulence from the time of Alexander the Great, to the no small benefit of the place. Were I not accustomed to read monstrous lies of this unfortunate nation, I should think them very rightly served. But even in that case, who can justify Cyril's licensing the multitude to seize on their goods? And yet why do I ask such a question; when this has ever been the true motive of the barbarities to which they have been exposed, though zeal for religion has been as shamelessly, as wickedly pretended.

Orestes, as became a good Governor, "being grievously concerned at what had happened (to speak in the words of the historian) and sadly affected that so great a city should be so suddenly emptied of such a multitude of inhabitants, gave the Emperor an account of the whole matter." We might be certain, were we not expressly told it, that Cyril was not behind hand on his part. Yet conscious of his guilt, as every reader may collect, he would fain make up with Orestes, and conjured him by the holy Gospels to be friends; being constrained to this, as Nicephorus observes, by the people of Alexandria, who loved their Governor. But this last knew him too well to trust him, upon which their difference became irreconcilable. You may therefore expect to hear of vengeance from the priest, whom the same Nicephorus represents proud, seditious, a boutesen, a persecutor: while the emperor might thank himself for the disorders that desolated one of his principal cities; for where was it ever otherwise when the Clergy were permitted to share in the government of civil affairs.


orestes the governor assaulted by the monks; their captain racked to death, but esteemed as a martyr by cyril.

Now the revenge which Cyril took of Orestes, being the prelude to poor Hypatia's Tragedy, I choose to relate it, as I have done other passages, in the words of honest Socrates.

"Certain of the monks (says he) living in the Nitrian mountains, leaving their monasteries to the number of about five hundred, flocked to the City, and spied the Governor going abroad in his chariot; whereupon approaching they called him by the names of "Sacrificer" and "Heathen," using many other scandalous words. The Governor therefore suspecting that this was a trick played him by Cyril, cried out that he was a Christian, and that he was baptized at Constantinople by Bishop Atticus. But the monks giving no heed to what he said, one of them, called Ammonius, threw a stone at Orestes, which struck him on the head; and being all covered with blood from his wound, his guards, a few excepted, fled some one way, some another, hiding themselves in the crowd, lest they should be stoned to death. In the meanwhile the people of Alexandria ran to defend their Governor against the monks, and putting all the rest to flight, they approached Ammonius, and brought him before Orestes; who, as the laws prescribed, publicly put him to the torture, and racked him till he expired. Not long after he gave an account of all that was done, to the Princes. Nor did Cyril fail to give them a contrary information. He received the body of Ammonius, and, laying it in one of the churches, he changed his name, calling him Thaumasius, and ordered him to be considered as a martyr; nay, he made his Panegyric in the church, extolling his courage, as one that had contended for the truth. But the wiser sort of the Christians did not approve the zeal which Cyril showed on this man's behalf; being convinced that Ammonius had justly suffered for his desperate attempt, but was not forced to deny Christ in his torments."

This account requires no commentary. I shall only observe with a Heathen Philosopher that "At that time the monks (the fittest executioners of Cyril's cruelty) were men indeed as to their form, but swine in their lives; who openly committed thousands of execrable crimes, not fit to be named. Whoever (says he) got on a black habit, and would make a grotesque figure in public, obtained a tyrannical authority; to such a reputation of virtue did that race of men arrive."

This picture, though drawn by an enemy's hand, is allowed by all good judges to be done to the life; and we shall presently have reason, more than sufficient, to be of the same opinion.


hypatia's tragical death, perpetrated by cyril's clergy, who hated her for her intimacy with orestes.

But Cyril's rage was not yet satiated. Though Orestes had the good luck to escape being murdered, Hypatia must fall a sacrifice to the prelate's pride and to the ghost of Ammonius. This Lady, as we mentioned above, was profoundly respected by Orestes, who much frequented and consulted her; "for which reason" (says Socrates) "she was not a little traduced among the mob of the Christian church; as if she obstructed a reconciliation between Bishop Cyril and Orestes. Wherefore certain hot-brained men, headed by one Peter, a lecturer, entered into a conspiracy against her, and watching their opportunity when she was returning home from some place, they dragged her out of her chair; hurried her to the church called Cesar's and stripping her stark naked, they killed her with tiles. Then they tore her to pieces, and carrying her limbs to a place called Cinaron, there they burnt them to ashes."

Nothing short of this treatment, not to be paralleled among the most savage nations against a woman (and against a woman of such distinction scarce credible, did not two or more of her contemporaries attest it) nothing, I say, but the blood of Hypatia, shed in the most inhuman manner, could glut the fury of Cyril's clergy; for these were the monsters, that putting off all Humanity, committed this barbarous murder. Socrates, 'tis true, distinctly names but one clergyman, "Peter, the lecturer"; but Nicephorus expressly tells us that the Zealots, led on by Peter, were Cyril's clergy, who hated her for the credit she had with Orestes; that they were these, who imputed to her the misunderstanding between the Governor and their Bishop; and finally, that they butchered her in the time of solemn fasting; which, added to their sanctifying of their villainy by perpetuating it in a church, shews the glorious state of religion in those pure and primitive times; as some, no less hypocritically than falsely, are pleased to style them. The citizens of Alexandria, on whom certain persons would fain lay this act of popular heat, as they speak by way of extenuation, were too great admirers of Hypatia's Virtue, and too much in the interest of Orestes, to have any hand in so foul a business, however prone to tumults. All the circumstances accompanying the fact clearly prove this; not to repeat the assault so lately made by the Nitrian monks on the Governor, whom the people rescued; though I will not answer for all the mob, especially when the clergy loo'd them on.


cyril, the main instigator of hypatia's murder, being envious of the fame she had acquired by her learning and philosophy.

Be it so that the clergy of Alexandria were the murderers (some may say) and that their affection for Cyril transported them beyond what can be justified; how does it appear that he himself had any hand in this black deed, which perhaps he neither knew nor could prevent?

For the sake of our common humanity (since true Christianity is not at all concerned) I wish it were so; but there is such evidence as will not let any man, if not wilfully shutting his eyes against the truth, to believe it. Damascius, who is the other contemporary witness of her murder (I meant besides Socrates) positively affirms that "Cyril vowed Hypatia's destruction, whom he bitterly envied;" and Suidas, who writes the same thing says, that this envy was caused by her "extraordinary wisdom and skill in astronomy;" as Hesychius, when he mentions her limbs being carried all over the city in triumph, writes that, "This befell her on the score of her extraordinary wisdom, and especially her skill in astronomy." For Cyril was a mighty pretender to letters, and one of those clergymen who will neither acknowledge nor bear the superiority of any layman in this respect, be it ever so incontestable to others. But some circumstances of Hypatia's death, not mentioned in Socrates, are preserved in the abridgement of Isidorus's life in Photius, such as Valesius had it; and which I here give you, reader, though it should cost you the tribute of one tear more to her memory.

"Upon a time (says Damascius) Cypril, passing by the house of Hypatia, saw a great multitude before the door, both of men on foot and on horseback; whereof some were coming, some going and others staid. When he inquired what that crowd was, and what occasioned so great a concourse, he was answered by such as accompanied him, that this was Hypatia the Philosopher's house, and that these came to pay their respects to her. Which, when Cyril understood, he was moved with so great an envy that he immediately vowed her destruction, which he accomplished in the most detestable manner. For when Hypatia, as was her custom, went abroad, several men, neither fearing divine vengeance nor human punishment, suddenly rushed upon her and killed her; thus laying their country both under the highest infamy, and under the guilt of innocent blood. And indeed the Emperor was grievously offended at this matter, and the murderers had been certainly punished, but that Edesius did corrupt the Emperor's friends, so that his majesty, it's true, remitted the punishment, but drew vengeance on himself and his posterity, his nephew paying dear for this action."

This nephew Valetius believes to have been Valentinian, whose mother, Placidia, was aunt to Theodosius.


the death of hypatia brought an infamy on cyril and the christian church; she was no catholic, but a heathen.

Thus ended the Life of Hypatia, whose memory will ever last, and whose murder happened in the fourth year of Cyril's episcopate; Honorius being the tenth time and Theodosius the sixth time consuls — in the month of March, in the time of Lent, and in the year 415. "That action (says Socrates) brought no small infamy not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Church of Alexandria; for slaughters, and fightings, and such like things, are quite foreign to the Christian Institution."

There's nothing surer, there's nothing truer; but of genuine Christianity there remained very little at that time, unless Christianity be made to consist in the bare name and profession; for, were I disposed to take this trouble upon me, I should think it no difficult task to shew that neither the doctrines nor distinctions then in vogue were ever taught by Christ or his Apostles; and that the ceremonies enjoined or practised were all utterly unknown to them. No, no, they were no Christians that killed Hypatia; nor are any Christians now to be attacked through the sides of her murderers, but those that resemble them by substituting precarious traditions, scholastic fictions, and an usurped dominion, to the salutiferous institutions of the Holy Jesus.

Photius is very angry with Philostorgius, whom he stigmatizes as an impious man, for saying that the "Homoousians," or the Athanasian Trinitarians, tore her to pieces; but is he not an impudent man, or something worse, who dares to deny this? when none were more remarkable sticklers for the Homoousians than Cypril and his adherents. This only the truth of history requires to be specially noted; for with me the Homoiousion and the Homoousion are of no account in comparison of the Bible, where neither of them are to be found. In the meantime 'twill not be amiss to hear Gothofred on this occasion. "Observe here (says he) the Arian poison of Philostorgius against the Homoousians, or Catholics; as if the murder of Hypatia were the crime of Catholics, and not of the indiscreet populace. Thus much, however, may be gathered from this passage, that this same Hypatia was no Catholic."

Admirable Gothofred! Not to say anything to your "Arian poison," for which I am not a whit concerned, neither of the people's guilt, whom I have sufficiently cleared before; nor yet of the nice distinction between the populace and Catholics, as if the bulk of the Catholics were not the populace. Your conclusion that Hypatia was not a Catholic is unspeakably acute, when in reality she was not as much as a Christian, her father having been a heathen philosopher, and herself the wife of one, without the least appearance that she was ever any other with regard to her own persuasion. As for a ridiculous letter, pretended to be written by her to Cyril about the Paschal Cycle, 'tis a manifest forgery; for she was murdered the sixth year of Theodosius, and therefore one and twenty years before the exile of Nestorius, who yet is mentioned in that letter under the epithet of "Impious."


the making of cyril a saint a dishonor to religion. three sorts of persons canonized for saints.

And now that Cyril's name puts me once more in mind of him, how insufferable a burlesquing of God and man is it to revere so ambitious, so turbulent, so perfidious, so cruel a man as a Saint? since history shows that this was his just character. But in good earnest this same title of "Saint" has not seldom been most wretchedly conferred; for the greatest part of the "Saints" after Constantine's reign, and especially since canonization came in fashion, are made up of three sorts of persons, the least of all others meriting veneration. First, men have been dubbed saints, for promoting the grandeur of the church by all their endeavors, especially by their writings, which, instead of employing for the happiness and instruction of their fellow citizens they prostituted to magnify spiritual authority, to the debasing and enslaving of their spirits. The second sort that have been honored with saintship, were princes and other powerful or rich men, however vicious or tyrannical, who gave large possessions and legacies to the church; or that with incapacity, faggot, gibbet, sword and proscription, chastised the temerity of such as dared to question her decrees. The third sort, were poor, grovelling, visionaries, boasting of their delirious enthusiasm and extacies; or imposing on the ignorant by formal mortifications, falsely reputed devotion, and were recompensed with this imaginary reward by those that despised their austerity, at the same time that they mainly thrived by the credit of it. It is no wonder then that when the epithet "Saint" (which peculiarly belonged to piety and innocence) was thus pompously bestowed on vice and impiety, there should prevail that Deluge of Ignorance, Superstition and Tyranny, which overwhelmed almost the whole Christian world. All the persecutions that ensued, were so many forcible means employed to suppress any efforts that might be used for the restoring of Virtue and Learning. By that anti-Christian spirit fell Hypatia, to whom the clergy of her time could never forgive, that she was beautiful yet chaste; far more learned than themselves; not to be endured in the Laity; and in greater credit with the civil magistrate, whom the clergy of that time would needs drive or lead as their Pack-ass.


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