Page images
[ocr errors]

length the form of a creed, which he proposed to the council, and which contained, as he affirms, the sentiments he had always believed and preached, and which, he adds, at first met the approbation of all present. Both the members of

. the council and the emperor, he tells us, appeared satisfied. But it was soon discovered, it seems, that the Arians could subscribe it, putting their own construction on its language. This, no doubt, Eusebius foresaw, and it was precisely what he wished. But such a creed was not what the majority, who were determined to cut off Arius from the communion of the church, wanted. They were for a time, it appears, at a loss for some epithet to apply to the Son, which the Orthodox could, and the Arians could not adopt, till it was at length discovered from a letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia, that the latter objected to saying that he was consubstantial with the Father, upon which they eagerly pounced upon the term as exactly suited to their purpose. It is true, the term had been condemned, about fifty years before, by the fathers of the Council of Antioch, in the case of Paul of Samosata ; but that circumstance might not have been recollected, or if recollected, it maitered little, they might think. The word was convenient now, though it might not have been so then.

Constantine, who, from the first, had conceived the whole controversy to be of a very frivolous nature, and who was not disposed to stand on niceties of expression, which he probably very imperfectly understood, and who was, moreover, sincerely desirous to accommodate 'matters, readily adopted the word and advised the rest to do the same. Eusebius, after a good deal of hesitation, subscribed the symbol in its new dress, containing the obnoxious word and two or three others, which from bis tenderness for the Arians, whom he was reluctant to condeinn, he had avoided introducing into his proposed creed. He was, in consequence, afterwards accused by his enemies of insincerity and bad faith; for, though he seems to have avoided the use of expressions peculiarly Arian, he continued, as far as he could, without committing his own safety, to befriend the Arians, and his heart appears to have been always with them.

He seems to have himself thought, that some explanation was due to his friends for his consent to the act of subscription, and, in the letter be sent home on the occasion, he put the best face he could on the matter. He tells his people, that he long resisted, but that his scruples as to the use of the terms, deeined exceptionable, (“consubstantial," and " begotten, not made,”) were at length removed by the exposition given by the council of the sense in which they were to be taken, that is, as implying that the Son had no resemblance or community with the things made by bim (as the agent' of the Father in the creation of the material universe), that he is of like substance with the Father, though not a part of his substance, resembling him, but not identical with him. This explanation, though it would hardly pass for orthodox now, was consistent enough with the spirit of the Platonizing theology from Athenagoras down to the time of Eusebius, and with it he professed to be satisfied, and finally assented to the whole, as he says, for the sake of peace !

In regard to the anathemas at the end of the creed, he says that he felt no difficulty, as they only condemned the use of certain Arian expressions not found in the Scriptures. But Eusebius should have recollected, while holding this language, that the term the fathers of the council had adopted as a test of orthodoxy, and to the use of which he had assented, was also an unscriptural term, and on this very ground the Arians objected to it, and begged that it might not be imposed. They were ready, they said, in speaking of the Son, to employ all those terms, and ascriptions of dignity which were found in the Bible. The subject of their complaint was, that with this their opponents were not satisfied, but insisted that they should adopt expressions of which there was no example in Scripture or antiquity.

The question of Eusebius' sincerity or insincerity, we have no intention to discuss. It would be no difficult matter, we suppose, to defend him upon Dr. Paley's principle, or on the principle sanctioned, it seems, by some high Orthodox authorities among ourselves. He was willing to subscribe the propositions .contained in the creed as “articles of peace," and no doubt believed them “ for substance of doctrine.” As explained by its friends, the creed probably contained no doctrines, which he did not admit, though in regard to the philosophy of some of those doctrines, he might, very probably, differ from them. If so, his conduct admits of as good a defence as that of most persons who have had to do with creeds and confessions, in ancient or modern times.

We could wish, to be sure, that he had manifested a little

more decision and firmness. It is difficult, we think, wholly to acquit him of the charge of having betrayed the cause of Christian liberty, either from personal timidity and love of ease, or, as we are willing to admit, from the desire, sincere, no doubt, but unavailing, to put an end to the unhappy controversy which rent the church. The cause of Arius was the cause of religious freedom and the right of private judgment, and he should have been sustained therefore, at least so far as not to have been subjected to suffer on account of any supposed criminality attached to his opinions as such. Eusebius must not only have felt the wish, from his benevolent nature and motives of personal friendship, to protect him ; but, from the rank he held among the learned and wise of his age, from his elevated views and undoubted liberality of sentiment, he might have been expected, if any, to have perceived the impropriety of imposing any restraint on freedom of thought, and by his conduct to have proved himself the enemy of uncharitableness and exclusion. By yielding, he lent the sanction of his name and influence to the measures of the exclusionists, generally his inferiors in all those qualities which give a title to respect; and the first general council, in conjunction with the “most pious emperor the first of the Cæsars who acknowledged the faith of the cross, left to the world a pernicious example of intolerance and bigotry, which subsequent times have but too faithfully imitated.

Arius was banished for a supposed speculative error, which those fathers chose to call " impiety," “ blasphemy," and “madness”; his opinions, and the very terms of them,"

“ were anathematized; his followers, by the command of the emperor, were branded with the odious name of “Porphyri

, ans” ; his books were ordered to be burned, and any person convicted of the attempt to conceal any one of them was to be punished with death. * To imagine that Eusebius approved of all this severity would, no doubt, be doing him great injustice. Yet he could flatter the emperor in terms of as warm and extravagant panegyric, as the most contemptible vanity could ask; and the very fact that he assented to the creed with the anathematisms appended, may be adduced as evidence that he had no correct notions of the principles

» Constantine,

* Synodical Letter and Letters of Constantine. Soc. Lib. i. c. 8, 9.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of religious liberty, or wanted courage to defend them. To suppose the former would be the least injurious to his reputalion; for how few, even now, after fifteen centuries have elapsed, among those too who would pass for enlightened, understand the true principle of freedom as regards the formation and expression of opinions. To attribute ignorance of it to Eusebius is only to admit that he was not superior to the wisest and best men of his age, or of most subsequent times. Touching the principle of religious liberty, in its practical application at least, his conduct will bear a favorable comparison with that of Sir Thomas More. We wish it were as easy to acquit him of the charge of irresolution and timidity, as to find an apology for his imperfect conception of the great doctrine of Christian liberty.

The weapons employed by the consubstantialists at the Council of Nice were soon turned against themselves. Eustathius of Antioch, by some placed at the head of the council,* and who was one of the main pillars of orthodoxy, had, by his violence, rendered himself exceedingly obnoxious to the moderate party, and especially to the bishops of Palestine. He accused Eusebius of Cæsarea of having violated the faith of Nice. Eusebius repels the charge as a calumny, and Eustathius in turn fell under suspicion of heresy, having, as it was said, gone over to Sabellianism. A council was in consequence assembled at Antioch, A. D. 330, by which he was deposed, as some of the old writers would have us believe, for his Sabellianism, but, as others say, for immorality. I The emperor, whose zeal for orthodoxy seems to have now considerably abated, and who, as we may believe, had conceived a dislike against Eustathius, on account of some ignominious treatment which his mother Helena was reported to have received from him, confirmed the sentence of the synod and sent the bishop into exile. The Orthodox raised a clamor, which is still propagated against the council, as guilty of injustice to Eustathius ; yet, admitting the least important of the charges against him to have been substantiated, his deposition and exile could be defended upon the principle established at Nice, that is, that a man may be lawfully punished for supposed error of opinion. Eusebius of Cæsarea assisted at the council, and is blamed for it by those who can see pothing to censure in his conduct at Nice, except his dilatoriness in assenting to a measure, the effect of which was to deprive a man, against whom, more fortunate than Eustathius, the malignity of hatred never whispered the charge of immorality, of his home and country, and load his memory with reproach.

* The honor of addressing the emperor in the name of the council, generally assigned to Eusebius of Cæsarea, has been disputed in favor both of Eustathius of Antioch, and Alexander of Alexandria. Du Pin would have Hosius the president. — Nouvelle Biblioth. art. Eustathius. + Soc. Lib. i. 23. Soz. Lib. ii. c. 18. Soc. i. 24. Soz. ii. 19.

The bishops composing the council were desirous that Eusebius, the general consent and suffrage of the people being in his favor, should transfer his residence from Cæsarea to Antioch, and fill the vacant see, and to effect their object they petitioned Constantine to use his influence to induce him to comply. But he promptly refused, alleging as a reason an existing canon of the church prohibiting a change of sees, and the emperor commended his decision with many praises of his modesty and worth, in Letters still preserved.*

The storm next fell on Athanasius, who was condemned and deposed on several charges at a council assembled at Tyre, A. D. 335, where Eusebius sat among his judges. It was on this occasion the scene occurred to which we have already alluded, in which Potamon made himself so conspicuous. From Tyre, the bishops, at the emperor's summons, repaired to Jerusalem to dedicate the magnificent church recently erected there by his order. A delegation from the imperial palace was present with means, furnished by Constantine, for providing rich banquets and distributing money and garments among the poor. Numerous discourses were delivered on the occasion by eminent bishops present, and several, as Eusebius has not forgotten to inform us, by himself, to whom was vouchsafed blessings,” says he,“ much above our deserts." +

The dedication happened on the emperor's tricennalia, or thirtieth year of his empire, as the Council of Nice occurred on the vicennalia, or twentieth, on both which occasions splendid festivities were observed. The tricennial oration which, it seems, was delivered in the imperial palace at Constantinople, by Eusebius, who repaired thither immediately after the dedi

* Euseb. Life of Constantine, Lib. iii. c. 60, 61, 62. | Ibid. iv. c. 45.

« PreviousContinue »