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THE ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF NICÆA
IN THE REIGN OF CONSTANTINE.
HISTORY OF THE NICENE COUNCIL.
The authentic account of the proceedings of the Nicene Council is not extant. It has in consequence been judged expedient to put together in the foregoing Chapter whatever was necessary for the explanation of the Catholic and Arian creeds, and the controversy concerning them, rather than to reserve any portion of the doctrinal discussion for the present, though in some respects the more appropriate place for its introduction. Here then the transactions at Nicæa shall be reviewed in their political or ecclesiastical aspect.
i Vide Ittigius, Hist. Conc. Nic. § 1. The rest of this volume is drawn up from the following authorities : Eusebius, Vit. Const. Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret, Hist. Eccles., the various historical tracts of Athanasius, Epiphanius Hær. lxix. lxxiii., and the Acta Conciliorum. Of moderns, especially Tillemont and Petavius; then, Maimbourg's History of Arianism, the Benedictine Life of Athanasius, Cave's Life of Athanasius and Literary History, Gibbon's Roman History, and Mr. Bridges' Reign of Constantine.
1. Arius first published his heresy about the year 319. With his turbulent conduct in 306 and a few years later we are not here concerned. After this date, in 313, he is said, on the death of Achillas, to have aspired to the primacy of the Egyptian Church; and, according to Philostorgius?, the historian of his party, a writer of little credit, to have generously resigned his claims in favour of Alexander, who was elected. His ambitious character renders it not improbable that he was a candidate for the vacant dignity ; but, if so, the difference of age between himself and Alexander, which must have been considerable, would at once account for the eleva, tion of the latter, and be an evidence of the indecency, of Arius in becoming a competitor at all. His first attack on the Catholic doctrine was conducted with an openness which, considering the general duplicity of his party, is the most honourable trait in his character, In a public meeting of the clergy of Alexandria, he accused his diocesan of Sabellianism; an insult which Alexander, from deference to the talents and learning of the objector, sustained with somewhat too little of the dignity befitting “the ruler of the people.” The mischief which ensued from his misplaced meekness was considerable. Arius was one of the public preachers of Alexandria ; and, as some suppose, Master of the Cate chetical School. Others of the city Presbyters were stimulated by his example to similar irregularities. Colluthus, Carponas, and Sarmatas began to-form each his own party in a Church which Meletius had already troubled; and Colluthus went so far as to promulgate an heretical doctrine, and to found a sect. Still hoping to settle these disorders without the exercise of his episcopal power, Alexander summoned a meeting of his clergy, in which Arius was allowed to state his doctrines freely, and to argue in their defence; and, whether from a desire not to overbear the discussion, or from distrust in his own power of accurately expressing the truth, and anxiety about the charge of heresy brought against himself, the Primate, though in no wise a man of feeble mind, is said to have refrained from committing himself on the controverted subject, “applauding,” as Sozomen tells us, “sometimes the one party, sometimes the other.” At length the error of Arius appeared to be of so serious and confirmed a nature, that countenance of it would have been sinful. It began to spread beyond the Alexandrian Church ; the indecision of Alexander excited the murmurs of the Catholics; till, called unwillingly to the discharge of a severe duty, he gave public evidence of his real indignation against the blasphemies which he had so long endured, by excommunicating Arius with his followers.
2. Philost. i. 3.
This proceeding, obligatory as it was on a Christian Bishop, and ratified by the concurrence of a provincial Council, and expedient even for the immediate interests of Christianity, had other Churches been equally honest in their allegiance to the true faith, had the effect of increasing the influence of Arius, by throwing him upon his fellow-Lucianists of the rival dioceses of the East, and giving notoriety to his name and tenets. In Egypt, indeed, he had already been supported by the Meletian faction ; which, in spite of its profession of orthodoxy, continued in alliance with him, through jealousy of the Church, even after he had fallen into heresy. But the countenance of these schismatics was of small consideration, compared with the powerful aid frankly tendered him, on his excommunication, by the leading men in the great Catholic communities of Asia Minor and the East. Cæsarea was the first place to afford him a retreat from Alexandrian orthodoxy, where he received a cordial reception from the learned Eusebius, Metropolitan of Palestine ; while Athanasius, Bishop of Anazarbus in Cilicia, and others, did not hesitate, by letters on his behalf, to declare their concurrence with him in the full extent of his heresy. Eusebius even declared that Christ was not very or true God; and his associate Athanasius asserted, that He was in the number of the hundred sheep of the parable, that is, one of the creatures of God. · Yet, in spite of the countenance of these and other eminent men, Arius found it difficult to maintain his ground against the general indignation which his heresy excited. He was resolutely opposed by Philogonius, patriarch of Antioch, and Macarius of Jerusalem ; who promptly answered the call made upon them by Alexander, in his circulars addressed to the Syrian Churches. In the meanwhile Eusebius of Nicomedia, the early friend of Arius, and the ecclesiastical adviser of Constantia, the Emperor's sister, declared in his favour ; and offered him a refuge, which he readily accepted, from the growing unpopularity which attended him in Palestine. Supported by the patronage of so powerful a prelate, Arius was now scarcely to be considered in the position of a schismatic or an outcast. He assumed in consequence a more calm and respectful demeanour towards Alexander; imitated the courteous language of his friend; and in his Epistle, which was introduced into the foregoing Chapter, addresses his diocesan with studious humility, and defers or appeals to previous statements made by Alexander himself on the doctrine in dispute*. At this time also he seems to have corrected and completed his system. George, afterwards Bishop of Laodicea, taught him an evasion for the orthodox test “ of God," by a reference to 1 Cor. xi. 12. Asterius, a sophist of Cappadocia, advocated the secondary sense of the word Logos as applied to Christ, with a reference to such passages as Joel ii. .25; and, in order to explain away the force of the word “Only-begotten," (uovoryevns,) maintained, that to Christ alone out of all creatures it had been given, to be fashioned under the immediate presence and perilous weight of the Divine Hand. Now too, as it appears, the title of “True God” was ascribed to Him by the heretical party'; the “of an alterable nature” was withdrawn; and an admission of His actual indefectibility substituted for it. The heresy being thus placed on a less exceptionable basis, the influence of Eusebius, was exerted in Councils both in Bithynia and Palestine; in which Arius was acknowledged, and more urgent
3 Soz. i. 14.