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THE ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE IN THE
REIGN OF THEODOSIUS.
THE second Ecumenical Council was held at Constanti. nople, A.D. 381–383. It is celebrated in the history of theology for its condemnation of the Macedonians, who, separating the Holy Spirit from the unity of the Father and Son, implied or inferred that He was a creature. A brief account of it is here added in its ecclesiastical aspect; the doctrine itself, to which it formally bore witness, having been incidentally discussed in the second Chapter of this Volume.
Eight years before the date of this Council, Athanasius had been taken to his rest. After a life of contest, prolonged, in spite of the hardships he encountered, beyond the age of seventy years, he fell asleep in peaceable possession of the Churches, for which he had suffered. The Council of Alexandria was scarcely concluded, when he was denounced by Julian, and saved his life by flight or concealment. Returning on Jovian's accession, he was, for a fifth and last time, forced to retreat before the ministers of his Arian successor Valens; and for four months lay hid in his father's sepulchre. On a representation being made to the new Emperor, even with
the consent of the Arians themselves, he was finally restored ; and so it happened, through the good Providence of God, that the fury of persecution, heavily as it threatened in his last years, yet was suspended till his death, when it at once burst forth upon the Church with renewed vigour. Thus he was permitted to muse over his past trials, and his prospects for the future; to collect his mind to meet his God, gathering himself up with Jacob on his bed of age, and yielding up the ghost peaceably among his children. Yet, amid the decay of nature, and the visions of coming dissolution, the attention of Athanasius was in no wise turned from the active duties of his station. The vigour of his obedience to those duties remained unabated; one of his last acts being the excommunication of one of the Dukes of Lybia, for irregularity of life.
At length, when the great Confessor was removed, the Church sustained a loss, from which it never recovered. His resolute resistance of heresy had been but one portion of his services; a more excellent praise is due to him, for his charitable skill in binding together his brethren in unity. The Church of Alexandria was the natural mediator between the East and West; and Athanasius had well improved the advantages thus committed to him. His judicious interposition in the troubles at Antioch has lately been described ; and the dissensions between his own Church and Constantinople, which ensued upon his death, may be taken to show how much the combination of the Catholics depended on his silent authority. Theological subtilties were for ever starting into existence among the Greek Christians; and the Arian controversy had corrupted their spirit, where it had failed to impair their orthodoxy. Disputation was the rule of belief, and ambition of conduct, in the Eusebian school; and these evil introductions outlived its day. Patronized by the secular power, the great Churches of Christendom conceived a jealousy of each other, and gradually fortified themselves in their own resources. As Athanasius drew towards his end, the task of mediation became more difficult. In spite of his desire to keep aloof from party, circumstances threw him against his will into one of the two divisions, which were beginning to discover themselves in the Christian world. Even before his time, traces appear of a rivalry between the Asiatic and Egyptian Churches. The events of his own day, developing their differences of character, at the same time connected the Egyptians with the Latins. The mistakes of his own friends obliged him to side with a seeming faction in the body of the Antiochene Church; and, in the schism which followed, he found himself in opposition to the Catholic communities of Asia Minor and the East. Still, though the course of events tended to ultimate disruptions in the Catholic Church, his personal influence remained unimpaired to the last, and enabled him to interpose with good effect in the affairs of the East. This is well illustrated by a letter addressed to him shortly before his death, by St. Basil, who belonged to the contrary party, and had then recently been elevated to the exarchate of Cæsarea. It shall be here inserted, and may serve as a sort of valediction in parting with one, who, after the Apostles, has been a principal instrument, by
which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world.
“To Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. The more the sicknesses of the Church increase, so much the more earnestly do we all turn towards thy Perfection, persuaded that for thee to lead us is our sole remaining comfort in our difficulties. By the power of thy prayers, by the wisdom of thy counsels, thou art able to carry us through this fearful storm; as all are sure, who have heard or made trial of that perfection ever so little. Wherefore cease not both to pray for our souls, and to stir us up by thy letters ; didst thou know the profit of these to us, thou wouldst never let pass an opportunity of writing to us. For me, were it vouchsafed to me, by the co-operation of thy prayers, once to see thee, and to profit by the gift lodged in thee, and to add to the history of my life a meeting with so great and apostolical a soul, surely I should consider myself to have received from the loving mercy of God a compensation for all the ills, with which my life has ever been afflicted !.”
1. The trials of the Church, spoken of by Basil in this letter, were the beginnings of the persecution directed against it by the Emperor Valens. This prince, who succeeded Jovian in the East, had been baptized by Eudoxius; who, from the time he became possessed of the See of Constantinople, was the chief, and soon became the sole, though a powerful, support of the Eusebian faction. He is said to have bound Valens by oath, at
i Basil. Ep. 80.
the time of his baptism, that he would establish Arianism as the state religion of the East; and thus to have prolonged its ascendancy for an additional sixteen years after the death of Constantius (A.D. 361–378). At the beginning of this period, the heretical party had been weakened by the secession of the Semi-Arians, who had not merely left it, but had joined the Catholics. This part of the history affords a striking illustration, not only of the gradual influence of truth over error, but of the remarkable manner in which Divine Providence makes use of error itself as a preparation for truth; that is, employing the lighter forms of it in sweeping away those of a more offensive nature Thus Semi-Arianism became the bulwark and forerunner of the orthodoxy which it opposed. From A.D. 357, the date of the second and virtually Homean formulary of Sirmium”, it had protested against the impiety of the genuine Arians. In the successive Councils of Ancyra and Seleucia, in the two following years, it had condemned and deposed them; and had established the scarcely objectionable creed of Lucian. On its own subsequent disgrace at Court, it had concentrated itself on the Asiatic side of the Hellespont; while the high character of its leading bishops for gravity and strictness of life, and its influence over the monastic institutions, gave it a formidable popularity among the lower classes on the opposite coast of Thrace.
Six years after the Council of Seleucia (A.D. 365), in the reign of Valens, the Semi-Arians held a Council at Lampsacus, in which they condemned the Homean
? [Vide supra, pp. 332, 333.]