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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.
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,
3 Soz. i. 14.
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 solicitations addressed to Alexander, with the view of effecting his re-admission into the Church.
4 [Alexander's siding with Arius, was nothing more than his disclaiming the views of the Five Fathers, vide supr. pp. 202, 220; also Appendix, No. 2, yévunois. As to the Arian evasions, which follow, vide supr. pp. 193, 216, 223, 238, &c.]
This was the history of the controversy for the first four or five years of its existence; that is, till the era of the battle of Hadrianople (A.D. 323), by the issue of which Constantine, becoming master of the Roman world, was at liberty to turn his thoughts to the state of Christianity in the Eastern Provinces of the Empire. From this date it is connected with civil history; a result natural, and indeed necessary under the existing circumstances, though it was the occasion of subjecting Christianity to fresh persecutions, in place of those which its nominal triumph had terminated. When a heresy, condemned and excommunicated by one Church, was taken up by another, and independent Christian bodies thus stood in open opposition, nothing was left to those who desired peace, to say nothing of orthodoxy, but to bring the question under the notice of a General Council. But as a previous step, the leave of the civil power was plainly necessary for so public a display of that wide-spreading Association, of which the faith of the Gospel was the uniting and animating principle. Thus the Church could not meet together in one, without entering into a sort of negotiation with the powers that be; whose jealousy it is the duty of Christians, both as individuals and as a body, if possible, to dispel. On the other hand, the Roman Emperor, as a professed disciple of the truth, was of course bound to protect its interests, and to afford every facility for its establishment in purity and efficacy. It was under these circumstances that the Nicene Council was convoked.
Now we must direct our view for a while to the character and history of Constantine. It is an ungrateful task to discuss the private opinions and motives of an Emperor who was the first to profess himself the Protector of the Church, and to relieve it from the abject and suffering condition in which it had lain for three centuries. Constantine is our benefactor; inasmuch as we, who now live, may be considered to have received the gift of Christianity by means of the increased influence which he gave to the Church. And, were it not that in conferring his benefaction he burdened it with the bequest of an heresy, which outlived his age by many centuries, and still exists in its effects in the divisions of the East, nothing would here be said, from mere grateful recollection of him, by way of analyzing the state of mind in which he viewed the benefit which he has conveyed to us. But his conduct, as it discovers itself in the subsequent history, natural as it was in his case, still has somewhat of a warning in it, which must not be neglected in after times.
It is of course impossible accurately to describe the various feelings with which one in Constantine's peculiar situation was likely to regard Christianity; yet the joint effect of them all may be gathered from his actual conduct, and the state of the civilized world at the time. He found his empire distracted with civil and religious dissensions, which tended to the dissolution of society; at a time too, when the barbarians without were pressing upon it with a vigour, formidable in itself, but far more