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CONSEQUENCES OF THE NICENE COUNCIL.
From the time that the Eusebians consented to subscribe the Homoüsion in accordance with the wishes of a heathen prince, they became nothing better than a political party. They soon learned, indeed, to call themselves Homæusians, or believers in the “like” substance (homæusion,) as if they still held the peculiarities of a religious creed; but in truth it is an abuse of language to say that they had any definite belief at all. For this reason, the account of the Homæusian or SemiArian doctrine shall be postponed, till such time as we fall in with individuals whom we may believe to be serious in their professions, and to act under the influence of religious convictions however erroneous. Here the Eusebians must be described as a secular faction, which is the true character of them in the history in which they bear a part.
Strictly speaking, the Christian Church, as being a visible society, is necessarily a political power or party. It may be a party triumphant, or a party under persecution; but a party it always must be, prior in existence to the civil institutions with which it is surrounded, and from its latent divinity formidable and influential, even to the end of time. The grant of permanency was made in the beginning, not to the mere doctrine of the Gospel, but to the Association itself built upon the doctrine '; in prediction, not only of the indestructibility of Christianity, but of the medium also through which it was to be manifested to the world. Thus the Ecclesiastical Body is a divinely-appointed means, towards realizing the great evangelical blessings. Christians depart from their duty, or become in an offensive sense political, not when they act as members of one community, but when they do so for temporal ends or in an illegal manner; not when they assume the attitude of a party, but when they split into many. If the primitive believers did not interfere with the acts of the civil government, it was merely because they had no civil rights enabling them legally to do so. But where they have rights, the case is different”; and the existence of a secular spirit is to be ascertained, not by their using these, but their using them for ends short of the ends for which they were given. Doubtless in criticizing the mode of their exercising them in a particular case, differences of opinion may fairly exist; but the principle itself, the duty of using their civil rights in the service of religion, is clear; and since there is a popular misconception, that Christians, and especially the Clergy, as such, have no concern in temporal affairs, it is expedient to take every opportunity of formally denying the position, and demanding proof of it. In truth, the Church was framed for the express purpose of interfering, or (as irreligious men will say) meddling with the world. It is the plain duty of its members, not only to associate internally, but also to develope that internal union in an external warfare with the spirit of evil, whether in Kings' courts or among the mixed multitude; and, if they can do nothing else, at least they can suffer for the truth, and remind men of it, by inflicting on them the task of persecution.
These principles being assumed, it is easy to enter into the relative positions of the Catholics and Arians at the era under consideration. As to the Arians, it is a matter of fact, that Arius and his friends commenced their career with the deliberate commission of disorderly and schismatical acts; and it is a clear inference from their subsequent proceedings, that they did so for private ends. For both reasons, then, they were a mere political faction, usurping the name of religion; and, as such, essentially anti-christian. The question here is not whether their doctrine was right or wrong; but, whether they did not make it a secondary object of their exertions, an instrument towards attaining ends which they valued above it. Now it will be found, that the party was prior to the creed. They grafted their heresy on the schism of the Meletians, who continued to support them after they had published it; and they readily abandoned it, when their secular interests required the sacrifice. At the Council of Nicæa, they began by maintaining an erroneous doctrine; they ended by concessions which implied the further heresy that points of faith are of no importance; and, if they were odious when they blasphemed the truth, they were still more odious when they confessed it. It was the very principle of Eclecticism to make light of differences in belief; while it was involved in the primary notion of a Revelation that these differences were of importance, and it was taught with plainness in the Gospel, that to join with those who denied the right faith was a sin.
This adoption, however, on the part of the Eusebians, of the dreams of Pagan philosophy, served in some sort as a recommendation of them to a prince who, both from education and from knowledge of the world, was especially tempted to consider all truth as a theory which was not realized in a present tangible form. Accordingly, when once they had rid themselves of the mortification caused by their forced subscription, they had the satisfaction of finding themselves the most powerful party in the Church, as being the representative and organ of the Emperor's sentiments. They then at once changed places with the Catholics; who sustained a double defeat, both in the continued power of those whom they had hoped to exclude from the Church, and again, in the invidiousness of their own unrelenting suspicion and dislike of men, who had seemed by subscription to satisfy all reasonable doubt respecting their orthodoxy.
The Arian party was fortunate, moreover, in its leaders; one the most dexterous politician, the other the most accomplished theologian of the age.
Eusebius of Nicomedia was a Lucianist, the fellow-disciple of Arius. He was originally Bishop of Berytus, in Phenicia ; but, having gained the confidence of Constantia, sister to Constantine, and wife to Licinius, he was by her influence translated to Nicomedia, where the Eastern Court then resided. Here he secretly engaged in the cause of Licinius against his rival, and is even reported to have been indifferent to the security of the Christians during the persecution which followed ; a charge which certainly derives some confirmation from Alexander's circular epistle, in which the Arians are accused of directing the violence of the civil power against the orthodox of Alexandria. On the ruin of Licinius, he was screened by Constantia from the resentment of the conqueror; and, being recommended by his polished manners and shrewd and persuasive talent, he soon contrived to gain an influence over the mind of Constantine himself. From the time that Arius had recourse to him on his flight from Palestine, he is to be accounted the real head of the heretical party; and his influence is quickly discernible in the change which ensued in its language and conduct. While a courteous tone was assumed towards the defenders of the orthodox doctrine, the subtleties of dialectics, in which the sect excelled, were used, not in attacking, but in deceiving its opponents, in making unbelief plausible, and obliterating the distinctive marks of the true creed. It must not be forgotten that it was from Nicomedia, the see of Euseblus, that Constantine wrote his epistle to Alexander and Arius.