Page images
PDF
EPUB

sive message, petitioning him for a general and final Council at Aquileia, a measure which Constantius had already led the Catholics to expect. The Western Bishops at Arles, on their part, demanded that, as a previous step to the condemnation of Athanasius, the orthodox Creed should be acknowledged by the Council, and Arius anathematized. However, the Eusebians carried their point; Valens followed up with characteristic violence the imperiousness of Constantius; ill treatment was added, till the Fathers of the Council, worn out by sufferings, consented to depose and even excommunicate Athanasius. Upon this, an edict was published, denouncing punishment on all Bishops who refused to subscribe the decree thus obtained. Among the instances of cowardice, which were exhibited at Arles, none was more lamentable than that of Vincent of Capua, one of the deputies from Liberius to the Emperor. Vincent had on former occasions shown himself a zealous supporter of orthodoxy. He is supposed to be the presbyter of the same name who was one of the representatives of the Roman Bishop at Nicæa; he had acted with the orthodox at Sardica, and had afterwards been sent by Constans to Constantius, to effect the restoration of the Athanasians in a.d. 348. It was on this occasion, that he and his companion had been exposed to the malice of Stephen, the Arian Bishop of Antioch; who, anxious to destroy their influence, caused a woman of light character to be introduced into their chamber, with the intention of founding a calumny against them; and who, on the artifice being discovered, was deposed by order of Constantius. On the present occasion, Vincent

was entirely in the confidence of Liberius ; who, having intrusted him with his delicate commission from a sense of his vigour and experience, was deeply afflicted at his fall. It is satisfactory to know, that Vincent retrieved himself afterwards at Ariminum; where he boldly resisted the tyrannical attempt of the Eusebians, to force their creed on the Western Church.

Times of trial bring forward men of zeal and boldness, who thus are enabled to transmit their names to posterity. Liberius, downcast at the disgrace of his representative, and liable himself to fluctuations of mind, was unexpectedly cheered by the arrival of the famous Lucifer, Bishop of Cagliari, in Sardinia, and Eusebius of Vercellæ. These, joined by a few others, proceeded as his deputies and advocates to the great Council of Milan, which was held by Constantius (A.D. 355), two years later than that in which Vincent fell. The Fathers collected there were in number above 300, almost all of the Western Church. Constantius was present, and Valens conducted the Arian maneuvres; and so secure of success were he and his party, that they did not scruple to insult the Council with the proposal of a pure Arian, or Anomoean, creed.

Whether this creed was generally subscribed, does not appear; but the condemnation of Athanasius was universally agreed upon, scarcely one or two of the whole number refusing to sign it. This is remarkable; inasmuch, as, at first, the Occidentals demanded of the Eusebians an avoval of the orthodox faith, as the condition of entering upon the consideration of the charges against him. But herein is the strength of audacious men; who gain what is unjust, by asking what is extravagant. Sozomen attributes the concession of the Council to fear, surprise, and ignorance?. In truth, a collection of men, who were strangers to each other, and without organization or recognized leaders, without definite objects or policy, was open to every variety of influence, which the cleverness of the usurping faction might direct against them. The simplicity of honesty, the weakness of an amiable temper, the inexperience of a secluded life, and the slowness of the unpractised intellect, all combined with their alarm at the Emperor's manifested displeasure, to impel them to take part with his heresy. When some of them ventured to object the rule of the Church against his command, that they should condemn Athanasius, and communicate with the Arians, “My will must be its rule," he replied ; “so the Syrian Bishops have decided; and so must yourselves, would you escape exile."

Several of the more noble-minded prelates of the principal Churches submitted to the alternative, and left their sees. Dionysius, Exarch of Milan, was banished to Cappadocia or Armenia, where he died before the end of the persecution ; Auxentius being placed in his see, a bitter Arian, brought for the purpose from Cappadocia, and from his ignorance of Latin, singularly illfitted to preside over a Western province. Lucifer was sent off into Syria, and Eusebius of Vercellæ into Pales

[ocr errors]

tine. A fresh and more violent edict was published against Athanasius; orders were given to arrest him as an impious person, and to put the Arians in possession of his churches, and of the benefactions, which Constantine had left for ecclesiastical and charitable uses. All Bishops were prohibited from communion with him, under pain of losing their sees; and the laity were to be compelled by the magistrates to join themselves to the heretical party. Hilary of Poictiers was the next victim of the persecution. He had taken part in a petition, presented to Constantius, in behalf of the exiled bishops. In consequence a Gallic Council was called, under the presidency of Saturninus, Bishop of Arles; and Hilary was banished into Phrygia.

6. The history of Liberius, the occupier of the most powerful see in the West, possesses an interest, which deserves our careful attention. In 356, the year after the Council of Milan, the principal eunuch of the Imperial Court had been sent, to urge on him by threats and promises the condemnation of Athanasius; and, on his insisting on a fair trial for the accused, and a disavowal of Arianism on the part of his accusers, as preliminary conditions, had caused him to be forced away to Milan. There the same arguments were addressed to him in the more impressive words of the Emperor himself; who urged upon him “ the notoriously wicked life of Athanasius, his vexatious opposition to the peace of the Church, his intrigues to effect a quarrel between the imperial brothers, and his frequent condemnation

in the Councils of Eastern and Western Christendom;" and further exhorted him, as being by his pastoral office especially a man of peace, to be cautious of appearing the sole obstacle to the happy settlement of a question, which could not otherwise be arranged. Liberius replied by demanding of Constantius even more than his own deputies had proposed to the Milanese Council ;—first, that there should be a general subscription to the Nicene faith throughout the Church; next, that the banished bishops should be restored to their sees; and lastly, should the trial of Athanasius be still thought advisable, that a Council should be held at Alexandria, where justice might be fairly dealt between him and his accusers. The conference between them ended in Liberius being allowed three days to choose between making the required subscription, and going into exile; at the end of which time he manfully departed for Bercea, in Thrace. Constantius and the empress, struck with the nobleness of his conduct, sent after him a thousand pieces of gold; but he refused a gift, which must have laid him under restraint towards heretical benefactors, Much more promptly did he reject the offer of assistance, which Eusebius, the eunuch before-mentioned, from whatever feeling, made him. “You have desolated the Churches of Christendom,” he said to the powerful favourite, “and then you offer me alms as a convict. Go, first learn to be a Christian 3.

There are men, in whose mouths sentiments, such as these, are becoming and admirable, as being the result

. 3 Soz. iv. 11. Theod. Hist, ii. 16.

« PreviousContinue »