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by a large portion of his flock, and was extricated from the charge of heresy, only by the dexterity of his learned son. Indeed, to many of the Arianizing bishops, may be applied the remarks, which Hilary makes upon the laity subjected to Arian teaching; that their own piety enabled them to interpret expressions religiously, which were originally invented as evasions of the orthodox doctrine 6.
And even in parts of the East, where a much clearer perception of the difference between truth and error existed, it must have been an extreme difficulty to such of the orthodox as lived among Arians, to determine, in what way best to accomplish duties, which were in opposition to each other. The same obligation of Christian unity, which was the apology for the laity who remained, as at Antioch, in communion with an Arian bishop, would lead to a similar recognition of his authority by clergy or bishops who were ecclesiastically subordinate to him. Thus Cyril of Jerusalem, who was in no sense either Anomaan or Eusebian, received consecration from the hands of his metropolitan Acacius ; and St. Basil, surnamed the Great, the vigorous champion of orthodoxy against the Emperor Valens, attended the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 359, 360), as a deacon, in the train of his namesake Basil, the leader of the Semi-Arians.
On the other hand, it was scarcely safe to leave the deliberate heretic in possession of his spiritual power. Many bishops too were but the creatures of the times,
5 “Sanctiores sunt aures plebis,” he says, “quàm corda sacerdotum.” Bull, Defens. epilog. [Vide infr. Append. No. 5.]
. V. raised up from the lowest of the people, and deficient in the elementary qualifications of learning and sobriety. Even those, who had but conceded to the violence of others, were the objects of a just suspicion; since, frankly as they now joined the Athanasians, they had already shown as much interest and reliance in the opposite party.
Swayed by these latter considerations, some of the assembled prelates advocated the adoption of harsh measures towards the Arianizers, considering that their deposition was due both to the injured dignity and to the safety of the Catholic Church. Athanasius, however, proposed a more temperate policy; and his influence was sufficient to triumph over the excitement of mind which commonly accompanies a deliverance from persecution. A decree was passed, that such bishops as had communicated with the Arians through weakness or surprise, should be recognized in their respective sees, on their signing the Nicene formulary; but that those, who had publicly defended the heresy, should only be admitted to lay-communion. No act could evince more clearly than this, that it was no party interest, but the ascendancy of the orthodox doctrine itself, which was the aim of the Athanasians. They allowed the power of the Church to remain in the hands of men indifferent to the interests of themselves, on their return to that faith, which they had denied through fear; and their ability to force on the Arianizers this condition, evidences what they might have done, had they chosen to make an appeal against the more culpable of them to the clergy and laity of their respective churches, and to create and
. 1.] The Council of Alexandria. 371 send out bishops to supply their places. But they desired peace, as soon as the interests of truth were secured; and their magnanimous decision was forthwith adopted by Councils held at Rome, in Spain, Gaul, and Achaia. The state of Asia was less satisfactory. As to Antioch, its fortunes will immediately engage our attention. Phrygia and the Proconsulate were in the hands of the Semi-Arians and Macedonians; Thrace and Bithynia, controlled by the Imperial Metropolis, were the stronghold of the Eusebian or Court faction.
2. The history of the Church of Antioch affords an illustration of the general disorders of the East at this period, and of the intention of the sanative measure passed at Alexandria respecting them. Eustathius, its Bishop, one of the principal Nicene champions, had been an early victim of Eusebian malice, being deposed on calumnious charges, A.D. 331. A series of Arian prelates succeeded ; some of whom, Stephen, Leontius, and Eudoxius, have been commemorated in the foregoing pages. The Catholics of Antioch had disagreed among themselves, how to act under these circumstances. Some, both clergy and laity, refusing the communion of heretical teachers, had holden together for the time, as a distinct body, till the cause of truth should regain its natural supremacy ; while others had admitted the usurping succession, which the Imperial will forced upon the Church. When Athanasius passed through Antioch on his return from his second exile (A.D. 348), he had acknowledged the
6 Vide supra, p. 288.
seceders, from a respect for their orthodoxy, and for the rights of clergy and laity in the election of a bishop. Yet it cannot be denied, that men of zeal and boldness were found among those who remained in the heretical communion. Two laymen, Flavian and Diodorus, protested with spirit against the heterodoxy of the crafty Leontius, and kept alive an orthodox party in the midst of the Eusebians.
On the translation of Eudoxius to Constantinople, the year before the death of Constantius, an accident occurred, which, skilfully improved, might have healed the incipient schism among the Trinitarians. Scarcely had Meletius, the new Bishop of the Eusebian party, taken possession of his see, when he conformed to the Catholic faith. History describes him as gifted with remarkable sweetness and benevolence of disposition. Men thus characterized are often deficient in sensibility, in their practical judgment of heresy; which they abhor indeed in the abstract, yet countenance in the case of their friends, from a false charitableness; which leads them, not merely to hope the best, but to overlook the guilt of opposing the truth, where the fact is undeniable. Meletius had been brought up in the communion of the Eusebians; a misfortune, in which nearly all the Oriental Christians of his day were involved. Being considered as one of their party, he had been promoted by them to the see of Sebaste, in Armenia ; but, taking offence at the conduct of his flock, he had retired to Bercea, in Syria. During the residence of the Court at Antioch, A.D. 361, the election of the new prelate of that see came on; and the choice of both Arians and Arianizing orthodox fell on Meletius. Acacius was the chief mover in this business. He had lately? succeeded in establishing the principle of liberalism at Constantinople, where a condemnation had been passed on the use of words not found in Scripture, in confessions of faith ; and he could scarcely have selected a more suitable instrument, as it appeared, of extending its influence, than a prelate, who united purity of life and amiableness of temper, to a seeming indifference to the distinctions between doctrinal truth and error.
On the new Patriarch's arrival at Antioch, he was escorted by the court bishops, and his own clergy and laity, to the cathedral. Desirous of solemnizing the occasion, the Emperor himself had condescended to give the text, on which the assembled prelates were to comment. It was the celebrated passage from the Proverbs, in which Origen has piously detected, and the Arians perversely stifled, the great article of our faith ; " the Lord hath created [possessed] Me in the beginning of His ways, before His works of old.” George of Laodicea, who, on the departure of Eudoxius from Antioch, had left the Semi-Arians and rejoined the Eusebians, opened the discussion with a dogmatic explanation of the words. Acacius followed with that ambiguity of language, which was the characteristic of his school. At length the new Patriarch arose, and to the surprise of the assembly, with a subdued manner, and in measured words, avoiding indeed the Nicene Homoüsion, but accurately fixing the meaning of his expressions, confessed the true Catholic tenet, so long exiled from the throne and altars of Antioch.
7 Vide supra, pp. 357, 361.