ARTICLE II. THE ARIAN HERESY. I -PROGRESS OF ARIUS, AND HIS CONDEMATION BY THE COUNCIL OF NICE. – 8.-Origin of Arius. 9.-His Errors and Supporters. 10.-Synod of Bythynia. 11. – Synod of Osius in Alexandria. 12. – General Council of Nice. 13.- Condemnation of Arius. 14 – 16.Profession of Faith. 17. -Exile of Eusebius of Nicomedia, and insidious Letter of Eusebius of Cesarea. 18.- Banishment of Arius. 19.-Decree for the Meletians. 20.-Decree for the Quartodecimans. 21. Canons. 22.-End of the Council.
- Arius was an African, born in that part of it called Lybia Cirenaica, and he went to Alexandria in the expectation of obtaining some ecclesiastical dignity. He was, as Baronius tells us, a man of great learning and science of polished manners, but of a forbidding appearance ambitious of glory, and fond of novelty (1). At first he was a follower of Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis, in Upper Egypt. This bishop, in the beginning of the fourth century, though he taught nothing contrary to faith, still was deposed by St. Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, on account of many grievous crimes, one of which even was idolatry (2); and he then raised a great schism in Egypt against St. Peter, and went so far as to administer the ordination belonging by right to the Saint. Arius judged that he would have no great chance of advancing himself according to his wishes, by continuing a partizan of Meletius, so he made his submission to St. Peter, and was ordained deacon by him; but he, finding that he still continued to correspond with Meletius, turned him out of Alexandria.
(1) Baron. An. 319; Van Ranst, p. 70; Nat. Alex. t. 8, c. 3, ar. 3; Fleury, I. 10; Hermant, t. 1, c.85; Orsi, l. 12, n. 2.
(2) Nat. ibid, ar. 2; St. Athan. cum. Socrat. & Theodoret; Orsi, l. 12, n. 41; Fleury, l. 11, n. 15.
St. Peter was soon after put in prison for the faith, and about to be martyred. Arius endeavoured again to be received by him; and it was then, as Baronius(3) tells us, on the authority of the Acts of the martyrdom of St. Peter, that Christ appeared to the Saint with a torn garment, and said to him: “Arius has torn this; take heed lest you receive him into your communion.” Alexander has strong doubts of the truth of this vision (4); but his arguments are not convincing, and it has been admitted into the Roman Breviary on the 26th of November, the feast of St. Peter. Arius, for all that, was promoted to the priesthood by Achilla, who succeeded St. Peter, martyred in 311, and got the charge of a parochial church called Baucal (5), in Alexandria. On the death of Achilla, Arius, who was now, as Fleury tells us, advanced in years, expected to succeed him; but St. Alexander was chosen, a man of great knowledge and most exemplary life. Arius began immediately to censure his conduct and condemn his doctrine, saying that he falsely taught that the Word, the Son of God, was equal to the Father, begotten by him from all eternity, and of the same nature and substance as the Father, which, he said, was the heresy of Sabellius. He then began to promulgate the following blasphemies: 1. That the Word was not from all eternity, but was brought forth out of nothing by the Father, and created, the same as one of ourselves; and, 2ndly, that Christ, according to his free will, was of a mutable nature, and that he might have followed vice, but that, as he embraced goodness, God, as a reward for his good works, made him a participator in the divine nature, and honoured him with the title of the Word, the Son, and of Wisdom (6). Noel Alexander says that these errors are taken from an impious work he wrote, called Thalia, and from an Epistle of his to St. Alexander, referred to by St. Athanasius, and from the Synodical Epistle of the Council of Nice, quoted by Socrates, St. Epiphanius, and Theodoret. Noel Alexander also says, on the authority of St. Athanasius and Theodoret, that he taught that the Word in the Incarnation took a body without a soul, and that the soul was part of the divinity.
(3) Baron. An. 310, n. 4 & 5.
(4) N. Alex. t. 8, diss. 9.
(5) St. Epip. Her. 69, Theod. &c.
(6) Nat. Alex. ar. 3, sec. 2; Fleury, cit. n. 28; Baron. An. 315, n. 19 &20; Hermant c. 84.
- Arius began at first privately to teach his errors; but he soon became so bold that he publicly preached them in his parish. St. Alexander at first tried to bring him back by admonition, but, finding that of no avail, he had recourse to more rigorous measures; and as some bishops were even then tainted with his heresy especially Secundus of Ptolemais, and Theonas of Marmorica he convoked a synod in Alexandria, in 320, at which nearly one hundred bishops from Lybia and Egypt assembled, besides a great number of priests. Arius was called before them, and publicly professed his errors; so the assembled Fathers excommunicated him and his adherents, and St. Alexander wrote from the synod an encyclical letter, giving an account of it to all the bishops of the Church (7). Notwithstanding this, Arius only became more obstinate, and made many proselytes, both men and women; and Theodoret says (8) he seduced several of his female followers. He then put himself under the protection of Eusebius of Nicomedia, a powerful and learned, but wicked, man, who left his own bishopric of Beyrout, and intruded himself into the see of Nicomedia, through the influence of Constantia, the sister of Constantine. He wrote to St. Alexander, requesting him to receive Arius again into his communion; but the Holy Patriarch not only refused his request, but obliged Arius and all his followers to quit Alexandria (9).
(7) N. Alex. ar. 4, s. 1; Fleury. ibid; Hermant, c. 86; Orsi. (8) Theodoret, l. 1, c. 4. ( 9) Socrat, l. 1, c. 6; Orsi, n. 9 Fleury, loc. cit.
- Arius then went to Palestine, and succeeded in seducing several bishops of that and the neighbouring provinces, especially Eusebius of Cesarea, Aezius of Lidda or Hospolis, Paulinus of Tyre, Gregory of Beiroot, Athanasius of Anazarbus, and Theodotus of Laodicea. When St. Alexander heard of this, he complained very much of it, and wrote to several of the bishops of Palestine, who yielded to his advice, and forsook Arius. He then took refuge with his friend Eusebius of Nicomedia, and there he wrote his book called Thalia, interlarding it with low jests, to take the common people, and with all his blasphemies against the faith, to instil into the minds of every class the poison of his heresy (10). Eusebius called together a synod in Bythinia of bishops favourable to Arius, who wrote to several other bishops to interfere with St. Alexander to receive him again to his communion, but the saint was inflexible (11).
- About this time Constantine gained the victory over Licinius, which gave him peaceable possession of the empire; but when he came to Mcomedia he was afflicted to hear of the dissensions between St. Alexander and Arius and the bishops of the East. Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had the first story for the Emperor, told him it was a matter of no great importance altogether, and did not touch on the integrity of the faith, and that all that was requisite was that both sides should be silent. So, to believe that Jesus Christ was either God or a simple creature was a matter of trifling importance; but this has always been the aim of heretics, to make it appear that the dogmas they impugned were of no great consequence. The Emperor being thus deceived, wrote to St. Alexander (12), telling him it was unwise to disturb the Church after this manner, and that the wisest way would be to hold his tongue, and leave every one to follow his own opinions. The disturbance in the East, however, only increased; so that, at length, Osius, Bishop of Cordova, in Spain for thirty years, a man of the greatest merit and earning, and who suffered a great deal in the persecution of Maximilian, was sent to put an end to it. Baronius and Van Ranst say he was sent by St. Sylvester; but the general opinion, which Fleury and Noel Alexander, on the authority of Socrates, Eusebius, Sozymen, and Theodoret adopt, is that he was sent by the Emperor (13). When Osius arrived in Alexandria, and saw that the evil was greater than he imagined, he summoned a synod of bishops in concert with St. Alexander, and Arius and his followers were again excommunicated, and his errors condemned (14).
(10) St. Athan. Apol. 15.
(11) Orsi, l. 12, n. 16; Fleury, l 10, n. 37.
(12) Eussb. in Vit. Costant. c. 63. –
(13) Baron. An. 518, n. 88; Fleury, n. 42; Van Ranst, p. 71.
(14) N. Alex. ar. 4, sec. 1; Fleury, l 10, n. 43; Orsi, /. 12, n. 21; Hermant, l. 1, c. 86.
- After this new condemnation, Arius wrote to the Emperor in his defence; but Constantine, now informed of his errors, answered him in a long letter, in which, after refuting his errors, he proved him to be a malicious fool, and he also ordered that this letter should be made public. The Arians were so annoyed at this that they pelted the Emperor’s statue, and disfigured the face of it; but he showed his good sense, and proved himself a man of great moderation, on the occasion, for when his ministers urged him to punish them, he, laughing, put his hand to his face, and said, ” I don’t perceive they have hurted me,” and took no more notice of the matter (15). The fire of discord was not, however, extinguished, but rather burned more violently every day. The Emperor then judged it best to call together a general council, to put an end to it; and appointed Nice, in Bythinia, not Nice, in Thrace, as the place of meeting, and invited all bishops both those of the empire, and those beyond its borders to assemble there, and provided for all their expenses (16). The bishops of Asia, Africa, and Europe were rejoiced at this, and came to the council; so that, in the year 325, three hundred and eighteen bishops were assembled in Nice, as Noel Alexander asserts, on the authority of St. Ambrose, in contradiction to Eusebius, who reduces the number to two hundred and fifty (17). Oh, how glorious it was for the Church to see so many pastors assembled in this council! Among them were many prelates bearing on their persons the marks of persecution suffered for the faith, especially St. Paphnutius, bishop in the Thebaid, whose right eye was plucked out, and his left hand burned, in the persecution of Maximilian; St. Paul, Bishop of Neoceserea, who, by order of Licinius, lost the use of both his hands, the sinews being burned with a red iron; St. Potamon, Bishop of Thrace, whose right eye also was torn out for the faith; and many other ecclesiastics, who were tortured by the idolaters (18).
(15) Orsi, l. 12, n. 24.
(16) Fleury, l. 11, n. 1; Orsi, l. 12, n25
(17) Baron. Ann. 325; Nat. Alex., Fleury, Ruf. Soc. St. Athanasius, & Soz.
(18) Theodoret, 7. 1, c. 7; Fleury, & Orsi.
- St. Sylvester seconded the pious intention of the Emperor, and assented to the council; and as his advanced age did not permit him to attend in person, he sent, as his legates, Vito and Vincentius, Roman priests, and Osius, Bishop of Cordova, to preside in his place, and regulate the sessions (19). Tillemont, in his history, at the year 325, doubts if Osius presided at this council; but not alone all the authors cited speak of him as president, but Maclaine, the English annotator of Mosheim, allows the fact. St. Athanasius calls Osius the chief and leader of the synod (20); and Gelasius Cizicenus, the historian of the fifth century, speaking of the Nicene Council, says Osius held the place of Sylvester, and, along with Vito and Vincentius, was present at that meeting. On the 19th of June, 325, the synod was opened in the great church of Nice, as Cardinal Orsi (21), following the general opinion, relates. The session, he says, held in the palace, in presence of Constantino, was not, as Fleury believes, the first but the last one (22). The first examination that was made was of the errors of Arius, who, by Constantino’s orders, was present in Nice; and being called on to give an account of his faith, he vomited forth, with the greatest audacity, those blasphemies he before preached, saying, that the Son of God did not exist from all eternity, but was created from nothing, just like any other man, and was mutable, and capable of virtue or vice. The holy bishops hearing such blasphemies for all were against him with the exception of twenty-two, friends of his, which number was afterwards reduced to five, and finally to two stopped their ears with horror, and, full of holy zeal, exclaimed against him (23). Notwithstanding this, the council wished that his propositions should be separately examined; and it was then that St. Athanasius brought from Alexandria, by his bishop, St. Alexander showed forth his prowess against the enemies of the faith, who marked him from that out, and persecuted him for the rest of his life. A letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia was read in the council, from which it appeared that he coincided in his opinions with Arius. The letter was publicly torn in his presence, and he was covered with confusion. The Eusebian party, notwithstanding, ceased not to defend the doctrine of Arius; but they contradicted one another, and, by their very answers, showed the inconsistency of their opinions (24).
(19) Socrat. l. 1, c. 3; N. Alex. Orsi, Fleury. (20) St. Athan. Apol. de Fuga.
(21) Orsi, n. 22, infra, (22) Fleury, l. 11, n. 10
(23) Ibid. (24) Socrat. l. 2, c. 8.
- The Arians were asked by the Catholics: If they admitted that the Son was in everything like the Father if he was his image if he always existed if he was unchangeable if he was subsistent in the Father if he was the power of God if he was true God. At first the Arian party were undecided, whether they should admit all or only part of these terms; but the Eusebians, having whispered a while among themselves, agreed to admit them all. They could grant he was like the Father, they argued, and his image, since it is written in St. Paul (I. Cor. ii, 7), ” that man is the image and glory of God;” they might say he was subsistent in the Father, since, in the Acts, xvii, 28, it is written, ” in him we live, and move, and be;” that he always existed, since it is written of us (II. Cor. iv, 11), “For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’s sake.” so that even we have always existed in the power and mind of God; that he was immutable, since it is written that nothing could separate us from the charity of God, “Nor life nor death shall be able to separate us from the love of God” the power of God, for even soothsayers are called the power of God the true God, for the Son of God, by his merits, he was made God, a name sometimes given unto men: ” I said you are Gods” (John, x, 34) (25).
- The Fathers of the Council, seeing how they thus distorted the Scriptures, and gave their own meaning to the texts, judged it necessary to avail themselves of a word which would remove all doubts, and could not be explained away by their adversaries, and this word was ” consubstantial,” which they considered as necessary to be introduced into the profession of faith, using the Greek word ” omousion,” the meaning of which is that the Son is not only like but is the very thing, the very substance, with the Father, as our Saviour himself says ” I and the Father are one” (John, x, 30). The Arians stoutly refused to admit this expression, for that one word did away with all subterfuges, and knocked away the last prop on which this heresy rested; they made, therefore, many objections, but all were overruled. We shall treat more fully of this in the third part of the work, The Theological Refutation of Errors.
(25) Fleury, al loc. cit. con St. Athan.
- The Emperor, Cardinal Orsi says, was anxious to be present at the last session of this synod, and wished it to be held in his palace, and came from Nicomedia to Nice for that purpose. When he entered the assembly, some discontented bishops handed him memorials, accusing their colleagues, and appealing to his judgment; but he ordered them to be burnt, making use of those remarkable expressions quoted by Noel Alexander (26), “God has made you priests, and has given you power even to judge ourselves, and we are properly judged by you, for you are given to us by God as Gods on this earth, and it is not meet that man should judge Gods.” He refused to sit down on the low seat he had prepared for himself in the council until the bishops desired him; he then sat down, and all the bishops with his permission also took their seats (27). One of the fathers of the council it is generally supposed Eustachius, Bishop of Antioch (28) then arose and delivered an oration, in which he praised the Emperor’s zeal, and gave God thanks for his victories. Constantine then spoke (29) : It afforded him, he said, the greatest consolation to see so many fathers thus united in the same sentiments; he recommended peace to them, and gave every one liberty to speak his mind; he praised the defenders of the faith, and reproved the temerity of the Arians. The fathers then framed the decree in the following form, as Cabassutius gives it (30): ” We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible; and in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten Son of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, born, not made, consubstantial to the Father by whom all things were made in heaven and in earth; who for us died, for our salvation descended, became incarnate and was made man; he suffered and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven, and again shall come to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost.” This symbol, St. Athanasius says (31), was composed by Osius, and was recited in the synod.
(26) N. Alex. ar. 4, sec. 2; Rufin.; Theodoret, His. Eccles.
(27) Fleury, 1. 11, n. 10.
(28) Theod. 1. 1, c. 7.
(29) Euseb. in vita Const, c. 12. (30) Cabass. Not. Concil. p. 88, ex St. Athan. Socrat., Rufin. & Theod.
(31) St. Athan. His. Arian. n, 42.
The council then fulminated an anathema against any one who should say there was a time when the Son of God did not exist, or that he did not exist before he was born, or that he was made of those things that exist not; or should assert that he was of any other substance or essence, or created, or mutable, or convertible. All who speak thus of the Son of God, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes. Baronius says (32), that the council then added to the hymn, ” Glory be to the Father, &c,” the words,” As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, for ever, and ever, Amen.
- The bishops of the opposite side were, as we have already seen, twenty-two at first, but they were reduced, as Sozymen (33) says, to seventeen; and even these, terrified by the threats of Constantine, and fearing to lose their sees, and be banished, all gave in with the exception of five (34); these were Eusebius of Nicomedia; Thegonis of Nice; Maris of Chalcedon; Theonas of Marmorica; and Secundus of Ptolemais; and of these, three finally yielded, and the two first alone remained obstinate, and were deposed and banished (35). But while we condemn the temerity of those, we must acknowledge that they were more sincere than their colleagues, who subscribed the decrees, but were afterwards persecutors of the council and the Catholics. Eusebius of Cesarea especially merits reprobation on this score, for writing to his diocesans, as Socrates tells us (36), and publishing the formula of faith promulgated by the council, he says that he subscribed it merely for peace sake, and states, among other falsehoods, that the council approved the formula handed in by Eusebius of Nicomedia, when the fact was that it was not only rejected, but torn in pieces; that the word ” consubstantial” was inserted to please the Emperor, when it was inserted by the fathers after the most mature deliberation, as a touchstone to distinguish the Catholics from the Arians. The fathers, he adds, in adopting this word intended merely to signify that the Son was of the Father, and not as a substantial part of him; and that the words, born and not made, merely meant that he was not made like other creatures, who were afterwards created by him, but of a more excellent nature.
(32) Baron. Ann. 325, n. 173.
(33) Sozyraan, l. 1, c. 28. /. 12, n. 54.
(34) Socrat. l. 1, c. 8.
(35) Flemy, L 11, n. 24; Orsi, t. 5,
(36) Orsi, ibid.
He concludes by saying that the council anathematized any one who would assert that the Son was made from nothing, and that he did not exist before he was born, in as far as such expressions are not found to be used in the Scriptures, and likewise because the Son, before he was generated, though he did not exist, was nevertheless existing potentialiter, as theologians say, in the Father, who was potentialiter from all eternity the creator of all things. Besides the proof afforded by this letter of his opinion, St. Jerome (37) says, that every one knows that Eusebius was an Arian. The fathers of the seventh synod, in the sixth Actio, declare ” no one is ignorant that Eusebius Pamphilius, given over to a reprobate cause, holds the same opinions as those who follow the impiety of Arius.” Valois remarks that this may have been said incidentally by the fathers, but Juenin (38) on the contrary proves that the synod came to this decision, after a strict examination of the arguments taken from his works.
- Though Arius was abandoned by all except the two obstinate bishops, he still continued to defend his errors, so he was excommunicated by the council, and banished to Illiria, together with his partisans, by Constantino. All his writings, and especially the infamous Thalia, were likewise condemned by the Emperor and the council, and the Emperor published a circular or decree through the entire empire, ordering the writings of Arius to be everywhere burned, and denouncing the punishment of death against any one who would controvert this order (39).
- The council having disposed of Arius, next suspended Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis, from all his episcopal functions, and especially from ordaining any one; but ordered, at the same time, that all his followers should be admitted to the communion of the Church on condition of renouncing his schism and doctrine (40).
- The council likewise arranged the question of the celebration of Easter, which then made a great noise in Asia, by ordering that in future it should be celebrated not in the Jewish style, on the fourteenth day of the moon but according to the Roman style, on the Sunday after the fourteenth day of the moon, which falls after the vernal equinox.
(37) St. Hieron. Epist. ad Ctesiphont.
(38) Juenin, Theol. t. 3, ar, 4, sec. 1.
(39) Fleury, t. 2, l. 11, n. 24; Orsi, t. 5, l. 12, n. 42.
(40) N. Alex. ar. 4, sec. 2,
This the council declared was not a matter of faith, but discipline (41); for whenever it speaks of articles of faith as opposed to the errors of Arius, the words, ” This the church believes,” are used, but in making this order, the words are, ” We have decreed, &c.” This decree met with no opposition, but as we learn from the circular of Constantine, was embraced by all the Churches (42), and it is thought that the council then adopted the cycle of nineteen years invented by Meto, an Athenian astronomer, for fixing the lunations of each year, as every nineteenth year the new moon falls on the same day of the solar year as it did nineteen years before (43).
- The council next decreed twenty canons of discipline; we shall mention some of the principal ones. 1st. The council excludes from the clergy, and deposes, all those who have voluntarily made themselves eunuchs, in opposition to the heresy of the Valerians, who were all eunuchs; but more especially to condemn those who justified and followed the example of Origen, through love of chastity (44). By the third canon, the clergy are prohibited from keeping in their houses any woman unless a mother, a sister, an aunt, or some person from whom no suspicion can arise. It was the wish of the council to establish the celibacy of bishops, priests, and deacons, and sub-deacons even, according to Sozymen, but they were turned from this by St. Paphnutius, who forcibly contended that it was quite enough to decree that those already in holy orders should not be allowed to marry, but that it would be laying too heavy an obligation on those who were married before they were admitted to ordination, to oblige them to separate themselves from their wives. Cardinal Orsi, however, says (45), that the authority of Socrates is not sufficient to establish this fact, since both St. Epiphanius, who lived in the time of the council, and St. Jerome (46), who was born a few years after, attest that no one was admitted to orders unless unmarried, or if married, who separated himself from his wife. It was ordained in the fourth canon that bishops should be ordained by all the co-provincial bishops, or at least by three with consent of the rest, and that the right of confirmation appertaining to the Metropolitan, should be strictly preserved.
(41) St. Athan. de Synod, n. 5; Nat, Alex. ar 4 sec; 2 (42) Euseb. His. l. 3, c. 18, & Socrat. (44) Ibid.; N. Alex.
ibid. (45 ) Orsi ibid; Soc. l. 1. (46) Epiphan. Her. 59, & St. Hier. adv. Vigilan.
The sixth canon says that the rights of the Patriarchal Sees shall be preserved, especially those of the See of Alexandria, over the Churches of Egypt, of Lybia, and of Pantopolis, after the example of the Bishop of Rome, who enjoys a similar authority over the Churches subject to his Patriarchate. Noel Alexander (47) has written a special dissertation to prove that the primacy of the Roman See is not weakened by this canon, and among other proofs adduces the sixth canon of the great council of Chalcedon; ” the Roman Church always had the primacy,” and it is proved, he says, that after this canon was passed, the Bishop of Rome judged the persons of the other patriarchs, and took cognizance of the sentences passed by them, and no one ever complained that he usurped an authority which did not belong to him, or violated the sixth canon of the council of Nice.
- Finally, the fathers wrote a circular letter addressed to all churches, giving them notice of the condemnation of Arius, and the regulation concerning the celebration of Easter. The council was then dissolved, but before the bishops separated, Constantino had them all to dine with him, and had those who suffered for the faith placed near himself, and frequently kissed the scars of their wounds; he then made presents to each of them, and again recommending them to live in peace, he affectionately took leave of them (48). The sentence of exile against Eusebius and Theognis, was then carried into execution; they were banished to Gaul, and Amphion succeeded Eusebius in the Bishopric of Nicomedia, and Chrestus, Theogius, in the See of Nice. It was not long, however, till the bishops of their party shewed that they accepted the decrees of the council through fear alone (49).
(47) N. Alex. t. 8; Diss. 20. (48) Orsi, t, 5, I 12. (49) Ibid.