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§ 121. The Arian and Semi-Arian Reaction, a.d. 325–361.
The victory of the council of Nicaea over the views of the majority of the bishops was a victory only in appearance. It had, to be sure, erected a mighty fortress, in which the defenders of the essential deity of Christ might ever take refuge from the assaults of heresy; and in this view it was of the utmost importance, and secured the final triumph of the truth. But some of the bishops had subscribed the homoousion with reluctance, or from regard to the emperor, or at best with the reservation of a broad interpretation; and with a change of circumstances they would readily turn in opposition. The controversy now for the first time fairly broke loose, and Arianism entered the stage of its political development and power. An intermediate period of great excitement ensued, during which council was held against council, creed was set forth against creed, and anathema against anathema was hurled. The pagan Ammianus Marcellinus says of the councils under Constantius: “The highways were covered with galloping bishops;” and even Athanasius rebuked the restless flutter of the clergy, who journeyed the empire over to find the true faith, and provoked the ridicule and contempt of the unbelieving world. In intolerance and violence the Arians exceeded the orthodox, and contested elections of bishops not rarely came to bloody encounters. The interference of imperial politics only poured oil on the flame, and embarrassed the natural course of the theological development.
The personal history of Athanasius was interwoven with the doctrinal controversy; he threw himself wholly into the cause which he advocated. The question whether his deposition was legitimate or not, was almost identical with the question whether the Nicene Creed should prevail.
Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicaea threw all their influence against the adherents of the homoousion. Constantine himself was turned by Eusebius of Caesarea, who stood between Athanasius and Arius, by his sister Constantia and her father confessor, and by a vague confession of Arius, to think more favorably of Arius, and to recall him from exile. Nevertheless he afterwards, as before, thought himself in accordance with the orthodox view and the Nicene creed. The real gist of the controversy he had never understood. Athanasius, who after the death of Alexander in April, 328,13341334 According to the Syriac preface to the Syriac Festival Letters of Athanasius, first edited by Cureton in 1848. It was previously supposed that Alexander died two years earlier. Comp. Hefele, i. p. 429. became bishop of Alexandria and head of the Nicene party, refused to reinstate the heretic in his former position, and was condemned and deposed for false accusations by two Arian councils, one at Tyre under the presidency of the historian Eusebius, the other at Constantinople in the year 335 (or 336), and banished by the emperor to Treves in Gaul in 336, as a disturber of the peace of the church.
Soon after this Arius, having been formally acquitted of the charge of heresy by a council at Jerusalem (a.d. 335), was to have been solemnly received back into the fellowship of the church at Constantinople. But on the evening before the intended procession from the imperial palace to the church of the Apostles, he suddenly died (a.d. 336), at the age of over eighty years, of an attack like cholera, while attending to a call of nature. This death was regarded by many as a divine judgment; by others, it was attributed to poisoning by enemies; by others, to the excessive joy of Arius in his triumph.13351335 Comp. Athanasius, De morte Arii Epist. ad Serapionem (Opera, tom. i. p. 340). He got his information from his priest Macarius, who was in Constantinople at the time.
On the death of Constantine (337), who had shortly before received baptism from the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia, Athanasius was recalled from his banishment (338) by Constantine II. († 340), and received by the people with great enthusiasm; “more joyously than ever an emperor.”13361336 So says Gregory Nazianzen. The date of his return, according to the Festival Letters of Athanasius, was the 23d November, 338. Some months afterwards (339) he held a council of nearly a hundred bishops in Alexandria for the vindication of the Nicene doctrine. But this was a temporary triumph.
In the East Arianism prevailed. Constantius, second son of Constantine the Great, and ruler in the East, together with his whole court, was attached to it with fanatical intolerance. Eusebius of Nicomedia was made bishop of Constantinople (338), and was the leader of the Arian and the more moderate, but less consistent semi-Arian parties in their common opposition to Athanasius and the orthodox West. Hence the name Eusebians.13371337 Οἱ περὶ Εὐσέβιον. Athanasius was for a second time deposed, and took refuge with the bishop Julius of Rome (339 or 340), who in the autumn of 341 held a council of more than fifty bishops in defence of the exile and for the condemnation of his opponents. The whole Western church was in general more steadfast on the side of the Nicene orthodoxy, and honored in Athanasius a martyr of the true faith. On the contrary a synod at Antioch, held under the direction of the Eusebians on the occasion of the dedication of a church in 341,13381338 Hence called the council in encoeniis (ἐγκαινίοις) or in dedicatione. issued twenty-five canons, indeed, which were generally accepted as orthodox and valid, but at the same time confirmed the deposition of Athanasius, and set forth four creeds, which rejected Arianism, yet avoided the orthodox formula, particularly the vexed homoousion.13391339 This apparent contradiction between orthodox canons and semi-Arian confessions has occasioned all kinds of hypotheses in reference to this Antiochian synod. Comp. on them, Hefele, i. p. 486 sqq.
Thus the East and the West were in manifest conflict.
To heal this division, the two emperors, Constantius in the East and Constans in the West, summoned a general council at Sardica in Illyria, a.d. 343.13401340 Not a.d.347, as formerly supposed. Comp. Hefele, i. 515 sqq. Here the Nicene party and the Roman influence prevailed.13411341 About a hundred and seventy bishops in all (according to Athanasius) were present at Sardica, ninety-four occidentals and seventy-six orientals or Eusebians. Sozomen and Socrates, on the contrary, estimate the number at three hundred. The signatures of the acts of the council are lost, excepting a defective list of fifty-nine names of bishops in Hilary. Pope Julius was represented by two Italian priests. The Spanish bishop Hosius presided. The Nicene doctrine was here confirmed, and twelve canons were at the same time adopted, some of which are very important in reference to discipline and the authority of the Roman see. But the Arianizing Oriental bishops, dissatisfied with the admission of Athanasius, took no part in the proceedings, held an opposition council in the neighboring city of Philippopolis, and confirmed the decrees of the council of Antioch. The opposite councils, therefore, inflamed the discord of the church, instead of allaying it.
Constantius was compelled, indeed, by his brother to restore Athanasius to his office in 346; but after the death of Constans, a.d. 350, be summoned three successive synods in favor of a moderate Arianism; one at Sirmium in Pannonia (351), one at Arelate or Arles in Gaul (353), and one at Milan in Italy, (355); he forced the decrees of these councils on the Western church, deposed and banished bishops, like Liberius of Rome, Hosius of Cordova, Hilary of Poictiers, Lucifer of Calaris, who resisted them, and drove Athanasius from the cathedral of Alexandria during divine service with five thousand armed soldiers, and supplied his place with an uneducated and avaricious Arian, George of Cappadocia (356). In these violent measures the court bishops and Eusebia, the last wife of Constantius and a zealous Arian, had great influence. Even in their exile the faithful adherents of the Nicene faith were subjected to all manner of abuse and vexation. Hence Constantius was vehemently attacked by Athanasius, Hilary, and Lucifer, compared to Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Belshazzar, and called an inhuman beast, the forerunner of Antichrist, and even Antichrist himself.
Thus Arianism gained the ascendency in the whole Roman empire; though not in its original rigorous form, but in the milder form of homoi-ousianism or the doctrine of similarity of essence, as opposed on the one hand to the Nicene homo-ousianism (sameness of essence), and on the other hand to the Arian hetero-ousianism (difference of essence).
Even the papal chair was desecrated by heresy during this Arian interregnum; after the deposition of Liberius, the deacon Felix II., “by antichristian wickedness,” as Athanasius expresses it, was elected his successor.13421342 Comp. above, § 72, p. 371. Many Roman historians for this reason regard him as a mere anti-pope. But in the Roman church books this Felix is inserted, not only as a legitimate pope, but even as a saint, because, according to a much later legend, he was executed by Constantius, whom he called a heretic. His memory is celebrated on the twenty-ninth of July. His subsequent fortunes are very differently related. The Roman people desired the recall of Liberius, and he, weary of exile, was prevailed upon to apostatize by subscribing an Arian or at least Arianizing confession, and maintaining church fellowship with the Eusebians.13431343 The apostasy of Liberius comes to us upon the clear testimony of the most orthodox fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Jerome, Sozomen, &c., and of three letters of Liberius himself, which Hilaryadmitted into his sixth fragment, and accompanied with some remarks. Jeromesays in his Chronicle: “Liberius, taedio victus exilii, in haereticam pravitatem subscribens Romam quasi victor intravit.” Comp. his Catal. script. eccl c. 97. He probably subscribed what is called the third Sirmian formula, that is, the collection of Semi-Arian decrees adopted at the third council of Sirmium in 358. Hefele (i. 673), from his Roman point of view, knows no way of saving him but by the hypothesis that he renounced the Nicene word (ὁμοούσιος), but not the Nicene faith. But this, in the case of so current a party term as ὁμοούσιος, which Liberius himself afterwards declared “the bulwark against all Arian heresy” (Socr. H. E. iv. 12), is entirely untenable. On this condition he was restored to his papal dignity, and received with enthusiasm into Rome (358). He died in 366 in the orthodox faith, which he had denied through weakness, but not from conviction.
Even the almost centennarian bishop Hosius was induced by long imprisonment and the threats of the emperor, though not himself to compose (as Hilary states), yet to subscribe (as Athanasius and Sozomen say), the Arian formula of the second council of Sirmium, a.d. 357, but soon after repented his unfaithfulness, and condemned the Arian heresy shortly before his death.
The Nicene orthodoxy was thus apparently put down. But now the heretical majority, having overcome their common enemy, made ready their own dissolution by divisions among themselves. They separated into two factions. The right wing, the Eusebians or Semi-Arians, who were represented by Basil of Ancyra and Gregory of Laodicea, maintained that the Son was not indeed of the same essence (ὁμο-ούσιος), yet of like essence (ὁμοι-ούσιος), with the Father. To these belonged many who at heart agreed with the Nicene faith, but either harbored prejudices against Athanasius, or saw in the term ὁμο-ούσιος an approach to Sabellianism; for theological science had not yet duly fixed the distinction of substance (οὐσία) and person (ὑπόστασις), so that the homoousia might easily be confounded with unity of person. The left wing, or the decided Arians, under the lead of Eudoxius of Antioch, his deacon Aëtius,13441344 He was hated among the orthodox and Semi-Arians, and called ἄθεος. He was an accomplished dialectician, a physician and theological author in Antioch, and died about 370 in Constantinople. and especially the bishop Eunomius of Cyzicus in Mysia13451345 He was a pupil and friend of Aëtius, and popularized his doctrine. He died in 392. Concerning him, comp. Klose, Geschichte u. Lehre des Eunomius, Kiel, 1833, and Dorner, l.c. vol. i. p. 853 sqq. cDorner calls him a deacon; but through the mediation of the bishop Eudoxius of Constantinople (formerly of Antioch) he received the bishopric of Cyzicus or Cyzicum as early as 360, before he became the head of the Arian party. Theodoret, H. E. l. ii. c. 29. (after whom they were called also Eunomians), taught that the Son was of a different essence (ἑτεροούσιος), and even unlike the Father (ἀνόμοιος), and created out of nothing (ἐκ οὐκ ὄντων). They received also, from their standard terms, the names of Heterousiasts, Anomaeans, and Exukontians.
A number of councils were occupied with this internal dissension of the anti-Nicene party: two at Sirmium (the second, a.d. 357; the third, a.d. 358), one at Antioch (358), one at Ancyra (358), the double council at Seleucia and Rimini (359), and one at Constantinople (360). But the division was not healed. The proposed compromise of entirely avoiding the word ούσια, and substituting ὅμοιος like, for ὁμοιούσιος of like essence, and ἀνόμοιος, unlike, satisfied neither party. Constantius vainly endeavored to suppress the quarrel by his imperio-episcopal power. His death in 361 opened the way for the second and permanent victory of the Nicene orthodoxy.
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