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Chapter I.—Origin of the Arian Heresy.
After the overthrow of the wicked and impious tyrants, Maxentius, Maximinus, and Licinius, the surge which those destroyers, like hurricanes, had roused was hushed to sleep; the whirlwinds were checked, and the Church henceforward began to enjoy a settled calm. This was established for her by Constantine, a prince deserving of all praise, whose calling, like that of the divine Apostle, was not of men, nor by man, but from heaven. He enacted laws prohibiting sacrifices to idols, and commanding churches238238 ἐκκλησία. The use of the word in 1 Cor. xi. 18 indicates a transition stage between “Assembly” and “Building.” The brethren met “in assembly:” soon they met in a church. Cf. Aug. Ep. 190, 5. 19: “ut nomine ecclesiæ, id est populi qui continetur, significemus locum qui continet.” Chrysost. Hom. xxix. in Acta: οἱ πρόγονοι τὰς ἐκκλησίας ᾠκοδόμησαν to be erected. He appointed Christians to be governors of the provinces, ordering honour to be shown to the priests, and threatening with death those who dared to insult them. By some the churches which had been destroyed were rebuilt; others erected new ones still more spacious and magnificent. Hence, for us, all was joy and gladness, while our enemies were overwhelmed with gloom and despair. The temples of the idols were closed; but frequent assemblies were held, and festivals celebrated, in the churches. But the devil, full of all envy and wickedness, the destroyer of mankind, unable to bear the sight of the Church sailing on with favourable winds, stirred up plans of evil counsel, eager to sink the vessel steered by the Creator and Lord of the Universe. When he began to perceive that the error of the Greeks had been made manifest, that the various tricks of the demons had been detected, and that the greater number of men worshipped the Creator, instead of adoring, as heretofore, the creature, he did not dare to declare open war against our God and Saviour; but having found some who, though dignified with the name of Christians, 34were yet slaves to ambition and vainglory, he made them fit instruments for the execution of his designs, and by their means drew others back into their old error, not indeed by the former method of setting up the worship of the creature, but by bringing it about that the Creator and Maker of all should be reduced to a level with the creature. I shall now proceed to relate where and by what means he sowed these tares.
Alexandria is an immense and populous city, charged with the leadership not only of Egypt, but also of the adjacent countries, the Thebaid and Libya. After Peter239239 Succeeded Theonas as Archbishop of Alexandria, a.d. 300. Beheaded by order of Maximinus, a.d. 311. Euseb. vii. 32., the victorious champion of the faith, had, during the sway of the aforesaid impious tyrants, obtained the crown of martyrdom, the Church in Alexandria was ruled for a short time by Achillas240240 Patriarch of Alexandria, a.d. 311–312. Promoted Arius to the priesthood. Soz. i. 15.. He was succeeded by Alexander241241 Patriarch, a.d. 312–326., who proved himself a noble defender of the doctrines of the gospel. At that time, Arius, who had been enrolled in the list of the presbytery, and entrusted with the exposition of the Holy Scriptures, fell a prey to the assaults of jealousy, when he saw that the helm of the high priesthood was committed to Alexander. Stung by this passion, he sought opportunities for dispute and contention; and, although he perceived that Alexander’s irreproachable conduct forbade his bringing any charges against him, envy would not allow him to rest. In him the enemy of the truth found an instrument whereby to stir and agitate the angry waters of the Church, and persuaded him to oppose the apostolical doctrine of Alexander. While the Patriarch, in obedience to the Holy Scriptures, taught that the Son is of equal dignity with the Father, and of the same substance with God who begat Him, Arius, in direct opposition to the truth, affirmed that the Son of God is merely a creature or created being, adding the famous dictum, “There once was a time when He was not242242 ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν;” with other opinions which may be learned from his own writings. He taught these false doctrines perseveringly, not only in the church, but also in general meetings and assemblies; and he even went from house to house, endeavouring to make men the slaves of his error. Alexander, who was strongly attached to the doctrines of the Apostles, at first tried by exhortations and counsels to convince him of his error; but when he saw him playing the madman243243 κορυβαντιῶντα and making public declaration of his impiety, he deposed him from the order of the presbytery, for he heard the law of God loudly declaring, “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee244244 ἐὰν…σκανδαλιζῃ, St. Matt. v. 29 and xviii. 9; εἰ…σκανδαλίζει, cf. Mark ix. 43.”
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