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150De Decretis or Defence of the Nicene Definition

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Chapter I.—Introduction. The complaint of the Arians against the Nicene Council; their fickleness; they are like Jews; their employment of force instead of reason.

1. Thou hast done well, in signifying to me the discussion thou hast had with the advocates of Arianism, among whom were certain of the friends of Eusebius, as well as very many of the brethren who hold the doctrine of the Church. I hailed thy vigilance for the love of Christ, which excellently exposed the irreligion746746    εὐσέβεια, ἀσέβεια, &c., here translated “religion, irreligion, religious, &c. &c.” are technical words throughout, being taken from S. Paul’s text, “Great is the mystery of godliness,εὐσεβείας, i.e. orthodoxy. Such too seems to be the meaning of “godly admonitions,” and “godly judgments,” and “this godly and well-learned man,” in our Ordination Services. The Latin translation is “pius,” “pietas.” It might be in some respects suitably rendered by “devout” and its derivatives. On its familiar use in the controversy depends the blasphemous jest of Eudoxius, Arian Bishop of Constantinople, which was received with loud laughter in the Cathedral, and remained in esteem down to Socrates’ day, “The Father is ἀσεβὴς, as being without devotion, the Son εὐσεβὴς, devout, as paying devotion to the Father.” Socr. Hist. ii. 43. Hence Arius ends his Letter to Eusebius with ἀληθως εὐσέβιε. Theod. Hist. i. 4. of their heresy; while I marvelled at the effrontery which led the Arians, after all the past detection of unsoundness and futility in their arguments, nay, after the general conviction of their extreme perverseness, still to complain like the Jews, “Why did the Fathers at Nicæa use terms not in Scripture747747    It appears that the Arians did not venture to speak disrespectfully of the definition of the Council till the date (a.d. 352) of this work, when Acacius headed them. Yet the plea here used, the unscriptural character of its symbol, had been suggested to Constantius on his accession, a.d. 337, by the Arian priest, the favourite of Constantia, to whom Constantine had entrusted his will, Theod. Hist. ii. 3; and Eusebius of Cæsarea glances at it, at the time of the Council, in the letter to his Church, which is subjoined to this Treatise., ‘Of the essence’ and ‘One in essence?’” Thou then, as a man of learning, in spite of their subterfuges, didst convict them of talking to no purpose; and they in devising them were but acting suitably to their own evil disposition. For they are as variable and fickle in their sentiments, as chameleons in their colours748748    Alexander also calls them chameleons, Socr. i. 6. p. 12. Athanasius so calls the Meletians, Hist. Arian. §79. Cyril compares them to “the leopard which cannot change his spots.” Dial. ii. init. t. v. i. Aub., Naz. Or. 28. 2. On the fickleness of the Arians, vid. infra, §4. &c. Orat. ii. 40. He says, ad Ep. Æg. 6. that they considered Creeds as yearly covenants; and de Synod. §3. 4. as State Edicts. vid. also §14. and passim. “What wonder that they fight against their fathers, when they fight against themselves?” §37.; and when exposed they look confused, and when questioned they hesitate, and then they lose shame, and betake themselves to evasions. And then, when detected in these, they do not rest till they invent fresh matters which are not, and, according to the Scripture, ‘imagine a vain thing749749    Ps. ii. 1.’; and all that they may be constant to their irreligion.

Now such endeavours750750    ἐπιχείρημα. and so Orat. i. §44. init. but infra. §25. ἐπιχειρήματα means more definitely reasonings or argumentations. are nothing else than an obvious token of their defect of reason751751    ἀλογίας; an allusion frequent in Athanasius, to the judicial consequence of their denying the Word of God. Thus, just below, n. 3. “Denying the Word” or Reason “of God, reason have they none.” Also Orat. i. §35. fin. §40. init. §62. Orat. ii. §7. init. Hence he so often calls the Arians “mad” and “deranged;” e.g. “not aware how ‘mad’ their ‘reason’ is.” Orat. i. §37., and a copying, as I have said, of Jewish malignity. For the Jews too, when convicted by the Truth, and unable to confront it, used evasions, such as, ‘What sign doest Thou, that we may see and believe Thee? What dost Thou work752752    John vi. 30.? though so many signs were given, that they said themselves, ‘What do we? for this man doeth many miracles753753    Ib. xi. 47..’ In truth, dead men were raised, lame walked, blind saw afresh, lepers were cleansed, and the water became wine, and five loaves satisfied five thousand, and all wondered and worshipped the Lord, confessing that in Him were fulfilled the prophecies, and that He was God the Son of God; all but the Pharisees, who, though the signs shone brighter than the sun, yet complained still, as ignorant men, ‘Why dost Thou, being a man, make 151Thyself God754754    Ib. x. 33.?’ Insensate, and verily blind in understanding! they ought contrariwise to have said, “Why hast Thou, being God, become man?” for His works proved Him God, that they might both worship the goodness of the Father, and admire the Son’s Economy for our sakes. However, this they did not say; no, nor liked to witness what He was doing; or they witnessed indeed, for this they could not help, but they changed their ground of complaint again, “Why healest Thou the paralytic, why makest Thou the born-blind to see, on the sabbath day?” But this too was an excuse, and mere murmuring; for on other days as well did the Lord heal ‘all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease755755    Matt. iv. 23.,’ but they complained still according to their wont, and by calling Him Beelzebub, preferred the suspicion of Atheism756756    Or ungodliness, ἀθεότητος. Thus Aetius was called ὁ ἄθεος, the ungodly. de Synod. §6; and Arius complains that Alexander had expelled him and his from Alexandria, ὡς ἀνθρώπους ἀθέους. Theodor. Hist. i. 4. “Atheism” and “Atheist” imply intention, system, and profession, and are so far too strong a rendering of the Greek. Since Christ was God, to deny Him was to deny God. The force of the term, however, seems to be, that, whereas the Son had revealed the “unknown God,” and destroyed the reign of idols, the denial of the Son was bringing back idolatry and its attendant spiritual ignorance. Thus contr. Gent. §29. fin. he speaks of “the Greek idolatry as full of all Atheism” or ungodliness, and contrasts with it the knowledge of “the Guide and Framer of the Universe, the Father’s Word,” “that through Him ‘we may discern His Father,’ and the Greeks may know ‘how far they have separated themselves from the truth.’” And Orat. ii. 43. he classes Arians with the Greeks, who “though they have the name of God in their mouths, incur the charge of ‘Atheism,’ because they know not the real and true God, ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’” (vid. also Basil in Eunom. ii. 22.) Shortly afterwards he gives a further reason for the title, observing that Arianism was worse than previous heresies, such as Manicheism, inasmuch as the latter denied the Incarnation, but Arianism tore from God’s substance His connatural Word, and, as far as its words went, infringed upon the perfections and being of the first Cause. And so ad Ep. Æg. §17. fin. he says, that it alone, beyond other heresies, “has been bold against the Godhead Itself in a mad way (μανικώτερον, vid. foregoing note), denying that there is a Word, and that the Father was always Father.” Elsewhere he speaks more generally, as if Arianism introduced “an Atheism or rather Judaism ‘against the Scriptures,’ being next door to Heathenism, so that its disciple cannot be even named Christian; for all such tenets are ‘contrary to the Scriptures;’” and he makes this the reason why the Nicene Fathers stopped their ears and condemned it. ad Ep. Æg. §13. For the same reason he calls the heathen ἄθεοι, atheistical or ungodly, “who are arraigned of irreligion by Divine Scripture.” contr. Gent. §14. vid. εἰδώλων ἀθεότητα. §46. init. Moreover, he calls the Arian persecution worse than the pagan ‘cruelties,’ and therefore “a Babylonian Atheism,” Ep. Encycl. §5. as not allowing the Catholics the use of prayer and baptism, with a reference to Dan. vi. 11, &c. Thus too he calls Constantius atheist, for his treatment of Hosius; οὔτε τὸν θεὸν φοβηθεὶς ὁ ἄθεος. Hist. Arian. 45. Another reason for the title seems to have lain in the idolatrous character of Arian worship ‘on its own shewing,’ viz. as worshipping One whom they yet maintained to be a creature. [Prolegg. ch. ii. §3 (2)a, sub. fin.], to a recantation of their own wickedness. And though in such sundry times and divers manners the Saviour shewed His Godhead and preached the Father to all men, nevertheless, as kicking against the pricks, they contradicted in the language of folly, and this they did, according to the divine proverb, that by finding occasions, they might separate themselves from the truth757757    A reference to Prov. xviii. 1. which runs in the LXX. “a man seeketh occasions, when desirous of separating himself from friends.”.

2. As then the Jews of that day, for acting thus wickedly and denying the Lord, were with justice deprived of their laws and of the promise made to their fathers, so the Arians, Judaizing now, are, in my judgment, in circumstances like those of Caiaphas and the contemporary Pharisees. For, perceiving that their heresy is utterly unreasonable, they invent excuses, “Why was this defined, and not that?” Yet wonder not if now they practise thus; for in no long time they will turn to outrage, and next will threaten ‘the band and the captain758758    Apparently an allusion to Joh. xviii. 12. Elsewhere, he speaks of “the chief captain” and “the governor,” with an allusion to Acts xxiii. 22–24. &c. Hist. Arian. §66. fin. vid. also §2. Apol. contr. Arian. §8. also §10. and 45. Orat. ii. §43. Ep. Encycl. §5. Against the use of violence in religion, vid. Hist. Arian. §33. 67. (Hil. ad Const. 1. 2.) On the other hand, he observes, that at Nicæa, “it was not necessity which drove the judges to” their decision, “but all vindicated the Truth from deliberate purpose.” ad Ep. Æg. 13..’ Forsooth in these their heterodoxy has its support, as we see; for denying the Word of God, reason have they none at all, as is equitable. Aware then of this, I would have made no reply to their interrogations: but, since thy friendliness759759    διάθεσις. vid. also Hist. Arian. §45. Orat. ii. §4. where Parker maintains without reason that it should be translated, “external condition.” vid. also Theod. Hist. i. 4. init. has asked to know the transactions of the Council, I have without any delay related at once what then took place, shewing in few words, how destitute Arianism is of a religious spirit, and how their one business is to frame evasions.


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