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Chapter VI.—Photinus, Bishop of Sirmium. His Heresy, and the Council convened at Sirmium in Opposition thereto. The Three Formularies of Faith. This Agitator of Empty Ideas was refuted by Basil of Ancyra. After his Deposition Photinus, although solicited, declined Reconciliation.

About this time,12911291    Athan. de Synodis, 8, 9; Soc. ii. 29–31, 37; Sulp. Sev. H. S. ii. 36, 37. Photinus, who administered the church of Sirmium, laid before the emperor, who was then staying at that city, a heresy which he had originated some time previously. His natural ease of utterance and powers of persuasion enabled him to lead many into his own way of thinking. He acknowledged that there was one God Almighty, by whose own word all things were created, but would not admit that the generation and existence of the Son was before all ages; on the contrary, he alleged that Christ derived His existence from Mary. As soon as this opinion was divulged, it excited the indignation of the Western and of the Eastern bishops, and they considered it in common as an innovation of each one’s particular belief, for it was equally opposed by those who maintained the doctrines of the Nicæan council, and by those who favored the tenets of Arius. The emperor also regarded the heresy with aversion, and convened a council at Sirmium, where he was then residing. Of the Eastern bishops, George, who governed the church of Alexandria, Basil, bishop of Ancyra, and Mark, bishop of Arethusa, were present at this council; and among the Western 303bishops were Valens, bishop of Mursa, and Hosius the Confessor. This latter, who had attended the council of Nicæa, was unwillingly a participant of this; he had not long previously been condemned to banishment through the machinations of the Arians; he was summoned to the council of Sirmium by the command of the emperor extorted by the Arians, who believed that their party would be strengthened, if they could gain over, either by persuasion or force, a man held in universal admiration and esteem, as was Hosius. The period at which the council was convened at Sirmium, was the year after the expiration of the consulate of Sergius and Nigrinian; and during this year there were no consuls either in the East or the West, owing to the insurrections excited by the tyrants. Photinus was deposed by this council, because he was accused of countenancing the errors of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata. The council then proceeded to draw up three formularies of faith in addition to the previous confessions, of which one was written in Greek, and the others in Latin. But they did not agree with one another, nor with any other of the former expositions of doctrine, either in word or import. It is not said in the Greek formulary,12921292    Soc. ii. 30, text. that the Son is consubstantial, or of like substance, with the Father, but it is there declared, that those who maintain that the Son had no commencement, or that He proceeded from an expansion of the substance of the Father, or that He is united to the Father without being subject to Him, are excommunicated. In one of the Roman formularies,12931293    Soc. ii. 30, Latin text translated into Greek. it is forbidden to say, of the essence of the Godhead which the Romans call substance, that the Son is either consubstantial, or of like substance with the Father, as such statements do not occur in the Holy Scriptures, and are beyond the reach of the understanding and knowledge of men. It is said, that the Father must be recognized as superior to the Son in honor, in dignity, in divinity, and in the relationship suggested by His name of Father; and that it must be confessed that the Son, like all created beings, is subject to the Father, that the Father had no commencement, and that the generation of the Son is unknown to all save the Father. It is related, that when this formulary was completed, the bishops became aware of the errors it contained, and endeavored to withdraw it from the public, and to correct it; and that the emperor threatened to punish those who should retain or conceal any of the copies that had been made of it. But having been once published, no efforts were adequate to suppress it altogether.

The third formulary12941294    Athan. de Synodis, 8; Soc. ii. 37, text translated into Greek. is of the same import as the others. It prohibits the use of the term “substance” on account of the terms used in Latin, while the Greek term having been used with too much simplicity by the Fathers, and having been a cause of offense to many of the unlearned multitude, because it was not to be found in the Scriptures, “we have deemed it right totally to reject the use of it: and we would enjoin the omission of all mention of the term in allusion to the Godhead, for it is nowhere said in the Holy Scriptures, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of the same substance, where the word person is written. But we say, in conformity with the Holy Scriptures, that the Son is like unto the Father.”

Such was the decision arrived at in the presence of the emperor concerning the faith. Hosius at first refused to assent to it. Compulsion, however, was resorted to; and being extremely old, he sunk, as it is reported, beneath the blows that were inflicted on him, and yielded his consent and signature.

After the deposition of Photinus, the Synod thought it expedient to try whether it were not somehow possible to persuade him to change his views. But when the bishop urged him, and promised to restore his bishopric if he would renounce his own dogma, and vote for their formulary, he would not acquiesce, but challenged them to a discussion. On the day appointed for this purpose, the bishops, therefore, assembled with the judges who had been appointed by the emperor to preside at their meetings, and who, in point of eloquence and dignity, held the first rank in the palace. Basil, bishop of Ancyra, was selected to commence the disputation against Photinus. The conflict lasted a long time, on account of the numerous questions started and the answers given by each party, and which were immediately taken down in short-hand; but finally the victory declared itself in favor of Basil. Photinus was condemned and banished, but did not cease on that account from enlarging his own dogma. He wrote and published many works in Greek and Latin, in which he endeavored to show that all opinions, except his own, were erroneous. I have now concluded all that I had to say concerning Photinus and the heresy to which his name was affixed.

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