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Constantines Endeavors To Bring





One of the intentions of Constantine in his support of Christianity seems
to have been the employment of the Christian religion as a basis for
imperial unity. The policy of several earlier emperors in reviving
heathenism, and Galerius in his persecution of the Christians, seems
likewise to have been to use religion as a basis of unity. One of the
first tasks Constantine encountered after he became sole ruler of the West
was to restore the unity of the Church in Africa, which had been
endangered by the disputes culminating in the Donatist schism; and when he
became sole ruler of the Empire a new task of a similar character was to
restore unity to the Church of the East, endangered by the Meletian schism
in Egypt [v. supra, 57, a], the Arian controversy in its first stage
[v. infra, 63], and the estrangement of the Asia Minor churches, due
to the Easter controversy [v. supra, 38]. It was a master-stroke of
policy on the part of Constantine to use the Church's conciliar system on
an enlarged scale to bring about this unity. The Church was made to feel
that the decision was its own and to be obeyed for religious reasons; at
the same time the Emperor was able to direct the thought and action of the
assembly in matters of consequence and to give to conciliar action legal
and coercive effect. The two great assemblies summoned to meet the
problems of the West and of the East were respectively the Councils of
Arles, A. D. 314, and of Nicaea, A. D. 325.


I. The Council of Arles A. D. 314


(a) Constantine, Convocatio concilii Arelatensis, in Eusebius, Hist.
Ec., X, 5. (MSG, 20 :888.) Cf. Kirch, nn. 321 f.; Mirbt, nn. 89,
93-97.


For the Council of Arles, see Hefele, 14, 15.


Constantine Augustus to Chrestus, Bishop of Syracuse. When some began
wickedly and perversely to disagree among themselves in regard to the holy
worship and the celestial power and Catholic doctrine, I, wishing to put
an end to such disputes among them, formerly gave command that certain
bishops should be sent from Gaul, and that the opposing parties, who were
contending persistently and incessantly with each other, should be
summoned from Africa; that in their presence and in the presence of the
bishop of Rome the matter which appeared to be causing the disturbance
might be examined and decided with all care. But since, as it happens,
some, forgetful both of their own salvation and of the reverence due to
the most holy religion, do not even yet bring hostilities to an end, and
are unwilling to conform to the judgment already passed, and assert that
those who expressed their opinions and decisions were few, or that they
had been too hasty and precipitate in giving judgment, before all the
things which ought to have been accurately investigated had been
examined--on account of all this it has happened that those very ones who
ought to hold brotherly and harmonious relations toward each other are
shamefully, or rather abominably, divided among themselves, and give
occasion for ridicule to those men whose souls are alien as to this most
holy religion. Wherefore it has seemed necessary to me to provide that
this dissension, which ought to have ceased after the judgment had been
already given, by their own voluntary agreement, should now, if possible,
be brought to an end by the presence of many. Since, therefore, we have
commanded a number of bishops from a great many different places to
assemble in the city of Arles, before the calends of August, we have
thought proper to write to thee also that thou shouldest secure from the
most illustrious Latronianus, Corrector of Sicily, a public vehicle, and
that thou shouldest take with thee two others of the second rank whom thou
thyself shalt choose, together with three servants, who may serve you on
the way, and betake thyself to the above-mentioned place before the
appointed day; that by thy firmness and by the wise unanimity and harmony
of the others present, this dispute, which has disgracefully continued
until the present time, in consequence of certain shameful strifes, after
all has been heard, which those have to say who are now at variance with
one another, and whom we have likewise commanded to be present, may be
settled in accordance with the proper faith, and that brotherly harmony,
though it be but gradual, may be restored. May Almighty God preserve thee
in health many years.


(b) Synodal Epistle addressed to Sylvester, Bishop of Rome, Bruns, II,
107. Cf. Kirch, nn. 330-337.


The following extracts give the canons of most importance in the
history of the times. The exact wording of the canons has not been
retained in the letter, which is the only record extant of the
action of the council. The text from which the following is
translated is that given by the monks of St. Maur in their
Collectio Conciliorum Galliae, reprinted by Hefele, 15, and
Bruns, Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum, II, 107 ff. It is
to be preferred to the text of Mansi and the older collections.


The first canon settled for the West the long-standing question as
to the date of Easter. The Roman custom as to the day of the week
and computation of the time of year should be followed everywhere;
the same decision was reached at Nicaea for the East (v. 62,
II, a). As a matter of fact, however, the computation customary
at Alexandria eventually prevailed as the more accurate.


The eighth and thirteenth canons touch upon North African
disputes. The former overrules the contention of Cyprian and his
colleagues, that heretical or schismatical baptisms were invalid.
It also laid down a principle by which Novatianism stood
condemned. The thirteenth applied a similar principle to
ordination; the crimes of the bishop who gave the ordination
should not invalidate the ordination of a suitable person, as was
claimed in the case of the ordination of Caecilianus by Felix of
Aptunga, accused as a traditor; further it ruled out the
complaints against Felix until more substantial proof be brought,
the official documents that he had made the tradition required by
the edict of persecution.


Marinus and the assembly of bishops, who have come together in the town of
Arles, to the most holy lord and brother Sylvester. What we have decreed
with general consent we signify to your charity that all may know what
ought to be observed in the future.

1. In the first place, concerning the observation of the Lord's Easter, we
have determined that it be observed on one day and at one time throughout
the world by us, and that you send letters according to custom to all.

8. Concerning the Africans, because they make use of their own law, to the
effect that they rebaptize, we have determined that if any one should come
from heresy to the Church they should ask him the creed; and if they
should perceive that he had been baptized in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Ghost, hands only should be laid upon him that he
might receive the Holy Ghost. That if when asked he should not reply this
Trinity, let him be baptized.

9. Concerning those who bring letters of the confessors, it pleased us
that these letters having been taken away, they should receive other
letters of communion.

13. Concerning those who are said to have given up the Holy Scriptures or
the vessels of the Lord or the name of their brethren, it has pleased us
whoever of them shall have been convicted by public documents and not by
mere words, should be removed from the clerical order; though if the same
have been found to have ordained any, and those whom they have ordained
are worthy, it shall not render their ordination invalid. And because
there are many who are seen to oppose the law of the Church and think that
they ought to be admitted to bring accusation by hired witnesses, they are
by no means to be admitted, except, as we have said above, they can prove
their accusations by public documents.


II. The Council of Nicaea


For the Council of Nicaea, see Hefele, 18-44. All church
histories give large space to the Council of Nicaea. V. infra,
63 ff., 72, a.


(a) Council of Nicaea, 325. Synodical Letter, Socrates, Hist. Ec. I,
9. (MSG, 67 :77.) Text in Kirch, nn. 369 ff.; Mirbt, n. 107.


To the holy and, by the grace of God, great Church of the Alexandrians,
and to our beloved brethren throughout Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, the
bishops assembled at Nicaea constituting the great and holy synod, send
greetings in the Lord.

Since by the grace of God, a great and holy synod has been convened at
Nicaea, our most pious sovereign Constantine having summoned us out of
various cities and provinces for that purpose, it appeared to us
indispensably necessary that a letter should be written also to you on the
part of the sacred synod; in order that you may know what subjects were
brought under consideration, what rigidly investigated, and also what was
eventually determined on and decreed. In the first place, the impiety and
guilt of Arius and his adherents were examined into, in the presence of
our most pious Emperor Constantine: and it was unanimously decided that
his impious opinion be anathematized, with all the blasphemous expressions
and terms he has blasphemously uttered, affirming that the Son of God
sprang from nothing, and that there was a time when He was not; saying,
moreover, that the Son of God was possessed of a free will, so as to be
capable either of vice or virtue; and calling Him a creature and a work.
All these the holy synod has anathematized, having scarcely patience to
endure the hearing of such an impious or, rather, bewildered opinion, and
such abominable blasphemies. But the conclusion of our proceedings against
him you must either have heard or will hear; for we would not seem to
trample on a man who has received the chastisement which his crime
deserved. Yet so strong is his impiety as to involve Theonas, Bishop of
Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemais; for they have suffered the same
condemnation as himself. But the grace of God freed us from this false
doctrine, impiety, and blasphemy, and from those persons who have dared to
cause discord and division among the people previously at peace; and there
still remained the contumacy of Meletius to be dealt with, and those who
had been ordained by him; and we shall now state to you, beloved brethren,
what resolution the synod came to on this point. Acting with more clemency
toward Meletius, although, strictly speaking, he was wholly undeserving of
favor, the council permitted him to remain in his own city, but decreed
that he should exercise no authority either to ordain or nominate for
ordination; and that he should appear in no other district or city on this
pretence, but simply retain a nominal dignity; that those who had received
appointments from him, after having been confirmed by a more legitimate
ordination, should be admitted to communion on these conditions: that they
should continue to hold their rank and ministry, but regard themselves as
inferior in every respect to all those who had been previously ordained
and established in each place and church by our most honored
fellow-minister Alexander. In addition to these things, they shall have no
authority to propose or nominate whom they please, or to do anything at
all without the concurrence of a bishop of the Catholic Church, who is one
of Alexander's suffragans. Let such as by the grace of God and your
prayers have been found in no schism, but have continued in the Catholic
Church blameless, have authority to nominate and ordain those who are
worthy of the sacred office, and to act in all things according to
ecclesiastical law and usage. Whenever it may happen that any of those
placed in the Church die, then let such as have been recently admitted
into orders be advanced to the dignity of the deceased, provided that they
appear worthy, and that the people should elect them, and the bishop of
Alexandria confirm their choice. This is conceded to all the others,
indeed, but as for Meletius personally we by no means grant the same, on
account of his formerly disorderly conduct; and because of the rashness
and levity of his character he is deprived of all authority and
jurisdiction, as a man liable again to create similar disturbances. These
are things which specially affect Egypt and the most holy Church of the
Alexandrians; and if any other canon or ordinance should be established,
our lord and most honored fellow-minister and brother Alexander being
present with us, will on his return to you enter into more minute details,
inasmuch as he is not only a participator in whatever is transacted, but
has the principal direction of it. We have also to announce the good news
to you concerning the unanimity as to the holy feast of Easter: that this
by your prayers has been settled so that all the brethren in the East, who
have hitherto kept this festival with the Jews, will henceforth conform to
the Romans and to us, and to all who from the earliest times have observed
our period of celebrating Easter. Rejoicing, therefore, on account of a
favorable termination of matters and in the extirpation of all heresy,
receive with the greater honor and more abundant love our fellow-minister
and your bishop, Alexander, who has greatly delighted us by his presence,
and even at his advanced age has undergone extraordinary exertions in
order that peace might be re-established among you. Pray on behalf of us
all, that the decisions to which we have so justly come may be inviolably
maintained through Almighty God and our Lord Jesus Christ, together with
the Holy Spirit to whom be glory forever. Amen.


(b) Council of Nicaea, Canon 8, On the Novatians, Bruns. I, 8.


The Church recognized the substantial orthodoxy of the Novatians,
and according to the principles laid down at Arles (cc. 8, 13,
62 I, b) the ordination of the Novatians was regarded as valid.
The following canon, although a generous concession on the part of
the Church, did not bring about a healing of the schism which
lasted several centuries. The last mention of the Novatians is
contained in the 95th canon of the second Trullan Council, known
as the Quinisext, A. D. 692.


Canon 8. Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, who come over to
the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy synod decrees that
they who are ordained shall continue as they are among the clergy. But
before all things it is necessary that they should profess in writing that
they will observe and follow the teachings of the Catholic and Apostolic
Church; that is, that they will communicate with those who have been twice
married and with those who have lapsed during the persecution, and upon
whom a period of penance has been laid and a time for restoration fixed;
so that in all things they will follow the teachings of the Catholic
Church. Wheresoever, then, whether in villages or in cities, only these
are found who have been ordained, let them remain as found among the
clergy and in the same rank. But if any come over where there is a bishop
or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the bishop of the
Church must have the dignity of a bishop, and he who was named bishop by
those who are called Cathari shall have the honor of a presbyter, unless
it seem fit to the bishop to share with him the honor of the title. But if
this should not seem good to him, then shall the bishop provide for him a
place as chorepiscopus, or as presbyter, in order that he may be evidently
seen to be of the clergy, and that in one city there may not be two
bishops.


(c) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 5, 2; A. D. 326.


With the generous treatment of the Novatians by the Council of
Nicaea should be compared the mild and generous treatment of
Constantine, who distinguished them from other heretics.


We have not learned that the Novatians have been so condemned that we
believe that to them should not be granted what they claim. Therefore we
prescribe as to the buildings of their churches and places suitable for
burial that they are to possess, without any molestation, those buildings
and lands, namely, which on ground of long possession or from purchase or
claim for any sound reason they may have. It will be well looked out for
that they attempt to claim nothing for themselves of those things which
before their secession belonged evidently to the churches of perpetual
sanctity.



Chapter II. The Arian Controversy Until The Extinction Of The Dynasty Of
Constantine


The Arian controversy may be divided into four periods or stadia:

1. From the outbreak of the Arian controversy to the Council of Nicaea
(318-325). In this stadium the positions of the parties are defined, and
the position of the West, in substantial agreement with that of Alexander
and Athanasius, forced through by Constantine and Hosius at Nicaea ( 63).

2. From the Council of Nicaea to the death of Constantine (325-337). In
this stadium, without the setting aside of the formula of Nicaea, an
attempt is made to reconcile those who in fact dissented. In this period
Constantine, now living in the East, inclines toward a position more in
harmony with Arianism and more acceptable in the East than was the
doctrine of Athanasius. This is the period of the Eusebian reaction (
64).

3. From the death of Constantine to the death of Constantius (337-361). In
this stadium the anti-Nicaean party is victorious in the East ( 65), but
as it included all those who for any reason were opposed to the definition
of Nicaea, it fell apart on attaining the annulment of the decision of
Nicaea. There arose, on the one hand, an extreme Arian party and, on the
other, a homoiousian party which approximated closely to the Athanasian
position but feared the Nicene terminology.

4. From the accession of Julian to the council of Constantinople
(361-381). Under the pressure brought against Christianity by Julian (
68), parties but little removed from each other came closer together (
70). A new generation of theologians took the lead, with an interpretation
of the Nicene formula which made it acceptable to those who had previously
regarded it as Sabellian. And under the lead of these men, backed by the
Emperor Theodosius, the reaffirmation of the Nicene formula at
Constantinople, 381, was accepted by the East ( 71).

In the period in which the Arian controversy is by far the most important
series of events in Church history, the attitude of the sons of
Constantine toward heathenism and Donatism was of secondary importance,
but it should be noticed as throwing light on the ecclesiastical policy
which made the Arian controversy so momentous. In their policy toward
heathenism and dissent, the policy of Constantine was carried to its
logical completion in the establishment of Christianity as the only lawful
religion of the Empire ( 67).

Arianism may be regarded as the last attempt of Dynamistic Monarchianism
(v. supra, 40) to explain the divinity of Jesus Christ without
admitting His eternity. It was derived in part from the teaching of Paul
of Samosata through Lucian of Antioch. Paul of Samosata had admitted the
existence of an eternal but impersonal Logos in God which dwelt in the man
Jesus. Arianism distinguished between a Logos uncreated, an eternal
impersonal reason in God, and a personal Logos created in time, making the
latter, the personal Logos, only in a secondary sense God. This latter
Logos, neither eternal nor uncreated, became incarnate in Jesus, taking
the place in the human personality of the rational soul or logos. To guard
against the worship of a being created and temporal, and to avoid the
assertion of two eternal existences, the anti-Arian or Athanasian
position, already formulated by Alexander, made the personal Logos of one
essence or substance with the Father, eternal as the Father, and thereby
distinguishing between begetting, or the imparting of subsistence, and
creating, or the calling into being from nothing, a distinction which
Arianism failed to make; and thus allowing for the eternity and deity of
the Son without detracting from the monotheism which was universally
regarded as the fundamental doctrine of Christianity as a body of
theology. In this controversy the party of Alexander and Athanasius was
animated, at least in the earlier stages of the controversy, not so much
by speculative interests as by religious motives, the relation of Jesus to
redemption, and they were strongly influenced by Irenaeus. The party of
Arius, on the other hand, was influenced by metaphysical interests as to
the relation of being to creation and the contrast between the finite and
the infinite. It may be said, in general, that until the council of
Chalcedon, and possibly even after that, the main interest that kept alive
theological discussion was intimately connected with vital problems of
religious life of the times. After that the scholastic period began to set
in and metaphysical discussions were based upon the formulae of the
councils.





Next: The Outbreak Of The Arian Contro

Previous: The Donatist Schism Under Consta



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