HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. THE APOSTOLICAL AGE
FROM CONSTANTINE TO THE DEATH OF THEODOSIUS THE GREAT,
CONSTANTINE : DONATISM ARIANISM
The idea that the emperors of Rome might be Christians had been regarded by Tertullian as one which involved in consistency and impossibility; but it was now to be realized.
Constantine had probably been trained in the religion of his father, which appears to have been an eclectic system, founded on the belief in one supreme God. Some years of his youth were spent at the court of Diocletian and Galerius in the character of a hostage, and while thus detained he had opportunities of observing the deceits by which the pagan priesthood endeavored to influence the emperor’s mind; he witnessed the publication of the persecuting edict at Nicomedia and the horrors which followed. When hailed by the legions, A D 306, in Britain as his father’s successor, he continued and extended the toleration which Constantius had bestowed on the Christians : but it would seem that in this he was rather influenced by indifference and by political considerations than by any inclination to embrace their religion. Whatever his secret belief may have been, he continued to share in all the public rites of paganism, and professed to regard Apollo as his especial patron.
The most critical event in Constantine’s religious history took place in the year 312, as he was on his march against Maxentius. Eusebius tells us that, as the tyrant was known to be preparing for the struggle by magical and superstitious rites, Constantine felt the need of supernatural aid in order to cope with him, and therefore considered to what god he should betake himself; that, remembering how his father had always been blessed with prosperity, whereas the persecutors of Christianity had come to miserable ends, he resolved to forsake the service of idols, and prayed to the god of Constantius—the one supreme Being; and that, as he was engaged in such thoughts, he saw in the sky, soon after midday, a luminous cross, with the words “By this conquer”. While perplexed by the vision the emperor fell asleep; when the Savior appeared to him, bearing in his hand the same symbol which had been displayed in the heavens, commanding him to use it as his standard in war, and giving him the assurance of victory. On awaking, Constantine described the ensign which had been shown to him in his dream, and from that time his troops marched under the protection of the labarum—a banner on which the cross was combined with the first letters of the Redeemer’s name. The emperor then sought and received from the Christian clergy instruction as to the meaning of the vision which had been vouchsafed to him; and after his victory at the Milvian Bridge he erected at Rome a statue of himself, holding in his right hand a cross, while the inscription attributed his victory to the power of that “saving sign”.
The story of a vision or dream in which the cross was displayed to Constantine, with a charge that he should use it as a device, and with a promise of victory, is also related by other ecclesiastical writers. But it is told with variations which, while they add to the presumption that it had some foundation in truth, increase the difficulties of the account which Eusebius professed to have received, under the sanction of an oath, from the emperor shortly before his death. The literal accuracy of these narratives will now find few defenders. Educated as Constantine had been, and after the experience through which he had passed, it is extremely improbable that he could have been so utterly unacquainted with everything relating to Christianity as the historians here represent him. Perhaps we may fairly suppose that he had been accustomed to regard the Christian God as one of many— as standing on a level with the host of pagan deities; that the circumstances of his opposition to Maxentius may have turned his thoughts towards this God, and that he may have been on the outlook for some omen of the future; that he may have seen a remarkable appearance in the air, which to his excited imagination bore the form of the Christian symbol, while, although his soldiers witnessed the same sight, it had not for them the shape or the meaning with which the emperor’s fancy invested it; that the motto (if not to be explained in the same manner as the cross itself) may possibly have been nothing more than the inference drawn from the phenomenon; that the dream was a continuation of the thoughts in which the mind had before been engaged. And, if it be assumed that Eusebius reported his hero’s relation with perfect accuracy, it is surely not unwarrantable to suppose that the other circumstances may have grown up within the emperor’s mind in the course of years, as his adhesion to the Christian faith became more entire, and as his continued prosperity confirmed him in the belief that he was an especial favorite of Heaven—a belief which is strongly marked throughout his careers
The benefit conferred on the Christians by the edicts of 312 and 313 was toleration, not ascendency over other religions; and if we attempt to discover the progress of Constantine’s own opinions by his acts and legislation, we find that much is doubtful and perplexing in the history of his next years. He spoke of the Divinity in vague and ambiguous terms. He omitted the secular games, which in the ordinary course would have been celebrated in 314, and, to the great indignation of the Romans, he refused to take part in the rites of Jupiter Capitolinus. He favored the Christians in many ways; he bestowed munificent gifts on the community, and built churches; he committed the education of his son Crispus to the celebrated Christian rhetorician Lactantius; he associated much with bishops, frequently making them the companions of his table and of his journeys; he interfered in the settlement of religious disputes. In 313 he exempted the catholic clergy from the decurionate —an office which, from having once been an object of ambition, had come to be generally regarded as an oppressive burden, on account of the expense, the labor, and the unpopular functions connected with it. As it was found that, in consequence of this law, many persons, whose property rendered them eligible as decurions, pressed into the minor orders of the church for the purpose of obtaining an exemption, Constantine afterwards ordered that no person qualified for the decurionate should be admitted to ordination; that the clergy should be chosen from the poorer members of the church; and that only so many should be ordained as were necessary to fill up vacant places. But when some cities attempted to reclaim those who had become clerks with the object of evading civil office, the emperor ordered that such persons as were already ordained should not be molested.
It would appear that in 315 Constantine exempted the lands of ecclesiastics from the ordinary taxes—an exemption which was afterwards withdrawn. In the same year he abolished crucifixion as a punishment, and decreed that any Jews who should attempt to raise a tumult against Christians should be burnt. In 316 he allowed that the emancipation of slaves, which had until then been performed before a magistrate, might also take place in churches; and, in order to give popularity to the new method, it was divested of many troublesome formalities with which the act of emancipation had formerly been encumbered. By two laws of the year 319 he forbade private sacrifices and divination, and ordered that priests or diviners should not enter dwelling-houses for the exercise of their art, under the penalty of being burnt. But by the same laws the public exercise of such rites was still permitted; and two years later, while the practice of magic with any hurtful object was severely denounced, the emperor sanctioned the use of magical means for bodily cures, or for the prevention of storms. In 321 an edict was issued for the general observance of Sunday. Agricultural labors were to be carried on, but in the towns there was to be a cessation from traffic and from judicial business; and even the heathen soldiers were obliged to repeat on that day a prayer to the supreme Deity. In the same year, as a concession to the zeal of the Christians for celibacy, the old laws against unmarried and childless persons were abolished; and by another edict the church was allowed to receive legacies—a privilege which, in the event, had an important effect on its temporal condition.
But as to all these enactments and proceedings it is questionable in how far they may be regarded as evidence of the emperor’s personal disposition towards Christianity. The omission of the secular games, and the slight offered to the Capitoline Jupiter, need not have meant anything beyond a contempt for the popular religion. The laws which conferred privileges and removed disabilities did no more than put the Christian community on a level with the heathens, or even with the Jews. The private divinations condemned by Constantine were not properly a part of the old religion, but rather were a corruption which a reformer in the interest of that religion would have wished to abolish; they were, moreover, objectionable on political grounds, and had therefore been censured by Diocletian, by Tiberius, and even by so ancient an authority as the laws of the twelve tables. Nay, even the law for the observance of Sunday —the festival of the sun, or Apollo, called by its heathen name—while it had its special and sacred meaning for Christians, might have been regarded by the rest of Constantine’s subjects as merely adding to the number of holidays by an exercise of the pontifical authority which belonged to him as emperor.
In seeking to understand Constantine’s policy as to religion, we must distinguish between the sovereign and the man. As emperor he desired that his subjects should live in peace and order, and that the framework of the constitution should be preserved; in this capacity, therefore, it was his interest to avoid offending the prejudices of his people, to extend to all an equal protection, to allow in religion a freedom of thought limited only by the necessities of civil government. In his private opinions, which were probably at first vaguely monotheistic, he received a determination in favor of Christianity about the time of his march against Maxentius, and thenceforth advanced by degrees until at length he openly avowed the faith of the gospel. By thus considering separately his official and his personal character, we may perhaps best understand much that at first sight appears inconsistent; how he retained throughout his life the office of Pontifex Maximus, the highest in the pagan hierarchy; how he took part in heathen ceremonies, regarding them as attached to his imperial function; how, in two edicts of the same year, “he enjoined the solemn observance of Sunday, and directed the regular consultation of the aruspices”.
The joint triumph of Constantine and Licinius over Maxentius and Maximin was soon followed by differences which were decided by the defeat of Licinius in the battles of Cibalis and Mardia. By a new partition of the empire all Europe, except Thrace, was assigned to Constantine, but a revival of jealousies produced another war, which ended in the ruin of Licinius. This prince, whom some writers have very improbably supposed to have been once a catechumen, oppressed his Christian subjects, perhaps regarding their religion as a token of inclination to his rival’s interest. He demolished churches, put some bishops to death, and it is said that he was on the point of giving orders for a general persecution when he was diverted by the progress of Constantine. The emperors mustered their hosts under the standards of Christ and of heathenism respectively; each party relied on presages and visions which were supposed to come from heaven; and the triumph of Constantine was especially ascribed to the God of Christians. From that time pagan emblems disappear from his coins, and he declares himself in his edicts to be an instrument of God for spreading the true faith.
Constantine now recalled all Christians who were in exile or in the mines; he ordered that those who had been deprived of public employments on account of their religion should be reinstated, that the property of martyrs should be restored to their heirs, and that, if no heirs could be discovered, it should be given to the church. In an edict addressed to all his subjects, he advised them to embrace the gospel; but at the same time he professed to wish that it should be advanced by means of persuasion only. He endeavored, however, to render it attractive by bestowing employments and honors on proselytes of the higher classes, and by donations to the poor—a course which, as Eusebius himself acknowledges, produced a great amount of hypocrisy and pretended conversion. He ordered that churches should be everywhere built, of a size sufficient to accommodate the whole population. He forbade the erection of images of the gods, and would not allow his own statue to be set up in temples. All state sacrifices were prohibited, and such of the provincial governors and officials as adhered to the old religion were ordered to abstain from rites of this kind; yet other public sacrifices—those which were undertaken by the priests, as distinguished from ceremonies performed in the name of the state—were allowed to continue. There is reason to suppose that in the end of his reign Constantine issued an edict against them; but if so, it was little enforced.
While the emperor exerted himself for the elevation of the Christian community, he refrained from any such attacks on the religion of the majority as would have been likely to excite opposition. His measures were intended to appear as a reform of abuses which had crept into the pagan system—not as directed against that system itself. Commissioners were sent throughout the empire, with instructions to visit the temples and to inquire into the worship which was performed in them; and these commissioners, although unarmed, and unprotected by any military guard, were allowed to do their work without hindrance—a circumstance which shows how little hold the heathen religion retained on the general mind. In consequence of this visitation, many statues were stripped of their precious ornaments, destroyed, or carried away, and many impostures of the priests were exposed. Constantine respected the temples in general, but he shut up and unroofed some which were almost deserted, turned others into churches, and destroyed those which had been the scenes of immoral rites or of pretended miracles.
FOUNDATION OF CONSTANTINOPLE
The change in the position of Rome towards the empire, which had originated in the policy or in the caprice of Diocletian, was carried further by Constantine. He paid only two visits to the city after that which followed his victory over Maxentius; and his reception was not such as to make a favorable impression on his mind. With wonderful speed a new capital, called after the emperor’s name, was raised on the site of Byzantium. Whereas Rome was the chief stronghold of heathenism, Constantinople was to be wholly a Christian city. Churches were erected in every quarter. Statues of gods and illustrious men were removed from the cities and temples of Greece and Asia to decorate the streets and public places, while they served as trophies of victory over the old religion. The chief room of the palace was adorned with representations of sacred subjects, among which was one of the crucifixion. The gladiatorial shows, and other barbarous exhibitions which formed the delight of the Romans, were never allowed at Constantinople, although in the older capital the popular feeling was as yet so strong that the emperor did not venture to interfere with it.
In the outward duties of religion Constantine was very diligent. He caused himself to be represented in the attitude of prayer on coins and medals and in statues; he studied the Scriptures, and regularly attended the services of the church; he kept the paschal vigil with great devotion; he listened, standing, to the longest addresses of his bishops, he even composed religious discourses, and after they had been translated from Latin into Greek, with which he was but imperfectly acquainted, he delivered them before his court. One of these sermons is still extant, having been preserved as a specimen by Eusebius, to whom it is probably indebted for more than its Greek idiom. In this composition the emperor recommends the Christian religion, dwelling on the evidence borne by prophecy, with which he classes the Sibylline verses and the fourth Eclogue of Virgil; and, as was his custom, insisting strongly on the contrast between his own prosperity and the calamities of princes who had persecuted the church. In his journeys he was accompanied by a travelling chapel. Bishops were his chosen associates; and too many of them were dazzled by the splendor of such a position, so that he found them willing to let his faults pass uncensured, and to admit a dangerous amount of interference in spiritual things. Eusebius relates that one of these bishops—probably the historian himself —went so far in flattering the emperor with assurances of salvation as even to draw down a rebuke from him. It has indeed been maintained that Constantine’s Christianity was merely a matter of policy; but the charge is palpably unjust; for although some of his measures as to religion were unquestionably dictated by political interest, —although his understanding of Christian doctrine was very imperfect, and his life was far from being that of a consistent believer, —there is no reasonable ground for doubting that his conviction was sincere, and that he earnestly endeavored to employ his power for the benefit of the church and for the extension of the truth.
The emperor’s mother, Helena, was induced by him to embrace his new religion, and during the remaining years of her life distinguished herself by the fervor of her zeal and devotion. In 326 she visited the Holy Land, with the intention of seeking out the places which had been hallowed by the chief events of Scripture history. The site of the holy sepulcher was to be marked by a church which should exceed all others in splendor. The temple of Venus, with which Hadrian had defiled the place, was demolished; the earth below it was dug up as polluted, when, it is said, three crosses were discovered, and near them the label on which the superscription had been written over the Savior’s head. As, however, there was not enough to distinguish with certainty the cross on which he had suffered, Macarius, bishop of the city, proposed a test. A lady of his flock, who was supposed to be at the point of death, was carried to the spot; prayers were put up that the true cross might be revealed through her cure; and, after two of the three had been applied to her in vain, the third wrought an instantaneous recovery. In addition to the place of the entombment, those of the nativity and the ascension, and the site of the oak or turpentine-tree of Mamre, were covered with churches, in token of Helena’s piety, and of the unrestricted bounty which Constantine enabled her to exercised
The reign of Constantine was marked by the beginning of two great controversies—the Donatistic and the Arian : the former arising in the west, out of a disagreement as to discipline; the latter, of eastern origin, involving the very essence of Christian doctrine. The emperor took part in both, but the goodness of his intentions was not always directed by knowledge and sound judgment. Wielding an absolute power, and imperfectly instructed as to the faith which he professed, he was continually tempted to confound religious with civil considerations. Sometimes the desire to preserve peace among his subjects induced him to view error with indifference; at other times he regarded and punished the proceedings of religious parties as offences against his imperial authority.
THE DONATISTIC SCHISM.
We have repeatedly had occasion to notice the peculiar character which marked the Christianity of northern Africa. In that country Montanism had found a congenial soil, and had acquired its great champion, Tertullian. From Africa, too, it was that the Novatianist sect had in part derived its origin; and there its rigid principles had been received with the greatest enthusiasm. There the strict view as to the nullity of schismatical baptism had been maintained by Cyprian; and in the history of that great bishop we have seen the extravagant honor which the Christians of Africa attached to the outward acts of martyrdom and confessorship.
In the persecution under Diocletian many of the African Christians exhibited the characteristic spirit of their country. They endeavored to provoke martyrdom by violent behavior; in some cases, it is said, they were impelled to this by debts, disrepute, or wretchedness, and by the hope of at once washing away in their blood the sins and crimes of a whole life. To all such courses Mensurius, bishop of Carthage, was strongly opposed. He himself, when asked to give up the sacred books of his church, substituted for them some heretical writings. He forbade his people to visit in prison those who had ostentatiously courted death; he refused to acknowledge such persons as martyrs; and in carrying out this policy his chief instrument was his archdeacon, Caecilian.
In the year 305, a synod of about twelve bishops met at Cirta (now Constantine) to elect a bishop for that city. The president, Secundus, bishop of Tigisis and primate of Numidia, began by inquiring into the conduct of his brethren during the late persecution. Several confessed that they had delivered up the Scriptures; one, Purpurius by name, on being charged with the murder of two of his nephews, told Secundus that he was not to be frightened by such questions; that he had killed, and would kill, all who stood in his way; and he taxed Secundus himself with being a traditor. When the inquiry had proceeded so far as to inculpate the greater part of the bishops who were present, one of them proposed that, for the sake of peace, past offences should be forgotten, and that everyone should make his account to God alone; and the synod, acting on this suggestion, proceeded to elect one who had been a traditor, Silvanus, to the see of Cirta. It is to be noted that the very persons who on this occasion were so lenient towards the crime of traditorship became afterwards the chief leaders of the more rigid party.
Although Mensurius had incurred much enmity by his conduct during the persecution, the spirit which he had provoked did not break out into any considerable manifestation during his lifetime. On his death, which took place in 311, as he was returning from Rome, where he had been summoned to appear before Maxentius, two presbyters, named Botrus and Celesius, aspired to the vacant see, and, for their own purposes, contrived that the election should take place without summoning the Numidian bishops. The choice, however, fell on the archdeacon Caecilian, who was consecrated by Felix, bishop of Aptunga. Before leaving Carthage, Mensurius had in trusted some plate and other property of the church to certain elders of the congregation, and had left an inventory in the hands of a female member of his flock. This document was now delivered to Caecilian, who asked the elders to produce the articles enumerated in it; and these persons, who had supposed themselves secure against inquiry, and had intended to appropriate the deposit, endeavored to avenge themselves by forming a party in opposition to the new bishop. The faction was joined by the disappointed presbyters, and was supported by the influence and wealth of Lucilla, a lady whom Caecilian had formerly offended by reproving her for a practice of kissing the bone of a supposed martyr before partaking of the Eucharist. In consequence of an invitation from the malcontents, a body of Numidian bishops, seventy in number, and headed by their primate, Secundus, appeared at Carthage. They cited Caecilian before them, alleging that he ought not to have been consecrated except in their presence, and by the primate of Numidia; and, moreover, that his consecration was void, inasmuch as Felix of Aptunga was a traditor. Personal charges were also brought against Caecilian. His exertions to check the fanatical spirit during the persecution were exaggerated into monstrous inhumanity; it was said that he had stationed men at the prison-doors, with whips in their hands, to drive away such of the faithful as should carry provisions for the relief of the martyrs; that he himself had beaten some persons who went to the prison on this errand of charity; that he had broken the vessels which they carried, and had scattered the food, so that some of the prisoners had in consequence been starved to death. In answer to the summons of the Numidians, Caecilian refused to appear before them, but professed himself willing to satisfy them if they would go to him; he maintained that his consecration was regular and valid, and offered, if they could prove it otherwise, to submit to a fresh consecration at their hands. On this Purpurius broke out with his usual violence: “Let him come”, he said, “to receive our imposition of hands, and we will break his head by way of penance”. The Numidians excommunicated Caecilian with his adherents, and ordained a rival bishop, Majorinus, who had formerly been a reader under him, but was now a member of Lucilla’s household. By this formation of a decided schism, many persons, who had before stood aloof from Caecilian, were induced to return to his communion.
Constantine, soon after becoming master of the west by his victory over Maxentius, sent a large sum of money for the relief of the African Christians; and as reports which reached him had produced impressions unfavorable to the malcontent party, he ordered that his gifts, with the privileges conferred on Christians by his late edicts, should be limited to those who were in communion with Caecilian, while he used some harsh language as to the “madness” of their opponents. On this the discontented party, through the proconsul Anulinus, presented to the emperor a petition, desiring that their cause might be examined by the bishops of Gaul, from whom it was supposed that impartiality might be expected, as their country had been exempt from the late persecution, so that they had escaped the difficulties and dissensions connected with the question of giving up the Scriptures. Even such an application to the civil power—a request that it would appoint a commission of ecclesiastical judges—was altogether inconsistent with the attitude which the Donatists afterwards assumed towards the state; and their adversaries did not fail in later times to remind them from which party the original appeal to the emperor had proceeded.
Constantine complied with their request by issuing a commission to the bishops of Cologne, Autun and Arles, with whom he joined Melchiades (or Miltiades) of Rome, and another; but this commission was afterwards extended, so that the assembly before which the cause was tried consisted of about twenty bishops, who in October 313 met in the Lateran, then the palace of the empress Fausta. Caecilian attended, with ten bishops of his party; and a like number of accusers appeared, headed by Donatus, bishop of Casae Nigrae, in Numidia. The decision was in favor of Caecilian, and Melchiades proposed a conciliatory expedient—that both parties should reunite in communion, and that, where rival bishops laid claim to a see, the bishop who had the earlier consecration should keep possession. Donatus and his brethren, however, disdained all compromise. They complained that their cause had not been sufficiently examined; they renewed their charges; they accused the judges of corruption; they declared that a synod of only twenty bishops was insufficient to overrule the sentence of the seventy who had condemned Caecilian; and they prayed the emperor to grant them a further hearing.
On this Constantine summoned a council from all parts of the western empire to Arles, whither the judges, the accusers, and the accused were conveyed at the public expense. About two hundred bishops—by far the greatest ecclesiastical assembly that had yet been known (if the number be rightly given),—met on the 1st of August 314, under the presidency of Marinus, bishop of Arles. The bishops of Rome and of Ostia were represented by deputies. The deliberations of the council resulted in a fresh acquittal of Caecilian, and some canons were passed with a view to the African dissensions. It was enacted that clergymen who had given up the Scriptures, the sacred vessels, or the lists of the faithful, should be deposed, if convicted by the evidence of public records, but that mere hearsay testimony was not to be admitted in such cases; that false accusers should be excluded from communion, and should not be readmitted until in prospect of death; that if a person in himself unexceptionable had been ordained by a traditor his ordination should stand valid. And, for the settlement of the old question as to baptism, it was decided that, where a person had received baptism from heretics in the name of the Trinity, he should be admitted into the church by imposition of hands for the conveying of the Holy Spirit; but that, if the proper form of words had not been used, he should be rebaptized.
The defeated party entreated the emperor to take the matter into his own hands—a request which contrasts strangely with the principles which they afterwards maintained as to the independence of the ecclesiastical power. Although offended by their obstinacy, Constantine agreed, and, after some delays, the question was heard before him at Milan, where he gave a sentence to the same effect with those already pronounced by the synods of Rome and Arles. This judgment was followed up by severe edicts against the sectaries. They were deprived of their churches; many of them suffered banishment and confiscation; even the punishment of death was enacted against them, although it does not appear that this law was enforced in any case during the reign of Constantine.
DONATUS THE GREAT.
Majorinus is supposed to have died in 315, or earlier, and was succeeded in the schismatical episcopate by Donatus the Great—so styled by his followers for the sake of distinction from the bishop of Casae Nigrae. It was from this second Donatus that the sect, which had before been known as the party of Majorinus, took the name which it bears in history. He is described as learned, eloquent, a voluminous writer, a man of rigid life, but of excessive pride. He is said to have been desirous that his followers, instead of being styled Christians in common with their opponents, should be called after himself (although at a later time they resented the appellation); to have carried himself loftily towards the other bishops of his communion; to have scorned to receive the Eucharist in public; to have been very intemperate in his language towards all who differed from him. His partisans boasted of his miracles, and of the answers which he had received to prayer, and are charged with paying him honors which trenched on those due to the Deity—with singing hymns to him, and swearing by his grey hairs. The character of the sectaries answered to that of their chief. They displayed an extreme austerity, which was too often a pretext for the neglect of the more unpretending duties of morality and religion. They professed to embody in each individual that holiness which Scripture ascribes to the ideal church of Christ as a whole. They held that the true church existed only in their own communion, which, with the exception of one scanty congregation at Rome and the private chapel of a wealthy female Donatist in Spain, was limited to a corner of Africa. They boasted of miracles and revelations. They rebaptized proselytes, and compelled such professed virgins as joined the party to submit to penance, and to renew their vows.
Constantine soon began to perceive that against such fanaticism force would be as unavailing as reason. In 317 he wrote to the catholic bishops of Africa, exhorting them to treat the schismatics with gentleness; and when, in 321, the Donatists presented to him a memorial, in which they declared that they would have nothing to do with his “scoundrel of a bishop”, he repealed the laws against them, and allowed their exiles to return—expressing a horror of their frenzy and turbulence, but declaring that he left them to the judgment of God. This policy of indulgence was continued throughout the remaining years of the reign, during which the emperor’s attention was drawn away from the African schism by the nearer and more widely-spread Arian controversy. In the meanwhile the Donatists became the stronger party in Africa. A synod of the sect in 330 was attended by two hundred and seventy bishops, and the whole number of their bishops is said to have at one time amounted to four hundred.
The appearance of the circumcellions among the Donatists is placed by some writers as early as 317, while others date it a quarter of a century later. These were persons of the poorest class, ignorant of any language but the Punic; their name was derived from the practice of begging around the cells or cottages of the country people, instead of earning a livelihood by regular industry. The accounts of them might be disbelieved, as fictions of their enemies, were it not that later experience forbids us to be hasty in rejecting statements of extravagances and crimes committed under the name of religion. Their zeal was often combined with excesses of drunkenness and lust; and in these the “sacred virgins” of the party shared. Bands of both sexes roamed about the country, keeping the peaceable inhabitants in constant terror. They styled themselves the Lord’s champions; their shout of “Praises to God!” was heard, according to St. Augustine, with greater dread than the roaring of a lion. Supposing that our Lord’s words to St. Peter forbade them the use of swords, they at first carried no other weapon than heavy clubs, called Israels, with which they beat their victims—often to death; but the scriptural scruple was afterwards overcome, and they added to their “Israels” not only slings, but swords, lances, and hatchets. They attacked and plundered the churches and houses of the catholic clergy; they committed violent outrages on their persons; in later days they used to put out their eyes with a mixture of lime and vinegar. Professing to redress the wrongs of society, they interfered between creditors and their debtors, between masters and their slaves; offences which deserved punishment were allowed to pass unnoticed, lest the circumcellions should be called in by the culprits; all property was unsafe in the region infested by these furious fanatics; and the officers of justice were afraid to perform their functions.
The frenzy of the circumcellions was directed against themselves as well as others. Sometimes they courted death by violently disturbing the pagan worship. They stopped travellers on the roads, and, with threats of killing them, demanded death at their hands. In the same way, they compelled judges who were travelling on their circuits to hand them over to the executioners. Many drowned themselves, rushed into fire, or threw themselves from precipices; but hanging was a death which they eschewed, because they would have nothing in common with the traditor Judas. The more moderate Donatists disapproved and dreaded the excesses of the circumcellions. Councils of the sect condemned suicide; but the practice continued, and those who perpetrated or procured their own death were popularly honored as martyrs.
DONATISM UNDER CONSTANS.
Constans, who in 337 succeeded to the western part of his father’s empire, endeavored to conciliate the Donatists by the same system of presents which had been found effectual in winning proselytes from heathenism to the church. It would seem that three such attempts were made; the agents in the last of them were Paul and Macarius, who were sent into Africa in 347. When these commissioners invited all Christians to share in the emperor’s gifts, Donatus repelled the offer with a great show of indignation : “What”, he asked, “has the emperor to do with the church?”—and he forbade the members of his communion to accept anything from traditors. It was reported that the commissioners were charged to set up the emperor’s image in churches for the purpose of adoration. The circumcellions rose in revolt, and a battle was fought, in which the imperial troops were victorious—two Donatist bishops, the chief instigators of the insurrection, being among the slain. Macarius then required the sectaries to return to the church, and sentenced those who refused to banishment. Optatus, the chief controversial opponent of Donatism until the time of Augustine, acknowledges that they were treated with harshness, but assures us that this was against the wishes of the catholic bishops. The Donatists in Augustine’s day used to speak of the “times of Macarius” as those in which their forefathers had been most severely tried; and they affected to call the catholics Macarians, in memory of the persecutor. By the vigorous measures employed against them, the schism appeared to be suppressed for a time, and Donatus died in exile.
ORIGIN OF ARIANISM
The distinctive tenet of Arianism—the denial of the Saviour’s Godhead—had already appeared in the heresies of the Ebionites, of Artemon, and of Theodotus. But now that Christianity had assumed a new position, questions of doctrine produced an amount of agitation before unknown; the Arian controversy, and some which followed it, were not only felt throughout the whole church, but had an important effect on political affairs. And, sad as it undoubtedly is to contemplate the distractions thus occasioned, we must yet remember that by fighting out these differences, instead of attempting to stifle them by compromise, the church gained a fixed and definite form of sound words, which was of the greatest value, and even necessity, for the preservation of her faith through the ages of ignorance which followed.
It may have been, that at the time when he forsook the church he agreed with Paul, and that after his return he fell into errors of a different kind. See Hefele, i. 225.
Although Alexandria was the birthplace of Arianism, the origin of the heresy is rather to be traced to the other great church of the east, over which Paul of Samosata had exerted a powerful and lasting influence. While the Alexandrian tendency was spiritual and mystical, the theologians of Antioch were given to dialectic subtleties, and were more distinguished for acuteness than for largeness or depth of mind and such was the tone which prevailed in the school of Lucian, an eminent teacher of Antioch, whose history has already been noticed. Lucian, induced rather by a sympathy with Paul’s spirit than by any near agreement in his opinions, left the church together with the bishop, or in consequence of his condemnation : and although he afterwards returned, and was honored in the church as a martyr, the effects of his teaching remained for evil. The Arians claimed him as their founder. Among his pupils were Eusebius of Nicomedia, Leontius, and other persons who became prominent as leaders of the party; even Arius himself has been reckoned as one of them, although the conneCTion appears very doubtful.
Arius is supposed to have been, like Sabellius, a native of Libya or Cyrenaica. He is described as a man of strict life, of grave appearance and agreeable manners — with an air of modesty, under which, according to his enemies, he concealed strong feelings of vanity and ambition. After having been ordained deacon by Peter, bishop of Alexandria, about the beginning of the century, he became connected with a party which Meletius, bishop of Lycopolis, the second in rank of the Egyptian sees, had formed on grounds which appear to have resembled those of the Donatistic schism. For this, Arius was excommunicated by Peter; but the next bishop, Achillas, readmitted him to the church, ordained him presbyter, and entrusted him with a parochial cure in the city. On the death of Achillas, AD 311, after an episcopate of a few months, Arius is said by some writers to have aspired to the bishopric; Philostorgius, a member of his party, even states that he had a majority 0f votes, and that he voluntarily gave way to Alexander, who was elected. But there is no good evidence for the story of his having been a candidate at all.
Amidst contradictory reports as to the beginning of the controversy, it seems to be certain that on some public occasion, when Alexander was discoursing on the unity of the Divine Trinity, Arius charged his doctrine with Sabellianism. Alexander at first endeavored to convince him of his error by friendly expostulations; but, finding that they were ineffectual, that he himself was blamed for tolerating Arius, and that a presbyter named Colluthus even made this the pretext for a schism, the bishop appointed a conference, at which, after having heard the arguments on both sides with judicial impartiality, he decided against Arius. The condemnation was ratified by a synod of Egyptian and Libyan bishops; and the heresiarch with his adherents was excommunicated.
Arius found many to sympathize with him —partly from the attractiveness of a doctrine which brought down the mysteries of the Godhead to the sphere of human analogies and conceptions; partly because the multitude is usually ready to take part with anyone who may suffer from the exercise of lawful authority. Among his followers were two bishops, about twelve presbyters and as many deacons, and a great number of virgins. Being unable to remain at Alexandria, he took refuge in Palestine, and a lively correspondence followed—Arius endeavoring to gain friends by veiling his more offensive opinions, while Alexander dispersed warnings against him, and withstood all the intercessions of the historian Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, and of others who attempted to mediate.
Among these was another Eusebius, who had been associated with Arius as a disciple or admirer of Lucian, and was now bishop of Nicomedia. Eusebius procured from a Bithynian synod an acknowledgment of his friend as orthodox, and received him when he had been dislodged from Palestine through the influence of the Alexandrian bishop. At Nicomedia the heresiarch composed his Thalia —a book chiefly consisting of verses, and described by his opponents as an imitation of a heathen versifier named Sotades, whose writings are said to have been alike disgusting in subject and contemptible in execution. The Thalia was intended to advance the Arian doctrine by introducing it into pieces which might be sung as an accompaniment of meals; and with a like view Arius wrote songs for millers, sailors, and travellers. The character of his mind, as exhibited in his heresy and in the arguments for it, forbids us to suppose that these productions had anything of poetry except the form.
Constantine, on becoming master of the east, found the church distracted by the newly-risen controversy. In the hope of allaying this he wrote a letter to Alexander and Arius jointly—telling them that belief in a Providence was the one essential doctrine of Christianity, while he reproved them for contending about idle questions and imaginary differences, and recommended peace and unity, which, he said, they might learn even from the manner in which the heathen philosophers conducted their disputes. This document has been highly extolled as a model of wisdom and moderation, but would better deserve the praise if the Godhead of the Redeemer were, in a Christian view, that utterly trifling matter which the emperor then supposed it to be. Armed with the imperial letter, Hosius, bishop of Cordova, to whom the settlement of the affair was committed, proceeded to Alexandria, and held a synod; but, although he succeeded in healing the schism of Colluthus, the only result as to the Arian question was to convince him that the Arians were impracticable. The dissensions occasioned by the controversy had by this time become very serious; the disputes of the Christians were ridiculed in the heathen theatres; and in some places the emperor’s statues were treated with indignity.
Constantine now took a new view of the affair. He began to understand that the doctrine at stake was of the highest and most essential importance; and, moreover, the Arians appeared to him as disturbers of the public peace. In order, therefore, to a settlement of the controversy, and of the disputes as to the time of Easter, which had been lately revived, he summoned a general council of the whole church, to be held at Nicaea, in Bithynia. It was the first time that such an assemblage had been possible; for never until now had the east and the west been united under a sovereign professing the Christian faith : and the summons necessarily proceeded from the imperial authority, as being the only authority which was acknowledged by all the Christians of the empire.
OPINIONS OF ARIUS
Something has been said in a former chapter as to the manner in which the Christian doctrines on such subjects as that which was now in question had gradually been defined and exhibited. In the earlier time, down to the age of Irenaeus, the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost had been strongly held; so strongly, indeed, that the language of the fathers might have been misconstrued into something like Sabellianism. When heresies of that character had appeared, from the time of Praxeas downwards, they had been met by declarations which tended to establish the distinction of the Divine Persons, with a subordination of the Second and the Third as ministering to the First. The task appointed for the fourth century was to reconcile and to combine the truths which had thus been successively brought into prominence.
The terms by which the relations of the Divine Being had been expressed were intended to be regarded as complementary of each other in conveying such a shadow of the mystery as is within the compass of human thought and language; and, if taken singly, they were liable to be misunderstood. Thus the term Son, while it expressed the sameness of nature and the derivation of “God from God”, was defective, inasmuch as it suggested ideas of posteriority, inferiority, material generation, and too great personal distinctness. On the other hand, the term Word or Reason conveyed the ideas of coeternity, essential indwelling, and mediation, but tended to obscure that of personality—rather suggesting that the Second was to the First as an attribute or a mode of operation. On the incompleteness of such images Arius founded his heresy. His original objection against Alexander was, that, if the Son were begotten, the Father was anterior to him, therefore the Son had a beginning; “once he was not”. He could not (it was argued) have been taken from the Father’s substance; therefore he was made out of nothing. And thus, by a sophism drawn from the title of Son, Arius concluded against the very doctrine which that term was expressly intended to convey—the identity of nature between the Second Person and the First. The Word, he said, was created by the Father, at his own will, before the worlds —before all time. He was the highest of creatures—“a creature, yet not as one of the creatures”—and therefore styled only-begotten. He was framed after the pattern of the indwelling Divine Logos or Wisdom, enlightened by it, and called by its name. But although the Arians exhausted language in expressing the height of the Son’s elevation, they yet, by representing him as a creature, removed him to an infinite distance from the supreme Source of being. They assigned him a part like that of the gnostic demiurge in the work of creation; God (they said) created by him, because the Divinity itself could not come into contact with the finite world. According to them, he was employed in creation as an instrument, whereas in catholic language the Father was said to have wrought by him as by a hand. It was said that the Son was styled God in an inferior sense—as men also are occasionally so styled in Scripture. The texts in which he himself speaks of his unity with the Father were explained as signifying either a mere agreement of will, or an indwelling of God in him after the same manner as in men.
The peculiar weapon of Arius was logic; his mind was incapable of any speculation which rose into a higher region. The details of his system are obscured, partly by the variations to which he resorted as the consequences of his principles were pressed on him; partly by his own recoil from results which he had not foreseen or understood; and partly from his wish to disguise his opinions in such terms as might seem most plausible to the orthodox, and might be most likely to win for him the sympathy of the undiscerning. Among the doctrines which he once held and afterwards retracted was that of the mutability of the Son’s will. He might, it was said, have fallen like Satan; the Father, foreseeing that he would not fall, anticipated the reward of his merits by bestowing on him the titles of Son and Logos, which he was afterwards to earn.
The incarnation, according to Arius, was merely the assumption by the Son of a human body—his nature supplying the place of a soul. Hence scriptural expressions, which really relate to the Savior’s humanity, were applied to his pre-existent nature, and it was argued from them that that nature was inferior to the Divine.
The first general council met at Nicaea in June 325. The number of bishops present was about three hundred, and with them were many of the lower clergy. Even some heathen philosophers were attracted to the place of assembly, and held conferences and disputes with the bishops.
The controversy had not yet begun to agitate the west; and from that portion of the emperor’s dominions there were only Hosius of Cordova, Caecilian of Carthage, and two Roman presbyters, Vito and Vincent, sent as representatives of their bishop, Sylvester, whose age prevented his attendance. One bishop came from Scythia, and one from Persia, while the great body were from the eastern division of the empire. Among those who were thus assembled there was, no doubt, much variety as to their amount of ability and knowledge; but the object of their meeting was not one which required any high intellectual qualifications. For the more subtle arguments and definitions were not introduced into the controversy until a later time, and the fathers who assembled at Nicaea were not called to reason on the grounds of their belief, but to witness to the faith which the church had held on the disputed subjects. It has been supposed by some writers that Eustathius of Antioch was president; by some, that the bishops of Alexandria and Antioch presided by turns; while others have assigned the chief place to Eusebius of Caesarea. The most general opinion, however, is in favor of Hosius, whose name is first among the subscriptions; but there is no ground whatever for the idea that the office belonged to him in the character of a Roman legate, or that he held that character in anyway. The number of bishops favorable to Arius is variously stated at thirteen, seventeen, and twenty-two, and the most eminent among them were the two Eusebiuses, —who, however, did not fully agree in doctrine, as the bishop of Nicomedia carried his views to the whole length of the heresy, while the historian’s opinions appear to have been of the class afterwards styled semi-Arian. In the earlier sessions, which seem to have been held in a church,0Arius was repeatedly heard by the fathers in defence of his opinions. He avowed his heresy without disguise, and it is said that the avowal caused all who were present to stop their ears. His chief opponents in argument were Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra, and Athanasius, archdeacon of Alexandria, who was in attendance on his bishop, Alexander.
COUNCIL OF NICAEA.
About a fortnight after the opening of the council, Constantine arrived at Nicaea, and the sittings were transferred to the palace, where the emperor appeared at them, and acted as a moderator. Immediately on his arrival, he found himself beset by bishops who eagerly importuned him to listen to their grievances against each other; and as these quarrels were not only scandalous, but seemed likely to interfere with the proper business of the council, he resolved to put a summary end to them. Having appointed a day for the decision of such matters, he took his seat as judge, and received all the memorials which contained the mutual complaints and recriminations of the bishops. Then, after having shortly exhorted them to unity and concord, he burnt the documents without opening them, “lest the contentions of the priests should become known to anyone”. After this, the council proceeded to the discussion for which it had been assembled. The partisans of Arius, and especially that section of which Eusebius of Nicomedia was the leader, attempted to shelter themselves under ambiguous terms. Eusebius of Caesarea offered for acceptance a creed which he declared to be agreeable to the faith which he had received from his predecessors, which he had learnt as a catechumen, and had always held and taught; but this document, although of orthodox appearance, was so artfully framed as to evade the very questions which it was the business of the council to determine. He censured the terms proposed by the Catholics, as not being scriptural;—a futile objection, inasmuch as the matter in dispute was the sense of those Scriptures which all professed to accept; and somewhat shameless, as coming from a party which had opened the controversy by the introduction of terms unknown to Scripture. In order to meet the evasions of this creed, the word homoousion (i.e. of the same substance or essence) was proposed. Objections were taken to it, as tending to suggest the notion of materiality, as obscuring the personal distinction, as having been connected with some heretical systems, and, in particular, as having been condemned (although in another sense) by the council which deposed Paul of Samosata. Eusebius, however, acknowledged that it had been used by fathers of good repute, and at length he agreed to adopt it. A creed was drawn up, resembling that of Eusebius, and, like it, mainly derived from the older forms of the eastern church, but differing from it by the addition of the necessary safeguards against the Arian errors; and this creed, with a solemn condemnation of Arius, was generally signed by the bishops—among the rest by Eusebius himself, whose adhesion, as explained in a letter to his flock, was more creditable to his ingenuity than to his candor. The learned and courtly historian professed to have accepted the word homoousion as meaning that the Son was like the Father, and unlike all the other creatures; and to have joined in the condemnation of Arius because the censured terms were novel and unscriptural, but without intending either to pronounce the opinions in question false, or to affirm that they were held by the accused.
The paschal question was settled by a decision against the quartodeciman practice. Twenty canons were passed on various subjects connected with the government and discipline of the church; and the deliberations of the council were succeeded by the celebration of Constantine’s Vicennalia, during which he entertained the bishops at a splendid banquet, and, after having exhorted them to cultivate peace among themselves, dismissed them with a request that they would pray for him.
The emperor followed up the council’s judgment by banishing Arius into Illyria, and including in the sentence two Egyptians, Secundus and Theonas, who were the only bishops that had throughout adhered to the heresiarch. Severe penalties were denounced against Arius and his followers, and it was even made a capital offence to possess his writings. Constantine ordered that the party should be styled Porphyrians,—a name derived from that of the latest noted controversialist who had appeared on the side of heathenism, and intended to brand the Arians as enemies of the Christian faith; and in a letter addressed to the heresiarch, the emperor, not content with vehemently attacking his doctrine, even condescended to pun on his name and to ridicule his personal appearance. Three months after the council, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicaea, who had subscribed the creed but not the anathema, were condemned by a local synod on some new charge; and the emperor, who had given orders for their trial, sentenced them to banishment.
Within a few months after his return from Nicaea, Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, died. Athanasius, whom he had recommended for his successor in the see, was then absent,—having, it would seem, intentionally prolonged his absence on a mission to the court from a wish to avoid the dangerous and laborious dignity. He was, however, chosen by general acclamation; and although some faint charges of irregularity were afterwards brought against the manner of his appointment, it would seem to have been really beyond exception. From the age of thirty to that of seventy-six Athanasius held the see, devoting himself with all his powers to the assertion of the orthodox doctrine, which for him was no speculative opinion, but was intimately connected with the whole Christian life. To his abilities and constancy is due, under the Divine Providence, the preservation of the eastern church, and perhaps even of the whole church, from the adoption of the Arian heresy, or from a vague and creedless system, which would probably have issued in an utter abandonment of Christianity. He displays in his writings a manly and direct eloquence; a remarkable and unusual combination of subtlety with breadth of mind; extreme acuteness in argument, yet at the same time a superiority to mere contentiousness about words. His unbending steadiness of purpose was united with a rare skill in dealing with men; he knew when to give way, as well as when to make a show of resistance. His activity, his readiness, his foresight, his wonderful escapes and adventures, gave countenance to the stories of magical art which circulated among his enemies,0 and to the belief of his admirers that he possessed the gifts of miracles and prophecy. Throughout all his troubles he was supported by the attachment of his people, and of the hundred bishops who owned allegiance to the see of Alexandria.
The Arian party in no long time began to gain strength in the imperial court. Constantia, the widow of Licinius and sister of Constantine—a princess who had been under the influence of Eusebius of Nicomedia—was persuaded by a presbyter whose name is said by writers of later date to have been Eutocius, that Arius had been misrepresented and unjustly condemned. When on her death-bed, she endeavored to impress her brother with the same belief, and recommended the presbyter to him; and by this man the emperor, whose apprehension of the question had never been independent or discerning, was persuaded to invite Arius to his court. The heresiarch appeared, with Euzoius, a deacon of Alexandria, who had been included in the excommunication. They produced a creed, which although defective in the critical points, was expressed in inoffensive, and for the most part scriptural, terms; and Constantine was satisfied of their orthodoxy. Eusebius and Theognis also soon obtained a recall, protesting that they had no sympathy with the errors imputed to Arius; that their only offence had been that of doubting whether he held these errors—a doubt, they said, which the emperor himself had lately justified.
AD 327-333- MOVEMENTS AGAINST ATHANASIUS.
The Arian or Eusebian party had now full possession of court influence, and they made an unscrupulous use of to eject such catholic bishops as stood in the way. Among these was Eustathius, bishop of Antioch, who had offended them by charging Eusebius of Caesarea with unfaithfulness to the Nicene doctrine. Eusebius retorted by an accusation of Sabellianism—an error which the Arianizers habitually imputed to their orthodox opponents; and at a party synod, held in his own city, the bishop of Antioch was deposed on charges of heresy and adultery, which were alike unfounded. As the attachment of his people to Eustathius, and their indignation at this sentence, appeared to threaten a disturbance of the public peace, the emperor’s jealousy was aroused, and the bishop was sent into exile. After two Arians in succession had held the see for a short time, Eusebius was solicited to accept it; he declined, however, and his refusal was approved by the emperor.
The occupant of the other great eastern see was far more obnoxious, not only on account of his formidable character and talents, but as being the bishop of that church from which Arius had been expelled, and through which it was desired by his partisans that he should be formally readmitted to catholic communion. After Eusebius of Nicomedia had in vain attempted to mediate, the emperor himself was persuaded to write to Athanasius, requiring him to receive Arius with his followers, and threatening deposition and banishment in case of refusal. But the undaunted bishop replied that he could not acknowledge persons who had been condemned by a decree of the whole church; and Constantine desisted from urging the matter.
The Arians now made overtures to the Meletians. The council of Nicaea had endeavored to provide for the healing of the Meletian schism by an arrangement as to the possession of sees which were claimed both by catholic and by Meletian bishops; but Meletius, although for a time he acquiesced in this measure, had afterwards been persuaded to continue the breach by ordaining one John to succeed him as the chief of his community. The Meletians, in their enmity against the Alexandrian primate, were easily induced to lend themselves as tools to his Arian opponents; and, although hitherto free from doctrinal error, they gradually became infected with the heresy of their new allies. In the alleged grievances of the Meletians the Arians found means of besieging the emperor with a multitude of complaints against Athanasius; but the bishop exposed the futility of these complaints so successfully as even for a time to turn Constantine’s indignation against the authors of them.
In 334 Athanasius was summoned to appear before a council at Caesarea, but disregarded the citation on the ground that he could not expect justice at the hands of such a tribunal. In the following year he was cited before another council, to be held at Tyre; and as the order was then enforced by the imperial authority, with threats of personal violence, he thought it well to comply. At this assembly sixty bishops were present, and a lay commissioner of the emperor directed and overawed their proceedings. Athanasius appeared at the head of fifty Egyptian bishops, and was about to take the place to which the dignity of his see entitled him, when he was ordered by the president, Eusebius of Caesarea, to stand, as being a person under accusation. On this one of the Egyptian bishops, Potammon, a man of high repute for sanctity, is said to have addressed Eusebius: “Do you sit, while the innocent Athanasius is tried before you? Remember how you were my fellow-prisoner in the persecution. I lost an eye for the truth : by what compliances was it that you came off unhurt?”. Eusebius found it expedient to evade the question. “Your behavior”, he answered, “gives countenance to the charges against your party; for if you try to play the tyrants here, no doubt you must do so much more at home”. And he broke up the meeting for the day.
Athanasius was arraigned on a variety of charges, some of them arising out of collisions with the remaining adherents of Melelius and Colluthus, in the course of the visitations which he indefatigably performed throughout his vast province. The most serious was, that he had killed a Meletian bishop named Arsenius, had cut off one of his hands, and had used it for magical purposes; and a human hand was exhibited in evidence of these crimes. In answer to all these charges, Athanasius defended himself boldly and triumphantly. The story as to Arsenius was refuted by producing the man himself, alive and unmutilated,—the friends of Athanasius having succeeded in discovering him, notwithstanding the endeavors of the opposite party to keep him concealed. As the case against Athanasius had thus broken down, a commission, chosen from among his bitterest enemies, was sent into the Mareotis to collect fresh evidence against him. He protested against the unfair composition of this body; and, without waiting for the result of its inquiries, he embarked for Constantinople, threw himself in the emperor’s way as he was riding near the city, and, reminding him of the judgment at which they must both one day appear, extorted from him a promise of a new investigation in the imperial presence. Constantine was so far moved by this appeal that he wrote in a tone of reproof to the council, which had already decreed the deposition and excommunication of Athanasius, and, having removed to Jerusalem for the purpose of dedicating the magnificent church which the emperor had lately erected over the holy sepulcher, had there admitted Arius and Euzoius to communion.
The leaders of the Arian faction persuaded the other bishops to return to their homes, and themselves repaired to Constantinople. Dropping the charges on which they had condemned Athanasius in the council, they asserted that he had threatened to stop the sailing of the Egyptian fleet, on which the new capital depended for its supplies of corn. The accusation was well devised with a view to rouse Constantine’s jealousy; for on a similar suspicion he had a few years before put to death a philosopher named Sopater, who had long enjoyed his intimacy; and the artifice of the Arians was successful. Whether from belief of the charge, from a wish to remove so influential a man from a scene where he might be dangerous, or with a view of withdrawing him for a time from exposure to the malice of his enemies, the emperor banished Athanasius to Treves, where the champion of orthodoxy found an honorable reception at the court of the younger Constantine.
AD 335-6. ARIUS AND ALEXANDER.
But the spirit of its bishop continued to animate the Alexandrian church. The attempts of Arius to obtain re-admission were steadily repelled; and at length reports of disturbances occasioned by his proceedings induced the emperor to summon him to Constantinople. A council which was sitting there condemned Marcellus of Ancyra, one of Athanasius’ most conspicuous partisans, on a charge of Sabellianism, to which he had at least given countenance by the use of incautious language; and it is said that the same council ordered the admission of Arius to communion. The heresiarch appeared before the emperor, and without hesitation subscribed a profession of orthodoxy, declaring that he had never held any other doctrine. With this compliance Constantine was satisfied, and sending for the bishop, Alexander, he told him that Arius must be received into communion on the following day, which was Sunday. Alexander, who had occupied the see of Byzantium while it was as yet an undistinguished city, and had now almost completed his hundredth year, had already been threatened by Eusebius of Nicomedia with deposition in case of a refusal, and had been for weeks engaged with his flock in solemn deprecation of the intended evil. On leaving the emperor’s presence, he entered the church of Peace, prostrated himself under the holy table, and prayed that, rather than he should witness such a profanation, either he himself or the heresiarch might be taken from the world. On the evening of the same day, Arius was parading the streets of the city on horseback amidst a large party of his adherents, talking lightly and in a triumphant tone of the ceremonies appointed for the morrow, when the pressure of a natural necessity compelled him to dismount and withdraw. He was soon after found dead, and his end is related with circumstances which are intended by the narrators to recall to mind that of the traitor Judas.
Notwithstanding the part which Constantine had taken in the affairs of the church, he had not yet been received as a member of it by baptism, when, in his sixty-fourth year, he was seized with a dangerous sickness, at a palace near Nicomedia. Feeling the approach of death, he sent for some bishops, to whom he declared that he had deferred his baptism from a wish to receive it in the waters of Jordan, but that, as the opportunity of doing so was denied to him, he begged them to administer the sacrament. After having been admitted by imposition of hands to the highest class of catechumens, he was baptized by the bishop of the neighboring city, Eusebius, and during the remaining days of his life he retained the white robe of baptism, refusing to wear the imperial purple. On Whitsunday at noon, in the year 337, he expired.