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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

This was framed in the year 325 at the General Council of Nicæa, a town of Bithynia, in Asia Minor, where three hundred and eighteen Fathers assembled at the call of Pope Sylvester for the purpose of condemning the heretic Arius, who denied the divinity of our Lord.

Among the Fathers present at this famous synod, known throughout the East as the “Council of the three hundred and eighteen,” were several upon whose persons could yet be seen the wounds they had received for the faith in the previous persecutions. The great Paphnutius, Bishop of the Thebaid, was there with his right eye plucked out, and his right hand burned into the very socket of the arm, in the persecution of Maximilian. So deeply affected was the Emperor Constantine the Great at the appearance of this saintly hero of the faith that he never took leave of him without first having kissed his wounds. Another venerable spectacle was St. Paul of Nova Cæsarea, whose two hands were burned off by order of Licinius. There was present, too, the great St. Potamon, Bishop of Heraclea, whose right eye was plucked out during another persecution. All these venerable men, old and feeble as they were, braved the perils of sea and land in order to defend the integrity of the apostolic faith against the most daring heresy that was ever broached in the Church.

The Council; Constantine the Great, etc.—Pope Sylvester was the reigning pontiff at this time, but he did not preside in person. Vitus and Vincent, priests of Rome, and Hosius, Bishop of Cordova, in Spain, represented him. It is generally believed that the last-named prelate presided over the deliberations of the Fathers; and there is an almost unanimous agreement among ecclesiastical historians that it was he who drew up the famous Creed, which the reader need hardly be told was written in Greek.

Constantine the Great was present a few moments after the Fathers had assembled. When his arrival was announced all rose to their feet to welcome him, and he was forthwith conducted to the magnificent golden throne prepared for him in the assembly-room. The emperor forbade any of his court to follow him, except those who had been baptized. The entire scene is so beautifully described by Eusebius that we cannot refrain from giving it in full: “The emperor appeared as a messenger of God, covered with gold and precious stones—a magnificent figure, tall and slender, and full of grace and majesty. To this majesty he united great modesty and devout humility, so that he kept his eyes reverently bent upon the ground, and only sat down upon the golden seat which had been prepared for him when the bishops gave him the signal to do so. As soon as he had taken his place all the bishops took theirs” (Vita Constant., iii p. 10). After the congratulatory address had been delivered to the emperor, the latter in a gentle voice addressed the Fathers. He spoke in Latin, which a scribe at his side immediately turned into Greek. At the end of the speech the articles touching the heresy of Arius were read and examined, and then the heretic himself was called to stand at the tribunal.

Description of Arius.—Arius is described as tall and thin, of austere appearance, serious bearing, but yet of very fascinating manners. He is represented as a learned man, a clever and subtle logician—proud, ambitious, insincere, and cunning. St. Epiphanius called him a perfidious serpent.

What his Error really was.—Like Philo, Arius admitted an intermediate being, who, being less than God, was the divine organ of the creation of the world, like the gods of Plato. Furthermore, he transferred the idea of time which rules every human generation to the divine generation, and drew from that, as he himself supposed, by logical necessity, the proposition that the Son could not be co-eternal with the Father. It was precisely this that condemned him.

Regarding the celebrated word that the Fathers employed as the great weapon of defence against his heresy—viz., ὁμοούσιος (Homoousios)—a very considerable amount of discussion has been set on foot, owing to its different shades of meaning, for in its own language it may be interpreted in various ways; nor can it be proved so easily that the Fathers of Nicæa intended it to signify, in a theological point of view, all that it really does, for it is well known that the numerical unity of the three Persons of the Adorable Trinity was not defined until the Fourth Council of Lateran, in 1215, condemned the opposite error of the Abbot Joachim.

To translate “Homoousios” by consubstantial is not enough without considerable explanation, for it is equally true that the Son of God is consubstantial with his Blessed Mother and with us. His consubstantiality with God the Father must be something higher. Neither will it do to translate it, as may be done, by the same being, for this would be the heresy of Sabellius, who maintained that the Father and the Son were one and the same person, but differing in name only. But although it is not certain what the exact ground was that the Fathers of Nicæa intended to cover by their use of Homoousios, this much we know and believe, that no better word could have been chosen under the circumstances as a crucial test for the heresy of Anus; and this Arius himself perfectly understood, for he moved heaven and earth to escape its force. The least ambiguous term for rendering this celebrated word into English is co-eternal, or co-equal, as the word consubstantial is very liable to be misinterpreted (see Dublin Review, June, 1845, vol. xviii., art. “Difficulties of the Ante-Nicene Fathers”; Alzog’s Church History, vol. i., “Arian Controversy,” translated by Pabisch and Byrne; History of the Christian Councils, by Hefele, vol. i.; and Tracts, Theological and Ecclesiastical, by Rev. Dr. Newman).

We must remark here that the Nicene Creed had for its basis the Apostles’ Creed, and that only those clauses were added which bore upon the heresy of Arius and his heretical predecessors. Another remark, too, that it will not be amiss to make is this: that although Arianism at one time shook the whole earth to its foundations, still it never formed a church of itself, as did Nestorianism and Eutychianism. There are thousands in the East to-day who belong to both of these sects, but not an Arian can be found anywhere.

We shall now give the principal clauses of the Creed that the Fathers of Nicæa inserted in their new symbol of faith, as well as the names of the principal heresies against which they were directed:

“Θέον ἀληθινόν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ.”

Deum Verum de Deo Vero.

True God of True God.

This was inserted against the Arians and Eunomians, both of whom denied that our Divine Lord was very God by natural property, but only in the same way in which certain classes of men are styled gods in the Scripture; as, for instance, in the Eighty-first Psalm.

“Γεννήθεντα οὐ ποιήθεντα.”

Genitum, non factum.

Begotten, not made.

This is to show that our Lord was not a creature, as some heretics implied by their phraseology, and others, such as Arius, asserted.

Ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί.”

Consubstantialem Patri.

Consubstantial with the Father.

The “ὁμοούσιος” as we have said already, was the weapon which prostrated Arius, for it took from him the last prop upon which his heresy rested. Besides his, there were also included in the anathema fulminated by this council the teachings of the Manichæans, Basilians, Ebionites, Simonians, and those of Paul of Samosata.

διʼ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.”

Per quem omnia facta sunt.

Through whom all things were made.

Many of the early heretics maintained that God the Father was the maker of all things, to the total exclusion of the Son, contrary to what our Divine Lord himself says in St. John, chapter 5: “What things soever he [i.e., the Father] doth, these the Son also doth in like manner.” In their works ad extra, say theologians, the three divine Persons are concerned and united.

“Καὶ σαρκωθεντα, καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα.”

Et incarnatus est, et homo factus est.

And became incarnate, and was made man.

This was inserted against the many who maintained that our Lord’s body was not, strictly speaking, a real human body, and that his divinity supplied the place of a human soul.

According to Cardinal Bona (Rer. Liturg., p. 331), as soon as this famous Creed was promulgated all the churches of the East adopted it; the faithful and the catechumens were taught it; and those who did not profess it openly were stigmatized at once as Arians.








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