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A History Of The Church In Five Books by Theodoret

AT this period the emperor Constantius resided at Antioch. After he had, by concluding a truce, terminated the war against the Persians, he again assembled all the bishops, and tried to compel them to expunge the term “consubstantial,” and to insert the expression “of a different substance.” The church of Antioch was then destitute of a pastor; for Eudoxius, who had seized the bishopric on the death of Leontius, had been expelled, and had, in disobedience to the decrees of many councils, taken possession of that of Constantinople. The bishops who were assembled from all regions, therefore said that it was first necessary to elect a pastor over the flock, and that they would then, in concert with him, deliberate on the doctrines of religion. At this period Melitius, whose character was most highly exemplary, had resigned the bishopric of a little city in Armenia, not being able to bear the contumacy of the people, and was living elsewhere in quiet and retirement. The members of the Arian faction, believing that Melitius was of one mind with themselves, and that he upheld the same doctrines, petitioned Constantius to commit the reins of the church of Antioch into his hands; for they fearlessly violated every enactment in their attempts to strengthen their own impious cause. The very foundation of their blasphemy was laid upon the transgression of the laws; and they have every where introduced numerous innovations. Those who supported the apostolical doctrines, being aware of the sound principles of the great Melitius, as well as of his exemplary course of life and of his great virtues, warmly seconded the petition; and zealously took measures to ensure the decree of his election being written and signed. When the decree had been duly completed, it was entrusted to the care of Eusebius bishop of Samosata, who was a noble defender and champion of the truth. Upon receiving the imperial command, the great Melitius returned, and was met by all the bishops, by the clergy, by the citizens, and even by the Jews and the Greeks, who were desirous of seeing so celebrated a man. The emperor commanded him, and those other bishops who possessed rhetorical abilities, to explain to the multitude the following words, “The Lord made me in the beginning of his ways, for his works:” and he commanded that each exposition should be committed to writing in order to secure accuracy. George, bishop of Laodicea, was the first who drew up an exposition, and in it he displayed the baneful nature of his heresy. Acacias, bishop of Cæsarea, in his explanation, which was next completed, steered a middle course between the impiety of the Arians and the purity of the apostolical doctrines, differing greatly from the one and yet not preserving the characteristic features of the other. Thirdly, the great Melitius stood up and explained the principles enforced by the ecclesiastical canons. He weighed all his words in the balance of truth, and carefully avoided saying either too much or too little. His discourse was heard with general approbation, and being entreated to give a brief synopsis of his doctrines, he extended three of his fingers, and then closed two, leaving one only extended, and uttered the following remarkable words: “Three persons are conceived in the mind, but we speak as if addressing one.” Those who had imbibed the errors of Arius began to revile him, and to accuse him falsely of following the doctrines of Sabellius. They induced the emperor, who was more changeable than Æolus, to banish him to his native country. His bishopric was given to Euzoius, who openly advocated the Arian doctrines, and who had been deposed at the same time as Arius, and had been excluded from the office of deacon by the great Alexander. On account of this election, the more orthodox part of the community separated from those who had embraced heresy, and assembled in the apostolical church which was situated in the old city. During thirty years, which had elapsed since the machinations against the celebrated Eustathius, they had borne with the wickedness of the Arians, expecting that affairs would take a better turn. But when they saw that the cause of heresy was becoming stronger, and that all who maintained the apostolical doctrines were either openly opposed or secretly persecuted, and when they perceived that the holy Melitius had been deposed, and Euzoius, the patron of heresy, appointed to supplant him, they recalled to mind the words addressed to Lot, “Save your soul.” The following precept of the gospel likewise occurred to them, “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” The signification of these words was meant by the Lord to extend to the hand and to the foot; for it is added, “It is better for thee that one of thy members should perish, than that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

It was in this way that the church of Antioch was divided into opposite parties.








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