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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

HAVING drawn this inference from his novel train of reasoning, he excited many to a consideration of the question; and thus from a little spark a large fire was kindled: for the evil which commenced in the Church at Alexandria, ran throughout all Egypt, Libya, and the upper Thebes, and at length diffused itself over the rest of the provinces and cities. Many others also adopted the opinion of Arius; but Eusebius in particular was a zealous defender of it: not he of Cæsarea, but the one who had before been bishop of the church at Berytus, and was then in the surreptitious possession of the bishopric of Nicomedia in Bithynia. When Alexander became conscious of the spread of this leaven, both from his own observation and report, being exasperated to the highest degree, he convened a council of many prelates; and having excommunicated Arius and the abettors of his heresy, he wrote as follows to the bishops constituted in the several cities.

THE EPISTLE OF ALEXANDER BISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA

“To our beloved and most honoured fellow-Ministers of the Catholic Church everywhere, Alexander sends greeting in the Lord.

“Inasmuch as the Catholic Church is one body, and we are commanded in the holy Scriptures to maintain the bond of unanimity and peace; it consequently becomes us to write, and mutually acquaint one another with the condition of things among each of us, in order that if one member suffers or rejoices, we may either sympathise with each other, or rejoice together. Know therefore that there have recently arisen in our diocese lawless and anti-christian men, teaching apostasy such as one may justly consider and denominate the forerunner of Antichrist. I wished indeed to consign this disorder to silence, that if possible the evil might be confined to the apostates alone; and lest going forth into other districts, it should contaminate the ears of some of the simple. But since Eusebius, who after deserting his charge at Berytus, and assuming with impunity the episcopal authority over the church at Nicomedia, seems to imagine that the affairs of the church are under his control, has undertaken the patronage of these apostates, daring even to send commendatory letters in all directions concerning them, if by any means he might inveigle some of the ignorant into this most impious and anti-christian heresy; I felt imperatively called on to be silent no longer, knowing what is written in the law, but to inform you all of these things, that ye might understand both who the apostates are, and also the execrable character of their heresy. I am constrained at the same time to warn you to pay no attention to his communications, if Eusebius should write to you; for now wishing to renew his former malevolence, which seemed to have been buried in oblivion by time, he affects to write in their behalf; while the fact itself plainly shows that he does this for the promotion of his own purposes. These then are those who have become apostates:—Arius, Achillas, Aithales, and Carpones, another Arius, Sarmates, Euzoïus, Lucius, Julian, Menas, Helladius, and Gaius; with these also must be reckoned Secundus and Theonas, who once were called bishops. The dogmas they assert in utter contrariety to the Scriptures, and wholly of their own devising, are these:—that God was not always a father, but that there was a period when he was not a father; that the Word of God was not from eternity, but was made out of nothing; for that the ever-existing God (the I AM—the eternal One) made him who did not previously exist, out of nothing. Thus they conclude there was a time when he did not exist, inasmuch as, according to their philosophy, the Son is a creature and a work; that he is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Father’s true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures, being erroneously called Word and Wisdom, since he was himself made by God’s own Word and the Wisdom which is in God, whereby God both made all things and him also. ‘Wherefore,’ say they, ‘he is as to his nature mutable and susceptible of change, as all other rational creatures are: hence the Word is alien to and other than the essence of God; and the Father is inexplicable by the Son, and invisible to him, for neither does the Son perfectly and accurately know the Father, neither can he distinctly see him. The Son knows not the nature of his own essence: for he was made on our account, in order that God might create us by him, as by an instrument; nor would he ever have existed, unless God had wished to create us.’ Some one accordingly asked them whether the Word of God could be changed, as the devil has been? and they feared not to say, ‘Yes, he could; for being begotten and created, he is susceptible of change.’ We then with the bishops of Egypt and Libya, being assembled together to the number of nearly a hundred, have anathematised Arius for his shameless avowal of these heresies, together with all such as have countenanced them. Yet the partisans of Eusebius have received them; endeavouring to blend falsehood with truth, and that which is impious with what is sacred. But they shall not prevail, for the truth must triumph; and light has no fellowship with darkness, nor has Christ any concord with Belial. Who ever heard such blasphemies? or what man of any piety is there now hearing them that is not horror-struck, and stops his ears, lest the filth of these expressions should pollute his sense of hearing? Who that hears John saying, ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ does not condemn those that dare affirm there was a period when the Word was not? or who hearing in the gospel of ‘the only-begotten Son,’ and that ‘all things were made by him,’ will not abhor those that pronounce the Son to be one of the things made? But how can He be put on a level with, or regarded as one of the things which were made by himself? Or how can he be the only-begotten, if he is reckoned among created things? And how could he have had his existence from nonentities, since the Father has said, ‘My heart has indited a good matter’ (Ps. 45:1); and ‘I begat thee out of my bosom before the dawn’ (Ps. 110:3; see LXX. quoted from Ps. 72). Or how is he unlike the Father in essence, who is ‘his perfect image’ (Col. 1:15), and ‘the brightness of his glory’ (Heb. 1:3); he himself also declaring, ‘He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father’? Again, how is the Son the Word and Wisdom of God, if there was a period when he did not exist? for that is equivalent to their saying, that God was once destitute both of Word and Wisdom. How can he be mutable and susceptible of change, who says of himself, ‘I am in the Father, and the Father in me’ (John 14:10); and ‘and the Father are one’ (John 10:30); and again by the Prophet (Mal. 3:6), ‘Behold me because I am, and have not changed’? But if any one may also apply the expression to the Father himself, yet would it now be even more fitly said of the Word; because he was not changed by having become man, but as the Apostle says (Heb. 13:8), ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’ But what could persuade them to say that he was made on our account, when Paul has expressly declared (Heb. 2:10), that ‘all things are for him, and by him’? One need not wonder then indeed at their blasphemous assertion, that the Son does not perfectly know the Father; for having once determined to fight against Christ, they reject even the words of the Lord himself, when he says (John 10:15), ‘As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father.’ If therefore the Father but partially knows the Son, it is manifest that the Son also knows the Father but in part. But if it would be impious to affirm this, and it be admitted that the Father perfectly knows the Son, it is evident that as the Father knows his own Word, so also does the Word know his own Father, whose Word he is. And we by stating these things, and unfolding the divine Scriptures, have often confuted them: but again as chameleons they were changed, striving to apply to themselves that which is written (Pro. 18:3; LXX.) ‘When the ungodly has reached the depths of iniquity, he becomes contemptuous.’ Many heresies have arisen before these, which exceeding all bounds in impious daring, have lapsed into complete infatuation: but these persons, by attempting in all their discourses to subvert the Divinity of THE WORD, as having made a nearer approach to Antichrist, have comparatively lessened the odium of former heresies. Wherefore they have been publicly repudiated by the Church, and anathematized. We are indeed grieved on account of the perdition of these persons, and especially so because after having been previously instructed in the doctrines of the Church, they have now apostatized from them. Nevertheless we are not greatly surprised at this, for Hymenæus and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17, 18) fell in like manner; and before them Judas, who though he had been a follower of the Saviour, yet afterwards deserted him and became his betrayer. Nor were we without premonition respecting these very persons: for the Lord himself forewarned us (Mat. 24:4), ‘Take heed that no man deceive you: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ: and shall deceive many’ (Luke 21:8); and ‘the time is at hand; Go ye not therefore after them.’ And Paul having learned these things from the Saviour, wrote (1 Tim. 4:1), ‘That in the latter times some should apostatize from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits, and doctrines of devils,’ who pervert the truth. Seeing then that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has himself enjoined this, and has also by the apostle given us intimation respecting such men, we having ourselves heard their impiety, have in consequence anathematized them, as we before said, and declared them to be alienated from the Catholic Church and faith. Moreover we have intimated this to your piety, beloved and most honoured fellow-Ministers, in order that ye might neither receive any of them, if they should presume to come to you, nor be induced to put confidence in Eusebius, or any other who may write to you about them. For it is incumbent on us who are Christians, to withdraw ourselves from all those who speak or entertain a thought against Christ, as from those who are resisting God, and are destroyers of the souls of men: neither does it become us even ‘to salute such men’ (2 John 10, 11), as the blessed Apostle has prohibited, ‘lest we should at any time be made partakers of their sins.’ Greet the brethren which are with you: those who are with us salute you.”

By Alexander’s thus addressing the bishops in every city, the evil only became worse; for those to whom he made this communication were thereby excited to contention, some fully concurring in and subscribing to the sentiments expressed in this letter, while others did the reverse. But Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia, was beyond all others incited to controversy, inasmuch as Alexander had in his letter made a personal and censorious allusion to him. Now at this juncture Eusebius possessed great influence, because the Emperor resided at Nicomedia, Diocletian having a short time previously built a palace there. On this account therefore many of the bishops paid their court to Eusebius: and he himself was incessantly writing both to Alexander, that he might set aside the discussion which had been excited, and again receive Arius and his adherents into communion; and also to the bishops in each city, that they might not concur in the proceedings of Alexander. By these means confusion every where prevailed: for one saw not only the prelates of the churches engaged in contention, but the people also divided, some siding with one party, and some with the other. To so disgraceful an extent was this affair carried, that Christianity became a subject of popular ridicule, even in the very theatres. Those who were at Alexandria sharply disputed about the highest points of doctrine, and sent deputations to the bishops of the several dioceses; while those who were of the opposite faction created a similar disturbance.

With the Arians the Melitians mingled themselves, who a little while before had been separated from the Church: but who these Melitians are must now be stated.

By Peter bishop of Alexandria, who in the reign of Diocletian suffered martyrdom, an individual named Melitius, a bishop of one of the cities in Egypt, was degraded in consequence of many other charges indeed, but on this account more especially, that during the persecution he had denied the faith and sacrificed. This person after being stripped of his dignity, had nevertheless many followers, and became the leader of the heresy of those who are now called from him Melitians throughout Egypt. And as there was no rational excuse for his separation from the Church, he pretended that he as an innocent man had been unjustly dealt with, loading Peter with calumnious reproaches. After the martyrdom of Peter, he transferred his abuse first to Achillas, who succeeded Peter in the bishopric, and afterwards again to Alexander, the successor of Achillas. In this state of things among them, the discussion in relation to Arius arose; and Melitius with his adherents took part with Arius, entering into a conspiracy against the bishop: but as many as regarded the opinion of Arius as untenable, justified Alexander’s decision against him, and thought that those who favoured his views were justly condemned. Meanwhile Eusebius of Nicomedia and his partisans, with such as embraced the sentiments of Arius, demanded by letter that the sentence of excommunication which had been pronounced against him should be rescinded; and that those who had been excluded should be readmitted into the Church, as they held no unsound doctrine. Thus letters from the opposite parties were sent to the bishop of Alexandria; and Arius made a collection of those which were favourable to himself, while Alexander did the same with those which were adverse. This therefore afforded a plausible opportunity of defence to the sects, which are now so very numerous, of the Arians, Eunomians, and such as receive their name from Macedonius; who severally make use of these epistles in vindication of their heresies.








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