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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

SUCH was the admirable and wise counsel contained in the emperor’s letter. But the evil had become so inveterate, that neither the exhortations of the emperor, nor the authority of him who was the bearer of his letter, availed anything: for neither was Alexander nor Arius softened by this appeal; and moreover there was incessant strife and tumult among the people. But another source of disquietude had pre-existed there, which served to trouble the churches, though it was confined to the eastern parts. This arose from some desiring to keep the Feast of the Passover, or Easter, more in accordance with the custom of the Jews; while others preferred its mode of celebration by Christians in general throughout the world. This difference however did not interfere with their communion, although their mutual joy was necessarily hindered. When therefore the emperor beheld the Church agitated by both of these causes, he convoked a General Council, summoning all the bishops by letter to meet him at Nice in Bithynia. Accordingly the bishops assembled out of the various provinces and cities; respecting whom Eusebius Pamphilus thus writes, in his third book of the life of Constantine:—

“Wherefore the most eminent of the ministers of God in all the churches which have filled Europe, Africa, and Asia, were convened. And one sacred edifice, dilated as it were by God, contained within it on the same occasion both Syrians and Cilicians, Arabs and Palestinians, and in addition to these, Egyptians, Thebans, Libyans, and those who came from Mesopotamia. At this Synod a Persian bishop was also present, neither was the Scythian absent from this assemblage. Pontus also and Galatia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Phrygia, supplied those who were most distinguished among them. Besides there met there Thracians and Macedonians, Achaians and Epirots, and even those who dwelt still more distant than these. Hosius, the most celebrated of the Spaniards, took his seat among the rest. The prelate of the imperial city was absent through age; but his presbyters were present, and filled his place. Such a crown, composed as a bond of peace, the emperor Constantine alone has ever dedicated to Christ his Saviour, as a thank-offering worthy of God for victory over his enemies, having appointed this convocation among us in imitation of the Apostolic Assembly. For among them it is said were convened ‘devout men of every nation under heaven; Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and those who dwelt in Mesopotamia, Judæa, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya, strangers from Rome also, both Jews and proselytes, with Cretans and Arabs.’ That congregation however was inferior in this respect, that all present were not ministers of God: whereas in this assembly the number of bishops exceeded three hundred; while the number of the presbyters, deacons, and acolyths (or young priests) who attended them was almost incalculable. Some of these ministers of God were eminent for their wisdom, some for the strictness of their life, and patient endurance of persecution, and others united in themselves all these distinguished characteristics: some were venerable from their advanced age, others were conspicuous for their youth and vigour of mind, and others had but recently entered on their ministerial career. For all these the emperor appointed an abundant supply of daily food to be provided.” Such is Eusebius’s account of those who met on this occasion. The emperor having completed the festal solemnization of his triumph over Licinius, came also in person to Nice.

There were among the bishops two of extraordinary celebrity, Paphnutius, bishop of Upper Thebes, and Spyridon, bishop of Cyprus: why I have so particularly referred to these two individuals, I shall state hereafter. Many of the laity were also present, who were practised in the art of reasoning, and each prepared to advocate the cause of his own party. Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia, as was before said, supported the opinion of Arius, together with Theognis bishop of Nice, and Maris bishop of Chalcedon in Bithynia. These were powerfully opposed by Athanasius, a deacon of the Alexandrian church, who was highly esteemed by Alexander his bishop, and on that account was much envied, as will be seen hereafter. For a short time previous to the general assembling of the bishops, the disputants engaged in preparatory logical contests with various opponents: and when many were attracted by the interest of their discourse, one of the laity who was a man of unsophisticated understanding, and had stood the test of persecution in his confession of faith, reproved these reasoners; telling them that Christ and his Apostles did not teach us the Dialectic art, nor vain subtilties, but simple-mindedness, which is preserved by faith and good works. All present admired the speaker, and assented to the justice of his remarks; and the disputants themselves, after hearing his ingenuous statement of the truth, exercised a far greater degree of moderation: thus then was the disturbance caused by these logical debates suppressed.

On the following day all the bishops were assembled together in one place; the emperor arrived soon after, and on his entrance stood in their midst, declining to take his place, until the bishops by bowing intimated their desire that he should be seated: such was the respect and reverence which the emperor entertained for these men. When a silence suitable to the occasion had been observed, the emperor from his seat began to address them, entreating each to lay aside all private pique, and exhorting them to unanimity and concord. For several of them had brought accusations against one another, and many had even presented petitions to the emperor the day before. But he directing their attention to the matter before them, and on account of which they were assembled, ordered these petitions to be burnt; merely observing that Christ enjoins him who is anxious to obtain forgiveness, to forgive his brother. When therefore he had strongly insisted on the maintenance of harmony and peace, he then sanctioned their purpose of more closely investigating the questions at issue. But it may be well to hear what Eusebius says on this subject, in his third book of the Life of Constantine. His words are these:—

“A variety of topics having been introduced by each party, and much controversy being excited from the very commencement, the emperor listened to all with patient attention, deliberately and impartially considering whatever was advanced. He in part supported the statements which were made on both sides, and gradually softened the asperity of those who contentiously opposed each other, conciliating each by his mildness and affability. Addressing them in the Greek language, with which he was well acquainted, in a manner at once interesting and persuasive, he wrought conviction on the minds of some, and prevailed on others by entreaty. Those who spoke well he applauded, and incited all to unanimity; until at length he succeeded in bringing them into similarity of judgment, and conformity of opinion on all the controverted points: so that there was not only unity in the confession of faith, but also a general agreement as to the time for the celebration of the salutary feast of Easter. Moreover the doctrines which had thus the common consent, were confirmed by the signature of each individual.”

Such is the testimony respecting these things which Eusebius has left us; and which it was thought might not unfitly be introduced here, as an authority for the fidelity of this history. With this end also in view, that if any one should condemn as erroneous the faith professed at this council of Nice, we might be unaffected by it, and put no confidence in Sabinus the Macedonian, who calls all those that were convened there idiots and simpletons. For this Sabinus, who was bishop of the Macedonians at Heraclea in Thrace, having made a collection of the canons published by various Synods of bishops, has treated those who composed the Nicene council in particular with contempt and derision; not perceiving that he thereby charges Eusebius himself with folly, who made a like confession after the closest scrutiny. Some things he has wilfully passed over, others he has perverted, and on all he has put a construction favorable to his own views. Yet he commends Eusebius Pamphilus as a witness worthy of credit, and praises the emperor as capable in stating Christian doctrines: but he still brands the faith which was declared at Nice, as having been set forth by idiots, and such as had no intelligence in the matter. Thus he voluntarily contemns the testimony of a man whom he himself pronounces a wise and true witness: for Eusebius declares, that of the ministers of God who were present at the Nicene Synod, some were eminent for the word of wisdom, others for the strictness of their life; and that the emperor himself being present, leading all into unanimity, established unity of judgment, and conformity of opinion among them. Of Sabinus however we shall make further mention as occasion may require. But the agreement of faith, assented to with loud acclamation at the great council of Nice is this:—

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father: by whom all things were made, both which are in heaven and on earth: who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, and was made man; suffered, arose again the third day, and ascended into the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. We also believe in the Holy Spirit. But the holy Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes those who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, and that he was not before he was begotten, and that he was made from that which did not exist; or who assert that he is of other substance or essence than the Father, or that he was created, or is susceptible of change.”

This creed was recognised and acquiesced in by three hundred and eighteen bishops; and being, as Eusebius says, unanimous in expression and sentiment, they subscribed it. Five only would not receive it, objecting to the term ὁμοούσιος, of the same essence, or consubstantial: these were Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nice, Maris of Chalcedon, Thomas of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemaïs. “For,” said they, “that is consubstantial which is from another either by partition, derivation or germination; by germination, as a shoot from the roots; by derivation, as children from their parents; by division, as two or three vessels of gold from a mass.” But they contended that the Son is from the Father by none of these modes: wherefore they declared themselves unable to assent to this creed; and having scoffed at the word consubstantial, they would not subscribe to the condemnation of Arius. Upon this the Synod anathematized Arius, and all who adhered to his opinions, prohibiting him at the same time from entering into Alexandria. By an edict of the emperor also, Arius himself was sent into exile, together with Eusebius and Theognis; but the two latter, a short time after their banishment, tendered a written declaration of their change of sentiment, and concurrence in the faith of the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, as we shall show as we proceed. At the same time Eusebius surnamed Pamphilus, bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, who had withheld his assent in the Synod, after mature consideration whether he ought to receive this form of faith, at length acquiesced in it, and subscribed it with all the rest: he also sent to the people under his charge a copy of the Creed, with an explanation of the word ὁμοούσιος, that no one might impugn his motives on account of his previous hesitation. His address to them was as follows:—“You have probably had some intimation, beloved, of the transactions of the great council convened at Nice, in relation to the faith of the Church, inasmuch as rumour generally outruns an accurate statement of that which has really taken place. But lest from such report alone you might form an incorrect estimate of the matter, we have deemed it necessary to submit to you, in the first place, an exposition of the faith propounded by us; and then a second which has been promulgated, consisting of certain additions to the expression of ours. The declaration of faith set forth by us, and which when read in the presence of our most pious emperor, seemed to meet with universal approbation, was thus expressed:—

“ ‘According as we received from the bishops who preceded us, both at our initiation into the knowledge of the truth, and when we were baptized; as also we have ourselves learned from the sacred Scriptures; and in accordance with what we have both believed and taught while discharging the duties of presbyter and the episcopal office itself, so now believing, we present to you the distinct avowal of our faith. It is this:—

“ ‘We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of light, Life of life, the only-begotten Son, born before all creation, begotten of God the Father, before all ages; by whom also all things were made; who on account of our salvation became incarnate, and lived among men; and who having suffered and risen again on the third day, ascended to the Father, and shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We believe also in one Holy Spirit. We believe in the existence and subsistence of each of these persons: that the Father is truly Father, the Son truly Son, and the Holy Spirit truly Holy Spirit; even as our Lord also, when he sent forth his disciples to preach the Gospel, said (Mat. 28:19), ‘Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ These doctrines we thus steadfastly maintain, and avow our full confidence in the truth of; such also have been our sentiments hitherto, and such we shall continue to hold until death: and in an unshaken adherence to this faith, we anathematize every impious heresy. In the presence of God Almighty, and of our Lord Jesus Christ we testify, that thus we have believed and thought from our heart and soul, since we were capable of forming a judgment on the matter, and have possessed a right estimate of ourselves; and that we now think and speak what is perfectly in accordance with the truth. We are moreover prepared to prove to you by undeniable evidences, and to convince you that in time past we have thus believed, and so preached.’

“When these articles of faith were proposed, they were received without opposition: nay, our most pious emperor himself was the first to admit that they were perfectly orthodox, and that he precisely concurred in the sentiments contained in them; exhorting all present to give them their assent, and subscribe to these very articles, thus agreeing in an unanimous profession of them. It was suggested however that the word ὁμοούσιος (consubstantial) should be introduced, an expression which the emperor himself explained, as not indicating corporeal affections or properties; and consequently that the Son did not subsist from the Father either by division or abscision: for, said he, a nature which is immaterial and incorporeal cannot possibly be subject to any corporeal affection; hence our apprehension of such things can only be expressed in divine and mysterious terms. Such was the philosophical view of the subject taken by our most wise and pious sovereign; and the bishops on account of the word ὁμοούσιος, drew up this formula of faith.


“ ‘We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of light, true God of true God; begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father; by whom all things were made both which are in heaven and on earth; who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, suffered and rose again on the third day; he ascended into the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead. We believe also in the Holy Spirit. But those who say that there was a time when he was not, or that he did not exist before he was begotten, or that he was made of nothing, or assert that he is of other substance or essence than the Father, or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or susceptible of change, the catholic and apostolic church of God anathematizes.’

“In forming this declaration of faith, we did not neglect to investigate the distinct sense of the expressions of the substance of the Father, and consubstantial with the Father. Whereupon much discussion arose, and the meaning of these terms was clearly defined; when it was generally admitted that οὐσίας (of the essence or substance) simply implied that the Son is of the Father indeed, but not as a part of the Father. To this interpretation of the sacred doctrine which declares that the Son is of the Father, but is not a part of his substance, it seemed right to us to assent. We ourselves therefore concurred in this exposition; nor do we cavil at the word ὁμοούσιος, having regard as well to peace, as dreading lest we should lose a right understanding of the matter. On the same grounds we admitted also the expression begotten, not made: ‘for made,’ said they, ‘is a term which is applied to all the creatures which were made by the Son, to whom the Son has no resemblance. Consequently he is no creature like those which were made by him, but is of a substance far excelling any creature; which substance the sacred Oracles teach us was begotten of the Father by such a mode of generation as can neither be apprehended nor explained by any creature.’ Thus also the declaration that the Son is consubstantial with the Father having been discussed, it was agreed that this must not be understood in a corporeal sense, or in any way analogous to mortal creatures; inasmuch as it is neither by division of substance, nor by abscission, nor by any change of the Father’s substance and power, since the underived nature of the Father is inconsistent with all these things. That he is consubstantial with the Father then simply implies, that the Son of God has no resemblance to created things, but is in every respect like the Father only who begat him; and that he is of no other substance or essence but of the Father. To which doctrine, explained in this way, it appeared right to assent, especially since we knew that some eminent bishops and learned writers among the ancients have used the term ὁμοούσιος in their theological discourses concerning the nature of the Father and the Son. Such is what I have to state to you in reference to the articles of faith which have been recently promulgated; and in which we have all concurred, not without due examination, but according to the senses assigned, which were investigated in the presence of our most religious emperor, and for the reasons mentioned approved. We have also unhesitatingly acquiesced in the anathema pronounced by them after the declaration of faith; because it prohibits the use of terms which do not occur in Scripture, and from which almost all the distraction and commotion of the churches have arisen. Accordingly, since no divinely-inspired Scripture contains the expressions, of things which do not exist, and there was a time when he was not, and such other phrases as are therein subjoined, it seemed unwarrantable to utter and teach them: and moreover this decision received our sanction the rather from the consideration that we have never heretofore been accustomed to employ these terms. We deemed it incumbent on us beloved to acquaint you with the caution which has characterized our examination of these things, as well as with what deliberateness our assent has been given, and on what justifiable grounds we resisted the introduction of certain objectionable expressions; and finally, that it was only after mature consideration of the full import of some points to which we demurred at first, that we were induced to withdraw our opposition, perceiving them in fact to be quite accordant with what we had originally proposed as a sound confession of faith.”

Such was the letter addressed by Eusebius Pamphilus to the Christians at Cæsarea in Palestine, The Synod itself also, with one accord, wrote the following epistle to the church of the Alexandrians, and to believers in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis.

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