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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

GREAT disturbances occurred in other cities also, when the Arians were ejected from the churches. But I cannot sufficiently admire the emperor’s prudence in this contingency, and the judicious course he pursued in order to arrest the disorders which prevailed: for conceiving that by a general conference of the bishops, their mutual differences would be likely to be adjusted, and unanimity established, he again ordered a Synod to be convened in which the leaders of all the schismatics were included. And I am persuaded that it was to recompense this anxiety of the emperor’s to promote peace in the church, that his affairs were so prosperous at that time. In fact by a special dispensation of Divine Providence the barbarous nations were reduced to subjection: and among others, Athanaric king of the Goths made a voluntary surrender of himself to him, with all his people, and died soon after at Constantinople. At this juncture the emperor proclaimed his son Arcadius Augustus, on the sixteenth of January, in the second consulate of Merobaudes and Saturninus. In the month of June, under the same consulate, the bishops of every sect arrived from all places: the emperor therefore sent for Nectarius the bishop, and consulted with him on the best means of freeing the Christian religion from dissensions, and reducing the church to a state of unity. “The subjects of controversy,” said he, “ought to be fairly discussed, that by the detection and removal of the sources of discord, an universal agreement may be effected.” As this proposition gave Nectarius the greatest uneasiness, he communicated it to Agelius bishop of the Novatians, inasmuch as he entertained the same sentiments as himself in matters of faith. This man though eminently pious, was by no means competent to maintain a dispute on doctrinal points; he therefore proposed to refer the subject to Sisinnius his reader, as a fit person to manage a conference. Sisinnius, who was not only eloquent, but possessed of great experience, and well-informed both in the expositions of the sacred Scriptures, and the principles of philosophy, knowing that disputations, far from healing divisions, usually create heresies of a more inveterate character, thought it highly desirable to avoid them. His advice to Nectarius therefore was, that since the ancients have nowhere attributed a beginning of existence to the Son of God, conceiving him to be co-eternal with the Father, it would be better to bring forward as evidences of the truth the testimonies of the ancients, instead of entering into logical debates. “Let the emperor,” said he, “demand of the heads of each sect, whether they would pay any deference to the ancients who flourished before schism distracted the church; or whether they would repudiate them, as alienated from the Christian faith? If they reject their authority, then let them also anathematize them: and should they presume to take such a step, they would themselves be instantly thrust out by the people, and so the truth will be manifestly victorious. But if, on the other hand, they are willing to admit the fathers, it will then be our business to produce their books, by which our views will be fully attested.” Nectarius approving of the counsel of Sisinnius, hastened to the palace, and acquainted the emperor with the plan which had been suggested to him; who at once perceiving its wisdom and propriety, carried it into execution with consummate prudence. For without discovering his object, he simply asked the chiefs of the heretics whether they had any respect for and would recognise those doctors of the church who lived previous to the dissension? When they unhesitatingly replied that they highly revered them as their masters; the emperor enquired of them again whether they would defer to them as accredited witnesses of Christian doctrine? At this question, the leaders of the several parties, with their logical champions who had come prepared for sophistical debate, found themselves extremely embarrassed. Some acquiesced in the reasonableness of the emperor’s proposition; but others shrunk from it, conscious that it was by no means favourable to their interests: so that all being variously affected towards the writings of the ancients, they could no longer agree among themselves, dissenting not only from other sects, but those of the same sect differing from one another. Accordant malice therefore, like the tongue of the giants of old, was confounded, and their tower of mischief overturned. The emperor perceiving by their confusion that their sole confidence was in subtile arguments, and that they feared to appeal to the expositions of the fathers, had recourse to another method: he commanded every sect to set forth in writing their own peculiar tenets. Accordingly those who were accounted the most skilful among them, drew up a statement of their respective creeds, couched in terms the most circumspect they could devise; and on the day appointed them, the bishops selected for this purpose presented themselves at the palace. Nectarius and Agelius appeared as the defenders of the Homoousian faith; Demophilus supported the Arian dogma; Eunomius himself under-took the cause of the Eunomians; and Eleusius bishop of Cyzicum represented the opinions of those who were denominated Macedonians. The emperor gave them all a courteous reception; and receiving from each their written avowal of faith, he shut himself up alone, and prayed very earnestly that God would assist him in his endeavours to ascertain the truth. Then perusing with great care the statement which each had submitted to him, he condemned all the rest, inasmuch as they introduced a separation of the Trinity, and approved of that only which contained the doctrine of consubstantiality. This decision caused the Novatians to flourish again: for the emperor delighted with the consonance of their profession with that which he embraced, permitted them to hold their assemblies within the city; and having promulgated a law securing to them the peaceful possession of their own oratories, he assigned to their churches equal privileges with those to which he gave his more especial sanction. But the prelates of the other sects, on account of their disagreement among themselves, were despised and censured even by their own followers: so that overwhelmed with perplexity and vexation they departed, addressing consolatory letters to their adherents, whom they exhorted not to be troubled because many had deserted them and gone over to the Homoousian party; for said they, “Many are called, but few chosen”—an expression which they never thought of using, when by force and terror they succeeded in rendering the majority of the people their disciples. Nevertheless the orthodox believers were not wholly exempt from inquietude; for the affairs of the Antiochian church caused divisions among those who were present at the Synod. The bishops of Egypt, Arabia and Cyprus, combined against Flavian, and insisted on his expulsion from Antioch: but those of Palestine, Phœnice, and Syria, contended with equal zeal in his favour. The issue of this contest will be spoken of in its proper place.








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