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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

SUCH were the events which transpired at Sirmium. It seemed at this period as if, from the fear of displeasing the emperor, the Eastern and Western Churches had united in the profession of the same doctrine. The emperor had determined upon convening a council at Nicæa to take into consideration the innovations introduced at Antioch, and the heresy of Aetius. As Basil, however, and his party were averse to the council being held in this city, because doctrinal questions had previously been agitated there, it was determined to hold the council at Nicomedia in Bithynia; and edicts were issued, summoning the most learned and eloquent bishops of every nation to repair thither punctually on an appointed day. The greater number of these bishops had commenced their journey, when it was reported that Nicomedia had been visited by an earthquake, and that the whole city was destroyed. This report prevented the bishops from continuing their journey; for, as is usual in such cases, far more was rumoured than what had actually occurred. It was reported that Nicæa, Perinthus, and the neighbouring cities, even Constantinople, had been involved in the same catastrophe. The orthodox bishops were immoderately grieved at this occurrence, for the enemies of religion took occasion, on the destruction of a magnificent church, to represent to the emperor that a multitude of bishops, men, women, and children, fled to the church in the hope of there finding safety; and that they all perished. This report was not true. The earthquake occurred at the second hour of the day, at which hour there was no assembly in the church. The only bishops who were killed, were Ceropius, bishop of Nicomedia, and a bishop from the Bosphorus, and they were at a distance from the church when the fatal accident happened. The earthquake occupied but an instant of time, so that the people had not the power, even if they had had the wish, to seek safety by flight: at the first shock they were either preserved or they perished on the spot where they were standing.

It is said that this calamity was predicted by Arsacius. He was a Persian, and was originally employed in tending the emperor’s lions; but during the reign of Licinius he made a noble confession of Christianity, and left his former employment. He then went to Nicomedia, and led the life of a monastic philosopher within its walls. Here a vision from Heaven appeared to him, and he was commanded to quit the city immediately, that he might be saved from the calamity about to happen. He ran with the utmost earnestness to the church, and besought the clergy to offer supplications to God that His anger might be turned away. But finding that, far from being believed by them, he was regarded with ridicule, he returned to his tower, and prostrated himself on the ground in prayer. Just at this moment the earthquake occurred, and many perished. Those who were spared fled into the country and the desert. And as in this great and opulent city there were fires on the hearth of every house, in the baths, and in the furnaces of mechanics, it so happened that combustible materials, coming in contact with these fires, excited a general conflagration. The flames spread in all directions, until the city became, so to speak, one mass of fire. It being impossible to obtain access to the houses, those who had been saved from the earthquake, fled to the citadel. Arsacius was found dead in the tower, and prostrated on the ground, in the same posture in which he had begun to pray. It was said that he had supplicated God to permit him to die, because he preferred death to beholding the destruction of a city in which he had first known Christ, and practised monastical philosophy. As I have been led to speak of this good man, it is well to mention that he was endowed by God with the power of exorcising demons. A man possessed with a demon once ran through the market place with a naked sword in his hand. The people fled from him, and the whole city was in confusion. Arsacius went out to meet him, and called upon the name of Christ, and at that name the demon was expelled, and the man restored to sanity. Besides the above, Arsacius performed many other actions beyond the power of man. There was a dragon or some other species of reptile which had entrenched itself in a cavity of the roadside, and which destroyed those who passed by with its breath. Arsacius went to the spot and engaged in prayer, and the serpent voluntarily crept forth from its hole, dashed its head against the ground and killed itself. All these details I have obtained from persons who heard them stated by those who had seen Arsacius.

As the bishops were deterred from continuing their journey by the intelligence of the calamity which had occurred at Nicomedia, some awaited the further commands of the emperor, and others declared their opinions concerning the faith in letters which they wrote on the subject. The emperor hesitated as to what measures ought to be adopted, and wrote to consult Basil as to whether a council ought to be convened. In his reply, it appears, Basil commended his piety, and tried to console him for the destruction of Nicomedia by examples drawn from the Holy Scriptures; he exhorted him, for the sake of religion, not to relinquish his design of convening a council, and not to dismiss the priests who had already set forth upon the journey, until some business had been transacted. He also suggested that the council might be held at Nicæa instead of Nicomedia, so that the disputed points might be finally decided on the very spot where they had been first called into question. Basil, in writing to this effect, believed that the emperor would be pleased with this proposition, as he had himself originally suggested the propriety of holding the council at Nicæa. On receiving this epistle from Basil, the emperor commanded that, at the commencement of summer, the bishops should assemble together in Nicæa, with the exception of those who were labouring under bodily infirmity; and these latter were to depute priests and deacons to make known their sentiments, so that they might consult together on contested points of doctrine, and arrive at the same decision. He ordained that ten delegates should be selected from the Western Churches, and as many from the Eastern, to take cognizance of the enactments that might be issued, and to decide whether they were in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, and also to exercise a general superintendence over the transactions of the council. After further consultation, the emperor enacted that the bishops should remain in their churches, or wherever they might be residing, until it had been decided where the council was to be held, and until they received notice to repair thither, He then wrote to Basil, and directed him to inquire of the Eastern bishops where they would advise the council to be held, so that a public announcement might be made at the commencement of Spring; for the emperor was of opinion that it was not advisable to convene the council at Nicæa, on account of the earthquake which had recently occurred in the province. Basil wrote to the bishops of every province, urging them to deliberate together, and to decide quickly upon the locality in which it would be most expedient to hold the council, and he prefixed a copy of the emperor’s letter to his epistle. As is frequently the case in similar circumstances, the bishops were divided in opinion on the subject, and Basil repaired to the emperor, who was then at Sirmium. He found several bishops at that city, who had gone thither on their own private affairs; and among them were Mark, bishop of Arethusa, and George, bishop of Alexandria. When, at length, it was decided that the council should be held in Seleucia, a city of Isauria, by the adherents of Valens, and by the bishops who were at Sirmium, those who favoured the Anomian heresy took occasion to have a formulary of the faith signed by the bishops of the Court, which had been prepared for the purpose, and in which there was no mention of the term “substance.” But while preparations were being zealously made for convening the council, Eudoxius and Acacius, Ursacius and Valens, reflected that, while many of the bishops were attached to the Nicene faith, and others favoured the formulary drawn up at the consecration of the church of Antioch, yet that both parties retained the use of the term “substance,” and maintained that the Son was, in every respect, like unto the Father; and being aware that, if both parties assembled together in one place, they would condemn the doctrines of Aetius, as being contrary to their respective creeds; they so contrived matters, that the bishops of the West were convened at Ariminum, and those of the East at Seleucia. As it is easier to convince a few than a great many individuals, they conceived that they might possibly lead both parties to favour their sentiments by dealing with them separately, or that they might, at any rate, succeed with one; so that their heresy might not incur universal condemnation. Eusebius, a eunuch and attendant of the emperor’s, was on terms of friendship with Eudoxius, and upheld the same doctrines; and it was by his influence, aided by those who were attached to him, that this measure was carried into execution.








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