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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

ABOUT this period Liberius died, and Damasis succeeded to the bishopric of Rome. A deacon named Ursinus, having obtained some votes in his favour, caused himself to be clandestinely ordained by some bishops of little note, and endeavoured to create a division among the people, so as to form separate assemblies. He succeeded in effecting this division, and some of the people followed him, while the rest adhered to Damasis. This gave rise to many disputes, and to much contention, which at length proceeded to murder and bloodshed. The prefect of Rome was obliged to interfere, and to punish many of the clergy and people; and he put an end to the usurpation of Ursinus. With respect to doctrine, however, no dissension arose either at Rome or in any other of the Western churches. The people unanimously adhered to the form of belief established at Nicæa, and regarded the Three Persons of the Trinity as equal in dignity and in power. Auxentius alone differed from the others in opinion; he was then bishop of Milan, and, in conjunction with a few partizans, was intent upon the introduction of innovations, and the maintenance of the Arian dogma of the dissimilarity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, in opposition to the unanimous decision of the Western priests. The bishops of Gaul and of Venice having reported that similar attempts to disturb the peace of the church were being made by others, the bishops of several provinces assembled not long after at Rome, and decreed that Auxentius and those who held his sentiments should be excluded from communion. They confirmed the faith established by the Council of Nicæa, and annulled all the decrees that had been issued at Ariminum contrary to that faith, under the plea that these decrees had not received the assent of the bishop of Rome, nor of other bishops, and that they were disapproved by many who had been present at the synod, and had assisted in their enactment. That such was the decision really formed by the synod is testified by the epistle addressed by Damasis, the Roman bishop, and the rest of the assembly, to the bishops of Illyria. It is as follows:—

“Damasis, Valerius, and the other Bishops of the Holy Assembly at Rome, to the dearly beloved Brethren the Bishops of Illyria, greeting in the Lord.

“We believe that you uphold and teach to the people our holy faith, which is founded on the doctrines of the Apostles. This faith differs in no respect from that inculcated by the Fathers; neither is it permitted to the priests of God, who are, by the right of their office, the instructors of the wise, to entertain any other sentiment. We have, however, been informed by some of our brethren of Gaul and of Venice, that certain individuals are bent upon the introduction of heresy. All bishops should diligently guard against this evil, lest some of their flock should be led by inexperience, and others by simplicity, to deviate from our own authorised interpretations. Those who devise strange doctrines ought not to be followed, but the opinions of our fathers ought to be retained, whatever may be the diversity of judgment around us. Hence Auxentius, bishop of Milan, has been condemned, and with justice. It is, therefore, right that all the teachers of the Roman Empire should be of one mind, and not pollute the faith by divers conflicting doctrines. For, when the evil of heresy first began to develop itself, even as the blasphemy of the Arians is now exhibited, our fathers, to the number of three hundred and eighteen, assembled together at Nicæa, erected a wall of defence against the weapons of the devil, and prepared an antidote to the poison of corrupt doctrine. This antidote consists in the belief, that the Father and the Son have one Godhead, one virtue, and one substance (χρῆμα). It is also requisite to believe that the Holy Ghost is of the same hypostasis as the Father and the Son. We have decreed that those who hold any other doctrines, are to be excluded from communion with us. Some have attempted to reverse this useful regulation and adorable decision; but the persons by whom this attempt was made at the Council of Ariminum have since, in some measure, atoned for their presumption by confessing that they were deceived by certain specious arguments, which did not appear to them to be contrary to the principles laid down by our fathers at Nicæa. The number of individuals congregated at the Council of Ariminum proves nothing in prejudice of orthodox doctrines, for the council was held without the sanction of the bishops of Rome, who ought to have been in the first place consulted, and without the assent either of Vincent, who during a very long series of years enjoyed the episcopal dignity, or of many other bishops who held the same sentiments as those last mentioned. Besides, as has been before stated, those persons who were deceived and induced to deviate from orthodox doctrines, testified their disapprobation of their own proceedings as soon as they made use of their own judgment. Is it not, therefore, manifest to you that the one true faith is that which was established at Nicæa upon the authority of the apostles, and which must ever be retained inviolate, and that all bishops, whether of the East or of the West, who profess the Catholic religion, ought to consider it an honour to be in communion with us. We believe that it will not be long before those who maintain other sentiments will be excluded from communion, and deprived of the name and dignity of bishop; so that the people who are now oppressed by the yoke of those pernicious and deceitful principles, may have liberty to breathe. For it is not in the power of these bishops to undeceive the people, inasmuch as they are themselves deceived. Be then of one mind with all the priests of God; we believe that you adhere firmly to the faith, but that we may be more fully assured on this point, convince us of the same by your letters.”








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