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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

ALTHOUGH all the houses of prayer were at this period in the possession of the Catholic Church, yet the Arians continued to be a constant source of trouble and contention. The emperor Theodosius, therefore, soon after the council above mentioned, again summoned together the leaders of the different sects, in order that they might either bring others to their own state of conviction on disputed topics, or be convinced themselves: for he imagined that all would be brought to oneness of opinion, if a free discussion were entered upon concerning ambiguous points of doctrine. The council, therefore, was convened. This occurred in the year of the second consulate of Merobandes, and the first of Saturnius, and at the same period that Arcadius was associated with his father in the government of the empire. Theodosius sent for Nectarius, consulted with him concerning the synod, and commanded him to introduce the discussion of all questions which had given rise to heresies, so that one faith might be established throughout the Church of Christ. When Nectarius returned home, feeling anxious about the affair confided to him, he made known the mandate of the emperor to Agelius, the bishop of the Novatians, who held the same religious sentiments as himself. Agelius was a man of virtuous and exemplary life, but was unaccustomed to discussions and disputations; he therefore recommended the services of one of his readers, by name Sisinius, who afterwards succeeded him as bishop. Sisinius possessed great powers of intellect and of eloquence; he was deeply versed in the knowledge of Scripture, and was well acquainted with profane and with ecclesiastical literature. He proposed that all disputation with the heterodox, as being a fruitful source of contention and animosity, should be avoided, but recommended that enquiries should rather be instituted as to whether the heretics admitted the testimony of the teachers and expositors of Scripture who lived before the church was rent by division. “If they reject the testimony of these great men,” said he, “they will be condemned by their own followers; but, if they admit their authority as being adequate to resolve ambiguous points of doctrine, we will produce their works.” For Sisinius was well aware that, as the ancients recognized the Son to be eternal like the Father, they had never presumed to assert that he had had a beginning. This suggestion received the approbation of Nectarius, and afterwards of the emperor; and investigations were set on foot as to the opinions entertained by heretics concerning the ancient interpreters of Scripture. As it was found that the heretics professed to hold these early writers in great admiration, the emperor asked them whether they would defer to their authority on controverted topics, and test their own doctrines by the sentiments propounded in their works. This proposition excited great contention among the leaders of the various heretical sects; but it was withdrawn by the emperor, when he perceived that the heretics were divided in opinion concerning the doctrines and books of the ancients, and that each sect was mainly intent on the defence of its own peculiar dogmas. He blamed their proceedings, and commanded each party to draw up a written exposition of its own creed. On the day appointed for the presentation of these documents, Nectarius and Agelius appeared at the palace, as representatives of those who maintain the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity; Demophilus the Arian bishop came forward as the deputy of the Arians; Eunomius represented the Eunomians; and Eleusius, bishop of Cyzicus, appeared for the sectarians denominated Macedonians. The emperor, after receiving their formularies, expressed himself in favour of that one alone in which the consubstantiality of the Trinity was recognized, and destroyed the others. The interests of the Novatians were not affected by this transaction; for they held the same doctrines as the Catholic Church concerning the Divine nature. The members of the other sects were indignant with the bishops for having entered into unwise disputations in the presence of the emperor. Many renounced their former opinions, and embraced the authorised form of religion. The emperor enacted a law, prohibiting heretics from holding assemblies, from giving public instructions in religion, and from conferring ordination. Some of the heterodox were expelled from the cities and villages, while others were disgraced, and deprived of the privileges enjoyed by other subjects of the empire. Great as were the punishments adjudged by the laws against heretics, they were not always carried into execution; for the emperor had no desire to persecute his subjects; he only desired to enforce uniformity of religion through the medium of intimidation. Those who voluntarily renounced heretical opinions received great commendation from him.








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