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My mind has been often exercised in inquiring how it is that other men are very ready to believe in God the Word, while the Jews are so incredulous, although it was to them that instruction concerning the things of God was, from the beginning, imparted by the prophets, who likewise made them acquainted with the events attendant upon the coming of Christ, before they came to pass. Besides, Abraham, the founder of their nation and of the circumcision, was accounted worthy to be an eye-witness, and the host of the Son of God. Genesis xviii And Isaac, his son, was honored as the type of the sacrifice on the cross, for he was led bound to the altar by his father and, as accurate students of the sacred Scriptures affirm, the sufferings of Christ came to pass in like manner. Jacob predicted that the expectation of the nations would be for Christ, as it now is; and he likewise foretold the time in which he came, when he said
the rulers of the Hebrews of the tribe of Judah, the tribal leader, shall fail. Genesis 49:10
This clearly referred to the reign of Herod, who was an Idumean, on his father's side, and on his mother's, an Arabian, and the Jewish nation was delivered to him by the Roman senate and Augustus Cæsar. And of the rest of the prophets some declared beforehand the birth of Christ, His ineffable conception, the mother remaining a virgin after His birth, His people, and country. Some predicted His divine and marvelous deeds, while others foretold His sufferings, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into the heavens, and the event accompanying each. But if any be ignorant of these facts it is not difficult to know them by reading the sacred books. Josephus, the son of Matthias, also who was a priest, and was most distinguished among Jews and Romans, may be regarded as a noteworthy witness to the truth concerning Christ ; for he hesitates to call Him a man since He wrought marvelous works, and was a teacher of truthful doctrines, but openly calls him Christ; that He was condemned to the death of the cross, and appeared alive again the third day. Nor was Josephus ignorant of numberless other wonderful predictions uttered beforehand by the holy prophets concerning Christ. He further testifies that Christ brought over many to Himself both Greeks and Jews, who continued to love Him, and that the people named after Him had not become extinct. It appears to me that in narrating these things, he all but proclaims that Christ, by comparison of works, is God. As if struck by the miracle, he ran, somehow, a middle course, assailing in no way those who believed in Jesus, but rather agreeing with them.
When I consider this matter it seems reasonably remarkable to me, that the Hebrews did not anticipate, and, before the rest of men, immediately turn to Christianity; for though the Sibyl and some oracles announced beforehand the future of events concerning Christ we are not on this account to attribute unbelief to all the Greeks. For they were few, who, appearing superior in education, could understand such prophecies, which were, for the most part, in verse, and were declared with more recondite words to the people. Therefore in my judgment, it was the result of the heavenly preknowledge, for the sake of the agreement in future events, that the coming facts were to be made known, not only by his own prophets, but in part also by strangers. Just as a musician, under pressure of a strange melody, may treat the superfluous tones of the chords lightly with his plectrum, or add others to those already existing.
Having now shown that the Hebrews, although in the possession of numerous and more distinct prophecies concerning the coming of Christ, were less willing than the Greeks to embrace the faith that is in Him, let what has been said on the subject suffice. Yet let it by no means be hence accounted contrary to reason that the church should have been mainly built up by the conversion of other nations; for in the first place, it is evident that, in divine and great affairs, God delights to bring to pass changes in a marvelous manner; and then, be it remembered, it was by the exercise of no common virtues that those who, at the very beginning, were at the head of religious affairs, maintained their influence. If they did not, indeed, possess a language sharpened for expression or for beauty of diction, nor the power of convincing their hearers by means of phrases or mathematical demonstrations, yet they did not the less accomplish the work they had undertaken. They gave up their property, neglected their kindred, were stretched upon a cross, and as if endowed with bodies not their own, suffered many and excruciating tortures; neither seduced by the adulation of the people and rulers of any city, nor terrified by their menaces, they clearly evidenced by their conduct, that they were supported in the struggle by the hope of a high reward. So that they, in fact needed not to resort to verbal arguments; for without any effort on their part, their very deeds constrained the inhabitants of every house and of every city to give credit to their testimony, even before they knew wherein it consisted.
Since then so divine and marvelous a change has taken place in the circumstances of men, that ancient cults and national laws have fallen into contempt; since many of the most celebrated writers among the Greeks have tasked their powers of eloquence in describing the Calydonian boar, the bull of Marathon and other similar prodigies, which have really occurred in countries or cities, or have a mystic origin, why should not I rise above myself, and write a history of the Church? For I am persuaded that, as the topic is not the achievements of men, it may appear almost incredible that such a history should be written by me; but, with God, nothing is impossible.
I at first felt strongly inclined to trace the course of events from the very commencement; but on reflecting that similar records of the past up to their own time had been compiled by those wisest of men, Clemens and Hegesippus, successors of the apostles, by Africanus the historian, and by Eusebius, surnamed Pamphilus, a man intimately acquainted with the sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Greek poets and historians, I merely draw up an epitome in two books of all that is recorded to have happened to the churches, from the ascension of Christ to the deposition of Licinius. Now, however, by the help of God, I will endeavor to relate the subsequent events as well.
I shall record the transactions with which I have been connected, and also those concerning which I have heard from persons who knew or saw the affairs in our own day or before our own generation. But I have sought for records of events of earlier date, among the established laws appertaining to religion, among the proceedings of the synods of the period, among the innovations that arose, and in the epistles of kings and priests. Some of these documents are preserved in palaces and churches, and others are dispersed and in the possession of the learned. I thought frequently of transcribing the whole, but on further reflection I deemed it better, on account of the mass of the documents, to give merely a brief synopsis of their contents; yet whenever controverted topics are introduced, I will readily transcribe freely from any work that may tend to the elucidation of truth. If any one who is ignorant of past events should conclude my history to be false, because he meets with conflicting statements in other writings, let him know that since the dogmas of Arius and other more recent hypotheses have been broached, the rulers of the churches, differing in opinion among themselves, have transmitted in writing their own peculiar views, for the benefit of their respective followers; and further, be it remembered, these rulers convened councils and issued what decrees they pleased, often condemning unheard those whose creed was dissimilar to their own, and striving to their utmost to induce the reigning prince and nobles of the time to side with them. Intent upon maintaining the orthodoxy of their own dogmas, the partisans of each sect respectively formed a collection of such epistles as favored their own heresy, omitting all documents of a contrary tendency. Such are the obstacles by which we are beset in our endeavors to arrive at a conclusion on this subject! Still, as it is requisite, in order to maintain historical accuracy, to pay the strictest attention to the means of eliciting truth, I felt myself bound to examine all writings of this class according to my ability.
Let not an impertinent or malignant spirit be imputed to me, for having dwelt upon the disputes of ecclesiastics among themselves, concerning the primacy and the pre-eminence of their own heresy. In the first place, as I have already said, an historian ought to regard everything as secondary in importance to truth; moreover, the doctrine of the Catholic Church is shown to be especially the most genuine, since it has been tested frequently by the plots of opposing thinkers; yet, the disposal of the lot being of God, the Catholic Church has maintained its own ascendancy, has reassumed its own power, and has led all the churches and the people to the reception of its own truth.
I have had to deliberate whether I ought to confine myself to the recital of events connected with the Church under the Roman government; but it seemed more advisable to include, as far as possible, the record of transactions relative to religion among the Persians and barbarians. Nor is it foreign to ecclesiastical history to introduce in this work an account of those who were the fathers and originators of what is denominated monachism, and of their immediate successors, whose celebrity is well known to us either by observation or report. For I would neither be considered ungracious towards them, nor willing to consign their virtue to oblivion, nor yet be thought ignorant of their history; but I would wish to leave behind me such a record of their manner of life that others, led by their example, might attain to a blessed and happy end. As the work proceeds, these subjects shall be noted as far as possible.
Invoking the help and propitiousness of God, I now proceed to the narration of events; the present history shall have its beginning from this point.
During the consulate of Constantine Cæsar and Crispus Cæsar, Silvester governed the Church of Rome; Alexander, that of Alexandria; and Macarius, that of Jerusalem. Not one, since Romanus, had been appointed over the Church of Antioch on the Orontes; for the persecution it appears, had prevented the ceremony of ordination from taking place. The bishops assembled at Nicæa not long after were, however, so sensible of the purity of the life and doctrines of Eustathius, that they adjudged him worthy to fill the apostolic see; although he was then bishop of the neighboring Berœa, they translated him to Antioch.
The Christians of the East, as far as Libya on the borders of Egypt, did not dare to meet openly as a church; for Licinius had withdrawn his favor from them; but the Christians of the West, the Greeks, the Macedonians, and the Illyrians, met for worship in safety through the protection of Constantine, who was then at the head of the Roman Empire.
When he first formed the resolution of entering into a war against Maxentius, he was beset with doubts as to the means of carrying on his military operations, and as to the quarter whence he could look for assistance. In the midst of his perplexity, he saw, in a vision, the sight of the cross shining in heaven. He was amazed at the spectacle, but some holy angels who were standing by, exclaimed,
Oh, Constantine! By this symbol, conquer! And it is said that Christ himself appeared to him, and showed him the symbol of the cross, and commanded him to construct one like it, and to retain it as his help in battle, as it would insure the victory.
Eusebius, surnamed Pamphilus, affirms that he heard the emperor declare with an oath, as the sun was on the point of inclining about the middle of the day, he and the soldiers who were with him saw in heaven the trophy of the cross composed of light, and encircled by the following words:
By this sign, conquer.
This vision met him by the way, when he was perplexed as to whither he should lead his army. While he was reflecting on what this could mean, night came; and when he fell asleep, Christ appeared with the sign which he had seen in heaven, and commanded him to construct a representation of the symbol, and to use it as his help in hostile encounters. There was nothing further to be elucidated; for the emperor clearly apprehended the necessity of serving God.
At daybreak, he called together the priests of Christ, and questioned them concerning their doctrines. They opened the sacred Scriptures, and expounded the truths relative to Christ, and showed him from the prophets, how the signs which had been predicted, had been fulfilled. The sign which had appeared to him was the symbol, they said, of the victory over hell; for Christ came among men, was stretched upon the cross, died, and returned to life the third day. On this account, they said, there was hope that at the close of the present dispensation, there would be a general resurrection of the dead, and entrance upon immortality, when those who had led a good life would receive accordingly, and those who had done evil would be punished. Yet, continued they, the means of salvation and of purification from sin are provided; namely, for the uninitiated, initiation according to the canons of the church; and for the initiated, abstinence from renewed sin. But as few, even among holy men, are capable of complying with this latter condition, another method of purification is set forth, namely, repentance; for God, in his love towards man, bestows forgiveness on those who have fallen into sin, on their repentance, and the confirmation of their repentance by good works.
The emperor, amazed at the prophecies concerning Christ which were expounded to him by the priests, sent for some skillful artisans, and commanded them to remodel the standard called by the Romans Labarum, to convert it into a representation of the cross, and to adorn it with gold and precious stones. This warlike trophy was valued beyond all others; for it was always wont to be carried before the emperor, and was worshipped by the soldiery. I think that Constantine changed the most honorable symbol of the Roman power into the sign of Christ, chiefly that by the habit of having it always in view, and of worshiping it, the soldiers might be induced to abandon their ancient forms of superstition, and to recognize the true God, whom the emperor worshipped, as their leader and their help in battle; for this symbol was always borne in front of his own troops, and was, at the command of the emperor, carried among the phalanxes in the thickest of the fight by an illustrious band of spearmen, of whom each one in turn took the standard upon his shoulders, and paraded it through the ranks. It is said that on one occasion, on an unexpected movement of the hostile forces, the man who held the standard in terror, placed it in the hands of another, and secretly fled from the battle. When he got beyond the reach of the enemy's weapons, he suddenly received a wound and fell, while the man who had stood by the divine symbol remained unhurt, although many weapons were aimed at him; for the missiles of the enemy, marvelously directed by divine agency, lighted upon the standard, and the bearer thereof, although in the midst of danger, was preserved.
It is also asserted that no soldier who bore this standard in battle ever fell, through any dark calamity, such as is wont to happen to the soldiery in war, or was wounded, or taken prisoner.
I am aware that it is reported by the pagans that Constantine, after slaying some of his nearest relations, and particularly after assenting to the murder of his own son Crispus, repented of his evil deeds, and inquired of Sopater, the philosopher, who was then master of the school of Plotinus, concerning the means of purification from guilt. The philosopher— so the story goes — replied that such moral defilement could admit of no purification. The emperor was grieved at this repulse, but happening to meet with some bishops who told him that he would be cleansed from sin, on repentance and on submitting to baptism, he was delighted with their representations, and admired their doctrines, and became a Christian, and led his subjects to the same faith. It appears to me that this story was the invention of persons who desired to vilify the Christian religion. Crispus, on whose account, it is said, Constantine required purification, did not die till the twentieth year of his father's reign; he held the second place in the empire and bore the name of Cæsar and many laws, framed with his sanction in favor of Christianity, are still extant. That this was the case can be proved by referring to the dates affixed to these laws, and to the lists of the legislators. It does not appear likely that Sopater had any intercourse with Constantine whose government was then centered in the regions near the ocean and the Rhine; for his dispute with Maxentius, the governor of Italy, had created so much dissension in the Roman dominions, that it was then no easy matter to dwell in Gaul, in Britain, or in the neighboring countries, in which it is universally admitted Constantine embraced the religion of the Christians, previous to his war with Maxentius, and prior to his return to Rome and Italy: and this is evidenced by the dates of the laws which he enacted in favor of religion. But even granting that Sopater chanced to meet the emperor, or that he had epistolary correspondence with him, it cannot be imagined the philosopher was ignorant that Hercules, the son of Alcmena, obtained purification at Athens by the celebration of the mysteries of Ceres after the murder of his children, and of Iphitus, his and friend. That the Greeks held that purification from guilt of this nature could be obtained, is obvious from the instance I have just alleged, and he is a false calumniator who represents that Sopater taught the contrary.
Under the government of Constantine the churches flourished and increased in numbers daily, since they were honored by the good deeds of a benevolent and well-disposed emperor, and otherwise God preserved them from the persecutions and harassments which they had previously encountered. When the churches were suffering from persecution in other parts of the world, Constantius alone, the father of Constantine, accorded the Christians the right of worshiping God without fear. I know of an extraordinary thing done by him, which is worthy of being recorded. He wished to test the fidelity of certain Christians, excellent and good men, who were attached to his palaces. He called them all together, and told them that if they would sacrifice to idols as well as serve God, they should remain in his service and retain their appointments; but that if they refused compliance with his wishes, they should be sent from the palaces, and should scarcely escape his vengeance. When difference of judgment had divided them into two parties, separating those who consented to abandon their religion from those who preferred the honor of God to their present welfare, the emperor determined upon retaining those who had adhered to their faith as his friends and counselors; but he turned away from the others, whom he regarded as unmanly and impostors, and sent them from his presence, judging that they who had so readily betrayed their God could never be true to their king. Hence it is probable that while Constantius was alive, it did not seem contrary to the laws for the inhabitants of the countries beyond Italy to profess Christianity, that is to say, in Gaul, in Britain, or in the region of the Pyrenean mountains as far as the Western Ocean. When Constantine succeeded to the same government, the affairs of the churches became still more brilliant; for when Maxentius, the son of Herculius, was slain, his share also devolved upon Constantine; and the nations who dwelt by the river Tiber and the Eridanus, which the natives call Padus, those who dwelt by the Aquilis, whither, it is said, the Argo was dragged, and the inhabitants of the coasts of the Tyrrhenian sea were permitted the exercise of their religion without molestation.
When the Argonauts fled from Æetes, they returned homewards by a different route, crossed the sea of Scythia, sailed through some of the rivers there, and so gained the shores of Italy, where they passed the winter and built a city, which they called Emona. The following summer, with the assistance of the people of the country, they dragged the Argo, by means of machinery, the distance of four hundred stadia, and so reached the Aquilis, a river which falls into the Eridanus: the Eridanus itself falls into the Italian sea.
After the battle of Cibalis the Dardanians and the Macedonians, the inhabitants of the banks of the Ister, of Hellas, and the whole nation of Illyria, became subject to Constantine.
After this reverse, Licinius, who had previously respected the Christians, changed his opinion, and ill-treated many of the priests who lived under his government; he also persecuted a multitude of other persons, but especially the soldiers. He was deeply incensed against the Christians on account of his disagreement with Constantine, and thought to wound him by their sufferings for religion, and besides, he suspected that the churches were praying and zealous that Constantine alone should enjoy the sovereign rule. In addition to all this, when on the eve of another battle with Constantine, Licinius, as was wont to be done, made a forecast of the expected war, by sacrifices and oracles, and, deceived by promises of conquest, he returned to the religion of the pagans.
The pagans themselves, too, relate that about this period he consulted the oracle of Apollo Didymus at Miletus, and received an answer concerning the result of the war from the demon, couched in the following verses of Homer:
Much, old man, do the youths distress you, warring against you!
Feeble your strength has become, but your old age yet shall be hardy.
From many facts it has often appeared to me that the teaching of the Christians is supported, and its advancement secured, by the providence of God; and not least from what then occurred; for at the very moment that Licinius was about to persecute all the churches under him, the war in Bithynia broke out, which ended in a war between him and Constantine, and in which Constantine was so strengthened by Divine assistance that he was victorious over his enemies by land and by sea. On the destruction of his fleet and army, Licinius threw himself into Nicomedia, and resided for some time at Thessalonica as a private individual, and was eventually killed there. Such was the end of one who, at the beginning of his reign, had distinguished himself in war and in peace, and who had been honored by receiving the sister of Constantine in marriage.
As soon as the sole government of the Roman empire was vested in Constantine, he issued a public decree commanding all his subjects in the East to honor the Christian religion, carefully to worship the Divine Being, and to recognize that only as Divine which is also essentially so, and which has the power that endures for ever and ever: for he delights to give all good things ungrudgingly to those who zealously embrace the truth; he meets their undertakings with the best hopes, while misfortunes, whether in peace or in war, whether in public or in private life, befall transgressors. Constantine then added, but without vain boasting, that, God having accounted him as a fitting servant, worthy to reign, he had been led from the British sea to the Eastern provinces in order that the Christian religion might be extended, and that those who, on account of the worship of God had remained steadfast in confessions or martyrdoms, might be advanced to public honors. After making these statements, he entered upon a myriad other details by which he thought his subjects might be drawn to religion. He decreed that all acts and judgments passed by the persecutors of the church against Christianity should be revoked; and commanded that all those who, on account of their confession of Christ, had been sent to banishment — either to the isles or elsewhere, contrary to their own inclination — and all those who had been condemned to labor in the mines, the public works, the harems, the linen factories, or had been enrolled as public functionaries, should be restored to liberty. He removed the stigma of dishonor from those upon whom it had been cast, and permitted those who had been deprived of high appointments in the army, either to reassume their former place, or with an honorable discharge, to enjoy a liberal ease according to their own choice; and when he had recalled all to the enjoyment of their former liberties and customary honors, he likewise restored their possessions. In the case of those who had been slain, and whose property had been confiscated, he enacted that the inheritance should be transferred to the next of kin, or, in default of heirs, to the church belonging to the locality where the estate was situated; and when the inheritance had passed into other hands, and had become either private or national property, he commanded it to be restored. He likewise promised to resort to the fittest and best possible arrangements when the property had been purchased by the exchequer, or had been received therefrom by gift. These measures, as it had been said, having been enacted by the emperor, and ratified by law, were immediately carried into execution. Christians were thus placed in almost all the principal posts of the Roman government; the worship of false gods was universally prohibited; and the arts of divination, the dedication of statues, and the celebration of pagan festivals were interdicted. Many of the most ancient customs observed in the cities fell into disuse: and among the Egyptians the measure used to indicate the increase of the waters of the Nile was no longer borne into pagan temples, but into churches. The spectacle of gladiators was then prohibited among the Romans; and the custom which prevailed among the Phœnicians of Lebanon and Heliopolis of prostituting virgins before marriage, who were accustomed to cohabit in lawful marriage after the first trial of an illicit intercourse, was abolished. Of the houses of prayer, the emperor repaired some which were of sufficient magnitude; others were brilliantly restored by additional length and breadth, and he erected new edifices in places where no building of the kind had existed previously. He furnished the requisite supplies from the imperial treasury, and wrote to the bishops of the cities and the governors of the provinces, desiring them to contribute whatever might be wished, and enjoining submission and zealous obedience to the priests.
The prosperity of religion kept pace with the increased prosperity of the empire. After the war with Licinius, the emperor was successful in battle against foreign nations; he conquered the Sarmatians and the people called Goths, and concluded an advantageous treaty with them. These people dwelt upon the Ister; and as they were very warlike, and always ready in arms both by the multitude and magnitude of their bodies, they kept the other tribes of barbarians in awe, and found antagonists in the Romans alone. It is said that, during this war, Constantine perceived clearly, by means of signs and dreams, that the special protection of Divine Providence had been extended to him. Hence when he had vanquished all those who rose up in battle against him he evinced his thankfulness to Christ by zealous attention to the concerns of religion, and exhorted the governors to recognize the one true faith and way of salvation. He enacted that part of the funds levied from tributary countries should be forwarded by the various cities to the bishops and clergy, wherever they might be domiciled, and commanded that the law enjoining this gift should be a statute forever. In order to accustom the soldiers to worship God as he did, he had their weapons marked with the symbol of the cross, and he erected a house of prayer in the palace. When he engaged in war, he caused a tent to be borne before him, constructed in the shape of a church, so that in case he or his army might be led into the desert, they might have a sacred edifice in which to praise and worship God, and participate in the mysteries. Priests and deacons followed the tent, who fulfilled the orders about these matters, according to the law of the church. From that period the Roman legions, which now were called by their number, provided each its own tent, with attendant priests and deacons. He also enjoined the observance of the day termed the Lord's day, which the Jews call the first day of the week, and which the pagans dedicate to the sun, as likewise the day before the seventh, and commanded that no judicial or other business should be transacted on those days, but that God should be served with prayers and supplications. He honored the Lord's day, because on it Christ arose from the dead, and the day above mentioned, because on it he was crucified. He regarded the cross with peculiar reverence, on account both of the power which it conveyed to him in the battles against his enemies, and also of the divine manner in which the symbol had appeared to him. He took away by law the crucifixion customary among the Romans, from the usage of the courts. He commanded that this divine symbol should always be inscribed and stamped whenever coins and images should be struck, and his images, which exist in this very form, still testify to this order. And indeed he strove in everything, particularly in the enactment of laws, to serve God. It appears, too, that he prohibited many flagitious and licentious connections, which till that period had not been forbidden; as one, who cares about it, may see at a glance from these few instances what the laws were, which he established about these points; it appears to me unreasonable now to treat them exhaustively. I consider it necessary, however, to mention the laws enacted for the honor and consolidation of religion, as they constitute a considerable portion of ecclesiastical history. I shall therefore proceed to the recital.
There was an ancient Roman law, by which those who were unmarried at the age of twenty-five were not admitted to the same privileges as the married; among other clauses in this law, it was specified that those who were not the very nearest kinsmen could gain nothing from a will; and also, that those who were childless were to be deprived of half of any property that might be bequeathed to them. The object of this ancient Roman law was to increase the population of Rome and the subject people, which had been much reduced in numbers by the civil wars, not a long while before this law. The emperor, perceiving that this enactment militated against the interests of those who continued in a state of celibacy and remained childless for the sake of God, and deeming it absurd to attempt the multiplication of the human species by the care and zeal of man (since nature always receiving increase or decrease according to the fiat from on high), made a law enjoining that the unmarried and childless should have the same advantages as the married. He even bestowed peculiar privileges on those who embraced a life of continence and virginity, and permitted them, contrary to the usage which prevailed throughout the Roman empire, to make a will before they attained the age of puberty; for he believed that those who devoted themselves to the service of God and the cultivation of philosophy would, in all cases, judge aright. For a similar reason the ancient Romans permitted the vestal virgins to make a will as soon as they attained the age of six years. That was the greatest proof of the superior reverence for religion. Constantine exempted the clergy everywhere from taxation, and permitted litigants to appeal to the decision of the bishops if they preferred them to the state rulers. He enacted that their decree should be valid, and as far superior to that of other judges as if pronounced by the emperor himself; that the governors and subordinate military officers should see to the execution of these decrees: and that the definitions made by synods should be irreversible.
Having arrived at this point of my history, it would not be right to omit all mention of the laws passed in favor of those individuals in the churches who had received their freedom. Owing to the strictness of the laws and the unwillingness of masters, there were many difficulties in the way of the acquisition of this better freedom; that is to say, of the freedom of the city of Rome. Constantine therefore made three laws, enacting that all those individuals in the churches, whose freedom should be attested by the priests, should receive the freedom of Rome.
The records of these pious regulations are still extant, it having been the custom to engrave on tablets all laws relating to manumission. Such were the enactments of Constantine; in everything he sought to promote the honor of religion; and religion was valued, not only for its own sake, but also on account of the virtue of those who then participated in it.
Since the persecution had recently ceased, many excellent Christians, and many of the confessors who had survived, adorned the churches: among these were Hosius, bishop of Cordova; Amphion, bishop of Epiphania in Cilicia; Maximus, who succeeded Macarius in the church of Jerusalem; and Paphnutius, an Egyptian. It is said by this latter God wrought many miracles, controlling demons, and giving him grace to heal various kinds of sickness. This Paphnutius, and Maximus, whom we just mentioned, were among the number of confessors whom Maximinus condemned to work in the mines, after having deprived them of the right eye, and the use of the left leg.
Spyridon, bishop of Trimythun in Cyprus, flourished at this period. To show his virtues, I think the fame which still prevails about him suffices. The wonderful works which he wrought by Divine assistance are, it appears, generally known by those who dwell in the same region. I shall not conceal the facts which have come to me.
He was a peasant, was married, and had children; yet was not, on this account, deficient in spiritual attainments. It is related that one night some wicked men entered his sheepfold, and were in the act of stealing his sheep, when they were suddenly bound, and yet no one bound them. The next day, when he went to the fold, he found them fettered, and released them from their invisible bonds; but he censured them for having preferred to steal what it was lawful for them to win and take, and also for making such a great exertion by night: yet he felt compassion towards them, and, desirous of affording them instruction, so as to induce them to lead a better life, he said to them,
Go, and take this ram with you; for you are wearied with watching, and it is not just that your labor should be so blamed, that you should return empty-handed from my sheepfold. This action is well worthy admiration, but not less so is that which I shall now relate. An individual confided a deposit to the care of his daughter, who was a virgin, and was named Irene. For greater security, she buried it; and it so happened that she died soon after, without mentioning the circumstance to any one. The person to whom the deposit belonged came to ask for it. Spyridon knew not what answer to give him, so he searched the whole house for it; but not being able to find it, the man wept, tore his hair, and seemed ready to expire. Spyridon, moved with pity, went to the grave, and called the girl by name; and when she answered, he inquired about the deposit. After obtaining the information desired, he returned, found the treasure in the place that had been signified to him, and gave it to the owner. As I have entered upon this subject, it may not be amiss to add this incident also.
It was a custom with this Spyridon to give a certain portion of his fruits to the poor, and to lend another portion to those who wished it as a gratuity; but neither in giving nor taking back did he ever himself distribute or receive: he merely pointed out the storehouse, and told those who resorted to him to take as much as they needed, or to restore what they had borrowed. A certain man who had borrowed in this way, came as though he were about to return it, and when as usual he was directed to replace his loan in the storehouse, he saw an opportunity for an injustice; imagining that the matter would be concealed, he did not liquidate the debt, but fraudulently pretending to have discharged his obligation, he went away as though he had made the return. This, however, could not be long concealed. After some time the man came back again to borrow, and was sent to the storehouse, with permission to measure out for himself as much as he required. Finding the storehouse empty, he went to acquaint Spyridon, and this latter said to him,
I wonder, O man, how it is that you alone have found the storehouse empty and unsupplied with the articles you require: reflect whether you have restored the first loan, since you are in need a second time: were it otherwise, what you seek would not be lacking. Go, trust, and you will find. The man felt the reproof and acknowledged his error. The firmness and the accuracy in the administration of ecclesiastical affairs on the part of this divine man are worthy of admiration. It is said that on one occasion thereafter, the bishops of Cyprus met to consult on some particular emergency. Spyridon was present, as likewise Triphyllius, bishop of the Ledri, a man otherwise eloquent, who on account of practicing the law, had lived alone while at Berytus.
When an assembly had convened, having been requested to address the people, Triphyllius had occasion, in the middle of his discourse, to quote the text,
Take up your bed and walk, Matthew 9:6 and he substituted the word
couch (σκίμπους), for the word
bed (κράββατος). Spyridon was indignant, and exclaimed,
Are you greater than he who uttered the word 'bed,' that you are ashamed to use his words? When he had said this, he turned from the throne of the priest, and looked towards the people; by this act he taught them to keep the man who is proud of eloquence within bounds and he was fit to make such a rebuke; for he was reverenced and most illustrious for his works: at the same time he was the superior of that presbyter in age and in the priesthood.
The reception which Spyridon gave to strangers will appear from the following incident. In the quadragesima, it happened that a traveler came upon a journey to visit him on one of those days in which it was his custom to keep a continuous fast with his household, and on the day appointed for tasting food, he would remain without nourishment to mid-day. Perceiving that the stranger was much fatigued, Spyridon said to his daughter,
Come, wash his feet and set meat before him. The virgin replying that there was neither bread nor barley-food in the house, for it would have been superfluous to provide such things at the time of the fast, Spyridon first prayed and asked forgiveness, and bade her to cook some salt pork which chanced to be in the house. When it was prepared, he sat down to table with the stranger, partook of the meat, and told him to follow his example. But the stranger declining, under the plea of being a Christian, he said to him,
It is for that very reason that you ought not to decline partaking of the meat; for the Divine word shows that to the pure all things are pure. Titus 1:15 Such are the details which I had to relate concerning Spyridon.
Those who at this period had embraced monasticism were not the least in manifesting the church as most illustrious, and evidencing the truth of their doctrines by their virtuous line of conduct. Indeed, the most useful thing that has been received by man from God is their philosophy. They neglect many branches of mathematics and the technicalities of dialectics, because they regard such studies as superfluous, and as a useless expenditure of time, seeing that they contribute nothing towards correct living. They apply themselves exclusively to the cultivation of natural and useful science, in order that they may mitigate, if not eradicate, evil. They invariably refrain from accounting any action or principle as good, which occupies a middle place between virtue and vice, for they delight only in what is good. They regard every man as wicked, who, though he abstain from evil, does not do good. For they do not demonstrate virtue by argument, but practice it, and count as nothing the glory current among men. They manfully subjugate the passions of the soul, yielding neither to the necessities of nature, nor succumbing to the weakness of the body. Having possessed the power of the Divine mind, they always look away to the Creator of the whole, night and day worshiping him, and appeasing him by prayers and supplications. By purity of soul and by a life of good works they entered without guilt upon religious observances, and despised purification, lustral vessels, and such ceremonials; for they think that sins alone are blemishes. They are greater than the external casualties to which we are liable, and hold, as it were, all things under their control: and are not therefore diverted from the path they have selected by the disasters or the necessity which sway the life. They are not distressed when insulted, nor do they defend themselves when suffering from malice; nor do they lose heart when pressed by sickness or lack of necessaries but rather rejoice in such trials and endure them with patience and meekness. They inure themselves through the whole of life to be content with little, and approximate as nearly to God as is possible to human nature. They regard the present life as a journey only, and are not therefore solicitous about acquiring wealth, nor do they provide for the present beyond urgent necessities. They admire the beauty and simplicity of nature, but their hope is placed in heaven and the blessedness of the future. Wholly absorbed in the worship of God, they revolted from obscene language; and as they had banished evil practices, so they would not allow such things to be even named. They limited, as far as possible, the demands of nature, and compelled the body to be satisfied with moderate supplies. They overcame intemperance by temperance, injustice by justice, and falsehood by truth, and attained the happy medium in all things. They dwelt in harmony and fellowship with their neighbors. They provided for their friends and strangers, imparted to those who were in want, according to their need, and comforted the afflicted. As they were diligent in all things, and zealous in seeking the supreme good, their instructions, though clothed in modesty and prudence, and devoid of vain and meritricious eloquence, possessed power, like sovereign medicines, in healing the moral diseases of their audience; they spoke, too, with fear and reverence, and eschewed all strife, raillery, and anger. Indeed, it is but reasonable to suppress all irrational emotions, and to subdue carnal and natural passions. Elias the prophet and John the Baptist were the authors, as some say, of this sublime philosophy. Philo the Pythagorean relates, that in his time the most virtuous of the Hebrews assembled from all parts of the world, and settled in a tract of country situated on a hill near Lake Mareotis, for the purpose of living as philosophers. He describes their dwellings, their regimen, and their customs, as similar to those which we now meet with among the monks of Egypt. He says that from the moment they began to apply themselves to the study of philosophy, they gave up their property to their relatives, relinquished business and society, and dwelt outside of walls, in fields and in gardens. They had also, he informs us, sacred edifices which were called monasteries, in which they dwelt apart and alone, occupied in celebrating the holy mysteries, and in worshiping God sedulously with psalms and hymns. They never tasted food before sunset, and some only took food every third day, or even at longer intervals. Finally, he says, that on certain days they lay on the ground and abstained from wine and the flesh of animals; that their food was bread, salt, and hyssop, and their drink, water; and that there were women among them who had lived as virgins to old age, who, for the love of philosophy, and from their voluntary judgment, practiced celibacy. In this narrative, Philo seems to describe certain Jews who had embraced Christianity, and yet retained the customs of their nation; for no vestiges of this manner of life are to be found elsewhere: and hence I conclude that this philosophy flourished in Egypt from this period. Others, however, assert that this mode of life originated from the persecutions for the sake of religion, which arose from time to time, and by which many were compelled to flee to the mountains and deserts and forests, and they became used to this kind of living.
Whether the Egyptians or others are to be regarded as the founders of this philosophy, it is universally admitted that Antony, the great monk, developed this course of life, by morals and befitting exercises, to the summit of exactness and perfection. His fame was so widely spread throughout the deserts of Egypt, that the emperor Constantine, for the reputation of the man's virtue, sought his friendship, honored him with correspondence, and urged him to write about what he might need. He was an Egyptian by race, and belonged to an illustrious family of Coma, which was situated near the Heraclea which is on the Egyptian borders. He was but a youth when he lost his parents; he bestowed his paternal inheritance upon his fellow-villagers, sold the rest of his possessions and distributed the proceeds among the needy; for he was aware that philosophy does not merely consist in the relinquishment of property, but in the proper distribution of it. He obtained the acquaintance of the devoted men of his time, and emulated the virtues of all. Believing that the practice of goodness would become delightful by habit, though arduous at the outset, he reflected on more intense methods of asceticism, and day by day he augmented it by self-control just as if he were always recommencing his undertaking. He subdued the voluptuousness of the body by labor, and restrained the passions of the soul by the aid of the Divine wisdom. His food was bread and salt, his drink water, and he never broke his fast till after sunset. He often remained two or more days without eating. He watched, so to speak, throughout the night, and continued in prayer till daybreak. If at any time he indulged in sleep, it was but for a little while on a short mat; but generally the bare earth was his couch. He rejected the practice of anointing with oil, and the use of baths and of similar luxuries likely to relax the tension of the body by moisture; and it is said that he never at any time saw himself naked. He neither possessed nor admired learning, but he valued a good understanding, as being prior to letters and as being the very discoverer of it. He was exceedingly meek and philanthropic, prudent and manly; cheerful in conversation and friendly in disputations, even when others used the controverted topics as occasion for strife. By his own habit and a kind of intelligence he quieted contentiousness when on the increase, and restored them to moderation; he also tempered the ardor of those who conversed with him, and regulated their manners. Although on account of his extraordinary virtues, he had become filled with the Divine foreknowledge, he did not regard foreknowledge of the future as a virtue, nor did he counsel others to seek this gift rashly, for he considered that no one would be punished or rewarded according to his ignorance or knowledge of futurity; for true blessedness consists in the service of God, and in keeping his laws.
But, said he,
if any man would know the future, let him continually be purified in soul, for then he will have power to walk in the light, and to understand things that are to happen, for God will reveal the future to him. He never suffered himself to be idle, but exhorted all those who seemed disposed to lead a good life, to diligence in labor, to self-examination and confession of sin before Him who created the day and the night; and when they erred, he urged them to record the transgression in writing, that so they might be ashamed of their sins, and be fearful lest any one should find the many things recorded; for he would be fearful, lest if the document were traced to him he should become disclosed to other people as a depraved character. He above all others came forward spiritedly and most zealously for the defense of the injured, and in their cause often resorted to the cities; for many came out to him, and compelled him to intercede for them with the rulers and men in power. All the people felt honored in seeing him, listened with avidity to his discourses, and yielded assent to his arguments; but he preferred to remain unknown and concealed in the deserts. When compelled to visit a city, he never failed to return to the deserts as soon as he had accomplished the work he had undertaken; for, he said, that as fishes are nourished in the water, so the desert is the world prepared for monks; and as fishes die when thrown upon dry land, so monastics lose their gravity when they go into cities. He carried himself obediently and graciously towards all who saw him, and he was careful not to have, nor seem to have, a supercilious nature. I have given this concise account of the manners of Antony, in order that an idea of his philosophy may be formed, by analogy, from the description of his conduct in the desert.
He had many renowned disciples, of whom some flourished in Egypt and Libya, others in Palestine, Syria, and Arabia; not less than their master, did each disciple pass his life with those among whom he dwelt, and regulate his conduct, and instruct many, and wed them unto kindred virtues and philosophy. But it would be difficult for any one to find the companions of Antony or their successors by going carefully through cities and villages to discover them, for they sought concealment more earnestly than many ambitious men, by means of pomp and show, now seek popularity and renown.
We must relate, in chronological order, the history of the most celebrated disciples of Antony, and particularly that of Paul, surnamed the Simple. It is said that he dwelt in the country, and was married to a beautiful woman, and that having surprised her in the act of adultery, he laughed placidly and affirmed with an oath, that he would live with her no longer; that he left her with the adulterer, and went immediately to join Antony in the desert. It is further related that he was exceedingly meek and patient: and that, being aged and unaccustomed to monastic severity, Antony put his strength to the proof by various trials, for he was newly come, and detected nothing ignoble; and that, having given evidence of perfect philosophy, he was sent to live alone, as no longer requiring a teacher. And God himself confirmed the testimony of Antony; and demonstrated the man to be most illustrious through his deeds, and as greater than even his teacher in vexing and expelling demons.
It was about this period that Ammon, the Egyptian, embraced philosophy. It is said that he was compelled to marry by his family, but that his wife never knew him carnally; for on the day of their marriage, when they were alone, and when he as the bridegroom was leading her as the bride to his bed, he said to her,
Oh, woman! Our marriage has indeed taken place, but it is not consummated; and then he showed her from the Holy Scriptures that it was her chief good to remain a virgin, and entreated that they might live apart. She was convinced by his arguments concerning virginity, but was much distressed by the thought of being separated from him; and therefore, though occupying a separate bed, he lived with her for eighteen years, during which time he did not neglect the monastic exercises. At the end of this period, the woman whose emulation had been strongly excited by the virtue of her husband, became convinced that it was not just that such a man should, on her account, live in the domestic sphere; and she considered that it was necessary that each should, for the sake of philosophy, live apart from the other; and she entreated this of her husband. He therefore took his departure, after having thanked God for the counsel of his wife, and said to her,
Do thou retain this house, and I will make another for myself. He retired to a desert place, south of the Mareotic lake between Scitis and the mountain called Nitria; and here, during two and twenty years, he devoted himself to philosophy and visited his wife twice every year. This divine man was the founder of the monasteries there, and gathered round him many disciples of note, as the registers of succession show. Many extraordinary events happened to him, which have been accurately fixed by the Egyptian monks, who did very much to commemorate carefully the virtues of the more ancient ascetics, preserved in a succession of unwritten tradition. I will relate such of them as have come to our knowledge.
Ammon and his disciple Theodore, had once occasion to take a journey somewhere, and on the road found it requisite to cross a canal called Lycus. Ammon ordered Theodore to pass over backwards, lest they should witness each other's nudity, and as he was likewise ashamed to see himself naked, he was suddenly, and by a Divine impulse, seized and carried over, and landed on the opposite bank. When Theodore had crossed the water, he perceived that the clothes and feet of the elder were not wet, and inquired the reason; not receiving a reply, he expostulated strongly on the subject, and at length Ammon, after stipulating that it should not be mentioned during his lifetime, confessed the fact.
Here follows another miracle of the same nature. Some wicked fathers, having brought to him a son, who had been bitten by a mad dog, and was near unto death, besought him in their lamentations to heal him. He said to them,
Your son does not require my healing, but if you are willing to restore to your masters the ox you have stolen, he will be healed immediately. And the result was even as had been predicted; for the ox was restored and the malady of the child removed. It is said that, when Ammon died, Antony saw his spirit ascending into heaven, since the heavenly powers conducted him with the singing of psalms, and on being questioned by his companions as to the cause of his evident astonishment, he did not conceal the matter from them; for he was seen to survey the sky intently, because of his amazement at the sight of the marvelous spectacle. A short time after, certain persons came from Scitis, and, announcing the hour of Ammon's death, the truth of Antony's prediction was manifested. Thus, as is testified by all good men, each of these holy persons was blessed in a special manner; the one, by being released from this life; the other, by being accounted worthy of witnessing so miraculous a spectacle as that which God showed him; for Antony and Ammon lived at a distance of many days' journey from each other, and the above incident is corroborated by those who were personally acquainted with them both.
I am convinced that it was likewise during this reign that Eutychianus embraced philosophy. He fixed his residence in Bithynia, near Olympus. He belonged to the sect of the Novatians, and was a partaker of Divine grace; he healed diseases and wrought miracles, and the fame of his virtuous life induced Constantine to keep his intimacy and friendship. It so happened, that about this period, one of the royal bodyguard, who was suspected of plotting against the sovereign, fled, and after search, was apprehended near Olympus. Eutychianus was besought by relatives of the man to intercede on his behalf with the emperor, and in the meantime, to direct that the prisoner's chains might be loosened, lest he should perish beneath their weight. It is related that Eutychianus accordingly sent to the officers who held the man in custody, desiring them to loosen the chains; and that, on their refusal, he went himself to the prison, when the doors, though fastened, opened of their own accord, and the bonds of the prisoner fell off. Eutychianus afterwards repaired to the emperor who was then residing at Byzantium, and easily obtained a pardon, for Constantine was not wont to refuse his requests, because he held the man in very great honor.
I have now given in few words the history of the most illustrious professors of the monastic philosophy. If any one desires more exact information about these men he will find it in the biographies which have been written of very many of them.
Although, as we have shown, religion was in a flourishing condition at this period, yet the churches were disturbed by sore contentions; for under the pretext of piety and of seeking the more perfect discovery of God, certain questions were agitated, which had not, till then, been examined. Arius was the originator of these disputations. He was a presbyter of the church at Alexandria in Egypt, and was at first a zealous thinker about doctrine, and upheld the innovations of Melitius. Eventually, however, he abandoned this latter opinion, and was ordained deacon by Peter, bishop of Alexandria, who afterwards cast him out of the church, because when Peter anathematized the zealots of Melitius and rejected their baptism, Arius assailed him for these acts and could not be restrained in quietness. After the martyrdom of Peter, Arius asked forgiveness of Achillas, and was restored to his office as deacon, and afterwards elevated to the presbytery. Afterwards Alexander, also, held him in high repute, since he was a most expert logician; for it was said that he was not lacking in such knowledge. He fell into absurd discourses, so that he had the audacity to preach in the church what no one before him had ever suggested; namely, that the Son of God was made out of that which had no prior existence, that there was a period of time in which he existed not; that, as possessing free will, he was capable of vice and virtue, and that he was created and made: to these, many other similar assertions were added as he went forward into the arguments and the details of inquiry. Those who heard these doctrines advanced, blamed Alexander for not opposing the innovations at variance with doctrine. But this bishop deemed it more advisable to leave each party to the free discussion of doubtful topics, so that by persuasion rather than by force, they might cease from contention; hence he sat down as a judge with some of his clergy, and led both sides into a discussion. But it happened on this occasion, as is generally the case in a strife of words, that each party claimed the victory. Arius defended his assertions, but the others contended that the Son is consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father. The council was convened a second time, and the same points contested, but they came to no agreement among themselves. During the debate, Alexander seemed to incline first to one party and then to the other ; finally, however, he declared himself in favor of those who affirmed that the Son was consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father, and he commanded Arius to receive this doctrine, and to reject his former opinions. Arius, however, would not be persuaded to compliance, and many of the bishops and clergy considered his statement of doctrine to be correct. Alexander, therefore, ejected him and the clergy who concurred with him in sentiment from the church. Those of the parish of Alexandria, who had embraced his opinions, were the presbyters Aithalas, Achillas, Carpones, Sarmates, and Arius, and the deacons Euzoïus, Macarius, Julius, Menas, and Helladius. Many of the people, likewise, sided with them: some, because they imagined their doctrines to be of God; others, as frequently happens in similar cases, because they believed them to have been ill-treated and unjustly excommunicated. Such being the state of affairs at Alexandria, the partisans of Arius, deeming it prudent to seek the favor of the bishops of other cities, sent legations to them; they sent a written statement of their doctrines to them, requesting them that, if they considered such sentiments to be of God, they would signify to Alexander that he ought not to molest them; but that if they disapproved of the doctrines, they should teach them what opinions were necessary to be held. This precaution was of no little advantage to them; for their tenets became thus universally disseminated, and the questions they had started became matters of debate among all the bishops. Some wrote to Alexander, entreating him not to receive the partisans of Arius into communion unless they repudiated their opinions, while others wrote to urge a contrary line of conduct. When Alexander perceived that many who were revered by the appearance of good conduct, and weighty by the persuasiveness of eloquence, held with the party of Arius, and particularly Eusebius, president of the church of Nicomedia, a man of considerable learning and held in high repute at the palace; he wrote to the bishops of every church desiring them not to hold communion with them. This measure kindled the zeal of each party the more, and as might have been expected, the contest was increasingly agitated. Eusebius and his partisans had often petitioned Alexander, but could not persuade him; so that considering themselves insulted, they became indignant and came to a stronger determination to support the doctrine of Arius. A synod having been convened in Bithynia, they wrote to all the bishops, desiring them to hold communion with the Arians, as with those making a true confession, and to require Alexander to hold communion with them likewise. As compliance could not be extorted from Alexander, Arius sent messengers to Paulinas, bishop of Tyre, to Eusebius Pamphilus, who presided over the church of Cæsarea in Palestine, and to Patrophilus, bishop of Scythopolis, soliciting permission for himself and for his adherents, as they had previously attained the rank of presbyters, to form the people who were with them into a church. For it was the custom in Alexandria, as it still is in the present day, that all the churches should be under one bishop, but that each presbyter should have his own church, in which to assemble the people. These three bishops, in concurrence with others who were assembled in Palestine, granted the petition of Arius, and permitted him to assemble the people as before; but enjoined submission to Alexander, and commanded Arius to strive incessantly to be restored to peace and communion with him.
After there had been many synods held in Egypt, and the contest had still continued to increase in violence, the report of the dissension reached the palace, and Constantine was thereby greatly troubled; for just at this period, when religion was beginning to be more generally propagated, many were deterred by the difference in doctrines from embracing Christianity. The emperor openly charged Arius and Alexander with having originated this disturbance, and wrote to rebuke them for having made a controversy public which it was in their power to have concealed, and for having contentiously agitated a question which ought never to have been mooted, or upon which, at least, their opinion ought to have been given quietly. He told them that they ought not to have separated from others on account of difference of sentiment concerning certain points of doctrine.
For concerning the Divine Providence men ought necessarily to hold one and the same belief; but the minute researches in this province, especially if they do not bring them to the one opinion, must be retained in secret according to all reason. He exhorted them to put away all loose talk about such points, and to be of one mind; for he had been not a little grieved, and on this account he had renounced his intention of visiting the cities of the East. It was in this strain that he wrote to Alexander and to Arius, reproving and exhorting them both.
Constantine was also deeply grieved at the diversity of opinion which prevailed concerning the celebration of the Passover; for some of the cities in the East differed on this point, although they did not withhold from communion with one another; they kept the festival more according to the manner of the Jews, and as was natural by this divergence, detracted from the splendor of the festal sacrifice. The emperor zealously endeavored to remove both these causes of dissension from the church; and thinking to be able to remove the evil before it advanced to greater proportions, he sent one who was honored for his faith, his virtuous life, and most approved in those former times for his confessions about this doctrine, to reconcile those who were divided on account of doctrine in Egypt, and those who in the East differed about the Passover. This man was Hosius, bishop of Cordova.
When it was found that the event did not answer the expectations of the emperor, but that on the contrary, the contention was too great for reconciliation, so that he who had been sent to make peace returned without having accomplished his mission, Constantine convened a synod at Nicæa, in Bithynia, and wrote to the most eminent men of the churches in every country, directing them to be there on an appointed day. Of those who occupied the apostolic sees, the following participated in this conference: Macarius of Jerusalem, Eustathius, who already presided over the church of Antioch on the Orontes; and Alexander of Alexandria near Lake Mareotis. Julius, bishop of Rome, was unable to attend on account of extreme old age; but his place was supplied by Vito and Vicentius, presbyters of his church. Many other excellent and good men from different nations were congregated together, of whom some were celebrated for their learning, their eloquence, and their knowledge of the sacred books, and other discipline; some for the virtuous tenor of their life, and others for the combination of all these qualifications. About three hundred and twenty bishops were present, accompanied by a multitude of presbyters and deacons. There were, likewise, men present who were skilled in dialectics, and ready to assist in the discussions. And as was usually the case on such occasions, many priests resorted to the council for the purpose of transacting their own private affairs; for they considered this a favorable opportunity for rectifying their grievances, and in what points each found fault with the rest, he presented a document to the emperor, wherein he noted the offenses committed against himself. As this course was pursued day after day, the emperor set apart one certain day on which all complaints were to be brought before him. When the appointed time arrived, he took the memorials which had been presented to him, and said,
All these accusations will be brought forward in their own season at the great day of judgment, and will there be judged by the Great Judge of all men; as to me, I am but a man, and it would be evil in me to take cognizance of such matters, seeing that the accuser and the accused are priests; and the priests ought so to act as never to become amenable to the judgment of others. Imitate, therefore, the divine love and mercy of God, and be reconciled to one another; withdraw your accusations against each other; let us be persuaded, and let us devote our attention to those subjects connected with the faith on account of which we are assembled. After this address, in order to make the document of each man nugatory, the emperor commanded the memorials to be burnt, and then appointed a day for solving the doubtful points. But before the appointed time arrived, the bishops assembled together, and having summoned Arius to attend, began to examine the disputed topics, each one among them advancing his own opinion. As might have been expected, however, many different questions started out of the investigation: some of the bishops spoke against the introduction of novelties contrary to the faith which had been delivered to them from the beginning. And those especially who had adhered to simplicity of doctrine argued that the faith of God ought to be received without curious inquiries; others, however, contended that ancient opinions ought not to be followed without examination. Many of the bishops who were then assembled, and of the clergy who accompanied them, being remarkable for their dialectic skill, and practiced in such rhetorical methods, became conspicuous, and attracted the notice of the emperor and the court. Of that number Athanasius, who was then a deacon of Alexandria, and had accompanied his bishop Alexander, seemed to have the largest share in the counsel concerning these subjects.
While these disputations were being carried on, certain of the pagan philosophers became desirous of taking part in them; some, because they wished for information as to the doctrine that was inculcated; and others, because, feeling incensed against the Christians on account of the recent suppression of the pagan religion, they wished to convert the inquiry about doctrine into a strife about words, so as to introduce dissensions among them, and to make them appear as holding contradictory opinions. It is related that one of these philosophers, priding himself on his acknowledged superiority of eloquence, began to ridicule the priests, and thereby roused the indignation of a simple old man, highly esteemed as a confessor, who, although unskilled in logical refinements and wordiness, undertook to oppose him. The less serious of those who knew the confessor, raised a laugh at his expense for engaging in such an undertaking; but the more thoughtful felt anxious lest, in opposing so eloquent a man, he should only render himself ridiculous; yet his influence was so great, and his reputation so high among them, that they could not forbid his engaging in the debate; and he accordingly delivered himself in the following terms:
In the name of Jesus Christ, O philosopher, hearken to me. There is one God, the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. He made all things by the power of the Word, and established them by the holiness of His Spirit. The Word, whom we call the Son of God, seeing that man was sunk in error and living like the beasts pitied him, and vouchsafed to be born of woman, to hold intercourse with men, and to die for them. And He will come again to judge each of us as to the deeds of this present life. We believe these things to be true with all simplicity. Do not, therefore, expend your labor in vain by striving to disprove facts which can only be understood by faith or by scrutinizing the manner in which these things did or did not come to pass. Answer me, do you believe? The philosopher, astonished at what had occurred, replied,
I believe; and having thanked the old man for having overcome him in argument, he began to teach the same doctrines to others. He exhorted those who still held his former sentiments to adopt the views he had embraced, assuring them on oath, that he had been impelled to embrace Christianity by a certain inexplicable impulse.
It is said that a similar miracle was performed by Alexander, who governed the church of Constantinople. When Constantine returned to Byzantium, certain philosophers came to him to complain of the innovations in religion, and particularly of his having introduced a new form of worship into the state, contrary to that followed by his forefathers, and by all who were formerly in power, whether among the Greeks or the Romans. They likewise desired to hold a disputation on the doctrine with Alexander the bishop; and he, although unskilled in such argumentative contests, and perhaps persuaded by his life, seeing that he was an excellent and good man, accepted the struggle at the command of the emperor. When the philosophers were assembled, since every one wished to engage in the discussion, he requested that one whom they esteemed worthy might be chosen as spokesman, while the others were to remain silent. When one of the philosophers began to open the debate, Alexander said to him,
I command you in the name of Jesus Christ not to speak. The man was instantaneously silenced. It is then right to consider whether it is a greater miracle that a man, and he a philosopher, should so easily be silenced by a word, or that a stone-wall should be cleft by the power of a word, which miracle I have heard some attribute to Julian, surnamed the Chaldean. I have understood that these events happened in the way above narrated.
The bishops held long consultations; and after summoning Arius before them, they made an accurate test of his propositions; they were intently on their guard, not to come to a vote on either side. When at length the appointed day arrived on which it had been decided to settle the doubtful points, they assembled together in the palace, because the emperor had signified his intention of taking part in the deliberations. When he was in the same place with the priests, he passed through to the head of the conference, and seated himself on the throne which had been prepared for him, and the synod was then commanded to be seated; for seats had been arranged on either side along the walls of the palatial rooms, for it was the largest, and excelled the other chambers.
After they were seated, Eusebius Pamphilus arose and delivered an oration in honor of the emperor, returning thanks to God on his account. When he had ceased speaking, and silence was restored, the emperor delivered himself in the following words:
I give thanks to God for all things, but particularly, O friends, for being permitted to see your conference. And the event has exceeded my prayer, in that so many priests of Christ have been conducted into the same place; now, it is my desire that you should be of one mind and be partakers of a consentient judgment, for I deem dissension in the Church of God as more dangerous than any other evil. Therefore when it was announced, and I understood you were in discord, an unwholesome thing to hear, I was deeply pained in soul; and least of all does it profit you, since you are the conductors of divine worship and arbiters of peace. On this account it is, that I have called you together in a holy Synod, and being both your emperor and your fellow-physician, I seek for you a favor which is acceptable to our common Lord, and as honorable for me to receive, as for you to grant. The favor which I seek is, that you examine the causes of the strife, and put a consentient and peaceful end thereto so that I may triumph with you over the envious demon, who excited this internal revolt because he was provoked to see our external enemies and tyrants under our feet, and envied our good estate. The emperor pronounced this discourse in Latin, and the interpretation was supplied by one at his side.
The next debate by the priests turned upon doctrine. The emperor gave patient attention to the speeches of both parties; he applauded those who spoke well, rebuked those who displayed a tendency to altercation, and according to his apprehension of what he heard, for he was not wholly unpracticed in the Greek tongue, he addressed himself with kindness to each one. Finally all the priests agreed with one another and conceded that the Son is consubstantial with the Father. At the commencement of the conference there were but seventeen who praised the opinion of Arius, but eventually the majority of these yielded assent to the general view. To this judgment the emperor likewise deferred, for he regarded the unanimity of the conference to be a divine approbation; and he ordained that any one who should be rebellious thereto, should immediately be sent into banishment, as guilty of endeavoring to overthrow the Divine definitions. I had thought it necessary to reproduce the very document concerning the matter, as an example of the truth, in order that posterity might possess in a fixed and clear form the symbol of the faith which proved pacificatory at the time but since some pious friends, who understood such matters, recommended that these truths ought to be spoken of and heard by the initiated and their initiators only, I agreed with their council; for it is not unlikely that some of the uninitiated may read this book. While I have concealed such of the prohibited material as I ought to keep silent about, I have not altogether left the reader ignorant of the opinions held by the synod.
It ought to be known, that they affirmed the Son to be consubstantial with the Father; and that those are to be excommunicated and voted aliens to the Catholic Church, who assert that there was a time in which the Son existed not, and before He was begotten He was not, and that He was made from what had no existence, and that He is of another hypostasis or substance from the Father, and that He is subject to change or mutation. This decision was sanctioned by Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia; by Theognis, bishop of Nicæa; by Maris, bishop of Chalcedon; by Patrophilus, bishop of Scythopolis; and by Secundus, bishop of Ptolemaïs in Libya. Eusebius Pamphilus, however, withheld his assent for a little while, but on further examination assented. The council excommunicated Arius and his adherents, and prohibited his entering Alexandria. The words in which his opinions were couched were likewise condemned, as also a work entitled
Thalia, which he had written on the subject. I have not read this book, but I understand that it is of a loose character, resembling in license Sotadus. It ought to be known that although Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, and Theognis, bishop of Nicæa, assented to the document of this faith set forth by the council, they neither agreed nor subscribed to the deposition of Arius. The emperor punished Arius with exile, and dispatched edicts to the bishops and people of every country, denouncing him and his adherents as ungodly, and commanding. that their books should be destroyed, in order that no remembrance of him or of the doctrine which he had broached might remain. Whoever should be found secreting his writings and who should not burn them immediately on the accusation, should undergo the penalty of death, and suffer capital punishment. The emperor wrote letters to every city against Arius and those who had received his doctrines, and commanded Eusebius and Theognis to quit the cities whereof they were bishops; he addressed himself in particular to the church of Nicomedia, urging it to adhere to the faith which had been set forth by the council, to elect orthodox bishops, to obey them, and to let the past fall into oblivion; and he threatened with punishment those who should venture to speak well of the exiled bishops, or to adopt their sentiments. In these and in other letters, he manifested resentment against Eusebius, because he had previously adopted the opinions of the tyrant, and had engaged in his plots. In accordance with the imperial edicts, Eusebius and Theognis were ejected from the churches which they held, and Amphion received that of Nicomedia, and Chrestus that of Nicæa. On the termination of this doctrinal controversy, the council decided that the Paschal feast should be celebrated at the same time in every place.
It is related, that the emperor, under the impulse of an ardent desire to see harmony re-established among Christians, summoned Acesius, bishop of the church of the Novatians, to the council, placed before him the definition of the faith and of the feast, which had already been confirmed by the signatures of the bishops, and asked whether he could agree thereto. Acesius answered that their exposition defined no new doctrine, and that he accorded in opinion with the Synod, and that he had from the beginning held these sentiments with respect both to the faith and to the feast.
Why, then, said the emperor,
do you keep aloof from communion with others, if you are of one mind with them? He replied that the dissension first broke out under Decius, between Novatius and Cornelius, and that he considered such persons unworthy of communion who, after baptism, had fallen into those sins which the Scriptures declare to be unto death; 1 John 5:16 for that the remission of those sins, he thought, depended on the authority of God only, and not on the priests. The emperor replied, by saying,
O Acesius, take a ladder and ascend alone to heaven. By this speech I do not imagine the emperor intended to praise Acesius, but rather to blame him, because, being but a man, he fancied himself exempt from sin.
Zealous of reforming the life of those who were engaged about the churches, the Synod enacted laws which were called canons. While they were deliberating about this, some thought that a law ought to be passed enacting that bishops and presbyters, deacons and subdeacons, should hold no intercourse with the wife they had espoused before they entered the priesthood; but Paphnutius, the confessor, stood up and testified against this proposition; he said that marriage was honorable and chaste, and that cohabitation with their own wives was chastity, and advised the Synod not to frame such a law, for it would be difficult to bear, and might serve as an occasion of incontinence to them and their wives; and he reminded them, that according to the ancient tradition of the church, those who were unmarried when they took part in the communion of sacred orders, were required to remain so, but that those who were married, were not to put away their wives. Such was the advice of Paphnutius, although he was himself unmarried, and in accordance with it, the Synod concurred in his counsel, enacted no law about it, but left the matter to the decision of individual judgment, and not to compulsion. The Synod, however, enacted other laws regulating the government of the Church; and these laws may easily be found, as they are in the possession of many individuals.
After an investigation had been made into the conduct of Melitius when in Egypt, the Synod sentenced him to reside in Lycus, and to retain only the name of bishop; and prohibited him from ordaining any one either in a city or a village. Those who had previously been ordained by him, were permitted by this law, to remain in communion and in the ministry, but were to be accounted secondary in point of dignity to the clergy in church and parish. When by death an appointment became vacant, they were allowed to succeed to it, if deemed worthy, by the vote of the multitude, but in this case, were to be ordained by the bishop of the Church of Alexandria, for they were interdicted from exercising any power or influence in elections. This regulation appeared just to the Synod, for Melitius and his followers had manifested great rashness and temerity in administering ordination; so that it also deprived the ordinations which differed from those of Peter of all consideration. He, when he conducted the Alexandrian Church, fled on account of the persecution then raging, but afterwards suffered martyrdom.
At the very time that these decrees were passed by the council, the twentieth anniversary of the reign of Constantine was celebrated; for it was a Roman custom to have a feast on the tenth year of every reign. The emperor, therefore, thought it to be opportune, and invited the Synod to the festival, and presented suitable gifts to them; and when they prepared to return home, he called them all together, and exhorted them to be of one mind about the faith and at peace among themselves, so that no dissensions might henceforth creep in among them. After many other similar exhortations, he concluded by commanding them to be diligent in prayer, and always to supplicate God for himself, his children, and the empire, and after he had thus addressed those who had come to Nicæa, he bade them farewell. He wrote to the churches in every city, in order that he might make plain to those who had not been present, what had been rectified by the Synod; and especially to the Church of Alexandria he wrote more than this; urging them to lay aside all dissent, and to be harmonious in the faith issued by the Synod; for this could be nothing else than the judgment of God, since it was established by the Holy Spirit from the concurrence of so many and such illustrious high priests, and approved after accurate inquiry and test of all the doubtful points.
Source. Translated by Chester D. Hartranft. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/26021.htm>.
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