Century IV, Chapter III



Peter, bishop of Alexandria, had suffered mar- Chap.
tyrdom under the Dioclesian persecution. Num- .. **L
bers had recanted at that time to save their lives,
and among the rest Meletius, an Egyptian bishop.
This man was of a schismatical and enterprising

1spirit, and having been deposed by Peter before his

• Socrates, 1. 6.


CHAP martyrdom, he separated himself, continued bishop . *n' . on his own plan, ordained others, and gave rise to the third species of Dissenters: THAT is the proper name of the Meletian party ; for they are not charged with corruption in their doctrine. Nor was this the only person who disturbed the Church, and exercised the patience of Peter. Arius of Alexandria, in his beginnings, was a promising character, but on the appearance of the Meletian party, he espoused their cause. Some time after, he left it, and reconciled himself to Peter, and was by him ordained deacon: but condemning the bishop's severity in rejecting the Meletian baptism, and exhibiting a restless and factious spirit, he was again expelled from the Church. After which Peter was called to his rest by martyrdom. He was, like Cyprian, too severe in rejecting the baptism of schismatics and heretics, but his zeal was doubtless from a desire of preserving the uniformity of Christian faith, and he did not live to see still stronger proofs of that turbulent and contentious spirit in his deacon, which has rendered the name of Arius so famous in history.

eharattrr Achillas had succeeded to the bishopric: and •f Anu» from njm Arius, by submissions, again obtained favour. Understanding and capacity will command respect, and these were undoubtedly possessed by Arius in a great degree. He was by nature formed to deceive. In his behaviour and manner of life he was severe and grave ; in his person tall and venerable ; and in his dress almost monastic. He was agreeable and captivating in conversation, and well skilled in logic and all the improvements of the human mind, then fashionable in the world*.

Such was the famous Arius, who gave name to one of the most powerful heresies which ever afflicted the Church of Christ, and of whom Cicero's words, with little variation, in his masterly character

* Sozomen, B. 15.

of Catiline*, might be delivered ; "had he not possessed some apparent virtues, he would not have been able to form so great a design, nor to have proved so formidable an adversary." He, who does much mischief in deceiving souls, must at least have a fair appearance of morals. Paul of Samosata wanted this, and he glittered only as the insect of a day.

Achillas advanced Arius to the office of presbyter, which in that church was more important than in others, because each presbyter had a distinct congregation of his own, and was not sent up and down to different churches, at the discretion of the bishop, as the general practice had been in the primitive Church. This practice, however, in time gave way to the Alexandrian custom. Alexander, the successor of Achillas, under Constantine, treated Arius with respect, and appeared very backward to censure him for his dangerous speculations in religion. The pride of reasoning seduced the presbyter to assert f, that there was a time when the Son of God was not, that he was capable of virtue or of vice, and that he was a creature, and mutable as creatures are. Whilst he was insinuating these things, the easiness of Alexander in tolerating such notions was found fault with in the church. Necessity roused him at length, however unwilling to contend, and in disputing before Arius and the rest of his clergy J, he affirmed that there was an union in the Trinity. Arius thinking that the bishop introduced Sabellianism, eagerly maintained the extreme which is opposite to that heresy, and said, " if the Father begat the Son, the begotten had a beginning of existence ; hence it was evident there was a time when he was not."

I have given the narration from the two histo

• See his Oration pro Caelio.—Neque unquam ex illo tarn sceJeratus impetus extitisset, nisi tot vitiorum tanta immanitas qaibnsdam facilitatis & palientiae radicibus niteretur.

t Sozomen, B. I. c. 15. t Socrate*, l. 5.

rians rather with a view to connect and reconcile them, than from a conviction that this dispute arose from Alexander's zeal to withstand the growth of Arianism. For it might have originated from his orthodox zeal in general, before Arius had yet distinctly broached his notions. Be that as it may, Arius evidently split on the common rock of all heresies, a desire of explaining by our reason the modes of things which we are required to believe on divine testimony alone. Many of the clergy joined the disputatious presbyter, and it was no longer in Alexander's power to prevent a solemn cognizance of the cause. He was himself cautious and slow in his proceedings*; while many persons of a grave cast, and able and eloquent, like Arius, espoused and fostered the infant heresy. Arius preached diligently at his church, diffused his opinions in all companies, and gained over many of the common people; a number of women who had professed virginity espoused his cause; and Alexander saw the ancient doctrine of the Church undermined continually f. Lenient measures and argumentative methods having been tried in vain, he summoned a synod of bishops, who met at Alexandria, condemned Arius's doctrine, and expelled him from the Church, with nine of his adherents.

What Arius really held may be distinctly stated from the concurrent testimony of friends and enemies. Already some secret and ambiguous attempts had been made to lessen the idea of the divinity of the Son of God. While his eternity was admitted by Eusebius the historian, he yet was not willing to own him co-equal with the Father. Arius went greater lengths : he said, That the Son proceeded out of a state of non-existence; that he was not before he was made; that he, who is without beginning, has set his Son as the beginning of things

• Sozomen, F 5.

t H»eud. LJ. 1. c. 2. Ste Cave's Life of Athanaiius.

that are made, and that God made one, whom lie called Word, Son, and Wisdom, by whom he did create us. From these, and such like expressions, it is evident what Arianism properly is : for the epistle of Arius himself*, preserved by Theodoret, represents his views in the same manner as his adversaries have done, and proves that no injustice was done to him in this respectf.

* Theod. B. I. c. 5.

t I shall give the reader the epistle at length, that he may judge for himself, though some parts of it are of no consequence with respect to the controversy. I believe it is the only fragment we have of his writings, and it is therefore the most authentic of all records, to decide the question, what Arianism is.

The Epistle of Arius to Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia.

" To my most desirable lord, the faithful man of God, the orthodox Eusebius, Arius persecuted by father Alexander unjustly, for the sake of truth, which conquers all things, of which you are the defender; joy in the Lord ! My father Ammonius coming to Nicomedia, it appeared to me my duty to address you by him, and at the same time to inform your rooted charity and kind disposition, which you have towards the brethren, for the sake of God and his Christ, that the bishop harasses and persecutes us greatly, and moves every machine against us, so as even to expel us from the city as Atheists, because we agree not with him who publicly says, " always God, always the Son: at the same time the Father, at the same time the Son: the Son coexists with God without being begotten : he is always begotten, yet unbegotten : God does not precede the Son in thought, not for a moment: always God, always the Son: the Son exists from God himself." And when Eusebius your Brother in Caesarea, and Theodotus, and Paulinus, and Athanasius*, and Gregory, and Aetius, and all the bishops in the East, said, that God who had no beginning, existed before the Son, they were condemned, except only Philogonius, and Ellanicus, and Macarius, heretical unlearned men, some of whom call the Son an eructation, others a projection, others begotten together with him. We cannot bear to hear these impieties, though the heretics should threaten us with ten thousand deaths. But what we say and think, we have both taught and do teach ; That the Son is not unbegotten, nor a part of the unbegotten, by any means, nor of any subject matter; but that by will and counsel he existed before the times and the ages, full God, only begotten, not mixed with any thing heterogeneous, and before he was begotten, or created, or defined, or founded, He Was Not; for he * Not the famous Athanasius.

It is an easy thing to say here, that silence and charity would havebeenthe best means of preserving peace on all sides : but then this mode of speaking supposes that the controversy was frivolous. No real Christian can think it unimportant, whether his Saviour be believed to be the Creator or a creature. The soul is of too great consequence for men to hazard its salvation on they know not what. And it then appeared to all humble and charitable Christians, that to persist in blaspheming God, was at least as practical an evil as to persist in drunkenness and theft. All these found themselves obliged to join with Alexander against Arius. Silence was a vice in this case; though it can never be enough lamented how little care was taken of humility and charity, of both which the exercise is perfectly consistent with the sincere zeal for the doctrine of the Trinity ; but true religion itself was low; the face of the Church was " sullied and dishonoured, yet still divine." And amidst the numbers who, from fashion, prejudice, or worse motives, joined with the Alexandrian bishop, we must look for those, though they are hard to be found, who feared God, and whose history alone is the subject before us. The principles of Arius exclude him and his followers, and by the fullest light of antiquity their actions also exclude them from being numbered among the sound, faithful, intelligent followers of Jesus.

The Christian world now became the scene of animosity and contention. The orthodox and the heretical did each their utmost to support their several pretensions: practical religion was too much forgotten by both sides; and the former, from the want, or at least from the very low state of experimental

was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say nit Son Hath A Beginning ; but God is witbout beginning;. For this wo are persecuted, and because we say, that the Son is from Non-existence, and thus we said, because he is not part of God, nor of any subject matter: for this we are persecuted ; the rest you know. I pray that you may be strong in the Lord,—remembering our afflictions."

religion, were deprived of the very best method of supporting the truth, by showing its necessary connexion with the foundation of true piety and virtue. The* Gentiles beheld the contest and triumphed ; and on their theatres they ridiculed the contentions of Christians, to which their long and grievous provocations of their God had justly exposed them. Alexander repeatedly, in letters and appeals, maintained his cause, and so far as speculative argumentation can do it, he proved his point from the Scriptures; while Arius strengthened himself by forming alliances with various bishops, and particularly with Eusebius of Nicomediaf, who supported Arianism with all his might. He had been translated from Berytus in Syria, and by living in the metropolis, (for there Constantine resided much) he had an opportunity of ingratiating himself with the emperor. Near an hundred bishops in a second synod at Alexandria condemned Arius, who was now obliged to quit that place, and try to gain supporters in other parts of the empire.

In the year 324, Constantine being at Nicomedia, and intending to make a farther progress into the East, was prevented by the news of these contentions. So important were Christian affairs now grown, at a time when it is with difficulty we can find any eminent spirit of genuine piety. The emperor sincerely strove to make up the breach ; for his regard for Christianity in general was doubtless sincere ; but it is not in ecclesiastical proceedings that we can discover any trace of that penetration and discernment for which in civil story he is so jusdy renowned. He wrote both to Alexander and Arius, blamed both, expressed his desire for their agreement, and explained nothing. He sent the letter by Hosius bishop of Corduba, one whose

* I use the language of the times, in calling the Pagan world Gentile*.

t He must not be confounded with Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian.

faith and piety had been distinguished in the late persecutions. Hosius endeavoured to make up the breach; but it was impossible. The two parties were formed, and were determined; worldly motives were too predominant in both to admit of an easy compromise ; and it was not in the power of those who loved both truth and peace, to sacrifice the former to the latter, consistently with a good conscience, however sincerely desirous they must have been of promoting both. For the object of contention was not a trifle, but a fundamental in religion.

Constantine now took the resolution of summoning the aid of the whole Christian Church; and the Nicene Council calls for our attention.

The bishops, collected from all parts of the Christian world, met at Nice in Bithynia: and their number, according to the account of Athanasius who was present, amounted to three hundred and eighteen. Of these, if we may believe Philostorgius the Arian historian, twenty-two espoused the cause of Arius; others make the minority still less. Be that as it may, since many presbyters were there besides the bishops, it is not probable that the whole number of persons assembled in the council was less than six hundred.

They met in the year 325, being transported to Nice in public conveyances at the emperor's expence, and maintained at his cost, while they resided there.

Before the immediate business of the synod was entered upon, their attention was engaged by the attempts of some Gentile philosophers, who appeared among them; some with a design to satisfy their curiosity concerning Christianity itself, others wishing to involve the Christians in a cloud of verbal subtilties, and to enjoy the mutual contradictions of the followers of Christ. One of them distinguished himself above the rest by the pomp and arrogancy of his pretensions, and derided the clergy as ignorant and illiterate. On this occasion an old Christian, who had suffered with magnanimous constancy during the late persecutions, though unacquainted with logical forms, undertook to contend with the philosopher. Those who were more earnest to gratify curiosity than to investigate truth, endeavoured to raise a laugh at the old man's expence; while serious spirits were distressed to see a contest apparently so unequal. Respect for the man, however, induced them to permit him to engage ; and he immediately addressed the philosopher in these terms: " Hear, philosopher, says he, in the name of Jesus Christ. There is one God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, who made all these things by the power of his Word, and confirmed them by the holiness of his Spirit. This Word, whom we call the Son of God, compassionating the sons of men involved in error and wickedness, chose to be born of a woman, to converse with men, and to die for them ; and he will come again as the Judge of all things which men have done in the body. That these things are so, we believe in simplicity : do not then labour in vain, investigating the manner in which these things may or may not be, and seeking to confute things which ought to be received by faith ; but if thou believest, answer me, now that I ask thee." Struck with this plain authoritative address, the philosopher said, " I do believe;" with pleasure owned himself vanquished, confessed that he embraced the same sentiments with the old man, and advised the other philosophers to do the same, swearing that he was changed by a divine influence, and moved by an energy which he could not explain *.

Men will draw their conclusions from this story, according to their different tastes and views. A

• Sozonien, B. 1. c. 18.

self-sufficient reasoner will despise the instruction it contains ; but he who thinks with St. Paul, will consider the whole story as no mean comment on his words, that your " faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God ;" nor will he much regard the prudence of those who labour to accommodate Christian ideas to the spirit of unbelievers, by which they only weaken themselves, and abate not in the least the enmity of their opposers. They will think it better to go forth in simple dependence on God, trusting that he will bless his own word with victorious energy, Such know that even in our own times, there want not instances of conversions of a similar kind; and those who are still disposed to object, should at least be told, that the story has all the proper marks of historical credibility, whatever inferences they may be pleased to draw from it.

I fear we shall not find in the transactions of the whole Nicene council so instructing a narrative. The emperor himself came to the synod, and exhorted them to peace and unanimity. A number of mutual accusations having been presented to him, he threw them all into the fire, protesting that he had not read one of them, and charged them to forbear, and forgive one another. After this very candid and generous procedure, he gave them leave to enter directly on the business of the synod. They canvassed the doctrine of Arius, extracted his propositions out of his own writings, and argued the subject vvith great vehemence ; Constantine himself acting as moderator, and endeavouring to bring them to perfect agreement. But it soon appeared, that without some explanatory terms, decisively pointing out what the Scriptures had revealed, it was impossible to guard against the subtilties of the Arians. Did the Trinitarians assert that Christ was God ? the Arians allowed it, but in the same sense as holy men and angels are styled gods in Scripture. Did they affirm that he was truly God ? the others allowed, that he was made so by God. Did they affirm that the Son was naturally of God ? it was granted; for even we, said they, are of God, of whom are all things. Was it affirmed, that the Son was the power, wisdom, and image of the Father? we admit it, replied the others, for we also are said to be the image and glory of God. Such is the account* which Athanasius gives of the disputations. He was at that time deacon of the church of Alexandria, and supported his bishop with so much accuracy and strength of argument, as to lay the foundation of that fame, which he afterwards acquired by his zeal in this controversy. What could the Trinitarians do in this situation? to leave the matter undecided, was to do nothing; to confine themselves merely to Scripture terms, was to suffer the Arians to explain the doctrine in their own way, and to reply nothing. Undoubtedly they had a right to comment according to their own judgment, as well as the Arians; and they did so in the following- manner. They collected together the passages of Scripture, which represent the Divinity of the Son of God, and observed that taken together they amounted to a proof of his being of the Same


creatures were indeed said to be of God, because, not existing of themselves, they had their beginning from him; but that the Son was peculiarly of the Father, being of his substance, as begotten of him.

It behoves every one who is desirous of knowing simply the mind of God from his own word, to determine for himself, how far their interpretation of Scripture was true. The Council however was, by the majority before stated, convinced, that this was a fair explanation, and that the Arian use of the terms, God, true God, and the like, was a mere deception, because they affixed to them ideas, which • See Cave's Life of Athanasius.

the Scriptures would by no means admit. So the most pious Christians have thought in all ages since. But to censure the council for introducing a new term, when all that was meant by it was to express their interpretation of the Scriptures, appears unreasonable to the last degree, however fashionable. To say, that they ought to have confined themselves to the very words of Scripture, when the Arians had first introduced their own gloss, seems much the same, as to say that the Trinitarians had not the same right with the Arians to express their own interpretation of Scripture, and in their own language.

The great patron of the Arians was Eusebius of Nicomedia, who wrote a letter to the council, in which he found fault with the idea of the Son of God being uncreated. The whole Arian party presented also their confession of faith. Both that and the letter of Eusebius were condemned as heretical. The venerable Hosius of Corduba was appointed to draw up a creed, which is in the main the same that is called the Nicene Creed to this day. It soon received the sanction of the Council, and of Constantine himself, who declared, that whoever refused to comply with the decree, should be banished. Eusebius of Caesarea, the historian, expressed for some time his doubts concerning the term consubstantial. He observed, in a letter which he wrote on this occasion to his church, that all the mischief had arisen from the use of unscriptural terms, and that he at last subscribed to the term for the sake of peace. It would undoubtedly be unjust to accuse this great man of Arianism. Yet why was he so much disposed to favour Arius, by writing to Alexander, as if he had been wronged ? why so disposed to join afterwards, as we shall see, against Athanasius ? The truth is, he seems to have held a middle notion, that the Son of God was from eternity, but was not Jehovah ; the very same notion, if I mistake not, which was revived by the famous Dr. Clark, explained in his Scripture doctrine of the Trinity, and I think very v solidly confuted by Dr. Waterland, in his reply*.

From the opinion of Eusebius thus ascertained, one may form an idea of Constantine's creed, if indeed he had any distinct one in his mind. Undoubtedly Eusebius was his great favourite, and moulded his imperial disciple as he pleased. But let his opinions have been what they may, he seems not to have been very zealous for any thing, except peace and uniformity. Never was a council more free from political impediments. The bishops undoubtedly spake their sentiments without reserve in general: And Constantine was disposed to give his sanction to any creed, to which the majority should agree. We have here then the testimony of nearly the whole Christian world f in favour of the doctrine of the proper Deity of the Son of God, a testimony free, unbiassed, and unrestrained. How can this be accounted for but hence, that they followed the plain sense of Scripture, and of the Church in preceding ages ? As to the connexion between church and state, and the propriety of civil penalties in matters of religion, I may find a more proper place to dwell upon those subjects hereafter.

Arius was deposed, excommunicated, and forbidden to enter Alexandria. The minority at first

• This is what is commonly called high Arianism, and secretly grows among us; the more so, because not distinctly understood, and because it is consistent with some sort of Trinitarian doctrine. It is doubtless the most specious of all heresies. But two questions its defenders seem incapable of answering: 1. Why Christ is so often called Jehovah, the selfexistent God, in Scripture? 2. How they can clear themselves of the charge of holding more Gods than one?

t Not a few of the Nicene fathers bore on their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus. Paul, bishop of Neocaesarea at the banks of Euphrates, had been debilitated by the application of hot iron to both his hands: others appeared there deprived of •heir right eyes, others deprived of their legs. A crowd of martyrs in truth were seen collected into one body.—Theodoret, B. I. c. 7.

Chap- refused to subscribe, but, being advised to yield at t "L , length by Constantia their patroness, the emperor's sister, they consented. But by the insertion of a single letter they reserved to themselves their own sense, subscribing, not that the Son is the same, but only of a like essence with the Father*. Honesty is however always respectable. Out of twenty-two Arian bishops, two were found who persisted in refusing; Secundus of Ptolemais, and Theonas of Marmarica: the former of whom bluntly rebuked the courtly Eusebius of Nicomedia for his dissimulation. Arius and his associates were banished into Illyricum.

The Meletian controversy was also settled. Meletius was permitted to live in his own city, with the title of bishop, but without authority. His sect was indulged in some degree, and continued a long time after in the church. The dispute concerning Easter was likewise finally adjusted in this council.

The canons appointed by this famous council will deserve a remark or two, as at least they may give us some idea of the state and spirit of Christian religion at that time.

One of them forbids clergymen to make themselves eunuchs ; which shows that there were then instances of the same misguided zeal, which Origen in early life had exhibited. Another forbids the ordination of new converts, and supports itself by that well-known canon of still higher authority; " Not a Novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil." A third provides for the chastity of the clergy. The council were even proceeding to restrain those of them who had wives from cohabiting with them, after their

* Not of*»ia-<o{, hut ofcoiHciot. It is remarkable, that this duplicity of theirs is recorded by Fhilostorgius the Arian historian. —See Cave's Life of Athanasius.

ordination; but were checked by Paphnutius, a bishop of Thebais, who had lost an eye during the late persecutions. He had himself been brought up in a monastery from his childhood, and was renowned for the purity of his manners. He observed that it was sufficient for a man once ordained to be prohibited to marry, but that he ought not to be separated from the wife whom he had married when a layman. The authority of a person so eminent in sanctity was decisive; and this species of superstition, which had already made considerable advances, was stopped for the present in its career. Moreover some care was taken in this council against the progress of covetousness in the clergy, by the prohibition of the practice of usury. Translations also either of bishops, priests, or deacons, from one city to another, were forbidden, Eusebius of Nicomedia had been removed from Berytus, and the abuse began to grow into a custom. In all these cases, a desire of preserving purity of manners in the Church, though not in all points regulated with discretion, is observable. The same remark may be extended to another canon, which regulates the reception of penitent apostates, by directing that they shall continue three years among the auditors, and shall prostrate themselves seven years. A distinction also is made between those, who evinced by good works the sincerity of repentance, and those who appeared indifferent, and were merely formal in compliance with the rules of the church. And greater rigour of penance is prescribed to the latter*.

These things show that the fear of God was by no means extinct. Discipline, which had been relaxed toward the close of the last century, was revived, and the predominant spirit of superstition carried it as formerly, into too great an extreme. Our age, which has lost almost all discipline in church-affairs, can scarcely appreciate aright the merit of these * Fleury, B. XI. 16.

Chap- rules, on account of the strength of its prejudices , against all restraints.

Liberty was allowed to the Novatians also to return to the communion of the general church, nor was it insisted on, that they should be re-baptized, since they held nothing contrary to the fundamentals of godliness. With respect to the followers of Paul of Samosata, called Paulianists, some of whom still subsisted, it was required, that if they were admitted again into the church, they should be re-baptized, because they did not baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So accurately did they distinguish between a heretic and a schismatic, between essentials and circumstantials. Apostolical discernment and piety, in no contemptible degree, animated the spirits of the Nicene fathers, notwithstanding the decline of

J)iety from the primitive times. Constantine, zeaous for a pacific uniformity, had invited Acesius, a Novatian bishop, to the council, and asked him whether he assented to the decrees concerning the faith, and the observation of Easter. The council, says he, has decreed nothingnew concerning these things. So I have always understood the church has received, even from the times of the Apostles. Why then, says the emperor, do you separate yourself from our communion ? Because, replied Acesius, we think that to apostatize is the " sin unto death," and that those who are guilty of it ought never to be restored to the communion of the Church, though they are to be invited to repentance, and to be left to God, who alone has the power of forgiving sins. Constantine, who saw that his views were impracticably severe, said, " Set up a ladder, Acesius, and climb up to heaven by yourself."

Socrates * tells us, that he had this from a very credible old person, who had seen these things done in the council. He means most probably the

* B. I. c. 10.

Novatian dissenter, with whom he was intimately acquainted. Candour and moderation appear very visible in Socrates as an historian, and render him as credible a writer as any guide of those times. On this very respectable evidence then it is manifest, that a Novatian bishop, whose passions could no way be heated by the internal contentions of the general Church, believed the common doctrine of the Trinity, and believed that it had always been common. The narrowness of the Novatian principle of dissent prevented not the soundness of his faith and the general integrity of his mind. Nor is there any blemish laid to the charge of this people, except excessive severity. And it ought to be acknowledged to the honour of Constantine and the Nicene fathers, that while they exercised severity in civil matters towards heretical members of their own church, they allowed and continued the religious toleration of the Novatians in its full extent. But we have surely in this case an additional proof of the antiquity of the Nicene faith. We see in what light the matter appeared to a plain honest man, who had no concern in the commotions of the times, who had nothing to obtain or to lose for himself in the contest, whose character appears unsullied, and who most probably was a pious person. He has no doubt respecting the common creed of the church, and though a separatist, he affirms that she had always held the proper Divinity of Jesus Christ. I do not find that the second set of dissenters, the Donatists, were called into this council. They continued still in atolerable state, but never seem to have had any effusion of the Divine Spirit among them. The third sort, the Meletians, seemed likely to be broken up by the death of their founder ; but as he named to himself a successor, they continued still in a state of separation, though a number of them returned to the church.


Death of




Three months after the dissolution of the synod Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nice were banished, by the emperor's command, for attempting still to support the Arian cause.

Alexander dying five months after his return home, had desired that Athanasius might be appointed his successor. Alexander in general joined in the same request, which the modesty of Athanasius resisted a considerable time. His integrity and his abilities however pointed him out as a proper successor to the zealous Alexander. And he was at last ordained, with the strongest testimonies of general satisfaction. He was not then above twenty-eight years of age, and he held the see fortysix years, and for that time with little intermission was exposed to persecution on account of his zeal against Arianism : and it must be owned, that constancy and firmness in a cause were never better tried than his were, through the whole course of this period.

After the death of Helena, Constantine showed particular kindness to Constantia his sister, who was much led by a presbyter secretly in the Arian interest. They persuaded her that Arius and his friends were unjustly condemned. She on her death-bed prevailed by her intreaties on Constantine to do justice to these men. The emperor, who seemed as much a child in religious discernment as he was a man in political sagacity, suffered himself to be imposed on by the ambiguous craft of Arius and his friend Euzoius, so as to write in their favour to the Churches*. Eusebius also, and Theognis, by owning the Nicene faith in words, were restored to their seesf. The former wrote to Athanasius, desiring him to receive Arius, now returned from banishment, to communion ; but in vain. Athanasius had principle, and could not sport with subscriptions and bonds, as his adversaries did. The Nicene creed had still all the sanction which church

and state could give it. It was not at that time possible by all the artifices of ingenious and unprincipled men to persuade the Christian world, that tlie Scripture held what it did not, or that their fathers had all along thought as Arius did. Even the chiefs of Arianism had been now restored, not as Arians, but as men well affected to the doctrine of the Trinity. And they attempted by subtilty and artifice to establish at length what was impossible to be done by fair argument. Determined to ruin Athanasius, it- possible, they united themselves closely with the Meletians, and infected them with their heresy. They procured the deposition of Eustathius of Antioch, an eloquent and learned professor, who was, on unjust pretences, banished from his see : This person, before his departure, exhorted his flock to be steadfast in the truth, and his words were of great weight with that flourishing church. He and several priests and deacons were banished. The good man bore the will of God with meekness and patience, and died in exile at Philippi. Eusebtus of Caesarea and Eustathius had opposed each other in matters of doctrine. The vacant see was now offered to the former, who prudently declined it. Asclepas of Gaza, and Eutropius of Adrianople, were driven also from their sees. And thus while the truth was supported in form, its friends by a variety of artifices were persecuted, and its enemies triumphed. A case not uncommon in our own times ! Men void of principle had every secular advantage, while those who feared God, chose rather to suffer than to sin.

Among these Athanasius himself was eminently distinguished. To relate the various turns and changes of his life, by no means suits the design of this history : yet some account is necessary, that the reader may see By Facts, what sort of fruit was produced by Trinitarian, and what by Arian principles.

The repeated attempts of the adversaries of

Ch Ap. Athanasius at length so far prevailed in prejudicing111L , the mind of the emperor, that he ordered a synod to be convened at Tyre, not to examine the principles of the bishop, which even his adversaries had been obliged to admit, but to institute an inquiry, whether various crimes, with which he was charged, ^re,0'1"' had been really committed. In the year 335, the A. D. synod met under the direction of Eusebius of Cajsarea, 3^5. and some other bishops; before whom the bishop of Alexandria, attended by certain Egyptian bishops, was obliged to appear. Here Potamo, bishop of Heraclea, who had been in prison with Eusebius during the Dioclesian persecution, enraged to see the latter on the bench, rudely addressed him thus : " Must you, Eusebius, sit on the bench, while the innocent Athanasius stands to be judged at your bar? Who can bear such proceedings ? Were not you in prison with me in the time of the persecution ? I lost an eye in defence of the truth ; you have no wound to show, but are both alive and whole. How got you out of prison, unless you promised to sacrifice, or actually did so ?" Eusebius rose up and dissolved the meeting for that time, reproving him for his insolence. History throws no light on the subject of Potamo's aspersions ; nor does he seem to have had any proof to support them. Nevertheless Eusebius, who himself so much supported the calumnies vented against Athanasius, had of all men the least right to complain. He suffered the same things which he inflicted on others; and Satan, having deeply embroiled the passions of men, continued thus to irritate and to inflame the Christian world. Th« story The heaviest crimes were charged upon AthanaKi,ma. sju^ rebellion, oppression, rape and murder. But every thing appeared to be the result of malice. One case alone shall be mentioned, by which a judgment may be formed of all the rest. He was said to have murdered Arsenius, a Meletian bishop; for proof of which the accusers produced a bex, out of which they took a dead man's hand, dried Cent. and salted, which they affirmed to be the hand of . IV- . Arsenius, and that it was preserved by Athanasius for magical purposes. The Meletians charged Arsenius to conceal himself till they had effected their purpose. The party of Eusebius of Nicomedia spread the report through the Christian world, that Arsenius had been privately murdered by the bishop of Alexandria, and Constantine himself, overcome by incessant importunities, was induced to order an inquiry to be made•.

Athanasius had learned by his own experience, Athanaiiu* that any accusation against himself, however im- atedTM" probable, was likely to find numerous and powerful supports. But Providence wonderfully confuted this attempt. Arsenius, notwithstanding the directions of the accusers to keep close, had privately conveyed himself to Tyre, intending to be secreted there during the whole time of the synod. It happened, that some servants belongingto Archelaus the governor, heard a rumour whispered, that Arsenius was in town. This they immediately told their master, who found him out, apprehended him, and gave notice to Athanasius. The Meletian tool, unwilling to blast his employers, and feeling the awkwardness of his situation, at first denied himself to be Arsenius. Happily, Paul the bishop of Tyre, who knew the man, deprived him of that refuge. The day of trial being come, the prosecutors boasted that they should give ocular demonstration to the court, of the guilt of Athanasius, and produced the dead hand. A shout of victory rung through the synod. Silence being made, Athanasius asked the judges, if any of them knew Arsenius? Several affirming that they did, Athanasius directs the man to be brought into the court, and asks, is this the man whom I murdered, and whose hand I cut off? Athanasius turns back the man's cloak, and * Socrates, B. I, c. 57,

shows one of his hands ; after a little pause, he puts back the other side of the cloak, and shows the other hand. " Gentlemen, you see," said he, "that Arsenius has both his hands ; how the accusers came by the third hand, let them explain." Thus ended the plot to the shame of the contrivers.

That any persons- who bear the name of Christ, should deliberately be guilty of such villainy, is deeply to be regretted. But let it be remembered, that the real faith of Christ was opposed to those who were concerned in this base act, and that enmity to the doctrine of the Trinity produced it. The story itself deserves also to be preserved as a memorable instance of the interposition of Divine Providence.

Notwithstanding the clearest proofs of Athanasius's innocence, and that the whole course of his life was extremely opposite to such crimes as he was charged with, his enemies prevailed so far, that commissioners were dispatched into Egypt, to examine the matters of which he was accused. Yet John, the Meletian bishop, the chief contriver of the plot, confessed his fault to Athanasius, and begged his forgiveness. And Arsenius himself renounced his former connexions, and desired to be received into communion with the Alexandrian prelate.

Egypt, where Athanasius must have been best known, was faithful to her prelate. Forty-seven bishops of that country entered a protest against the injustice of the council, but in vain. The Arian commissioners arrived at Alexandria, and endeavoured to extort evidence against him by drawn swords, whips, clubs, and all engines of cruelty*. The Alexandrian clergy desired to be admitted to give evidence, but were refused. To the number of fifteen presbyters and four deacons they remonstrated, but to no purpose. The Marasotic clergy took the same steps, but to no purpose. The delegates returned with extorted evidence to Tyre, * Epist. Synod, Alexan. Athan.

whence Athanasius, who saw no justice was to be Cent. had, had fled. They passed sentence, and deposed jj£ , him from his bishopric.

Yet there were those in the synod of Tyre, who were willing to do justice to the much-injured prelate. Paphnutius, who has been before mentioned, took Maximus, bishop of Jerusalem, by the hand; " Let us be gone," said he, " it becomes not those who have lost their limbs for religion, to go along with such pernicious company." But the majority were very differently disposed.

Athanasius came to Constantinople, and desired justice from the emperor, and a fair trial. Constantine ordered the bishops of the synod to appear before him, and to give an account of what they had done. The greatest part of them returned home ; but the genius of Eusebius of Nicomedia was not exhausted, and as he stuck at no fraud, and was ashamed of no villiany, he, with a few of the synod, went to Constantinople, and waving the old accusations, he brought a fresh one, namely, that Athanasius had threatened to stop the fleet that brought corn from Alexandria to Constantinople. Constantine was credulous enough to be moved by the report: the Arian arts prevailed at court: those who used no arms but truth and honesty, were foiled for the present; and Athanasius was banished to Treves ffa^'TMent in Gaul. i

Arius, flushed with the success of his party, returned to Alexandria, and strengthened the hands of the heretics, who had long languished for want of his abilities. The city being torn with intestine divisions, the emperor ordered the heresiarchtocome to Constantinople, and there to give an account of his conduct . That imperial city was now the chief seat of the contention. But Providence had given her a bishop not unequal to the contest. This was Alexander of Constantinople, a man of eminent piety and integrity, whose character at least seems Chap- to have approached as near to that of a primitive _ lu' . Christian as did that of any persons who distinguished themselves at this period. Eusebius of Nicomedia menaced him with deposition and exile, unless he consented to receive Arius into the church. On the one hand, the prelate knew too well the power of the Arians by what they had done already; and the Trinitarians were so far outmatched by them in sublety and artifice, that though victorious in argument in the face of the whole world, with the council of Nice, and an orthodox emperor on their side, they yet were persecuted and oppressed, and their enemies prevailed at court. But on the other hand, it behoved not a Christian bishop to consent to the admission of an artful sectarian who could agree in form to the Nicene faith, and yet gradually insinuate his poisonous doctrines into the church. What were this but in fact to allow the wolf to enter the sheep-fold, and devour the flock ? The mind of Alexander was directed aright in this conjuncture. He spent several days and nights in prayer alone in his church ; the faithful followed his example, and prayer was made by the Church without ceasing, that God would interfere on this occasion. Controversies and the arts of logic were omitted ; and they, who believed that the Nicene faith was holy, and of most interesting concern to the souls of men, sincerely committed their cause to God.

But Constantine himself was not to be prevailed on to admit Arius into the church, unless he could be convinced of his orthodoxy. He sent for him therefore to the palace, and asked him plainly, whether he agreed to the Nicene decrees. The heresiarch, without hesitation, subscribed : the emperor ordered him to swear: he assented to this also. I follow the narrative of Socrates, one of the most candid and moderate historians, who tells us that he had heard, that Arius had under his arm a written paper of his real sentiments, and that he swore that he believed as he had written. Whether he used c*^t. this equivocation or not, is far from being clear. »—^—> But Socrates, who is careful to tell us that he heard this reported, assures us that he did swear in addition to his subscriptions, and that this he knew from the emperor's epistles*. Constantine, whose scruples were now overcome, ordered Alexander to receive him into the church the next day. The good bishop had given himself to fasting and prayer, and renewed his supplications that day with great fervour in the church, prostrate before the altar, and attended by Macarius only, who was a presbyter belonging to Athanasius. He begged, that if Arius was in the right, he himself might not live to see the day of contest; but if the faith was true, which he professed, that Arius, the author of all the evils, might suffer the punishment of his impiety. The next day seemed to be a triumphant one to the Arians: the heads of the party paraded through the city with Arius in the midst, and drew the attention of all toward them. When they came nigh the forum of Constantine, a sudden terror, with a disorder of the intestines, seized Arius. In his urgent necessity, he Ocath of requested to be directed to a place of private retire- Anus' meat. Agreeably to the information he received, * fi* he hastened behind the forum ; and there he poured ^ forth his bowels with a vast effusion of blood.

Such was the exit of the famous Arius. The place of his death was memorable to posterity, and was shewn in the times of Socrates f. The united tes

* B. I. c. 8.

f Sozomen tells us, that some time after a rich Arian bought the place, changed its form, and built there a house, that the event might gradually sink into oblivion. It must not be denied, how«ver, that Arius also took pains to propagate his sentiments by methods more honourable than those of duplicity and fraud, in which he was so eminently versed. His historian Philostorgius, of whom some fragments remain, assures us, that he composed wags for sailors, millers, and travellers, tending to support this heresy.

CHAP- timony of ancient historians leaves no room to doubt „ . of the fact. The reflections to be made upon it will vary, as men believe and are disposed. That it is usual with God to hear the prayers of his Church, and to answer them remarkably on extraordinary occasions, will not be denied by those who reverence the word of God, and who remember the case of Hezekiah in the Old Testament*, and of Peter in the New t. That the danger of the Church from heresy was particularly great at this time, will be equally admitted by all who believe that the Trinitarian doctrine includes within it whatever ia most precious and interesting in the Gospel : that here on one side an appeal was made to God in his own appointed way, in faith, prayer, patience, and sincerity ; while the other side dealt in falsehood, artifice, ambition and worldly policy, is evident from the narrative. From these premises a man who feara God will feel it his duty to believe that God interposed to comfort his Church, and to confound its adversaries. I see no method of avoiding this conclusion. The translator of Mosheim seems put to a great difficulty, when he declares it extremely probable that he was poisoned by his enemies. A more absurd and unwarranted imagination never entered into the heart of man. And, surely, such things ought not to have been said, without some proof or probable circumstance. Certain it is, that the fear of God rested with the Trinitarians, though it was at too low an ebb among all parties. Among these, however, nothing like Such wickedness appears ; while the Arians evidently seem to have been given up to the greatest villainies and profligacy. Great was the joy of the aged bishop to find that Death of the (J0d had not forsaken his Church. What effect the tomia»itine, event had on Constantine, appears not. He died A. n. soonafter, about the sixty-fifth yearof his age, having 337. first received baptism from Eusebius of Nicomedia. • Isaiah xxxvii. # -J- Acts xii.

This he had long delayed, and the custom, from the imperial example, would naturally gather fresh strength. Superstition had by this time taught men to connect by a necessary union the forgiveness of sins with the administration of the rite: and men who loved to continue in sin protracted their baptism to a time when they imagined it might be of the greatest advantage to them. I have nothing more to say of Constantine's religious character, than that it appears to have been much of the same sort as that of his panegyrist Eusebius, whose pompous life of this emperor gives no very favourable idea of the writer s own views of Christianity.

California - Do Not Sell My Personal Information  California - CCPA Notice