« EelmineJätka »
tions which their cities enjoyed; and thus, in the second and third centuries, the Churches of the principal cities, such as Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Carthage, were much honoured. All bishops and Churches, however, were regarded as perfectly equal in the sight of God; and all regulated their own affairs, and exercised discipline with perfect freedom.
The rules for the appointment of bishops and clergy were various. In some Churches, the people united with the clergy in electing their bishop; in others, the clergy alone appointed him. Ordination followed, in which a priest received imposition of hands from one bishop, while a bishop was ordained by several. Each bishop was aided in his ministry by presbyters, or priests, and deacons, whom he generally consulted in important matters. The administration of the revenues of the Church was under his direction, and the deacons were his almoners.
Those who were departing from this life were strengthened by receiving the holy communion, which the great council of Nice, A.D. 325, commanded not to be refused to any Christian, who might desire it in his last hour.
THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH DEFENDED BY THE SIX
A.D. 320-680. MWYN the period of the Church's history on
which we now enter, temptations of a different sort assailed her faith. The times of persecution for the name of
Christ had now passed away; but the watchful enemy of man seized the moment when
prosperity began to lull the Church into security, to introduce errors which were destructive of all true faith, and which led to persecutions, divisions, and innumerable calamities. Religion had tasted the sweets of
for a few years after the persecution of Diocletian had ceased, and her borders had been enlarged by the conversion of the king and people of Armenia by St. Gregory the illuminator, when the most formidable heresy by which she has ever been afficted made its appearance. The evil doctrine of Arius, presbyter of Alexandria, disturbed the Christian world for fifty years. Several Roman emperors, deceived by the arts of one of the most crafty and unprincipled parties that ever existed, threw the whole weight of their authority into its scale; and sometimes it seemed for a moment triumphant. The doctrine of the Arians was, that our Lord Jesus Christ had been created, like all other things, by God; that he was not truly God, but a creature liable to fall into vice and sin; and that there was a time when he did not exist. To terminate the disputes excited by these blasphemies, the First ECUMENICAL SYNOD, consisting of three hundred and eighteen holy bishops, many of whom had been confessors and exiles in the time of heathen persecution, assembled at Nice in Bithynia, by order of the Emperor Constantine the Great, A.D. 325, when Arius was heard before all the bishops; and his doctrine having been fully examined and universally condemned as impious, he was driven from the communion of the Church; and the Christian faith was declared in that celebrated Nicene creed, which has ever since been received as the rule of faith by all Christian Churches. In this creed it was professed that Christ is 5 of the same substance (homoüsion) with the Father, i. e. of the same real Godhead.
This judgment was immediately approved and acted on by the whole Church dispersed throughout the world, and even the Arian party in the synod, not daring to utter any thing in opposition to the true faith, returned to their Churches acquiescing in the decree. Arius himself at last professed to believe in the Nicene faith ; and it was not till A.D. 341, that the Arians ventured to compose a new creed. In the meantime, Eusebius of Nicomedia, and other leaders of the Arians, concealing their real sentiments, proceeded, by the aid of unjust accusations, false witnesses, and violence, to depose and persecute the principal champions of orthodoxy. St. Athanasius, who, when a deacon at the synod of Nice, had distinguished himself in opposition to Arius, and who had been soon after ordained patriarch of Alexandria, became the chief object of their hostility. The Emperor Constantine, deceived by Eusebius of Nicomedia, required the re-admission of Arius to the communion of the Church at Alexandria ; and on the firm refusal of Athanasius, the Arians accused him to the emperor of causing division, and of other offences. Athanasius shewed that his accusers were unworthy of belief. The Arians then excited the Meletians (another sect which had separated itself from the Church) to charge him with imposing a tax in Egypt by his own authority ; and, on the failure of this accusation, to allege that he had broken a sacred chalice, and put to death one of his clergy. But, on inquiry, this person was found to be still alive, having secreted himself in consequence of some offence which he had committed. The Emperor Constantine then wrote to Athanasius, expressing his approbation and confidence in him.
His enemies, however, were not discouraged. They at length prevailed on the emperor to assemble a synod at Tyre (A.D. 334), where the Arian bishops
alone were present: and when Athanasius had proved that the witnesses against him were unworthy of credit, and demanded time to bring additional proofs of his innocence, the Arians became so violent, that the imperial officers who were present privately removed him, lest his life should fall a sacrifice to their fury; and he was then condemned, and deprived of his bishopric in his absence. Athanasius besought the emperor to examine the case; and he accordingly wrote to the bishops of the synod, but was at last persuaded by Eusebius of Nicomedia to banish Athanasius to Treves, in Gaul. When Arius was about to be admitted to communion at Constantinople, by command of the emperor, he died in a sudden and terrible manner; and Constantine himself dying in 337, was succeeded by his sons.
Shortly after the death of the emperor, his son Constantine, who ruled in Gaul, permitted Athanasius to return to Alexandria, and wrote to the Church of that city, commending their bishop in the highest terms. But Athanasius was ere long again expelled by the Emperor Constantius, at the request of the Arian synod of Antioch, A.D. 341; and Gregory, an Arian, was appointed bishop in his place. A large body of troops accompanied the intruding bishop to Alexandria, to secure his peaceful entrance into the city, and to expel Athanasius. That holy bishop feared lest the people should suffer on his account; but he commanded divine service to be performed in the church that evening; and when the soldiers had entered the church to make him a prisoner, he commanded a psalm to be sung; and as the soldiers waited till the psalm was ended, Athanasius in the mean while escaped through the crowd of singers, and hid himself. For a long time he lived in a dark cavern of the earth, which had formerly been a reservo for water. His habitation was known only to
those with whom he dwelt, and to a maid who was thought worthy to minister to him ; but she was tempted by the promises of the Arians, and Athanasius was about to fall into their hands, when God warned him of his danger, and he escaped. He then went to Rome, where he appealed to the bishop, Julius; and his cause having been examined in a synod at Rome, he was pronounced innocent, and acknowledged as the lawful bishop of Alexandria. This judgment was soon after renewed by the great synod of Sardica, A.D. 347, which at the same time approved the Nicene faith, and condemned the Arian party, who had withdrawn from it on perceiving the sentiments of the majority. The cause of orthodoxy now obtained a temporary triumph. The Emperor Constans, who ruled in the West, threatened to declare war against Constantius, if Athanasius was not restored to his see ; and accordingly that bishop, with several other of the persecuted orthodox bishops of the East, were restored to their flocks. Athanasius returned in triumph, with letters of the highest recommendation, from Julius of Rome, from the Emperor Constantius, from Maximus of Jerusalem, and the bishops of Palestine. Even the Arian bishops Valens and Ursacius, who had been most active in procuring his condemnation, acknowledged that all their charges had been false, deplored their wickedness, and sought his communion.
The eastern Church, however, was still troubled by the presence of Arian bishops, though many prelates, and the people generally, held the true faith. The western Church was generally orthodox; and for some time after the synod of Sardica, the western and eastern Churches were separated from communion on account of St. Athanasius. The favourable prospects of true religion became speedily overclouded again. The Arians continued their machinations,