Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ARIANISM. The great theological disputes, for twelve hundred years, were all Greek. What would Homer, Sophocles, Demosthenes, Archimedes, have said, had they witnessed the subtle cavillings which have cost so much blood ? & Arius has, even at this day, the honour of being regarded as the inventor of his opinion, as Calvin is considered to have been the founder of Calvinism. The pride in being the head of a sect, is the second of this world's vanities; for that of conquest is said to be the first. However, it is certain that neither Arius nor Calvin is entitled to the melancholy glory of invention. The quarrel about the Trinity existed long before Arius took part in it, in the disputatious town of Alexandria, where it had been beyond the power of Euclid to make men think calmly and justly. There never was a people more frivolous than the Alexandrians; in this respect they far exceeded even the Parisians.

There must already have been warm disputes about the Trinity; since the patriarch who' composed the Alexandrian Chronicle, preserved at Oxford, assures us, that the party embraced by Arius was supported by two thousand priests.

We will here, for the reader's convenience, give what is said of Arius in a small book which every one may not have at hand.

Here is an incomprehensible question, which, for more than sixteen hundred years, has furnished exercise for curiosity,--for sophistic subtlety,—for animosity,for the spirit of cabal,—for the fury of dominion,-for the rage of persecution,--for blind and sanguinary fanaticism,- for barbarous credulity,—and which has produced more horrors than the ambition of princes, which ambition has occasioned not a few. Is Jesus the Word.?: If he be the Word, did he emanate from. God in Time or before Time? If he emanated from God, is he co-eternal and consubstantial with him, or is he of a similar substance ? Is he distinct from him, or is he not? Is he made or begotten? Can he beget,

[ocr errors]

in his turn? Has he paternity? or productive virtue without paternity? Is the Holy Ghost made? or be. gotten? or produced? or proceeding from the Father? or proceeding from the Son? or proceeding from both? Can he beget? can he produce? is his hypostasis consubstantial with the hypostasis of the Father and the Son? and how is it that, having the same nature the same essence as the Father and the Son, he cannot do the same things done by these persons who are himself?

These questions, so far above reason, certainly needed the decision of an infallible church.

The Christians sophisticated, cavilled, hated, and excommunicated one another, for some of these dogmas inaccessible to human intellect, before the time of Arius and Athanasius. The Egyptian Greeks were remarkably clever; they would split a hair into four; but on this occasion they split it only into three. Alex andros, Bishop of Alexandria, thought proper to preach that God, being necessarily individual-single-a monade in the strictest sense of the word, this monade is trine.

The priest Arius, whom we call Arius, was quite scandalized by Alexandros's monade, and explained the thing in quite a different way. He cavilled in part like the priest Sabellious, who had cavilled like the Phrys gian Praxeas, who was a great caviller.

Alexandros quickly assembled a small council of those of his own opinion, and excommunicated his priest. Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, took the part of Arius. Thus the whole church was in a flame.

The Emperor Constantine was a villain ; I confess it:-a parricide, who had smothered his wife in a bath, cut his son's throat, assassinated his father-in-law, his brother-in-law, and his nephew; I cannot deny it:man puffed up with pride, and immersed in pleasure; granted :-a detestable tyrant, like his children; tran. seat :-hut he was a man of sense. He would not have obtained the empire, and subdued all his rivals, had he not reasoned justly.

When he saw the flames of civil war lighted among the scholastic brains, he sent the celebrated Bishop

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Osius with dissuasive letters to the two belligerent parties. “You are great fools,” he expressly tells them in this letter, " to quarrel about things which you do not understand. It is unworthy the gravity of your ministry to make so much noise about so trifling a matter.

Ву so trifling a matter,” Constantine meant not what regards the Divinity, but the incomprehensible manner in which they were striving to explain the nature of the Divinity. The Arabian patriarch who wrote the History of the Church of Alexandria, makes Osius, on presenting the Emperor's letter, speak in nearly the following words

“My brethren, Christianity is but just beginning to enjoy the blessings of peace, and you would

plunge it into eternal discord. The Emperor has but too much reason to tell you, that you quarrel about a very trifling matter. Certainly, had the object of the dispute been essential, Jesus Christ, whom we all acknowledge as our legislator, would have mentioned it. God would not have sent his son on earth, to return without teaching us our catechism.

Whatever he has not expressly told us, is the work of men, and error is their portion. Jesus has commanded you to love one another; and you begin by hating one another, and stirring up discord in the empire. Pride alone has given birth to these disputes; and Jesus your master has commanded you to be humble. Not one among you can

OW whether Jesus is made or begotten. And in whatdoes

• A professor in the University of Paris, who has written a History of the Lower Empire, takes care pot to give Constantipe's letter as it is, and as it is given by the learned author of the Dictionary of Heresies. " That good prince,” says he, “ animated by paternal tenderness, concludes with these words

- Give me back my days of serenity and nights of quiet."". He repeats Constantine's compliments to the bishops ; but he should also bave repeated his reproaches. The epithet of good prince befits Titus, Trajan, Antonine, Aurelius, and even Julian the Philosopher-who shed ne blood but that of the empire's enemies, while he was prodigal of his own,—but not Constantine, the most ambitious, the vainest, and most voluptuous of men, and at the same time the most perfidinus and sanguinary. This is not writing history; it is disfiguring it.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

his nature concern you, provided your own is to be just and reasonable? What has the vain science of words to do with the morality which should guide your actions? You cloud our doctrines with mysteries you, who were designed to strengthen religion by your virtues. Would you leave the Christian religion à mass of sophistry? Did Christ come for this?. Cease to dispute, humble yourselves, edify one another, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and pacify the quarrels of families, instead of giving scandal to the whole empire by your dissensions."

But Osius addressed an obstinate auditory. The council of Nice was assembled, and the Roman empire was torn by a spiritual civil war. This war brought on others, and mutual persecution has continued from age to age, unto this day.

The melancholy part of the affair was, that as soon as the council was ended, the persecution began; but Constantine, when he opened it, did not yet know how he should act, nor upon whom the persecution should fall. He was not a Christian, though he was at the head of the Christians. Baptism alone then constituted Christianity, and he had not been baptized; he had even re-built the Temple of Concord at Rome. It was, doubtless, perfectly indifferent to him whether Alexander of Alexandria, or Eusebius of Nicomedia and the priest Arius, were right or wrong; it is quite evident, from the letter given above, that he had a profound contempt for the dispute.

But there happened that which always happens and always will happen in every court. The enemies of those who were afterwards' named Arians, accused Eusebius of Nicomedia of having formerly taken part with Licinius against the Emperor. “ I have proofs of it,” said Constantine in his letter to the church of Nicomedia, “from the priests and deacons in his train whom I have taken,” &c.

Thus, from the time of the first great council, intrigue, cabal, and persecution were established, together with the tenets of the church, without the power to derogate from their sanctity. Constantine gave the

[ocr errors]

chapels of those who did not believe in the consubstantiality, to those who did believe in it, confiscated the property of the dissenters to his own profit, and used his despotic power to exile Arius and his partisans, who were not then the strongest. It has even been said, that, of his own private authority, he condemned to death whosoever should not burn the writings of Arius; but this is not true. Constantine, prodigal as he was of human blood, did not carry his cruelty to so mad and absurd an excess, as to order his executioners to assassinate the man who should keep an heretical book, while he suffered the heresiarch to live.

At court everything soon changes. Several nonconsubstantial bishops, with some of the eunuchs and the women, spoke in favour of Arius, and obtained the reversal of the lettre-de-cachet. The same thing has repeatedly happened in our modern courts, on similar occasions.

The celebrated Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea, known by his writings, which evince no great discernment, strongly accused Eustatius, bishop of Antioch, of being a Sabellian; and Eustatius aceused Eusebius of being an Arian. A council was assembled at Antioch; Eusebius gained his cause; Eustatius was displaced ; and the See of Antioch was offered to Eusebius, who would not accept it; the two parties armed against each other; and this was the prelude to controversial warfare. Constantine, who had banished Arius for not believing in the consubstantial son, now banished Eustatius for believing in him ;-nor are such revolutions uncommon.

St. Athanasius was then bishop of Alexandria: he would not admit Arius, whom the Emperor had sent thither, into the town, saying that “Arius was excom. municated; that an excommunicated man ought no longer to have either home or country; that he could neither eat nor sleep anywhere; and that it was better to obey God than man.” A new council was forthwith held at Tyre, and new lettres-de-cachet were issued. Athanasius was removed by the Tyrian fathers, and banished to Treves. Thus Arius, and Athanasius his

« EelmineJätka »