« EelmineJätka »
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."*
By 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 know 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 not to give Constantine'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 have repeated his reproaches. The epithet of good prince befits Titus, Trajan, Antonine, Aurelius, and even Julian the Philosopher-who shed no 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 perfidious and sanguinary. This is not writing history; it is disfiguring it.
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 a 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
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 accused 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 excommunicated; 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
greatest enemy, were condemned in turn by a man who was not yet a Christian.
The two factions alike employed artifice, fraud, and calumny, according to the old and eternal usage. Constantine left them to dispute and cabal, for he had other occupations. It was at that time that this good prince assassinated his son, his wife, and his nephew the young Licinius, the hope of the empire, who was not yet twelve years old.
Under Constantine, Arius's party was constantly victorious. The opposite party have unblushingly written, that one day St. Macarius, one of the most ardent followers of Athanasius, knowing that Arius was on the way to the cathedral of Constantinople followed by several of his brethren, prayed so ardently to God to confound this heresiarch, that God could not resist the prayer; and immediately all Arius's bowels passed through his fundament-which is impos, sible. But at length Arius died.
Constantine followed him a year afterwards; and, it is said, he died of leprosy. Julian, in his Cæsars, says that baptism, which this emperor received a few hours before his death, cured no one of this distemper.
As his children reigned after him, the flattery of the Roman people, who had long been slaves, was carried to such an excess, that those of the old religion made him a god, and those of the new made him a saint. His feast was long kept, together with that of his mother..
After his death, the troubles occasioned by the single word consubstantial, agitated the empire with renewed violence. Constantius, son and successor to Constantine, imitated all his father's cruelties, and like him held councils; which councils anathematized one another. Athanasius went over all Europe and Asia, to support his party; but the Eusebians overwhelmed him. Banishment, imprisonment, tumult, murder, and assassination, signalized the close of the reign of Constantius. Julian, the Church's mortal enemy, did his utmost to restore peace to the Church, but was unsuc cessful. Jovian, and after him Valentinian, gave entire
liberty of conscience; but the two parties accepted it only as the liberty to exercise their hatred and their fury...
Theodosius declared for the Council of Nice: but the Empress Justina, who reigned in Italy, Illyria, and Africa, as guardian of the young Valentinian, proscribed the great Council of Nice; and soon after, the Goths, Vandals, and Burgundians, who spread themselves over so many provinces, finding Arianism established in them, embraced it in order to govern the conquered nations by the religion of those nations.
But the Nicean faith having been received by the Gauls, their conqueror Clovis followed that communion for the very same reason that the other barbarians had professed the faith of Arius.
In Italy, the great Theodoric kept peace between the two parties; and, at last, the Nicean formula prevailed in the East and in the West.
Arianism reappeared about the middle of the sixteenth century, favoured by the religious disputes which then divided Europe; and it reappeared armed with new strength and a still greater incredulity. Forty gentlemen of Vicenza formed an academy, in which such tenets only were established as appeared necessary to make men Christians. Jesus was acknowledged as the Word, as Saviour, and as judge; but his divinity, his consubstantiality, and even the Trinity, were denied.
Of these dogmatisers, the principal were Lælius Socinus, Ochin, Pazuta, and Gentilis, who were joined by Servetus. The unfortunate dispute of the latter with Calvin is well known; they carried on for some time an interchange of abuse by letter. Servetus was so imprudent as to pass through Geneva, on his way to Germany. Calvin was cowardly enough to have him arrested, and barbarous enough to have him condemned to be roasted by a slow fire-the same punishment which Calvin himself had narrowly escaped in France. Nearly all the theologians of that time were by turns persecuting and persecuted, executioners and victims.