AS before remarked, those who against their will had subscribed to the creed of the Council of Nice, were determined to redeem themselves as soon as possible, and by whatever means it could be accomplished. And they did accomplish it. The story is curious, and the lessons which it teaches are valuable.
Shortly after the dismissal of the Council of Nice, but in A. D. 326, Alexander died, and Athanasius succeeded to the episcopal seat of Alexandria. He, much more than Alexander, had been the life and soul of the controversy with Arius. It was he who had continually spurred on Alexander in the extreme and uncompromising attitude which he had maintained toward Arius. And now when, at the age of thirty years, he became clothed with the power and the prerogatives of the archbishopric of Alexandria, the controversy received a new impulse from both sides -- from the side of the Catholics, by the additional pride and intensity of dogmatism of Athanasius; from the side of the Arians in a determination to humble the proud and haughty Athanasius. To this end the Arians at once began to apply themselves diligently to win over Constantine to their side, or at least to turn him against Athanasius.
In A. D. 327 died Constantine's sister, Constantia. She had held with the Arian party, having an Arian presbyter as her spiritual adviser. This presbyter had convinced her that Arius had been unjustly condemned by the council. In her dying moments "she entreated the emperor to reconsider the justice of the sentence against that innocent, as she declared, and misrepresented man." Constantine soon afterward sent a message to Arius, recalling him from banishment, and promising to send him back to Alexandria. Arius came and presented a confession of faith which proved satisfactory to the emperor. About the same time Constantine also restored to favor the other two leading Arians, Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Ptolemais. "They returned in triumph to their dioceses, and ejected the bishops who had been appointed to their place." -- Milman.1 Hosius having returned to his place in Spain, Constantine fell under strong Arian influences, and the Arian bishops began to use him for the accomplishment of their purposes.
In A. D. 328, Constantine made a journey to Jerusalem to dedicate the church that he had built there, and Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis both accompanied him. Eustathius, the bishop of Antioch, was a Catholic. In their journey, Eusebius and Theognis passed through Antioch, and set on foot a scheme to displace him; and when they returned, a council was hastily called, and upon charges of immorality and heresy, "Eustathius was deposed and banished by the imperial edict, to Thrace. . . . The city was divided into two fierce and hostile factions. They were on the verge of a civil war; and Antioch, where the Christians had first formed themselves into a Christian community, but for the vigorous interference of civil power and the timely appearance of an imperial commissioner, might have witnessed the first blood shed, at least in the East, in a Christian quarrel." -- Milman.2
Next the Arian prelates exerted their influence to have the emperor fulfill his promise of restoring Arius to his place in Alexandria. They tried first by friendly representations and petitions, and at last by threats, to induce Athanasius to admit Arius again to membership in the church, but he steadily refused. Then they secured from the emperor a command that Athanasius should receive Arius and all his friends who wished to be received, to the fellowship of the church of Alexandria, declaring that unless he did so he should be deposed and exiled. Athanasius refused; and Constantine neither deposed him nor exiled him. Then the Arians invented against him many charges. Constantine summoned him to Nicomedia to answer. He came, and was fully acquitted, and the emperor sent him back with a letter to the church of Alexandria, in which he pronounced him a "man of God."
The Arians then brought new accusations against him, this time even to the extent of murder. A synod of bishops was appointed to meet at Tyre to investigate these charges. As the synod was wholly Arian, Athanasius declined to appear; but at the positive command of the emperor he came, and succeeded in clearing himself of all the charges that could be tried in the synod. But as there were certain other charges which required to be investigated in Egypt, a committee was appointed for the purpose. Yet it was decreed by the synod that no one who belonged to the party of Athanasius should be a member of the committee. The committee reported against Athanasius, as it was expected to do; and by the synod he was deposed from the archbishopric of Alexandria.
Athanasius appealed to the emperor, and went to Constantinople to present his plea. As Constantine rode along the street, he was met by a band of ecclesiastics, in the midst of which he recognized Athanasius. "The offended emperor, with a look of silent contempt, urged his horse onward," when Athanasius loudly exclaimed, "God shall judge between thee and me; since the thou espousest the cause of my calumniators, I demand only that my enemies be summoned any my cause heard in the imperial presence." -- Milman.3 Constantine consented, and the Arian accusers were summoned to appear. At the head of the accusers were both Eusebius of Nicomedia and Eusebius of Caesarea, who were now in high favor with Constantine. When the investigation was opened, however, all the old charges were abandoned, and one entirely new was brought which was much more likely to have weight with the emperor than all the others put together. Constantinople, as well as Rome, was dependent upon Egypt for the wheat which supplied bread to its inhabitants. Athanasius was now accused of threatening to force Constantine to support him, by stopping the supplies of grain from the port of Alexandria. Whether Constantine really believed this charge or not, it accomplished its purpose. Athanasius was again condemned, and banished to Treves in Gaul, February, A. D. 336.
The return of Arius to Alexandria was the cause of continued tumult, and he was called to Constantinople. At the request of the emperor, Arius presented a new confession of faith, which proved satisfactory, and Constantine commanded the bishop of Constantinople to receive Arius to the fellowship of the church on a day of public worship -- "it happened to be a Sabbath (Saturday) -- on which day, as well as Sunday, public worship was held at Constantinople." -- Neander.4 The bishop absolutely refused to admit him. The Arians, under the authority of the emperor, threatened that the next day, Sunday, they would force their way into the church, and compel the admission of Arius to full membership in good and regular standing. Upon this the Athanasian party took refuge in "prayer;" the bishop prayed earnestly that, rather than the church should be so disgraced, Arius might die; and, naturally enough, Arius died on the evening of the same day. "In Constantinople, where men were familiar with Asiatic crimes, there was more than a suspicion of poison. But when Alexander's party proclaimed that his prayer had been answered, they forgot what then that prayer must have been, and that the difference is little between praying for the death of a man and compassing it." -- Draper.5 The bishop of Constantinople conducted a solemn service of thanksgiving. "Athanasius, in a public epistle, alludes to the fate of Judas, which had befallen the traitor to the co-equal dignity of the Son. His hollow charity ill disguises his secret triumph," and to Athanasius, ever afterward, the death of Arius was a standing argument and a sufficient evidence that in the death of the heretic, God had condemned the heresy. -- Milman.6
Petition after petition was presented to Constantine for the return of Athanasius to his place in Alexandria, but the emperor steadily denounced him as proud, turbulent, obstinate, and intractable, and refused all petitions. In 337, in the presence of death, Constantine was baptized by an Arian bishop; and thus closed the life of him upon whom a grateful church has bestowed the title of "the Great," though, "tested by character, indeed, he stands among the lowest of all those to whom the epithet has in ancient or modern times been applied." -- "Encyclopedia Britannica."7
Constantine was succeeded by his three sons; Constantine, aged twenty-one years; Constantius, aged twenty; and Constans, aged seventeen. They apportioned the empire amongst themselves. Constantine II had Constantinople and some portions of the West, with pre-eminence of rank; Constantius obtained Thrace, Egypt, and all the East; and Constans held the greater part of the West. Constantius was a zealous Arian, Constantine and Constans were no less zealous Catholics. The religious parties now had another element added to their strifes -- they could use the religious differences of the emperors in their own interests. Athanasius being an exile at Treves, was in the dominions of Constans, his "fiery defender;" while the place of his bishopric was in the dominions of Constantius, his fiery antagonist. The Athanasian party, through Constantine II, succeeded in persuading Constantius to allow the return of Athanasius and all the other bishops who had been banished.
The return of these bishops again set all the East ablaze. The leaders of the Arian party addressed letters to the emperors, denouncing Athanasius. They held another council at Tyre, A. D. 340, in which they brought against him new charges, and condemned him upon them all. Immediately afterward a rival council was held at Alexandria, which acquitted Athanasius of all things in which the other council had condemned him. In this same year Constantine II was killed in a war with his brother Constans. This left the empire and the religion to the two brothers -- Constantius in Constantinople and the East, Constans in the West. In the dominions of Constans all Arians were heretics; in the dominions of Constantius all Catholics were heretics. The religious war continued, and increased in violence. In A. D. 341, another council, consisting of ninety bishops, was held at Antioch, in the presence of the emperor Constantius. This council adopted a new creed, from which the Homoousion was omitted; they ratified the decrees of the Council of Tyre of the preceding year, in which Athanasius was condemned; and they appointed in his place a bishop of their own party, named Gregory.
At the command of Constantius, the imperial prefect issued an edict announcing the degradation of Athanasius, and the appointment of Gregory. With an escort of five thousand heavy-armed soldiers, Gregory proceeded to Alexandria to take possession of his bishopric. It was evening when he arrived at the church at which Athanasius officiated, and the people were engaged in the evening service. The troops were posted in order of battle about the church; but Athanasius slipped out, and escaped to Rome, and Gregory was duly and officially installed in his place. The Athanasians, enraged at such proceedings, set the church afire; "scenes of savage conflict ensued, the churches were taken as it were by storm," and "every atrocity perpetrated by unbridled multitudes, embittered by every shade of religious faction." -- Milman.8
Similar scenes were soon after enacted in Constantinople, A. D. 342. In 338 died Alexander, the bishop of Constantinople, who had prayed Arius to death. The Arians favored Macedonius, the Athanasians favored Paul, for the vacant bishopric. Paul succeeded. This was while Constantius was absent from the city, and as soon as he returned, he removed Paul, and made Eusebius of Nicomedia, bishop of Constantinople. Eusebius died in 342. The candidacy of Paul and Macedonius, was at once revived. The partisans of Paul claimed that he, having been unjustly deposed, was lawful bishop by virtue of his previous ordination. The supporters of Macedonius claimed, of course, that Paul had been justly deposed, and that therefore a new election was in order. "The dispute spread from the church into the streets, from the clergy to the populace; blood was shed; the whole city was in arms on one part or the other." -- Milman.9
Constantius was in Antioch. As soon as he heard of the tumult in Constantinople, he ordered Hermogenes, commander of the cavalry in Thrace, to go with his troops to Constantinople and expel Paul. In the attempt to do so, Hermogenes was met by such a desperate attack, that his soldiers were scattered, and he was forced to take refuge in a house. The house was immediately set on fire. Hermogenes was seized and dragged by the feet through the streets of the city till he was torn to pieces, and then his mangled body was cast into the sea. As soon as this news reached Constantius, he went to Constantinople and expelled Paul, without confirming the election of Macedonius, and returned to Antioch.
Paul went to Rome and laid his case before Julius. The bishop of Rome, glad of the opportunity to exert the authority thus recognized in him, declared Paul re-instated, and sent him back with a letter to the bishops of the Eastern churches, rebuking those who had deposed him, and commanding his restoration. With this Paul returned to Constantinople, and resumed his place. As soon as Constantius learned of it, he commanded Philip, the praetorian prefect, to drive out Paul again, and establish Macedonius in his place. The prefect, bearing in mind the fate of Hermogenes, did not attempt to execute his order openly, but on pretense of public business, sent a respectful message to Paul, requesting his assistance. Paul went alone, and as soon as he arrived, the prefect showed him the emperor's order, carried him out through the palace a back way, put him on board a vessel that was waiting, and sent him away to Thessalonica.
Paul was out of the way, but Macedonius was not yet in his place. This part of the program must now be carried out. The prefect in his chariot, surrounded by a strong body of guards with drawn swords, with Macedonius at his side in full pontifical dress, started from the palace to the church to perform the ceremony of consecration. By this time the rumor had spread throughout the city, and in a wild tumult both parties rushed to the church. "The soldiers were obliged to hew their way through the dense and resisting crowd to the altar," and over the dead bodies of three thousand one hundred and fifty people, "Macedonius passed to the episcopal throne of Constantinople." -- Milman.10
About the time that Athanasius reached Rome, when he fled from the invasion of Gregory, three messengers from the council that had condemned him, also arrived there. The bishop of Rome summoned the accusers of Athanasius to appear before a council which he would hold in Rome; but they disclaimed his jurisdiction, and denied his right to rejudge the cause of a bishop who had already been condemned by a council. Julius proceeded, however, with the council, which was composed of fifty bishops. They unanimously pronounced Athanasius innocent of all the charges laid against him, and declared his deposition unlawful; but this instead of settling the difficulty, rather increased it. Another council was held shortly afterwards at Milan, in the presence of the emperor Constans, which confirmed the decision of the council at Rome, A. D. 343.
As the original council at Antioch had been held in the presence of Constantius, and as this one was now held in the presence of Constans, both divisions of the empire were now involved. The next step, therefore, was to call for a general council; accordingly, at the joint command of the two emperors, a general council was ordered, which met at Sardica, A. D. 345-6. The number of bishops was one hundred and seventy; ninety-six from the West, and seventy-four from the East. Among the bishops came Athanasius and some others who had been condemned in the East. The Eastern bishops, therefore, demanded that they should be excluded from the council: the Western bishops refused, upon which the Eastern bishops all withdrew, and met in rival council at Philippopolis. "In these two cities sat the rival councils, each asserting itself the genuine representative of Christendom, issuing decrees, and anathematizing their adversaries." -- Milman.11
The bishops who remained at Sardica complained that the Arians had inflicted upon them deeds of violence by armed soldiers, and by the populace with cudgels; had threatened to prosecute them before the magistrates; had forged letters against them; had stripped virgins naked; had burnt churches; and had imprisoned the servants of God.
Those assembled at Philippopolis retorted against Athanasius and his followers, that with violence, slaughter, and war, they had wasted the churches of the Alexandrians and had stirred up the pagans to commit upon them assaults and slaughter. They declared that the assembly at Sardica, from which they had seceded, was composed of a multitude of all kinds of wicked and corrupt men from Constantinople and Alexandria, who were guilty of murder, bloodshed, slaughter, highway robbery, pillaging and despoiling; of breaking altars, burning churches, plundering the houses of private citizens, profaning the sacred mysteries, of betraying their solemn obligations to Christ, and of cruelly putting to death most learned elders, deacons, and priests of God.12 There is little doubt that the statements of both parties were correct:
The bishops who remained at Sardica, had everything their own way. As they were all zealous supporters of Athanasius, they unanimously revoked the decision of the Council of Antioch, and confirmed the acts of the Council of Rome. Athanasius and three other bishops who had been deposed at the same time with him, were pronounced innocent; and those who had been put in their places, were declared deposed and accursed, and entirely cut off from the communion of the Catholic Church.
They also enacted a series of canons, of which three, "full of pure love," bestowed special dignity upon the bishop of Rome, as the source of appeal. One of these ordered that "if any bishop shall think himself unjustly condemned, his judges, in honor of the memory of the holy apostle Peter -- Sancti, Petri apostoli memoriam honoremus, -- shall acquaint the bishop of Rome therewith, who may either confirm the first judgment, or order the cause to be re-examined by such of the neighboring bishops as he shall think fit to name." Another ordered "that the see of the deposed bishop shall remain vacant till his cause shall be judged by the bishop of Rome." A third ordered "that if a bishop condemned in his own province, shall choose to be judged by the bishop of Rome, and desires him to appoint some of his presbyters to judge him in his name, together with the bishops, the bishop of Rome may grant him his request." -- Bower.13 The effect of this was only to multiply and intensify differences and disputes amongst bishops, and infinitely to magnify the power of the bishop of Rome.
Athanasius, though fully supported by the council, preferred to remain under the protection of Constans, rather than to risk the displeasure of Constantius by returning to Alexandria. He remained two years in the West, during which time he was often the guest of the emperor Constans, and made such use of these opportunities that in A. D. 349 Constans " signified, by a concise and peremptory epistle to his brother Constantius, that unless he consented to the immediate restoration of Athanasius, he himself, with a fleet and army, would seat the archbishop on the throne of Alexandria." -- Gibbon.14 Constantius was just at this time threatened with war with Persia, and fearing the result if war should be made upon him at the same time by his brother, he yielded, and became as effusive in his professed friendship for Athanasius as he had formerly been in his genuine hatred.
Constantius invited Athanasius to Antioch, where the two secret enemies met with open professions of friendship, and even with manifestations of "mutual respect and cordiality." Constantius ordered all the accusations against Athanasius to be erased from the registers of the city, and with a letter of commendation, couched in terms of courtly flattery, he sent the archbishopon his way to Alexandria. "The Arian bishop, Gregory, was dead; and Athanasius, amid the universal joy, re-entered the city. The bishops crowded from all parts to salute and congratulate the prelate who had thus triumphed over the malice of even imperial enemies. Incense curled up in all the streets; the city was brilliantly illuminated." -- Milman.15
In February, A. D. 350, Constans was murdered by the usurper Magnentius, and in 353 Constantius became sole emperor by the final defeat and death of the usurper. Constantius no sooner felt himself assured of the sole imperial authority, than he determined to execute vengeance upon Athanasius, and make the Arian doctrine the religion of the whole empire. Yet he proposed to accomplish this only in orthodox fashion, through a general council. As it was thus that his father had established the Athanasian doctrine, which was held by all the Catholics to be strictly orthodox, to establish the Arian doctrine by a like process, assuredly could be no less orthodox.
The way was already open for the calling of a general council, by the disputes which had arisen over the standing of the Council of Sardica. That council, when it was called, was intended to be general; but when the Eastern bishops seceded, they, with all the other Arians in the empire, denied that those who remained could by any fair construction be termed a general council. More than this, when the Eastern bishops seceded, there were but ninety-four remaining at Sardica; whereas the Council of Antioch, whose acts the bishops at Sardica had condemned, was composed of ninety bishops, who acted with the direct approval of Constantius himself. Upon this it was argued that the Council of Sardica was no more entitled to the dignity of a general council, than was that of Antioch. Further, Liberius, who became bishop of Rome, May 22, A. D. 352, had already petitioned Constantius for a general council.
Constantius summoned the council to meet at Arles, A. D. 353. Liberius was not present in person, but he sent as his representatives two bishops in whom he reposed entire confidence. We know not how many bishops were in this council, but when they assembled, it was found that the Arian bishops were in the majority; and they insisted first of all upon the condemnation of Athanasius. The Catholic bishops argued that the question of faith ought to be discussed, before they should be required to condemn him; but the Arians insisted upon their point.
Constantius came to the support of the Arians with an edict sentencing to banishment all who would not sign the condemnation of Athanasius. The representatives of Liberius proposed a compromise, to the effect that they would sign the condemnation of Athanasius, if the Arians would likewise condemn as heresy the doctrine of Arius. The Arians had them reduce this proposition to writing, that they might have it as a testimony afterward; and then, knowing the advantage which they held by this concession, and under the edict of Constantius, they insisted more strenuously than ever upon the unconditional condemnation of Athanasius. Finding that there was no escape, the representatives of Liberius and all the other Athanasian bishops but one, signed the document. The one bishop who refused was Paulinus of Treves. He was accordingly banished, and died in exile five years afterward.
Liberius refused to confirm the action of his representatives, and utterly rejected the action of the council. In fact, he was so scandalized by the disgraceful surrender of his legates, that in a letter to Hosius, he expressed himself as willing to wash out "with his blood the stain which the scandalous conduct of his legates had brought upon his character." -- Bower.16 To relieve him from his distress, Lucifer, bishop of Cagliari in Sardinia, advised him to ask the emperor for another council, offering to go himself to Arles and present the request to Constantius. Liberius accepted the proposition, and Lucifer, accompanied by a presbyter and a deacon of the church of Rome, went to Constantius, and presented the letter of Liberius. Constantius granted his request, and appointed a council to meet at Milan, in the beginning of the year 355.
The council met, accordingly, to the number of more than three hundred bishops of the West, but only a few from the East. This council was but a repetition on a larger scale, of that at Arles. Constantius insisted, without any qualification, that the bishops should sign the condemnation of Athanasius. He took a personal interest in all the proceedings. Like his father at the Council of Nice, he had the meetings of the council held in the imperial palace, and presided over them himself.
Constantius not only demanded that the Catholic bishops should sign the condemnation of Athanasius, but that they should also sign an Arian formula of faith. They pleaded that the accusers of Athanasius were unreliable. Constantius replied, "I myself am now the accuser of Athanasius, and on my word, Valens and the others [the accusers] must be believed." They argued that this was against the canon of the church. Constantius replied, "My will is the canon," and appealed to the Eastern bishops, who all assented that this was correct. He then declared that whoever did not sign might expect banishment. At this the orthodox bishops lifted up their hands beseechingly towards heaven, and prayed the emperor "to fear God, who had given him the dominion, that it might not be taken from him; also to fear the day of judgment, and not to confound the secular power with the law of the church, nor to introduce into the church the Arian heresy." -- Hefele.17
They forgot that they themselves, many of them at least, had unanimously approved in Constantine at the Council of Nice the identical course which now they condemned in Constantius at the Council of Milan. In their approval of the action of Constantine in forcing upon others what they themselves believed, they robbed themselves of the right to protest when Constantius or anybody else should choose to force upon them what somebody else believed. They ought not to have thought it strange that they should reap what they had sown.
Constantius, yet further to imitate his father, claimed to have had a vision, and that thus by direct inspiration from heaven, he was commissioned "to restore peace to the afflicted church." At last, by the "inspiration" of "flatteries, persuasions,bribes, menaces, penalties, exiles" (Milman18), the Council of Milan of was brought to a greater unanimity of faith than even the Council of Nice had been. For there, out of the three hundred and eighteen bishops, five were banished; while here, out of a greater number, only five were banished. Surely if a general council is of any authority, the Council of Milan must take precedence of the Council of Nice, and Arianism be more orthodox than Athanasianism.
The banished ones were Dionysius of Milan, Eusebius of Vercelli, Lucifer, and two other representatives of Liberius, Pancratius and Hilary. Hilary was cruelly beaten with rods before he was sent away.
The documents which had been signed, "all the other Western bishops, like their colleagues at Milan, were to be forced to sign, and the whole West compelled to hold communion with the Arians." -- Hefele.19 Liberius rejected the decisions of the council, and still defended Athanasius. Constantius sent one of his chief ministers with presents to bribe, and a letter to threaten, him. Liberius rejected the bribes and disregarded the threats, and in return cursed all Arian heretics and excommunicated Constantius. The officer returned to Milan, and reported his failure; upon this the emperor sent peremptory orders to the prefect of Rome to arrest Liberius, and bring him to Milan. The prefect, dreading the violence of the populace, took the precaution to arrest Liberius by night.
Arrived at Milan, the captive bishop was brought before Constantius, and there also he maintained his refusal to indorse the action of the council. Constantius told him that he must either sign or go into exile, and he would give him three days to decide. Liberius answered that he had already decided, and that he should not change his mind in three days nor in three months; therefore, the emperor might as well send him that minute to whatever place he wanted him to go. Nevertheless, Constantius gave him the three days, but before they were past, sent for him again, hoping to persuade him to yield. Liberius stood fast, and the emperor pronounced sentence of banishment, and sent him to Berea in Thrace. Before Liberius was gone out of the palace, the emperor sent him a present of five hundred pieces of gold, as he said, to pay his expenses. Liberius sent it back, saying he had better keep it to pay his soldiers. The empress also sent him a like sum; this he returned with the same answer, with the additional message to the emperor that, if he did not know what to do with so much money, he might give it to Epictetus or Auxentius, his two favorite Arian bishops.
As soon as it was known in Rome that Liberius was banished, the people assembled, and bound themselves by an oath not to acknowledge any other bishop as long as Liberius lived. The Arian party, however, were determined to have a bishop in Rome. They selected a deacon of that church, Felix by name, who was willing to be bishop of Rome. The clergy would not receive him, and the people collected in mutinous crowds, and refused to allow the Arians to enter any of the churches. The imperial palace in Rome was chosen as the place of ordination. Three of the emperor's eunuchs were appointed to represent the people, and they duly elected Felix. Three bishops of the court were appointed to represent the clergy, and they ordained the new bishop. "The intrusion of Felix created a great sedition, in which many lost their lives." --Bower.20
Another bishop, whose indorsement of the creed of Milan was scarcely less important than that of Liberius himself, was Housius of Cordova, who had been one of the chief factors in forming the union of Church and State. He was one of the bishops who visited Constantine in Gaul in A. D. 311, and was one of Constantine's chief advisers afterward in all his course, until after the Council of Nice. It was upon his advice and motion, more than any other, that the Council of Nice was called; it was his influence more than any other, that caused Constantine to command that "Homoousion" should be inserted in the Nicene Creed. His name was the first that was set to the creed of Nice; his name likewise was the first that was set to the decrees of the Council of Sardica, over which he presided, and it was he who secured the adoption in that council, of the canons which made the bishop of Rome the source of appeal. He was now about one hundred years old.
Constantius determined to have the signature of Hosius to the decisions of the Council of Milan. The emperor summoned him to Milan, and when he came, entertained him for several days before suggesting his purpose. As soon as he did suggest it, however, Hosius declared that he was ready to suffer now under Constantius, as he had suffered sixty years before under his grandfather Maximian; and in the end made such an impression upon Constantius, that he allowed him to return unmolested to Cordova. But it was not long before the favorites of Constantius prevailed upon him to make another attempt to bring Hosius to terms. He first sent him flattering and persuasive letters, and when these failed, he proceeded to threats; but all were unavailing, and Hosius was banished to Sirmium. His relations were stripped of all their estates and reduced to beggary, but all without avail. Next he was closely imprisoned -- still he refused. Then he was cruelly beaten, and finally put to the rack and most inhumanly tortured. Under these fearful torments, the aged bishop yielded at last, A. D. 356.
"The case of Hosius deserves, without all doubt, to be greatly pitied; but it would be still more worthy of our pity and compassion, had he been himself an enemy to all persecution. But it must be observed that he was the author and promoter of the first Christian persecution; for it was he who first stirred up Constantine against the Donatists, many of whom were sent into exile, and some even sentenced to death: nay, and led to the place of execution." -- Bower.21 The surrender of Hosius was counted as the most signal of victories; it was published throughout the whole East, and caused the greatest rejoicing among the Arians everywhere.
The next step was for Constantius to remove Athanasius from the archbishopric of Alexandria. It was now twenty six months from the close of the Council of Milan, during which time Constantius had been paving the way for his final expulsion. As soon as the council had closed, an order was sent to the prefect of Alexandria, to deprive Athanasius of the imperial revenue, and give it to the Arians. At the same time, all who held public office were commanded wholly to abandon the cause of Athanasius, and to communicate with the Arians only. Messengers were sent into the provinces, bearing the emperor's authority to compel the bishops to communicate with the Arians, or to go into exile. Now he sent two of his secretaries and some other officials of the palace, to Alexandria, to banish Athanasius. These officers, with the governor of Egypt and the prefect, commanded Athanasius to leave the city. He demanded that they produce the written authority of the emperor; but Constantius had sent no written order. Athanasius, supported by the people, refused to obey any verbal order.
A truce was agreed upon, until an embassy could be sent to Constantius to bring a written command; but on the part of the officers, this truce was granted merely for the purpose of disarming the vigilance of the supporters of Athanasius. The officers immediately began with the greatest possible secrecy to gather the necessary troops into the city. Twenty-three days were thus spent, and a force of five thousand troops held possession of the most important parts of the city. The night before a solemn festival day of the church, Athanasius was conducting the services in the church of St. Theonas. Suddenly, at midnight, there was all about the church the sound of trumpets, the rushing of horses, and the clash of arms; the doors were burst open, and with the discharge of a cloud of arrows, the soldiers, with drawn swords, poured in to arrest Athanasius. "The cries of the wounded, the groans of those who were trampled down in attempting to force their way out through the soldiery, the shouts of the assailants, mingled in wild and melancholy uproar." -- Milman.22 In the tumult, Athanasius again escaped. "Counts, prefects, tribunes, whole armies, were successively employed to pursue a bishop and a fugitive; the vigilance of the civil and military powers was excited by the imperial edicts; liberal rewards were promised to the man who should produce Athanasius either alive or dead, and the most severe penalties were denounced against those who should dare to protect the public enemy." -- Gibbon.23 Yet Athanasius succeeded in so perfectly concealing himself for more than six years, that Constantius died without ever finding him.
Athanasius was gone. The next thing was to install an Arian bishop in his place. Their choice fell this time on George of Cappadocia, who was more savage and cruel than Gregory, the Arian bishop who had been appointed to this place before. George's original occupation was that of "a parasite," by which means he secured the contract for supplying the army with bacon. "His employment was mean; he rendered it infamous. He accumulated wealth by the basest arts of fraud and corruption," which finally became so notorious that he had to flee from justice. The Arian bishop of Antioch made him a priest and a church-member at the same time. Surrounded by armed troops, he was placed on the episcopal throne, "and during at least four months, Alexandria was exposed to the insults of a licentious army, stimulated by the ecclesiastics of a hostile faction." Every kind f violence was committed. "And the same scenes of violence and scandal which had been exhibited in the capital, were repeated in more than ninety episcopal cities of Egypt. The entrance of the new archbishop was that of a barbarian conqueror; and each moment of his reign was polluted by cruelty and avarice." -- Gibbon.24
In A. D. 357 Constantius visited Rome and celebrated a triumph. The leading women of the church determined to take advantage of the opportunity thus offered to present a petition for the recall of Liberius. They first tried to press their husbands into the service of approaching the emperor, by threatening to leave and go in a body to Liberius, and share his exile. The husbands replied that the emperor would be much less likely to be offended by the visit of a delegation of women than of men, and that thus there would be more hope of really securing the recall of the banished bishop.
The women agreed that the suggestion was a wise one, and "having adorned themselves in the most splendid attire, that their rank might be evident from their appearance" (Theodoret)25, they proceeded to the imperial palace. Constantius received them courteously. They earnestly pleaded with him to take pity on that great city and its numerous flock "bereft of its shepherd, and ravaged by wolves." The emperor replied, "I thought you had a pastor. Is not Felix as capable of exercising the pastoral office as any other?" The women answered that Felix was detested and avoided by all, and that none would attend service so long as Liberius was absent. Constantius smiled and said, "If so, you must have Liberius again: I shall without delay dispatch the proper orders for his return."
The next day the edict of recall was read in the circus, but it provided that the two bishops should rule jointly. It happened to be the most interesting and decisive moment of a horse-race, but the excited feelings of the multitude were turned in an instant to the more absorbing question of the orthodox faith. Some cried in ridicule that the edict was just, because there were two factions in the circus, and now each one could have its own bishop. Others shouted, "What, because we have two factions in the circus, are we to have two factions in the church?" Then the whole multitude set up one universal yell, "There is but one God, one Christ, one bishop!" Upon which Theodoret devoutly remarks, "Some time after this Christian people had uttered these pious and just acclamations, the holy Liberius returned, and Felix retired to another city."26
It is true that Liberius returned soon after this, but Constantius had made it the condition of his return that he should sign the decisions of the Council of Milan. Two years' sojourn in cold and barbarous Thrace, while a rival bishop was enjoying the splendors of the episcopal office in Rome, exerted a strong tendency to convince Liberius that Athanasius was rightly condemned, and that the Arian doctrine might be true. He therefore signed both the condemnation of Athanasius and the Arian creed of Milan. Upon this Constantius called him to Sirmium. But as in the meantime the emperor had changed his views and adopted the Semi-Arian doctrine, he would not allow Liberius to return to Rome unless he would first subscribe to the same. Liberius signed this also, and was allowed to go on his way to Rome. The people poured out through the gates to meet him, and escorted him in triumph to the episcopal palace, August 2, 358. "The adherents of Felix were inhumanly murdered in the streets, in the public places, in the baths, and even in the churches; and the face of Rome, upon the return of a Christian bishop, renewed the horrid image of the massacres of Marius and the proscriptions of Sylla." -- Gibbon.27 Felix escaped, but returned not long afterward, and attempted to hold services in a church beyond the Tiber, but was again driven out.
As stated above, Constantius had again changed his opinions as to the nature of Christ, adopting the Semi-Arian view. The Semi-Ariah party was a third one that had grown up between the strictly Arian and the Athanasian, based upon a third mental abstraction as elusive as either of the others. The three doctrines now stood thus: --
The Athanasians declared the Son of God to be of the same substance, the same existence, and the same essence, with the Father.
The strict Arians declared the Son to be like the Father, but rather by grace than by nature, -- as like as a creature could be to the Creator.
The Semi-Arians declared the Son to be like the Father in nature, in existence, in essence, in substance, and in everything else.
The Athanasian doctrine was expressed in Homoousinon; the strict Arian in Anomean,; and the Semi- Arian in Homoiousion. It will be seen that the Semi-Arian was nearer to the original doctrine of Arius than was the Arian, of the present period. This was owing to the followers of Eusebius of Nicomedia, who in the bitterness of their opposition to the Athanasians, were carried away from the original Arian doctrine -- from the Homoiousion to the Anomean.
The Homoousion was the doctrine of the Council of Nice; the Anomean was the doctrine of the Council of Milan; the Homoiousion was the doctrine now held by Constantius, and a company that actually outnumbered the Arians.
In furtherance of his "visionary" commission to give peace to the church, Constantius determined to call a general council, and have the Semi-Arian doctrine adopted. The council was first appointed to meet at Nicomedia, A. D. 358, but while the bishops were on the way there, an earthquake destroyed that city. The appointment was then changed to Nice in early summer, 359. But before that time arrived, he decided to have two councils instead of one, that all might more easily attend. The bishops of the East were to meet at Seleucia in Isauria; those of the West at Rimini on the Adriatic Sea in Italy.
The emperor issued an order commanding all bishops without exception to attend one or the other, as they might choose, and the civil officers in the provinces were commissioned to see that the command was obeyed. "The bishops therefore set out from all parts; the public carriages, roads, and houses were everywhere crowded with them, which gave great offense to the catechumens, and no small diversion to the pagans, who thought it equally strange and ridiculous that men who had been brought up from their infancy in the Christian religion, and whose business it was to instruct others in that belief, should be constantly hurrying, in their old age, from one place to another, to know what they themselves should believe." -- Bower.28 To make sure that the two councils should act as one, it was ordered that each should appoint two deputies to report to the emperor the decisions arrived at, "that he might himself know whether they had come to an understanding in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, and might decide according to his own judgment what was best to be done."29
In the summer of A. D. 359, more than four hundred bishops assembled at Rimini, of whom eighty were Arians. One hundred and sixty assembled at Seleucia, of whom one hundred and five were Semi- Arians; about forty were Arians, while the Catholics were still fewer in number. A civil officer of high rank was appointed to represent the emperor at each council, and the one appointed to Rimini was directed not to allow any bishop to go home until all "had come to one mind concerning the faith." That theremight be as little difficulty as possible in coming to one mind, a creed was drawn up and sent to the council to be signed. There were at that time present with the emperor at Sirmium five bishops, one of whom was George of Alexandria, and all of whom were Arians or Semi-Arians. They drew up a creed, the main points of which were as follows: --
"We believe in one only and true God, the Father and Ruler of all, Creator and Demiurge of all things, and in one only begotten Son of God, who was begotten of the Father without change before all ages, and all beginning, and all conceivable time, and all comprehensible substance. . . . God from God, similar to the Father, who has begotten him according to the Holy Scriptures, whose generation no one knows [understands] but the Father who has begotten. . . . The words ousia, because it was used by the Fathers in simplicity [that is, with good intention], but not being understood by the people, occasion scandal, and is not contained in the Scriptures, shall be put aside, and in future no mention shall be made of the Usia with regard to God . . . But we maintain that the Son is similar to the Father in all things, as also the Holy Scriptures teach and say."30
The emperor sent a letter to each council, commanding that the bishops should settle the question of the faith before they should have anything to do with an investigation of any of their own private differences. The council at Rimini was already met, and was earnestly discussing the faith, when the bishops arrived from Srimium with the above creed, which they read aloud to the assembly, and "declared that it was already confirmed by the emperor, and was now to be universally accepted without discussion, as to the sense which individuals might attach to its words." To this all the Arians in the council readily agreed, but the Catholics, with loud voices, proclaimed their dissent. They declared that any new formula of faith was wholly unnecessary; that the Council of Nice had done all that was necessary in regard to the faith; and that the business of the council was not to find out what was the true faith, but to put to confusion all its opponents. They demanded that the bishops who brought this creed should with them unanimously curse all heresies, and especially the Arian. This demand was refused by the Arians. Then the Catholics took everything into their own hands. They unanimously approved the Nicene Creed, especially the Homoousion; and then declared heretical the creed which had come from the emperor. They next took up the doctrine of Arianism, and pronounced a curse upon each particular point; denounced by name the bishops who had come from the emperor as "ignorant and deceitful men, imposters, and heretics; and declared them deposed." Finally, they unanimously pronounced a curse upon all heresies in general, and that of Arius in particular.
All this they put in writing; every one of them signed it July 21, A. D. 359, and sent it by the ten deputies, to the emperor, accompanied by a request that he would allow them to return to their churches. At the same time the Arians of the council also sent ten deputies to Constantius, who reached the emperor before the others, and made their report. When the others arrived, Constantius refused even to see them so much as to receive their report, but sent an officer to receive it, and under the pretext of being overwhelmed with public business, kept them waiting. After they had waited a long time, they were directed to go to Adrianople and await the emperor's pleasure, and at the same time he sent a letter to the bishops at Rimini, commanding them to wait there the return of their deputies.
Shortly afterwards the deputies were ordered to go to a small town called Nice, not many miles from Adrianople. This was a trick of the Arians and Semi-Arians, by which they proposed to have their creed signed there, and then pass it off upon the uninitiated, as the original creed of the Council of Nice in Bithynia. There the creed was presented, but with the omission "in all things," so that it read, "the Son is like to the Father," instead of, "like to the Father in all things." This the deputies were required to sign, which of course they refused to do, but were finally forced to sign it, and to reverse all the acts and proceedings of the Council of Rimini.
The emperor was highly pleased at this result, and calling it a good omen of like success with the whole council, gave the ten deputies leave to return to Rimini. At the same time he sent letters to the prefect, commanding him anew not to allow a single bishop to leave until all had signed, and to exile whoever should persist in a refusal, provided the number did not exceed fifteen.
The bishops were "eager to return to their sees; the emperor was inflexible; Taurus took care to render the place both inconvenient and disagreeable to them. Some therefore fell off, others followed their example, the rest began to waver, and being so far got the better of, yielded soon after, and went over to the Arian party in such crowds that in a very short time the number of the orthodox bishops who continued steady, was reduced to twenty." Bower.31
At the head of these twenty was a certain Phaebadius, and they determined invincibly to hold their position. Nevertheless they were caught by a trick that the veriest tyro ought to have seen. Two bishops in particular, Ursacius and Valens, had charge of the creed, and they pretended in the interests of peace to be willing to make a concession, and to insert such alterations and additions as might be agreeable to Phiaebadius, who exulted over the proud distinction which would thus be his as the preserver of orthodoxy.
They came together, and began to reconstruct the creed: first were inserted some curses against the Arian heresy, then an addition, declaring the Son to be "equal to the Father, without beginning, and before all things." When this was written, Valens proposed that in order to leave no room whatever for any new disputes or any question upon this point, there should be added a clause declaring that "the Son of God is not a creature like other creatures." To this the twenty bishops assented, blindly overlooking the fact that in admitting that the Son was not a creature like other creatures, they did indeed place him among the creatures, and admitted the very point upon which the Arians had all the time insisted. Thus all were brought to "the unity of the faith." The council broke up, and the bishops departed to their homes.
The council was past, and no sooner did the Arians find themselves secure, than they loudly proclaimed the victory which they had gained. They gloried in the fact that the great council of Rimini had not declared that the Son was not a creature, but only that he was not like other creatures. They affirmed that it was, and always had been, their opinion that the "Son was no more like the Father than a piece of glass was like an emerald." Upon examination of the creed, the twenty bishops were obliged to confess that they had been entrapped. They renounced the creed, and publicly retracted "all they had said, done, or signed, repugnant to the truths of the Catholic Church." -- Bower.32
The companion council which was called at Seleucia, met September 27, 359, but as there were three distinct parties, besides individuals who differed from all, there was amongst them such utter confusion, tumult, and bitterness, that after four days of angry debate, in which the prospect became worse and worse, the imperial officer declared that he would have nothing more to do with the council, and told them they could go to the church if they wanted to, and "indulge in this vain babbling there as much as they pleased." The parties then met separately, denounced, condemned, and ex- communicated one another, and sent their deputies to Constantius, who spent a whole day and the greater part of the night, December 31, 359, in securing their signatures to the confession of faith which he had approved. The emperor's confession was then published throughout the whole empire, and all bishops were commanded to sign it, under penalty of exile upon all who refused. "This order was executed with the utmost rigor in all the provinces of the empire, and very few were found who did not sign with their hands what they condemned in their hearts. Many who till then had been thought invincible, were overcome, and complied with the times; and such as did not, were driven, without distinction, from their sees into exile, and others appointed in their room, the signing of that confession being a qualification indispensably requisite both in obtaining and keeping the episcopal dignity. Thus were all the sees throughout the empire filled with Arians, insomuch that in the whole East not an orthodox bishop was left, and in the West but one; namely, Gregory, bishop of Elvira in Andalusia, and he, in all likelihood, obliged to absent himself from his flock and lie concealed." -- Bower.33
Thus Constantius had succeeded much more fully than had his father, in establishing "the unity of the faith." That faith was the original Arian. And Arianism was now as entirely orthodox, and, if the accommodated sense of the word be used, as entirely Catholic, as the Athanasian had ever been.
Having like his father, by the aid of the bishops, united the world "under one head," and brought the opinions respecting the Deity to a condition of "settled uniformity," the emperor Constantius died the following year, A. D. 361.
1 [Page 356] "History of Christianity," book iii. chap. iv, par. 21.
2 [Page 356] Id., par. 23.
3 [Page 357] Id., par. 29
4 [Page 358] "History of the Christian Religion and Church," Vol. ii, Section Fourth, div. ii, a, par. 30.
5 [Page 359] "Intellectual Development of Europe," chap ix, par. 39.
6 [Page 359] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. iv, par. 32, and note.
7 [Page 359] Article "Constantine."
8 [Page 361] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. v, par. 9
9 [Page 361] Id., par. 11.
10 [Page 362] Id., par. 18; Socrates's "Ecclesiastical History," book ii, chap. xvi; Gibbon, "Decline and Fall," chap. xxi, par. 36.
11 [Page 363] Id., par. 14.
12 [Page 364] See the original, in Milman's "History of Christianity," book iii., chap. v, note to par. 34.
13 [Page 365] "History of the Popes," Julius, par. 5; Hefele, "History of the Councils," Sardica, canons 3, 4, 5.
14 [Page 365] "Decline and Fall," chap. xxi. par. 26.
15 [Page 366] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. v. par. 15
16 [Page 367] "History of the Popes," Liberius, par. 4.
17 [Page 368] "History of the Church Councils," sec. 74, par. 6.
18 [Page 369] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. v, par. 22.
19 [Page 369] "History of the Church Councils," sec. lxxv, par. 1.
20 [Page 370] "History of the Popes," Liberius, par. 6.
21 [Page 372] Id., par. 19.
22 [Page 373]"History of Christianity," book iii, chap. v, par. 28.
23 [Page 373] "Decline and Fall," chap. xxi, par. 33.
24 [Page 374] Id., chap. xxi, par. 31, and chap. xxiii, par. 27. November 30, A. D. 361, he was murdered by the pagans. In the fifth century -- A. D. 494 -- Pope Gelasius made him a martyr. In the sixth century he was worshiped as a Catholic saint; and since the Crusades, he has been "the renowned Saint George of England, patron of arms, of chivalry, and of the Garter."
25 [Page 374] "Ecclesiastical History," book ii, chap. xvii.
26 [Page 375] Id.,and Bower, "History of the Popes," Liberius par. 7.
27 [Page 376]"Decline and Fall," chap. xxi, par. 35.
28 [Page 377] History of the Popes," Liberius, par. 21
29 [Page 377] Hefel's "History of the church Councils," sec. 82, par. 1
30 [Page 378] Id., par. 2.
31 [Page 380] "History of the Popes," Liberius, par. 24.
32 [Page 381] Id., par. 24, 25.
33 [Page 382] Id., par. 28.