Page images

says Eusebius, not only with respect to their private differences, but also with regard to the two great objects of their assembling--the rule of faith as it respected the Arian controversy, and the time of celebrating Easter.

Socrates says, that the bishops having put into the emperor's hands written libels, containing their complaints against each other, he threw them all together into the fire, advising them, according to the doctrine of Christ, to forgive one another as they themselves hoped to be forgiven. Sozomen says, that the bishops having made their complaints in person, the emperor bade them reduce them all into writing, and that on the day which he had appointed to consider them, he said, as he threw all the billets unopened into the fire, that it did not belong to him to decide the differences of Christian bishops, and that the hearing of them must be deferred till the day of judgment. *

However, the emperor ultimately succeeded in restoring them to some degree of temper; and they consequently proceeded in good earnest to draw up a creed, which they were all required to subscribe, as the only true and orthodox faith, and which, from the place where they were assembled, bears the title of the NiCENE.+ The principal persons who appeared on the

[ocr errors]

* Eusebius's Life of Constantine, book iii. ch. 10–14 + As a matter of curiosity, which may gratify some readers, I subjoin this summary of the orthodox faith at this period. The original may be found in the epistle of Eusebius to the Cæsareans.

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten; begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father. God of God; Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made ; consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made, things in heaven, and things on earth; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate, and became man, suffered and rose again the third day, and ascended into the heavens, and comes to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost. And the side of Arius, and assisted him in the public disputation, were Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nice, and Maris of Calcedon; and the person who chiefly opposed them and took the part of Alexander, was Athanasius, then only a deacon in the church of Alexandria, but much confided in by the bishop, and of whom more will be said hereafter.

No sooner were the decrees and canons of the council drawn up, than they were sent to Sylvester, then bishop of Rome, who, in the thirteenth council of Rome, at which were present two hundred and seventy-five bishops, confirmed them in these words: “We confirm with our mouth, that which has been decreed at Nice, a city of Bythinia, by the three hundred and eighteen holy bishops, for the good of the catholic and apostolic church, mother of the faithful. We anathematize all those who shall dare to contradict the decrees of the great and holy council, which was assembled at Nice, in the presence of that most pious and venerable prince, the emperor Constantine.” And to this all the bishops answered, “We consent to it.”*

The council began their discussions on the 19th of June, and ended them on the 25th of August, of the same year (325.) to the joy of Constantine, the defeat of Arius, and the triumph of the Athanasian party. Eusebius of Nicomedia, and sixteen other bishops, . opposed the general sense of the council, and rejected the word consubstantial. But finding themselves in so small a minority, and that the emperor was determined to enforce respect to the decisions of the council, they

catholic and apostolic church doth anathematize those persons who say, that there was a time when the Son of God was not; that he was not before he was born; that he was made of nothing, or of another substance or being; or that he is created, or changeable, or convertible.”

• Maimbourg's History of Arianism, vol. i. p. 48.

all, except four, ultimately subscribed the confession of faith. The prevailing party then proceeded to excommunicate Arius and his followers, banishing the former from Alexandria. Letters were also written to all the churches in Egypt, Lybia, and Pentapolis, announcing their decrees, and informing them that the holy synod had condemned the opinions of Arius, and had fully determined the time for the celebration of Easter; exhorting them to rejoice for the good deed they had done, for that they had cut off all manner of heresy. When these things were ended, Constantine splendidly treated the bishops, filled their pockets, and sent them honourably home, exhorting them at parting to maintain peace among themselves, and that none of them should envy another who might excel the rest in wisdom or eloquence--that they should not carry themselves haughtily towards their inferiors, but condescend to, and bear with, their weakness;-a convincing proof that he saw into their tempers, and was no stranger to the haughtiness and pride that influenced some, and the envy and hatred that prevailed in others. *

It requires not the spirit of prophecy to anticipate the effects which must flow from the disgraceful proceedings of this general council, though Constantine himself wrote letters, enjoining universal conformity to its decrees, and urges as a reason for it, that “what they had decreed was the will of God, and that the agreement of so great a number of such bishops was by inspiration of the Holy Ghost." It laid the foundation for a system of persecution of a complexion altogether new-professed Christians tyrannising over the consciences of each other, and, as will be seen in the sequel, inflicting torture and cruelties upon each other far greater than they had ever sustine


* Eusebius's Life of Constantine, b. iii. ch. 20. Socrates

from their heathen persecutors. The emperor's first letters were mild and gentle, but he was soon persuaded into more violent measures; for out of his great zeal to extinguish heresy, he issued edicts against all such as his favourite bishops persuaded him were the authors or abettors of it, and particularly against the Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionists, and others, whom, after reproaching with being “ enemies of truth, destructive counsellors,” &c. he deprives of the liberty of meeting for worship, either in public or private places; and gives all their oratories to the orthodox church. And with respect to the discomfited party, he banished Arius himself, commanded that all his followers should be called Porphyrians (from Porphyrius, a heathen, who wrote against Christianity) *-ordained that the books written by them should be burnt, that there might remain to posterity no vestiges of their doctrine; and, to complete the climax, enacted that if any should dare to keep in his possession any book written by Arius, and should

. The following is a copy of the Edict which Constantine issued on that occasion: it was addressed to the Bishops and People throughout the Empire.

“ Since Arius hath imitated wicked and ungodly men, it is just that he should undergo the same infamy with them. As therefore, Porphyrius, an enemy of godliness, for his having composed wicked books against Christianity, hath found a suitable recompence, so as to be infamous for the time to come, and to be loaded with great reproach, and to have all his impious writings quite destroyed : so also it is now my pleasure, that Arius, and those of Arius's sentiments, shall be called Porphyrians, so that they may bave the appellation of those whose manner they have imitated. Moreover, if any book composed by Arius shall be found, it shall be committed to the flames; that not only his evil doctrine may be destroyed, but that there may not be the least remembrance of it left. This also I enjoin, that if any one shall be found to have concealed any writing composed by Arins, and stull not immediately bring it and consume it in the fire, death shall be his punishment:fur sous us lie is taken in this crime, be shall suffer a capital punishwant. GOD PRESERVE You.


not immediately burn it, he should no sooner be convicted of the crime, than he should suffer death. * Such were the acts of the last days of CONSTANTINE THE GREAT.



From the death of Constantine the Great, to the close of

the fourth century. A. D. 337–400.

On the decease of Constantine, the government of the Roman empire was distributed between his three sons. To Constantine the II. were assigned the provinces of Britain, Spain, and Gaul, now called France. To his brother Constans, Illyricum, Italy, and Africa; whilst Constantius inherited the east, comprehending Asia, Syria, and Egypt, with the city of Constantinople, to which his father had transferred the imperial residence, and consequently made it the seat of government.

In the year 340, a quarrel arose between the two first mentioned brothers, which ended in a war, and that war in the death of Constantine. Constans now added the dominions of the deceased prince to his own, and thereby became sole master of all the western provinces. He retained possession of this immense territory until the year

• Eusebias's Life of Constantine, b. iii. ch. 65. Sozomen, b. i. ch. 21. Socrates, b. i. ch. 9. The reader will also find a very amusing account of the proceedings of this memorable council (provided he can make the necessary allowance for the author's predilection for the Catholic party, it being written More Maimburgiano, as Dr. Jortin wo: ) express it) in Maimbourg's History of Arianism, translated by Webster, vol. i. book 1. 4to. edition, 1727.

« PreviousContinue »