We will now for a moment cast our eyes on the state of the Church Catholic.
Diocletian and Maximian, compelled to resign the purple by the superior vigour and enterprise of Galerius, named, as we have al- ready seen, their successors; Galerius himself was nominated as the Eastern, Constantius as the Western Augustus : the Csesars were respectively Daia, nephew to Galerius, and surnamed by him Maxi- min, and Severus. On this the persecution languished, and finally failed in the West; and on the death of Constantius, his son Constantine, elevated to the purple by the soldiers, but contenting himself, for the present, with the more modest title of Caesar, was known to be most favourably disposed to the Faith of Christ. Maxentius, however, at Rome, declared himself Emperor; and, to prejudice the army in his favour, associated his father Maximian with himself. Severus, now Augustus in the West, marched against them; his troops forsook him : he fled to Ravenna, surrendered himself, and was put to death. On this, Maximian associated Constantine with him in the Empire: Galerius marched into Italy, but was forced to retire with dishonour: Licinius was presented by him with the purple, and a hollow reconciliation took place between the six Emperors, Galerius, Maximian, Maximin, Licinius, Constantine, Maxentius. Maximian endeavouring to destroy Constantine by treachery, was discovered and capitally punished; and the five surviving emperors were acknowledged equals. Galerius, eaten of worms, gave up the ghost, after having issued an edict in favour of the Christians, which was only nominally obeyed by Maximin, and the persecution ceased every where but in Syria and Egypt. Then followed the civil war between Constantine and Maxentius : the apparition of the miraculous Cross ; the defeat and death of Maxentius ; Maximin, burning to revenge his loss, was defeated by Licinius, and perished miserably : the Great Tenth Persecution came to an entire end : and to the joy of the Church, Constantine and Licinius were recognised as joint Augusti.
But the persecution, though no longer formidable, had not entirely ceased at Alexandria, when S. Achillas was called from his labours. Two candidates appeared for the vacant Chair: the one was Arius; the other Alexander, the friend of Achillas, the disciple of Peter, and a man generally beloved for the sweetness and gentleness of his disposition. The latter was elected by unanimous consent of clergy and people: and Arius, who could not endure this preference of his rival, determined to find some pretext for separating himself from his communion.
The Meletians, who had not refrained from calumniating Achillas, continued their accusations against Alexander; and they even went so far as to lay a formal complaint against him before the Emperor: whether Licinius or Constantine be meant it is impossible to decide. It would appear also that Alexandria was troubled by a faction, headed by one Crescentius, who was schismatical on the proper time of observing Easter; and that Alexander was obliged to compose a treatise on the received practice.
As the life of Alexander was perfectly irreproachable, Arius was reduced to calumniate his doctrine. An occasion soon presented itself. The Prelate, in one of his sermons, maintained the Unity of the Trinity ; and this statement was branded by Arius with the title of Sabellianism. If the Father, he argued, has begotten a Son, there must be a period at which the Son was begotten ; and consequently there must
be a period when He had no being. Hence it followed that the Son of God was created by the Father; and Arius attributed to Him the power of either holiness or sin, maintaining that by His Free Will He chose the former, being equally capable, had He so chosen, of the latter. The heretic did not at first dare to preach this doctrine; it would have been heard with undisguised horror. But in private conversations he seized every opportunity of insinuating it; and being respected for his sobriety and gravity, endued with great powers of persuasion, and in the decline of life, he soon found himself followed with eagerness, and heard with attention. Thus it happened, that many were already seduced to heresy before S. Alexander was aware of the danger. In the meanwhile, the different parish priests of Alexandria, for Alexandria, as we had occasion to observe in the introduction, was, like Rome, divided into parish churches or titles, to which the different Presbyters were attached, maintained different doctrines, and the faithful were distracted, divided, and perplexed by the voices of their teachers. The trumpet gave an uncertain sound ; and who could prepare himself for the battle ? It would appear that, at this time, the church of Baucalis, as it was the oldest, so also was it the most honourable cure; it was in the heart of the mercantile part of the city, and Arius thence acquired greater influence. He was supported, among the parish priests, by Carponas, and Sarmates, by Aithalas, Achillas, and his own. namesake Arius among the deacons, by Euzoius, Macarius, Julius, Menas, and Helladius. Alexander, seems, at the outset, to have hesitated as to his proper course; and a momentary appearance of irresolution encouraged the discord. The Arians exclaimed against him as a Sabellian; some of the Catholics called him an Arian, because, in their judgment, he did not shew sufficient vigour in putting down the new sect; and Coluthus, one of the parish priests, separated himself from the communion of his Bishop, and even ventured (not, it is hinted,’ without simony,) to ordain Presbyters pretending that the necessities of the times justified him in this action. As schism is seldom unaccompanied by false doctrine, he further taught that God is not the Author of evil, which proposition, though capable of a Catholic sense, is heretical in that which Colathus attached to it: namely, that God docs not produce those evils which, as punishments, afflict men. The Coluthians were never a powerful sect; and in the end, by no uncommon change, the greater part of the followers, for the leader himself, as we shall see, recanted his errors, allied themselves with the Arians.
At length the evil rose to such a height, that Alexander was compelled to take some decisive step for its termination. He summoned a meeting of the clergy of Alexandria, and allowed to all a full liberty of explaining and defending their sentiments. Willing rather to persuade by reason, than to force by authority, he refrained at first from giving his own judgment: and the conference closed without any result, both parties claiming the victor. A second assembly, held with the same intention, equally failed of attaining its end. It was probably in one of these two meetings that Arius presented to his Bishop a confession of faith, very simple in its expressions, and bearing on its face a Catholic sense: but so contrived as to be capable of perversion to the heretic’s own meaning : and which was therefore rejected as unsatisfactory.
The heresy every day increasing, Alexander, after a solemn warning to Arius to renounce his errors, and to return to the Doctrine of the Apostles, found that his only resource lay in excommunication. Assembling then the principal Priests of Alexandria, and of the neighbouring province of Mareotis, he proposed that sentence accordingly. The partizans of Arius made a show of defence: but their efforts were unavailing. Five Priests and five Deacons only attached themselves to his faction; thirty-six Priests, and forty-four Deacons signed the sentence against him. Among the former, Coluthus signs first: but this must have been a different person from the author of the schism. Among the latter, the signatures occur of two that bear the name of Athanasius.
One of these was already in the confidence of Alexander, and had given promise of the highest talent. He was known by a treatise against the Gentiles : in which, though the writer had not much exceeded the twentieth year of his age, he displayed such power of argument, such acquaintance with Scripture, such deep learning, united with so much wit, and such elegance of expression, that great things were expected from him. Born about the year 296, his tender youth had exempted him from the fury of the Tenth Persecution ; but doubtless, in the Martyrdoms that he must himself have witnessed, and in the many more which must have formed the daily topic of conversation, his mind was led to that energetic sense of His full and proper Divinity, Who was the strength of the Martyrs, that, in after times, wrought such wonders for the Church. He was thoroughly educated in profane as well as in Christian antiquity: and Homer and Plato seem to have been, in an especial manner, his admiration and study. In short, it might be said of him, as it was of another, that he “was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.”
Arius, on his condemnation by the Synod of Alexandria, far from owning himself in the wrong, was but the more eager to strengthen his party, and to procure, by fair means or foul, a reversal of his sentence. Finding that his partizans were outnumbered in the metropolis, he excited, by letters and by friends, the other portions of Egypt. In Mareotis, especially, he was successful; and in Libya, his native country, Secundus, Bishop of Ptolemais, Theonas of Marmarica, (the latter of whom is said to have been consecrated by the Meletians,) Sccundus of Teuchiri, and Zcphyrius of Barce, pledged themselves to the new heresy. Among the laity of Alexandria, great progress was made by the insinuating manners and plausible language of Arius; and among the consecrated virgins he drew away great numbers. Alexander found that the struggle, far from being terminated by the decision of his first synod, grew daily more formidable: and threatened the very foundations of his Church. He therefore convoked a general Council of his province: we now, for the first time, learn the number of Prelates over whom the Patriarch of Alexandria presided: the synod was attended by nearly one hundred: and it would appear that very few could have been absent. Arius and his friends prepared themselves to the utmost of their ability for their trial; but notwithstanding the equivocal manner in which they stated Arius states their dogmas, and their ingenuity in so couching their sentences as to be patient of a Catholic sense, they excited the horror of the synod. They stated, to use S. Alexander’s own words, that God was not always a Father: but that there was a period in which He was not so; that God, Who is, created Him That was not from that which is not; wherefore there was a time when the Son was not, because He is a creature and a thing made; that He is not similar to the Father in substance, nor His True and genuine Word and Wisdom;—but when called
SO, is named so in an improper and lax signification, as having His origin from the proper Word of God, and the Wisdom that is in Him, by which He made all things, and among them the Sox,—for the heretics thus distinguished a twofold Word, and a twofold Wisdom. One of the Prelates, whose zeal for the truth led him to put the matter in its clearest and simplest light, inquired, whether in the opinion of Arius, the Son of God could change, as Satan had changed? And the heretic unblushingly replied. He can, because He is by nature not immutable. The Prelates, on hearing this and other dogmas, came to an unanimous conclusion, and declaring Arius and his followers separate ffrom the Communion of the Catholic Church, delivered them over to an anathema, till such time as they should repent and recant.
Among all the losses that Ecclesiastical History has sustained, none is more to be regretted than the loss of a complete Arian account of these events, such as that of Philostorgius. Till we have it,—though it is not probable that such a work now exists,—we shall never be able to explain that wonderful mystery, the progress of early progress of Arianism. A Priest at Alexandria, and that, too, a man branded as the follower of a convicted schismatic, proclaims a novel doctrine : two synods are convoked against it and condemn it; and yet within six years, it convulses the whole Church from Britain to India; and compels an Emperor to interfere in the restoration of peace. It is not wonderful that Catholic writers, more especially such as were engaged in the struggle, should have been so preoccupied with their sense of the blasphemy of the new system, that they had no eyes for its plausibility. Thus, Alexander mentions with horror the dogma of Arius, “There was a time when the Son was not, as being a creature and a thing made.” Doubtless the heresiarch replied, Dionysius also said, “As being a thing made. He was not before He was produced.” If Arius asserted, the Son of God is not similar to the Father in substance, Dionysius had said, He is different (we might rather say, alien,) from the Father in substance. And though the Catholics might re- join, and we may allow, and have allowed, that the Patriarch was speaking of the Son of God as regarded His Humanity, or that he was merely stating the case very strongly against Sabellianism, or that, whatever he meant at the time, he gave it a Catholic explanation afterwards, for he never retracted it, the statement of the Arians would seem to a mind incapable of weighing evidence far more plausible than the laborious, however true, explanation of the Catholics. This is but one instance of the manner in which we must conceive those in the Communion of the Church to have understated the strong points of the Arians. There must, too, among the latter, have been much apparent holiness of life: and doubtless, among the earlier followers of Arius, much real conscientiousness. And here again it is certain that the Catholics, fully (and most justly) persuaded that heresy implies a wicked heart, spoke of those as notoriously flagitious, whose heterodoxy was the only proof that they were so. We cannot imagine that the people of Ptolemais, after having been governed by a Martyr like S. Theodore, could quietly have submitted to the rule of Secundus, his successor, and the patron of Arius, had he been at that time in appearance the villain that S. Athanasius calls him, and that he afterwards proved himself to be.
But, after all, these considerations, though full weight be granted them, are far too confined to account for the instantaneous stride of Arianism from the weakness of infancy to the strength of a giant. Alexander and Arius are not to be regarded as simply the heads of two contending factions ; but as the embodiments of two principles, which had from the beginning conflicted in the Church, but had never encountered each other on the same scale as now. That the tradition of the Church, from Apostolic times, was in favour of the teaching of S. Alexander, was sanctioned by the Council of Nicaea, and asserted the true and proper Divinity of the SAVIOUR, is a point that has been triumphantly proved by Catholics of all ages. But it is not less true, that a tradition, disavowed by the Church, but still existing in it, an under-current to the recognised course of the stream, had also existed from primitive times: and taught the opposite doctrine. It was this principle which, assuming different appearances, but still acting to the same end, had in the first century broken forth in the heresies of Cerinthus and Ebion, in the third, in that of Paul of Samosata; and now, finding the Church free from external tribulations, made Arius its mouthpiece. It was but necessary to strike the chord, and in every country hearts were found to respond; the train had long since been laid, and the weakest hand could fire it. The creed of Arius was not heard by his disciples as something new and unknown; they recognised it as the true and boldly developed expression of what they had previously held by implication, but had shrunk from acknowledging nakedly. It is easy to see that many of the texts quoted on both sides in defence of their doctrine, could never have been so cited, had they not come down to them invested with a traditional explanation:—for instance, “My heart hath produced a good Word,” on the part of the Catholics; “For we which live are alway,” on that of the Arians. And thus it happens that a City Priest has hardly been condemned in Alexandria, when Egypt echoes with his doctrine; hardly anathematized in a Provincial Synod, when Antioch and the whole East is lit up with the controversy. For it was soon evident that the Council of Alexandria was insufficient to stop the evil. Pistus, a priest of Marcotis, who had apparently been condemned with Arius, was considered second only to him in talents and influence: and he was afterwards raised, by the heretical faction, to the Episcopate of Alexandria. The Deacon Euzoius, then one of the most zealous among the new party, attained, as we shall see, to the same dignity at Antioch.
But now a new actor appeared on the stage, who quickly reduced Arius, however he might still be considered the head of his own peculiar sect, to a second rank in the grand movement that was troubling the Church. This was Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia; one of the most hateful characters whom history records. He was possessed of all the talents which were the most likely to give influence at court: an insinuating manner, a ready flow of eloquence, the reality of some learning, the affectation of more; an insatiable ambition, a conscience that never stood in the way of preferment: a sanctity of demeanour so great, that miracles were ascribed to him; an inward depravity so foul that he is accused of having joined Licinius in his persecution. To that tyrant he had rendered essential services; and had even borne arms for him. Raised to the See of Berytus in Phoenicia, in a manner contrary to the Canons, and which gave some reason for doubting whether he had ever received valid consecration, he found himself discontented with the comparative obscurity of that city, though one of the largest in those parts; and casting his eye on those sees which from time to time became vacant, he could find none more suitable to his projects than that of Nicomedia. Not only was this city reckoned the fifth in the world, but it possessed the principal palace of the Eastern Emperor, which Diocletian had built there: and as the Metropolis of Bithynia, it gave considerable ecclesiastical authority. Euscbius had already acquired great influence over Constantia, the sister of Constantino, and wife of Licinius; and this influence probably procured him the translation that he coveted. The Faithful of Nicomedia had no voice in the matter: the mandate of the Emperor prevailed; and so flagrant a violation of the Canons as an unnecessary translation was allowed to pass unnoticed or uncondemned. For Euscbius was one whom no man cared to offend ; and they who did were sure, sooner or later, to rue his anger. He never forgot; and never forgave.
In what manner Arius and Eusebius had first become acquainted, it is impossible now to discover. They had long before the time of which we write, communicated to each other their sentiments on the Divinity of the Son, and found them similar. Arius, as the more fearless of the two, carried his teaching to what his friend must sometimes have considered an imprudent length;—nevertheless the league between them was firmly kept, and lasted till they were called to give an account of their evil deeds. In fact, Eusebius, after the character of the Eastern teaching, was probably the earlier inventor of the Arian system ; and he always gloried in being a Collucianist, that is, a fellow
thinker with S. Lucian of Antioch, who, whatever might have been the orthodoxy of his own faith, (which he had sealed by a glorious Martyrdom) had the misfortune of having numbered among his disciples a great part of the champions of early Arianism, or rather Eusebianism.
Arius, shortly after the Council, was compelled to leave Alexandria; perhaps because he thought that the dissemination of his heresy required his presence elsewhere; perhaps because he was banished (as he himself asserts) by Alexander. For however extraordinary this power may appear in the Prelate of a yet heathen city, it is no more than was exercised, as we have already seen, by S. Demetrius, on far less provocation, with respect to Origen. The thoughts of Arius naturally turned to Asia; but before leaving Egypt, he addressed a letter to Eusebius, to acquaint him with the state of affairs, and to ask his sympathy. This epistle, which is extant, displays most fully the character of the two men. On the side of Arius, there is abject flattery; falsehoods which he and Eusebius must equally have known to be so; the most unfounded calumnies against Alexander, and the most determined perseverance in his own doctrine. The unbounded vanity of Eusebius, his willingness to be deceived, his wish to deceive, are most clearly displayed in this letter of his correspondent.—Your sentiments,” he replied, “are just;—that which was made was not before it had been made, because its existence had a beginning.”
Arius, on this, went into Palestine, accompanied by several of his followers, and among the rest, by Carponas and Achillas. Here his flattery won on many of the Prelates: he represented himself as one who ardently desired peace, but had been persecuted by his Bishop for the maintenance of dogmas ever held in the Church, and not invented by him; he brought forward his own views with more or less distinctness, as he saw the minds of those whom he addressed more or less disposed to embrace them, and he requested their interference with Alexander to receive him again to communion. Many fell into the snare, and, with really good intentions, furnished him with the letters which he requested; some embraced the pernicious doctrine of the heretic; and but a very few stood on their guard, and requested Alexander not to re-admit Arius till he had given some satisfactory proof of penitence.
The Bishops who were the most active partizans of Arius, in addition to Eusebius, Secundus, and Theonas, were Theognius of Nicsea, Menophantes of Ephesus, Maris of Chalcedon, Patrophilus of Scythopolis, Theodotus of Laodicea, Paulinus of Tyre, Athanasius of Anazarbus, Gregory of Berytus, Aetius of Lydda; those most opposed to him were S. Macarius of Jerusalem, S. Philogonius of Antioch, and Hellanicus of Tripoli. Alexander, though an old man, took the most active measures to defend the Faith. Provincial Councils were held in several parts of Egypt: and the Patriarch wrote letters to all provinces of the Church, entreating the various Prelates to contend earnestly for the Truth, and to refuse Communion to Arius. As many as seventy of these are known to have existed; and a century later they were collected as curiosities. But two only of them remain to us. They were not without their effect; and those addressed to the Bishops of Palestine, among others to the celebrated historian, Eusebius of Csesarea, a man disposed towards Arianism, but wishing to stand well with all parties, obliged Arius to retire to Nicomedia. The subtle Eusebius of Nicomedia, now openly coming forward as his champion, wrote again and again to Alexander to rescind his condemnation; and he writes Arius himself addressed a letter to his Bishop, which we still have.
He professed to believe in One God ; Only wise, good, just and powerful; in One Son of God begotten by Him before the worlds; by Whom He made the worlds; begotten by Him not in appearance but in verity; created by Him unchangeable; though a Creature yet not like His other creatures; though a Son, not like His other sons: not come forth from the Father, as Valentinus held; not consubstantial with Him, as Manes taught; not confounded with Him, as Sabellius averred: “all which heresies,” adds Arius, addressing Alexander, “yourself. Blessed Pope, have condemned.” From the FATHER, he proceeds, the SON received life and glory: the FATHER is the Source of all: so that in the Godhead are three Hypostases. And the epistle concludes with the assertion that S. Alexander had formerly taught the doctrine now condemned by him,—the existence of the FATHER before the SON. This confession of faith was signed by such disciples of Arius as were with him at Nicomedia; and when it reached Egypt, by Secundus, Theonas, and probably others. It was probably not till then that Alexander wrote an encyclic Epistle, containing a brief history of the Arian Schism, and an exposition of the True Faith. It opens thus beautifully: “To his beloved and most honourable fellow ministers in all parts of the Catholic Church, Alexander, Salutation in the Lord. ” Since the body of the Catholic Church is one, and there is a command in the Divine Scriptures, that we should keep the bond of like-mindedness and peace, it follows that we by letter should signify to each other that which happens to each; that whether one member suffer, all the members may suffer with it, or whether it joy, all may rejoice with it. Wherefore, in our Dioecese, certain men have gone forth, workers of iniquity and the enemies of Christ, teaching an Apostacy which may well be thought and called the forerunner of Antichrist. I would fain have consigned a matter of this sort to silence, that, if it might be so, the evil might have an end in the apostates alone, lest, getting abroad into other places, it should defile the ears of the simple. But since Eusebius, now Bishop of Nicomedia, thinking that the affairs of the Church depend upon him, because, without receiving punishment, he hath forsaken his See of Berytus and set eves on that of Nicomedia, takes the lead of these apostates, and hath taken in hand to write to all quarters, commending them, if perchance he may secretly draw the ignorant into the worst heresy,—that which fights against Christ,—I have thought it necessary to break silence, as knowing that which is written in the law, and to narrate the thing to all of you, so that you may both know them that are apostates, and the unhappy dogmas of their heresy, and if Eusebius writes, may pay no regard to him.” After stating the facts of the case, and setting forth the Apostolic Truth, S. Alexander concludes thus :—
“But we do not think it strange. The case was the same with Hymenseus and Philetus, and before them with Judas, who, when he had been a follower of the Lord, afterwards became a traitor and an apostate. And concerning these men themselves, we have not been left untaught. But the Lord hath said before, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you: For many shall come in My Name, saying, I am Christ, and the time draweth near, and shall deceive many: go not after them.’ And Paul, who had learnt these things from the SAVIOUR, wrote, that in the last days some shall apostatize from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and to doctrines of devils, turning themselves away from the truth. Seeing then our LORD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST hath signified concerning these things, both by Himself and the Apostle, we, who have been hearers for ourselves of their ungodly words, have accordingly delivered them over to an anathema, and have declared them to be aliens from the Catholic Church and the Faith. And we have set forth the matter to your piety, beloved and honourable fellow ministers, that if any of them come unto you, ye may not receive them, nor give heed to Eusebius nor to any other that write to you on their behalf. For we that are Christians ought to turn away from those that speak or think anything against Christ, as enemies of God and destroyers of souls, and not so much as bid them God speed, lest we be partakers of their iniquities, as Blessed John exhorted us afore. Salute the brethren that are with you: they that are with me salute you.” This letter was signed by a large body of Priests and Deacons, in token of their approval.
Arius, on his part, continued to receive letters of sympathy from various Bishops, and to exhibit them for the encouragement of his partizans. He also acquired influence from another source. Eusebius introduced him to the feeble-minded Costantia; and the heretic had address to win her entirely to his sentiments. Another triumph awaited him. Eusebius assembled a Provincial Council of Bithynia, and appears formally to have admitted Arius to the Communion of the Church. Authorised by this false synod, the Metropolitan, after the example of Alexander, despatched letters on all sides (as indeed in a less degree he had hitherto done): one of these, to Paulinus of Tyre, is preserved by Theodoret. In this he calls on that Bishop, as one possessed of great influence, to keep silence no longer, but openly to assert what he privately acknowledged to be the truth.
It was at this time that Arius composed that infamous work, his Thalia: which must have proved to all earnest-minded men, that God had given him over to a reprobate mind. It was an exposition of his principles written in the style and verse of Sotades, one of the most immoral of heathen poets. The airs, the measure, the whole effect of the verse inspired horror and disgust to the better part of the heathens themselves; and Pagans, who even professed no extraordinary purity, shrank from the writings of Sotades. And this was the pattern whom a Christian Priest, in treating of the most exalted doctrines of the faith, professed to follow; these the ideas which he desired to associate with arguments concerning the sublimest mysteries of religion! Of all the writings of Arius, this inspired the faithful with the deepest loathing.
Nevertheless, George, a Priest and philosopher of Alexandria who then happened to be spending some time at Nicomedia endeavoured to interfere on behalf of Arius, and wrote to his Bishop, requesting that he might be re-admitted to Communion. The only consequence was that this man, whom S. Athanasius terms the most wicked of the Arians, was himself deposed by Alexander from the Priesthood. This loss, as we shall see, was soon counterbalanced by the favour of his new friends. Refused admittance into the Clergy of Antioch by S. Eustathius, then Bishop of that See, he obtained it on the deposition of that Saint, and was shortly afterwards elevated to the See of Laodicea.
From whatever reason, Arius preferred a residence in Palestine to one at Nicomedia, He accordingly went into that country, and presented a petition to three of the Bishops on whose goodwill he could count,—Paulinus of Tyre, Eusebius of Caesarea, Patrophilus of Scythopolis,—of an almost unprecedented nature. He requested that he might be allowed to assemble his own followers for the Divine Offices, as he had done when Parish Priest at Alexandria. The Prelates met to consider the demand, and agreed to it. It is wonderful that they could be blind to the inconsistency of their own conduct: they would not communicate with one whom S. Alexander had, wrongfully in their opinion, pronounced a heretic; but they allowed him to add schism to heresy, and that in their own Dioceses. It was now that Arius, finding himself exempted by ecclesiastical authority, such as it was, from all jurisdiction whatever, took upon himself to alter the Doxology to a form, which, containing in itself nothing contrary to the Catholic Faith, yet allowed of an heretical interpretation:—Glory be to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost. He was anxious also to change the formula of Baptism; but this appeared, for the present, too hazardous an enterprise. The various collections of letters made respectively by Arius and Alexander seemed to answer no further end than that of exciting emulation, and increasing controversy. Alexander, probably by the advice of Athanasius, whom he consulted in all things, devised another plan. He drew up a Confession of Faith, or, as it is generally termed, a Tome, which he dispatched to all quarters, and requested the signatures of the various Bishops. It was signed by the whole of his own Diocese, which contained, as we have seen, about one hundred Prelates; by those of Cappadocia, in number about fifteen; of Lycia, in number about thirty-two; of Pamphyha, in number about thirty-seven; of Asia Proper, about forty three; and others. Thus we cannot imagine the whole number of signatures to have been less than two hundred and fifty.
When affairs had attained this condition, Alexander wrote the other Epistle which we have mentioned as still extant. It is addressed to S. Alexander of Byzantium, who was not only an unshaken champion of orthodoxy, but appears to have been the tried friend of his namesake. This is the first communication that we find between the Churches of Alexandria and Constantinople, afterwards so closely to be linked together ; nor was it from any superior dignity in the latter See, but simply from the venerable character of the Prelate, that Alexander consulted him in this emergency. According to some, the Bishop of Byzantium was but the second that had governed that See:—others, but perhaps with less probability, make him the fifth.
The Epistle is of great length ; and complains bitterly of the violence of the Arians. Then, as during the whole course of that heresy, its supporters seem to have relied on female influence for the propagation of their dogmas; the busy intermeddling spirit of the young women whom they had perverted to heresy at Alexandria, gave great occasion to the heathen to blaspheme. He complains of the reception of the Arian clerks, by some Prelates, contrary to the Apostolic Canon, into the Church; and calls it a grievous blot on the offenders. This Canon is probably the Sixteenth, which forbids the reception of a deposed Clerk, as a Clerk, in another Diocese. After a short narration of this sort, which infers that his correspondent was already acquainted with the general features of the case, Alexander proceeds to a confutation of the Arian theory, and doubtless drew largely on the almost inspired genius of his Deacon. He concludes his refutation thus : “This we teach; this we preach;—these are the Apostolic dogmas of the Church, for which we are ready even to lay down our lives, making small account of them that would compel us to forswear them, even though they would force us by torture, and not turning away from the hope that is in them. Which things seeing that Arius and Achillas opposed, and they that with them are adversaries of the Truth, they have been cast out of the Church, as enemies to our pious doctrine, according as Blessed Paul saith. If any preach unto you another Gospel than that ye have received, though he feign himself an Angel from Heaven, Let him be anathema.”
He then proceeds to the subject of the Tome, to which he requests the signature of Alexander; and mentions that together with it he had sent by the same messenger, Apion, a Deacon of Alexandria^ copies of some of the letters he had received from other Prelates. We cannot doubt how this Epistle was received by the holy Bishop to whom it was addressed. Of the other seventy persons to whom Alexander wrote on the same subject, we only know S. Sylvester of Rome, S. Macarius of Jerusalem, Asclepas of Gaza, Longinus of Ascalon, Macrinus of Jamnina, and Zeno, who appears to have been ex-Bishop of Tyre.
Towards the close of this Epistle, Alexander mentions that the Arians, as much as in them lay, had excited persecution against the Church in time of peace.
We must now say a few words on the persecution of Licinius. It seems to have been commenced, as much out of pique at the superior power of Constantine, as from any other cause: and it was carried on with more or less vigour, principally against the Bishops, but never with any great degree of ferocity, for about seven years. Its most illustrious Martyr in Egypt was S. Donatus, Bishop of Thmuis, and the successor of the Martyr S. Phileas. A native of some insignificant town in Istria, he went to Aquileia for the purpose of evangelising the surrounding country:—when the persecution of Diocletian grew violent, he retired into Dalmatia, and led an eremitical life on the summit of a high mountain. Having confessed before Diocletian himself, and having by his exemplary courage converted Macarius and Theodorus, two of the bystanders, he, in company with them, sailed to Egypt. Happening to pass through Thmuis, probably on his way to the Mountain of S. Antony, he was elected Bishop of that See, and governed it for several years, raising Macarius to the Priesthood, and Theodorus to the Diaconate. They finished their course gloriously under Licinius, being cut piecemeal; a method of execution which, as Eusebius informs us, was not unusual in this persecution. Justly enraged at the injuries inflicted by Liciuius, both on his religion and on his empire, Constantine marched against him. The armies met at Adrianople: Pagans and Christians alike owned the supernatural terror which the Labarum struck into its opponents.—Licinius left more than thirty thousand men on the field of battle, and retreated towards Asia. At Chalcedon a second and more decisive engagement was fought: Licinius was totally defeated and taken prisoner: the conqueror spared his life, but sent him to Thessalonica: and there, as his restless spirit urged him on to fresh attempts at agitation, he was strangled in the succeeding year.
Constantine, thus become Master of the world, learnt with deep sorrow the distracted state of the East. But, unhappily, Eusebius of Nicomedia, far from being overwhelmed in the ruin of his patron Licinius, obtained equal, if not greater influence over the mind of the new Emperor. Capricious almost to imbecility by nature, elated by his rapid and extraordinary rise, naturally regarded with the greatest deference by the Prelates of that Church which he had saved from persecution, and believing himself, though a mere catechumen, as qualified to be the supreme moderator of ecclesiastical, as well as civil, affairs, Constantine presented the character most exactly suited to the insidious attacks of such a master of finesse as Eusebius. It was easy to represent to the Emperor that the controversy at Alexandria had arisen from the discussion of an unimportant question, which ought never to have been mooted, or, when unfortunately raised, to have been instantly quashed;—that a receives a frivolous distinction had lighted up discord throughout the Earth, had divided families, and separated friends:—and that from the only remedy lay in compelling the authors of the controversy to reconciliation. Constantine fell into the snare:—and he wrote, or it were more true to say, suffered Eusebius to write in his name, the disgraceful epistle, which Eusebius the Historian has from his hatred to Catholic Doctrine, taken pleasure in preserving to us whole, if, indeed, he have not, contrary to his profession, mutilated and corrupted it.
It is addi’essed simply “to Alexander and Arius”; and its whole tenor is based on this one notion,—that if Arius had been somewhat too pertinacious in refusing, Alexander had been tyrannical in exacting the profession of an unimportant dogma; that such disputes might be beneficial as exercises of subtlety, and mediums of oratorical display, but that when discussed by the vulgar, incapable of curious distinctions and accurate definitions, they became highly injurious and perilous: that no essential part of the Christian Law was at stake, no new dogma in the worship of God had been introduced: that philosophers of different sects lived in friendly communication,—much more should the teachers of Christianity agree to differ: that they who should be the first in binding their people together in peace, were the authors of innumerable and interminable discussions. ” Restore to me,’ concludes the Emperor,” quiet days, and nights void of care: that henceforward I may have the joy of Pure Light, and the gladness of a quiet life. This if I gain not, I must needs lament, and be dissolved in tears, and go heavily for the remainder of my days. For when the people of God, my fellow servants, are divided by unjust and harmful contention, how can I be of unmoved soul? . . . . Open to me, by your reconciliation, the way to the East, which ye have closed by your contentions: and allow me speedily to behold yourselves and all other people at union, so that I may be enabled, with the unanimous accordance of every mouth, to return thanks to God for the common concord and liberty of all.”
To this effect wrote Eusebius of Nicodemia: thus openly did he declare the dispute to be a mere strife of words which involved the question, whether the Saviour were a mere creature, or Very God of Very God. The state of Arius himself, who boldly accused the Catholics of idolatry, were surely enviable, in comparison with that of this Bishop.
The messenger who was entrusted with the Royal Letter was Hosius, Bishop of Cordova, a Prelate who was destined to act a foremost part in the troublous times that followed; and one who, had he not lived too long for his own fame, might have held the second place among the Saints that suffered in the Arian persecution. He was now almost seventy years of age, so that he had not only stood firm during the persecution of Maximian, which raged with peculiar fury in Spain, but must have well remembered that of Aurelian. How Eusebius could suggest or consent to the nomination of such a Commissioner, it is difficult to say: unless the great age, well known sanctity, and tried prudence of Hosius, rendered the Emperor’s choice too manifestly proper to be gainsaid. He was also charged with an inquiry, as it would appear, into the conduct of the Meletians and Coluthians; and was to use his influence in composing the long continued disputes concerning the proper time of the celebration of Easter.
On the arrival of Hosius, a Council was held at Alexandria, the acts of which have unfortunately perished. It only appears that the heresy both of Arius, and, as the natural consequence, of Sabellius, were thoroughly sifted;—that the word Consubstantial was formally approved;—that Arius was excommunicated afresh; that the Meletians were condemned anew;—and that Coluthus and his partisans were summoned before the Synod. His assumed power of ordination was derided as an unheard of novelty:—those on whom he had laid hands, (and among them, the afterwards notorious Ischyras,) were reduced to the rank of laymen; but both the schismatic and the greater part of his followers were, on their recantation, admitted to the Communion of the Church. How, as we have elsewhere said, could the Council have come to such a determination on the Orders conferred by Coluthus, if within the memory of living men the Bishop of Alexandria had received no other ordination?
The Arians, throughout Egypt and the Thebais on the result of the Council being known, joined by the Meletians, committed the wildest acts of fury. They insulted the Catholics; they cast outbreaks: cast stones at the statues of the Emperor;—every petty town was filled with controversial disputes. The contemporary Fathers give a lively picture of the popular interest, and fearful irreverence displayed on the question. On asking for the necessities of life in the inn, in the bath, at the shop of the baker or that of the shoemaker, the inquirer, instead of receiving the reply he expected, was met with the answer,” Great is the Only-Begotten, but greater is He That begot. Women were more especially active in propagating the new sentiments; and the female disciples of Arius were, in particular, the curse of Alexandria.
Arius, on this, addressed a letter to Constantine, complaining of his unjust excommunication; and the Emperor replied by an Epistle, not indeed without its force of argument and vigour of expression, but utterly unworthy of the author and the occasion, inasmuch as it condescends to play on the name and to ridicule the person of the heretic. It concluded with an invitation to Arius to plead his own cause at court. This letter was brought to Alexandria by the Public Couriers, Syncletius and Gaudentius,^ and was fixed in the public places of this and the other principal cities of the Empire. Arius, however, did not lose courage, but presented himself personally to Constantine, on whom, though he concealed the poison of his heresy, he was not, at that time, able to make a favourable impression.
At length, wearied out with disputes, and urged by the authority of Alexander and Hosius, Constantine summoned an Ecumenical Couucil, at the city of Nicaea in Bithynia, for the fourteenth day of June, a.d. 325.