The Arian Controversy
by H. M. Gwatkin
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The following works will be found useful by students who are willing to pursue the subject further. Some of special interest or importance are marked with an asterisk.


The Church Histories of *Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and (for the Arian side) the fragments of Philostorgius [translations in Bohn's Ecclesiastical Library].

*Eusebius, Vita Constantini and Contra Marcellum Ancyranum.

*Athanasius, especially De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, De Decretis Synodi Nicaenae, Orationes contra Arianos, De Synodis, Ad Antiochenos, Ad Afros. Convenient editions of most of these by Professor Bright of Oxford. [Translations of *De Incarnatione (Bindley in Christian Classics Series) and of the Orationes and most of the historical works, Newman in Oxford Library of the Fathers.]

Hilary, especially De Synodis. Cyril's Catecheses [translation in Oxford Library of the Fathers]. Basil, especially Letters. Gregory of Nazianzus, especially Orationes iv. and v. (against Julian). Of minor writers, Phoebadius and Sulpicius Severus (for Council of Ariminum). Fragments of Marcellus, collected by Rettberg (Goettingen, 1794). [German translations of most of these in Thalhofer's Bibliothek der Kirchenvaeter. English may be hoped for in Schaff's Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (vol. i. Buffalo, 1886) in 25 vols.]

Heathen writers:—Zosimus (bitterly prejudiced); Ammianus Marcellinus for 353-378 (cool and impartial); Julian, especially Caesares, Fragmentum Epistolae, and Epp. 7, 25, 26, 42, 43, 49, 52.


1. For general reference:—

Gibbon's Decline and Fall (prejudiced against the Christian Empire, but narrative still unrivalled); Schiller Geschichte der roemischen Kaiserzeit, Bd. ii. (church matters a weak point); Ranke, Weltgeschichte, Bd. iii. iv.

General Church Histories of Neander [translation in Bohn's Standard Library]; Kurtz (zehnte Aufl., 1887); Fisher (New York, 1887); also Hefele, History of the Church Councils [translation published by T. & T. Clark].

Articles in Dictionary of Christian Biography (especially those by Lightfoot, Reynolds, and Wordsworth), and in Herzog's Realencyclopaedie (especially Moenchtum by Weingarten).

Weingarten's Zeittafeln z. Kirchengeschichte (3 Aufl. 1888).

(2.) For special use:—

The whole period is more or less covered by Kaye, Some Account of the Nicene Council, 1853; *Stanley, Eastern Church (best account of the outside of the council); Broglie, L'Eglise et l'Empire romain; Gwatkin, Studies of Arianism, 1882.

On Constantine, Burckhardt, Die Zeit Constantins, 1853; Keim, Der Uebertritt Constantins, 1862; Brieger, Constantin der Grosse als Religionspolitiker, 1880.

On Julian, English account by *Rendall, 1879; German lives by Neander, 1813 [translated 1850]; Muecke, 1867-69, and Rode, 1877. The French books are mostly bad. For the decline of heathenism generally, Merivale, Boyle Lectures for 1864-65; Chastel, Destruction du Paganisme, 1850; Lasaulx, Untergang des Hellenismus, 1854; Schultze, Geschichte des Untergangs des griechisch-roemischen Heidentums, 1887; also Capes, University Life in Ancient Athens, 1877; Sievers, Leben des Libanius, 1868.

Biographies:—Fialon, Saint Athanase, 1877 (slight, but suggestive); Zahn, Marcellus von Ancyra, 1867; Reinkens, Hilarius von Poitiers, 1864; Fialon, Saint Basile, 1868; Ullmann, Gregorius von Nazianz, 2 Aufl. 1867 [translated 1851]; Krueger, Lucifer von Calaris, 1886; Eichhorn, Athanasii de vita ascetica Testimonia, 1886 (in opposition to Weingarten and others); Guldenpenning u. Island, Theodosius der Grosse, 1878; various of unequal merit in The Fathers for English Readers.

On Teutonic Arianism:—Scott, Ulfilas, Apostle of the Goths, 1885; Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, 1880-85; Revillout, De l'Arianisme des Peuples germaniques, 1850.

For doctrine, the general histories in German of Baur, Nitzsch, 1870; Hagenbach [translated in Clark's Foreign Theological Library], and *Harnack, Bd. ii., 1887; Dorner's Doctrine of the Person of Christ [translated in Clark's Foreign Theological Library]; *Hort, Two Dissertations, 1876 (on Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds); Caspari, Quellen, Bd. iii. (on Apostles' Creed).

On Athanasius, also Voigt, Die Lehre von Athanasius, 1861; Atzberger, Die Logoslehre des hl. Athanasius, 1880; Wilde, Athanasius als Bestrijder der Arianen, 1868 (Dutch).

For the Roman Catholic version of the history, Moehler, Athanasius der Grosse, 1844; Newman, Arians of the Fourth Century.

For short sketches giving the relation of Arianism to Church history in general, *Allen, Continuity of Christian Thought, 1884 (contrast of Greek and Latin Churches); *Sohm, Kirchengeschichte im Abriss, 1888.


The present work is largely, though not entirely, an abridgement of my Studies of Arianism.

The Conversion of the Goths, which gives the best side of Arianism, has been omitted as belonging more properly to another volume of the series.


* * * * *



Arianism is extinct only in the sense that it has long ceased to furnish party names. It sprang from permanent tendencies of human nature, and raised questions whose interest can never perish. As long as the Agnostic and the Evolutionist are with us, the old battlefields of Athanasius will not be left to silence. Moreover, no writer more directly joins the new world of Teutonic Christianity with the old of Greek and Roman heathenism. Arianism began its career partly as a theory of Christianity, partly as an Eastern reaction of philosophy against a gospel of the Son of God. Through sixty years of ups and downs and stormy controversy it fought, and not without success, for the dominion of the world. When it was at last rejected by the Empire, it fell back upon its converts among the Northern nations, and renewed the contest as a Western reaction of Teutonic pride against a Roman gospel. The struggle went on for full three hundred years in all, and on a scale of vastness never seen again in history. Even the Reformation was limited to the West, whereas Arianism ranged at one time or another through the whole of Christendom. Nor was the battle merely for the wording of antiquated creeds or for the outworks of the faith, but for the very life of revelation. If the Reformation decided the supremacy of revelation over church authority, it was the contest with Arianism which cleared the way, by settling for ages the deeper and still more momentous question, which is once more coming to the surface as the gravest doubt of our time, whether a revelation is possible at all.

[Sidenote: The doctrine of the Lord's person.]

Unlike the founders of religions, Jesus of Nazareth made his own person the centre of his message. Through every act and utterance recorded of him there runs a clear undoubting self-assertion, utterly unknown to Moses or Mahomet. He never spoke but with authority. His first disciples told how he began his ministry by altering the word which was said to them of old time, and ended it by calmly claiming to be the future Judge of all men. And they told the story of their own life also; how they had seen his glory while he dwelt among them, and how their risen Lord had sent them forth to be his witnesses to all the nations. Whatever might be doubtful, their personal knowledge of the Lord was sure and certain, and of necessity became the base and starting-point of their teaching. In Christ all things were new. From him they learned the meaning of their ancient scriptures; through him they knew their heavenly Father; in him they saw their Saviour from this present world, and to him they looked for the crown of life in that to come. His word was law, his love was life, and in his name the world was overcome already. What mattered it to analyse the power of life they felt within them? It was enough to live and to rejoice; and their works are one long hymn of triumphant hope and overflowing thankfulness.

[Sidenote: In contact (1) with the vulgar.]

It was easier for the first disciples to declare what their own eyes had seen and their own hands had handled of the Word of Life, than for another generation to take up a record which to themselves was only history, and to pass from the traditional assertion of the Lord's divinity to its deliberate enunciation in clear consciousness of the difficulties which gathered round it when the gospel came under the keen scrutiny of thoughtful heathens. Whatever vice might be in heathenism, there was no want of interest in religion. If the doubts of some were real, the scoffs of many were only surface-deep. If the old legends of Olympus were outworn, philosophy was still a living faith, and every sort of superstition flourished luxuriantly. Old worships were revived, the ends of the earth were searched for new ones. Isis or Mithras might help where Jupiter was powerless, and uncouth lustrations of the blood of bulls and goats might peradventure cast a spell upon eternity. The age was too sad to be an irreligious one. Thus from whatever quarter a convert might approach the gospel, he brought earlier ideas to bear upon its central question of the person of the Lord. Who then was this man who was dead, whom all the churches affirmed to be alive and worshipped as the Son of God? If he was divine, there must be two Gods; if not, his worship was no better than the vulgar worships of the dead. In either case, there seemed to be no escape from the charge of polytheism.

[Sidenote: (2) with the philosophers.]

The key of the difficulty is on its other side, in the doctrine of the unity of God, which was not only taught by Jews and Christians, but generally admitted by serious heathens. The philosophers spoke of a dim Supreme far off from men, and even the polytheists were not unwilling to subordinate their motley crew of gods to some mysterious divinity beyond them all. So far there was a general agreement. But underneath this seeming harmony there was a deep divergence. Resting on a firm basis of historic revelation, Christianity could bear record of a God who loved the world and of a Redeemer who had come in human flesh. As this coming is enough to show that God is something more than abstract perfection and infinity, there is nothing incredible in a real incarnation, or in a real trinity inside the unity of God. But the heathen had no historic revelation of a living hope to sustain him in that age of failure and exhaustion. Nature was just as mighty, just as ruthless then as now, and the gospel was not yet the spring of hope it is in modern life. In our time the very enemies of the cross are living in its light, and drawing at their pleasure from the well of Christian hope. It was not yet so in that age. Brave men like Marcus Aurelius could only do their duty with hopeless courage, and worship as they might a God who seemed to refuse all answer to the great and bitter cry of mankind. If he cares for men, why does he let them perish? The less he has to do with us, the better we can understand our evil plight. Thus their Supreme was far beyond the weakness of human sympathy. They made him less a person than a thing or an idea, enveloped in clouds of mysticism and abolished from the world by his very exaltation over it. He must not touch it lest it perish. The Redeemer whom the Christians worship may be a hero or a prophet, an angel or a demi-god—anything except a Son of God in human form. We shall have to find some explanation for the scandal of the incarnation.

[Sidenote: Arius himself.]

Arianism is Christianity shaped by thoughts like these. Its author was no mere bustling schemer, but a grave and blameless presbyter of Alexandria. Arius was a disciple of the greatest critic of his time, the venerated martyr Lucian of Antioch. He had a name for learning, and his letters bear witness to his dialectical skill and mastery of subtle irony. At the outbreak of the controversy, about the year 318, we find him in charge of the church of Baucalis at Alexandria, and in high favour with his bishop, Alexander. It was no love of heathenism, but a real difficulty of the gospel which led him to form a new theory. His aim was not to lower the person of the Lord or to refuse him worship, but to defend that worship from the charge of polytheism. Starting from the Lord's humanity, he was ready to add to it everything short of the fullest deity. He could not get over the philosophical difficulty that one who is man cannot be also God, and therefore a second God. Let us see how high a creature can be raised without making hint essentially divine.

[Sidenote: His doctrine; Its merits.]

The Arian Christ is indeed a lofty creature. He claims our worship as the image of the Father, begotten before all worlds, as the Son of God, by whom all things were made, who for us men took flesh and suffered and rose again, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and remains both King and God for ever. Is not this a good confession? What more can we want? Why should all this glorious language go for nothing? God forbid that it should go for nothing. Arianism was at least so far Christian that it held aloft the Lord's example as the Son of Man, and never wavered in its worship of him as the Son of God. Whatever be the errors of its creed, whatever the scandals of its history, it was a power of life among the Northern nations. Let us give Arianism full honour for its noble work of missions in that age of deep despair which saw the dissolution of the ancient world.

[Sidenote: Its real meaning.]

Nevertheless, this plausible Arian confession will not bear examination. It is only the philosophy of the day put into a Christian dress. It starts from the accepted belief that the unity of God excludes not only distinctions inside the divine nature, but also contact with the world. Thus the God of Arius is an unknown God, whose being is hidden in eternal mystery. No creature can reveal him, and he cannot reveal himself. But if he is not to touch the world, he needs a minister of creation. The Lord is rather such a minister than the conqueror of death and sin. No doubt he is the Son of God, and begotten before all worlds. Scripture is quite clear so far; but if he is distinct from the Father, he is not God; and if he is a Son, he is not co-eternal with the Father. And what is not God is creature, and what is not eternal is also creature. On both grounds, then, the Lord is only a creature; so that if he is called God, it is in a lower and improper sense; and if we speak of him as eternal, we mean no more than the eternity of all things in God's counsel. Far from sharing the essence of the Father, he does not even understand his own. Nay, more; he is not even a creature of the highest type. If he is not a sinner, (Scripture forbids at least that theory, though some Arians came very near it), his virtue is, like our own, a constant struggle of free-will, not the fixed habit which is the perfection and annulment of free-will. And now that his human soul is useless, we may as well simplify the incarnation into an assumption of human flesh and nothing more. The Holy Spirit bears to the Son a relation not unlike that of the Son to the Father. Thus the Arian trinity of divine persons forms a descending series, separated by infinite degrees of honour and glory, resembling the philosophical triad of orders of spiritual existence, extending outwards in concentric circles.

[Sidenote: Criticism of it.]

Indeed the system is heathen to the core. The Arian Christ is nothing but a heathen idol invented to maintain a heathenish Supreme in heathen isolation from the world. Never was a more illogical theory devised by the wit of man. Arius proclaims a God of mystery, unfathomable to the Son of God himself, and goes on to argue as if the divine generation were no more mysterious than its human type. He forgets first that metaphor would cease to be metaphor if there were nothing beyond it; then that it would cease to be true if its main idea were misleading. He presses the metaphor of sonship as if mere human relations could exhaust the meaning of the divine; and soon works round to the conclusion that it is no proper sonship at all. In his irreverent hands the Lord's deity is but the common right of mankind, his eternity no more than the beasts themselves may claim. His clumsy logic overturns every doctrine he is endeavouring to establish. He upholds the Lord's divinity by making the Son of God a creature, and then worships him to escape the reproach of heathenism, although such worship, on his own showing, is mere idolatry. He makes the Lord's manhood his primary fact, and overthrows that too by refusing the Son of Man a human soul. The Lord is neither truly God nor truly man, and therefore is no true mediator. Heathenism may dream of a true communion with the Supreme, but for us there neither is nor ever can be any. Between our Father and ourselves there is a great gulf fixed, which neither he nor we can pass. Now that we have heard the message of the Lord, we know the final certainty that God is darkness, and in him is no light at all. If this be the sum of the whole matter, then revelation is a mockery, and Christ is dead in vain.

[Sidenote: Athanasius de Incarnatione.]

Arius was but one of many who were measuring the heights of heaven with their puny logic, and sounding the deeps of Wisdom with the plummet of the schools. Men who agreed in nothing else agreed in this practical subordination of revelation to philosophy. Sabellius, for example, had reduced the Trinity to three successive manifestations of the one God in the Law, the Gospel, and the Church; yet even he agreed with Arius in a philosophical doctrine of the unity of God which was inconsistent with a real incarnation. Even the noble work of Origen had helped to strengthen the philosophical influences which were threatening to overwhelm the definite historic revelation. Tertullian had long since warned the churches of the danger; but a greater than Tertullian was needed now to free them from their bondage to philosophy. Are we to worship the Father of our spirits or the Supreme of the philosophers? Arius put the question: the answer came from Athanasius. Though his De Incarnatione Verbi Dei was written in early manhood, before the rise of Arianism, we can already see in it the firm grasp of fundamental principles which enabled him so thoroughly to master the controversy when it came before him. He starts from the beginning, with the doctrine that God is good and not envious, and that His goodness is shown in the creation, and more especially by the creation of man in the image of God, whereby he was to remain in bliss and live the true life, the life of the saints in Paradise. But when man sinned, he not only died, but fell into the entire corruption summed up in death; for this is the full meaning of the threat 'ye shall die with death.'[1] So things went on from bad to worse on earth. The image of God was disappearing, and the whole creation going to destruction. What then was God to do? He could not take back his sentence that death should follow sin, and yet he could not allow the creatures of his love to perish. Mere repentance on man's side could not touch the law of sin; a word from God forbidding the approach of death would not reach the inner corruption. Angels could not help, for it was not in the image of angels that man was made. Only he who is himself the Life could conquer death. Therefore the immortal Word took human flesh and gave his mortal body for us all. It was no necessity of his nature so to do, but a pure outcome of his love to men and of the Father's loving purpose of salvation. By receiving in himself the principle of death he overcame it, not in his own person only, but in all of us who are united with him. If we do not yet see death abolished, it is now no more than the passage to our joyful resurrection. Our mortal human nature is joined with life in him, and clothed in the asbestos robe of immortality. Thus, and only thus, in virtue of union with him, can man become a sharer of his victory. There is no limit to the sovereignty of Christ in heaven and earth and hell. Wherever the creation has gone before, the issues of the incarnation must follow after. See, too, what he has done among us, and judge if his works are not the works of sovereign power and goodness. The old fear of death is gone. Our children tread it underfoot, our women mock at it. Even the barbarians have laid aside their warfare and their murders, and live at his bidding a new life of peace and purity. Heathenism is fallen, the wisdom of the world is turned to folly, the oracles are dumb, the demons are confounded. The gods of all the nations are giving place to the one true God of mankind. The works of Christ are more in number than the sea, his victories are countless as the waves, his presence is brighter than the sunlight. 'He was made man that we might be made God.'[2]

[Footnote 1: Gen. ii. 17, LXX.]

[Footnote 2: Ath. De Inc. 44: [Greek: autos gar enenthropesen hina hemeis theopoiethomen]. Bold as this phrase is, it is not too bold a paraphrase of Heb. ii. 5-18.]

[Sidenote: Its significance.]

The great persecution had been raging but a few years back, and the changes which had passed since then were enough to stir the enthusiasm of the dullest Christian. These splendid paragraphs are the song of victory over the defeat of the Pharaohs of heathenism and the deliverance of the churches from the house of bondage. 'Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.' There is something in them higher than the fierce exultation of Lactantius over the sufferings of the dying persecutors, though that too is impressive. 'The Lord hath heard our prayers. The men who strove with God lie low; the men who overthrew his churches have themselves fallen with a mightier overthrow; the men who tortured the righteous have surrendered their guilty spirits under the blows of Heaven and in tortures well deserved though long delayed—yet delayed only that posterity might learn the full terrors of God's vengeance on his enemies.' There is none of this fierce joy in Athanasius, though he too had seen the horrors of the persecution, and some of his early teachers had perished in it. His eyes are fixed on the world-wide victory of the Eternal Word, and he never lowers them to resent the evil wrought by men of yesterday. Therefore neither lapse of time nor multiplicity of trials could ever quench in Athanasius the pure spirit of hope which glows in his youthful work. Slight as our sketch of it has been, it will be enough to show his combination of religious intensity with a speculative insight and a breadth of view reminding us of Origen. If he fails to reach the mystery of sinlessness in man, and is therefore not quite free from a Sabellianising view of the Lord's humanity as a mere vesture of his divinity, he at least rises far above the barren logic of the Arians. We shall presently have to compare him with the next great Eastern thinker, Apollinarius of Laodicea.

[Sidenote: Attraction of Arianism: (1.) For superficial thinkers.]

Yet there were many men whom Arianism suited by its shallowness. As soon as Christianity was established as a lawful worship by the edict of Milan in 312, the churches were crowded with converts and inquirers of all sorts. A church which claims to be universal cannot pick and choose like a petty sect, but must receive all comers. Now these were mostly heathens with the thinnest possible varnish of Christianity, and Arianism enabled them to use the language of Christians without giving up their heathen ways of thinking. In other words, the world was ready to accept the gospel as a sublime monotheism, and the Lord's divinity was the one great stumbling-block which seemed to hinder its conversion. Arianism was therefore a welcome explanation of the difficulty. Nor was the attraction only for nominal Christians like these. Careless thinkers—sometimes thinkers who were not careless—might easily suppose that Arianism had the best of such passages as 'The Lord created me,'[3] or 'The Father is greater than I.'[4] Athanasius constantly complains of the Arian habit of relying on isolated passages like these without regard to their context or to the general scope and drift of Scripture.

[Footnote 3: Prov. viii. 22, LXX mistranslation.]

[Footnote 4: John xiv. 28.]

[Sidenote: (2.) To thoughtful men.]

Nor was even this all. The Lord's divinity was a real difficulty to thoughtful men. They were still endeavouring to reconcile the philosophical idea of God with the fact of the incarnation. In point of fact, the two things are incompatible, and one or the other would have to be abandoned. The absolute simplicity of the divine nature is consistent with a merely external Trinity, or with a merely economic Trinity, with an Arian Trinity of one increate and two created beings, or with a Sabellian Trinity of three temporal aspects of the one God revealed in history; but not with a Christian Trinity of three eternal aspects of the divine nature, facing inward on each other as well as outward on the world. But this was not yet fully understood. The problem was to explain the Lord's distinction from the Father without destroying the unity of God. Sabellianism did it at the cost of his premundane and real personality, and therefore by common consent was out of the question. The Easterns were more inclined to theories of subordination, to distinctions of the derivatively from the absolutely divine, and to views of Christ as a sort of secondary God. Such theories do not really meet the difficulty. A secondary God is necessarily a second God. Thus heathenism still held the key of the position, and constantly threatened to convict them of polytheism. They could not sit still, yet they could not advance without remodelling their central doctrine of the divine nature to agree with revelation. Nothing could be done till the Trinity was placed inside the divine nature. But this is just what they could not for a long time see. These men were not Arians, for they recoiled in genuine horror from the polytheistic tendencies of Arianism; but they had no logical defence against Arianism, and were willing to see if some modification of it would not give them a foothold of some kind. To men who dreaded the return of Sabellian confusion, Arianism was at least an error in the right direction. It upheld the same truth as they—the separate personality of the Son of God—and if it went further than they could follow, it might still do service against the common enemy.

[Sidenote: Arianism at Alexandria.]

Thus the new theory made a great sensation at Alexandria, and it was not without much hesitation and delay that Alexander ventured to excommunicate his heterodox presbyter with his chief followers, like Pistus, Carpones, and the deacon Euzoius—all of whom we shall meet again. Arius was a dangerous enemy. His austere life and novel doctrines, his dignified character and championship of 'common sense in religion,' made him the idol of the ladies and the common people. He had plenty of telling arguments for them. 'Did the Son of God exist before his generation?' Or to the women, 'Were you a mother before you had a child?' He knew also how to cultivate his popularity by pastoral visiting—his enemies called it canvassing—and by issuing a multitude of theological songs 'for sailors and millers and wayfarers,' as one of his admirers says. So he set the bishop at defiance, and more than held his ground against him. The excitement spread to every village in Egypt, and Christian divisions became a pleasant subject for the laughter of the heathen theatres.

[Sidenote: And elsewhere.]

The next step was to secure outside support. Arius betook himself to Caesarea in Palestine, and thence appealed to the Eastern churches generally. Nor did he look for help in vain. His doctrine fell in with the prevailing dread of Sabellianism, his personal misfortunes excited interest, his dignified bearing commanded respect, and his connection with the school of Lucian secured him learned and influential sympathy. Great Syrian bishops like those of Caesarea, Tyre, and Laodicea gave him more or less encouragement; and when the old Lucianist Eusebius of Nicomedia held a council in Bithynia to demand his recall, it became clear that the controversy was more than a local dispute. Arius even boasted that the Eastern bishops agreed with him, 'except a few heretical and ill-taught men,' like those of Antioch and Jerusalem.

[Sidenote: Constantine's interference.]

The Eastern Emperor, Licinius, let the dispute take its course. He was a rude old heathen soldier, and could only let it alone. If Eusebius of Nicomedia tried to use his influence in favour of Arius, he had small success. But when the battle of Chrysopolis (323) laid the Empire at the feet of Constantine, it seemed time to get the question somehow settled.



[Sidenote: State of the Empire.]

For nearly twenty years after the middle of the third century, the Roman Empire seemed given over to destruction. It is hard to say whether the provinces suffered more from the inroads of barbarians who ravaged them almost at their will, or from the exactions of a mutinous soldiery who set up an emperor for almost every army; yet both calamities were surpassed by the horrors of a pestilence which swept away the larger part of mankind. There was little hope in an effete polytheism, still less in a corrupt and desponding society. The emperors could not even make head against their foreign enemies. Decius was killed in battle with the Goths, Valerian captured by the Persians. But the Teuton was not yet ready to be the heir of the world. Valerian left behind a school of generals who were able, even in those evil days, to restore the Empire to something like its former splendour. Claudius began by breaking the power of the Goths at Naissus in 269. Aurelian (270-275) made a firm peace with the Goths, and also recovered the provinces. Tetricus and Zenobia, the Gaulish Caesar and the Syrian queen, adorned the triumph of their conqueror. The next step was for Diocletian (284-305) to reform the civil power and reduce the army to obedience. Unfortunately his division of the Empire into more manageable parts led to a series of civil wars, which lasted till its reunion by Constantine in 323. His religious policy was a still worse failure. Instead of seeing in Christianity the one remaining hope of mankind, he set himself at the end of his reign to stamp it out, and left his successors to finish the hopeless task. Here again Constantine repaired Diocletian's error. The edict of Milan in 312 put an end to the great persecution, and a policy of increasing favour soon removed all danger of Christian disaffection.

[Sidenote: Constantine.]

When Constantine stood out before the world as the patron of the gospel, he felt bound to settle the question of Arianism. In some ways he was well qualified for the task. There can be no doubt of his ability and earnestness, or of his genuine interest in Christianity. In political skill he was an overmatch for Diocletian, and his military successes were unequalled since the triumph of Aurelian. The heathens saw in him the restorer of the Empire, the Christians their deliverer from persecution. Even the feeling of a divine mission, which laid him so open to flattery, gave him also a keen desire to remedy the social misery around him; and in this he looked for help to Christianity. Amidst the horrors of Diocletian's persecution a conviction grew upon him that the power which fought the Empire with success must somehow come from the Supreme. Thus he slowly learned to recognise the God of the Christians in his father's God, and in the Sun-god's cross of light to see the cross of Christ. But in Christianity itself he found little more than a confirmation of natural religion. Therefore, with all his interest in the churches, he could not reach the secret of their inner life. Their imposing monotheism he fully appreciated, but the person of the Lord was surely a minor question. Constantine shared the heathen feelings of his time, so that the gospel to him was only a monotheistic heathenism. Thus Arianism came up to his idea of it, and the whole controversy seemed a mere affair of words.

[Sidenote: His view of the controversy.]

But if he had no theological interest in the question, he could not overlook its political importance. Egypt was always a difficult province to manage; and if these Arian songs caused a bloody tumult in Alexandria, he could not let the Christians fight out their quarrels in the streets, as the Jews were used to do. The Donatists had given him trouble enough over a disputed election in Africa, and he did not want a worse than Donatist quarrel in Egypt. Nor was the danger confined to Egypt; it had already spread through the East. The unity of Christendom was at peril, and with it the support which the shattered Empire looked for from an undivided church. The state could treat with a definite organisation of churches, but not with miscellaneous gatherings of sectaries. The question must therefore be settled one way or the other, and settled at once. Which way it was decided mattered little, so that an end was made of the disturbance.

[Sidenote: His first attempt to settle it.]

In this temper Constantine approached the difficulty. His first step was to send Hosius of Cordova to Alexandria with a letter to Alexander and Arius representing the question as a battle of words about mysteries beyond our reach. In the words of a modern writer, 'It was the excess of dogmatism founded upon the most abstract words in the most abstract region of human thought.' It had all arisen out of an over-curious question asked by Alexander, and a rash answer given by Arius. It was a childish quarrel and unworthy of sensible men like them, besides being very distressing to himself. Had the dispute been really trifling, such a letter might have had a chance of quieting it. Instead of this, the excitement grew worse.

[Sidenote: Summons of the council.]

Constantine enlarged his plans. If Arian doctrine disturbed Alexandria, Meletius of Lycopolis was giving quite as much trouble about discipline farther up the Nile, and the old disputes about the time of Easter had never been effectually settled. There were also minor questions about the validity of baptism administered by the followers of Novatian and Paul of Samosata, and about the treatment of those who had denied the faith during the persecution of Licinius. Constantine, therefore, invited all Christian bishops inside and outside the Empire to meet him at Nicaea in Bithynia during the summer of 325, in order to make a final end of all the disputes which endangered the unity of Christendom. The 'city of victory' bore an auspicious name, and the restoration of peace was a holy service, and would be a noble preparation for the solemnities of the great Emperor's twentieth year upon the throne.

[Sidenote: The first oecumenical council.]

The idea of a general or oecumenical council (the words mean the same thing) may well have been Constantine's own. It bears the mark of a statesman's mind, and is of a piece with the rest of his life. Constantine was not thinking only of the questions to be debated. However these might be settled, the meeting could not fail to draw nearer to the state and to each other the churches of that great confederation which later ages have so often mistaken for the church of Christ. As regards Arianism, smaller councils had been a frequent means of settling smaller questions. Though Constantine had not been able to quiet the Donatists by means of the Council of Arles, he might fairly hope that the authority of such a gathering as this would bear down all resistance. If he could only bring the bishops to some decision, the churches might be trusted to follow it.

[Sidenote: Its members.]

An imposing list of bishops answered Constantine's call. The signatures are 223, but they are not complete. The Emperor speaks of 300, and tradition gives 318, like the number of Abraham's servants, or like the mystic number[5] which stands for the cross of Christ. From the far west came his chief adviser for the Latin churches, the patriarch of councils, the old confessor Hosius of Cordova. Africa was represented by Caecilian of Carthage, round whose election the whole Donatist controversy had arisen, and a couple of presbyters answered for the apostolic and imperial see of Rome. Of the thirteen great provinces of the Empire none was missing except distant Britain; but the Western bishops were almost lost in the crowd of Easterns. From Egypt came Alexander of Alexandria with his young deacon Athanasius, and the Coptic confessors Paphnutius and Potammon, each with an eye seared out, came from cities farther up the Nile. All these were resolute enemies of Arianism; its only Egyptian supporters were two bishops from the edge of the western desert. Syria was less unequally divided. If Eustathius of Antioch and Macarius of AElia (we know that city better as Jerusalem) were on Alexander's side, the bishops of Tyre and Laodicea with the learned Eusebius of Caesarea leaned the other way or took a middle course. Altogether there were about a dozen more or less decided Arianizers thinly scattered over the country from the slopes of Taurus to the Jordan valley. Of the Pontic bishops we need notice only Marcellus of Ancyra and the confessor Paul of Neocaesarea. Arianism had no friends in Pontus to our knowledge, and Marcellus was the busiest of its enemies. Among the Asiatics, however, there was a small but influential group of Arianizers, disciples of Lucian like Arius himself. Chief of these was Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was rather a court politician than a student like his namesake of Caesarea, and might be expected to influence the Emperor as much as any one. With him went the bishops of Ephesus and Nicaea itself, and Maris of Chalcedon. The Greeks of Europe were few and unimportant, but on the outskirts of the Empire we find some names of great interest. James of Nisibis represented the old Syrian churches which spoke the Lord's own native language. Restaces the Armenian could remind the bishops that Armenia was in Christ before Rome, and had fought the persecutors in their cause. Theophilus the Goth might tell them the modest beginnings of Teutonic Christianity among his countrymen of the Crimean undercliff. John the Persian, who came from one or another of the many distant regions which bore the name of India, may dimly remind ourselves of the great Nestorian missions which one day were to make the Christian name a power in Northern China. Little as Eusebius of Caesarea liked some issues of the council, he is full of genuine enthusiasm over his majestic roll of churches far and near, from the extremity of Europe to the farthest ends of Asia. Not without the Holy Spirit's guidance did that august assembly meet. Nor was its meeting a day of hope for the churches only, but also for the weary Empire. In that great crisis the deep despair of ages was forgotten. It might be that the power which had overcome the world could also cure its ancient sickness. Little as men could see into the issues of the future, the meaning of the present was beyond mistake. The new world faced the old, and all was ready for the league which joined the names of Rome and Christendom, and made the sway of Christ and Caesar one.

[Footnote 5: 318; in Greek [Greek: tie].]

[Sidenote: The idea of a test creed.]

It seems to have been understood that the council was to settle the question by drawing up a creed as a test for bishops. Here was a twofold novelty. In the first place, Christendom as a whole had as yet no written creed at all. The so-called Apostles' Creed may be older than 340, but then it first appears, and only as a personal confession of the heretic Marcellus. Every church taught its catechumens the historic outlines of the faith, and referred to Scripture as the storehouse and final test of doctrine. But that doctrine was not embodied in forms of more than local currency. Thus different churches had varying creeds to form the basis of the catechumen's teaching, and placed varying professions in his mouth at baptism. Some of these were ancient, and some of widespread use, and all were much alike, for all were couched in Scripture language, variously modelled on the Lord's baptismal formula (Matt. xxviii. 19). At Jerusalem, for example, the candidate declared his faith:

in the Father; in the Son; in the Holy Spirit; and in one Baptism of Repentance.

The Roman form, as approximately given by Novatian in the middle of the third century, was,

I believe in God the Father, the Lord Almighty; in Christ Jesus his Son, the Lord our God; and in the Holy Spirit.

Though these local usages were not disturbed, it was none the less a momentous step to draw up a document for all the churches. Its use as a test for bishops was a further innovation. Purity of doctrine was for a long time guarded by Christian public opinion. If a bishop taught novelties, the neighbouring churches (not the clergy only) met in conference on them, and refused his communion if they proved unsound. Of late years these conferences had been growing into formal councils of bishops, and the legal recognition of the churches by Gallienus [Sidenote: c. 261.] had enabled them to take the further step of deposing false teachers. Aurelian had sanctioned this in the case of Paul of Samosata by requiring communion with the bishops of Rome and Italy as the legal test of Christian orthodoxy. [Sidenote: 272.] But there were practical difficulties in this plan of government by councils. A strong party might dispute the sentence, or even get up rival councils to reverse it. The African Donatists had given Constantine trouble enough of this sort some years before; and now that the Arians were following their example, it was evident that every local quarrel would have an excellent chance of becoming a general controversy. In the interest, therefore, of peace and unity, it seemed better to adopt a written test. If a bishop was willing to sign it when asked, his subscription should be taken as a full reply to every charge of heresy which might be made against him. On this plan, whatever was left out of the creed would be deliberately left an open question in the churches. Whatever a bishop might choose to teach (Arianism, for example), he would have full protection, unless some clause of the new creed expressly shut it out. This is a point which must be kept in view when we come to estimate the conduct of Athanasius. Thus however Constantine hoped to make the bishops keep the peace over such trumpery questions as this of Arianism seemed to him. Had it been a trumpery question, his policy might have had some chance of lasting success. For the moment, at any rate, all parties accepted it, so that the council had only to settle the wording of the new creed.

[Sidenote: Arianism condemned.]

The Arians must have come full of hope to the council. So far theirs was the winning side. They had a powerful friend at court in the Emperor's sister, Constantia, and an influential connection in the learned Lucianic circle. Reckoning also on the natural conservatism of Christian bishops, on the timidity of some, and on the simplicity or ignorance of others, they might fairly expect that if their doctrine was not accepted by the council, it would at least escape formal condemnation. They hoped, however, to carry all before them. An Arianizing creed was therefore presented by a score or so of bishops, headed by the courtier Eusebius of Nicomedia. They soon found their mistake. The Lord's divinity was not an open question in the churches. The bishops raised an angry clamour and tore the offensive creed in pieces. Arius was at once abandoned by nearly all his friends.

[Sidenote: Eusebius proposes the creed of Caesarea.]

This was decisive. Arianism was condemned almost unanimously, and nothing remained but to put on record the decision. But here began the difficulty. Marcellus and Athanasius wanted it put into the creed, but the bishops in general saw no need of this. A heresy so easily overcome could not be very dangerous. There were only half a dozen Arians left in the council, and too precise a definition might lead to dangers on the Sabellian side. At this point the historian Eusebius came forward. Though neither a great man nor a clear thinker, he was the most learned student of the East. He had been a confessor in the persecution, and now occupied an important see, and stood high in the Emperor's favour. With regard to doctrine, he held a sort of intermediate position, regarding the Lord not indeed as a creature, but as a secondary God derived from the will of the Father. This, as we have seen, was the idea then current in the East, that it is possible to find some middle term between the creature and the highest deity. To a man of this sort it seemed natural to fall back on the authority of some older creed, such as all could sign. He therefore laid before the council that of his own church of Caesarea, as follows:—

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, both visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God from God, light from light, life from life, the only-begotten Son, the first-born of all creation, begotten of the Father before all ages,— by whom also all things were made; who for our salvation was made flesh, and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again the third day, and ascended to the Father, and shall come again in glory, to judge quick and dead; And in the Holy Spirit.

Had the council been drawing up a creed for popular use, a short and simple document of this kind would have been suitable enough. The undecided bishops received it with delight. It contained none of the vexatious technical terms which had done all the mischief—nothing but familiar Scripture, which the least learned of them could understand. So far as Arianism might mean to deny the Lord's divinity, it was clearly condemned already, and the whole question might now be safely left at rest behind the ambiguities of the Caesarean creed. So it was accepted at once. Marcellus himself could find no fault with its doctrine, and the Arians were glad now to escape a direct condemnation. But unanimity of this sort, which really decided nothing, was not what Athanasius and Marcellus wanted. They had not come to the council to haggle over compromises, but to cast out the blasphemer, and they were resolved to do it effectually.

[Sidenote: Persistence of Athanasius.]

Hardly a more momentous resolution can be found in history. The whole future of Christianity was determined by it; and we must fairly face the question whether Athanasius was right or not. Would it not have been every way better to rest satisfied with the great moral victory already gained? When heathens were pressing into the church in crowds, was that a suitable time to offend them with a solemn proclamation of the very doctrine which chiefly kept them back? It was, moreover, a dangerous policy to insist on measures for which even Christian opinion was not ripe, and it led directly to the gravest troubles in the churches—troubles of which no man then living was to see the end. The first half century of prelude was a war of giants; but the main contest opened at Nicaea is not ended yet, or like to end before the Lord himself shall come to end it. It was the decision of Athanasius which made half the bitterness between the Roman and the Teuton, between Christianity and Islam to this day. Even now it is the worst stumbling-block of Western unbelief. Many of our most earnest enemies would gladly forget their enmity if we would only drop our mysticism and admire with them a human Christ who never rose with power from the dead. But we may not do this thing. Christianity cannot make its peace with this world by dropping that message from the other which is its only reason for existence. Athanasius was clearly right. When Constantine had fairly put the question, they could not refuse to answer. Let the danger be what it might, they could not deliberately leave it open for Christian bishops (the creed was not for others) to dispute whether our Lord is truly God or not. Those may smile to whom all revelation is a vain thing; but it is our life, and we believe it is their own life too. If there is truth or even meaning in the gospel, this question of all others is most surely vital. Nor has history failed to justify Athanasius. That heathen age was no time to trifle with heathenism in the very citadel of Christian life. Fresh from the fiery trial of the last great persecution, whose scarred and mutilated veterans were sprinkled through the council-hall, the church of God was entering on a still mightier conflict with the spirit of the world. If their fathers had been faithful unto death or saved a people from the world, their sons would have to save the world itself and tame its Northern conquerors. Was that a time to say of Christ, 'But as for this man, we know not whence he is'?

[Sidenote: Revision of the Caesarean creed.]

Athanasius and his friends made a virtue of necessity, and disconcerted the plans of Eusebius by promptly accepting his creed. They were now able to propose a few amendments in it, and in this way they meant to fight out the controversy. It was soon found impossible to avoid a searching revision. Ill-compacted clauses invited rearrangement, and older churches, like Jerusalem or Antioch, might claim to share with Caesarea the honour of giving a creed to the whole of Christendom. Moreover, several of the Caesarean phrases seemed to favour the opinions which the bishops had agreed to condemn. 'First-born of all creation' does not necessarily mean more than that he existed before other things were made. 'Begotten before all worlds' is just as ambiguous, or rather worse, for the Arians understood 'begotten' to mean 'created.' Again, 'was made flesh' left it unsettled whether the Lord took anything more than a human body. These were serious defects, and the bishops could not refuse to amend them. After much careful work, the following was the form adopted:—

[Sidenote: The Nicene Creed.]

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, both visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, an only-begotten— that is, from the essence (ousia) of the Father God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, being of one essence (homoousion) with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things on earth: who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, was made man, suffered, and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, cometh to judge quick and dead; And in the Holy Spirit.

But those who say that 'there was once when he was not,' and 'before he was begotten he was not,' and 'he was made of things that were not,' or maintain that the Son of God is of a different essence (hypostasis or ousia[6]) or created or subject to moral change or alteration— these doth the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematize.

[Footnote 6: The two words are used as synonyms.]

[Sidenote: Its doctrine.]

It will be seen that the genuine Nicene Creed here given differs in almost every clause from the so-called Nicene Creed of our Communion Service. Leaving, however, the spurious Nicene Creed till we come to it, let us see how the genuine Nicene Creed dealt with Arianism. Its central phrases are the two which refer to essence. Now the essence of a thing is that by which it is what we suppose it to be. We look at it from various points of view, and ascribe to it first one quality and then another. Its essence from any one of these successive points of view is that by which it possesses the corresponding quality. About this unknown something we make no assertion, so that we are committed to no theory whatever. Thus the essence of the Father as God (for this was the point of view) is that unknown and incommunicable something by which He is God. If therefore we explain St. John's 'an only-begotten who is God'[7] inserting 'that is, from the essence of the Father,' we declare that the Divine Sonship is no accident of will, but belongs to the divine nature. It is not an outside matter of creation or adoption, but (so to speak) an organic relation inside that nature. The Father is no more God without the Son than the Son is God without the Father. Again, if we confess him to be of one essence with the Father, we declare him the common possessor with the Father of the one essence which no creature can share, and thus ascribe to him the highest deity in words which allow no evasion or reserve. The two phrases, however, are complementary. From the essence makes a clear distinction: of one essence lays stress on the unity. The word had a Sabellian history, and was used by Marcellus in a Sabellian sense, so that it was justly discredited as Sabellian. Had it stood alone, the creed would have been Sabellian; but at Nicaea it was checked by from the essence. When the later Nicenes, under Semiarian influence, came to give the word another meaning, the check was wisely removed.

[Footnote 7: John i. 18 (the best reading, and certainly familiar in the Nicene age).]

[Sidenote: Its caution.]

Upon the whole, the creed is a cautious document. Though Arianism is attacked again in the clause was made man, which states that the Lord took something more than a human body, there is no attempt to forestall later controversies by a further definition of the meaning of the incarnation. The abrupt pause after the mention of the Holy Spirit is equally significant, for the nature of his divinity was still an open question. Even the heretics are not cursed, for anathema in the Nicene age was no more than the penalty which to a layman was equivalent to the deposition of a cleric. It meant more when it was launched against the dead two hundred years later.

[Sidenote: Arian objections.]

Our accounts of the debate are very fragmentary. Eusebius passes over an unpleasant subject, and Athanasius up and down his writings only tells us what he wants for his immediate purpose. Thus we cannot trace many of the Arian objections to the creed. Knowing, however, as we do that they were carefully discussed, we may presume that they were the standing difficulties of the next generation. These were four in number:—

(1.) 'From the essence' and 'of one essence' are materialist expressions, implying either that the Son is a separate part of the essence of the Father, or that there is some third essence prior to both. This objection was a difficulty in the East, and still more in the West, where 'essence' was represented by the materializing word substantia, from which we get our unfortunate translation 'of one substance.'

(2.) 'Of one essence' is Sabellian. This was true; and the defenders of the word did not seem to care if it was true. Marcellus almost certainly used incautious language, and it was many years before even Athanasius was fully awake to the danger from the Sabellian side.

(3.) The words 'essence' and 'of one essence' are not found in Scripture. This is what seems to have influenced the bishops most of all.

(4.) 'Of one essence' is contrary to church authority. This also was true, for the word had been rejected as materializing by a large council held at Antioch in 269 against Paul of Samosata. The point, however, at present raised was not that it had been rejected for a good reason, but simply that it had been rejected; and this is an appeal to church authority in the style of later times. The question was one of Scripture against church authority. Both parties indeed accepted Scripture as supreme, but when they differed in its interpretation, the Arians pleaded that a word not sanctioned by church authority could not be made a test of orthodoxy. If tradition gave them a foothold (and none could deny it), they thought themselves entitled to stay; if Scripture condemned them (and there could be no doubt of that), Athanasius thought himself bound to turn them out. It was on the ground of Scripture that the fathers of Nicaea took their stand, and the works of Athanasius, from first to last, are one continuous appeal to Scripture. In this case he argues that if the disputed word is not itself Scripture, its meaning is. This was quite enough; but if the Arians chose to drag in antiquarian questions, they might easily be met on that ground also, for the word had been used or recognised by Origen and others at Alexandria. With regard to its rejection by the Syrian churches, he refuses all mechanical comparisons of date or numbers between the councils of Antioch and Nicaea, and endeavours to show that while Paul of Samosata had used the word in one sense, Arius denied it in another.

[Sidenote: Hesitation of the council.]

The council paused. The confessors in particular were an immense conservative force. If Hosius and Eustathius had been forward in attacking Arianism, few of them can have greatly wished to re-state the faith which had sustained them in their trial. Now the creed involved something like a revolution. The idea of a universal test was in itself a great change, best softened as much as might be. The insertion of a direct condemnation of Arianism was a still more serious step, and though the bishops had consented to it, they had not consented without misgiving. But when it was proposed to use a word of doubtful tendency, neither found in Scripture nor sanctioned by church authority, it would have been strange if they had not looked round for some escape.

[Sidenote: Arian evasions.]

Yet what escape was possible? Scripture can be used as a test if its authority is called in question, but not when its meaning is disputed. If the Arians were to be excluded, it was useless to put into the creed the very words whose plain meaning they were charged with evading. Athanasius gives an interesting account of this stage of the debate. It appears that when the bishops collected phrases from Scripture and set down that the Son is 'of God,' those wicked Arians said to each other, 'We can sign that, for we ourselves also are of God. Is it not written, All things are of God?'[8] So when the bishops saw their impious ingenuity, they put it more clearly, that the Son is not only of God like the creatures, but of the essence of God. And this was the reason why the word 'essence' was put into the creed. Again, the Arians were asked if they would confess that the Son is not a creature, but the power and eternal image of the Father and true God. Instead of giving a straightforward answer, they were caught whispering to each other. 'This is true of ourselves, for we men are called the image and glory of God.[9] We too are eternal, for we who live are always.[10] And powers of God are many. Is He not the Lord of powers (hosts)? The locust and the caterpillar are actually "my great power which I sent among you."[11] He is true God also, for he became true God as soon as he was created.' These were the evasions which compelled the bishops to sum up the sense of Scripture in the statement that the Son is of one essence with the Father.

[Footnote 8: 1 Cor. viii. 6.]

[Footnote 9: 1 Cor. xi. 7.]

[Footnote 10: 2 Cor. iv. 11; the impudence of the quotation is worth notice.]

[Footnote 11: Joel ii. 25 (army).]

[Sidenote: Acceptance of the creed.]

So far Athanasius. The longer the debate went on, the clearer it became that the meaning of Scripture could not be defined without going outside Scripture for words to define it. In the end, they all signed except a few. Many, however, signed with misgivings, and some almost avowedly as a formality to please the Emperor. 'The soul is none the worse for a little ink.' It is not a pleasant scene for the historian.

[Sidenote: The letter of Eusebius.]

Eusebius of Caesarea was sorely disappointed. Instead of giving a creed to Christendom, he received back his confession in a form which at first he could not sign at all. There was some ground for his complaint that, under pretence of inserting the single word of one essence, which our wise and godly Emperor so admirably explained, the bishops had in effect drawn up a composition of their own. It was a venerable document of stainless orthodoxy, and they had laid rude hands on almost every clause of it. Instead of a confession which secured the assent of all parties by deciding nothing, they forced on him a stringent condemnation, not indeed of his own belief, but of opinions held by many of his friends, and separated by no clear logical distinction from his own. But now was he to sign or not? Eusebius was not one of the hypocrites, and would not sign till his scruples were satisfied. He tells us them in a letter to the people of his diocese, which he wrote under the evident feeling that his signature needed some apology. First he gives their own Caesarean creed, and protests his unchanged adherence to it. Then he relates its unanimous acceptance, subject to the insertion of the single word of one essence, which Constantine explained to be directed against materializing and unspiritual views of the divine generation. But it emerged from the debates in so altered a form that he could not sign it without careful examination. His first scruple was at of the essence of the Father, which was explained as not meant to imply any materializing separation. So, for the sake of peace, he was willing to accept it, as well as of one essence, now that he could do it with a good conscience. Similarly, begotten, not made, was explained to mean that the Son has nothing in common with the creatures made by him, but is of a higher essence, ineffably begotten of the Father. So also, on careful consideration, of one essence with the Father implies no more than the uniqueness of the Son's generation, and his distinctness from the creatures. Other expressions prove equally innocent.

[Sidenote: Constantine's interference.]

Now that a general agreement had been reached, it was time for Constantine to interpose. He had summoned the council as a means of union, and enforced his exhortation to harmony by burning the letters of recrimination which the bishops had presented to him. To that text he still adhered. He knew too little of the controversy to have any very strong personal opinion, and the influences which might have guided him were divided. If Hosius of Cordova leaned to the Athanasian side, Eusebius of Nicomedia was almost Arian. If Constantine had any feeling in the matter—dislike, for example, of the popularity of Arius—he was shrewd enough not to declare it too hastily. If he tried to force a view of his own on the undecided bishops, he might offend half Christendom; but if he waited for the strongest force inside the council to assert itself, he might safely step in at the end to coerce the recusants. Therefore whatever pleased the council pleased the Emperor too. When they tore up the Arian creed, he approved. When they accepted the Caesarean, he approved again. When the morally strong Athanasian minority urged the council to put in the disputed clauses, Constantine did his best to smooth the course of the debate. At last, always in the interest of unity, he proceeded to put pressure on the few who still held out. Satisfactory explanations were given to Eusebius of Caesarea, and in the end they all signed but the two Egyptian Arians, Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarica. These were sent into exile, as well as Arius himself; and a qualified subscription from Eusebius of Nicomedia only saved him for the moment. An imperial rescript also branded the heretic's followers with the name of Porphyrians, and ordered his writings to be burnt. The concealment of a copy was to be a capital offence.

[Sidenote: Close of the council.]

Other subjects decided by the council will not detain us long, though some of its members may have thought one or two of them quite as important as Arianism. The old Easter question was settled in favour of the Roman custom of observing, not the day of the Jewish passover in memory of the crucifixion, but a later Sunday in memory of the resurrection. For how, explains Constantine—how could we who are Christians possibly keep the same day as those wicked Jews? The council, however, was right on the main point, that the feasts of Christian worship are not to be tied to those of Judaism. The third great subject for discussion was the Meletian schism in Egypt, and this was settled by a liberal compromise. The Meletian presbyter might act alone if there was no orthodox presbyter in the place, otherwise he was to be a coadjutor with a claim to succeed if found worthy. Athanasius (at least in later times) would have preferred severer measures, and more than once refers to these with unconcealed disgust. The rest of the business disposed of, Constantine dismissed the bishops with a splendid feast, which Eusebius enthusiastically likens to the kingdom of heaven.

[Sidenote: Results of the council.]

Let us now sum up the results of the council, so far as they concern Arianism. In one sense they were decisive. Arianism was so sharply condemned by the all but unanimous voice of Christendom, that nearly thirty years had to pass before it was openly avowed again. Conservative feeling in the West was engaged in steady defence of the great council; and even in the East its doctrine could be made to wear a conservative aspect as the actual faith of Christendom. On the other hand, were serious drawbacks. The triumph was rather a surprise than a solid victory. As it was a revolution which a minority had forced through by sheer strength of clearer thought, a reaction was inevitable when the half-convinced majority returned home. In other words, Athanasius had pushed the Easterns farther than they wished to go, and his victory recoiled on himself. But he could not retreat when once he had put the disputed words into the creed. Come what might, those words were irreversible. And if it was a dangerous policy which won the victory, the use made of it was deplorable. Though the exile of Arius and his friends was Constantine's work, much of the discredit must fall on the Athanasian leaders, for we cannot find that they objected to it either at the time or afterwards. It seriously embittered the controversy. If the Nicenes set the example of persecution, the other side improved on it till the whole contest threatened to degenerate into a series of personal quarrels and retaliations. The process was only checked by the common hatred of all parties to Julian, and by the growth of a better spirit among the Nicenes, as shown in the later writings of Athanasius.



[Sidenote: The problem stated.]

At first sight the reaction which followed the Nicene council is one of the strangest scenes in history. The decision was clear and all but unanimous. Arianism seemed crushed for ever by the universal reprobation of the Christian world. Yet it instantly renewed the contest, and fought its conquerors on equal terms for more than half a century. A reaction like this is plainly more than a court intrigue. Imperial favour could do a good deal in the Nicene age, but no emperor could long oppose any clear and definite belief of Christendom. Nothing could be plainer than the issue of the council. How then could Arianism venture to renew the contest?

[Sidenote: The reaction rather conservative than Arian.]

The answer is, that though the belief of the churches was certainly not Arian, neither was it yet definitely Nicene. The dominant feeling both in East and West was one of dislike to change, which we may conveniently call conservatism. But here there was a difference. Heresies in the East had always gathered round the person of the Lord, and more than one had already partly occupied the ground of Arianism. Thus Eastern conservatism inherited a doctrine from the last generation, and was inclined to look on the Nicene decisions as questionable innovations. The Westerns thought otherwise. Leaning on authority as they habitually did, they cared little to discuss for themselves an unfamiliar question. They could not even translate its technical terms into Latin without many misunderstandings. Therefore Western conservatism simply fell back on the august decisions of Nicaea. No later meeting could presume to rival 'the great and holy council' where Christendom had once for all pronounced the condemnation of Arianism. In short, East and West were alike conservative; but while conservatism in the East went behind the council, in the West it was content to start from it.

[Sidenote: Supported by influence of: (1.) Heathens.]

The Eastern reaction was therefore in its essence not Arian but conservative. Its leaders might be conservatives like Eusebius of Caesarea, or court politicians like his successor, Acacius. They were never open Arians till 357. The front and strength of the party was conservative, and the Arians at its tail were in themselves only a source of weakness. Yet they could enlist powerful allies in the cause of reaction. Heathenism was still a living power in the world. It was strong in numbers even in the East, and even stronger in the imposing memories of history. Christianity was still an upstart on Caesar's throne. The favour of the gods had built up the Empire, and men's hearts misgave them that their wrath might overthrow it. Heathenism was still an established religion, the Emperor still its official head. Old Rome was still devoted to her ancient deities, her nobles still recorded their priesthoods and augurships among their proudest honours, and the Senate itself still opened every sitting with an offering of incense on the altar of Victory. The public service was largely heathen, and the army too, especially its growing cohorts of barbarian auxiliaries. Education also was mostly heathen, turning on heathen classics and taught by heathen rhetoricians. Libanius, the teacher of Chrysostom, was also the honoured friend of Julian. Philosophy too was a great influence, now that it had leagued together all the failing powers of the ancient world against a rival not of this world. Its weakness as a moral force must not blind us to its charm for the imagination. Neoplatonism brought Egypt to the aid of Greece, and drew on Christianity itself for help. The secrets of philosophy were set forth in the mysteries of Eastern superstition. From the dim background of a noble monotheism the ancient gods came forth to represent on earth a majesty above their own. No waverer could face the terrors of that mighty gathering of infernal powers. And the Nicene age was a time of unsettlement and change, of half-beliefs and wavering superstition, of weakness and unclean frivolity. Above all, society was heathen to an extent we can hardly realise. The two religions were strangely mixed. The heathens on their side never quite understood the idea of worshipping one God only; while crowds of nominal Christians never asked for baptism unless a dangerous illness or an earthquake scared them, and thought it quite enough to show their faces in church once or twice a year. Meanwhile, they lived just like the heathens round them, steeped in superstitions like their neighbours, attending freely their immoral games and dances, and sharing in the sins connected with them. Thus Arianism had many affinities with heathenism, in its philosophical idea of the Supreme, in its worship of a demigod of the vulgar type, in its rhetorical methods, and in its generally lower moral tone. Heathen influences therefore strongly supported Arianism.

[Sidenote: (2.) Jews.]

The Jews also usually took the Arian side. They were still a power in the world, though it was long since Israel had challenged Rome to seventy years of internecine contest for the dominion of the East. But they had never forgiven her the destruction of Jehovah's temple. [Sidenote: A.D. 66-135.] Half overcome themselves by the spell of the eternal Empire, they still looked vaguely for some Eastern deliverer to break her impious yoke. Still more fiercely they resented her adoption of the gospel, which indeed was no tidings of good-will or peace to them, but the opening of a thousand years of persecution. Thus they were a sort of caricature of the Christian churches. They made every land their own, yet were aliens in all. They lived subject to the laws of the Empire, yet gathered into corporations governed by their own. They were citizens of Rome, yet strangers to her imperial comprehensiveness. In a word, they were like a spirit in the body, but a spirit of uncleanness and of sordid gain. If they hated the Gentile, they could love his vices notwithstanding. If the old missionary zeal of Israel was extinct, they could still purvey impostures for the world. Jewish superstitions were the plague of distant Spain, the despair of Chrysostom at Antioch. Thus the lower moral tone of Arianism and especially its denial of the Lord's divinity were enough to secure it a fair amount of Jewish support as against the Nicenes. At Alexandria, for example, the Jews were always ready for lawless outrage at the call of every enemy of Athanasius.

[Sidenote: (3.) The court.]

The court also leaned to Arianism. The genuine Arians, to do them justice, were not more pliant to imperial dictation than the Nicenes, but the genuine Arians were only one section of a motley coalition. Their conservative patrons and allies were laid open to court influence by their dread of Sabellianism; for conservatism is the natural home of the impatient timidity which looks round at every difficulty for a saviour of society, and would fain turn the whole work of government into a crusade against a series of scarecrows. Thus when Constantius turned against them, their chiefs were found wanting in the self-respect which kept both Nicene and Arian leaders from condescending to a battle of intrigue with such masters of the art as flourished in the palace. But for thirty years the intriguers found it their interest to profess conservatism. The court was as full of selfish cabals as that of the old French monarchy. Behind the glittering ceremonial on which the treasures of the world were squandered fought armies of place-hunters great and small, cooks and barbers, women and eunuchs, courtiers and spies, adventurers of every sort, for ever wresting the majesty of law to private favour, for ever aiming new oppressions at the men on whom the exactions of the Empire already fell with crushing weight. The noblest bishops, the ablest generals, were their fairest prey; and we have no surer witness to the greatness of Athanasius or Julian than the pertinacious hatred of this odious horde. Intriguers of this kind found it better to unsettle the Nicene decisions, on behalf of conservatism forsooth, than to maintain them in the name of truth. There were many ways of upsetting them, and each might lead to gain; only one of defending them, and that was not attractive.

[Sidenote: (4.) Asia.]

Nor were Constantius and Valens without political reasons for their support of Arianism. We can see by the light of later history that the real centre of the Empire was the solid mass of Asia from the Bosphorus to Mount Taurus, and that Constantinople was its outwork on the side of Europe. In Rome on one side, Egypt and Syria on the other, we can already trace the tendencies which led to their separation from the orthodox Eastern Church and Empire. Now in the fourth century Asia was a stronghold of conservatism. There was a good deal of Arianism in Cappadocia, but we hear little of it in Asia. The group of Lucianists at Nicaea left neither Arian nor Nicene successors. The ten provinces of Asia 'verily knew not God' in Hilary's time; and even the later Nicene doctrine of Cappadocia was almost as much Semiarian as Athanasian. Thus Constantius and Valens pursued throughout an Asiatic policy, striking with one hand at Egypt, with the other at Rome. Every change in their action can be explained with reference to the changes of opinion in Asia.

[Sidenote: Conclusion.]

Upon the whole, we may say that Arian hatred of the council would have been powerless if it had not rested on a formidable mass of conservative discontent, while the conservative discontent might have died away if the court had not supplied it with the means of action. If the decision lay with the majority, every initiative had to come from the court. Hence the reaction went on as long as these were agreed against the Nicene party; it was suspended as soon as Julian's policy turned another way, became unreal when conservative alarm subsided, and finally collapsed when Asia went over to the Nicene side.

[Sidenote: Sequel of the council.]

We may now return to the sequel of the great council. If Constantine thought he had restored peace in the churches, he soon found out his mistake. The literary war began again almost where his summons had interrupted it. The creed was signed and done with and seemed forgotten. The conservatives hardly cared to be reminded of their half unwilling signatures. To Athanasius it may have been a watchword from the first, but it was not so to many others. In the West it was as yet almost unknown. Even Marcellus was more disposed to avoid all technical terms than to lay stress on those which the council sanctioned. Yet all parties had learned caution at Nicaea. Marcellus disavowed Sabellianism; Eusebius avoided Arianism, and nobody seems to have disowned the creed as long as Constantine lived.

[Sidenote: Athanasius bishop of Alexandria, A.D. 328.]

The next great change was at Alexandria. The bishop Alexander died in the spring of 328, and a stormy election followed. Its details are obscure, but the Nicene party put forward the deacon Athanasius, and consecrated him in spite of a determined opposition from Arians and Meletians. And now that we stand before the greatest of the Eastern fathers, let us see how his character and training fitted him to be the hero of the Arian controversy.

[Sidenote: Character of Athanasius.]

Athanasius was a Greek by birth and education, Greek also in subtle thought and philosophic insight, in oratorical power and supple statesmanship. Though born almost within the shadow of the mighty temple of Serapis at Alexandria, he shows few signs of Coptic influence. Deep as is his feeling of the mystery of revelation, he has no love of mystery for its own sake, nothing of the Egyptian passion for things awful and mysterious. Even his style is clear and simple, without a trace of Egyptian involution and obscurity. We know nothing of his family, and cannot even date his birth for certain, though it must have been very near the year 297. He was, therefore, old enough to remember the worst days of the great persecution, which Maximin Daza kept up in Egypt as late as 313. Legend has of course been busy with his early life. According to one story, Alexander found him with some other boys at play, imitating the ceremonies of baptism—not a likely game for a youth of sixteen. Another story makes him a disciple of the great hermit Antony, who never existed. He may have been a lawyer for a time, but in any case his training was neither Coptic nor monastic, but Greek and scriptural, as became a scholar of Alexandria. There may be traces of Latin in his writings, but his allusions to Greek literature are such as leave no doubt that he had a liberal education. In his earliest works he refers to Plato; in later years he quotes Homer, and models his notes on Aristotle, his Apology to Constantius on Demosthenes. To Egyptian idolatry he seldom alludes. Scripture, however, is his chosen and familiar study, and few commentators have ever shown a firmer grasp of certain of its leading thoughts. He at least endeavoured (unlike the Arian text-mongers) to take in the context of his quotations and the general drift of Christian doctrine. Many errors of detail may be pardoned to a writer who so seldom fails in suggestiveness and width of view. In mere learning he was no match for Eusebius of Caesarea, and even as a thinker he has a worthy rival in Hilary of Poitiers, while some of the Arian leaders were fully equal to him in political skill. But Eusebius was no great thinker, Hilary no statesman, and the Arian leaders were not men of truth. Athanasius, on the other hand, was philosopher, statesman, and saint in one. Few great men have ever been so free from littleness or weakness. At the age of twenty he had risen far above the level of Arianism and Sabellianism, and throughout his long career we catch glimpses of a spiritual depth which few of his contemporaries could reach. Above all things, his life was consecrated to a simple witness for truth. Athanasius is the hero of a mighty struggle, and the secret of his grandeur is his intense and vivid faith that the incarnation is a real revelation from the other world, and that its issues are for life and death supreme in heaven and earth and hell for evermore.

[Sidenote: Early years of his rule at Alexandria.]

Such a bishop was sure to meet a bitter opposition, and as sure to overcome it. Egypt soon became a stronghold of the Nicene faith, for Athanasius could sway the heart of Greek and Copt alike. The pertinacious hatred of a few was balanced by the enthusiastic admiration of the many. The Meletians dwindled fast, the Arians faster still. Nothing but outside persecution was needed now to make Nicene orthodoxy the national faith of Egypt.

[Sidenote: Beginnings of the reaction.]

It will be remembered that Eusebius of Nicomedia was exiled shortly after the council. His disgrace was not a long one. He had powerful friends at court, and it was not very hard for a man who had signed the creed to satisfy the Emperor of his substantial orthodoxy. Constantine was not unforgiving, and policy as well as easy temper forbade him to scrutinize too closely the professions of submission laid before him. Once restored to his former influence at court, Eusebius became the centre of intrigue against the council. Old Lucianic friendships may have led him on. Arius was a Lucianist like himself, and the Lucianists had in vain defended him before the council. Eusebius was the ablest of them, and had fared the worst. He had strained his conscience to sign the creed, and his compliance had not even saved him from exile. We cannot wonder if he brought back a firm determination to undo the council's hateful work. If it was too dangerous to attack the creed itself, its defenders might be got rid of one by one on various pretexts. Such was the plan of operations.

[Sidenote: Formation of the Eusebian coalition.]

A party was easily formed. The Lucianists were its nucleus, and all sorts of malcontents gathered round them. The Meletians of Egypt joined the coalition, and the unclean creatures of the palace rejoiced to hear of fresh intrigue. Above all, the conservatives gave extensive help. The charges against the Nicene leaders were often more than plausible, for men like the Caesarean Eusebius dreaded Sabellianism, and Marcellus was practically Sabellian, and the others aiders and abettors of his misbelief. Some even of the darker charges may have had some ground, or at least have seemed truer than they were. Thus Eusebius had a very heterogeneous following, and it would be scant charity if we laid on all of them the burden of their leader's infamy.

[Sidenote: Attacks on: (1.) Eustathius.]

They began with Eustathius of Antioch, an old confessor and a man of eloquence, who enjoyed a great and lasting popularity in the city. He was one of the foremost enemies of Arianism at Nicaea, and had since waged an active literary war with the Arianizing clique in Syria. In one respect they found him a specially dangerous enemy, for he saw clearly the important consequences of the Arian denial of the Lord's true human soul. Eustathius was therefore deposed (on obscure grounds) in 330, and exiled with many of his clergy to Thrace. The vacant see was offered to Eusebius of Caesarea, and finally accepted by the Cappadocian Euphronius. But party spirit ran high at Antioch. The removal of Eustathius nearly caused a bloody riot, and his departure was followed by an open schism. The Nicenes refused to recognise Euphronius, and held their meetings apart, under the presbyter Paulinus, remaining without a bishop for more than thirty years.

[Sidenote: (2.) Marcellus.]

The system was vigorously followed up. Ten of the Nicene leaders were exiled in the next year or two. But Alexandria and Ancyra were the great strongholds of the Nicene faith, and the Eusebians still had to expel Marcellus and Athanasius. As Athanasius might have met a charge of heresy with a dangerous retort, it was found necessary to take other methods with him. Marcellus, however, was so far the foremost champion of the council, and he had fairly exposed himself to a doctrinal attack. Let us therefore glance at his theory of the incarnation.

[Sidenote: Character of Marcellus.]

Marcellus of Ancyra was already in middle life when he came forward as a resolute enemy of Arianism at Nicaea. Nothing is known of his early years and education, but we can see some things which influenced him later on. Ancyra was a strange diocese, full of uncouth Gauls and chaffering Jews, and overrun with Montanists and Manichees, and votaries of endless fantastic heresies and superstitions. In the midst of this turmoil Marcellus spent his life; and if he learned too much of the Galatian party spirit, he learned also that the gospel is wider than the forms of Greek philosophy. The speculations of Alexandrian theology were as little appreciated by the Celts of Asia as is the stately churchmanship of England by the Celts of Wales. They were the foreigner's thoughts, too cold for Celtic zeal, too grand for Celtic narrowness. Fickleness is not inconsistent with a true and deep religious instinct, and we may find something austere and high behind the ever-changing phases of spiritual excitement. Thus the ideal holiness of the church, upheld by Montanists and Novatians, attracted kindred spirits at opposite ends of the Empire, among the Moors of the Atlas and the Gauls of Asia. Such a people will have sins and scandals like its neighbours, but very little indifference or cynicism. It will be more inclined to make of Christian liberty an excuse for strife and debate. The zeal which carries the gospel to the loneliest mountain villages will also fill them with the jealousies of endless quarrelling sects; and the Gaul of Asia clung to his separatism with all the more tenacity for the consciousness that his race was fast dissolving in the broader and better world of Greece. Thus Marcellus was essentially a stranger to the wider movements of his time. His system is an appeal from Origen to St. John, from philosophy to Scripture. Nor can we doubt the high character and earnest zeal of the man who for years stood side by side with Athanasius. The more significant therefore is the failure of his bold attempt to cut the knot of controversy.

[Sidenote: Doctrine of Marcellus.]

Marcellus then agreed with the Arians that the idea of sonship implies beginning and inferiority, so that a Son of God is neither eternal nor equal to the Father. When the Arians argued on both grounds that the Lord is a creature, the conservatives were content to reply that the idea of sonship excludes that of creation, and implies a peculiar relation to and origin from the Father. But their own position was weak. Whatever they might say, their secondary God was a second God, and their theory of the eternal generation only led them into further difficulties, for their concession of the Son's origin from the will of the Father made the Arian conclusion irresistible. Marcellus looked scornfully on a lame result like this. The conservatives had broken down because they had gone astray after vain philosophy. Turn we then to Scripture. 'In the beginning was,' not the Son, but the Word. It is no secondary or accidental title which St. John throws to the front of his Gospel, and repeats with deliberate emphasis three times over in the first verse. Thus the Lord is properly the Word of God, and this must govern the meaning of all such secondary names as the Son. Then he is not only the silent thinking principle which remains with God, but also the active creating power which comes forth too for the dispensation of the world. In this Sabellianizing sense Marcellus accepted the Nicene faith, holding that the Word is one with God as reason is one with man. Thus he explained the Divine Sonship and other difficulties by limiting them to the incarnation. The Word as such is pure spirit, and only became the Son of God by becoming the Son of Man. It was only in virtue of this humiliating separation from the Father that the Word acquired a sort of independent personality. Thus the Lord was human certainly on account of his descent into true created human flesh, and yet not merely human, for the Word remained unchanged. Not for its own sake was the Word incarnate, but merely for the conquest of Satan. 'The flesh profiteth nothing,' and even the gift of immortality cannot make it worthy of permanent union with the Word. God is higher than immortality itself, and even the immortal angels cannot pass the gulf which parts the creature from its Lord. That which is of the earth is useless for the age to come. Hence the human nature must be laid aside when its work is done and every hostile power overthrown. Then shall the Son of God deliver up the kingdom to the Father, that the kingdom of God may have no end; and then the Word shall return, and be for ever with the Father as before.

[Sidenote: The conservative panic.]

A universal cry of horror rose from the conservative ranks to greet the new Sabellius, the Jew and worse than Jew, the shameless miscreant who had forsworn the Son of God. Marcellus had confused together all the errors he could find. The faith itself was at peril if blasphemies like these were to be sheltered behind the rash decisions of Nicaea. So thought the conservatives, and not without a reason, though their panic was undignified from the first, and became a positive calamity when taken up by political adventurers for their own purposes. As far as doctrine went, there was little to choose between Marcellus and Arius. Each held firmly the central error of the conservatives, and rejected as illogical the modifications and side views by which they were finding their way to something better. Both parties, says Athanasius, are equally inconsistent. The conservatives, who refuse eternal being to the Son of God, will not endure to hear that his kingdom is other than eternal; while the Marcellians, who deny his personality outright, are equally shocked at the Arian limitation of it to the sphere of time. Nor had Marcellus escaped the difficulties of Arius. If, for example, the idea of an eternal Son is polytheistic, nothing is gained by transferring the eternity to an impersonal Word. If the generation of the Son is materializing, so also is the coming forth of the Word. If the work of creation is unworthy of God, it may as well be delegated to a created Son as to a transitory Word. So far Athanasius. Indeed, to Marcellus the Son of God is a mere phenomenon of time, and even the Word is as foreign to the divine essence as the Arian Son. If the one can only reveal in finite measure, the other gives but broken hints of an infinity beyond. Instead of destroying Arianism by the roots, Marcellus had fallen into something very like Sabellianism. He reaches no true mediation, no true union of God and man, for he makes the incarnation a mere theophany, the flesh a useless burden, to be one day laid aside. The Lord is our Redeemer and the conqueror of death and Satan, but there is no room for a second Adam, the organic head of regenerate mankind. The redemption becomes a mere intervention from without, not also the planting of a power of life within, which will one day quicken our mortal bodies too.

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