Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Question of Apologetics and Tertullian

Reading N°54 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

Tertullian, the son of a pagan centurion, was born at Carthage about AD 160. He was carefully educated, made a thorough study of the Greek language and of jurisprudence, and for some years practiced law.[1] Shortly before AD 197, he was converted to Christianity, and was soon afterwards ordained to the priesthood. He began at once to display an incredible activity against the enemies of the Church.

Tertullian was first of all a polemic. He was possessed of a vigorous mind, a rare scholarship, and perfect mastery of Latin, to which he added new words and phrases. He was quick in repartee and sharp in speech; but his reasoning is more dazzling than reliable, and his arguments are often inspired by passion. In one place he writes:
Unhappily, I am always dominated by the fever of impatience.[2]
 Like St. Justin, Tertullian experienced the strength and the weakness of many philosophies before settling down in the Christian faith.[3] But, whereas Justin retained some friendly feeling for the systems he had left, Tertullian never finds enough epithets with which to belabor the pagan philosophers, those mountebanks, those despisers of God and man,[4] those patriarchs of heretics,[5] those animals of glory.

A recent historian of Tertullian's philosophy[6] has been able, by utilizing the researches of Nöldechen and Monceaux, to determine with almost certain assurance the date of the first works of the celebrated African priest. It must have been in AD 197 that he wrote his Ad nationes and his Apologeticus; in AD 197, his Testimony of the Soul; about AD 200, his treatise De praescriptione. The Ad nationes is an apology of the Christian religion addressed to the pagan nations; the Apologeticus is a plea addressed to the provincial magistrates of the Empire; the De praescriptione, his masterpiece, is directed against all heresies. Even in his first works, Tertullian makes known his threefold purpose: to confound paganism, to refute Judaism, and to pursue the last remains of the Gnostic heresy.

Amid incomparable beauties, his apologetic contains regrettable gaps and dubious rashness. When he looks for a sincere testimony about man, we see that he too disdainfully rejects that of philosophy; but with vigor and penetration he analyzes the deep aspirations of what he calls the soul of the artless man.
These testimonies of the soul are simple as true, commonplace as simple, universal as commonplace, natural as universal, divine as natural. [...] That which is derived from God is rather obscured than extinguished. It bears testimony to God [its author] in exclamations such as: 'Good God! God knows!' etc. [...] Therefore, when the soul embraces the faith [...] it beholds the light in all its brightness.[7]
But it would be wrong to suppose that in proposing a way to lead souls to the faith, Tertullian despises reason. The very center of his whole argument is the divinity of Christ. For this, he appeals to three proofs: the testimony of the Old Testament prophecies, of the Gospel miracles, and of the annals of the early Church. In the paradoxical exaltation of his high-minded fervor, he does indeed boast of the abasements in the Gospel and of the scandal of reason, going so far as to write, if not, "Credo quia absurdum" (I believe, because it is absurd), which is neither his nor St. Augustine's, at least an equivalent phrase, "Credibile est quia ineptum; certum est quia impossibile."[8] He means that the object of faith is that which reason without revelation would not perceive as something fitting or possible. The fiery apologist is so ardently convinced, and feels his conviction so keenly, that he cannot imagine that the truth, so clear to him, does not appear equally clear to others. Yet he writes this sentence, worthy of a real psychologist:
Faith, destined to a great reward, is acquired only at the price of great labor.[9]
The superb peroration of Tertullian's Apologeticus will illustrate his animated and captivating eloquence.
Your courts are battlefields where we contest for the truth. Sometimes death ensues. It is our victory over you. Sacrifice, excellent magistrates, sacrifice Christians; the mob will thank you. Torment, torture, condemn, grind; your injustice will reveal our innocence. Therefore does God let you go ahead. When your hand harvests us, we increase; the blood of Christians is a seed (Semen est sanguis christianorum).Your philosophers have made less disciples by their writings than Christians have by their example. People come to us out of curiosity; they join us through conviction; then they long to suffer that they may wash away their sins in their blood; for martyrdom wipes out everything. It is a strange contrast between things divine and things human: when you condemn us, God absolves us.
In his Ad nationes, in the Testimony of the Soul and in the Apologeticus, Tertullian has pagans and Jews in mind; his De praescriptione is addressed to the heretics.

With marvelous penetration, Tertullian conceives two ways of refuting heresies: an analytical method, resting on a detailed discussion of texts and points of doctrine; a synthetic method, settling the question as a whole by the simple establishing of a fact. He later uses the first method in defending the idea of God against the dualism of Marcion and the pantheism of Valentinus and the idea of creation against the doctrine of Hermogenes. But first he wishes to show how all heresy, that is, every doctrine resting on individual choice (hairesis), on unrestrained inquiry, may be averted by a preliminary question. Tertullian makes appeal to his knowledge of the law. He knows that before the courts there are nice points of non-acceptance, of exceptions as the Roman law calls them, among which the principal one is prescription, peremptory exception by which a possessor, under certain conditions, without any other procedure, sets aside any claim of a third party to his property. Tertullian pleads prescription against every heresy, whatever it may be.

He takes his start from a series of undeniable facts, namely, that Christ has entrusted His teaching to His Apostles, that the latter have handed it on to the churches they founded, and that from these Apostolic churches have sprung all the others, like shoots inseparable from their common stock. In other words, the method instituted by Christ for the spread of His teaching is tradition, and the authentic organ of that tradition is the Church, in so far as it is connected with the Apostles by an uninterrupted chain. Hence, no one is allowed to appeal to his own personal interpretation against her. Tertullian says:
Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine? Indeed, Marcion, by what right do you hew my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting the streams of my fountain? This is my property. I have long possessed it. I am the heir of the Apostles.[10]
We can scarcely imagine a more overwhelming fervor. This very fervor does at times speak in rough, bitter tones, in which passion has too great a part. In his De spectaculis, which appeared about AD 200, the "severe African" cannot suppress his satisfaction at the thought of the future punishment of the persecutors.
What a spectacle is that fast-approaching advent of our Lord, now owned by all, now highly exalted, now a triumphant One. [...] What there excites my admiration? Which sight gives me joy? Which arouses me to exultation? - as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness. [...] Governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ! What world's wise men besides, the very philosophers now covered with shame! Poets also trembling before the judgment-seat of Christ. The tragedians, louder voiced in their own calamity, the play-actors, much more 'dissolute' in the dissolving flame.[11]
Christian apologetics strikes a gentler note with the Octavius of Minutius Felix and the Epistle to Diognetus.

Was Tertullian's Apologeticus published before or after the Octavius? Critical study has not yet found a definite answer to this question, but it has concluded that the latter work was written in the last years of the second century. It is in the form of a dialogue. Its author, like Tertullian, was a lawyer and perhaps an African. But there is a contrast between the two. Minutius Felix avoids whatever may be offensive to the prejudices of the pagan scholars he is addressing. He lays stress on the depravity of polytheism and clears Christianity of the calumnies heaped upon it. But to establish his arguments, he appeals to the wise men of Greece and Rome rather than to the sacred writers. The mysteries of the Christian faith are left in the background. The author's aim is not to bring his reader into the interior of the temple, but to facilitate the approach to it. Even when most sharply criticizing the pagan horrors, his words breathe a contagious mildness. Its artistic composition and elegant style have given this little dialogue the title of "the pearl of Christian apologetics." The best profane writers of the second century - Frontinus, Aulus Gellius, Apuleius - cannot refuse the author of Octavius a place in the foremost ranks.

The same charm of style and the same gentleness are to be found in another small work, written in Greek, by an unknown author and at a date that can be determined only approximately. Probably it should be put at the close of the second century or, as Zeller and Funk think, in the first years of the third. The work is the Epistle to Diognetus.

The author's principal argument consists in describing the supernatural life led by true Christians, then in showing how the Church, the depositary of the treasure of Revelation and dispenser of grace through the Sacraments, is not merely the divinely organized "economy" for the sanctification of a chosen few, but also, either by the radiant influence of its virtues or by the blessings it draws down upon the world, an instrument of salvation for all mankind. With fine depth of thought, the writer says:
To speak simply, what the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. [...] The flesh detests the soul and makes war upon it, because it is prevented by the soul from indulging freely in pleasure; the world for the same reason detests Christians. [...] The soul is confined in the body, and does itself hold the body in check; the Christians are in the world as in a prison, and they restrain the world.[12]


[1] It is doubtful whether we should attribute to him the passages introduced in the Pandects under the name of Tertullian.
[2] Tertullian, De patientia, Chapter 1.
[3] Apologeticus, 46.
[4] Ad nationes, Book 1, passim.
[5] De anima, 3.
[6] D'Alès, La Théologie de Tertullien.
[7] De anima, 5; 41.
[8] De carne Christi, 5.
[9] Apologeticus, 21.
[10] De praescriptione, 37.
[11] De spectaculis, 30.
[12] Letter to Diognetus, VI, 1, 5-7.


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Monday, June 27, 2016

Manifestations of Hell

Second in a Series on Hell

 Fr. François Xavier Schouppe, S.J.

The dogma of hell stands on the infallible word of God; but in his mercy, God, to aid our faith, permits at intervals the truth of hell to be manifested in a sensible manner. These manifestations are more frequent than is thought; and, when supported by sufficient proofs, they are unexceptionable facts which must be admitted like all the other facts of history.

St. Francis Jerome
Here is one of these facts. It was juridically proved in the process of the canonization of St. Francis of Jerome, and under oath attested by a large number of eye-witnesses. In the year AD 1707, St. Francis of Jerome was preaching, as was his wont, in the neighborhood of the city of Naples. He was speaking of hell and the awful chastisements that await obstinate sinners. A brazen courtesan who lived there, troubled by a discourse which aroused her remorse, sought to hinder it by jests and shouts, accompanied by noisy instruments. As she was standing close to the window, the Saint cried out:
Beware, my daughter, of resisting grace; before eight days God will punish you.
The unhappy creature grew only more boisterous. Eight days elapsed, and the holy preacher happened to be again before the same house. This time she was silent, the windows were shut. The hearers, with dismay on their faces, told the Saint that Catherine - that was the name of the bad woman - had a few hours before died suddenly. "Died!" he repeated, "well, let her tell us now what she has gained by laughing at hell. Let us ask her." He uttered these words in an inspired tone, and every one expected a miracle. Followed by an immense crowd, he went up to the death chamber, and there, after having prayed for an instant, he uncovers the face of the corpse, and says in a loud voice: "Catherine, tell us where art thou now."

At this summons, the dead woman lifts her head, while opening her wild eyes, her face borrows color, her features assume an expression of horrible despair, and in a mournful voice, she pronounces these words:
In hell; I am in hell.
And immediately, she falls back again into the condition of a corpse.

"I was present at that event," says one of the witnesses who deposed before the Apostolic tribunal, "but I never could convey the impression it produced on me and the bystanders, nor that which I still feel every time I pass that house and look at that window. At the sight of that ill-fated abode, I still hear the pitiful cry resounding: 'In hell; I am in hell'."

Ratbod, King of the Frisons, who is mentioned in ecclesiastical history in the eighth century, had said to St. Wolfrand that he was not afraid of hell; that he wished to be there with the kings, his ancestors, and most illustrious personages. "Moreover," he added, "later on, I shall be always able to receive baptism." "Lord," answered the Saint, "do not neglect the grace that is offered to thee. The God who offers the sinner pardon, does not promise him tomorrow." The King did not heed this advice, and put off his conversion. A year after, learning the arrival of St. Willibrord, he dispatched an officer to him, to invite him to come to the court and confer baptism on him. The Saint answered that it was too late. "Your master," he said, "died after your departure. He braved eternal fire; he has fallen into it. I have seen him this night, loaded with fiery chains, in the bottom of the abyss."

St. Francis Xavier Resurrecting the Son
of an Inhabitant of Cangoxima
Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665)
Here is another witness from beyond the grave. History avers that when St. Francis Xavier was at Cangoxima, in Japan, he performed a great number of miracles, of which the most celebrated was the resurrection of a maiden of noble birth. This young damsel died in the flower of her age, and her father, who loved her dearly, believed he would become crazy. Being an idolater, he had no resources in his affliction, and his friends, who came to console him, rendered his grief only the more poignant. Two neophytes, who came to see him before the funeral of her whom he mourned day and night advised him to seek help from the holy man who was doing such great things, and demand from him with confidence the life of his daughter. The pagan - persuaded by the neophytes that nothing was impossible to the European bonze, and beginning to hope against all human appearances, as is usual with the afflicted, who readily believe whatever comforts them - goes to Father Francis, falls at his feet, and, with tears in his eyes, entreats him to bring to life again his only daughter whom he has just lost, adding that it would be to give life to himself.

Xavier, touched by the faith and sorrow of the pagan, went aside with his companion, Fernando, to pray to God. Having come back again after a short time, "Go," he said to the afflicted father, "your daughter is alive!"

The idolater, who expected that the Saint would come with him to his house and invoke the name of the God of the Christians over his daughter's body, took this speech as a jest and withdrew, dissatisfied. But scarcely had he gone a few steps when he saw one of his servants, who, all beside himself with joy, shouted from a distance that his daughter was alive. Presently, he beheld her approaching. After the first embraces the daughter related to her father that, as soon as she had expired, two horrible demons pounced upon her, and sought to hurl her into a fiery abyss; but that two men, of a venerable and modest appearance, snatched her from the hands of these executioners and restored her life, she being unable to tell how it happened.

The Japanese understood who were these two men of whom his daughter spoke, and he led her directly to Xavier to return him such thanks as so great a favour deserved. She no sooner saw the Saint with his companion, Fernando, than she exclaimed: "There are my two deliverers!" and, at the same time, the daughter and the father demanded baptism.

The servant of God, Bernard Colnago, a religious of the Company of Jesus, died at Catana in the odor of sanctity in they year AD 1611. We read in his biography that he prepared for the passage by a life full of good works and the constant remembrance of death, so apt to engender a holy life. To keep in mind this salutary remembrance, he preserved in his little cell a skull which he had placed upon a stand to have it always before his eyes. One day it struck him that, perhaps, that head had been the abode of a mind rebellious to God, and now the object of His wrath. Accordingly, he begged the Sovereign Judge to enlighten him, and to cause the skull to shake if the spirit that had animated it was burning in hell. No sooner had he finished his prayer than it shook with a horrible trembling, a palpable sign that it was the skull of a damned soul.

This saintly religious, favored with singular gifts, knew the secret of consciences, and, sometimes, the decrees of God's justice. One day, God revealed to him the eternal perdition of a young libertine, who was his parents' heart-scald. The unfortunate young man, after having rushed into all sorts of dissipation, was slain by an enemy. His mother, at the sight of so sad an end, conceived the liveliest terrors for her son's everlasting salvation, and besought Father Bernard to tell her in what state his soul was. Despite her entreaties, Father Bernard did not answer by a single word, sufficiently showing by his silence that he had nothing consoling to say. He was more explicit to one of her friends. This person inquiring why he did not give an answer to an afflicted mother, the religious openly said to him that he was unwilling to increase her affliction; that this young libertine was damned, and that, during his prayer, God had shown him the youth under a hideous and frightful aspect.

On the 1st of August, 1645, there died in the odor of sanctity, at the College of Evora, in Portugal, Anthony Pereyra, Coadjutor Brother of the Company of Jesus. His history is, perhaps, the strangest furnished by the annals of this Society. In AD 1599, five years after his entrance into the novitiate, he was seized by a mortal malady in the Isle of St. Michael, one of the Azores; and a few moments after he had received the last sacraments, beneath the eyes of the whole community, who were present at his agony, he seemed to expire, and became cold like a corpse. The appearance - almost imperceptible - of a slight throbbing of the heart alone, prevented his immediate burial. Accordingly, he was left three whole days on his death-bed, and there were already plain signs of decomposition in the body, when all of a sudden, on the fourth day, he opened his eyes, breathed and spoke. He was obliged by obedience to account to his superior, Father Louis Pinheyro, all that had passed in him after the last pangs of his agony; and here is the summary of the relation which he wrote with his own hand:
First, I saw from my death-bed my Father, St. Ignatius, accompanied by some of our Fathers in heaven, who was coming to visit his sick children, seeking those who seemed worthy to be presented to our Lord. When he was near me, I thought for an instant that he might take me, and my heart leaped with joy; but he soon described to me what I must correct before obtaining so great a favor.
Then, however, by a mysterious dispensation of Providence, the soul of Brother Pereyra was momentarily released from his body, and immediately the sight of the hideous troop of demons, rushing headlong upon him, filled him with dread. But, at the same time, his angel-guardian and St. Anthony of Padua, his countryman and patron, put his enemies to flight, and invited him in their company to take a momentary glimpse and taste of something of the joys and pains of eternity.
They then, by turns, led me to a place of delights, where they showed me an incomparable crown of glory, but one which I had not yet merited; then, to the brink of the abysmal pit, where I beheld souls accursed falling into the everlasting fire, as thick as grains of corn, cast beneath an ever-turning millstone. The infernal pit was like one of these lime kilns, in which the flame is smothered for an instant beneath the heap of materials thrown into it, only to fire up again by the fuel with a more frightful violence.
Led thence to the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge, Antony Pereyra heard his sentence to the fire of purgatory, and nothing here below, he declares, could give an idea of what is suffered there, or of the state of anguish to which the soul is reduced by the desire and postponement of the enjoyment of God and of His blessed presence.

So when, by our Lord's command, his soul was united again to his body, neither the new tortures of sickness, which, for six entire months, combined with the daily help of iron and fire, caused his flesh, irremediably attacked by the corruption of this first death to waste away; nor the frightful penances to which, so far as obedience allowed him, he never ceased to subject himself for the forty-six years of his new life, were able to quench his thirst for sufferings and expiation. He used to say:
All this is nothing to what the justice and mercy of God have caused me not only to see, but to endure.
Finally, as an authentic seal of so many wonders, Brother Pereyra detailed to his Superior the hidden designs of Providence on the future restoration of the Kingdom of Portugal, at that time still distant nearly half a century. But it may be fearlessly added that the most unexceptionable avouchment of all these prodigies was the surprising sanctity to which Antony Pereyra never ceased for a single day to rise.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Congratulations, People of Great Britain!

The First General Council of Constantinople (381)

Third in a Series on the History of the General Councils

 Msgr. Philip Hughes

The second General Council of the Church, which met at Constantinople in the year AD 381, was summoned primarily as a solemn demonstration of the unshaken loyalty of the eastern bishops to the faith as set forth at Nicaea, a demonstration that the church of the East had never gone over to Arianism, that the Arians were no more than a heretical faction - had never been anything more, despite their power - and were now finally discredited. Why was such a declaration necessary, fifty-six years after the bishops of the East, with the enthusiastic support of the all-powerful emperor, had condemned Arius as a falsifier of the truth and had provided, in the homo-ousion, a sure touchstone to test the orthodoxy of future bishops? The answer to this question is one of the strangest an most involved chapters in all Church History. The simplest way, perhaps, to set out as much of it as is essential to the story of the General Council of AD 381, will be to list the turning points of the story, and then attempt some explanation of the "why" of it all.

On the morrow of the Council of Nicaea, three bishops revoked their signatures to the condemnation of Arius - the bishops of the neighbouring sees of Nicaea, Nicomedia, and Chalcedon. They were promptly banished by the emperor, and others elected in their stead (AD 325). In AD 328, the bishop of Alexandria died, and the young deacon Athanasius, who had been his main advisor at the great council, was chosen to succeed him, and despite the active hostility of the Meletian faction, he was consecrated. That same year, Constantine recalled the exiled bishops and reinstated them - why, we do not know; it may have been for personal reasons only. From that moment until his death in 341, the ex-Lucianist, Eusebius of Nicomedia, becomes the leading figure in the movement to undo the work of Nicaea. After the emperor founded his new capital city, Constantinople, Eusebius became its bishop.

Eusthathius of Antioch
Eusebius never openly attacked the achievement of AD 325. His line was to work for the destruction of the leading bishops who had supported the homo-ousion on the plea that they were heretics, but of a different kind, i.e., men who did not really believe in the Trinity, who by the word homo-ousion meant that the Father and the Logos were one. The first victim of this campaign was the second greatest prelate in the empire of the East, the bishop of Antioch, Eustathius by name. It was, possibly, he who had presided at Nicaea. A carefully chosen council of bishops now met at Antioch, condemned and deposed him. And, once again, the emperor followed up the ecclesiastical judgment by a sentence of exile. Nine other leading bishops were similarly removed in the course of the next year or so (AD 330-332). In AD 332, the intrigue to remove Athanasius began. The agents of this were the Meletians of Alexandria. The point of attack was not the orthodoxy of his belief but his loyalty to the emperor. Athanasius was summoned to the court and cleared himself easily, returning home with a letter of high commendation from Constantine. Two further attempts to disgrace him, in the next two years, also failed.

Then, in AD 334, Constantine did the most astonishing thing of all - astonishing to us who know, really, so very little of the day-to-day history of these events. He recalled Arius from banishment, and received him at court. And while a council was ordered to "investigate" what we may call "the Athanasius problem" - why it was that the greatest city of the eastern world had never known peace since this young prelate had been its bishop - Arius persuaded the emperor that he was as orthodox as the best, and on the strength of a formula drawn up by himself (in which the homo-ousion did not appear) he was received back into the church in AD 335. As to the council, it was held at Tyre, and it deposed Athanasius; and the emperor, after a personal hearing, banished him to Trier, in Germany, as far almost as a man could travel from Alexandria and still be in the emperor's territory. It was now ten years since the farewell ceremonies at Nicaea.

In AD 336, Arius died, on the eve of a solemn ceremony of rehabilitation prepared in the cathedral of Constantinople, and in AD 337 Constantine, too, died.

Constantine's death brought the Arian party a still greater freedom of action. He was succeeded by his three young sons as joint emperors, and to none of these could the upholding of Nicaea be the matter of personal prestige it was to him. Certain it is that it is from this time that the party begins to propose alternatives to, or substitutes for, the Nicaean formula; more or less innocuous substitutes in the first years - had they not been put out by known opponents of the homo-ousion, and by men who were the declared foes of the bishop, Athanasius, who had become the very symbol of all that the categorical test word stood for.

St. Athanasius

And here it needs to be said that there were many bishops, as little Arian as Athanasius himself, who, nevertheless, had no love for the famous Nicaean word - as there had been many such bishops at Nicaea. These Catholic bishops, supporting the various alternatives of the kind described, played the Arian game of course, albeit unconsciously. Their dislike of the test word arose from the fact that, in the East, as has been said already, the word homo-ousion had a bad history. Its first use, by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen, too (around AD 230-250), was seemingly in the Nicaean sense; and when a bishop of Alexandria, answering heretics, seemed to critics so to defend the distinction of persons in the Holy Trinity that he obscured the truth that there is only one God, it was made a point against him that he had not explicitly said the Logos was homo-ousion with the Father. And this bishop, Denis, explains to his namesake, the pope, in his defence, why he had not used the useful word: it was a word nowhere found in Holy Scripture. This was about the year AD 257, nearly seventy years earlier than Nicaea. But eleven years only after this interchange between the two Denises, when the bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, was condemned (AD 268) for the heresy of teaching that the Father and the Logos are one person, he actually used the word homo-ousion to express this oneness, and so his condemnation gave the word an ill sound in the East.

Whoever first proposed the use of the term at Nicaea, it was surely not any bishop from the East. To these, it stank of heresy ever since the council of AD 268, even when it had, so to speak, been disinfected by the Council of Nicaea, and given an undoubtedly orthodox employment. Sabellianism, the denial that there is a Trinity, was the great scare heresy of the East to the generation upon which Arianism came, and homo-ousion had been the heresy's shibboleth in eastern ears.[1]

Again, there is a first class difficulty latent in the Nicaean council's formal condemnation[2] of those "who say that the Son is of another hypostasis or ousia [substantia in Latin] than the Father;" and this was fully exploited in the troublous years after Constantine's death. The latent difficulty is that, to Greeks, these two terms did not necessarily and always mean exactly the same thing, as they did to Latins. Hypostasis to the Greeks came to mean what the Latin call "person;" ousia rather meant "nature." The sentence "The Son is not of another hypostasis than the Father," a Greek might take to mean, "Father and Son are one person;" while the Latin understood by it, "are of the same nature."

All this is set down to convey something of the causes that held quite orthodox minds in doubt about their practical action during these controversies - a state of doubt which for years played into the hands of the radically unorthodox. This was an especially dangerous condition of things, seeing that it was these radicals - the real Arians - who had the ear of the court, and who stood to the world of officials and administrators for the ideal type of Christian believer, the kind that should be officially supported. For in this first generation that followed the personal conversion of Constantine, the official world was very far from being Christianised in belief. Though the emperor, especially after he had become sole emperor, turned his back very definitely on the pagan rites, these were by no means forbidden. The whole life of official paganism went on as before. And the cult of Sol Invictus and Summus Deus still held very many of its adherents. To these enlightened monotheistic foes of polytheism, the Arian version of the Christian idea of God naturally appealed. On a first view it was simpler, more logical - terms meaning just what they appeared to mean - its language non-mysterious, rational.[3]

It is not, of course, suggested that there was a carefully worked out plan in all this on the part of high officials. But the two tendencies existed side by side in these years, and it was this accidental coincidence that did much, so it is suggested,[4] to make Arianism the highly dangerous threat it proved to be, and to give it a toughness out of all proportion to the number of its real adherents.

As to its quality as a danger to Catholicism, let Harnack's judgment be recalled, that Arianism, had it been victorious, must have ruined Christianity completely, emptying it of all religious content, leaving it a mere system of cosmology and ethics. It was, in the circumstances, one of the greatest dangers that true religion has ever had to face, and this despite the fact that, in the critical fourth century, Arianism was never a popular thing.
The laity, as a whole, revolted from it in every part of Christendom. It was an epidemic of the schools and of theologians, and to them it was mainly confined. [...] The classes which had furnished martyrs in the persecutions were in no sense the seat of the heresy.[5]
Emperor Constantius II
The only one of Constantine's sons who really favoured the anti-Nicaean party was Constantius II, and once he became sole master of the empire (AD 350), the Radicals really threw off the mask, and Arianism proper - the explicit renunciation of the doctrine that the Logos is truly God - was now propounded in councils and, with great violence and persecution, imposed by the emperor. And it was in these years (AD 350-361) that the heresy was first thrust upon the bishops of the still largely pagan West, of Illyricum, Italy, and Gaul. In council after council, in the west and in the east, whether perplexed by the confusion of the issues, whether terrified by the threats of the emperor and the knowledge that bishops had been murdered who opposed him, whether overcome by the specious argument that it was all, in reality, a matter of ridding the Church of Athanasius, "whom they were taught to consider a restless, violent, party-spirited man, and of his arbitrary formula"[6] - in council after council the bishops gave way wholesale, at Arles (AD 353), Milan (AD 355), Sirmium (AD 357), and, most spectacularly, at the simultaneous councils of Rimini-Seleucia[7] (AD 359) about the morrow of which St. Jerome wrote a celebrated phrase, that the whole world woke up one morning, lamenting and marvelling to find itself Arian.

Coin from the reign of Emperor Valens
In 361 Constantius disappeared, baptised (just in time) by an Arian. He was followed by Julian the Apostate, who set about a systematic revival of Paganism. Then came Jovian, a Catholic, and after him Valentinian, a "liberal," with Valens, his brother, co-emperor for the East. Valens (AD365-378) a true Arian of the political type, returned to the policy of Constantius, and a real persecution of Catholics followed. But the cloudiness of the early period had been dissipated. The issue was now clear to the bishops that only by insistence on the homo-ousion could the Church rid itself of the crypto-Arians whose influence meant death. And when to Valens, killed in a war with the Goths (AD 378), a Catholic general, from Spain, succeeded - Theodosius - the way was at last open to a real restoration of the traditional belief. Nicaea, for the first time in fifty years, was to come into full operation in all the sees of the East.

The General Council of AD 381 is an epilogue to a drama just concluded. It does little more than register a fait accompli, and its essential importance is its demonstration to the world that the Christians of the East, after more than fifty years of continuous disturbance and of oppression on the part of their rulers, remain Catholics, are not Arians; it is a demonstration that the council of Nicaea was no mere ecclesiastical pageant, but a source of strong and unfailing leadership.

No two general councils follow the same historical pattern - not even when a bare fifty years separates them, and when the matter of their discussions is the same. In this council Rome, the West, was not represented at all - was not so much as invited. The same problems had for years now vexed the churches of the West. The same political revolution - the appearance of sovereigns who were wholeheartedly Catholic - was to be their salvation also. And they, too, demanded a council, and it took place, at Aquileia some weeks after the council we are dealing with. And why the council which met at Constantinople came, in later years, to be regarded as a General Council is something that may puzzle the legists and the theologians.[8]

Fresco depicting the First General Council of Constantinople in the narthex
of St. Athanasius church on Mount Athos (click to enlarge)

The bishops who sat in the council were 150 in all. There were none from Egypt, only half of them from Thrace and Asia. Almost one half of the bishops came from the vast (civil) diocese called "the East," Oriens, whose chief see was Antioch. And it was the bishop of Antioch, Meletius, who presided at the council.

Once again the crosscurrents and misunderstandings of these much troubled years had borne strange fruit. At Antioch there was a rival claimant to the see, Paulinus. And it was Paulinus whom Rome (and Alexandria also) recognised as the lawful bishop. But the Catholic East was solidly behind Meletius, and this meant the support (among others) of the three great Cappadocian bishops, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, and St. Gregory of Nazianzen, the greatest theologian of the day and one of the greatest preachers of all time.

Meletius died before the council had been long in session, and it was the last named Gregory who was elected president in his place. The actual business before the council was slight, and now, with the see of Antioch vacant and seventy-one bishops of its jurisdiction already assembled (to say nothing of the no less interested eighty bishops from other provinces ), it is not surprising that the question of the successor of Meletius took the first place in the minds of all. The president of the council had the happy idea that the bishop whom Rome and Alexandria recognised, Paulinus, should be chosen, and so the schism be ended. But of this, the bishops would not hear. And then there arrived the bishop of Alexandria himself, the successor of Athanasius, with some of his suffragans, and he made such a bitter attack on the president because he had consented, being already bishop of Sasima, to become bishop of Constantinople,[9] that Gregory, already discouraged by the revelation of what ecclesiastical politics could be at a high level, resigned both his see and his presidency.

The council closed on July 9. What it had accomplished was, first, to issue a statement of belief which explicitly renewed the homo-ousion definition of Nicaea, and then, naming the many varieties of Arianism, to condemn each and every one of them as heretical. The bishops next published (what has long been lost) a detailed statement of their faith in the consubstantiality of the Divine Logos with the Father, in the distinctness of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and in the reality of the Incarnation of the Second Person. These statements about belief involved the condemnation of two other theories related to Arianism, namely, the denial, by Macedonius and his followers, that the Holy Ghost is really God, and the theory of Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicaea, that in the Logos Incarnate - in the God-man, Jesus Christ - the Divine Logos functions in place of a human soul: Christ, who is truly God, is not truly a man. This last heresy was to have a famous history in the next seventy years, to be the occasion of two later General Councils, and, ultimately, in one form or another, so to divide the Catholics of the East as to paralyse their resistance to the assault of Islam.

There are four canons enacted by this council.[10] The first is the declaration renewing the work of Nicaea, and condemning these various heresies. The second, between the lines of which can be read much of the history since that council, forbids bishops to cross the frontiers of another [civil] diocese, or to interfere in another bishop's administration. The bishop of Alexandria, it is explicitly laid down, is to confine himself to Egypt; the bishops of the East (i.e., Oriens) shall confine their joint action to the East, with the reservation that the bishop of Antioch keeps the rights acknowledged at Nicaea; and statements no less explicit restrict the bishops of Asia, Pontus, and Thrace to those three [civil] dioceses, respectively. The bishops are reminded of the Nicaean rule that the affairs of the sees of any given province are to be regulated by a twice-yearly meeting of the bishops.

St. Gregory Nazianzen
About the time that St. Gregory Nazianzen was invited to become bishop of Constantinople, the efforts of the bishop of Alexandria, Peter II, had brought about the "election" of an Alexandrian philosopher, Maximus, and his unlawful, clandestine consecration. The council (canon 4) now declared that Maximus was not a bishop, and that whatever ordinations he had ever performed were worthless, and the candidates "in truth not ordained at all."

There remains the third canon, the most famous action, in its historical effects, of this council:
The bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honour after the bishop of Rome, because [Constantinople] is New Rome.

Additional Resources


[1] Cf. Newman, Tracts, Theological and Ecclesiastical, p. 100: "We cannot be surprised then that the homoousion, which perplexed the Western bishops, should have irritated the Orientals, the only wonder is, that East and West had concurred in accepting it at Nicea."
[2] As a conclusion to the creed.
[3] See Newman, Tracts, p. 102: "It must be added that, to statesmen, lawyers and military chiefs, who had lately been Pagans, a religious teaching such as Arianism, which was clear and intelligible, was more acceptable than doctrines which described the Divine Being in language, self-contradictory in its letter, and which exacted a belief in truths which were absolutely above their comprehension."
[4] See Msgr. Pierre Batiffol, La Paix Constantinienne et le Catholicisme (1914), p. 310.
[5] Newman, Tracts, pp. 97-98.
[6] Newman, Tracts, p. 100.
[7] Rimini, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, for the bishops of the West; Seleucia, then the chief city of Isauria, is the modern Turkish port of Silifke on the Mediterranean.
[8] The first stage in the development of its recognition as ecumenical was the unanimous vote of the General Council of Chalcedon, 4th session (AD 451), taking as the rule of faith, "that fixed by the council of Nicaea, and which the 150 bishops of the council assembled at Constantinople by Theodosius the Great confirmed."
[9] A breach of the law enacted at Nicaea.
[10] Some record seven canons. On the discrepancy, cf. Hefele, History of the Councils, Vol II, p. 351: "The number of canons drawn up by this synod is doubtful. The old Greek codices and the Greek commentators of the Middle Ages, Zonaras and Balsamon, enumerate seven; the old Latin translations - viz. the Prisca, those by Dionysius Exiguus and Isidore, as well as the Codex of Luna - only recognize the first four canons of the Greek text, and the fact that they agree in this point is the more important as they are wholly independent of each other, and divide and arrange those canons of Constantinople which they do acknowledge quite differently."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Question of Orthodoxy and St. Irenaeus

Reading N°53 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

Pagan philosophy, with its frontal attack upon Christianity, was one of the great dangers of the Church at the close of the second century. The Gnostic sects, employing the outward expressions and the formulas of the Christian spirit, tended to dissolve it; they were a peril no less serious. A new apologist, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, saw the peril and averted it.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons
The priest, who in AD 177 was chosen to succeed the glorious martyr St. Pothinus in the see of Lyons, was born at Smyrna or in the neighborhood of that city about AD 130. The relations which he had in his youth with Polycarp, the illustrious bishop of Smyrna, and with the venerable Papias, his extensive literary culture, and his lofty virtue soon made him conspicuous among the clergy of Lyons. While Pothinus was bishop, the clergy of Lyons sent Irenaeus to Rome to Pope Eleutherius as their representative to treat of important matters, commending him as "zealous for the covenant of Christ."[1] We know almost nothing of his episcopal ministry or his death. In one passage, St. Jerome gives him the title of "martyr." His death must have taken place during the persecution of Septimius Severus in AD 202. But his strife against false Gnosticism, the chief object of his zeal, would suffice to make him illustrious and venerable among all the bishops of old Gaul; his treatise Against Heresies is an imperishable monument. In this book, the entire heretical movement of the second century lives again before our eyes.

Gnosticism, in passing from the schools of Basilides, Carpocrates, and Valentinus to those of their first disciples, greatly degenerated. Or rather, these latter logically deduced the fatal consequences inherent in the primitive teaching. The fancies of a whimsical metaphysics brought forth the eccentricities of a capricious morality. Secundus, looking for the origin of evil, did not stop with Achamoth; he went back to the very womb of the Pleroma. Marcus introduced into his system the speculations of the Cabbala. The Ophites, in a complicated doctrine that absorbed all the others in the third century, explained the whole system of the world by the conflict between a mysterious serpent (Ophis) and the Creator (Jaldabaoth), so as to bring man nearer to the good and inaccessible God. The Cainites, exalting strength, even in evil, peopled their Olympus with all the scoundrels who had dishonored mankind, from Cain to Judas. Some Gnostics, it is true, tried to stem the movement that was carrying the new sect toward every revolt and depravity. But no great results came of the efforts made in this direction, whether by Ptolemy, a philosopher of clean and exact mind, or by Theodotus and Alexander, whose souls were really enamored of moral purification and asceticism.

The early Fathers, and St. Irenaeus first of all, compare with the masters of Gnosticism a certain man who had started out from an altogether opposite point of view, but then espoused their theories and even claimed to work out a clearer and more exact system from them. This man was Marcion.

Marcion was born at Sinope on the Black Sea. After making a fortune at sea, he came to Rome about AD 140 and presented the Roman Church with a large sum of money, two hundred sesterces. Marcion's first idea was to react against that mixture of Christianity and gross Judaism which the founders of Gnosticism professed.
But since the soundness of his judgment did not equal the warmth of his convictions, his zeal carried him beyond the bounds of moderation and truth. Like Luther, whom he strikingly resembles, he ended by attacking-dogma, on the pretext of wishing to correct an abuse.[2]
The antithesis which St. Paul points out between the Faith and the Law, between the Old Testament and the New, Marcion considers a radical antagonism. In a book which he published under the title of Antitheses, he says that from this opposition it follows that the God of the Gospel, the Father of mercies, must be the enemy of the God of the Jews, author of the creation and of the Law. Thus, by an altogether different route, Marcion arrives at the dualism of the Gnostics. He says that certainly the purpose of Redemption is to rescue man from the evil work of creation; but the good God who became incarnate, unwilling to owe anything to the Creator, possessed only an appearance of humanity. By this second notion Marcion, after cursing the Creator and the Law, finally evaporates the Gospel history into an absolute Docetism.[3]

These are the doctrines which the Bishop of Lyons unmasks and refutes. We will not attempt to follow this "very exact inquirer into all doctrines," as Tertullian calls him,[4] in his inquiries and arguments. In the words of one of his most discerning interpreters, we will give a brief summary of his great treatise. With pliant but close reasoning, Irenaeus shows that the Gnostics are driven to one or other of two final explanations: dualism or pantheism.
He pursued them into these two last entrenchments. You cut God off from the world, he said, or you confuse God with the world; in either case you destroy the true notion of God. If you put creation outside of God, whatever name you give to eternal matter - Void, Chaos, Darkness - is unimportant; you limit the divine Being. This is tantamount to denying Him. There is no use in your saying that the world may have been formed by angels. Either they acted against the will of the supreme God, or according to His command. On the first hypothesis, you accuse God of powerlessness; on the second, in spite of yourselves you are brought to the Christian doctrine, which considers the angels as instruments of the divine will. If, on the contrary, you place creation in God, in such a way that it is reduced to a mere development of His substance, you enter upon a path even more inextricable. In this case, whatever imperfections and defilements there are in creatures become transferred to God Himself, whose substance becomes theirs. You say that the world is the fruit of ignorance and sin, the result of a failing or a fall of the Pleroma, a progressive degeneration of the Being, or, to use your favorite metaphor, a stain on the tunic of God. But do you not see, in this confusion of the Infinite with the finite, it is the divine nature itself that declines, that degenerates, that is stained with vice or imperfection? Could the notion of God be more seriously altered?[5]
But the holy Bishop is not satisfied with refuting the error. Desirous of giving his readers the rule of faith by which every particular opinion must be judged, he then sets forth the whole Catholic doctrine in a great synthesis. In so doing, St. Irenaeus is not merely an apologist, he is also a theologian: in fact, he may rightly be called the father of Catholic theology.

The rule of faith laid down by St. Irenaeus is clear and sound. Religious truth is found in the tradition of the Church: this is the sum and substance of his doctrine. The genuineness of the faith of the present is proved by the fact that those who now teach it received it from the Apostles. Its absolute infallibility is guaranteed by the indefectible assistance of the Holy Ghost. We quote some of the holy Bishop's own words.
The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the Apostles and their disciples this faith.[6] [...] This is the unchangeable rule we receive at baptism.[7] [...] The only true and lifegiving faith, the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons. For the Lord of all gave to His Apostles the power of the Gospel, through whom also we have known the truth, that is, the doctrine of the Son of God; to whom also did the Lord declare: "He that heareth you, heareth Me."[8] The Church is the Church of God.[9] Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God.[10]
And the center of that Church is at Rome, "the very great, the very ancient and universally known Church, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, [...] Rome, whose pastors are connected with the chief of the Apostles by an uninterrupted series of legitimate pontiffs; for it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church on account of its preeminent authority."[11]

After thus establishing the rule of faith of the Catholic Church, St. Irenaeus, in an ample synthesis, gives the essential content of that faith. The great Bishop's whole theology is inspired by these words of St. John:
This is eternal life: that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.[12]
Assuredly, it is well to insist upon the infinite distance separating us from God; but in exalting His supreme Essence, we must be careful that we do not make of Him the supreme Impotence and the supreme Indifference. By what right may we deny to the infinite Being the power of producing, outside of Himself, a world which, while not being He, depends upon Him in its operations and ill its substance? We must rather hold to this dogma of creation, which, mysterious though it is, contains the only reasonable solution, because, distinguishing what must be neither separated nor confused, it escapes the two shoals of dualism and pantheism.

But not only did the infinite Being have the power of producing real creatures, He had the power of making Himself known to them, the power of redeeming them from their faults and their wretchedness, the power of raising them even to Himself by a sort of deification. The mediator of all these divine mysteries is Christ. Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God incarnate, truly God and truly man, is the Revealer of God, the Redeemer of man fallen in Adam, and the Deificator of him who abandons himself to His grace. These three ideas sum up the Christology of St. Irenaeus. That revelation, redemption, and deification produce their full effects only after this life, in the kingdom of glory, but in this life, the Eucharist, where God and man meet and unite in an outpouring of unspeakable love, is the divine seal of the work of revelation, redemption, and deification.

Our exposition of St. Irenaeus' teaching would be incomplete if we failed to mention the large place he gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the economy of grace. St. Justin had already mentioned her effective and voluntary participation in the work of the Redemption. St. Irenaeus stresses the part taken by her. As St. Paul contrasted the work of the first Adam with that of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, so the Bishop of Lyons contrasts the first Eve, who brought about the fall, with the second Eve, Mary, who saved mankind. He says:
The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. One resisted God's command, the other submitted thereto. Eve heeded the devil's words, Mary gave ear to the voice of the angel. As the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin.[13]
We cannot overemphasize the importance of the part taken by St. Irenaeus in the history of the Church. This first of Catholic theologians is the last pupil of the immediate disciples of the Apostles. He who made the first systematic synthesis of our faith had still in his ears the last echoes of the Apostolic teaching. His work is a golden ring joining the spirit of the Gospel to the teaching of the Fathers.


[1] Eusebius, H. E., V, iv, 2.
[2] Freppel, Saint Irénée, p. 287.
[3] Ibid., p. 185.
[4] Tertullian, Adversus Valentinianos, 5.
[5] Freppel, op. cit., p. 357. The exactness of Freppel's summary may be verified by reading the Adversus haereses, Book 2, Chapter 30.
[6] Haereses, I, x, 1.
[7] Ibidem, I, ix, 4.
[8] Ibidem, III, pref.
[9] Ibidem, I, vi, 3; xiii, 5.
[10] Ibidem, III, i, 1.
[11] Ibidem, III, iii, 2.
[12] John 17:3.
[13] Adversus haereses, III, xxii, 4; V, xix.


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Monday, June 20, 2016

The Dogma of Hell

First in a Series on Hell

 Fr. François Xavier Schouppe, S.J.

Jüngstes Gericht (detail)
Hans Memling (1430-1494)
The dogma of hell is the most terrible truth of our faith. There is a hell. We are as sure of it as of the existence of God, or the existence of the sun. Nothing, in fact, is more clearly revealed than the dogma of hell, and Jesus Christ proclaims it as many as fifteen times in the Gospel.

Reason comes to the support of revelation; the existence of a hell is in harmony with the immutable notions of justice engraved in the human heart. Revealed to men from the beginning, and conformable to natural reason, this dreadful truth has always been, and is still known, by all nations not plunged by barbarism in complete ignorance.

Hell never has been denied by heretics, Jews or Mohammedan. The pagans themselves have retained their belief in it, although the errors of paganism may have impaired in their minds the sound notion. It has been reserved for modern and contemporaneous atheism, carried to the pitch of delirium, to outdo the impiety of all ages by denying the existence of hell.

There are, in our day, men who laugh at, question, or openly deny the reality of hell. They laugh at hell; but the universal belief of nations should not be laughed at; a matter affecting the everlasting destiny of man is not laughable; there is no fun, when the question is of enduring for eternity the punishment of fire. They question, or even deny the dogma of hell; but on a mater of religious dogma, they cannot decide without being competent; they cannot call into doubt, still less deny, a belief so solidly established, without bringing forward irrefutable reasons.

Now, are they who deny the dogma of hell competent in matters of religion? Are they not strangers to that branch of the sciences, which is called theology? Are they not oftenest ignorant of the very elements of religion taught in the Catechism? Whence, then, proceeds the mania of grappling with a religious question which is not within their province? Why such warmth in combating the belief in hell? Ah! It is interest that prompts them; they are concerned about the non-existence of hell, knowing that if there is a hell, it shall be their portion. These unhappy men wish that there might not be one, and they try to persuade themselves that there is none. In fact, these efforts usually end in a sort of incredulity. At bottom, this disbelief is only a doubt, but a doubt which unbelievers formulate by a negation. Accordingly, they say there is no hell. And upon what reasons do they rest so bold a denial? All their reasons and arguments may be summed up in the following assertions:
"I do not believe in hell." 
"They who affirm this dogma know nothing about it; the future life is an insoluble problem, and invincible, perhaps." 
"No one has returned from beyond the grave to testify that there is a hell."
These are all the "proofs", all the "theology" of the teachers of impiety. Let us examine:
  1. You do not believe in hell? And there is no hell, because you do not believe in it? Will hell exist any the less, because you do not please to believe in it? Should a thief be so foolish as to deny that there is a prison, would the prison cease to exist, and should the thief not enter it?
  2. You say that the future life is a problem, and hell a perhaps. You are deceived; this problem is fully solved by revelation, and left in no uncertainty. But suppose for a moment, that there was an uncertainty, that the existence of eternal torments is only probable, and that it may be said: perhaps there is no hell. I ask any man of sound reason, would he not be the silliest of men who, upon such a perhaps, should expose himself to the punishment of an everlasting fire?
  3. They say that no one returned from beyond the grave to tell us about hell. If it were true that no one has returned, would hell exist the less? Is it the dammed who ought to teach us that there is a hell? It might as well be said that it is prisoners who ought to inform us that there are prisons. To know that there is a hell it is not necessary that the damned should come to tell us; God's word is sufficient for us; God it is who publishes it, and informs the world concerning it. But are you, who claim that no dead person has returned to speak of hell, quite sure of it? You say it, you declare it; but you have against you historical, proved, unexceptionable facts. I do not speak here of Jesus Christ, who descended into hell, and rose again from the dead; there are other dead persons who returned to life, and damned souls who have revealed their everlasting reprobation. Still, whatever may be the historical certainty of this sort of facts, I repeat, it is not upon this ground that we claim to establish the dogma of hell; that truth is known to us by the infallible word of God; the facts which we adduce serve but to confirm, and place it in a clearer light.

[The following video records the testimony of one Fr. Steven Scheier, a priest who suffered a near death experience and escaped hell only by the intercession of Our Lady. Highly recommended.]

Friday, June 17, 2016

The First General Council of Nicaea (325)

Second in a Series on the History of the General Councils

 Msgr. Philip Hughes

16th century fresco of the First Council of Nicaea. (click to enlarge) A great deal of liberty has
been taken by the artist; for example, though shown in the center of the gathered bishops,
Pope Sylvester I was not physically present due to his great age and the difficulty of the journey,
but was instead represented by two priests sent from Rome as his emissaries. The figure in white
beneath the pulpit is in all likelihood the arch-heretic Arius, who was condemned at the Council.
The Emperor Constantine is seated in the lower left-hand corner.

It is more than sixteen hundred years since the first of the General Councils of the Church met. This is so long ago that the very names of the places connected with its history have quite disappeared from common knowledge and the atlases. They have about them an air of the fabulous; Nicaea, Bithynia, Nicomedia, and the rest. The very unfamiliarity of the sounds is a reminder that, even for the purpose of the slight consideration which is all that these pages allow, a considerable adjustment of the mind is called for. We must, somehow, revive the memory of a world that has wholly passed away, that had disappeared, indeed, well nigh a thousand years already when Columbus and his ships first sighted the coasts of the new continent.

The business that brought the three hundred or so bishops to Nicaea in AD 325 from all over the Christian world was to find a remedy for the disturbances that had seriously troubled the East for nearly two years. The cause of these disturbances was a new teaching about the basic mystery of the Christian religion.

We shall let Cardinal John Henry Newman summarise the position, and say what it was that the new leader, Arius by name, had lately been popularising, through sermons, writings, and popular hymns and songs:
It was the doctrine of Arianism that our Lord was a pure creature, made out of nothing, liable to fall, the Son of God by adoption, not by nature, and called God in Scripture, not as being really such, but only in name. At the same time [Arius] would not have denied that the Son and the Holy Ghost were creatures transcendently near to God, and immeasurably distant from the rest of creation. 
Now, by contrast, how does the teaching of the Fathers who preceded Arius stand relatively to such a representation of the Christian Creed? Is it such, or how far is it such, as to bear Arius out in so representing it? This is the first point to inquire about. 
First of all, the teaching of the Fathers was necessarily directed by the form of Baptism, as given by our Lord Himself to His disciples after His resurrection. To become one of His disciples was, according to His own words, to be baptized "into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" that is, into the profession, into the service, of a Triad. Such was our Lord's injunction: and ever since, before Arianism and after, down to this day, the initial lesson in religion taught to every Christian, on his being made a Christian, is that he thereby belongs to a certain Three, whatever more, or whether anything more, is revealed to us in Christianity about that Three. 
The doctrine, then, of a Supreme Triad is the elementary truth of Christianity; and accordingly, as might have been expected, its recognition is a sort of key-note, on which centre the thoughts and language of all theologians, from which they start, with which they end.[1]

Examination of a chain of pre-Arian writers, from every part of Christendom, reveals that "there was during the second and third centuries a profession and teaching concerning the Holy Trinity, not vague and cloudy, but of a certain determinate character," and that this teaching "was contradictory and destructive of the Arian hypothesis."[2] And from all this literature the fact emerges that, from the beginning, "some doctrine or other of a Trinity lies at the very root of the Christian conception of the Supreme Being, and of his worship and service:" and that "it is impossible to view historical Christianity apart from the doctrine of the Trinity."[3]

It was round about the year AD 323 that the Arian crisis developed. The struggle between the advocates of the new theory and the Church authorities who stood by the tradition was to continue thence onward for a good fifty years and more. And now, for the first time in the history of the Church, the State intervened in what was, of itself, a dispute about belief. A second point to note is that the State, on the whole, sided with the innovators, and was hostile to the defenders of the traditional truth.

The history of those fifty-six years (325-41) that followed the Council of Nicaea and closed with the next General Council (Constantinople I) is part of the history of both these councils. And its complexity defies any summary simplification. If we turn to Newman for a clue to the meaning of it all, he will tell us that this long and stubborn struggle is nothing else than a particular passage in the conflict that never ceases between the Church and the secular power.
The same principle of government which led the emperors to denounce Christianity while they were pagans led them to dictate to its bishops when they had become Christians.[4]
Such an idea as that "religion should be independent of state authority" was, in the eyes of all these princes, contrary to the nature of things. And not only was this conflict "inevitable," but, Newman continues, it might have been foreseen as probable that the occasion of the conflict would be a controversy within the Church about some fundamental doctrine. Newman's last remarkable words may usefully warn us that, in Church History, things are not always so simple as we expect.

Even the full history of a General (i.e., world-wide) Council called in such circumstances, the first council of its kind - which had no precedents to guide its procedure, or to instruct the generality about the special value attaching to its decisions - even this would inevitably present difficulties to minds sixteen hundred years later; minds bred in a detailed, centuries-old tradition about the kind of thing General Councils are, and furnished with definite ideas about their nature, procedure, and authority.

But we are very far from possessing anything like a full history of this first Council of Nicaea. Of any official record of the day-to-day proceedings - the acta of the council - there is no trace. The earliest historians, from whose accounts our knowledge must derive, were in large measure partisan writers. And of the two writers who were present at the council, the one who was a historian[5] was an ally of the heretics and the quasi-official panegyrist of the emperor Constantine who called the council; and the other,[6] though he has much indeed to say about the council, does not anywhere profess to be writing a record of its acts.

Nowhere, of course, is our knowledge of the history of these first centuries of the Church anything like so complete as is our knowledge of, let us say, any part of it during the last eight or nine hundred years. In the matter of Nicaea, as in other questions, scholars are still disputing - and not on religious grounds - whether, for example, certain key documents were really written by the personages whose names they bear. About the details of the history of all these early councils, because of the insufficiency of our information, there is inevitably much confusion, great obscurity. Yet there are compensations for those who study it. 
History does not bring clearly upon the canvas the details which were familiar to the ten thousand minds of whose combined movements and fortunes it treats. Such is it from its very nature; nor can the defect ever fully be remedied. This must be admitted [...] still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines, which cannot be disregarded, rise out of the records of the past, when we look to see what it will give up to us: they may be dim, they may be incomplete, but they are definite; there is that which they are not, which they cannot be.[7]
The state, or political society, in which the Arian troubles arose and developed was that which we know as the Roman Empire. This state, for its inhabitants, was one and the same thing as civilization, and not surprisingly. As the accession of Constantine to the sole rulership, in AD 324, found the empire, so it had endured for three hundred years and more. History does not record any political achievement even remotely parallel to this. For the empire took in, besides Italy, the whole of Europe west of the Rhine and south of the Danube and also the southern half of the island of Britain. In the East, it included the whole of the modern state we call Turkey, with Syria also, Palestine, and Egypt, and the lands on the southern shore of the Mediterranean westward thence to the Atlantic.

Roman empire under Constantine (click to enlarge)

Races as varied as the peoples who today inhabit these lands, with just as little to unite them naturally, lived then for some four hundred years under the rule of the emperors, with a minimum of internal disturbance and in almost entire freedom from foreign war. The stresses and strains of the internal life of the empire were, of course, a constant menace to this marvelous unity. The supreme ruler, with whom lay the fullness of legislative power, who was the final judge in all lawsuits, and the head of the national religion, was the ruler because he was the commander in chief of the army: his very title imperator, which we translate "emperor," means just this. And for the imperator, it was one of the chief problems of government to maintain his military prestige with the vast armies. No man could long rule the Roman world who did not first hold the legions true to himself by his own professional worth. All the great rulers who, in the course of these four centuries, developed and adapted and reformed the complex life of the state, its finances, its law, its administration, were in the first place great soldiers, highly successful generals: Trajan, for example, Hadrian, Septimius Severus, Decius, Diocletian.

Emperor Constantine
And Constantine, the first emperor to abandon the pagan religion and to profess himself a Christian, stood out to his own generation primarily as a highly successful soldier, triumphant in a series of contests with rivals for the supreme place. Such wars, fights between rival generals for the imperial throne, were the chief curse of Roman political life, and especially so in what we reckon as the third century, the century in the last quarter of which Constantine himself was born. He would have been a little boy of nine or ten when the great Diocletian became emperor in AD 284, who, to put an end to these suicidal wars, immediately associated another soldier with himself, as joint emperor, the one to rule the East, the other the West. In AD 293, Diocletian took this devolution of power a step further. With each emperor there was now associated a kind of assistant emperor, with the title of Caesar, the actual ruler of allotted territories and destined to be, in time, his principal's successor. The soldier chosen in AD 293 as the first western Caesar was Constantine's father, Constantius, commonly called Chlorus (the Pale) from his complexion. His territory was the modern countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, and England.

These details of political re-organisation have a direct connection with our story. The reader knows - who does not? - that one feature of the history of this Roman state was its hostility to the Christian religion. Scarcely a generation went by without some serious persecution. And Diocletian ended his reign with the most dreadful persecution of all (AD 303). This was largely due to the influence of his colleague, the Caesar Galerius who, in 305, was to succeed him as emperor in the East. And of all the territories, it was Egypt that provided most of the victims in the eight years the terror lasted - Egypt which was to be the principal scene of the Arian troubles and, par excellence, of the Catholic resistance to them. In the West, the persecution was, by comparison, mild, and in the domains of Constantius Chlorus there was no persecution at all. This emperor's personal religious history, and his attitude towards the Christian religion, is full of interest. His views were also the views of his son Constantine, and they perhaps provide a clue to the strange and baffling story, not only of the long successful Arian defiance of the decisions of the Council of Nicaea, but of that first Christian emperor's seeming unawareness of the defiance.

Constantine's own character is, of course, an element of the first importance in the history of the council he convoked; and so also is the kind of thing which his "conversion" to Christianity was, some twelve years before the Arian problem arose. At the time of the council, he was nearing his fiftieth year, and he had been emperor for almost twenty. History seems to reveal him as intelligent, indeed, but passionate and headstrong; a bold campaigner and, as an administrator, "magnificent" in the Aristotelian sense. That is to say, he loved great schemes, supported them always with princely generosity, improvised readily, and delighted to dazzle by the scale of his successes. It was a natural part of the character that he was ambitious, confident of success, and - a less obvious trait - his ambition was linked with a "mystical" belief that he was destined to succeed, and a sure, if confused, notion that the heavenly powers were on his side. Be it remembered here, once more, that this man was omnipotent in public affairs, as no ruler has been even in the recent revolutions of our own time; for the Roman emperor's omnipotence was universally accepted by his millions of subjects as his right, as something belonging to the very nature of things.

The Battle of the Milvan Bridge (click to enlarge)
Giulio Romano (1499-1546)

It is less easy to say exactly what Constantine knew or believed about the religion of Christ, twelve years after he had, as emperor, publicly made it his own. Certainly it would be a gross error to consider the business of his mystical dream on the eve of his victory at the Milvian Bridge (AD 312), that made him supreme master of the West, as parallel to what happened to St. Paul on the road to Damascus. His own personal religion at the time was that of his pagan father, the cult suddenly promoted to the supreme place as the official religion about the time that Constantine was born, by the then emperor, Aurelian (AD 269-75). This was the cult of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), the worship of the divine spirit by whom the whole universe is ruled, the spirit whose symbol is the sun; a symbol in which this spirit in some way specially manifests itself. Under Aurelian this cult was organised with great splendour. The temple of the Sun which he built at Rome must have been one of the wonders of the world. Aurelian's coins bear the inscription "The Sun is the Lord of the Roman Empire." The whole cult is penetrated with the idea that there is a single spirit who is supreme, with the idea of an overruling divine monarchy. Moreover, the cult was in harmony with a philosophical religion steadily growing, in the high places of the administration, throughout this same century, the cult of Summus Deus - the God who is supreme.

Roman imperial silver disk bearing
the image of Sol Invictus (3rd century)
Constantine's father remained faithful to this cult of Sol Invictus even when his seniors, Diocletian and Maximian, reverted to the old cults of Jupiter and Hercules. And once Constantine - no more than Caesar on his father's death (AD 306) - felt himself really master in the West, Hercules and Jupiter disappeared from his coinage, and Sol Invictus was restored, while the official panegyrics laud "that divine spirit which governs this whole world." This in AD 311.

What Constantine gathered from his famous dream in September 312 was that this supreme divinity was promising him salvation in this military crisis, had despatched a messenger to assure him of it and to tell him how to act, and that this messenger was Christ, the God whom the Christians worshipped, and that the badge his soldiers must wear was the sign of Christ, the cross. He did not, on the morrow of his victory, ask for baptism, nor even to be enrolled as a catechumen. Constantine was never so much as even this. And not until he lay dying, twenty-five years later, was he baptised.

Orthodox icon commemorating the publication
of the Edict of Milan in AD 313 by Constantine
It was, then, an all but uninstructed, if enthusiastic, convert who now, with all the caution of an experienced politician, set his name to the Edict of Milan (AD 313), set up the Christian religion as a thing legally permissible, endowed its chief shrines with regal munificence, showered civic privileges, honors, and jurisdiction on its bishops, and even began the delicate task of introducing Christian ideas into the fabric of the law. It was an all but uninstructed convert who, also, in these next ten years - and in the turbulent province of Africa - plunged boldly into the heat of a religious war, the Donatist Schism, with the instinctive confidence that his mere intervention would settle all problems. Between the truce with the Donatists, AD 321, and the appearance of Arius in Egypt the interval is short indeed. What had Constantine learned from the Donatist experience? What had it taught him about the kind of thing the divine society was in which he so truly believed? Very little, it would seem.

The great see of Alexandria in Egypt, of which Arius was a priest, had for many years before his appearance as a heretic been troubled by schism. One of the suffragan bishops - Meletius by name - had accused his principal of giving way during the persecution; and, declaring all the bishop of Alexandria's acts invalid, had proceeded to consecrate bishops in one place after another, in opposition to him. Nor did Meletius cease his activities when this particular bishop of Alexandria died. In many places, there were soon two sets of Catholic clergy, the traditional line and the "Meletian"; the confusion was great and the contest bitter everywhere, the faithful people as active as their pastors. "It was out of the Meletian schism that Arianism was born and developed," one historian[8] will tell us. Arius had been a "Meletian" in his time, but the new bishop, Alexander, had received him back and had promoted him to an important church. And here his learned eloquence and ascetic life soon gave his novel teaching as wide publicity as he could desire.

The bishop's first act, as the news spread, was to arrange a public disputation. In this, Arius was worsted. He next disobeyed the bishop's natural injunction to be silent, and began to look for support outside Egypt. Meanwhile, the bishop called a council of the hundred bishops subject to his see; ninety-eight voted to condemn Arius; and his two supporters, along with a handful of other clerics, were deposed. Arius fled to Palestine, to an old friend generally regarded as the greatest scholar of the day, Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea. And from Caesarea, the two began a vast correspondence to engage the support of bishops expected to be friendly to the cause, as far away as the imperial capital, Nicomedia.

Lucian of Antioch, the Sacred Martyr
Already there was a bond between Arius and many of those to whom he wrote. They, like himself, were pupils of the same famous teacher of the last generation, Lucian of Antioch, whose school - and not Alexandria - was the real birthplace of this new theological development. And Arius could address such prelates as "Dear Fellow-Lucianist." Of all those to whom he now wrote, none was so important as a second Eusebius, the bishop of the imperial city itself, and a possible power with the emperor through his friendship with Constantine's sister, the empress Constantia, consort of the eastern emperor, Licinius. The Lucianist bishop of Nicomedia rose to the occasion, "as though upon him the whole fate of the Church depended," the bishop of Alexandria complained. For Eusebius, too, circularised the episcopate generally and summoned a council of bishops, and they voted that Arius should be reinstated, and wrote to beg this of the bishop of Alexandria.

Arius' bishop, meanwhile, had been active also. We know of seventy letters which he wrote to bishops all over the Christian world; amongst others to whom he wrote was the pope. And since all these episcopal letters were copied and passed round, made up into collections and, as we should say, published, the whole of the East was soon aflame, fighting and rioting in one city after another. Few, indeed, of these enthusiasts could have understood the discussions of the theologians, but all grasped that what Arius was saying was that Christ was not God. And if this were so, what about the saving death on the Cross? And what was sinful man to hope for when he died? When the bishop of Alexandria stigmatised his rebellious priest as Christomachos (fighter against Christ), he clinched the matter in such a way that all, from the Christian emperor to the meanest dock hand in the port, must be personally interested, and passionately.

Hosius (Osio) of Cordova
During these first months of agitation Constantine had, however, other matters to occupy him, and, to begin with, the agitation was none of his business. At the moment when the great movement began, none of the lands affected came under his jurisdiction. But in that same year, AD 323, war broke out between himself and his eastern colleague, his brother-in-law, Licinius. In July 324, Constantine, invader of Licinius territory, defeated him heavily at Adrianople, and in September he gained a second victory at Chrysopolis.[9] Later, Licinius was put to death. When the victor entered his new capital in the ensuing weeks, there was in his household a Spanish prelate who had dwelt with Constantine for some years now, Hosius, bishop of Cordova. It was to him that Constantine, with the new Arian crisis confronting him, now turned.

Arius, by now, had returned to Alexandria, fortified with the vote of the council at Nicomedia and of a second (more peremptory) council at Caesarea, to demand the decreed reinstatement. His arrival, and the campaign of propaganda now launched, set the whole city ablaze. And Constantine despatched Hosius to make a personal investigation of the affair. When he returned to make his report, Alexander and Arius soon followed. The crisis next moved to the third great city of the empire, Antioch. The bishop there had recently died, and when the fifty-six bishops subject to Antioch came in from Palestine, Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere to elect a successor (January 325, probably), they took the opportunity to notice the Arian development. All but unanimously (53-3) they condemned the new teaching, and excommunicated - provisionally - the three dissidents. One of these was the bishop of Caesarea.

And now, sometime in the early spring of AD 325, it was decided to summon a council representative of all the bishops in the world. Who was it that first put out this grandiose, if simple, plan? We do not know. Within a matter of months - not indeed simultaneously, but with impressive nearness in time - councils had been held at Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, Nicomedia, in which a good half of the bishops of the East must have taken part, i.e., a good proportion of the vastly more numerous half of the entire episcopate. Whoever it was to whom the idea of a council of the Christian universe first occurred, it was Constantine who decided it should be held, and who chose the place and sent out the invitations to the bishops, offering to all free passage in the imperial transportation service.

Icon of the Council of Nicaea. Emperor Constantine is seated
in the center of the gathered council fathers.
The council opened, in the imperial summer palace at Nicaea, May 20, 325, with something over three hundred bishops present, the vast bulk of them from the Greek-speaking lands where the trouble was raging, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. But there were bishops also from Persia and the Caucasus, from the lands between the Danube and the Aegean, and from Greece. There was one from Africa and one from Spain, one from Gaul and one from Italy, and, since the great age of the Bishop of Rome forbade his making the journey, he was represented by two of his priests.

Eusebius of Caesarea, who has described the great moments of the council, was evidently moved, as we too may be, by his recollection of the scene when, the bishops all assembled in the great hall of the palace, some of them lame and blind from the tortures undergone in the persecutions, the Christian master of the whole Roman world entered, robed in scarlet and gold, and before taking his place at the throne, bade them be seated. Constantine came with a minimum of pomp, and in his brief address he did no more than welcome the bishops, exhort them to peaceful conference, and admit that the spectacle of "sedition" within the Church caused him more anxiety than any battle.

The little we know of the actual history of the council is soon told. The theology of Arius was condemned unanimously - though he is said to have had twenty-two supporters among the bishops. But if it was a simple matter for the episcopate to testify to its belief that the Divine Word was truly God, it was less easy to agree about the best way to phrase a declaration of this faith, i.e., to construct a statement to which no subtlety could give a heretical Arian meaning also. One section of the bishops was anxious that no terms should be used which were not already used in Scripture. But the Scriptures had not been written for the purpose of confuting philosophically minded heretics. It was now necessary to say that the accepted Scripture meant just "this" and not "that" as well. And if this were to be accomplished, the technique must be adopted of coining a special word for the purpose.

The statement as the council finally passed it - the creed of the council of Nicaea - states: 
We believe [...] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God, born of the Father, the sole-begotten; that is to say, of the substance of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; born, not made, consubstantial with the Father [in the Greek original: homo-ousion toi patri], through whom all things were made, which are in heaven and on earth [...][10]
The word homo-ousion is the special non-Scriptural word which the council adopted to characterize the true, traditional belief; a word it was impossible to square with any kind of Arian theory; a test word that would always make it clear that any Arian theory was incompatible with the Christian tradition, and which would serve the practical purpose of preventing any further infiltration of these enemies of Christ within the Church, and defeat any endeavor to change the belief from within.

Who it was that proposed to the council this precise word, we do not know. An Arian historian says it was the bishop of Alexandria and Hosius of Cordova. St. Athanasius, who was present at the council, says it was Hosius. What seems clearer is that the bishops, solidly determined that the heresy should be rooted out, were yet by no means happy about the means chosen. The word homo-ousion was known to them already. Since long before the time of Arius and Lucian, it had a bad history in the East, as will be explained. But Constantine definitely declared himself in favor of the uniquely useful instrument, and the council accepted it, each bishop rising in his place and giving his vote. Two bishops only refused their assent. With Arius, and a few priest supporters, they were promptly sent into exile by the emperor's command.

The bishops then passed to other problems. In the first place, the twenty-year-old Meletian schism. Its leaders had appealed to Constantine, and the emperor left it to the council to judge. The bishops supported their brother of Alexandria, but offered the schismatics very easy terms, restoring Meletius himself to his see of Lycopolis. But he was not, ever again, to confer Holy Orders, and all those whom he had unlawfully ordained were to be reordained before again officiating. Moreover, they were to be subject henceforward to the true, i.e., Catholic, bishop of the place. Those whom Meletius had made bishops might be elected to sees in the future, as vacancies arose - always with the consent of the bishop of Alexandria, the traditional head of this extensive episcopate.

A second practical problem, that had teased the eastern churches for generations, was now finally solved, viz., how the date of the Easter feast should be calculated. "All our good brothers of the East[11] who until now have been used to keep Easter at the Jewish Passover, will henceforward keep it at the same time as the Romans and you," so the bishops of Egypt announced in a letter to their people.

Finally, the bishops promulgated twenty laws - canons - for general observance. Like the solution proposed for the Meletians, they are notable for a new mildness of tone, a quality more Roman than Oriental, it may be said. They are, in great part, a repetition of measures enacted eleven years earlier in the Latin council held at Arles, in Gaul. Five canons deal with those who fell away in the recent persecution. If any such have since been admitted to ordination, they are to be deposed. Those who apostatised freely - that is, without the compulsion of fear - are to do twelve years' penance before being admitted to Holy Communion. If, before the penance is completed, they fall sick and are in danger of death, they may receive Holy Viaticum. Should they then recover, they are to take place with the highest class of the penitents - those who are allowed to hear Mass, though not to receive Holy Communion. Catechumens who fell away - i.e., Christians not yet baptised - are to do three years' penance and then resume their place as catechumens. Finally, the Christians who, having once left the army, had re-enlisted in the army of the persecutor, the lately destroyed emperor Licinius, are to do thirteen years' penance, or less if the bishop is satisfied of the reality of their repentance, but always three years' penance at least.

There are two canons about the readmission of heretical schismatics. First of all, there are the remnants of the schism begun in Rome by the antipope Novatian, some seventy-five years before the council. Novatian was one of that fairly numerous class for whom the rulers of the Church deal far too mildly with repentant sinners. He ended by denying that the Church had the power to absolve those who fell away in times of persecution; and his followers, self-styled "the Pure," extended this disability to all sins of idolatry, sexual sins, and murder. They also regarded second marriage as a sexual sin. At this time, there were many Novatians in Asia Minor, and the council offered generous terms to those who wished to be reconciled, recognising the orders of their clergy, and the dignity of their bishops, but exacting written declarations that they will regard as fellow Catholics those who have contracted a second marriage and those doing penance for apostasy.

To a second class of schismatics, the same generosity was shown. These were the sect that descended from the notorious bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, deposed in AD 268 by a council of bishops for various crimes and for his heretical teaching that there is no distinction between the three persons of the Holy Trinity. But these "Paulinians," so to call them, are to be re-baptised. Those who had functioned as clergy may be re-ordained if the Catholic bishop to whom they are now subject thinks fit.

On various aspects of clerical life, there are as many as ten canons. No one is to be ordained who has had himself castrated, nor anyone only recently converted to the faith. "Yesterday a catechumen, today a bishop," says St. Jerome; "in the evening at the circus and next morning at the altar; just lately a patron of comedians, now busy consecrating virgins." It is the canon itself which speaks of ordination, and episcopal consecration, following immediately on baptism. Bishops are not to ordain another bishop's subject without his consent. No clerics - bishops, priests, or deacons - are to move from one diocese to another. Clerics are forbidden to take interest for money loans, and for this offence they must be deposed.

Finally, there are two canons regarding three famous sees: Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The council confirms the ancient custom that gives the bishop of Alexandria jurisdiction over the bishops of the civil provinces of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis. And likewise the ancient privileges of the see of Antioch and of the chief sees of the other provinces. Jerusalem is a city apart, the Holy City par excellence, and although its bishop remains as much as ever the subject of the metropolitan bishop at Caesarea, he is allowed what canon 7 calls "a precedence of honor," without a hint to say in what this consists.

All this variety of business was rapidly dispatched, for the council held its final session barely four weeks after it opened, June 19, 325.

As the date all but coincided with the celebrations that marked the twentieth year of Constantine's reign, the emperor entertained the prelates at a banquet in full imperial style, and as they passed before the guards, presenting arms in salute, they asked themselves, says Eusebius, if the Kingdom of Heaven on earth had not finally come to pass.

Save for the letter of the bishops of Egypt, mentioned already, and two letters of the emperor, the one general, announcing the new rule about Easter, the other telling the people of Egypt that the bishops had confirmed the traditional belief and that Arius was the tool of the devil, we know nought of what might be called "the promulgation" of the council's decisions. But the breakup of the great gathering was by no means followed by the silence that accompanies peace perfectly attained. The real troubles had not yet begun.

Additional Resources:


[1] Newman, Causes of the Rise and Successes of Arianism (February 1872) in Tracts, Theological and Ecclesiastical, pp. 103-4.
[2] Ibid., p. 116. For Newman's "examination," pp. 103-11.
[3] Ibid., p. 112.
[4] Ibid., p. 96-97.
[5] Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (ca. AD 265-338).
[6] St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (AD 328-73); born ca. AD 295.
[7] Newman, The Development of Christian Doctrine, 1st ed., 1845, pp. 7, 5; with one sentence ("Still no one," etc.) from ibid., rev. ed., p. 7.
[8] J. Lebreton, S.J., Histoire de Eglise, vol. 2, p. 343.
[9] The modern Scutari, on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus.
[10] Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 54, prints the Greek text; Barry, Readings in Church History, p. 85, gives a translation.
[11] The word has here a special meaning as the name of the (civil) diocese of which Antioch was the chief city, Oriens: the modern Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Syria, the coast of Turkey thence north and west for a good 200 miles with a vast territory in the interior that went beyond the Euphrates.