Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume II/Socrates/Book V/Chapter 10

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Chapter X.—The Emperor orders a Convention composed of All the Various Sects. Arcadius is proclaimed Augustus. The Novatians permitted to hold their Assemblies in the City of Constantinople: Other Heretics driven out.

Great disturbances occurred in other cities also, as the Arians were ejected from the churches. But I cannot sufficiently admire the emperor’s prudence in this contingency. For he was unwilling to fill the cities with disturbance, as far as this was dependent on him, and so after a very short time[1]

he called together a general conference of the sects, thinking that by a discussion among their bishops, their mutual differences might be adjusted, and unanimity established. And this purpose of the emperor’s I am persuaded was the reason that his affairs were so prosperous at that time. In fact by a special dispensation of Divine Providence the barbarous nations were reduced to subjection under him: and among others, Athanaric king of the Goths made a voluntary surrender of himself to him,[2]

with all his people, and died soon after at Constantinople. At this juncture the emperor proclaimed his son Arcadius Augustus, on the sixteenth of January, in the second consulate[3]

of Merobaudes and Saturnilus. Not long afterwards in the month of June, under the same consulate, the bishops of every sect arrived from all places: the emperor, therefore, sent for Nectarius the bishop, and consulted with him on the best means of freeing the Christian religion from dissensions, and reducing the church to a state of unity. ‘The subjects of controversy,’ said he, ‘ought to be fairly discussed, that by the detection and removal of the sources of discord, a universal agreement may be effected.’ Hearing this proposition Nectarius fell into uneasiness, and communicated it to Agelius bishop of the Novatians, inasmuch as he entertained the same sentiments as himself in matters of faith. This man, though eminently pious, was by no means competent to maintain a dispute on doctrinal points; he therefore proposed to refer the subject to Sisinnius[4]

his reader, as a fit person to manage a conference. Sisinnius, who was not only learned, but possessed of great experience, and was well informed both in the expositions of the sacred Scriptures and the principles of philosophy, being convinced that disputations, far from healing divisions usually create heresies of a more inveterate character, gave the following advice to Nectarius, knowing well that the ancients have nowhere attributed a beginning of existence to the Son of God, conceiving him to be co-eternal with the Father, he advised that they should avoid dialectic warfare and bring forward as evidences of the truth the testimonies of the ancients. ‘Let the emperor,’ said he, ‘demand of the heads of each sect, whether they would pay any deference to the ancients who flourished before schism distracted the church; or whether they would repudiate them, as alienated from the Christian faith? If they reject their authority, then let them also anathematize them: and should they presume to take such a step, they would themselves be instantly thrust out by the people, and so the truth will be manifestly victorious. But if, on the other hand, they are not willing to set aside the fathers, it will then be our business to produce their books, by which our views will be fully attested.’ Nectarius having heard these words of Sisinnius, hastened to the palace, and acquainted the emperor with the plan which had been suggested to him; who at once perceiving its wisdom and propriety, carried it into execution with consummate prudence. For without discovering his object, he simply asked the chiefs of the heretics whether they had any respect for and would accept the teachings of those teachers who lived previous to the dissension in the church? As they did not repudiate them, but replied that they highly revered them as their masters; the emperor enquired of them again whether they would defer to them as accredited witnesses of Christian doctrine? At this question, the leaders of the several parties, with their logical champions,—for many had come prepared for sophistical debate,—found themselves extremely embarrassed. For a division was caused among them as some acquiesced in the reasonableness of the emperor’s proposition while others shrunk from it, conscious that it was by no means favorable to their interests: so that all being variously affected towards the writings of the ancients, they could no longer agree among themselves, dissenting not only from other sects, but those of the same sect differing from one another. Accordant malice therefore, like the tongue of the giants of old, was confounded, and their tower of mischief overturned.[5]

The emperor perceiving by their confusion that their sole confidence was in subtle arguments, and that they feared to appeal to the expositions of the fathers, had recourse to another method: he commanded every sect to set forth in writing their own peculiar tenets. Accordingly those who were accounted the most skillful among them, drew up a statement of their respective creeds, couched in terms the most circumspect they could devise; a day was appointed, and the bishops selected for this purpose presented themselves at the palace. Nectarius and Agelius appeared as the defenders of the ‘homoousian’ faith; Demophilus supported the Arian dogma; Eunomius himself undertook the cause of the Eunomians; and Eleusius, bishop of Cyzicus, represented the opinions of those who were denominated Macedonians. The emperor gave them all a courteous reception; and receiving from each their written avowal of faith, he shut himself up alone, and prayed very earnestly that God would assist him in his endeavors to ascertain the truth. Then perusing with great care the statement which each had submitted to him, he condemned all the rest, inasmuch as they introduced a separation of the Trinity, and approved of that only which contained the doctrine of the homoousion. This decision caused the Novatians to flourish again, and hold their meetings within the city: for the emperor delighted with the agreement of their profession with that which he embraced, promulgated a law securing to them the peaceful possession of their own church buildings, and assigned to their churches equal privileges with those to which he gave his more especial sanction. But the bishops of the other sects, on account of their disagreement among themselves, were despised and censured even by their own followers: so that overwhelmed with perplexity and vexation they departed, addressing consolatory letters to their adherents, whom they exhorted not to be troubled because many had deserted them and gone over to the homoousian party; for they said, ‘Many are called, but few chosen’[6]

—an expression which they never used when on account of force and terror the majority of the people was on their side. Nevertheless the orthodox believers were not wholly exempt from inquietude; for the affairs of the Antiochian church caused divisions among those who were present at the Synod. The bishops of Egypt, Arabia and Cyprus, combined against Flavian, and insisted on his expulsion from Antioch: but those of Palestine, Phœnicia, and Syria, contended with equal zeal in his favor. What result issued from this contest I shall describe in its proper place.[7]




Footnotes[edit]

  1. Socrates according to his custom omits all mention of events in the Western Church. Some of them are quite important; e.g. the council of Aquileia called by the Emperor Gratian. See Hefele, Hist. of Church Councils, Vol. II. p. 375 seq.
  2. This was in 382 a.d. as appears from the Fasti of Idatius. Cf. also Zosimus, IV. 34, and Jerome, Chronicon.
  3. 383 a.d.
  4. For a further account of Sisinnius, see VI. 22.
  5. Referring no doubt to the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of its builders, Gen. xi. 8.
  6. Matt. xx. 16.
  7. Below, chap. 15.