Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume II/Socrates/Book I/Chapter 9
Chapter IX.—The Letter of the Synod, relative to its Decisions: and the Condemnation of Arius and those who agreed with him.
To the holy, by the grace of God, and great church of the Alexandrians, and to our beloved brethren throughout Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, the bishops assembled at Nicæa, constituting the great and holy Synod, send greeting in the Lord.
Since, by the grace of God, a great and holy Synod has been convened at Nicæa, our most pious sovereign Constantine having summoned us out of various cities and provinces for that purpose, it appeared to us indispensably necessary that a letter should be written to you on the part of the sacred Synod; in order that ye may know what subjects were brought under consideration and examined, and what was eventually determined on and decreed.
In the first place, then, the impiety and guilt of Arius and his adherents were examined into, in the presence of our most religious emperor Constantine: and it was unanimously decided that his impious opinion should be anathematized, with all the blasphemous expressions he has uttered, in affirming that ‘the Son of God sprang from nothing,’ and that ‘there was a time when he was not’; saying moreover that ‘the Son of God, because possessed of free will, was capable either of vice or virtue; and calling him a creature and a work. All these sentiments the holy Synod has anathematized, having scarcely patience to endure the hearing of such an impious opinion, or, rather, madness, and such blasphemous words. But the conclusion of our proceedings against him you must either have been informed of already or will soon learn; for we would not seem to trample on a man who has received the chastisement which his crime deserved. Yet so contagious has his pestilential error proved, as to drag into perdition Theonas, bishop of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemaïs; for they have suffered the same condemnation as himself. But when the grace of God delivered us from those execrable dogmas, with all their impiety and blasphemy, and from those persons, who had dared to cause discord and division among a people previously at peace, there still remained the contumacy of Melitius [to be dealt with] and those who had been ordained by him; and we now state to you, beloved brethren, what resolution the Synod came to on this point. It was decreed, the Synod being moved to great clemency towards Melitius, although strictly speaking he was wholly undeserving of favor, that he remain in his own city but exercise no authority either to ordain or nominate for ordination; and that he appear in no other district or city on this pretense, but simply retain a nominal dignity. That those who had received appointments from him, after having been confirmed by a more legitimate ordination, should be admitted to communion on these conditions: that they should continue to hold their rank and ministry, but regard themselves as inferior in every respect to all those who have been ordained and established in each place and church by our most-honored fellow-minister, Alexander, so that they shall have no authority to propose or nominate whom they please, or to do anything at all without the concurrence of some bishop of the Catholic Church who is one of Alexander’s suffragans. On the other hand, such as by the grace of God and your prayers have been found in no schism, but have continued in the Catholic Church blameless, shall have authority to nominate and ordain those who are worthy of the sacred office,
and to act in all things according to ecclesiastical law and usage.
When it may happen that any of those holding preferments in the church
die, then let these who have been thus recently admitted be advanced to
the dignity of the deceased, provided that they should appear worthy,
and that the people should elect them, the bishop of Alexandria also
ratifying their choice. This privilege is conceded to all the others
indeed, but to Melitius personally we by no means grant the same
license, on account of his former disorderly conduct, and because of
the rashness and levity of his character, in order that no authority or
jurisdiction should be given him as a man liable again to create
similar disturbances. These are the things which specially affect
Egypt, and the most holy church of the Alexandrians: and if any other
canon or ordinance has been established, our Lord and most-honored
fellow-minister and brother Alexander being present with us, will on
his return to you enter into more minute details, inasmuch as he has
been a participator in whatever is transacted, and has had the
principal direction of it. We have also gratifying intelligence to
communicate to you relative to unity of judgment on the subject of the
most holy feast of Easter: for this point also has been happily settled
through your prayers; so that all the brethren in the East who have
heretofore kept this festival when the Jews did, will henceforth
conform to the Romans and to us, and to all who from the earliest time
have observed our period of celebrating Easter. Rejoicing therefore in
these conclusions and in the general unanimity and peace, as well as in
the extirpation of all heresy, receive with the greater honor and more
abundant love our fellow-minister and your bishop Alexander, who has
greatly delighted us by his presence, and even at his advanced age has
undergone extraordinary exertions in order that peace might be
re-established among you. Pray on behalf of us all, that the things
decided as just may be inviolably maintained through Almighty God, and
our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit; to whom be glory
for ever. Amen.
This epistle of the Synod makes it plain that they not only anathematized Arius and his adherents, but the very expressions of his tenets; and that having agreed among themselves respecting the celebration of Easter, they readmitted the heresiarch Melitius into communion, suffering him to retain his episcopal rank, but divesting him of all authority to act as a bishop. It is for this reason I suppose that even at the present time the Melitians in Egypt are separated from the church, because the Synod deprived Melitius of all power. It should be observed moreover that Arius had written a treatise on his own opinion which he entitled Thalia; but the character of the book is loose and dissolute, similar in its style and metres to the songs of Sotades.
This production also the Synod condemned at the same time. Nor was it
the Synod alone that took the trouble to write letters to the churches
announcing the restoration of peace, but the emperor Constantine
himself also wrote personally and sent the following address to the
church of the Alexandrians.
The Emperor’s Letter.
Constantine Augustus, to the Catholic church of the Alexandrians. Beloved brethren, hail! We have received from Divine Providence the inestimable blessing of being relieved from all error, and united in the acknowledgment of one and the same faith. The devil will no longer have any power against us, since all that which he had malignantly devised for our destruction has been entirely overthrown from the foundations. The splendor of truth has dissipated at the command of God those dissensions, schisms, tumults, and so to speak, deadly poisons of discord. Wherefore we all worship one true God, and believe that he is. But in order that this might be done, by divine admonition I assembled at the city of Nicæa most of the bishops; with whom I myself also, who am but one of you, and who rejoice exceedingly in being your fellow-servant, undertook the investigation of the truth. Accordingly, all points which seemed in consequence of ambiguity to furnish any pretext for dissension, have been discussed and accurately examined. And may the Divine Majesty pardon the fearful enormity of the blasphemies which some were shamelessly uttering concerning the mighty Saviour, our life and hope; declaring and confessing that they believe things contrary to the divinely inspired Scriptures. While more than three hundred bishops remarkable for their moderation and intellectual keenness, were unanimous in their confirmation of one and the same faith, which according to the truth and legitimate construction of the law of God can only be the faith; Arius alone beguiled by the subtlety of the devil, was discovered to be the sole disseminator of this mischief, first among you, and afterwards with unhallowed purposes among others also. Let us therefore embrace that doctrine which the Almighty has presented to us: let us return to our beloved brethren from whom an irreverent servant of the devil has separated us: let us go with all speed to the common body and our own natural members. For this is becoming your penetration, faith and sanctity; that since the error has been proved to be due to him who is an enemy to the truth, ye should return to the divine favor. For that which has commended itself to the judgment of three hundred bishops cannot be other than the doctrine of God; seeing that the Holy Spirit dwelling in the minds of so many dignified persons has effectually enlightened them respecting the Divine will. Wherefore let no one vacillate or linger, but let all with alacrity return to the undoubted path of duty; that when I shall arrive among you, which will be as soon as possible, I may with you return due thanks to God, the inspector of all things, for having revealed the pure faith, and restored to you that love for which ye have prayed. May God protect you, beloved brethren.
Thus wrote the emperor to the Christians of Alexandria, assuring them that the exposition of the faith was neither made rashly nor at random, but that it was dictated with much research, and after strict investigation: and not that some things were spoken of, while others were suppressed in silence; but that whatever could be fittingly advanced in support of any opinion was fully stated. That nothing indeed was precipitately determined, but all was previously discussed with minute accuracy; so that every point which seemed to furnish a pretext for ambiguity of meaning, or difference of opinion, was thoroughly sifted, and its difficulties removed. In short he terms the thought of all those who were assembled there the thought of God, and does not doubt that the unanimity of so many eminent bishops was effected by the Holy Spirit. Sabinus, however, the chief of the heresy of the Macedonians, willfully rejects these authorities, and calls those who were convened there ignorant and illiterate persons; nay, he almost accuses Eusebius of Cæsarea himself of ignorance: nor does he reflect, that even if those who constituted that synod had been laymen, yet as being illuminated by God, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, they were utterly unable to err from the truth.
Nevertheless, hear farther what the emperor decreed in another circular
both against Arius and those who held his opinions, sending it in all
directions to the bishops and people.
Another Epistle of Constantine.
Victor Constantine Maximus Augustus, to the bishops and people.—Since Arius has imitated wicked and impious persons, it is just that he should undergo the like ignominy. Wherefore as Porphyry,
that enemy of piety, for having composed licentious treatises against
religion, found a suitable recompense, and such as thenceforth branded
him with infamy, overwhelming him with deserved reproach, his impious
writings also having been destroyed; so now it seems fit both that
Arius and such as hold his sentiments should be denominated
Porphyrians, that they may take their appellation from those whose
conduct they have imitated. And in addition to this, if any treatise
composed by Arius should be discovered, let it be consigned to the
flames, in order that not only his depraved doctrine may be suppressed,
but also that no memorial of him may be by any means left. This
therefore I decree, that if any one shall be detected in concealing a
book compiled by Arius, and shall not instantly bring it forward and
burn it, the penalty for this offense shall be death; for immediately
after conviction the criminal shall suffer capital punishment. May God
Constantine Augustus, to the Churches.
Having experienced from the flourishing condition of public affairs, how great has been the grace of divine power, I judged this to be an object above all things claiming my care, that one faith, with sincere love, and uniform piety toward Almighty God should be maintained amongst the most blessed assemblies of the Catholic Church. But inasmuch as I perceived that this could not be firmly and permanently established, unless all, or at least the greatest part of the bishops could be convened in the same place, and every point of our most holy religion should be discussed by them in council; therefore as many as possible were assembled, and I myself also as one of you was present; for I will not deny what I especially rejoice in, that I am your fellow-servant. All points were then minutely investigated, until a decision acceptable to Him who is the inspector of all things, was published for the promotion of uniformity of judgment and practice; so that nothing might be henceforth left for dissension or controversy in matters of faith. There also the question having been considered relative to the most holy day of Easter, it was determined by common consent that it should be proper that all should celebrate it on one and the same day everywhere. For what can be more appropriate, or what more solemn, than that this feast from which we have received the hope of immortality, should be invariably kept in one order, and for an obvious reason among all? And in the first place, it seemed very unworthy of this most sacred feast, that we should keep it following the custom of the Jews; a people who having imbrued their hands in a most heinous outrage, have thus polluted their souls, and are deservedly blind. Having then cast aside their usage, we are free to see to it that the celebration of this observance should occur in future in the more correct order which we have kept from the first day of the Passion until the present time. Therefore have nothing in common with that most hostile people the Jews. We have received from the Saviour another way; for there is set before us both a legitimate and accurate course in our holy religion: unanimously pursuing this, let us, most honored brethren, withdraw ourselves from that detestable association. For it is truly absurd for them to boast that we are incapable of rightly observing these things without their instruction. For on what subject will they be competent to form a correct judgment, who after that murder of their Lord, having been bereft of their senses, are led not by any rational motive, but by an ungovernable impulse, wherever their innate fury may drive them? Thence it is therefore, that even in this particular they do not perceive the truth, so that they constantly erring in the utmost degree, instead of making a suitable correction, celebrate the Feast of Passover a second time in the same year.
Why then should we follow the example of those who are acknowledged to
be infected with grievous error? Surely we should never suffer Easter
to be kept twice in one and the same year! But even if these
considerations were not laid before you, it became your prudence at all
times to take heed, both by diligence and prayer, that the purity of
your soul should in nothing have communion, or seem to do so with the
customs of men so utterly depraved. Moreover this should also be
considered, that in a matter so important and of such religious
significance, the slightest disagreement is most irreverent. For our
Saviour left us but one day to be observed in commemoration of our
deliverance, that is the day of his most holy Passion: he also wished
his Catholic Church to be one; the members of which, however much they
may be scattered in various places, are notwithstanding cherished by
one Spirit, that is by the will of God. Let the prudence consistent
with your sacred character consider how grievous and indecorous it is,
that on the same days some should be observing fasts, while others are
celebrating feasts; and after the days of Easter some should indulge in
festivities and enjoyments, and others submit to appointed fastings. On
this account therefore Divine Providence directed that an appropriate
correction should be effected, and uniformity of practice established,
as I suppose you are all aware.
Since then it was desirable that this should be so amended that we should have nothing in common with that nation of parricides, and of those who slew their Lord; and since the order is a becoming one which is observed by all the churches of the western, southern, and northern parts, and by some also in the eastern; from these considerations for the present all thought it to be proper, and I pledged myself that it would be satisfactory to your prudent penetration, that what is observed with such general unanimity of sentiment in the city of Rome, throughout Italy, Africa, all Egypt, Spain, France, Britain, Libya, the whole of Greece, and the dioceses of Asia, Pontus, and Cilicia, your intelligence also would cheerfully accept; reflecting too that not only is there a greater number of churches in the places before mentioned, but also that this in particular is a most sacred obligation, that all should in common desire whatever strict reason seems to demand, and what has no communion with the perjury of the Jews. But to sum up matters briefly, it was determined by common consent that the most holy festival of Easter should be solemnized on one and the same day; for it is not even seemly that there should be in such a hallowed solemnity any difference: and it is more commendable to adopt that opinion in which there will be no intermixture of strange error, or deviation from what is right. These things therefore being thus consistent, do you gladly receive this heavenly and truly divine command: for whatever is done in the sacred assemblies of the bishops is referable to the Divine will. Wherefore, when ye have indicated the things which have been prescribed to all our beloved brethren, it behooves you to publish the above written statements and to accept the reasoning which has been adduced, and to establish this observance of the most holy day: that when I arrive at the long and earnestly desired view of your order, I may be able to celebrate the sacred festival with you on one and the same day; and may rejoice with you for all things, in seeing Satanic cruelty frustrated by divine power through our efforts, while your faith, peace and concord are everywhere flourishing. May God preserve you, beloved brethren.
Another Epistle to Eusebius.
Victor Constantine Maximus Augustus, to Eusebius.
Since an impious purpose and tyranny have even to the present time persecuted the servants of God our Saviour, I have been credibly informed and am fully persuaded, most beloved brother, that all our sacred edifices have either by neglect gone to decay, or from dread of impending danger have not been adorned with becoming dignity. But now that liberty has been restored, and that persecuting dragon Licinius has by the providence of the Most High God, and our instrumentality, been removed from the administration of public affairs, I imagine that the divine power has been made manifest to all, and at the same time that those who either through fear or unbelief fell into any sins, having acknowledged the living God, will come to the true and right course of life. Wherefore enjoin the churches over which you yourself preside, as well as the other bishops presiding in various places, together with the presbyters and deacons whom you know, to be diligent about the sacred edifices, either by repairing those which remain standing, or enlarging them, or by erecting new ones wherever it may be requisite. And do you yourself ask, and the rest through you, the necessary supplies both from the governors of the provinces, and the officers of the prætorian prefecture: for directions have been given to them to execute with all diligence the orders of your holiness. May God preserve you, beloved brother.
These instructions, concerning the building of churches were sent by the emperor to the bishops in every province: but what he wrote to Eusebius of Palestine respecting the preparation of some copies of the Scriptures, we may ascertain from the letters themselves:
Victor Constantine Maximus Augustus, to Eusebius of Cæsarea.
In the city which derives its name from us, a very great multitude of persons, through the assisting providence of our Saviour God, have united themselves to the most holy Church, so that it has received much increase there. It is therefore requisite that more churches should be furnished in that place: wherefore do you most cordially enter into the purpose which I have conceived. I have thought fit to intimate this to your prudence, that you should order to be transcribed on well-prepared parchment, by competent writers accurately acquainted with their art, fifty copies of the Sacred Scriptures, both legibly described, and of a portable size, the provision and use of which you know to be needful for the instruction of the Church. Letters have also been despatched from our clemency, to the financial agent
of the diocese that he be careful to provide all things necessary for
the preparation of them. That these copies may be got ready as quickly
as possible, let it be a task for your diligence: and you are
authorized, on the warrant of this our letter, to use two of the public
carriages for their conveyance; for thus the copies which are most
satisfactorily transcribed, may be easily conveyed for our inspection,
one of the deacons of your church fulfilling this commission; who when
he has reached us shall experience our bounty. May God preserve you,
Another Epistle to Macarius.
Victor Constantine Maximus Augustus, to Macarius of Jerusalem.—Such is the grace of our Saviour, that no supply of words seems to be adequate to the expression of its present manifestation. For that the monument
of his most holy passion, long since hidden under the earth, should have lain concealed for a period of so many years, until, through the destruction of the common enemy of all,
it should shine forth to his own servants after their having regained their freedom, exceeds all admiration. For if all those who throughout the whole habitable earth are accounted wise, should be convened in one and the same place, desiring to say something worthy of the event, they would fall infinitely short of the least part of it; for the apprehension of this wonder as far transcends every nature capable of human reasoning, as heavenly things are mightier than human. Hence therefore this is always my especial aim, that as the credibility of the truth daily demonstrates itself by fresh miracles, so the souls of us all should become more diligent respecting the holy law, with modesty and unanimous eagerness. But I desire that you should be fully aware of what I conceive is pretty generally known, that it is now my chief care, that we should adorn with magnificent structures that hallowed spot, which by God’s appointment I have disencumbered of a most disgraceful addition
of an idol, as of some grievous burden; which was consecrated indeed from the beginning in the purpose of God, but has been more manifestly sanctified since he has brought to light the evidence of the Saviour’s passion. Wherefore it is becoming your prudence to make such arrangements, and provision of everything necessary, that not only a church
should be built in itself superior to any elsewhere, but that the rest
of its parts also may be such that all the most splendid edifices in
every city may be excelled by this. With regard to the workmanship and
chaste execution of the walls, know that we have entrusted the care of
these things to our friend Dracilian, deputy to the most illustrious
prefects of the prætorium, and to the governor of the province:
for my piety has ordered that artificers and workmen, and whatever
other things they may be informed from your sagacity to be necessary
for the structure, shall through their care be immediately sent.
Respecting the columns or the marbles, whatever you may judge to be
more precious and useful, do you yourself after having inspected the
plan take care to write to us; that when we shall understand from your
letter how many things and of what kind there may be need of, these may
be conveyed to you from all quarters: for it is but just that the most
wonderful place in the world, should be adorned in accordance with its
dignity. But I wish to know from you, whether you consider that the
vault of the basilica should be fretted, or constructed on some other
plan: for if it is to be fretted, it can also be decorated with gold.
It remains that your holiness should inform the officers before
mentioned as soon as possible, how many workmen and artificers, and
what money for expenses you will want. Be careful at the same time to
report to me speedily, not only concerning the marbles and columns, but
also concerning the fretted vault, if indeed you should decide this to
be the more beautiful. May God preserve you, beloved brother.
The emperor having also written other letters of a more oratorical character against Arius and his adherents, caused them to be everywhere published throughout the cities, exposing him to ridicule, and taunting him with irony. Moreover, writing to the Nicomedians against Eusebius and Theognis, he censures the misconduct of Eusebius, not only on account of his Arianism, but because also having formerly been well-affected to the ruler, he had traitorously conspired against his affairs. He then exhorts them to elect another bishop instead of him. But I thought it would be superfluous to insert here the letters respecting these things, because of their length: those who wish to do so may find them elsewhere and give them a perusal. This is sufficient notice of these transactions.
- κλήρου: cf. Bingham, Eccl. Antiq. I. 5.
- Sotades, a Maronite, characterized as obscene. On the doctrines of the Maronites, cf. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, Ch. XLVII. sect. 3.
- It has always been the common belief of the Eastern Church that the ecumenical councils were inspired in the same sense as the writers of the Sacred Scriptures. Socrates in this respect simply reflects the opinion of the age and region.
- Cf. III. 23, where the author makes further mention of Porphyry and his writings; see also Smith, Dict. Greek and Roman Biog.
- Euseb. Life of Const. III. 17–19.
- As the Jewish Passover month was a lunar month and began on the fifth day of March and ended on the third of April, it happened sometimes that their Passover began before the equinox (the beginning of the solar year), so that they celebrated two Passovers during the same solar year. Their own year being lunar, of course they never celebrated the Passover twice in a year according to their point of view.
- Valesius thinks this letter is misplaced; as it alludes to the death of Licinius as a recent event, he thinks it must have been written about 315–316 a.d., hence ten years before the Council of Nicæa. Cf. Euseb. Life of Const. II. 46.
- Euseb. Life of Const. IV. 36.
- διοικήσεως καθολικόν: this office was peculiar to the Eastern Church. The nearest equivalent to it in the terminology of the Western Church is that of vicar-general; but as the non-technical expression ‘financial agent’ describes the official to the modern reader, it has been adopted in the present translation. Concerning the office, cf. Euseb. H. E. VII. 10. It may be also noted that the very common ecclesiastical term diocese (διοίκησις ) originated during the reign of Constantine, as becomes evident from his letters. See Euseb. Life of Const. III. 36.
- Euseb. Life of Const. III. 30.
- γνώρισμα: the sepulchre near Calvary commonly known as the Saviour’s is meant.
- A temple of Venus built by Adrian, the emperor, on Mount Calvary.
- βασιλικήν , ‘basilica’; the ancient Roman basilicas were often turned into churches. The term has become familiar in ecclesiastical architecture.