State Church Of The Roman Empire
A Summary Chronology
Ben H. Swett
7 May 1998
If the pagans of the first century were amazed by the love which
Christians bore one another, those of later centuries could have been equally
astonished at the loathing and intolerance the upholders of loving God and
their fellowmen displayed towards their associates whose formulae for defining
the indefinable differed from their own.
-- David Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy --
For many years, I wondered what happened to Christianity between the Sermon
on the Mount and the Spanish Inquisition. How did the teachings of Jesus
become so completely reversed in Christian practice? For the first 300 years,
Christianity spread without violence, permeating the world like yeast in
bread, by preaching a better God and a Master worth following, and by demonstrating
a better way to live both here and hereafter. Then, sometime between AD
300 and 400, everything changed. Suddenly, Christians were the persecutors,
instead of the persecuted, and remained so until modern times.
I read everything I could find on this period, but my question was not answered.
By searching the Internet, I found and bought a book entitled "The
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: The Seven Ecumenical Councils" -- and
wrestled with ancient theological doctrines until I could hardly see.
Then I remembered that theological doctrines serve political purposes, and
went looking to see what the Roman Emperors did. Little by little, the picture
of what happened to Christianity became clearer to me, but something was
still missing, so I started building my own chronology and inserting into
it everything I could find. This paper is the result of that process.
I could not find this material in any one place. I gathered it from many
sources, stripped it of biased adjectives, preferential and prejudicial
vocabulary, dogmatic propaganda and retroactive re-labeling, and compiled
it in chronological order. Wherever I detected a change of policy or practice,
I went searching for the cause of that change.
Now my question is answered. However, the picture that emerged from this
study bears little resemblance to any conventional history of Christianity.
PERSECUTION AND TOLERANCE
303 Diocletian and Maximinus. The Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian issued
four edicts, beginning in March 303, which severely persecuted Christians
by ordering churches destroyed, books burned, priests jailed, and even household
servants deprived of their liberty if they persisted in professing Christian
belief. Christians were forbidden to assemble and were placed outside the
law. Those who refused to sacrifice to the gods were imprisoned, tortured,
Contemporary accounts of this persecution illustrate how emperors' edicts
were implemented downward through all levels of the government.
During the second year, the war against us increased greatly.
It was commanded that all the people throughout the city should sacrifice
and pour out libations to the idols. ... Maximinus issued edicts for the
first time, that all the people should offer sacrifice, and the rulers of
the city should see to this diligently and zealously. Heralds went through
the whole city of Caesaream by the orders of the governor, summoning men,
women and children to the temples of the idols, and in addition the chiliarchs
were calling upon each one by name from a roll.
The governors and military prefects incited -- by edicts, letters, and public
ordinances -- the magistrates and generals, and the city clerks in all the
cities, to fulfill the imperial edicts which commanded that the altars of
the idols should be rebuilt with all zeal, and that all the men, together
with the women and children, even infants at the breast, should offer sacrifice
and pour out libations. And these urged them anxiously, carefully, to make
sure that the people taste of the sacrifices; and that the viands in the
market should be polluted by the libations of the sacrifices, and that watches
should be stationed before the baths to defile with the all-abominable sacrifices
all those who wash therein. [Medieval Source Book, Diocletian, De Mart]
Apparently this persecution was a large-scale effort. There were probably
about six million Christians in the Empire (ten percent of the population),
and there are contemporary indications that a significant percentage of
them refused to comply with the Emperor's edicts. For example, while visiting
Rome, Diocletian ordered that all the jailed Christians be forced to sacrifice
to the Roman gods, because the jails were so full there was no room for
criminals. [Stark] [Eusebius, viii, 2 - 6]
305 Four-man rule. Diocletian and Maximian divided the empire into
four regions called prefectures. The Western Empire was divided between
Constantius in Gaul (France, Germany, Britain and Spain) and Maxentius in
Italy and North Africa. The Eastern Empire was divided between Flavius Severus
in Illyricum (Greece and the Balkan countries) and Galerius in Asia (Turkey,
Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt). Then Maximian and Diocletian
resigned in hope that this four-man system of government would work. It
didn't. The result was civil war.
306 Constantius died, and his son Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of
the West by his troops even though Maxentius was still the Caesar of Italy
307 Flavius Severus died, and Licinius became Caesar of Illyricum.
311 Edict of Toleration. Galerius issued an edict shortly before
his death in which he explained the persecution and then granted tolerance
to the Christian religion. He believed his fatal illness was the vengeance
of the Christian God.
Among other arrangements which we are always accustomed to make
for the prosperity and welfare of the republic, we had desired formerly
to bring all things into harmony with the ancient laws and public order
of the Romans, and to provide that even the Christians who had left the
religion of their fathers should come back to reason; since, indeed, the
Christians themselves, for some reason, had followed such a caprice and
had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of
antiquity, which perchance their own ancestors had first established; but
at their own will and pleasure, they would thus make laws unto themselves
which they should observe and would collect various peoples in diverse places
Finally when our law had been promulgated to the effect that they should
conform to the institutes of antiquity, many were subdued by the fear of
danger, many even suffered death. And yet since most of them persevered
in their determination, and we saw that they neither paid the reverence
and awe due to the gods nor worshipped the god of the Christians, in view
of our most mild clemency and the constant habit by which we are accustomed
to grant indulgence to all, we thought that we ought to grant our most prompt
indulgence also to these, so that they may again be Christians and may hold
their conventicles, provided they do nothing contrary to good order. [Internet
Medieval Source Book]
Galerius was succeeded by Maximin, but Licinius soon added Asia to Illyricum
and became Emperor of the East.
312 The Conversion of Constantine. While on his way to Rome with
his army to battle Maxentius for control of the western empire, Constantine
saw a cross in the sky over the sun, with the message, "In This Conquer."
He ordered his soldiers to mark on their shields the first two letters of
the Greek word for Christ (chi, rho) and put a cross-bar on their flag staffs
to make them resemble Christian crosses. He was victorious in battle at
the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber River (28 October) and considered his
victory confirmation of his decision to endorse Christianity.
313 The Edict of Milan. In January 313 the emperors Constantine and
Licinius met and agreed on a policy of tolerance of religious diversity
throughout the empire. Apparently there is no extant copy of the edict itself;
the following are extracts from a rescript (implementing instruction) sent
to provincial governors.
No one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his
heart to the observance of the Christian religion, or that religion which
he should think best for himself... for the sake of the peace of our times,
that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases, this
regulation is made so that we may not seem to detract from any dignity of
In the case of the Christians especially, those places where they were previously
accustomed to assemble... shall be restored to the Christians without payment
or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception...
those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift are to
appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they
may be cared for through our clemency. All this property ought to be delivered
at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and
without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not
only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other
property... belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all
these things... you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or
controversy at all...
In all these circumstances, you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention
to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into
effect as quickly as possible... In order that the statement of this decree
of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published
by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge
of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.
[Internet Medieval Source Book]
Suddenly -- overnight -- Christianity became one of the state-supported
religions. The effect of this change on the clergy can hardly be overstated.
During the previous ten years, ordination could be a one-way ticket to meet
wild animals in the arena; now it was suddenly the door to a safe, secure,
lifetime position, paid for by the state, exempt from taxes, military service
and all other public duties.
Predictably, so many men entered the Christian priesthood so rapidly that
city officials complained to the emperor, saying they couldn't find enough
men to fill their required offices. Constantine issued an order prohibiting
men from entering the priesthood who were eligible for civic duties, thus
barring the equestrian class and leaving the priesthood open to the lower
classes of Roman society. However, as later events show, this restriction
was often ignored and not enforced.
Although the Edict of Milan made it clear that all religions should be respected,
the strongest provisions dramatically upgraded the social status of Christians.
Among other effects of this policy, Christians were allowed to designate
churches and clergy as beneficiaries in their wills. Thus churches began
to accumulate the wealth of one generation after another.
314 Persecution by Licinius. Mutual enmity between Constantine and
Licinius reached the point of war. Constantine defeated Licinius, forcing
him to surrender all of Roman Europe except Thrace (the part of Turkey in
Europe, and eastern Greece south of Bulgaria). Licinius revenged himself
on Constantine's Christian supporters by renewing the persecution in Asia.
He excluded Christians from his palace, required every soldier to worship
the pagan gods, forbade simultaneous attendance of both sexes at Christian
worship, and finally prohibited all Christian services within city walls.
Disobedient Christians lost their positions, their citizenship, their property,
their liberty, and their lives. [Durant, Vol. III]
THE ARIAN CONTROVERSY
Arian -- 1. a set of Christian beliefs held by a priest named
Arius; 2. those holding these beliefs whether influenced by Arius or not.
[Not to be confused with Aryan.]
Aryan -- 1. a hypothetical prehistoric language inferred from the commonalties
of many languages in India and Europe; 2. the prehistoric people who supposedly
spoke this language; 3. in Adolph Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) mythology,
the "Nordic" super-race supposedly destined to rule the world.
From its origin onward, there have always been various forms of Christianity,
each claiming their own beliefs were orthodox and differing beliefs were
heresy. Thus, there never has been a truly universal church. However, a
few Christians successfully imposed their beliefs on subsequent generations.
Alexander became the Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in 312. Shortly
thereafter, he stood by a window, watching a group of boys playing on the
seashore below his house, and saw they were imitating the ritual of Christian
baptism. He had the boys brought to him, and discovered that one of them,
Athanasius, had acted the part of a bishop and baptized several of his companions.
Alexander decided to recognize these make-believe baptisms as genuine, and
said that Athanasius and his playfellows should go into training to fit
themselves for a clerical career. Not long after this, Alexander invited
Athanasius to be his secretary and share his meals. [The Catholic Encyclopedia
cites Rufinus, Hist. Eccl., I, xiv.]
Athanasius was brilliant and well educated. Before he was 20 years
old, he wrote two treatises: "Against Pagans" and "The Incarnation"
in which he argued that Jesus is God: "con-substantial and co-eternal
with the Father ... as is the whole, so also is the part." The Catholic
Encyclopedia states that his two treatises "were admittedly written
about 318 before Arianism as a movement had begun to be felt."
In these two papers, Athanasius promoted Jesus past all the competition.
He maintained that Jesus was not merely a man (because of his miracles);
nor a prophet no matter how highly inspired. He was not a man who became
a god, as Roman emperors were deified by vote of the Senate; nor a god who
became a man, as Mithras was said to have done; nor a demigod like Hercules,
the hybrid offspring of a god and a human mother; nor one of many gods,
like Zeus; nor even the only-begotten, subordinate Son of the only God.
None of these was sufficient. Athanasius said that Jesus was the "Artificer"
who created all things in heaven and earth, the "re-creator" of
human beings, and that while he was operating his human body, he was also
operating and sustaining the rest of the universe as the Supreme Being.
[Athanasius; Christian Classics Ethereal Library]
Athanasius apparently started with his conclusion, "Jesus is God,"
and backed in all the arguments he could muster in support of that conclusion.
The use of this rhetorical method is called sophistry. He justified his
thesis in terms of its effect on believers: "Apart from belief in the
Incarnation, we [they] cannot ultimately believe in Christ as Redeemer."
Arius was a parish priest, the pastor of Baucalis Church in Alexandria.
He was known locally for making Christianity understandable, especially
by witty rhymes set to catchy tunes. Even the dockhands on the wharves in
Alexandria could hum these ditties while unloading fish. [Church History
319 The beginning of the Arian controversy. During an informal discussion
with local clergymen, Arius accused Bishop Alexander of Modalism, which
had been declared a heresy by a synod in Rome. (Modalism taught that the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three "modes" of God in the same
way the sun is bright and hot and round.) From the nature of Arius's accusation,
it seems obvious that Bishop Alexander invited Athanasius to present his
new treatise on the incarnation, and Arius disagreed with it vehemently.
Today, his spontaneous reaction to what he heard would be called cognitive
dissonance: "This isn't what we were taught!"
Those who heard these doctrines advanced blamed Alexander for
not opposing the innovations at variance with doctrine. But this bishop
deemed it more advisable to leave each party to the free discussion of doubtful
topics, so that by persuasion rather than by force, they might cease from
contention; hence he sat down as a judge with some of his clergy, and led
both sides into a discussion. But it happened on this occasion, as is generally
the case in a strife of words, that each party claimed the victory. Arius
defended his assertions, but the others [i.e., Athanasius] contended that
the Son is con-substantial and co-eternal with the Father.
The council was convened a second time, and the same points contested, but
they came to no agreement among themselves. During the debate, Alexander
seemed to incline first to one party and then to the others; finally, however,
he declared himself in favor of those who affirmed that the Son was con-substantial
and co-eternal with the Father [i.e., Athanasius], and he commanded Arius
to receive this doctrine, and to reject his former opinions. Arius, however,
would not be persuaded to compliance, and many of the bishops and clergy
considered his statement of doctrine to be correct. Alexander, therefore,
ejected him and the clergy who concurred with him in sentiment from the
church [twelve priests and two bishops]. Many of the people, likewise, sided
with them; some, because they imagined their doctrines to be of God; others,
as frequently happens in similar cases, because they believed them to have
been ill-treated and unjustly excommunicated. [Sozomen I, xv]
This decision by Bishop Alexander in support of his young secretary, Athanasius,
is the first authoritative statement that the Son is con-substantial and
co-eternal with the Father. By telling his subordinates what they must and
must not believe, Alexander simultaneously created a local orthodoxy and
a local heresy. Prior to this point there were various opinions on this
subject but no dogma. For example, three writers of the previous century
had expressed their views of Christ this way:
Tertullian (160?-230?), who has been called the father of Latin
theology, coined the terms later used to define the Incarnation and the
Trinity. He wrote that God is one substance in three persons -- Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit -- but he did not portray them as equal in precedence
or power or esteem. Judged theologically, he was almost a Jew. [Lane]
Origen (185-254) has been called the greatest and most influential Christian
teacher between Paul and Augustine. He described a three-level divine hierarchy
in which the Father is greater than the Son, and the Son is greater than
the Holy Spirit. He was not certain whether the Holy Spirit should be considered
a person or a principle. At this time, many Christians believed as Origen
Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch 260-272, emphasized the sovereignty
of God and the humanity of Christ. He said Jesus was a sinless man, uniquely
united with God in will and purpose. By his perfect obedience despite his
temptations, struggles and suffering, Jesus overcame the sin of Adam and
grew in intimacy with God. This doctrine of "Low Christology"
was condemned by a local synod. However, the same synod also rejected use
of the term homo-ousios (of the same substance) in reference to the relationship
of God and Christ. [Lane]
319 Alexander convened a synod of bishops who deposed and excommunicated
Arius and those who supported him. Athanasius must have taken a leading
part in these events, because he was Alexander's trusted secretary and advisor,
and because his name appears among those who signed the letter subsequently
issued to counter Arius's views.
319 Arius wrote a letter to Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia (a city in northwestern
Turkey about 55 miles east of Constantinople):
To the most esteemed lord, a faithful man of God, the orthodox
Eusebius; Arius, unjustly accused by Father Alexander for the sake of truth,
which overcomes all things, and which you also defend, greeting in the Lord.
My father Ammonius being about to visit Nicomedia, I thought it my duty
to salute you by him; and at the same time to make known to you, as being
naturally charitable and affectionate in your disposition towards the brethren,
for the love of God and of his Christ, that we are vehemently opposed and
persecuted, and every engine is set in motion against us by the bishop;
so that he has even expelled us from the city as atheists, because we do
not assent to such declarations as follow, publicly uttered by him:
"God is always, the Son is always. The Father and the Son are co-existent.
The Son, unbegotten, co-exists with the Father, and is always begotten;
without being begotten, he is begotten; nor does God precede the Son in
thought, nor by a single moment. Always God, always the Son. From God himself
the Son exists."
Because Eusebius, your brother, bishop of Caesarea, and Theodotus and Paulinus,
Athanasius [of Asia], Gregorius and Aetius, and all the bishops of the East,
affirm that God, who is without a beginning, existed before the Son, they
have been condemned; with the exception only of Philogonius, Hellanicus
and Macarius, heretical men, and uninstructed in the faith, who say: one,
that the Son is an effusion; another, that he is a projection; and another,
that, like the Father, he is unbegotten. We could not listen, indeed, to
such impieties, although the heretics should threaten us with a thousand
But what we ourselves say and think, we have already declared, and now declare:
that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any manner a part of the unbegotten,
or [made] of any matter subject to him; but in will and design he existed
before all times and ages, perfect God, the only unbegotten, or created,
or determined, or established, for he was not unbegotten.
We are persecuted because we have said that the Son has a beginning but
God is without a beginning. On this account we are persecuted, and because
we said that he is of things not existing. Thus we have said because he
is not a part of God nor of any subjected matter. On this account we are
persecuted. You know the rest.
I hope that you are in health in the Lord, and that you remember our troubles,
you true disciple of Lucian, and truly pious man, as your name imports.
319 Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia started writing letters to other bishops
of Asia Minor in support of Arius, and invited Arius to come to Nicomedia
until he could be reinstated as a priest.
320 Alexander wrote a "Catholic Epistle" full of roaring rhetoric
(such as: "lawless men, enemies of Christ, teaching an apostasy which
one may justly suspect and designate as a forerunner of the Antichrist")
in which he informed his fellow bishops that Eusebius of Nicomedia was spreading
"the Arian heresy" and warned his colleagues not to follow Eusebius,
lest they also fall into apostasy.
321 Arius wrote a letter to Alexander with a summary of his views, the essence
of which was: God is God; Jesus is not God. About the same time, he also
wrote "The Banquet," perhaps in an effort to defend the orthodoxy
his views. Only fragments of this work survive, mostly in adversarial quotations
Summary. The so-called "Arian Controversy" was initially an argument
between two men, Athanasius and Arius. Athanasius authored an exalted Christology,
and Arius reacted against it. Then two bishops, Alexander in support of
his secretary Athanasius, and Eusebius of Nicomedia in defense of the exiled
Arius, transformed what might have remained a minor Egyptian theological
debate into an ecumenical controversy. The term "Arian heresy"
was coined by Alexander at a time when it was neither Arian nor heresy,
but a widely-held set of traditional beliefs. Alexander said Arius had started
something that was spreading through Christianity, but what was actually
spreading was a reaction against what he did to Arius.
324 Constantine became the only Emperor. The Goths lived north of
the Danube River (now part of the border between Romania and Bulgaria) and
occasionally tried to invade the Roman Empire. In 324 they invaded Thrace.
When Licinius did not move against them, Constantine led his army to the
rescue. Then, after the Goths were driven back across the Danube, Licinius
and Constantine attacked each other. Licinius had 160,000 men. Constantine
had only 130,000 men, but he won the war, and thereafter did not appoint
a co-emperor. [Durant, Vol. III]
324 Constantine wrote to the eastern bishops (October):
Concerning the churches over which you yourself preside, or
know others who preside in such places, whether bishops, priests, or deacons
-- remind them to be active in the building of churches, either restoring
or enlarging existing buildings or constructing new ones where need requires.
You may yourself request, and the rest may request through you, what is
needed from governors and the prefect's office. For these have been given
instructions that they are to lend their assistance to communications from
your holiness with all eagerness. [Barnes, 177]
By this and similar actions, Constantine gave the bishops political power,
judicial authority, autonomy, and immunity. Imperial largesse was channeled
through metropolitan bishops to local bishops, and through them to widows
and orphans, clergy and their families and servants, and anyone the bishop
deemed poor and needy. In essence, Constantine expanded the welfare system
and turned most of its administration over to the Christian clergy, thus
establishing a new type of patron in a society where patronage was the primary
basis of political and social power. Christians became more and more militant
and aggressive as they eagerly exploited the opportunities Constantine gave
them. Each bishop became the center of a web of local patronage in which
many people depended on him for their daily bread. This gave him very real
political power that sometimes enabled a bishop to defy the emperor. Athanasius
was the earliest and most spectacular example of this phenomenon, but as
we shall see, his situation was a very special case because he was the metropolitan
bishop of Egypt. [Barnes, 177-179]
324 Alexander wrote a letter to the Bishop of Constantinople in which he
warned his fellow bishops of the danger of "the Arian threat".
This letter may have been what brought the controversy to the emperor's
324 Constantine sent a letter to both Alexander and Arius, telling them
to settle their differences peaceably, or at least keep their arguments
private. This letter shows his view of the controversy and the political
purpose of his religious policy.
I had proposed to lead back to a single form the ideas which
all people conceive of the Deity; for I feel strongly that if I could induce
men to unite on that subject, the conduct of public affairs would be considerable
eased. But alas! I hear that there are more disputes among you than recently
in Africa. The cause seems to be quite trifling, and unworthy of such fierce
contests. You, Alexander, wished to know what your priests were thinking
on a point of view, even on a portion only of a question in itself entirely
devoid of importance; and you, Arius, if you had such thoughts, should have
kept silence. ... There was no need to make these questions public ... since
they are problems that idleness alone raises, and whose only use is to sharpen
men's wits. ... These are silly actions worthy of inexperienced children,
and not of priests or reasonable men. [Durant, Vol. III]
324 Constantine sent his advisor on religious matters, Bishop Hosius of
Cordoba (in Spain), to settle the quarrel in Alexandria. He failed to do
so, but from his subsequent actions, Hosius apparently was very well impressed
325 Bishop Hosius presided over a council in Antioch, early in the year,
which condemned Eusebius of Caesarea for defending Arius, and formulated
a doctrinal creed that supported Athanasius.
325 Constantine summoned the first empire-wide council of Christian bishops,
and paid for their travel. He wanted them to settle the controversy dividing
them. Bishop Silvester of Rome sent two delegates, but he did not attend
because of his age, and there is no record that he formally confirmed the
acts of this council.
[The Papacy was officially established in 444 by the emperor Valentinian
III. He gave the Bishop of Rome authority over all other churches in the
Western Empire. Prior to that time, it is not appropriate to refer to a
Bishop of Rome as The Pope.]
325 Athanasius was ordained a deacon by Bishop Alexander and accompanied
him to the Council of Nicea as his secretary and theological adviser.
325 Council of Nicea. In response to Constantine's summons 318 clerics
convened at Nicea (a city about 55 miles southeast of Constantinople) to
resolve the dispute concerning the deity of Christ. Regardless of their
theology, we can be certain of one thing: they wanted to please the emperor
who had rescued Christianity from persecution and initiated state support
of their churches. Some of them bore scars from twenty-one years of almost
continuous persecution by his predecessors. And from the following sequence
of events at this council, it looks very much like they dawdled around for
two months waiting to see which way he would lean.
The council met in the large hall of an imperial palace. Bishop Hosius presided.
Constantine opened the proceedings by telling the bishops that they had
to come to some agreement on the questions dividing them. He said, "Division
in the church is worse than war." He obviously intended to govern Christianity
the same way Roman Emperors had traditionally governed the pagan religions,
as the Pontifex Maximus (highest priest). "He listened patiently to
the debates, moderated the violence of contending parties, and himself joined
in the argument." [Eusebius]
Arius reconfirmed his view that Christ was a created being, not equal to
the Father, and "divine only by participation." Clever questioners
forced him to admit that if Christ was a creature, and had a beginning,
he could change; and that if he could change he might pass from virtue to
vice. The answers were logical, honest, and suicidal. [Durant, Vol. III]
The most learned bishop present, Eusebius of Caesarea, presented the doctrinal
statement he had inherited from his predecessors:
Creed of Caesarea
We believe in only one God, Father Almighty, Creator of things visible and
invisible; and in the Lord Jesus Christ, for he is the Word of God, God
of God, Light of Light, life of life, his only son, the first-born of all
creatures, begotten of the Father before all time, by whom also everything
was created, who became flesh for our redemption, who lived and suffered
among men, rose again the third day, returned to the Father, and will come
again one day in his glory to judge the quick and the dead. We believe also
in the Holy Ghost.
After meeting for two months (July - August), many of the bishops were ready
to compromise, but the new deacon from Alexandria was not. With the support
of Alexander and Hosius, Athanasius continued to insist on a creed that
stated the full Deity of Jesus Christ. He justified his thesis in political
terms well-calculated to stimulate the primary fear of these bishops: "If
the people do not believe Jesus is God, paganism will triumph."
Eusebius of Nicomedia sent a letter to the council in which he said he would
never agree that Christ was of the same substance as God. Thus he handed
Alexander and Hosius a convenient way to get rid of him. The suggestion
to insert the word homo-ousios (of one substance) into the Creed probably
came from Hosius. Athanasius accepted it as expressive of the sense in which
he held Jesus to be God Incarnate. Eusebius of Caesarea and other bishops
suggested using the word homo-i-ousios (of similar substance). Thus they
presented the traditional view that Jesus is like God, but not the same
as God. (In theology: divine, but not deity.)
Probably because Hosius had great influence with Constantine, the imperial
nod went to his side of the table, whereupon Hosius wrote the Creed of Nicea
and the anathemas attached to it:
Creed of Nicea
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible
and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten
of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the
Father; by whom all things were made, both in heaven and on earth; who for
us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and was made man.
He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And
he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe]
in the Holy Ghost.
And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not,
or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things
that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence, or that
he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion -- all that so say,
the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.
All but a few of the bishops accepted this modified creed. Eusebius of Caesarea
finally agreed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, and
signed the creed, but he but did not agree that the Son is part of the Father.
Constantine exiled Arius and those who supported him, including Eusebius
of Nicomedia. He decreed that all writings by Arius should be burned, and
that anyone who did not surrender such writings immediately upon discovery
would be put to death.
The Council of Nicea was a pivotal event in the history of Christianity.
The sudden adoption of a quasi-philosophic term to define the historic Jesus
as equal to God was a major departure from scripture and tradition. Further,
the use of this term in a Creed meant that, from 325 on, Nicenes could and
did proclaim other dogmas that have no basis in Scripture.
Constantine established the precedent that the emperor was Pontifex Maximus
(highest priest) of Christians, but he did not abuse his authority. He denied
himself the right to try bishops, referred all such cases to a council of
bishops, and did not dictate or reverse church council decisions. What was
new was the almost automatic secular enforcement of church council decisions.
327 Arius wrote a letter to Constantine that included a petition to be restored
to the church and a creed that attempted to show the orthodoxy of his position.
327 Council of Nicomedia (December). Constantine convened a council
of bishops who investigated Arius, pronounced his views orthodox, and readmitted
him and his supporters to communion, whereupon Constantine reversed his
endorsement of the Council of Nicea by recalling Arius and his supporters
from exile. [Barnes, 17]
328 Bishop Alexander of Alexandria died (17 April) after expressing
his desire that Athanasius succeed him. Before a decision could be reached
by the 54 bishops deliberating over a replacement for Alexander, a small
group of his friends (six or seven bishops) went to the Church of Dionysius
and consecrated Athanasius as Bishop of Alexandria, despite the fact that
he was not yet 30 years old as required by church law (8 June). Athanasius
wrote a letter to Constantine announcing his election, which he represented
as the unanimous choice of the people of Alexandria. He quoted a decree
of the city council as proof. The shocked opposition proceed to elect a
bishop of their own. [Barnes, 18-20]
328 Constantine wrote a letter to Athanasius, urging him to re-admit Arius
to communion. Athanasius refused to obey the emperor, saying there could
be no fellowship with anyone who denied the Deity of Christ. Constantine
wrote again: "Since you know my will, grant free admission to all those
who wish to enter the church. For if I hear that you have hindered anyone
from becoming a member, or have debarred anyone from entrance, I shall immediately
send someone to have you deposed at my behest and have you sent into exile."
328 Eusebius of Nicomedia brought charges against Athanasius, the most serious
of which was that he had not reached the required age of 30 at the time
of his consecration.
Summary. Why did Constantine change his mind? Church historians say that
his sister, Constantia, pleaded for Arius on her deathbed, and that may
be true, but Constantine convened and acted on the decision of another church
council. And he also changed his mind about Athanasius. Constantine wanted
harmony in the church as a basis for governance. When Athanasius refused
to obey him, he probably re-evaluated the entire controversy and identified
Athanasius as the trouble-maker. In any event, Constantine did change his
mind. He restored all the clerics who were condemned at the Council of Nicea
and allowed Eusebius of Nicomedia to bring charges against Athanasius.
330 The churches of Alexandria sent a delegation of bishops to Constantine,
to protest the use of coercive measures against them by Athanasius, and
to request imperial permission to meet peaceably. Eusebius of Nicomedia
befriended them at court, and obtained an audience for them with the emperor.
330 Constantinople. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire
from the city of Rome to Byzantium, a city in Asia (now Istanbul, in northwestern
Turkey) which he renamed "New Rome" but the people called Constantinople.
In the same year, his mother, Helene, sponsored building the Church of the
Nativity on the site in Bethlehem traditionally claimed to be the place
where Jesus was born.
332 Athanasius stone-walled the investigation by church authorities for
four years by simply ignoring their letters and requests. Finally, Constantine
summoned him to meet with a council of bishops and answer the charges against
335 Synod of Tyre. After protracted delays for another thirty months,
Athanasius finally consented to appear before a synod of bishops at Tyre
(a city in Lebanon). He brought with him a gang of ruffians who disrupted
the business of the synod while he abused his fellow bishops. When he realized
the decision would probably go against him, he refused to be tried by the
synod. He suddenly fled from Tyre in a boat with some of his friends and
went to see the emperor. The synod deposed him as an overbearing prelate
who systematically employed violence in the affairs of the church, and again
pronounced Arius theologically orthodox. [Barnes, 22-23]
Constantine was returning from a hunt when Athanasius stepped into the road
in front of him and demanded a hearing. The astonished emperor could hardly
believe his eyes, and needed the assurance of one of his attendants to convince
him that this was indeed the Bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius said, "Give
me a just tribunal or allow me to meet my accusers face to face in your
presence." His request was granted. Constantine sent a letter to the
bishops at Tyre requesting them to meet in his presence to discuss the matter.
On 6 November 335 the charges against Athanasius were reviewed by the bishops
in the presence of the emperor, who found him innocent of several of the
charges, including murder. But Athanasius was also accused of threatening
to prevent the flow of grain from Egypt to Constantinople. (As the metropolitan
bishop of Egypt, he had legitimate access to the Egyptian grain supply for
charitable purposes, but because Egypt was one of the main sources of supply
for Constantinople, he could divert grain that was needed to prevent riots
in the imperial city.) Upon hearing this charge, Athanasius lost his temper
and told Constantine that God would ultimately judge between them. Constantine
sent him into exile at Trier (a city on the Moselle River in western Germany
near the border with Luxembourg). In letters to the church at Alexandria,
Constantine justified his refusal to reinstate Athanasius by describing
him as a trouble-maker whose condemnation by a council of bishops he could
not simply set aside at his own whim. Athanasius probably began his journey
in February 336 and arrived in late autumn of that year. His exile lasted
nearly two and a half years. [Barnes, 24, 179]
336 The death of Arius. Constantine ordered Bishop Alexander of Constantinople
to give Arius communion in his own church. Arius openly triumphed; but as
he went about the city on the evening before a formal ceremony was to restore
him to his rank as a priest, he suddenly experienced such violent diarrhea
that "his bowels came out" and he died in a public toilet, "which
Catholics could not help regarding as a judgment of heaven, due to the bishop's
prayers." [The Catholic Encyclopedia] More likely, Arius was poisoned.
In summary of his life, all Arius really did was stand up to his bishop,
when his bishop endorsed a recognized heresy. For this Arius was deposed
from the priesthood, excommunicated from the church, and sent into exile.
He wrote a few letters defending the orthodoxy of his views and begging
to be restored to the church. That's all. He did not introduce anything
new, or go about preaching and teaching, or sway any church councils to
his way of thinking. Upon investigation, his theological views were declared
orthodox by two church councils prior to his death, and by more church councils
Every book I read on this subject, including encyclopedias, dictionaries,
secular histories, and even the History of Heresy, flatly states that Arius
preached heresy and Athanasius defended the ancient orthodoxy. But the chronological
sequence of events clearly shows that what actually happened was the precise
opposite: Athanasius was the innovator, not Arius, and his innovations were
in fact departures from scripture and apostolic tradition. Therefore, I
now believe all the books I read are preserving an inversion of history.
337 Death of Constantine (22 May). One of his last acts was to outlaw
crucifixion throughout the empire in respect for Christ. He was baptized
on his deathbed by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and his eulogy was delivered by
Eusebius of Caesarea, both of whom were "Arians". In summary:
Constantine stopped the persecution of Christians, made Christianity legal
and strongly supported it, but he did not impose it on the empire. He convened
the Council of Nicea and initially endorsed the results, but he soon changed
his mind about Athanasius and Arius. The Empire was divided between his
three sons: Constantius ruled in Gaul, Constans in Italy, and Constantine
II became the Emperor of the East.
337 Constantius released Athanasius from exile in Trier and told him to
return to Alexandria (17 June). Athanasius traveled in a leisurely manner,
spreading his doctrines as he went. He was in Constantinople that summer,
where he had an audience with Constantius. By the end of November, he was
again the Bishop of Alexandria, even though he had ignored the decision
of a duly authorized synod and returned without the summons of any church
authority. [Barnes, 30, 213]
337 Bishop Alexander of Constantinople died. (He was 98 years old.) Shortly
thereafter, while Constantius was absent from the city, a Nicene named Paul
was made bishop of Constantinople by a group of his friends, without the
ratification of neighboring bishops. When he returned, Constantius summoned
a council of bishops. They deposed Paul and installed Eusebius of Nicomedia
as the Bishop of Constantinople. [Barnes, 231]
339 Council of Antioch. Convened in the presence of Constantius,
this council deposed Athanasius for having resumed his office without even
seeking approval of any church authority, and elected Gregory of Cappadocia
to replace him. On 16 March soldiers tried to arrest Athanasius, but he
hid from them. On 22 March Gregory entered Alexandria as the new bishop.
On 16 April Athanasius left Egypt and wrote an encyclical letter to a large
number of bishops complaining that he was unjustly treated. [Barnes, 45-46]
He went to Rome and presented his case to Bishop Julius, who took up his
cause. Julius summoned a synod of bishops who declared Athanasius innocent
of the charges against him, but he did not return to Alexandria for seven
years. While he was in Rome, he probably wrote the list of New Testament
books called the "Codex Vaticanus", because the 27 books and the
unusual order in which they are listed are identical to the list he published
340 Constantine II declared war against his brother, Caesar Constans of
Italy, and was killed by his own generals. Constantius succeeded him as
Emperor of the East, leaving Constans as Emperor of the West.
341 Constantius prohibited public sacrifices to the pagan gods.
341 Wulfila (Ulfilas) was ordained Bishop of the Goths by Eusebius
of Nicomedia, the Bishop of Constantinople. Wulfila was born in 311 among
the Goths north of the Danube River, the son of a Christian who was taken
there as a captive from Cappadocia. Wulfila was not an "Arian".
According to his disciple, Auxentius, he maintained that both sides of the
Arian controversy were heretical. "His devoted and virtuous life generated
such confidence in his wisdom and integrity that many of the Goths accepted
Christianity." [Auxentius on Wulfila]
The Goths had no written language. Wulfila created the Gothic alphabet,
based on the Greek alphabet, and taught them to read and write. He patiently
translated, from Greek into Gothic, all of the Bible except the two Books
of Kings, which he omitted as dangerously warlike. Wulfila's Bible, which
he completed in 343, was the first literary work in any Teutonic (German)
SEARCHING FOR CONSENSUS
341 Synod of Antioch. The precise date of this synod is known, because
it was held at the time of the dedication of the great church in Antioch
known as the "Golden" which was begun by Constantine and finished
by his son Constantius. All 97 of the bishops present were from the Eastern
Empire, and most of them were hostile to Athanasius. Modern church historians
have difficulty explaining this council:
... there is no council that presents a greater amount of difficulty
to the historian as well as to the theologian. No one can deny that St.
Hilary of Poitiers, who was a contemporary, styled it a Synod of Saints
(Synodus Sanctorum); that two of its canons were read at Chalcedon as the
"canons of the Holy Fathers"; and that Popes John II, Zacharias,
and Leo IV all approved these canons, and attributed them to "Holy
Fathers." And yet this synod set forth creeds to rival that of Nicea,
and, it is said, some of the canons were adopted to condemn Athanasius.
Various attempts have been made to escape from these difficulties. It has
been suggested that there really were two Synods at Antioch, the one orthodox,
which adopted the canons, the other heretical. And yet, St. Hilary says
that these creeds proceeded from a "Synod of Saints." [The Nicene
and Post-Nicene Fathers. Vol. XIV]
Very interesting. The canons produced by this council are included in church
law and history, but the creeds are not. Why not? Further research finds
the first through fourth "Arian Confessions" were written by this
council. However, the first paragraph of the first "Arian Confession"
states that this "Synod of Saints" was not Arian. Therefore, I
believe "Arian" is retroactive re-labeling. Subsequent events
show that this council was the beginning of a long-term effort to produce
a truly consensus statement of the Christian faith.
The First Consensus Creed ("Arian Confession")
We have not been followers of Arius -- how could Bishops, such as we, follow
a Presbyter [priest]? -- nor did we receive any other faith besides that
which has been handed down from the beginning. But, after taking on ourselves
to examine and to verify his faith, we admitted him rather than followed
him; as you will understand from our present avowals.
For we have been taught from the first, to believe in one God, the God of
the Universe, the Framer and Preserver of all things both intellectual and
sensible. And in one Son of God, only-begotten, who existed before all ages,
and was with the Father who had begotten Him, by whom all things were made,
both visible and invisible, who in the last days according to the good pleasure
of the Father came down; and has taken flesh of the Virgin, and jointly
fulfilled all his Father's will, and suffered and risen again, and ascended
into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and comes again to
judge the quick and the dead, and remains King and God unto all ages. And
we believe also in the Holy Ghost; and if it be necessary to add, we believe
concerning the resurrection of the flesh, and the life everlasting. [The
341 Eusebius of Nicomedia, the Bishop of Constantinople, died late in the
year. The Nicenes brought back Paul, who had been deposed as a usurper in
337. The "Arians" elected Macedonius. Rioting ensued. Constantius
was in Antioch. When he heard what was happening, he sent one of his generals,
Hermogenes, but Paul's partisans resisted with force. When Hermogenes persisted
in sending solders to expel Paul, a mob burned the house where Hermogenes
was staying and murdered him. Constantius himself then came with an army,
expelled Paul, fined the city by reducing the daily distribution of free
bread (by 50 percent), and returned to Antioch, leaving Macedonius as Bishop
of Constantinople. Paul went to the western court at Trier, where he soon
persuaded the emperor Constans to champion his cause -- and that of Athanasius.
342 Constans invited Athanasius to his court, and laid before him a plan
which Constantius had formed for a reunion of the churches. Athanasius went
to consult with Bishop Hosius. They traveled together to the Council of
343 Council of Sardica. Hosius presided over this council, which
was summoned by the emperor Constans at the request of Bishop Julius of
Rome in an attempt to unify the churches. The 94 Western bishops were not
receptive to unification. The 76 Eastern bishops demanded Athanasius be
deposed, but the Western majority of the council said he was innocent.
344 Council of Philippopolis. This council of Eastern bishops who
left the Council of Sardica condemned Hosius, Athanasius, Julius, and four
other bishops. Their letter stated several specific cases in which Athanasius
had employed violence and intimidation against those who opposed him. Constantius
decreed that, if Athanasius tried to return to Alexandria, he would be put
to death. Athanasius left Sardica and went to Milan by invitation of Constans.
[Barnes, 2, 72]
344 Council of Antioch. This Council wrote the Fifth Consensus Creed
("Arian Confession"), which is notably longer than those written
at Antioch in 341.
345 The western emperor Constans intervened in the religious affairs of
the east. On 7 April 345 he wrote to his brother, the eastern emperor Constantius:
Athanasius and Paul are here with me. From questioning them
I have discovered that they are being persecuted for the sake of piety.
Accordingly, if you undertake to restore them to their episcopal thrones,
expelling those who are vainly clinging to them, I shall send the men to
you. But if you were to refuse to take this action, be assured that I will
come in person and restore them to the thrones which are theirs, even against
your will. [Barnes, 89. Sozomen specifically reports two letters from Constans,
the first requesting Constantius to restore Athanasius and Paul, the second
telling him "either to receive the men or prepare for war."]
345 Bishop Gregory of Alexandria died, probably of violence (26 June), whereupon
Constantius yielded. He probably realized that any election in Alexandria
would lead to violence which the supporters of Athanasius would win, and
that he could not risk a civil war in which the Bishop of Alexandria supported
the other side. He wrote to Constans and Athanasius, inviting Athanasius
to come to his court. But Athanasius stayed with Constans for another full
year. Constantius wrote twice more. Finally, Athanasius went to meet with
Constantius in Antioch. He was accorded a gracious interview, and was sent
back to Alexandria in triumph. He entered the city on 21 October 346. There
he began his ten years' reign, which lasted until his third exile in 356.
[Barnes, 90, 167, 225]
346 Constantius also allowed Bishop Paul to return to Constantinople.
348 Under persecution by Athanaric, the pagan Gothic chieftain, Bishop Wulfila
obtained permission from the emperor Constantius to bring his community
of Gothic Christians across the Danube into the Empire. They settled in
349 Council of Antioch. This council condemned and deposed Athanasius,
and elected George of Cappadocia as the Bishop of Alexandria, but Constantius
did not enforce this part of their decision. They also condemned and deposed
Bishop Paul. Constantius had him arrested and sent to prison. [Barnes, 19]
350 Death of Constans. Constans was not popular or widely respected.
Writing in 361, Aurelius Victor charged him with rabid pederasty, headlong
avarice, and the employment of corrupt ministers. He alienated his high
civilian officials and his military officers. On 18 January 350 his most
successful general, Magnentius, was proclaimed Emperor. Constans fled, but
he was caught and killed. [Barnes, 101]
350 Magnentius apparently wrote to Athanasius and Paul, and perhaps other
bishops, trying to enlist their support against Constantius. Athanasius
later denied this correspondence. Letters between Magnentius and Paul were
probably intercepted, because at this time Paul was strangled in prison.
351 Council of Sirmium. This council condemned and deposed Athanasius
on charges of high treason for having fomented enmity between Constans and
Constantius. But Constantius did not enforce this decision, either, because
he was at war with Magnentius and could not risk having the Bishop of Alexandria
against him. The Sixth Consensus Creed ("Arian Confession") was
written here. It seems to be an expanded revision of the Fourth Consensus
Creed written in 341. By this time there were probably about 34 million
Christians in the Empire (56 percent of the population), which was a five-fold
increase in fifty years, almost all of it in the last twenty-five years.
[Barnes, 63, 103, 109, 167] [Stark]
352 Bishop Julius of Rome died (12 April), and Liberius succeeded him. For
two years Liberius was favorable to the cause of Athanasius, but then he
signed a formula from which the Nicene word, homo-ousios, was omitted.
353 Constantius became the only emperor. Over a two-year period,
Constantius drove Magnentius out of the Balkans and Italy. Magnentius retreated
to Gaul, but in the summer of 353 Constantius sent his forces across the
Alps. They won the major battle at Mons Seleucus, and Magnentius committed
suicide (10 August). Thereafter, Constantius did not appoint a co-emperor.
353 Council of Arles (autumn). Supported Arius and condemned Athanasius.
Imperial orders were sent to the prefect of Egypt that "the grain be
taken away from Athanasius and given to those who hold the views of Arius."
354 Constantius ordered the closing of some pagan temples and prescribed
death for those who sacrificed in public. However, many pagan temples and
rites were permitted to survive.
355 Council of Milan. Athanasius was condemned and deposed. This
time there were four charges against him (all of which he denied in his
later writings): that he fostered enmity between Constans and Constantius
before 350, corresponded with Magnentius in 350, used the Great Church begun
by Gregory before it had been dedicated, and disobeyed an imperial summons
to come to court in 353. Only a handful of Western bishops spoke in his
behalf. The council confirmed George of Cappadocia as the Bishop of Alexandria.
And again, imperial orders were sent to the prefect of Egypt that "the
grain be taken away from Athanasius." [Barnes, 118, 179, 196]
356 Constantius enforced the decision of the Council of Milan. Soldiers
were sent to arrest Athanasius, but he fled (8 February). After remaining
some days in the neighborhood of Alexandria, he was thought to have gone
into the desert of upper Egypt. Force was used in Alexandria and throughout
Egypt to secure compliance with the deposition of Athanasius: of the 90
bishops who supported him, 16 were exiled, some fled, and others conformed.
But resistance proved tenacious, especially in Alexandria. His supporters
retained the city churches until June, when the new prefect expelled them
and handed the churches over to supporters of Bishop George, who arrived
in Alexandria on 24 February 357. However, his hold on the diocese was never
secure and did not last long. [Barnes, 119]
357 Council of Sirmium. This council wrote the Seventh Consensus
Creed ("Arian Confession"). The words ousios, homo-ousios and
homo-i-ousios were rejected as not biblical, and it was agreed that God
the Father is greater than his subordinate Son. Bishop Hosius, by now a
centenarian, was forced to attend this council and sign this formula against
358 Council of Ancyra. A council of dissenting bishops at Ancyra
refused to accept the creed of the Council of Sirmium.
358 A mob of the supporters of Athanasius attacked Bishop George in the
Church of Dionysius and almost lynched him (29 August). Just over a month
later, he left Alexandria, and they seized all the churches in the city
a few days later. The civil authorities ejected them and restored the churches
to the supporters of George (24 December). Why did these people fight so
hard for an exiled bishop? It wasn't his theology: it was his patronage.
Through his entrenched network of subordinate bishops, Athanasius still
controlled the distribution of patronage in Egypt, and especially the distribution
of grain. Loyalty was bought and paid for with daily bread. Nicene people
fought because the imperial government tried to take their welfare benefits
away from them, and Nicene bishops fought because their own power depended
on their distribution of those benefits. [Barnes, 119, 177-179]
359 Council of Sirmium. (May) This council wrote the Eighth Consensus
Creed ("Arian Confession").
359 Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia. Constantius summoned two councils
to finish developing a consensus creed for Christianity. The Council of
Ariminum in the West was attended by more than 400 bishops (May). The Council
of Seleucia in the East was attended by about 160 bishops (September). After
a series of stormy arguments, they wrote the Ninth Consensus Creed ("Arian
Confession") which affirmed that Jesus is divine "like the Father"
and anathematized those who said he is not like the Father. In the end,
both councils subscribed to this traditional ("Semi-Arian") statement
of the Christian Faith. [Barnes, 144-148]
360 Council of Constantinople. A council of 72 bishops, including
Bishop Wulfila of the Goths, convened in Constantinople (January) to review
the conclusions of Ariminum and Seleucia the year before. They abolished
the use of unscriptural terms in reference to God, and condemned as heresy
all formulas contrary to this one:
The Tenth Consensus Creed ("Arian Confession")
We believe in One God, Father Almighty, from whom are all things;
And in the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from God before all ages and
before every beginning, by whom all things were made, visible and invisible,
and begotten as only-begotten, only from the Father, only God from God,
like to the Father that begat Him according to the Scriptures; whose origin
no one knows, except the Father alone who begat Him. He, as we acknowledge,
the only-begotten Son of God, the Father sending Him, came hither from the
heavens, as it is written, for the undoing of sin and death, and was born
of the Holy Ghost, of Mary the Virgin, according to the flesh, as it is
written, and convened with the disciples, and having fulfilled the whole
stewardship according to the Father's will, was crucified and dead and buried
and descended to the parts below the earth; at whom Hades itself shuddered:
who also rose from the dead on the third day, and abode with the disciples,
and, forty days being fulfilled, was taken up into the heavens, and sits
at the right hand of the Father, to come in the last day of the resurrection
in the Father's glory, that He may render to every man according to his
And in the Holy Ghost, whom the only-begotten Son of God himself, Christ,
our Lord and God, promised to send to the race of man, as Paraclete, as
it is written, 'the Spirit of truth' (John 16:13), which He sent unto them
when He had ascended into the heavens.
But the name of 'Essence,' which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity,
and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures
contain it not, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make
no mention of it at all; since the divine Scriptures have made no mention
of the Essence of Father and Son. For neither ought 'Substance' to be named
concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is Like the
Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach; and all the heresies, both
those which have been afore condemned already, and whatever are of modern
date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema. [From:
The Ecole Initiative]
360 Declaration of Establishment. Constantius declared Christianity
the official religion of the Roman Empire. This was an orthodox Christianity.
Neither Nicene nor "Arian", it was a consensus worked out by a
dozen councils of bishops, in the East and the West, over the previous nineteen
years. However, this monumental event is not even mentioned in most history
books. I found it in "A History of Heresy" [Christie-Murray] and
alluded to, but not stated clearly, in an ancient Ecclesiastical History
written about 430 AD. [Sozomen, IV, xxiii].
360 Constantius' armies in the East were facing difficulties and meeting
defeat. His cousin Julian, whom he appointed Caesar of Gaul in 355, defeated
a German invasion and was declared Emperor by his army. Then Julian suddenly
changed his religion. Although he had previously confessed Christianity,
he declared himself the Pontifex Maximus of pagans, frequented pagan temples,
offered sacrifices, and invited his subjects to adopt that form of worship.
361 Synod of Antioch. This was a meeting of bishops who disagreed
with the newly established orthodoxy. Led by Acacius, who had succeeded
Eusebius as the Bishop of Caesarea, they wrote a creed in which they asserted
that Christ is dissimilar from God in all respects -- substance and will
-- and had no existence prior to his birth. However, their view was refuted
by "Semi-Arians" and Nicenes, and not adopted by anyone. [Sozomen
361 Death of Constantius. While Constantius was in Syria leading
his army to face an expected invasion by the Persians, Julian led his army
into Illyricum under the pretext that he intended to apologize to Constantius
for receiving the symbols of imperial authority without his approval. When
Constantius heard that Julian was marching toward him with an army, he abandoned
his expedition against the Persians and started back toward Constantinople,
but he died on the way (4 November). He was 45 years old. In summary: Constantius
attended councils which discussed credal matters, and he fostered attempts
to define an acceptable orthodoxy, but he consistently observed and explicitly
asserted the principle that a bishop could be condemned and deposed only
by a council of his peers, whatever the charge. [Barnes 132]
361 Julian the Apostate. A little while after Constantius died, Julian
entered Constantinople and was proclaimed emperor.
361 The death of Constantius was soon followed by an attack against the
"Arian" Christians in Alexandria. Bishop George entered the city
on 26 November. Four days later came news of the death of Constantius. George
was imprisoned and tortured. On 24 December a mob dragged him out of prison
and murdered him. On receiving this news, Julian jumped to the conclusion
that George had been murdered by pagans. He wrote the city a letter of mild
rebuke for killing George "the enemy of the gods" rather than
leaving him to be tried and suitably punished. But more likely George was
murdered by supporters of Athanasius. [Barnes, 155]
362 Julian canceled all the privileges granted to Christians by Constantine
and his sons, and set about restoring paganism (4 February).
He commanded that all the pagan temples should be reopened throughout
the East; that those which had been neglected should be repaired; that those
which had fallen into ruins should be rebuilt, and that the altars should
be restored. He assigned considerable money for this purpose; he restored
the customs of antiquity and the ancestral ceremonies in the cities, and
the practice of offering sacrifice. He himself offered libations openly
and publicly sacrificed; bestowed honors on those who were zealous in the
performance of these ceremonies; restored the initiators and the priests,
the hierophants and the servants of the images, to their old privileges;
and confirmed the legislation of former emperors in their behalf; he conceded
exemption from duties and from other burdens as was their previous right;
he restored the provisions, which had been abolished, to the temple guardians,
and commanded them to be pure from meats, and to abstain from whatever according
to pagan saying was befitting him who had announced his purpose of leading
a pure life. [Sozomen V, v]
362 Act of Clemency (8 February). Julian believed that paganism would
be advanced more successfully by patience and mildness towards Christians.
He recalled from exile all Christians who had been banished
on account of their religious sentiments, and restored to them their property
that had been confiscated by law. He charged the people not to commit any
act of injustice against the Christians, not to insult them, and not to
force them to offer sacrifice unwillingly. He commanded that if they should
of their own accord desire to draw near the altars, they were first to appease
the wrath of the demons, whom the pagans regard as capable of averting evil,
and to purify themselves by the customary course of expiations. He deprived
the clergy, however, of the immunities, honors, and provisions which Constantine
had conferred; repealed the laws which had been enacted in their favor,
and reinforced their statute liabilities. He even compelled the virgins
and widows, who, on account of their poverty, were reckoned among the clergy,
to refund the provision which had been assigned them from public sources.
For when Constantine adjusted the temporal concerns of the Church, he devoted
a sufficient portion of the taxes raised upon every city to the support
of the clergy everywhere. [Sozomen V, v]
362 Trinity and Creed. Athanasius appeared by night in the church
at Alexandria (22 February). His sudden appearance caused great astonishment,
for although he was thought to be somewhere in Upper Egypt, he had concealed
himself in the house of a holy virgin in Alexandria. He promptly convened
and led a small Synod of bishops who disagreed with the recently established
orthodoxy. They approved the Athanasian Creed, in which God is defined as
one substance (substantia) in three persons (persona, an actor's face mask)
-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This was when and how the Holy Spirit was
made into a person and promoted to the Godhead: "They confessed that
the Holy Ghost is of the same substance as the Father and the Son, and they
made use of the term 'Trinity.'" [Sozomen, V, xii]
Church historians still maintain that Arius tried to strip the mystery out
of the Holy Trinity, but Arius died before Athanasius defined the Trinity.
I believe that Athanasius made Christian theology mysterious by the paradoxical
assertion: "Three equals One." I still don't know why he made
the Holy Spirit a person equal to God, but he previously said, "Unless
the people believe Jesus is God, paganism will triumph," so I think
he probably defined the Trinity for a political purpose.
362 Julian deposed Athanasius (23 October) on grounds that the act of clemency
did not restore bishops to office, but only to their native lands, and Athanasius
had resumed his office without Julian's permission. But Athanasius did not
leave, so Julian expelled him from Egypt. Athanasius dismissed this order
of the emperor as "a small cloud which will soon pass," went up
the Nile, and once again avoided capture by the soldiers sent to arrest
him. [Sozomen, V, xv] [Barnes, 158-159]
362 Julian's instructions to pagans. Here are some indications of the reputation
that ordinary Christians held among pagans, and thus why Christianity spread.
To Arsacius, High-Priest of Galatia. Paganism has not yet reached
the degree of prosperity that might be desired, owing to the conduct of
its votaries. The worship of the gods, however, is conducted on the grandest
and most magnificent scale, so far exceeding our very prayer and hope...
for no one could have dared to look for so extensive and so surprising a
change as that which we have witnessed within a very short space of time.
But are we to rest satisfied with what has been already effected? Ought
we not rather to consider that the progress of Atheism has been principally
owing to the humanity evinced by Christians towards strangers, to the reverence
they have manifested towards the dead, and to the delusive gravity which
they have assumed in their life?
It is requisite that each of us should be diligent in the discharge of duty:
I do not refer to you alone, as that would not suffice, but to all the priests
of Galatia. You must either put them to shame, or try the power of persuasion,
or else deprive them of their sacerdotal offices, if they do not, with their
wives, their children, and their servants, join in the service of the gods,
or if they support the servants, sons, or wives of the Galileans in treating
the gods impiously and in preferring Atheism to piety. Then exhort the priests
not to frequent theaters, not to drink at taverns, and not to engage in
any trade, or practice any nefarious art. Honor those who yield to your
remonstrances, and expel those who disregard them.
Establish hostelries in every city, so that strangers from neighboring and
foreign countries may reap the benefit of our philanthropy, according to
their respective need. ... For, while there are no persons in need among
the Jews, and while even the impious Galileans provide not only for those
of their own party who are in want, but also for those who hold with us,
it would indeed be disgraceful if we were to allow our own people to suffer
Teach the pagans to co-operate in this work of benevolence, and let the
first-fruits of the pagan towns be offered to the gods. Habituate the pagans
to the exercise of this liberality, by showing them how such conduct is
sanctioned by the practice of remote antiquity... Let us not permit others
to excel us in good deeds; let us not dishonor ourselves by violence, but
rather let us be foremost in piety towards the gods. [Sozomen V, xvi]
363 Death of Julian (26 June). Julian invaded Persia, but he let
his army plunder and destroy as they went, not thinking that he might have
to return by the same route. After becoming confused as to which route he
should travel to find more provisions, he was approached by an old man who
offered to guide him, but then deceived him into marching three days into
an uncultivated region. The old man was put to torture. He confessed that
he had exposed himself voluntarily to death for the sake of his country,
and was therefore prepared to endure any sufferings that could be inflicted
The Roman troops were now worn out by the length of the journey
and the scarcity of provisions, and the Persians chose this moment to attack
them. In the heat of the conflict which ensued, a violent wind arose; and
the sky and the sun were totally concealed by the clouds, while the air
was at the same time mixed with dust. During the darkness which was thus
produced, a horseman, riding at full gallop, directed his lance against
the emperor, and wounded him mortally. After throwing Julian from his horse,
the unknown assailant secretly went away. Some conjectured that he was a
Persian; others, that he was a Saracen. There are those who insist that
he who struck the blow was a Roman soldier, who was indignant at the imprudence
and temerity which the emperor had manifested in exposing his army to such
peril. [Sozomen, VI, i]
It is said that, when Julian was wounded, he took a handful of blood that
flowed from the wound, and threw it up into the air. Some thought he saw
Jesus Christ approaching, and threw it at him. Others thought he was angry
with the sun-god because it favored the Persians. [Sozomen, VI, ii] However,
I think this gesture may have been his last libation to all the gods he
363 The Emperor Jovian. When Julian was killed, the army chose Jovian
as their leader. He was the captain of the imperial guard. As they were
about to proclaim him emperor, he announced that he was a Christian, and
refused to accept the symbols of imperial authority. However, when the soldiers
heard why he refused, they loudly proclaimed that they themselves were Christians.
[Sozomen, VI, iii]
363 Jovian made peace with Persia by surrendering four of the five satrapies
that Diocletian had seized seventy years earlier. He did not persecute anyone,
but he promptly transferred state support from the pagan temples to the
churches -- at one-third of the level they enjoyed under Constantine. [Barnes,
363 Athanasius secretly returned to Alexandria. His first act was to convene
another synod to reaffirm the Athanasian Creed of 362. On 6 September he
set out for Antioch, bearing a letter containing the pronouncements of this
council. At Antioch he met with Jovian, who received him graciously and
even asked him to prepare an exposition of the Nicene faith. Lucius, who
had been elected successor to George as Bishop of Alexandria, arrived in
Antioch bearing complaints against Athanasius, but Jovian would not listen
to them. [Barnes, 159-160]
364 Jovian ruled for about eight months, and suddenly died while enroute
from Antioch to Constantinople (16 February). "Some say that his death
was occasioned by eating too plentiful a supper; others attribute it to
the dampness of the chamber in which he slept; for it had been recently
plastered with unslaked lime, and quantities of coals had been burnt in
it during the winter for a preventive; the walls had become damp and were
exceedingly moist." [Sozomen VI, vi]
364 The Emperors Valentinian in the West and Valens in the East.
When Jovian died, the army proclaimed Valentinian emperor. After he was
invested with the symbols of imperial authority, the soldiers cried out
that it was necessary to elect someone to share the burden of government.
To this he replied: "It depended on you alone, O soldiers, to proclaim
me emperor; but now that you have elected me, it depends not upon you, but
upon me, to perform what you demand. Remain quiet, as subjects ought to
do, and leave me to act as an emperor in attending to the public affairs."
Not long after this, he went to Constantinople and proclaimed his brother
Valens Emperor of the East, retaining for himself the Empire of the West.
[Sozomen VI, vi]
364 A group of Nicene bishops sent a delegation to the emperors requesting
permission to meet "for the correction of doctrines." Valentinian
replied that as a layman he had no right to an opinion on such matters,
and they might gather as they wished. They met at Lampsacus, declared the
Council of Constantinople invalid, and wrote a letter to all of the eastern
churches. When Valens learned of their decisions, he invited them to be
reconciled with those they condemned, and when they refused, he exiled them.
364 Valens reconfirmed the Consensus Creed of 360 as the official religion
of the Eastern empire. He banished all the bishops who were deposed by Constantius
but allowed to return by Jovian. Upon receiving this news, Athanasius fled
from Alexandria to a house outside the city (5 October). It was during this
period that he is said to have spent four months hiding in his father's
366 Valens restored Athanasius as the Bishop of Alexandria. Many historians
find it difficult to explain why he did this, because he certainly did not
agree with Athanasius on religion. But he did have a political reason. On
28 September 365 Julian's relative Procopius was proclaimed Emperor, so
Valens had to face what appeared to be a serious challenge to his rule.
Like Constantius in 351, he could not afford the risk that Egypt might side
with the usurper. On 1 February 366 he invited Athanasius to return to Alexandria
and resume his office as Bishop. The rebellion was not suppressed until
the spring of the following year. [Barnes, 163]
366 Bishop Liberius of Rome died, and dissent in the Roman church broke
out in a violently contested election. Damasus was elected bishop of Rome,
but fighting between his partisans and those of his rival left 137 dead
bodies in the Basilica of Sicininus in a single day. [Barnes, 118]
367 The New Testament. Athanasius wrote to the churches in his diocese
an Easter letter which is now regarded as the first authoritative statement
of the canon of the New Testament. He included several disputed works such
as Second Peter and the Book of Revelation, but he excluded The Didache,
The Epistle of Barnabas, First Clement, and The Shepherd of Hermas, which
had long been regarded as equal to the apostolic letters. He wrote: "In
these [27 books] alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed. No one may
add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them." But his pronouncement
was not universally accepted even in Alexandria. Twenty years later, the
Alexandrian scholar Didymus the Blind still regarded as authoritative the
books that Athanasius excluded, and there were many such examples all over
the Empire, both in the East and the West, but by 395 all such dissent had
been silenced by the emperor. [Church History Institute]
367 On 24 September, Lucius, who was elected bishop after George was murdered
in 361, entered Alexandria. Two days later he was escorted out of the city
by a large force of armed soldiers, through a continuous shower of threats
and insults, to prevent the partisans of Athanasius from murdering him.
368 On 8 June, Athanasius celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his consecration
as bishop of Alexandria by commissioning a documentary history of the church
of Alexandria from the beginning of the Fourth Century in order to ensure
that his version of events would henceforth be accepted -- an enterprise
in which he was singularly successful. Thereafter he declined to involve
himself in ecclesiastical affairs outside of Egypt. [Barnes, 164]
370-371 Three bishops, Basil of Caesarea, his brother Gregory of Nyssa,
and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus, have been credited with developing
the doctrine of the Trinity, but they wrote later than the Synod of Alexandria
led by Athanasius in 362 at which his Creed and his doctrine of the Trinity
373 Athanasius died (2 May). He was about 75 years old. He had promoted
the deification of Jesus for 55 years, and deification of the Holy Spirit
for more than 10 years, in defiance of both imperial and ecclesiastical
authority. His innovations theoretically collapsed the divine hierarchy
upward by elevating first Jesus and then the Holy Spirit to equality with
God. The main difficulty with this theological maneuver was that it required
a paradoxical assertion of unity (three equals one) in order to retain the
political power of monotheism: "Our God is the only God; everyone else
worships idols or demons." Although Athanasius is still called "The
Great Defender of Orthodoxy," such titles are misleading. His innovations
were officially condemned as heresy during his life, and were still heresy
at the time of his death. From 325 onward, he continued to preach, "Let
what was confessed by the Fathers at Nicea prevail," but it had not
prevailed; it had been replaced by the consensus creed of the orthodox church
established in 360.
373 Peter, whom Athanasius appointed to succeed him as bishop of Alexandria,
was deposed by a delegation of bishops from the emperor Valens, and replaced
by Lucius. Peter escaped from prison and went to Rome where he was sheltered
by the Nicene Bishop Damasus. At the same time, Valens authorized Lucius
to eject Nicene bishops from Alexandria and the rest of Egypt. [Sozomen
374 Ambrose, a lawyer and governor of the province, was made Bishop
of Milan by public acclamation and approval of the Western Emperor Valentinian.
Ambrose was baptized, made deacon, priest, and bishop -- in eight days.
This was a stark violation of the Council of Nicea (Canon 2) which strictly
forbade the ordination of a novice as priest, much less bishop. He began
studying diligently to make up for his lack of theological training.
375 Valentinian died and was succeeded by Gratian. A tribe of barbarians
invaded the western empire and then sent ambassadors to solicit peace. When
they were brought before him, Valentinian expressed his displeasure, for
a long time, in a very high-pitched voice, burst a blood-vessel, and died
shortly thereafter. He was about 54 years old. The army proclaimed his four
year old son, Valentinian II, Emperor of the West. The Eastern Emperor Valens
acknowledged him with the provision that Valentinian's sixteen year old
son Gratian serve in that capacity until Valentinian II was somewhat older.
Gratian was raised as a Christian. During the ceremony in which he was given
the symbols of imperial authority, he refused to accept the pagan title,
Pontifex Maximus. However, he only "lived up to his father for a year
or two, then abandoned himself to amusements and the chase, and left the
government to corrupt officials who put every office and judgment up for
sale." [Sozomen VI, xxxvi] [Durant, Vol. IV]
376 The Huns had conquered the Ostrogoths north of the Black Sea and pressed
on westward to attack the Visigoths in Dacia (now part of Romania and Hungary).
Some Visigoths fled with Athanaric into the mountains of Transylvania, but
the majority petitioned the emperor Valens to be taken into the Roman Empire.
About 200,000 Visigoths crossed the Danube and settled in the province of
Pannonia, but oppression by Imperial officials soon caused them to revolt.
They traversed the country plundering as they went.
376 Bishop Peter returned to Alexandria from Rome with a letter from Damasus,
confirming the tenets of Nicea and his own ordination. He was installed
in place of Lucius, who sailed away to Constantinople after his eviction.
"The Emperor Valens very naturally was so distracted by other affairs,
that he had no leisure to attend to these transactions." [Sozomen VI,
377 Bishop Ambrose became Gratian's chief adviser. He wrote a treatise entitled
"The Faith" whereby he instructed the young Emperor in Nicene
377 Edict of tolerance. Gratian disapproved of persecution, and recalled
all those who had been banished on account of their religion. He enacted
a law by which every individual should be freely permitted the exercise
of his own religion, and should be allowed to hold assemblies, with the
exception of the Manichaeans and the followers of Photinus and Eunomius.
[Sozomen VI, xxxix]
378 Death of Valens. The Visigoths marched on Constantinople, but
when Valens came out with his army, they retreated. He pursued them across
Thrace to Adrianople (about 130 miles northwest of Constantinople), where
he found them encamped in a secure position. He ordered his army to attack
without waiting to arrange them in proper order. His cavalry was dispersed,
his infantry was forced to retreat; and, pursued by the enemy, he dismounted
from his horse, and with a few attendants entered into a small tower, where
he hid himself. The Visigoths went on by, not suspecting he was there, but
as the last detachment was passing the tower, his attendants shot a volley
of arrows at them. They shouted to the units ahead of them. The other Visigoths
returned and surrounded the tower. Then they collected vast quantities of
wood from the country around, piled it against the tower, and set fire to
it. The emperor and his attendants were utterly destroyed. Valens was 50
years old. [Sozomen VI, xl]
EDICT OF INTOLERANCE
379 The Emperor Theodosius. Gratian appointed a Spanish general named
Theodosius to replace Valens as Emperor of the East (19 January). His parents
were Nicenes, which is not surprising since Bishop Hosius had great influence
in Spain. Theodosius led a successful campaign against the Visigoths, forced
them to sue for peace, and proceeded to Thessalonica (a city in northeastern
Greece) at the end of the year. There he became seriously ill, and believing
he was about to die, he was baptized by the Nicene Bishop Ascholius. While
he was recuperating from his illness, he was told that all the churches
farther to the East, with the exception of Jerusalem, were in the hands
of "Arians". Upon hearing this, "Theodosius enacted a law
at Thessalonica [27 February 380], which he caused to be published at Constantinople,
well knowing that it would speedily become public to all the other cities,
if issued from that city, which is as a citadel of the whole empire."
[Sozomen VII, ii & iv]
Edict of 380
It is our desire that all the various nation which are subject to our clemency
and moderation should continue to the profession of that religion which
was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been
preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff
Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness.
According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let
us believe in the one deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal
majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to
assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our
judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with
the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles
the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement
of divine condemnation, and second, the punishment that our authority, in
accordance with the will of heaven, shall decide to inflict. [Theodosian
Code XVI.1.2; and Sozomen, VII, iv]
As soon as I saw this edict, I realized it was one of the largest missing
pieces, the first authoritative definition of Catholicism. Thus 27 February
380 is the birth date of the Catholic Church; despite all claims to the
contrary, it did not exist prior to that time. Like the edict itself, church
historians claim longevity for the Church retroactively, by pointing back
to the Council of Nicea and the Apostle Peter.
By this edict, Theodosius reversed the policy of his predecessors, from
tolerance to intolerance of religious diversity. The last sentence was a
declaration of war that pre-justified religious persecution as the will
of God. Here, then, is the original charter of the inquisitions, the crusades,
and the burning of heretics all over Europe. The next time we see tolerance
of religious diversity proclaimed as official state policy is 1300 years
later, in Pennsylvania.
The Trinitarian formula imposed by the Edict of 380 is not the Nicene Creed
of 325; it is the Athanasian Creed of 362. Thus, overnight, Theodosius made
Athanasian heresy orthodox and the current orthodox faith "Arian"
Four dogmas of subsequent Catholic orthodoxy were authored by Athanasius
and imposed by Theodosius: the Incarnation, Trinity, Creed, and Canon of
the New Testament. Thus, from 380 onward, and in all retroactive re-labeling,
"Nicene" means "Athanasian" and "Arian" means
Although the Edict of 380 is usually omitted or barely mentioned or glossed
over, it was one of the most significant pronouncements in Western history,
politically and religiously, because it was (and is) so thoroughly enforced.
From this point on, Churchmen wrote biased histories and inversions of history,
developed and perpetuated preferential and prejudicial vocabulary and definitions
of terms, and suppressed or destroyed contradictory documents, in order
to legitimize the origin of the Church and disguise what actually happened.
ENFORCEMENT OF INTOLERANCE
380 Theodosius repressed the Vandals and Huns, and made peace with the Goths.
On 24 November he held his triumph at Constantinople. As soon as he came
into the city, he began expelling "Arian" Christians. In January
381, he closed all the "Arian" churches, expelled their clergy,
and turned the buildings over to Nicenes. Writing less than fifty years
later, Sozomen describes how this was done:
The Arians, under the guidance of Demophilus, still retained
possession of the churches. The emperor sent to command Demophilus to conform
to the doctrines of Nicea, and to lead the people to embrace the same sentiments
or else to vacate the churches. Demophilus assembled the people, acquainted
them with the imperial edict, and informed them that it was his intention
to hold a church the next day without the walls of the city, in accordance,
he said, with the Divine law, which commands us when we are persecuted in
one city to "flee unto another."
When Demophilus and his followers had quitted the church, the emperor entered
therein and engaged in prayer; and from that period those who maintained
the con-substantiality of the Holy Trinity held possession of the houses
of prayer. These events occurred in the fifth year of the consulate of Gratian,
and in the first of that of Theodosius, and after the churches had been
during forty years in the hands of the Arians. [Sozomen VII, v]
381 Council of Constantinople. Theodosius convened a council of 150
Nicene bishops (May-June) which was later called the Second Ecumenical Council.
He also summoned 36 bishops of the Macedonian sect, but they refused to
say, "The Son is of the same substance as the Father," and withdrew
from the meeting. At first, Bishop Meletius of Antioch presided, but he
died. He was replaced by Bishop Gregory of Nazianzen, whom Theodosius had
made Bishop of Constantinople the year before, but he resigned and retired
to a monastery.
The emperor and the priests therefore proceeded to the election
of another bishop, which they regarded as the most important affair then
requiring attention; and the emperor was urgent that diligent investigations
might be instituted, so that the most excellent and best individual might
be intrusted with the high-priesthood of the great and royal city. The council,
however, was divided in sentiment; for each of the members desired to see
one of his own friends ordained over the church.
A certain man of Tarsus in Cilicia, of the illustrious order of senator,
was at this period residing at Constantinople. Being about to return to
his own country, he called upon Diodorus, bishop of Tarsus, to inquire whether
he had any letters to send by him. Diodorus was fully intent upon the ordination,
which was the subject then engrossing universal attention of men. He had
no sooner seen Nectarius than he considered him worthy of the bishopric,
and straightway determined this in his own mind as he reflected on the venerable
age of the man, his form so befitting a priest, and the suavity of his manners.
He conducted him, as if upon some other business, to the bishop of Antioch,
and requested him to use his influence to procure this election. The bishop
of Antioch derided this request, for the names of the most eminent men had
already been proposed for consideration. He, however, called Nectarius to
him, and desired him to remain for a short time with him.
Some time after, the emperor commanded the priests to draw up a list of
the names of those whom they thought worthy of the ordination, reserving
to himself the right of choosing any one of those whose names were thus
submitted to him. All the bishops complied with this mandate; and, among
the others, the bishop of Antioch wrote down the names of those whom he
proposed as candidates for the bishopric, and, at the end of his list, from
consideration for Diodorus, he inserted the name of Nectarius.
The emperor read the list of those inscribed and stopped at the name of
Nectarius at the end of the document, on which he placed his finger, and
seemed for some time lost in reflection; ran it up to the beginning, and
again went through the whole, and chose Nectarius. This nomination excited
great astonishment and all the people were anxious to ascertain who Nectarius
was, his manner of life, and birthplace. When they heard that he had not
been initiated [baptized] their amazement was increased at the decision
of the emperor. ... For when the emperor was informed that Nectarius had
not been initiated, he remained of the same opinion, although opposed by
many priests. When at last consent had been given to the imperial mandate,
Nectarius was initiated, and while yet clad in his initiatory robes, was
proclaimed bishop of Constantinople by the unanimous voice of the Synod.
[Sozomen VII, vii]
In the period between Constantine and Theodosius, neither the emperor nor
any of his officials dictated the results of a church council [Barnes, 169].
But needless to say, the bishops at this council continued to do what Theodosius
told them. They ignored all the councils that disagreed with Athanasius,
endorsed his full deification of both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and condemned
all other forms of Christianity including the current orthodoxy that was
established throughout the Empire twenty-one years earlier.
381 Bishop Wulfila was summoned to the Council of Constantinople,
but when he saw what was happening there, he became ill and died. He was
70 years old. The "Arian" Christianity he had planted among the
Goths continued to spread, and other peoples received their Christianity
from the Goths. Within two generations, the barbarian Goths and Vandals
and Lombards were Christians, and the new kingdoms they established in the
Balkans, Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Africa were officially Christian nations.
(Prior to this study, I didn't know that any barbarians were Christians.)
What these nations believed may be seen from the testamentary creed that
Wulfila left with his followers just before he died:
Creed of Wulfila
I, Wulfila, Bishop and Confessor, have always believed thus and in this
sole and true faith I make my journey to my Lord. I believe that there is
only one God the Father, alone unbegotten and invisible, and in His only-begotten
Son, our Lord and God, creator and maker of all things, not having any like
unto Him. Therefore there is one God of all, who is also God of our God.
And I believe in one Holy Spirit, an enlightening and sanctifying power.
As Christ says after the resurrection to his Apostles: "Behold I send
the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem
until ye be clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24.49) And again:
"And ye shall receive power coming upon you by the Holy Spirit."
(Acts 1.8) Neither God nor Lord, but the faithful minister of Christ; not
equal, but subject and obedient in all things to the Son. And I believe
the Son to be subject and obedient in all things to God the Father. [From:
Auxentius on Wulfila]
This independent creed shows that precedence and substance were diversionary
issues, debaters' tactics, and the real issue was whether Jesus is subordinate
and obedient to God. The "Arian Controversy" was over the final
step in the deification of Jesus. The "Arians" believed it was
blasphemy to make a man equal to God. The "Nicenes" believed it
was impious to say the Son is inferior to the Father.
381 Council of Aquileia. Gratian summoned a council of bishops (September).
Not surprisingly, almost all the 25 bishops who attended were Nicenes. The
meeting was conducted as a trial in which Bishop Ambrose led the condemnation
of two "Arian" bishops, both of whom were apparently disciples
or associates of Wulfila.
382 Synod of Constantinople. Two years after the Edict of 380 all
the churches in Constantinople were held by the Catholics, but other sects
still existed in various parts of the empire.
Theodosius, therefore, again summoned together the presidents
of the sects which were flourishing, in order that they might either bring
others to their own state of conviction on disputed topics, or be convinced
themselves; for he imagined that all would be brought to oneness of opinion,
if a free discussion were entered into, concerning ambiguous points of doctrine.
The council, therefore, was convened.
[Theodosius] commanded each party to draw up a written exposition of its
own creed. On the day appointed for the presentation of these documents,
Nectarius and Agelius appeared at the palace as representatives of those
who maintain the con-substantiality of the Holy Trinity; Demophilus, the
Arian president, came forward as the deputy of the Arians; Eunomius represented
the Eunomians; and Eleusius, bishop of Cyzicus, appeared for the sectarians
The emperor, after receiving their formularies, expressed himself in favor
of that one alone in which con-substantiality of the Trinity was recognized,
and destroyed the others. [Sozomen VII, xii]
This is how we got the "Nicene Creed" that is still recited by
Christians all over the world. It was not voted by a church council; it
was arbitrarily selected by one man, Theodosius, wielding his authority
as the Pontifex Maximus (highest priest).
Creed of Theodosius ("The Nicene Creed")
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and
of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only
begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, Light of
Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with
the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin
Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to
the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of
the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and
the dead. Whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord
and Giver-of-Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and
the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.
And in one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism
for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and
the life of the world to come. Amen. [Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says that Theodosius "made severe punishments
by his laws, but did not carry them out, for he did not wish to punish,
but only to frighten his subjects, that they might think as he did about
Divine things." This seems to be true. He apparently did not torture
or kill many people. Instead, he used the legal powers of government against
law-abiding people, without damaging them enough to make martyrs of them
or provoke them to violent rebellion. Although his overall strategy for
unifying the Empire was not politically expedient because it alienated so
many people, his tactics were expedient because they minimized his expenditure
of coercive resources. The essence of his tactics was to destroy existing
organizations, prevent reorganization, and thereby stop the transmission
of doctrines differing from his own.
The emperor enacted a law, prohibiting heretics from holding
churches, from giving public instructions in the faith, and from conferring
ordination on bishops or others. Some of the heterodox were expelled from
the cities and villages, while others were disgraced and deprived of the
privileges enjoyed by other subjects of the empire. [Sozomen VII, xii]
382 Jerome became secretary to Bishop Damasus of Rome, obtained the
Bishop's approval, and began translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek
into Latin. Completed 23 years later (405), Jerome's translation, known
as the Vulgate (from the Latin word vulgus, meaning "common" language),
soon became the only Bible in the Western Church. Scholars worked from the
Vulgate instead of translating directly from the original languages for
more than 1000 years.
382 Gratian reversed his own policy of tolerance and went along with Theodosius.
He canceled state support of all non-Christian religions, terminated payments
by imperial or municipal treasuries for their ceremonies, vestal virgins
or priests, and confiscated lands belonging to temples. He removed from
the Roman Senate "that statue of the goddess Victory which Augustus
had placed there in 29 BC and before which twelve generations of senators
had taken their vows of allegiance to the emperor." [Durant, Vol. IV]
383 Gratian took measures to suppress every form of Christianity except
the new orthodoxy. He made apostasy (defined as conversion from Nicene Christianity
to any other faith) a crime punishable by the government.
383 Death of Gratian. Maximus, a Roman general, led a rebellion in
Britain that spread into Gaul. Gratian fled from Paris to Lyons. One of
the rebel commanders "obtained possession of the imperial chariot,
and sent word to the emperor that his wife was traveling towards his camp.
Gratian, who was but recently married and passionately attached to his wife,
hastened incautiously across the river, and in his anxiety to meet her,
fell without forethought into the hands of his enemies." He was seized
and shortly thereafter murdered. (25 August) He was 24 years old. Maximus
proclaimed himself Emperor of the West. Theodosius acknowledged him on condition
that he allow Gratian's twelve year old brother, Valentinian II, to rule
in Italy. [Sozomen VII, xiii]
383 The Roman Senate sent a delegation to Valentinian II to plead for restoration
of the statue of Victory. The young emperor was moved by their petitions,
and even Christians in his imperial council advised him to restore the statue,
but Bishop Ambrose overruled the council with an imperious letter to the
emperor. He said, "All men serve the emperor, and he serves God, but
he who would be loyal to the true God must have no indulgence for the gods
that are demons. Idols must be burned and profane ceremonies abolished.
To restore the Altar of Victory would be a persecution of Christianity,
and the emperor would thereby become apostate." In effect, he threatened
to excommunicate the emperor if the statue of Victory was restored. Valentinian
II denied the Senate's appeal. [Boyd, 27]
384 Augustine came to Milan to accept a position as teacher of rhetoric.
He was converted from paganism to Nicene Christianity by Bishop Ambrose.
Eleven years later, Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo, in North Africa.
He is still recognized as one of the most influential teachers in the entire
history of Christianity.
385 A Spanish bishop, Priscillian, was accused of heresy by two other bishops,
tried before the Western Emperor Maximus, condemned, and despite the protests
of Bishop Ambrose and Bishop Martin of Gaul, he and several of his companions
were burned to death. This was the first recorded instance in which Christians
burned Christians for heresy -- the last was in France, in 1756.
385 The "Arian" Empress Justina, the mother of Valentinian II,
requested Bishop Ambrose to open a church in Milan where she and her friends
could celebrate the Easter of 385, but he refused. He organized a "sit-in"
of his followers to keep the church continuously occupied. Valentinian sent
a party of soldiers: "They forced their way into the interior, arrested
Ambrose, and were about to lead him into exile at that very moment, when
the people assembled in crowds at the church, and evinced a resolution to
die rather than submit to the banishment of their priest." [Sozomen
386 Valentinian II enacted a law making persecution of "Arian"
Christians a crime. "By this law, all who conformed to the doctrines
set forth at Ariminum and ratified at Constantinople were exhorted to convene
boldly; and it was enacted that death should be the punishment of those
who should hinder or be running counter to this law of the emperor."
[Sozomen VII, xiii] Bishop Ambrose ignored this law, and apparently no one
387 Maximus expelled Valentinian II, who fled with his mother to Thessalonica,
whereupon Theodosius brought Valentinian II back to Italy with an army,
defeated Maximus, and executed him. Justina died, and Valentinian II, by
the advice of Theodosius, placed himself under the guidance of Bishop Ambrose.
388 Theodosius sent his agents through Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, with
orders to destroy pagan temples and break up their membership associations.
Here again, he implemented his policies by destroying organizations and
eliminating the ability to transmit doctrines. This tactic was successful.
It destroyed the 4000 year old Egyptian religion so thoroughly the language
was lost. No one could read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics for 1400 years,
until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone (1799) and the difficult re-translation
work of Jean-Francios Champollion.
390 Theodosius closed the Oracle of Delphi. This ancient Greek shrine, sacred
to Apollo, had been operating continuously for 1500 years. It has not been
390 Theodosius ordered the slaughter of about 7000 people at Thessalonica,
to punish the city for an uprising. Bishop Ambrose wrote a letter chastising
him severely, refused to hold worship services in his presence, and stood
in his way when he tried to enter the church -- whereupon Theodosius did
public penance. This episode established the threat of excommunication which
popes and bishops used to control emperors and kings for more than 1100
years, until King Henry VIII declined to be coerced. In 1534 he had Parliament
pass the Act of Supremacy which made the King, not the Pope, the head of
the Church of England.
391 Theodosius refused to restore the statue of Victory in the Roman Senate.
He issued laws making pagan sacrifices, omens, and witchcraft punishable
391 Destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Bishop Theophilus of
Alexandria, having obtained the emperor's approval, confiscated the Temple
of Dionysius and started to convert it into a church. The statues were removed
and the innermost shrines were opened. Then, to cast shame on the pagan
mysteries, he ordered his followers to carry sacred objects out of the temple
in a public procession. Thus he made a spectacle of the phalli (large models
of male sex organs) and other objects that really were or seemed to be ridiculous.
[Sozomen VII, xv]
The pagans, enraged by this unexpected humiliation, attacked the Christians,
killed many and wounded others, and then seized the Serapion (the Temple
of the god Serapis) and used it as a fortress. They continued to drag Christians
into the Serapion, torture them, and compel them to sacrifice to the pagan
gods. Those who refused had both legs broken. If they still refused they
were crucified or killed in some other ingenious manner. [Sozomen VII, xv]
When the local officials found they were unable to suppress this rebellion,
they appealed to the emperor. He declared that the Christians who had been
killed were blessed, because they were martyrs who suffered for the faith.
He offered free pardon to those who had killed them, hoping by this act
of clemency to induce pagans to convert to Christianity. The pagans who
had barricaded themselves in the Serapion abandoned it. [Sozomen VII, xv]
A mob of Christians entered the Serapion, destroyed the colossal statue
of the god Serapis, looted the temple, and burned the library. The Serapion
was one of the wonders of the ancient world, and possibly the largest place
of worship in the world at that time -- a city within a city, an enormous
complex of buildings, some of which held the Library of Alexandria. This
library had the largest and most famous collection of ancient scrolls. It
was started by Ptolemy I about 300 BC. He and other rulers added to it until
it contained over 700,000 scrolls. Part of the library was destroyed by
fire during the siege of Alexandria by Julius Caesar in 47 BC; the remainder,
plus all the documents accumulated during 438 years, was burned by Nicene
392 Eugenius the Apostate. Valentinian II died in Gaul, just as Bishop
Ambrose was crossing the Alps to baptize him. He was found strangled in
his bedchamber. Some people said he was murdered; others said he committed
suicide. He was 21 years old. Arbogast, his pagan tutor, proclaimed a rhetorician
named Eugenius the ruler of Italy (May). Theodosius refused to recognize
him. Eugenius, although nominally a Christian, tried to unite the western
pagans in his defense. He set up pagan altars and restored the statue of
Victory in Rome. His soldiers marched under the standard of Hercules. [Sozomen
392 Theodosius directed that the entrances of every pagan temple throughout
the empire be closed to the public.
393 Theodosius stopped the Olympic Games, which had been held every four
years since 776 BC. They were not held again for 1500 years (1896). But
he did not stop the gladiatorial games, which were supposed to harden the
citizens to the sight of human bloodshed so they could endure war.
393 Theodosius declared his younger son Honorius successor co-emperor, and
leaving him at Constantinople with his older son Arcadius who had previously
been appointed co-emperor, he departed for Italy at the head of his troops.
His army consisted not only of Roman soldiers, but of bands of "barbarian"
Visigoths. Even though the Visigoths were not part of the Roman Empire,
and most of them were "Arian" Christians by this time, he hired
them to help him fight the pagans.
394 Theodosius defeated Eugenius near Aquileia (6 September). This was the
final blow to the old Roman religion, now outlawed and persecuted as Christianity
had been prior to the Edict of Milan, 81 years earlier. Theodosius entered
Rome as the sole master of his newly created Nicene Empire. He enacted laws
that enforced keeping Sunday as the Sabbath and added to the penalties imposed
on pagans, Jews, and heretics, but his personal triumph only lasted four
395 Death of Theodosius. After his triumph in Rome, Theodosius went
to Milan. There he became seriously ill. He sent for his son Honorius from
Constantinople. When Honorius arrived, he seemed to feel better, so he went
to see the horse-races and other events in the hippodrome. After dinner,
however, he suddenly grew worse, and asked Honorius to preside at the spectacle.
He died the following night (17 January). Bishop Ambrose preached his funeral
oration. [Sozomen VII, xxix]
The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "Theodosius stands out as the destroyer
of heresy and paganism, as the last sovereign of the undivided empire."
But he weakened the empire by alienating vast segments of the populace,
and his will divided the empire between his sons, thus splitting it permanently.
His eleven year old son Honorius became Emperor of the West, and his eighteen
year old son Arcadius became Emperor of the East. They both held the same
religious views as their father and continued to enforce his policies --
and so did their children after them.
Theodosius institutionalized religious persecution by Christians. He initiated
and waged a culture war to make his own sect the State Church of the Roman
Empire. Any objective view of Western civilization before and after his
reign clearly shows that it marks the end of antiquity and the beginning
of the dark ages. And now I know that his Edict of 380 was the dividing
line, the watershed, between what Christianity was and what it became.
Auxentius on Wulfila (The surviving part of a letter written by Bishop Auxentius
of Durostorum in Bulgaria, a disciple of Wulfila, shortly after Wulfila
died in 381; discovered in 1840; translation by Jim Marchand; Internet Medieval
Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics In
The Constantinian Empire (Harvard University Press, 1993)
Beavers, Anthony F., Chronology of the Arian Controversy (The Ecole Initiative)
Boyd, William K., The Ecclesiastical Edicts of the Theodosian Code (Ph.D.
thesis, Columbia University Press, 1905; AMS reprint, 1969; no indication
Boyle, Rev. Isaac, A Historical View of the Council of Nice, with a translation
of documents; appended to Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (Baker Book House,
Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Server at Wheaton College; made available
to the Internet by Paul Halsall <email@example.com>)
Christian History Institute, The 100 Most Important Events In Church History
(a special edition of Christian History magazine, 1990)
Christie-Murray, David, A History of Heresy (Oxford University Press, 1990)
Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization, Vol. III, Caesar and Christ (Simon
and Schuster, 1944)
Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization, Vol. IV, The Age of Faith (Simon
and Schuster, 1950)
Eusebius Pamphilus, Ecclesiastical History (written in 324 AD., translated
in the University of Pennsylvania Department of History, 1897?-1907?; Internet
Medieval Source Book)
Internet Medieval Source Book: a collection of public domain and copy-permitted
texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lane, Tony, The Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought (Lion, Oxford, England,
Reader's Digest Books, After Jesus: The Triumph of Christianity (Pleasantville,
New York, 1992)
Riley, Gregory J., One Jesus, Many Christs (Harper, 1997)
Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History (written about 430 for the emperor Theodosius
II, grandson of Theodosius the Great; Internet Medieval Source Book).
Stark, Rodney, The Rise of Christianity (Princeton University Press, 1996)
The Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line): Ambrose, Arianism, Arius, Athanasius,
Constantine, Gratian, Theodosius, Valens, Valentinian
The Ecole Initiative (on-line): Arian Confessions (from: Athanasius, De
The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XIV, The Seven Ecumenical Councils
(Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1899; Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint, 1991)
The World Book Encyclopedia: Alexandrian Library, Ambrose, Arianism, Arius,
Augustine, Byzantine, Constantine, Delphi, Egypt, Gladiator, Hieroglyphics,
Olympic Games, Roman Empire, Rosetta Stone, Theodosius, Valentinian
Theodosian Code XVI. 1. 2 (Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian
Church; London, Oxford University Press, 1943), p. 31. Short extract used
under fair-use provisions.
Thompson, E. A., The Visigoths in the Time of Ulfila (Clarendon, Oxford,
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