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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: By the Co-operation of Eusebius and Athanasius a Synod is held at Alexandria, wherein the Trinity is declared to be Consubstantial.

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p. 81 Chapter VII.—By the Co-operation of Eusebius and Athanasius a Synod is held at Alexandria, wherein the Trinity is declared to be Consubstantial.

As soon as Eusebius reached Alexandria, he in concert with Athanasius immediately convoked a Synod. The bishops assembled on this occasion out of various cities, took into consideration many subjects of the utmost importance. They asserted the divinity of the Holy Spirit 476 and comprehended him in the consubstantial Trinity: they also declared that the Word in being made man, assumed not only flesh, but also a soul, in accordance with the views of the early ecclesiastics. For they did not introduce any new doctrine of their own devising into the church, but contented themselves with recording their sanction of those points which ecclesiastical tradition has insisted on from the beginning, and wise Christians have demonstratively taught. Such sentiments the ancient fathers have uniformly maintained in all their controversial writings. Irenæus, Clemens, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Serapion who presided over the church at Antioch, assure us in their several works, that it was the generally received opinion that Christ in his incarnation was endowed with a soul. Moreover, the Synod convened on account of Beryllus 477 bishop of Philadelphia in Arabia, recognized the same doctrine in their letter to that prelate. Origen also everywhere in his extant works accepts that the Incarnate God took on himself a human soul. But he more particularly explains this mystery in the ninth volume of his Comments upon Genesis, where he shows that Adam and Eve were types of Christ and the church. That holy man Pamphilus, and Eusebius who was surnamed after him, are trustworthy witnesses on this subject: both these witnesses in their joint life of Origen, and admirable defense of him in answer to such as were prejudiced against him, prove that he was not the first who made this declaration, but that in doing so he was the mere expositor of the mystical tradition of the church. Those who assisted at the Alexandrian Council examined also with great minuteness the question concerning ‘Essence’ or ‘Substance,’ and ‘Existence,’ ‘Subsistence,’ or ‘Personality.’ For Hosius, bishop of Cordova in Spain, who has been before referred to as having been sent by the Emperor Constantine to allay the excitement which Arius had caused, originated the controversy about these terms in his earnestness to overthrow the dogma of Sabellius the Libyan. In the council of Nicæa, however, which was held soon after, this dispute was not agitated; but in consequence of the contention about it which subsequently arose, the matter was freely discussed at Alexandria. 478 It was there determined that such expressions as ousia and hypostasis ought not to be used in reference to God: for they argued that the word ousia is nowhere employed in the sacred Scriptures; and that the apostle has misapplied the term hypostasis 479 owing to an inevitable necessity arising from the nature of the doctrine. They nevertheless decided that in refutation of the Sabellian error these terms were admissible, in default of more appropriate language, lest it should be supposed that one thing was indicated by a threefold designation; whereas we ought rather to believe that each of those named in the Trinity is God in his own proper person. Such were the decisions of this Synod. If we may express our own judgment concerning substance and personality, it appears to us that the Greek philosophers have given us various definitions of ousia, but have not taken the slightest notice of hypostasis. Irenæus 480 the grammarian indeed, in his Alphabetical [Lexicon entitled] Atticistes, even declares it to be a barbarous term; for it is not to be found in any of the ancients, except occasionally in a sense quite different from that which is attached to it in the present day. Thus Sophocles, in his tragedy entitled Phœnix, uses it to signify ‘treachery’: in Menander it implies ‘sauces’; as if one should call the ‘sediment’ at the bottom of a hogshead of wine hypostasis. But although the ancient philosophical writers scarcely noticed this word, the more modern ones have frequently used it instead of ousia. This term, as we before observed, has been variously defined: but can that which is capable of being circumscribed by a definition be applicable to God who is incomprehensible? Evagrius in his Monachicus, 481 cautions us against rash and inconsiderate language in reference to God; forbidding all attempt to define the divinity, inasmuch as it is wholly simple in its nature: ‘for,’ says he, ‘definition belongs only to things which are compound.’ The same author further adds, ‘Every proposition has either a “genus” p. 82 which is predicted, or a “species,” or a “differentia,” or a “proprium,” or an “accidens,” or that which is compounded of these: but none of these can be supposed to exist in the sacred Trinity. Let then what is inexplicable be adored in silence.’ Such is the reasoning of Evagrius, of whom we shall again speak hereafter. 482 We have indeed made a digression here, but such as will tend to illustrate the subject under consideration.



The bishops composing the Council of Nicæa simply declared their faith in the Holy Spirit, without adding any definition; they were not met with any denial of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. This denial was first made by Macedonius, in the fourth century.


Euseb. H. E. VI. 33, says that this Beryllus denied that Christ was God before the Incarnation. He, however, gives the see of Beryllus as Bostra in Arabia, instead of Philadelphia. So also Epiphanius Scholasticus; though Nicephorus, X. 2, calls him Cyrillus, instead of Beryllus.


Valesius conjectures that Socrates is wrong here in attributing such an action to the Synod of Alexandria, as the term ousia does not occur in the Nicene Creed, and such action would therefore be in manifest contradiction to the action at Nicæa. This, however, is not probable, in view of the dominating influence of Athanasius in both. But, as the acts of the Alexandrian synod are not extant, it is impossible to verify this conjecture.


Heb. i. 3.


See Suidas, Lexicon.


The only work of Evagrius preserved to our days is his Ecclesiastical History.


IV. 23.

Next: Quotations from Athanasius' 'Defense of his Flight.'

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