Chapter XII.—Project of Theodosius to unify all the Heresies. The Propositions made by Agelius and Sisinius, the Novatians. At another Synod, the Emperor received those only who represent Consubstantiality; those who held a different View he ejected from the Churches.
Although all the houses of prayer were at this period in the possession of the Catholic Church, many troubles occurred in various parts p. 383 of the empire, instigated by the Arians. 1538 The Emperor Theodosius, therefore, soon after the council above mentioned, 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. This occurred in the year of the second consulate of Merobaudes, and the first of Saturninus, and at the same period that Arcadius was associated with his father in the government of the empire. Theodosius sent for Nectarius, consulted with him concerning the coming Synod, and commanded him to introduce the discussion of all questions which had given rise to heresies, so that the church of the believers in Christ might be one, and might agree on the doctrine according to which piety ought to be observed. When Nectarius returned home, feeling anxious about the affair confided to him, he made known the mandate of the emperor to Agelius, the president of the church of the Novatians, who held the same religious sentiments as himself. Agelius proved the virtue of his life by works, but was unaccustomed to the finesse and deception of words; he therefore proposed as a substitute, one of his readers, by name Sisinius, who afterwards succeeded him as bishop, a man who could see what was practical, and could debate, if that were necessary. Sisinius possessed powers of intellect and of expression; he had an accurate knowledge of the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, and was well acquainted with profane and with ecclesiastical literature. He proposed that all disputation with the heterodox, as being a fruitful source of contention and war, should be avoided; but recommended that inquiries should rather be instituted, as to whether the heretics admitted the testimony of the expositors and teachers of the sacred words, who lived before the Church was rent in division. “If they reject the testimony of these great men,” said he, “they will be condemned by their own followers; but if they admit their authority as being adequate to resolve ambiguous points of doctrine, we will produce their books.” For Sisinius was well aware that, as the ancients recognized the Son to be eternal like the Father, they had never presumed to assert that He had had an origin from some beginning. This suggestion received the approbation of Nectarius, and afterwards of the emperor; and investigations were set on foot as to the opinions entertained by heretics concerning the ancient interpreters of Scripture. As it was found that the heretics professed to hold these early writers in great admiration, the emperor asked them openly whether they would defer to the authority of the aforesaid on controverted topics, and test their own doctrines by the sentiments propounded in those works. This proposition excited great contention among the leaders of the various heretical sects, for they did not all hold the same view about the books of the ancients; the emperor knew that they were convicted by the debates over their own words alone, and withdrew the proposition. He blamed them for their opinion, and 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 consubstantiality 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 denominated Macedonians. The emperor, after receiving their formularies, expressed himself in favor of that one alone in which consubstantiality of the Trinity was recognized, and destroyed the others. The interests of the Novatians were not affected by this transaction, for they held the same doctrines as the Catholic Church concerning the Divine nature. The members of the other sects were indignant with the priests for having entered into unwise disputations in the presence of the emperor. Many renounced their former opinions, and embraced the authorized form of religion. 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. 1539 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. Great as were the punishments adjudged by the laws against heretics, they were not always carried into execution, for the emperor had no desire to persecute his subjects; he only desired to enforce uniformity of view about God through the medium of intimidation. Those who voluntarily renounced heretical opinions received commendation from him.
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