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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: General Council of Nicæa.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter VI.—General Council of Nicæa.

The emperor, who possessed the most profound wisdom, having heard of these things, endeavoured, as a first step, to stop up their fountain-head. He therefore despatched a messenger renowned for his ready wit to Alexandria with letters, in the endeavour to extinguish the dispute, and expecting to reconcile the disputants. But his hopes having been frustrated, he proceeded to summon the celebrated council of Nicæa 333 ; and pledged his word that the bishops and their officials should be furnished with asses, mules, and horses for their journey at the public expense. When all those who were capable of enduring the fatigue of the journey had arrived at Nicæa, he went thither himself, with both the wish of seeing the multitude of bishops, and the yearning desire of maintaining unanimity amongst them. He at once arranged that all their wants should be liberally supplied. Three hundred and eighteen bishops were assembled. The bishop of Rome 334 , on account of his very advanced age, was absent, but he sent two presbyters 335 to the council, with authority to agree to what was done.

At this period many individuals were richly endowed with apostolical gifts; and many, like the holy apostle, bore in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ 336 . James, bishop of Antioch, a city of Mygdonia, which is called Nisibis by the Syrians and Assyrians, raised the dead and restored them to life, and performed many other wonders which it would be superfluous to mention again in detail in this history, as I have already given an account of them in my work, entitled “Philotheus 337 .” Paul, bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, a fortress situated on the banks of the Euphrates, had suffered from the frantic rage of Licinius. He had been deprived of the use of both hands by the application of a red-hot iron, by which the nerves which give motion to the muscles had been contracted and rendered dead. Some had had the right eye dug out, others had lost the right arm. Among these was Paphnutius of Egypt. In short, the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs. Yet this holy and celebrated gathering was not entirely free from the element of opposition; for there were some, though so few as easily to be reckoned, of fair surface, like dangerous shallows, who really, though not openly, supported the blasphemy of Arius.

When they were all assembled 338 , the emperor ordered a great hall to be prepared for their accommodation in the palace, in which a sufficient number of benches and seats were placed; and having thus arranged that they should be treated with becoming dignity, he desired the bishops to enter in, and discuss the subjects proposed. The emperor, with a few attendants, was the last to enter the room; remarkable for his lofty stature, and worthy of admiration for personal beauty, and for the still more marvellous modesty which dwelt on his countenance. A low stool was placed for him in the middle of the assembly, upon which, however, he did not seat himself until he had asked the permission of the bishops. Then all the sacred assembly sat down around him. Then forthwith rose first the great Eustathius, bishop of Antioch, who, upon the translation of Philogonius, already referred to, to a better life, had been compelled reluctantly to become his successor by the unanimous suffrages of the bishops, priests, and of the Christ-loving laity. He crowned the emperor’s head with the flowers of panegyric, and commended the diligent attention he had manifested in the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs.

The excellent emperor next exhorted the Bishops to unanimity and concord; he recalled to their remembrance the cruelty of the late tyrants, and reminded them of the honourable peace which God had, in his reign and by his means, accorded them. He pointed out how dreadful it was, aye, very dreadful, that at the very time when their enemies were destroyed, and when no one dared to oppose them, they should fall upon one another, and make their amused adversaries laugh, especially as they were debating about holy p. 44 things, concerning which they had the written teaching of the Holy Spirit. “For the gospels” (continued he), “the apostolical writings, and the oracles of the ancient prophets, clearly teach us what we ought to believe concerning the divine nature. Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue.” These and similar exhortations he, like an affectionate son, addressed to the bishops as to fathers, labouring to bring about their unanimity in the apostolical doctrines. Most members of the synod, won over by his arguments, established concord among themselves, and embraced sound doctrine. There were, however, a few, of whom mention has been already made, who opposed these doctrines, and sided with Arius; and amongst them were Menophantus, bishop of Ephesus, Patrophilus, bishop of Scythopolis, Theognis, bishop of Nicæa, and Narcissus, bishop of Neronias, which is a town of the second Cilicia, and is now called Irenopolis; also Theonas, bishop of Marmarica, and Secundus, bishop of Ptolemais in Egypt 339 . They drew up a formulary of their faith, and presented it to the council. As soon as it was read it was torn to pieces, and was declared to be spurious and false. So great was the uproar raised against them, and so many were the reproaches cast on them for having betrayed religion, that they all, with the exception of Secundus and Theonas, stood up and took the lead in publicly renouncing Arius. This impious man, having thus been expelled from the Church, a confession of faith which is received to this day was drawn up by unanimous consent; and, as soon as it was signed, the council was dissolved.



Originally named Antigonea, after its founder; then Nicæa after the Queen of Lysimachus; now Isnik.




Vitus and Vincentius.


Cf. Gal. vi. 17. The “stigmata” here meant are the marks of persecution.


i.e. The Φιλόθεος ἱστορία, “Religious History,” a work containing the lives of celebrated ascetics, composed before the Ecclesiastical History. For Dr. Newman’s explanation of its apparent credulity, Vide Hist. Sketches, iii. 314, and compare his Apologia pro Vita sua, on his own acceptance of the marvellous, Appendix, p. 57.


On the circumstances and scene of the opening of the Council consult Stanley’s Eastern Church, Lecture IV.


Menophantus was one of the disciples of Lucianus (Philos. H.E. ii. 14). He accepted the Nicene decision, but was excommunicated by the Sardican Fathers. Cf. Book II. Chap. 6.

Patrophilus, bishop of Scythopolis, the Bethshan of Scripture, was an ardent and persistent Arian. Theodoret mentions his share in the deposition of Eustathius (I. 20). Theognis was sentenced to banishment on account of the Arian sympathies he displayed at Nicæa, but escaped by a feigned acceptance.

Narcissus of Irenopolis, a town of Cilicia Secunda, took an active part in the Arian movement: Athanasius says that he was thrice degraded by different synods, and is the worst of the Eusebians (Ath. Ap. de fuga, sec. 28).

Marmarica is not a town, but a district. It lay west of Egypt, about the modern Barca.

There were two cities in Egypt named Ptolemais, one in Upper Egypt below Abydos; one a port of the Red Sea.

After the time of Constantine, Cilicia was divided into three districts; Cilicia Prima, with Tarsus for chief town; Secunda, with Anazarbus; Tertia, with Seleuceia.

Next: Confutation of Arianism deduced from the Writings of Eustathius and Athanasius.