Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Defence of the Nicene Definition. (De Decretis.): Conduct of the Arians towards the Nicene Council. Ignorant as well as irreligious to attempt to reverse an Ecumenical Council: proceedings at Nicæa: Eusebians then signed what they now complain of: on the unanimity of true teachers and the process of tradition: changes of the Arians.
Chapter II.—Conduct of the Arians towards the Nicene Council. Ignorant as well as irreligious to attempt to reverse an Ecumenical Council: proceedings at Nicæa: Eusebians then signed what they now complain of: on the unanimity of true teachers and the process of tradition: changes of the Arians.
And do thou, beloved, consider whether it be not so. If, the devil having sowed their hearts with this perverseness 760 , they feel confidence in their bad inventions, let them defend themselves against the proofs of heresy which have been advanced, and then will be the time to find fault, if they can, with the definition framed against them 761 . For no one, on p. 152 being convicted of murder or adultery, is at liberty after the trial to arraign the sentence of the judge, why he spoke in this way and not in that 762 . For this does not exculpate the convict, but rather increases his crime on the score of petulance and audacity. In like manner, let these either prove that their sentiments are religious (for they were then accused and convicted, and their complaints are subsequent, and it is just that those who are under a charge should confine themselves to their own defence), or if they have an unclean conscience, and are aware of their own irreligion, let them not complain of what they do not understand, or they will bring on themselves a double imputation, of irreligion and of ignorance. Rather let them investigate the matter in a docile spirit, and learning what hitherto they have not known, cleanse their irreligious ears with the spring of truth and the doctrines of religion 763 .
3. Now it happened to Eusebius and his fellows in the Nicene Council as follows:—while they stood out in their irreligion, and attempted their fight against God 764 , the terms they used were replete with irreligion; but the assembled Bishops who were three hundred more or less, mildly and charitably required of them to explain and defend themselves on religious grounds. Scarcely, however, did they begin to speak, when they were condemned 765 , and one differed from another; then perceiving the straits in which their heresy lay, they remained dumb, and by their silence confessed the disgrace which came upon their heterodoxy. On this the Bishops, having negatived the terms they had invented, published against them the sound and ecclesiastical faith; and, as all subscribed it, Eusebius and his fellows subscribed it also in those very words, of which they are now complaining, I mean, “of the essence” and “one in essence,” and that “the Son of God is neither creature or work, nor in the number of things originated 766 , but that the Word is an offspring from the substance of the Father.” And what is strange indeed, Eusebius of Cæsarea in Palestine, who had denied the day before, but afterwards subscribed, sent to his Church a letter, saying that this was the Churchs faith, and the tradition of the Fathers; and made a public profession that they were before in error, and were rashly contending against the truth. For though he was ashamed at that time to adopt these phrases, and excused himself to the Church in his own way, yet he certainly means to imply all this in his Epistle, by his not denying the “one in essence,” and “of the essence.” And in this way he got into a difficulty; for while he was excusing himself, he went on to attack the Arians, as stating that “the Son was not before His generation,” and as thereby rejecting His existence before His birth in the flesh. And this Acacius is aware of also, though he too through fear may pretend otherwise because of the times and deny the fact. Accordingly I have subjoined at the end the letter of Eusebius, that thou mayest know from it the disrespect towards their own doctors shewn by Christs enemies, and singularly by Acacius himself 767 .
4. Are they not then committing a crime, in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council? are they not in transgression, when they dare to confront that good definition against Arianism, acknowledged, as it is, by those who had in the first instance taught them irreligion? And supposing, even after subscription, Eusebius and his fellows did change again, and return like dogs to their own vomit of irreligion, do not the present gain-sayers deserve still greater detestation, because they thus sacrifice 768 their souls liberty to others; and are willing to take these persons as masters of their heresy, who are, as James 769 has said, double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming? But this, as the p. 153 Shepherd has said, is “the child of the devil 770 ,” and the note of hucksters rather than of doctors. For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil. Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarrelling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of the truth agree together, and do not differ. For though they lived in different times, yet they one and all tend the same way, being prophets of the one God, and preaching the same Word harmoniously 771 .
5. And thus what Moses taught, that Abraham observed; and what Abraham observed, that Noah and Enoch acknowledged, discriminating pure from impure, and becoming acceptable to God. For Abel too in this way witnessed, knowing what he had learned from Adam, who himself had learned from that Lord, who said, when He came at the end of the ages for the abolishment of sin, “I give no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye have heard from the beginning 772 .” Wherefore also the blessed Apostle Paul, who had learned it from Him, when describing ecclesiastical functions, forbade that deacons, not to say bishops, should be double-tongued 773 ; and in his rebuke of the Galatians, he made a broad declaration, “If anyone preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema, as I have said, so say I again. If even we, or an Angel from heaven should preach unto you any other Gospel than that ye have received, let him be anathema 774 .” Since then the Apostle thus speaks, let these men either anathematise Eusebius and his fellows, at least as changing round and professing what is contrary to their subscriptions; or, if they acknowledge that their subscriptions were good, let them not utter complaints against so great a Council. But if they do neither the one nor the other, they are themselves too plainly the sport of every wind and surge, and are influenced by opinions, not their own, but of others, and being such, are as little worthy of deference now as before, in what they allege. Rather let them cease to carp at what they understand not; lest so be that not knowing to discriminate, they simply call evil good and good evil, and think that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Doubtless, they desire that doctrines which have been judged wrong and have been reprobated should gain the ascendancy, and they make violent efforts to prejudice what was rightly defined. Nor should there be any reason on our part for any further explanation, or answer to their excuses, neither on theirs for further resistance, but for an acquiescence in what the leaders of their heresy subscribed; for though the subsequent change of Eusebius and his fellows was suspicious and immoral, their subscription, when they had the opportunity of at least some little defence of themselves, is a certain proof of the irreligion of their doctrine. For they would not have subscribed previously had they not condemned the heresy, nor would they have condemned it, had they not been encompassed with difficulty and shame; so that to change back again is a proof of their contentious zeal for irreligion. These men also ought therefore, as I have said, to keep quiet; but since from an extraordinary want of modesty, they hope perhaps to be able to advocate this diabolical 775 irreligion better than the others, therefore, though in my former letter written to thee, I have already argued at length against them, notwithstanding, come let us now also examine them, in each of their separate statements, as their predecessors; for now not less than then their heresy shall be shewn to have no soundness in it, but to be from evil spirits.
ἐπισπείραντος τοῦ διαβόλου, the allusion is to Matt. xiii. 25, and is very frequent in Athan., chiefly with a reference to Arianism. He draws it out at length, Orat. ii. §34. Elsewhere, he uses the image for the evil influences introduced into the soul upon Adams fall, contr. Apoll. i. §15. as does S. Irenæus, Hær. iv. 40. n. 3. using it of such as lead to back-sliding in Christians. ibid. v. 10. n. 1. Gregory Nyssen, of the natural passions and of false reason misleading them, de An. et Resurr. p. 640. vid. also Leon. Ep. 156. c. 2.151:761
The Council did two things, anathematise the Arian positions (at the end of the Creed), and establish the true doctrine by the insertion of the phrases, “of the substance” and “one in substance.” Athan. says that the Arians must not criticise the latter before they had cleared themselves of the former. Thus he says presently, that they were at once irreligious in their faith and ignorant in their criticism; and speaks of the Council negativing their formulæ, and substituting those which were “sound and ecclesiastical.” vid. also n. 4.152:762
And so S. Leo “passim” concerning the Council of Chalcedon, “Concord will be easily established, if the hearts of all concur in that faith which, &c., no discussion being allowed whatever concerning any retractation,” Ep. 94. He calls such an act a “magnum sacrilegium,” Ep. 157. c. 3. “To be seeking for what has been disclosed, to retract what has been perfected, to tear up what has been laid down (definita), what is this but to be unthankful for what we gained?” Ep. 162. vid. the whole of it. He says that the attempt is “no mark of a peace-maker but a rebel.” Ep. 164. c. l. fin. vid. also Epp. 145, and 156, where he says, none can assail what is once determined, but “aut antichristus aut diabolus.” c. 2.152:763
Vid. Orat. iii. §28.152:764
θεομαχεῖν, θεομάχοι. vid. Acts v. 39; xxiii. 9. are of very frequent use in Athan. as is χριστομάχοι, in speaking of the Arians, vid. infra passim. also ἀντιμαχόμενοι τῷ σωτῆρι, Ep. Encycl. §5. And in the beginning of the controversy, Alexander ap. Socr. i. 6. p. 10. b.c.p. 12. p. 13. Theod. Hist. i. 3. p. 729. And so θεομάχος γλῶσσα, Basil. contr. Eunom. ii. 27. fin. χριστομάχων. Ep. 236. init. vid. also Cyril (Thesaurus, p. 19 e. p. 24 e.). θεομάχοι is used of other heretics, e.g. the Manichees, by Greg. Naz. Orat. 45. §8.152:765
i.e. “convicted themselves,” infr. §18. init. ἑαυτῶν ἀεὶ κατήγοροι, ad. Ep. Æg. §6. i.e. by their variations, vid. Tit. iii. 11 αὐτοκατάκριτος152:766
The party he is writing against is the Acacian, of whom he does not seem to have had much distinct knowledge. He contrasts them again and again in the passages which follow with the Eusebians of the Nicene Council, and says that he is sure that the ground they take when examined will be found substantially the same as the Eusebian. vid. §6 init. et alib. §7. init. §9. circ. fin. §10. circ. fin. §13. init. τότε καὶ νῦν. §18. circ. fin. §28. fin [On Acacius see Prolegg. ch. ii. §8 (2) b.]152:768
προπίνοντες vid. de Syn. §14.152:769
James i. 8.153:770
Hermas, Mand. ix., who is speaking immediately, as S. James, of wavering in prayer.153:771
Thus S. Basil says the same of the Grecian Sects, “We have not the task of refuting their tenets, for they suffice for the overthrow of each other.” Hexaem. i. 2. vid. also Theod. Græc. Affect. i. p. 707. &c. August. Civ. Dei, xviii. 41. and Vincentiuss celebrated Commonitorium passim.153:772
1 John ii. 7.153:773
1 Tim. iii. 8.153:774
Gal. 1:8, 9.153:775
This is Athan.s deliberate judgment. vid. de Sent. Dion. fin., ib. §24. he speaks of Ariuss “hatred of the truth.” Again, “though the diabolical men rave” Orat. iii. §8. “friends of the devil, and his spirits,” Ad Ep. Æg. 5. Another reason of his so accounting them, was their atrocious cruelty towards Catholics; this leads him elsewhere to break out: “O new heresy, that has put on the whole devil in irreligious doctrine and conduct!” Hist. Arian. §66, also Alexander, diabolical, ap Theod. Hist. i. 3, p. 731. satanical, ibid. p. 741. vid. also Socr. i. 9. p. 30 fin. Hilar. contr. Const. 17.
Next: Two senses of the word Son, 1. adoptive; 2. essential; attempts of Arians to find a third meaning between these; e.g. that our Lord only was created immediately by God (Asterius's view), or that our Lord alone partakes the Father. The second and true sense; God begets as He makes, really; though His creation and generation are not like man's; His generation independent of time; generation implies an internal, and therefore an eternal, act in God; explanation of Prov. viii. 22.
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