321 Athanasius was born between 296 and 29811 . His parents, according to later writers, were of high rank and wealthy. At any rate, their son received a liberal education. In his most youthful work we find him repeatedly quoting Plato, and ready with a definition from the Organon of Aristotle. He is also familiar with the theories of various philosophical schools, and in particular with the developments of Neo-Platonism. In later works, he quotes Homer more than once (Hist. Ar. 68, Orat. iv. 29), he addresses to Constantius a defence bearing unmistakeable traces of a study of Demosthenes de Corona (Fialon, pp. 286 sq. 293). His education was that of a Greek: Egyptian antiquities and religion, the monuments and their history, have no special interest for him: he nowhere betrays any trace of Egyptian national feeling. But from early years another element had taken a first place in his training and in his interest. It was in the Holy Scriptures that his martyr teachers had instructed him, and in the Scriptures his mind and writings are saturated. Ignorant of Hebrew, and only rarely appealing to other Greek versions (to Aquila once in the Ecthesis, to other versions once or twice upon the Psalms), his knowledge of the Old Testament is limited to the Septuagint. But of it, as well as of the New Testament, he has an astonishing command, Alexandreu" tw genei, anhr logio", dunato" wn tai" grafai". The combination of Scriptural study and of Greek learning was what one expects in a pupil of the famous Alexandrian School; and it was in this School, the School of Clement and Origen, of Dionysius and Theognostus, that young Athanasius learned, possibly at first from the lips of Peter the bishop and martyr of 3II2 . The influence of Origen still coloured the traditions of the theological school of Alexandria. It was from Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria 312–328, himself an Origenist ‘of the right wing,’ that Athanasius received his moulding at the critical period of his later teens.
Of his first introduction to Alexander a famous story is told by Rufinus (Hist. Ed. I. xiv).. The Bishop, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of his predecessor. Peter, was expecting some clergy to dinner after service in a house by the sea. Out of the window, he saw some boys at play on the shore: as he watched, he saw that they were imitating the sacred rites of the Church. Thinking at last that they were going too far, he sent some of his clergy to bring them in. At first his enquiries of the little fellows produced an alarmed denial. But at length he elicited that one of them had acted the Bishop and had baptized some of the others in the character of catechumens. On ascertaining that all details had been duly observed, he consulted his clergy, and decided that the baptisms should be treated as valid, and that the boy-bishop and his clergy had given such plain proof of their vocation that their parents must be instructed to hand them over to be educated for the sacred profession. Young Athanasius accordingly, after a further course of elementary studies, was handed over to the bishop to be brought up, like Samuel, in the Temple of God. This, adds Sozomen (ii. 17), was the origin of his subsequent attachment to Alexander as deacon and secretary. The story is credited by some writers of weight (most recently. by Archdeacon Farrar), but seems highly improbable. It depends on the single authority of a writer not famed for historical judgment, and on the very first anniversary of Peter’s martyrdom, when Alexander had hardly ascended the episcopal throne, Athanasius was at least fourteen years old. The probability that the anniversary would have been other than the first, and the possibility that Athanasius was even older, coupled with the certainty that his theological study began before Peter’s martyrdom, compel us to mark the story with at least a strong note of interrogation. But it may be allowed to confirm us in the belief that Alexander early singled out the promise of ability and devotion which marked Athanasius for his right-hand man long before the crisis which first proved his unique value.
His years of study and work in the bishop’s household bore rich fruit in the two youthful works already alluded to. These works more than any later writings of Athanasius bear traces of the Alexandrian theology and of the influence of Origenism: but in them already we trace the independent grasp of Christian principles which mark Athanasius as the representative of something more than a school, however noble and many-sided. It was not as a theologian, but as a believing soul in need of a Saviour, that Athanasius approached the mystery of Christ. Throughout the mazes of the Arian controversy his tenacious hold upon this fundamental principle steered his course and balanced his theology. And it is this that above all else characterises the golden treatise on the Incarnation of the Word. There is, however, one element in the influence of Origen and and his successors which already comes out, and which never lost its hold upon Athanasius,—the principle of asceticism. Although the ascetic tendency was present in Christianity from the first, and had already burst forth into extravagance in such men as Tertullian, it was reserved for the school of Origen, influenced by Platonist ideas of the world and life, to give to it the rank of an acknowledged principle of Christian morals—to give the stimulus to monasticism (see (below, p. 193). Among the acclamations which accompanied the election of Athanasius to the episcopate that of estwnaskhwn was conspicuous (Apol. Ar. 6). In de Incarn. 51, 1, 48. 2, we seem to recognise the future biographer of Antony3 .
322 At the time when Athanasius first appeared as an author, the condition of Christian Egypt was not peaceful. Meletius, bishop of Lycopolis, was accused of having sacrificed during the persecution in 301 (pp. 131, 234); condemned by a synod under bishop Peter, he had carried on schismatical intrigues under Peter, Achillas, and Alexander, and by this time had a large following, especially in Upper Egypt. Many cities had Meletian bishops: many of the hermits, and even communities of monks (p. 135), were on his side.
The Meletian account of the matter (preserved by Epiphan). Haer.58) was different from this. Meletius had been in prison along with Peter, and had differed from him on the question of the lapsed, taking the sterner view, in which most of the imprisoned clergy supported him. It would not be without a parallel (D.C.b. art). Donatists, Novatian)in the history of the burning question of the lapsi to suppose that Meletius recoiled from a compromised position to the advocacy of impossible strictness. At any rate (de Incarn. 24. 4) the Egyptian Church was rent by a formidable schism. No doctrinal question, however, was involved. The alliance of Meletians and Arians belongs to a later date.
It is doubtful whether the outbreak of the Arian controversy at Alexandria was directly connected with the previous Christological controversies in the same Church. The great Dionysius some half-century before had been involved in controversy with members of his Church both in Alexandria and in the suffragan dioceses of Libya (infr. p. 173). Of the sequel of that controversy we have no direct knowledge: but we find several bishops and numerous clergy and laity in Alexandria and Libya4 ready to side with Arius against his bishop.
The origin of the controversy is obscure. It certainly must be placed as early as 318 or 319, to leave sufficient time before the final deposition of Arius in the council of 321 (infr. p. 234). We are told that Arius, a native of Libya, had settled in Alexandria soon after the origin of the Meletian schism, and had from motives of ambition sided at first with Meletius, then with Peter, who ordained him deacon, but afterwards was compelled to depose him (Epiph). Haer. 69, Sozom. 1,15). He became reconciled to Achillas, who raised him to the presbyterate. Disappointed of the bishopric at the election of Alexander, he nurtured a private grudge (Thdt). H. E. 1,2), which eventually culminated in opposition to his teaching. These tales deserve little credit: they are unsupported by Athanasius, and bear every trace of invention ex post facto. That Arius was a vain person we see from his Thalia (infr. p. 308): but he certainly possessed claims to personal respect, and we find him not only in charge of the urban parish of Baucalis, but entrusted with the duties of a professor of scriptural exegesis. There is in fact no necessity to seek for personal motives to explain the dispute. The Arian problem was one which the Church was unable to avoid. Not until every alternative had been tried and rejected was the final theological expression of her faith possible. Two great streams of theological influence had run their course in the third century: the subordinationist theology of Origen at Alexandria, the Monarchian theology of the West and of Asia which had found a logical expression in Paul of Samosata. Both streams had met in Lucian the martyr, at Antioch, and in Arius, the pupil of Lucian, produced a result which combined elements of both (see (below, (2) a). According to some authorities Arius was the aggressor. He challenged some theological statements of Alexander as Sabellian, urging in opposition to them that if the Son were truly a Son He must have had a beginning, and that there had been therefore a time when He did not exist. According to others (Constantine in Eus). Vit. 2,69) Alexander had demanded of his presbyters an explanation of some passage of Scripture which had led Arius to broach his heresy. At any rate the attitude of Alexander was at first conciliatory. Himself an Origenist, he was willing to give Arius a fair hearing (Sozom). ubi supra). But the latter was impracticable. He began to canvass for support, and his doctrine was widely accepted. Among his first partisans were a number of lay people and virgins, five presbyters of Alexandria, six deacons, including Euzoius, afterwards Arian bishop at Antioch (a.d. 361), and the Libyan bishops Secundus of Ptolemais in Pentapolis (see (p. 226) and Theonas of Marmarica (see (p. 70). A letter was addressed to Arius and his friends by Alexander, and signed by the clergy of Alexandria, but without result. A synod was now called (infr. p. 70,Socr. 1,6) of the bishops of Egypt and Libya, and Arius a d his allies deposed. Even this did not check the movement. In Egypt two presbyters and for deacons of the Mareotis, one of the former being Pistus, a later Arian bishop of Alexandria, declared for Arius; while abroad he was in correspondence with influential bishops who cordially promised their support. Conspicuous among the latter was a man of whom we shall hear much in the earlier treatises of this volume, Eusebius, bishop of Berytus, who had recently, against the older custom of the Church (p. 103, note 6), but in accordance with what has ever since been general in the case of important sees, been translated to the imperial city of Nicomedia. High in the favour, perhaps related to the family, of Constantine, possessed of theological training and practical ability, this remarkable man was for nearly a quarter of a century the head and centre of the Arian cause. (For his character and history, see the excellent article in D.C.B. 2,360–367). He had been a fellow-pupil of Arius in the school of Lucian, and fully shared his opinions (his letter to Paulinus of Tyre, Thdt). H. E. 1,6). The letter addressed to him by Arius (ib 5) is one of our most important Arian monuments. Arius claims the sympathy of Eusebius of Caesarea and other leading bishops, in fact of all the East excepting Macarius of Jerusalem and two others, ‘heretical and untutored persons.’ Eusebius responded with zeal to the appeal of his ‘fellow-Lucianist.’ While Alexander was indefatigable in writing to warn the bishops everywhere against Arius (who had now left Alexandria to seek foreign support, first in Palestine, then at Nicomedia), and in particular addressed a long letter to Alexander, bishop of Byzantium (Thdt). H. E. 1,4), Eusebius called a council at Nicomedia, which issued letters in favour of Arius to many bishops, and urged Alexander himself to receive him to communion. Meanwhile a fresh complication had appeared in Egypt. Colluthus, whose name stands first among the signatures to the memorandum (to be mentioned presently) of the deposition of Arius, impatient it would seem at the moderation of Alexander, founded a schism of his own, and although merely a presbyter, took upon himself to ordain. In Egypt and abroad confusion reigned: parties formed in every city, bishops, to adopt the simile of Eusebius (Vit. Const.), collided like the fabled Symplegades, the most sacred of subjects were bandied about in the mouths of the populace, Christian and heathen.
In all this confusion Athanasius was ready with his convictions. His sure instinct and powerful grasp of the centre of the question made him the mainstay of his Bishop in the painful conflict. At a stage5 of it difficult to determine with precision, Alexander sent out to the bishops of the Church at large a concise and carefully-worded memorandum of the decision of the Egyptian Synod of 321, fortified by the signatures of the clergy of Alexandria and the Mareotis (see (infra, pp. 68–71).
This weighty document, so different in thought and style from the letter of Alexander preserved by Theodoret, bears the clear stamp of the mind and character of Athanasius: it contains the germ of which his whole series of anti-Arian writings are the expansion (see (introd. and notes, pp. 68–71), and is a significant comment on the hint of the Egyptian. bishops (Apol. c. Ar. 6 ad init)..
Early in 324 a new actor came upon the scene. Hosius, bishop of Cordova and confessor (he is referred to, not by name, Vit. Const. ii. 63, 73, cf. 3,7, o panu bowmeno"; by name, Socr. 1,7), arrived with a letter from the Emperor himself, intreating both parties to make peace, and treating the matter as one of trivial moment. The letter may have been written upon information furnished by Eusebius (D.C.B.s.v).; but the anxiety of the Emperor for the peace of his new dominions is its keynote. On the arrival of Hosius a council (p. 140) was held, which produced little effect as far as the main question was concerned: but the claims of Colluthus were absolutely disallowed, and his ordination of one Ischyras (infr. ) to the presbyterate pronounced null and void. Hosius apparently carried back with him a strong report in favour of Alexander; at any rate the Emperor is credited (Gelas. Cyz. ii., Hard). Conc. 1,451–458) with a vehement letter of rebuke to Arius, possibly at this juncture. Such was the state of affairs which led to the imperial resolve, probably at the suggestion of Hosius, to summon a council of bishops from the whole world to decide the doctrinal question, as well as the relatively lesser matters in controversy.
323 An ecumenical council was a new experiment. Local councils had long since grown to be a recognised organ of the Church both for legislation and for judicial proceedings. But no precedent as yet prescribed, no ecclesiastical law or theological principle had as yet enthroned, the ‘General Council’ as the supreme expression of the Church’s mind. Constantine had already referred the case of the Donatists first to a select council at Rome under bishop Miltiades, then to what Augustine (Ep 43) has been understood to call a ‘plenarium ecclesiae universae concilium’ at Arles in 314. This remedy for schism was now to be tried on a grander scale. That the heads of all the Churches of Christendom should meet in free and brotherly deliberation, and should testify to all the world their agreement in the Faith handed down independently but harmoniously from the earliest times in Churches widely remote in situation, and separated by differences of language race and civilisation, is a grand and impressive idea, an idea approximately realised at Nicaea as in no other assembly that has ever met. The testimony of such an assembly carries the strongest evidential weight; and the almost unanimous horror of the Nicene Bishops at the novelty and profaneness of Arianism condemns it irrevocably as alien to the immemorial belief of the Churches. But it was one thing to perceive this, another to formulate the positive belief of the Church in such a way as to exclude the heresy; one thing to agree in condemning Arian formulae, another to agree upon an adequate test of orthodoxy. This was the problem which lay before the council, and with which only its more clearsighted members tenaciously grappled: this is the explanation of the reaction which followed, and which for more than a generation, for well nigh half a century after, placed its results in jeopardy. The number of bishops who met at Nicaea was over 2506 . They represented many nationalities (Euseb. ubi supra)., but only a handful came from the West, the chief being Hosius, Caecilian of Carthage, and the presbyters sent by Silvester of Rome, whose age prevented his presence in person. The council lasted from the end of May till Aug. 25 (see (D.C.A., 1389). With the many picturesque stories told of its incidents we have nothing to do (Stanley’s Eastern Church, Socr. i. 10–12, Soz. 1,17, 18, Rufin). H.E. 1,3–5); but it may be well to note the division of parties. (1) Of thoroughgoing partisans of Arius, Secundus7 and Theonas alone scorned all compromise. But Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis, Bishop of Nicaea itself, and Maris of Chalcedon, also belonged to the inner circle of Arians by conviction (Socr. 1,8; Soz. 1,21 makes up the same number, but wrongly). The three last-named were pupils of Lucian (Philost. ii. 15). Some twelve others (the chief names are Athanasius of Anazarbus and Narcissus of Neronias, in Cilicia; Patrophilus of Scythopolis, Aetius of Lydda, Paulinus of Tyre, Theodotus of Laodicea, Gregory of Berytus, in Syria and Palestine; Menophantus of Ephesus; for a fuller discussion see Gwatk. p. 31, n. 3) completed the strength of the Arian party proper. (2) On the other hand a clearly formulated doctrinal position in contrast to Arianism was taken up by a minority only, although this minority carried the day. Alexander of Alexandria of course was the rallying point of this wing, but the choice of the formula proceeded from other minds. ‘gpodtadi" and ou>via are one in the Nicene formula: Alexander in 323 writes of trei" upodtaei".
The test formula of Nicaea was the work of two concurrent influences, that of the anti-Origenists of the East, especially Marcellus of Ancyra, Eustathius of Antioch, supported by Macarius of ‘Aelia,’ Hellanicus of Tripolis, and Asclepas of Gaza, and that of the Western bishops, especially Hosius of Cordova. The latter fact explains the energetic intervention of Constantine at the critical moment on behalf of the test (see (below, and Ep. Eus. p. 75); the word was commended to the Fathers by Constantine, but Constantine was ‘prompted’ by Hosius (Harnack, Dogmg. 2,226); outo" thn Nikaia pioton exqeto (infr. p. 285, ). Alexander (the Origenist) had been prepared for this by Hosius beforehand (Soc. 3,7; Philost. 1,7; cf. Zahn Marcell.p. 23, and Harnack’s important note, p.229). Least of all was Athanasius the author of the omoousion; his whole attitude toward the famous test (infr. p. 303) is that of loyal acceptance and assimilation rather than of native inward affinity. ‘He was moulded by the Nicene Creed, did not mould it himself’ (Loofs, p. 134). The theological keynote of the council was struck by a small minority; Eustathius, Marcellus, perhaps Macarius, and the Westerns, above all Hosius; the numbers were doubtless contributed by the Egyptian bishops who had condemned Arius in 321. The signatures, which seem partly incorrect, preserve a list of about 20. The party then which rallied round Alexander in formal opposition to the Arians may be put down at over thirty. ‘The men who best understood Arianism were most decided on the necessity of its formal condemnation.’ (Gwatkin). To this compact and determined group the result of the council was due, and in their struggle they owed much—how much it is hard to determine—to the energy and eloquence of the deacon Athanasius, who had accompanied his bishop to the council as an indispensable companion (infr. p. 103; Soz. 1,17 fin).. (3) Between the convinced Arians and their reasoned opponents lay the great mass of the bishops, 200 and more, nearly all from Syria and Asia Minor, who wished for nothing more than that they might hand on to those who came after them the faith they had received at baptism, and had learned from their predecessors. These were the ‘conservatives8 ,’ or middle party, composed of all those who, for whatever reason, while untainted with Arianism, yet either failed to feel its urgent danger to the Church, or else to hold steadily in view the necessity of an adequate test if it was to be banished. Simple shepherds like Spyridion of Cyprus; men of the world who were more interested in their libelli than in the magnitude of the doctrinal issue; theologians, a. numerous class, ‘who on the basis of half-understood Origenist ideas were prepared to recognise in Christ only the Mediator appointed (no doubt before all ages) between God and the World’ (Zahn Marc. p. 30); men who in the best of faith yet failed from lack of intellectual clearsightedness to grasp the question for themselves; a few, possibly, who were inclined to think that Arius was hardly used and might be right after all; such were the main elements which made up the mass of the council, and upon whose indefiniteness, sympathy, or unwillingness to impose any effective test, the Arian party based their hopes at any rate of toleration. Spokesman and leader of the middle party was the most learned Churchman of the age, Eusebius of Caesarea. A devoted admirer of Origen, but independent of the school of Lucian, he had, during the early stages of the controversy, thrown his weight on the side of toleration for Arius. He had himself used compromising language, and in his letter to the Caesarean Church (infra, p. 76 sq). does so again. But equally strong language can be cited from him on the other side, and belonging as he does properly to the pre-Nicene age, it is highly invidious to make the most of his Arianising passages, and, ignoring or explaining away those on the other side, and depreciating his splendid and lasting services to Christian learning, to class him summarily with his namesake of Nicotnedia9 . (See Prolegg. to vol. 1 of this series, and above all the article in D.C.B). The fact however remains, that Eusebius gave something more than moral support to the Arians. He was ‘neither a great man nor a clear thinker’ (Gwatkin); his own theology was hazy and involved; as an Origenist, his main dread was of Monarchianism, and his policy in the council was to stave off at least such a condemnation of Arianism as should open the door to ‘confounding the Persons.’ Eusebius apparently represents, therefore, the ‘left wing,’ or the last mentioned, of the ‘conservative’ elements in the council (supra, and Gwatkin, p. 38); but his learning, age, position, and the ascendency of Origenist Theology in the East, marked him out as the leader of the whole.
But the ‘conservatism’ of the great mass of bishops rejected Arianism more promptly than had been expected by its adherents or patrons.
The real work of the council did not begin at once. The way was blocked by innumerable applications the Christian Emperor from bishops and clergy, mainly for the redress of personal grievances. Commonplace men often fail to see the proportion of things, and to rise to the magnitude of the events in which they play their part. At last Constantine appointed a day for the formal and final reception of all personal complaints, and burnt the ‘libelli’ in the presence of the assembled fathers. He then named a clay by which the bishops were to be ready for a formal decision of the matters in dispute. The way was now open for the leaders to set to work. Quasi-formal meetings were held, Arius and his supporters met the bishops, and the situation began to clear (Soz. 1,17). To their dismay (de Deer. 3) the Arian leaders realised that they could only count on some seventeen supporters out of the entire body of bishops. They would seem to have seriously and honestly underrated the novelty of their own teaching (cf. the letter of Arius in Thdt. i. 5), and to have come to the council with the expectation of victory over the party of Alexander. But they discovered their mistake:—
‘Sectamur ultro, quos opimus
Fallere et effugere est triumphus.”
‘Fallere et effugere’ was in fact the problem which now confronted them. It seems to have been agreed at an early stage, perhaps it was understood from the first, that some formula of the unanimous belief of the Church must be fixed upon to make an end of controversy. The Alexandrians and ‘Conservatives’ confronted the Arians with the traditional Scriptural phrases (pp. 163, 491) which appeared to leave no doubt as to the eternal Godhead of the Son. But to their surprise they were met with perfect acquiescence. Only as each test was propounded, it was observed that the suspected party whispered and gesticulated to one another, evidently hinting that each could be safely accepted, since it admitted of evasion. If their assent was asked to the formula ‘like to the Father in all things,’ it was given with the reservation that man as such is ‘the image and glory of God.’ The ‘power of God’ elicited the whispered explanation that the host of Israel was spoken of as dunami" kuriou, and that even the locust and caterpillar are called the ‘power of God.’ The ‘eternity’ of the Son was countered by the text, ‘We that live are alway (2 Cor iv. ii)!’ The fathers were baffled, and the test of omoousion, with which the minority had been ready from the first, was being forced (p. 172) upon the majority by the evasions of the Arians. When the day for the decisive meeting arrived it was felt that the choice lay between the adoption of the word, cost what it might, and the admission of Arianism to a position of toleration and influence in the Church. But then, was Arianism all that Alexander and Eustathius made it out to be? was Arianism so very intolerable, that this novel test must be imposed on the Church? The answer came (Newman Ar. p. 252) from Eusebius of Nicomedia. Upon the assembling of the bishops for their momentous debate (w" de ezhteito th" pistew" o tropo", Eustath.)he presented them with a statement of his belief. The previous course of events may have convinced him that half-measures would defeat their own purpose, and that a challenge to the enemy, a forlorn hope, was the only resort left to him10 . At any rate the statement was an unambiguous assertion of the Arian formulae, and it cleared the situation at once. An angry clamour silenced the innovator, and his document was publicly torn to shreds (up oyei pantwn, says an eye-witness in Thdt. 1,8). Even the majority of the Arians were cowed, and the party were reduced to the inner circle of five (supra). It was now agreed on all hands that a stringent formula was needed. But Eusebius of Caesarea came forward with a last effort to stave off the inevitable. He produced a formula, not of his own devising (Kölling, pp. 208 sqq.), but consisting of the creed of his own Church with an addition intended to guard against Sabellianism (Hort, Two Diss. pp. 56, sq. 138). The formula was unassailable on the basis of Scripture and of tradition. No one had a word to say against it, and the Emperor expressed his personal anxiety that it should be adopted, with the single improvement of the omoousion. The suggestion thus quietly made was momentous in its result. We cannot but recognise the ‘prompter’ Hosius behind the Imperial recommendation: the friends of Alexander had patiently waited their time, and now their time was come: the two Eusebii had placed the result in their hands. But how and where was the necessary word to be inserted? and if some change must be made in the Caesarean formula, would it not be as well to set one or two other details right? At any rate, the creed of Eusebius was carefully overhauled clause by clause, and eventually took a form materially different from that in which it was first presented11 , and with affinities to the creeds of Antioch and Jerusalem as well as Caesarea.
All was now ready; the creed, the result of minute and careful deliberations (we do not know their history, nor even how long they occupied12 ), lay before the council. We are told ‘the council paused.’ The evidence fails us; but it may well have been so. All the bishops who were genuinely horrified at the naked Arianism of Eusebius of Nicomedia were yet far from sharing the clearsighted definiteness of the few: they knew that the test proposed was not in Scripture, that it had a suspicious history in the Church. The history of the subsequent generation shews that the mind of Eastern Christendom was not wholly ripe for its adoption. But the fathers were reminded of the previous discussions, of the futility of the Scriptural tests, of the locust and the caterpillar, of the whisperings, the nods, winks, and evasions. With a great revulsion of feeling the council closed its ranks and marched triumphantly to its conclusion. All signed,—all but two, Secundus and Theonas. Maris signed and Theognis, Menophantus and Patrophilus, and all the rest. Eusebius of Nicomedia signed; signed everything, even the condemnation of his own convictions and of his ‘genuine fellow-Lucianist’ Arius; not the last time that an Arian leader was found to turn against a friend in the hour of trial. Eusebius justified his signature by a ‘mental reservation;’ but we can sympathise with the bitter scorn of Secundus, who as he departed to his exile warned Eusebius that he would not long escape the same fate (Philost. 1,9).
The council broke up after being entertained by the Emperor at a sumptuous banquet in honour of his Vicennalia. The recalcitrant bishops with Arius and some others were sent into exile (an unhappy and fateful precedent), a fate which soon after overtook Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis (see (the discussion in D.C.B. 2,364 sq.). But in 329 ‘we find Eusebius once more in high favour with Constantine, discharging his episcopal functions, persuading Constantine that he and Arius held substantially the Creed of Nicaea.’
The council also dealt with the Paschal question (see (Vit. Coast. iii. 18; so far as the question bears on Athanasius see below, p. 500), and with the Meletian schism in Egypt. The latter was the main subject of a letter (Soc. 1,9; Thdt. 1,9) to the Alexandrian Church. Meletius himself was to retain the honorary title of bishop, to remain strictly at home, and to be in lay communion for the rest of his life. The bishops and clergy of his party were to receive a mustikwtera ceirotonia (see (Bright, Notes on Canons, pp. 25 sqq.; Gore, The Church and the Ministry, ed. 1P 192 note), and to be allowed to discharge their office, but in the strictest subordination to the Catholic Clergy of Alexander. But on vacancies occurring, the Meletian incumbents were to succeed subject to (1) their fitness, (2) the wishes of the people, (3) the approval of the Bishop of Alexandria. The terms were mild, and even the gentle nature of Alexander seems to have feared that immediate peace might have been purchased at the expense of future trouble (his successor openly blames the compromise, p. 131, and more strongly p. 137); accordingly, before carrying out the settlement he required Meletius to draw up an exact list of his clergy at the time of the council, so as to bar an indefinite multiplication of claims. Meletius, who must have been even less pleased with the settlement than his metropolitan, seems to have taken his time. At last nothing would satisfy both parties but the personal presentation of the Meletian bishops from all Egypt, and of their clergy from Alexandria itself, to Alexander (p. 137, toutou" kai paronta" paredwken tw Alexandrw), who was thus enabled to check the Brevium or schedule handed in by their chief13 . All this must have taken a long time after Alexander’s return, and the peace was soon broken by his death.
Five months after the conclusion of the negotiations, Alexander having now died, the flame of schism broke out afresh (infr. p. 131. Montfaucon, in Migne 25,p. lvii., shews conclusively that the above is the meaning of the mhna" pente). On his death-bed, Alexander called for Athanasius. He was away from Alexandria, but the other deacon of that name (see signatures p. 71), stepped forward in answer to the call. But without noticing him, the Bishop repeated the name, adding, ‘You think to escape, but it cannot be.’ (Sozom, 2,17). Alexander had already written his Easter Letter for the year 328 (it was apparently still extant at the end of the century, p. 503). He died on April 17 of that year (Pharmuthi 22), and on the eighth of June Athanasius was chosen bishop in his stead.
1 (He was unable to speak from memory of the events of the persecution of 303 (Hist. Ar. 64), but (de Incarn. 56. 2) had been instructed in religion by persons who had suffered as martyrs. This must have been before 311, the date of the last persecution in Egypt under Maximin. Before 319 he had written his first books ‘against the Gentiles,’ the latter of which, on the Incarnation, implies a full maturity of power in the writer, while the former is full of philosophical and mythological knowledge such as argues advanced education. But from several sources we learn that his election to the episcopate in 328 was impugned, at any rate in after years, on the ground of his not having attained the canonical age of thirty. There is no ground for supposing that this was true: but such a charge would not be made without some ground at least of plausibility. We must therefore suppose that on June 8, 328, he was not much beyond his thirtieth year. His parents, moreover, were living after the year 358 (see (below, p. 562, note 6); allowing them over fourscore years at that date, we find in 298 a reasonable date for the birth of their son. We must remember that in southern climates mind and body mature somewhat more rapidly than with ourselves, and ‘contra Gentes’ and ‘de Incarnatione’ will scarcely appear precocious.
2 The statements of Greg. Naz. that he frequented classes of grammar and rhetoric is probable enough; that of Sulpitius Severus that he was ‘juris consultus’ lacks corroboration).
3 The actual connection of Athanasius with Antony at this period is implied in the received text of ‘Vit. Anton.’ Prolog., for it could scarcely fall at any later date. At the same time the youthful life of Athanasius seems fully accounted for in such a way as to leave little room for it (so Tillemont). But our ignorance of details leaves it just possible that he may for a time have visited the great hermit and ministered to him as Elisha did of old to Elijah. (Cf. p. 195, note 2).
4 It is of interest to note the changed conditions. In 260 bishop Dionysius had to check the Monarchian tendency in Libya, and was accused by members of his own flock of separating the Son from the Being (ousia) of the Father. In 319 a Libyan, Atius, cries out upon the Sabellianism of his bishop, and formulates the very doctrine which Dionysius had been accused of maintaining).
5 The chronology cannot be determined with precision. The Memorandum is signed by Colluthus and therefore precedes his schism. The letter to Alex. Byzant. was written after the Colluthian schism had begun. But the proceedings of Eusebius described above had at least begun when the Memorandum was circulated, which must, therefore, have been some time after the Synod of 321. The letter of Alexander to his clergy prefixed to the depositio was drawn up after it. and includes the names of the Mareotic seceders. We may, therefore, tentatively adopt the following series:—321 a.d.: Egyptian Synod deposes Arius. Arius in correspondence with Eusebius, &c Leaves Alexandria for Palestine and Nicomedia. Letters sent abroad by Alexander. Eusebius holds council and writes to Alexander. 322: Memorandum drawn up; Alexandrian clergy assemble to sign it; prefatory address to them by Alexander with reference to the Mareotic defection which has just occurred; circulation of Memorandum; schism, of Colluthus. 323: Letter of Alexander to Alexander of Byzantium; (Sept). Constantine, master of the East, and ready to intervene in the controversy).
6 (So Eus). Vit. Const. iii. 8—over 270, Eustath. in Thdt. 1,8—in fact more than 300 (de Decr. 3), according to Athanasius, who again, toward the end of his life (ad Afr. 2) acquiesces in the precise figure 318 (Gn 14,14 the Greek numeral tih combines the Cross with the initial letters of the Sacred Name) which a later generation adopted (it first occurs in the alleged Coptic acts of the Council of Alexandria, 362, then in the Letter of Liberius ’to the bishops of Asia in 365, infr. §9), on grounds perhaps symbolical rather than historical.
7 The name of Secundus appears among the subscriptions (cf. Soz. 1,21) but this is contradicted by the primary evidence (Letter of the Council in Soc. 1,9, Thdt. 1,9); cf. Philost. 1,9, 10. But there is evidence that there were two Secundi).
8 A term first brought into currency in this connection by Mr. Gwatkin (p. 38, note), and since adopted by many writers including Harnack; in spite of the obvious objection to the importations of political terms into the grave questions of this period, the term is too useful to be surrendered, and the ‘conservatives’ of the Post-Nicene reaction were in fact too often political in their methods and spirit. The truly conservative men, here as in other instances, failed to enlist the sympathy of the conservative rank and file.
9 The identity of name has certainly done Eusebius no good with posterity. But no one with a spark of generosity can fail to be moved by the appeal of Socrates (ii. 21) for common fairness toward the dead).
10 Or possibly Theodoret, &c., drew a wrong inference from the words of Eustathius (in Thdt. 1,8), and the gramma was not submitted by Eusebius, but produced as evidence against him; in this case it must have been, as Fleury observes, his letter to Paulinus of Tyre.
11 Hort pp. 138, 139, and 59: the changes well classified by Gwatkin, p. 41, cf. Harnack 2, vol 2, p. 227 The main alterations were (1) The elimination of the word logo" and substitution of uio" in the principal place. This struck at the theology of Eusebius even more directly than at that of Arius. (2) The addition not only of omoousion tw patri, but also of toutestin ek th" ousia" tou patro" between monogenh and qeon as a further qualification of gennhqenta (specially against Euseb. Nicom.: see his letter in Thdt. 1,6). (3) Further explanation of gennhqenta by g. ou poihqenta, a glance at a favourite argument of Arius, as well as at Asterius. (4) enanqrwphsanta added to explain sarkwqenta, and so to exclude the Christology which characterised Arianism from the first. (5) Addition of anathematisms directed against all the leading Arian doctrines).
12 The events have been related in what seems to be their most likely order, but there is no real certainty in the matter. It is clear that there were at least two public sittings (Soz. 1,17, the language of Eus). V.C. 3,10, is reconcileable with this) in the emperor’s presence, at the first of which the libelli were burned and the bishops requested to examine the question of faith. This was probably. on June 19. The tearing up of the creed of Eus. Nic. seems from the account of Eustathius to have come immediately before the final adoption of a creed. The creed of Eusebius of Caesarea, which was the basis of that finally adopted, must therefore have been propounded after the failure of his namesake. (Montfaucon and others are clearly wrong in supposing that this was the ‘blasphemy’ which was torn to pieces!) The difficulty is, where to put the dramatic scene of whisperings, nods, winks, and evasions which compelled the bishops to apply a drastic test. I think (with Kölling, &c). that it must have preceded the proposal of Eusebius, upon which the omoousion was quietly insisted on by Constantine; for the latter was the only occasion (profasi") of any modification in the Caesarean Creed, which in itself does not correspond to the tests described infr. p. 163. But Montfaucon and others, followed by Gwatkin, place the scene in question after the proposal of Eus. Caes. and the resolution to modify his creed by the insertion of a stringent test,—in fact at the ‘pause’ of the council before its final resolution, This conflicts with the clear statement of Eusebius that the omoousion was the ‘thin end of the wedge’ which led to the entire recasting of his creed (see (infr. p. 73. The idea of Kölling, p. 208, that the creed of Eusebius was drawn up by him for the occasion, and that the maqhmah of the council was ready beforehand as an alternative document, is refuted by the relation of the two documents; see Hort, pp. 138, 139). It follows, therefore, from the combined accounts of Ath., Euseb. and Eustathius (our only eye-witnesses) that (1) the fathers were practically resolved upon the omoousion before the final sitting. (2) That this resolve was clinched by the creed of Eusebius of Nicomedia. (3) That Eusebius of Caesarea made his proposal when it was too late to think of half-measures. (4) That the creed of Eusebius was modified at the Emperor’s direction (which presupposes the willingness of the Council). (5) That this revision was immediately followed by the signatures and the close of the council. The work of revision, however, shews such signs of attention to detail that we are almost compelled to assume at least one adjournment of the final sitting. When the other business of the council was transacted, including the settlement of the Easter question, the Meletian schism, and the Canons, it is impossible to say. Kaelling suo jure puts them at the first public session. The question must be left open, as must that of the presidency of the council. The conduct of the proceedings was evidently in the hands of Constantine, so that the question of presidency reduces itself to that of identifying the bishop on Constantine’s right who delivered the opening address to the Emperor: this was certainly not Hosius (see (Vit. C. iii. 11, and vol. 1 of this series, p. 19), but may have been Eusebius of Caesarea, who probably after a few words from Eustathius (Thdt). or Alexander (Theod. Mops. and Philost). was entrusted with so congenial a task. The name of Hosius stands first on the extant list of signatures, and he may have signed first, although the lists are bad witnesses. The words of Athanasius sometimes quoted in this connection (p. 256), ‘over what synod did he not; preside?’ must be read in connection with the distinction made by Theodoret in quoting the passage in question (H.E. 2,15) that Hosius ’was very prominent at the great synod of Nicae, and presided over those who assembled at Sardica. This is the only evidence we possess to which any weight can be attached).
13 It is worth noting that the Nicene arrangement was successful in some few cases. See Index to this vol). s.v. Theon (of Nilopolis), &c).