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   Chapter 8 The Church And Empire Under Constantine

A Source Book for Ancient Church History By Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr., Ph.D. Characters: 39938

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Constantine was the heir to the political system of Diocletian. The same line of development was followed by him [pg 277] and his sons, and with increasing severity the burden pressed upon the people. But the Church, which had been fiercely persecuted by Diocletian and Galerius, became the object of imperial favor under Constantine. At the same time in many parts of the Empire, especially in the West, the heathen religion was rooted in the affections of the people and everywhere it was bound up with the forms of state. The new problems that confronted Constantine on his accession to sole authority in the West, and still more when he became sole Emperor, were of an ecclesiastical rather than a civil character. In the administration of the Empire he followed the lines laid down by Diocletian (§ 58). But in favoring the Church he had to avoid alienating the heathen majority. This he did by gradually and cautiously extending to the Church privileges which the heathen religion had enjoyed (§ 59), and with the utmost caution repressing those elements in heathenism which might be plausibly construed as inimical to the new order in the state (§ 60). At the same time, Constantine found in the application of his policy to actual conditions that he could not favor every religious sect that assumed the name of Christian. He must distinguish between claimants of his bounty. He must also bring about a unity in the Church where it had been threatened (§ 61), and repress what might lead to schism. Accordingly he found himself, immediately after his accession to sole authority, engaged in ecclesiastical discussions and adjudicating by councils ecclesiastical cases (§ 62).

§ 58. The Empire under Constantine and His Sons

Constantine became sole Emperor of the West, 312, and by the defeat of Licinius, July 23, 324, sole ruler of the entire Roman Empire. On his death, May 22, 337, his three sons divided between them the imperial dignity: Constantine II (337-340), taking Gaul, Spain, and Britain; Constans (337-350), Italy, Africa, and Illyria, and in 340 receiving the share [pg 278] of Constantine II; Constantius (337-361), taking the East, including Egypt. Of these three the ablest was Constantius who, after the renewed Persian war (337-350), became, on the death of Constans, sole Emperor. Although the imperial authority was divided and the ecclesiastical policy of each Emperor followed the religious condition and theological complexion of his respective portion of the Empire, the social conditions were everywhere much the same. There were under Constantine and also under his sons the continuation of that centralization which had already been carried far by Diocletian, the same court ceremonial and all that went with it, and the development of the bureaucratic system of administration. The economic conditions steadily declined as the imperial system became constantly more burdensome (v. supra, § 55), and the changes in the distribution of wealth and the administration of landed property affected disastrously large sections of the populace. A characteristic feature of Roman society, which affected the position of the Church not a little, was the tendency to regard callings and trades as hereditary, and by the fourth century this was enforced by law. The aim of this legislation was to provide workmen to care for the great public undertakings for the support of the populace of the cities and for the maintenance of the public business. This policy affected both the humble artisan and the citizen of curial rank. The former, although given various privileges, was crushed down by being obliged to continue in what was often an unprofitable occupation; the latter was made responsible for the taxes and various public burdens which custom, gradually becoming law, laid upon him. Constant attempt was made by great numbers to escape these burdens and disabilities by recourse to other occupations, and especially to the Christian ministry with its immunities (see § 59, c). Constant legislation endeavored to prevent this and restore men to their hereditary places. The following extracts from the Theodosian Code are enactments of Constantine, and are intended to illustrate the condition, [pg 279] under that Emperor, of the law as to hereditary occupations and guilds, and the position of the curiales, so as to explain the law as to admission to the priesthood.

(a) Codex Theodosianus, XIII, 5, 1; A. D. 314.

The Theodosian Code was a collection of law made at the command of Theodosius II, A. D. 438. See § 80. It was intended to comprise all the laws of general application made since the accession of Constantine and arranged under appropriate titles.

If a shipman shall have been originally a lighterman, none the less he shall remain permanently among those among whom it shall appear that his parents had been.

(b) Codex Theodosianus, XIII, 5, 3; A. D. 319.

If any shipman shall have obtained surreptitiously or in any other way immunity, it is our will that he be not at all admitted to plead any exemption. But also if any one possess a patrimony liable to the duties of a shipman, although he may be of higher dignity, the privileges of honor shall be of no avail to him in this matter, but let him be held to this duty either by the whole or in proportion. For it is not just that when a patrimony liable to this public duty has been excused all should not bear the common burden in proportion to ability.

(c) Codex Theodosianus, XIV, 4, 1; A. D. 334.

Because the guild of swineherds has fallen off to but few, we command that they plead in the presence of the Roman people, for the defence should be made to them for whom the burden was established.… Therefore let them know that the personal property of the swineherds is liable to public burdens and let them choose one of two courses: either let them retain the property which is liable to the functions of swineherd, and let themselves be held to the duty of swineherd, or let them name some suitable person whom they will, who shall satisfy the same requirement. For we suffer no one to be exempt from the obligation of this thing, but whether they [pg 280] have advanced in honors, or by some fraud have escaped, we command that they be brought back and the same thing performed, the Roman people being present and witnessing, and we are to be consulted, that we may take note of those who make use of these shifts; as for further avoidance of public duties, it is by no means to be granted any, but he who shall have been able to escape shall run danger of his safety, the privilege having been taken away from him.

(d) Codex Theodosianus, XII, 1, 11; A. D. 325.

The following laws illustrate the attempts of the curiales to escape their burdens.

Because some have forsaken the curi? and have fled to the camps of the soldiery, we prescribe that all who shall be found not yet indebted to the chief centurion, are to be dismissed from the soldiery and returned to the same curi?; those only are to remain among the soldiery who are retained on account of the necessities of the place or the troop.

(e) Codex Theodosianus, XII, 1, 12; A. D. 325.

If any one belongs in a larger or smaller town and desiring to avoid the same, betakes himself to another for the sake of dwelling there, and shall have attempted to make petitions concerning this or shall have relied upon any sort of fraud that he may escape the birth from his own city, let him bear the burden of the decurionate of both cities, of one because it was his choice, of the other because of his birth.

(f) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 2, 3, cf. XVI, 2, 6; A. D. 326.

Since a constitution that has been issued prescribes that thereafter no decurion nor child of a decurion or person with suitable wealth and able to support the public burdens shall have recourse to the name and duties of the clergy, but only those shall be called to the place of the deceased who are of small fortune and are not held liable to civil burdens, we have learned that some have been molested, who before the promulgation [pg 281] of the said law had joined themselves to the company of the priests. Therefore we decree that these shall be free from all annoyance, but those who after the promulgation of the law, to avoid their public duties took recourse to the number of the clergy, shall be separated from that body and restored to their curial rank and made liable for their civil duties.

§ 59. Favor Shown the Church by Constantine

Neither on his conversion nor on his attainment of the sole rule of the Empire did Constantine establish the Church as the one official religion of the State. The ruler himself professed the Christian religion and neither abolished the former religion of the State nor disestablished it. But he granted to his own religion favors similar to those enjoyed by the heathen religious systems (a-d), though these privileges were only for the Catholic Church, and not for heretics (e); and he passed such laws as would make it possible for Christians to carry out their religious practices, e.g., that Christians should not be compelled to sacrifice when the laws prescribed sacrifices (f), that Sunday be observed (g), and that celibacy might be practised (h).

Additional source material: Eusebius, Vita Constantini (PNF, ser. II, vol. I), II, 24-42. 46; IV, 18-28. Sozomen, Hist. Ec. (PNF, ser. II, vol. II), I, 9.

(a) Constantine, Ep. ad C?cilianum, in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., X, 6. (MSG, 20:892.)

The probable date of this epistle is A. D. 313, though there is uncertainty. Text in Kirch, nn. 323 f.

Constantine Augustus to C?cilianus, Bishop of Carthage. Since it is our pleasure that something should be granted in all the provinces, namely, Africa and Numidia and Mauritania, to certain ministers of the legitimate and most holy Catholic religion, to defray their expenses, I have given written [pg 282] instructions to Ursus, the illustrious finance minister of Africa, and have directed him to make provision to pay to thy firmness three thousand folles.95 Do thou, therefore, when thou hast received the above sum of money, command that it be distributed among all those mentioned above, according to the brief sent unto thee by Hosius. But if thou shouldest find that anything is wanting for the fulfilment of this my purpose in regard to all of them, thou shalt demand without hesitation from Heracleides, our treasurer, whatever thou findest to be necessary. For I commanded him, when he was present, that if thy firmness should ask him for any money, he should see to it that it be paid without any delay. And since I have learned that some men of unsettled mind wish to turn the people from the most holy and Catholic Church by a certain method of shameful corruption, do thou know that I gave command to Anulinus, the proconsul, and also to Patricius, vicar of the prefects, when they were present, that they should give proper attention not only to other matters, but also, above all, to this, and that they should not overlook such a thing when it happened. Wherefore if thou shouldest see any such men continuing in this madness, do thou without delay go to the above-mentioned judges and report the matter to them; that they may correct them as I commanded them when they were present. The divinity of the great God preserve thee many years.

(b) Constantine, Ep. ad Anulinum, in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., X, 7. (MSG, 20:893.)

The following epistle, of the same year as the preceding to C?cilianus, is the basis of exemptions of the clergy from public duties. The extension of these exemptions was made by the decree of 319, given below. Text in Kirch, n. 325.

Greeting to thee, our most esteemed Anulinus. Since it appears from many circumstances that when that religion is despised in which is preserved the chief reverence for the most [pg 283] celestial Power, great dangers are brought upon public affairs; but that when legally adopted and observed it affords most signal prosperity to the Roman name and remarkable felicity to all the affairs of men, through the divine beneficence, it seemed good to me, most esteemed Anulinus, that those men who give their services with due sanctity and with constant observance of this law to the worship of the divine religion should receive recompense for their labors. Wherefore it is my will that those within the province intrusted to thee, in the Catholic Church over which C?cilianus presides, who give their services to this holy religion, and who are commonly called clergymen, be entirely exempted from all public duties, that by any error or sacrilegious negligence they may not be drawn away from the service due to the Deity, but may devote themselves without any hindrance to their own law. For it seems that when they show greatest reverence to the Deity the greatest benefits accrue to the State. Farewell, our most esteemed and beloved Anulinus.

(c) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 2, 2; A. D. 319.

By the following law the exemption of the clergy from public burdens was made universal. As many availed themselves of the clerical immunities to escape their burdens as curiales, a law was soon afterward passed limiting access to the ministry to those in humbler social position. V. supra, § 58 f.

Those who in divine worship perform the services of religion-that is, those who are called clergy-are altogether exempt from public obligations, so that they may not be called away from their sacred duties by the sacrilegious malice of certain persons.

(d) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 2, 4; A. D. 321.

The Church is hereby permitted to receive legacies. This was a recognition of its corporate character in the law, and indirectly its act of incorporation.

Every one has permission to leave when he is dying whatsoever goods he wishes to the most holy Catholic Church.…

[pg 284]

(e) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 5, 1; A. D. 326.

Privileges were granted only to the clergy of the Catholic or great Church as distinguished from heretics and schismatics. The State was, accordingly, forced by its exemptions and privileges granted the Church to take up a position as to heresy and schism. See for Constantine's policy toward heresy, Eusebius, Vita Constantini, III. 64 ff. (PNF, ser. II, vol. I.)

Privileges which have been bestowed in consideration of religion ought to be of advantage only to those who observe the Catholic law. It is our will that heathen and schismatics be not only without the privileges but bound by, and subject to, various political burdens.

(f) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 2, 5; A. D. 323.

This and the following laws were passed to enable the Christians to escape from disadvantages in the carrying out of their religion. This law, that Christians should not be compelled to sacrifice, was enacted just before the final encounter with Licinius.

Because we have heard that ecclesiastics and others belonging to the Catholic religion are compelled by men of different religions to celebrate the sacrifices of the lustrum, we, by this decree, do ordain that if any one believes that those who observe the most sacred law ought to be compelled to take part in the rites of a strange superstition, let him, if his condition permits, be beaten with staves, but if his rank exempts him from such rigor, let him endure the condemnation of a very heavy fine, which shall fall to the State.

(g) Codex Justinianus; III, 12, 3; A. D. 321. Cf. Kirch, n. 748.

Sunday is to be observed.

For the Justinian Code see below, § 94, Introduction.

All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon the venerable Day of the Sun. Country people, however, may freely attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other days are better adapted for [pg 285] planting the grain in the furrows or the vines in trenches. So that the advantage given by heavenly providence may not for the occasion of a short time perish.

(h) Codex Theodosianus. VIII, 16, 1. Cf. Kirch, n. 750.

Celibacy was favored by the Church. By the Lex Julia et Papia Poppea it had been forbidden under a fine and loss of rights under wills. Childless marriages also rendered the parties liable to disabilities.

Those who are held as celibates by the ancient law are freed from the threatened terrors of the laws, and let them so live as if by the compact of marriage they were among the number of married men, and let all have an equal standing as to taking what each one deserves. Neither let any one be held childless; and let them not suffer the penalties set for this. The same thing we hold regarding women, and freely to all we loose from their necks the commands which the law placed upon them as a certain yoke. But there is no application of this benefit to husbands and wives as regards each other, whose deceitful wiles are often scarcely restrained by the appointed rigor of the law, but let the pristine authority of the law continue between such persons.

§ 60. The Repression of Heathenism under Constantine

Constantine's religious policy in respect to heathenism may have been from the first to establish Christianity as the sole religion of the Empire and to put down heathenism. If so, in the execution of that policy he proceeded with great caution, especially in the period before his victory over Licinius. It looks at times as if for a while he aimed at a parity of religions. Certain is the fact that only as conditions became more favorable to active measures of repression he increased the severity of his laws against what was of doubtful legality in heathenism, though he was statesman enough to recognize the difference in the religious conditions between the East and the West, especially as to the hold which Christianity had upon the mass of the people. While his measures in the East [pg 286] became constantly harsher, in the West he tolerated heathenism. The commonly received theory is that Constantine changed his policy. All the facts can be as easily understood on the hypothesis that as a statesman he had constant regard to the advisability of drastic execution of a policy which he in theory accepted and would have carried out in its entirety everywhere if he had been able.

Additional source material: Eusebius, Vita Constantini (PNF), II. 44 f., 47 f., 54 ff.

(a) Codex Theodosianus, IX, 16, 2; A. D. 319.

Private sacrifices forbidden.

Haruspices and priests and those accustomed to serve this rite we forbid to enter any private house, or under the pretence of friendship to cross the threshold of another, under the penalty established against them if they contemn the law.96 But those of you who regard this rite, approach the public altars and shrines and celebrate the solemnities of your custom; for we do not indeed prohibit the duties of the old usage to be performed in broad daylight.

(b) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 10, 1; A. D. 320-321.

Haruspicia in certain circumstances to be observed.

If any part of our palace or other public buildings should be struck by lightning let the custom be retained of the ancient observance as to what it signifies, and let it be examined by the haruspices and very carefully written down, collected, and brought to our attention; to others also the permission of practising this custom is conceded, provided they refrain from domestic sacrifices, which are expressly forbidden.

(c) Codex Theodosianus. XV, 1, 3; A. D. 326.

Unfinished heathen temples need not be completed.

We direct that the judges of the provinces be warned not to give orders for any new work before they complete the buildings [pg 287] left incomplete by their predecessors, the erection of temples only being excepted.

§ 61. The Donatist Schism under Constantine

The Donatist schism arose in connection with the Diocletian persecution, in part over the policy of Mensurius of Carthage regarding t

he fanatical desire for martyrdom and the delivery of the sacred books according to the edict of persecution. Combined with this were the personal ambitions of the Archdeacon C?cilianus, the offended dignity of the Primas of Numidia, Bishop Secundus of Tigisi, and the pique of a wealthy female devotee, Lucilla. It was mixed up with the customs of the North African church, whereby the Primas of Numidia exercised a leading authority in the conduct of the election of the bishop of Carthage, and also with the notion prevalent in the same church, for which also Cyprian contended in the controversy on the baptism of heretics [see § 52], that the validity of a sacrament depended in some way upon the personal character of the minister of that sacrament. It was asserted by the partisans of Secundus, who elected Majorinus bishop of Carthage, that Felix of Aptunga, the consecrator of C?cilianus, who had been elected by the other party, had delivered the sacred books to the heathen officials, and was therefore guilty as a traditor. A schism, accordingly, arose in Carthage which spread rapidly throughout North Africa. The party of Majorinus soon came under the lead of Donatus the Great, his successor in the schismatical see of Carthage. The Donatist schism became of importance almost at once, and as it was inconsistent with Constantine's religious policy, which called for Church unity,97 it presented an immediate difficulty in the execution of laws granting favors to the Catholic Church.98 On account of the interests involved, the schism was of long duration, lasting after the conquest of North Africa by the Vandals, and [pg 288] even to the Saracen conquest, though long since of no importance.

Anulinus. Ep. ad Constantinum, in Augustine, Ep. 88. (MSG, 33:303.)

To Constantine Augustus from Anulinus, a man of proconsular rank, proconsul of Africa.

The welcome and adored celestial writings sent by your Majesty to C?cilianus, and those who act under him and are called clergy, I have devoutly taken care to record in the archives of my humility, and have exhorted those parties that when unity has been made by the consent of all, since they are seen to be exempt from all other burdens by your Majesty's clemency, and having preserved the Catholic unity, they should devote themselves to their duties with the reverence due the sanctity of the law and to divine things. After a few days, however, there arose some, to whom a crowd of people joined themselves, who thought that proceedings should be taken against C?cilianus and presented me a sealed packet wrapped in leather and a small document without seal, and earnestly requested that I should transmit them to the sacred and venerable court of your divinity, which your Majesty's most humble servant has taken care to do, C?cilianus continuing meanwhile as he was. The acts pertaining to the case have been subjoined, in order that your Majesty may be able to make a decision concerning the whole matter. I have sent two documents, one in a leathern envelope entitled "A Document of the Catholic Church, the Charges against C?cilianus, Furnished by the Party of Majorinus"; the other attached without a seal to the same leathern envelope. Given on the 17th day before the calends of May, in the third consulship of our Lord Constantine Augustus [April 15, 313].

[pg 289]

§ 62. Constantine's Endeavors to Bring about the Unity of the Church by Means of General Synods: The Councils of Arles and Nic?a

One of the intentions of Constantine in his support of Christianity seems to have been the employment of the Christian religion as a basis for imperial unity. The policy of several earlier emperors in reviving heathenism, and Galerius in his persecution of the Christians, seems likewise to have been to use religion as a basis of unity. One of the first tasks Constantine encountered after he became sole ruler of the West was to restore the unity of the Church in Africa, which had been endangered by the disputes culminating in the Donatist schism; and when he became sole ruler of the Empire a new task of a similar character was to restore unity to the Church of the East, endangered by the Meletian schism in Egypt [v. supra, § 57, a], the Arian controversy in its first stage [v. infra, § 63], and the estrangement of the Asia Minor churches, due to the Easter controversy [v. supra, § 38]. It was a master-stroke of policy on the part of Constantine to use the Church's conciliar system on an enlarged scale to bring about this unity. The Church was made to feel that the decision was its own and to be obeyed for religious reasons; at the same time the Emperor was able to direct the thought and action of the assembly in matters of consequence and to give to conciliar action legal and coercive effect. The two great assemblies summoned to meet the problems of the West and of the East were respectively the Councils of Arles, A. D. 314, and of Nic?a, A. D. 325.

I. The Council of Arles A. D. 314

(a) Constantine, Convocatio concilii Arelatensis, in Eusebius, Hist. Ec., X, 5. (MSG, 20 :888.) Cf. Kirch, nn. 321 f.; Mirbt, nn. 89, 93-97.

For the Council of Arles, see Hefele, §§ 14, 15.

[pg 290] Constantine Augustus to Chrestus, Bishop of Syracuse. When some began wickedly and perversely to disagree among themselves in regard to the holy worship and the celestial power and Catholic doctrine, I, wishing to put an end to such disputes among them, formerly gave command that certain bishops should be sent from Gaul, and that the opposing parties, who were contending persistently and incessantly with each other, should be summoned from Africa; that in their presence and in the presence of the bishop of Rome the matter which appeared to be causing the disturbance might be examined and decided with all care. But since, as it happens, some, forgetful both of their own salvation and of the reverence due to the most holy religion, do not even yet bring hostilities to an end, and are unwilling to conform to the judgment already passed, and assert that those who expressed their opinions and decisions were few, or that they had been too hasty and precipitate in giving judgment, before all the things which ought to have been accurately investigated had been examined-on account of all this it has happened that those very ones who ought to hold brotherly and harmonious relations toward each other are shamefully, or rather abominably, divided among themselves, and give occasion for ridicule to those men whose souls are alien as to this most holy religion. Wherefore it has seemed necessary to me to provide that this dissension, which ought to have ceased after the judgment had been already given, by their own voluntary agreement, should now, if possible, be brought to an end by the presence of many. Since, therefore, we have commanded a number of bishops from a great many different places to assemble in the city of Arles, before the calends of August, we have thought proper to write to thee also that thou shouldest secure from the most illustrious Latronianus, Corrector of Sicily, a public vehicle, and that thou shouldest take with thee two others of the second rank whom thou thyself shalt choose, together with three servants, who may serve you on the way, and betake thyself to the above-mentioned place before the appointed day; that by thy firmness and by the [pg 291] wise unanimity and harmony of the others present, this dispute, which has disgracefully continued until the present time, in consequence of certain shameful strifes, after all has been heard, which those have to say who are now at variance with one another, and whom we have likewise commanded to be present, may be settled in accordance with the proper faith, and that brotherly harmony, though it be but gradual, may be restored. May Almighty God preserve thee in health many years.

(b) Synodal Epistle addressed to Sylvester, Bishop of Rome, Bruns, II, 107. Cf. Kirch, nn. 330-337.

The following extracts give the canons of most importance in the history of the times. The exact wording of the canons has not been retained in the letter, which is the only record extant of the action of the council. The text from which the following is translated is that given by the monks of St. Maur in their Collectio Conciliorum Galli?, reprinted by Hefele, § 15, and Bruns, Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum, II, 107 ff. It is to be preferred to the text of Mansi and the older collections.

The first canon settled for the West the long-standing question as to the date of Easter. The Roman custom as to the day of the week and computation of the time of year should be followed everywhere; the same decision was reached at Nic?a for the East (v. § 62, II, a). As a matter of fact, however, the computation customary at Alexandria eventually prevailed as the more accurate.

The eighth and thirteenth canons touch upon North African disputes. The former overrules the contention of Cyprian and his colleagues, that heretical or schismatical baptisms were invalid. It also laid down a principle by which Novatianism stood condemned. The thirteenth applied a similar principle to ordination; the crimes of the bishop who gave the ordination should not invalidate the ordination of a suitable person, as was claimed in the case of the ordination of C?cilianus by Felix of Aptunga, accused as a traditor; further it ruled out the complaints against Felix until more substantial proof be brought, the official documents that he had made the tradition required by the edict of persecution.

Marinus and the assembly of bishops, who have come together in the town of Arles, to the most holy lord and brother Sylvester. What we have decreed with general consent we signify to your charity that all may know what ought to be observed in the future.

[pg 292] 1. In the first place, concerning the observation of the Lord's Easter, we have determined that it be observed on one day and at one time throughout the world by us, and that you send letters according to custom to all.

8. Concerning the Africans, because they make use of their own law, to the effect that they rebaptize, we have determined that if any one should come from heresy to the Church they should ask him the creed; and if they should perceive that he had been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, hands only should be laid upon him that he might receive the Holy Ghost. That if when asked he should not reply this Trinity, let him be baptized.

9. Concerning those who bring letters of the confessors, it pleased us that these letters having been taken away, they should receive other letters of communion.

13. Concerning those who are said to have given up the Holy Scriptures or the vessels of the Lord or the name of their brethren, it has pleased us whoever of them shall have been convicted by public documents and not by mere words, should be removed from the clerical order; though if the same have been found to have ordained any, and those whom they have ordained are worthy, it shall not render their ordination invalid. And because there are many who are seen to oppose the law of the Church and think that they ought to be admitted to bring accusation by hired witnesses, they are by no means to be admitted, except, as we have said above, they can prove their accusations by public documents.

II. The Council of Nic?a

For the Council of Nic?a, see Hefele, §§ 18-44. All church histories give large space to the Council of Nic?a. V. infra, §§ 63 ff., 72, a.

(a) Council of Nic?a, 325. Synodical Letter, Socrates, Hist. Ec. I, 9. (MSG, 67 :77.) Text in Kirch, nn. 369 ff.; Mirbt, n. 107.

[pg 293] To the holy and, by the grace of God, great Church of the Alexandrians, and to our beloved brethren throughout Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, the bishops assembled at Nic?a constituting the great and holy synod, send greetings in the Lord.

Since by the grace of God, a great and holy synod has been convened at Nic?a, our most pious sovereign Constantine having summoned us out of various cities and provinces for that purpose, it appeared to us indispensably necessary that a letter should be written also to you on the part of the sacred synod; in order that you may know what subjects were brought under consideration, what rigidly investigated, and also what was eventually determined on and decreed. In the first place, the impiety and guilt of Arius and his adherents were examined into, in the presence of our most pious Emperor Constantine: and it was unanimously decided that his impious opinion be anathematized, with all the blasphemous expressions and terms he has blasphemously uttered, affirming that the Son of God sprang from nothing, and that there was a time when He was not; saying, moreover, that the Son of God was possessed of a free will, so as to be capable either of vice or virtue; and calling Him a creature and a work. All these the holy synod has anathematized, having scarcely patience to endure the hearing of such an impious or, rather, bewildered opinion, and such abominable blasphemies. But the conclusion of our proceedings against him you must either have heard or will hear; for we would not seem to trample on a man who has received the chastisement which his crime deserved. Yet so strong is his impiety as to involve Theonas, Bishop of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemais; for they have suffered the same condemnation as himself. But the grace of God freed us from this false doctrine, impiety, and blasphemy, and from those persons who have dared to cause discord and division among the people previously at peace; and there still remained the contumacy of Meletius to be dealt with, and those who had been ordained by him; and we shall now state to you, beloved [pg 294] brethren, what resolution the synod came to on this point. Acting with more clemency toward Meletius, although, strictly speaking, he was wholly undeserving of favor, the council permitted him to remain in his own city, but decreed that he should exercise no authority either to ordain or nominate for ordination; and that he should appear in no other district or city on this pretence, but simply retain a nominal dignity; that those who had received appointments from him, after having been confirmed by a more legitimate ordination, should be admitted to communion on these conditions: that they should continue to hold their rank and ministry, but regard themselves as inferior in every respect to all those who had been previously ordained and established in each place and church by our most honored fellow-minister Alexander. In addition to these things, they shall have no authority to propose or nominate whom they please, or to do anything at all without the concurrence of a bishop of the Catholic Church, who is one of Alexander's suffragans. Let such as by the grace of God and your prayers have been found in no schism, but have continued in the Catholic Church blameless, have authority to nominate and ordain those who are worthy of the sacred office, and to act in all things according to ecclesiastical law and usage. Whenever it may happen that any of those placed in the Church die, then let such as have been recently admitted into orders be advanced to the dignity of the deceased, provided that they appear worthy, and that the people should elect them, and the bishop of Alexandria confirm their choice. This is conceded to all the others, indeed, but as for Meletius personally we by no means grant the same, on account of his formerly disorderly conduct; and because of the rashness and levity of his character he is deprived of all authority and jurisdiction, as a man liable again to create similar disturbances. These are things which specially affect Egypt and the most holy Church of the Alexandrians; and if any other canon or ordinance should be established, our lord and most honored fellow-minister and [pg 295] brother Alexander being present with us, will on his return to you enter into more minute details, inasmuch as he is not only a participator in whatever is transacted, but has the principal direction of it. We have also to announce the good news to you concerning the unanimity as to the holy feast of Easter: that this by your prayers has been settled so that all the brethren in the East, who have hitherto kept this festival with the Jews, will henceforth conform to the Romans and to us, and to all who from the earliest times have observed our period of celebrating Easter. Rejoicing, therefore, on account of a favorable termination of matters and in the extirpation of all heresy, receive with the greater honor and more abundant love our fellow-minister and your bishop, Alexander, who has greatly delighted us by his presence, and even at his advanced age has undergone extraordinary exertions in order that peace might be re-established among you. Pray on behalf of us all, that the decisions to which we have so justly come may be inviolably maintained through Almighty God and our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit to whom be glory forever. Amen.

(b) Council of Nic?a, Canon 8, On the Novatians, Bruns. I, 8.

The Church recognized the substantial orthodoxy of the Novatians, and according to the principles laid down at Arles (cc. 8, 13, § 62 I, b) the ordination of the Novatians was regarded as valid. The following canon, although a generous concession on the part of the Church, did not bring about a healing of the schism which lasted several centuries. The last mention of the Novatians is contained in the 95th canon of the second Trullan Council, known as the Quinisext, A. D. 692.

Canon 8. Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, who come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are among the clergy. But before all things it is necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the teachings of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; that is, that they will communicate with [pg 296] those who have been twice married and with those who have lapsed during the persecution, and upon whom a period of penance has been laid and a time for restoration fixed; so that in all things they will follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. Wheresoever, then, whether in villages or in cities, only these are found who have been ordained, let them remain as found among the clergy and in the same rank. But if any come over where there is a bishop or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the bishop of the Church must have the dignity of a bishop, and he who was named bishop by those who are called Cathari shall have the honor of a presbyter, unless it seem fit to the bishop to share with him the honor of the title. But if this should not seem good to him, then shall the bishop provide for him a place as chorepiscopus, or as presbyter, in order that he may be evidently seen to be of the clergy, and that in one city there may not be two bishops.

(c) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 5, 2; A. D. 326.

With the generous treatment of the Novatians by the Council of Nic?a should be compared the mild and generous treatment of Constantine, who distinguished them from other heretics.

We have not learned that the Novatians have been so condemned that we believe that to them should not be granted what they claim. Therefore we prescribe as to the buildings of their churches and places suitable for burial that they are to possess, without any molestation, those buildings and lands, namely, which on ground of long possession or from purchase or claim for any sound reason they may have. It will be well looked out for that they attempt to claim nothing for themselves of those things which before their secession belonged evidently to the churches of perpetual sanctity.

[pg 297]

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