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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 122. The Final Victory of Orthodoxy, and the Council of Constantinople, 381.


Julian the Apostate tolerated all Christian parties, in the hope that they would destroy one another. With this view he recalled the orthodox bishops from exile. Even Athanasius returned, but was soon banished again as an “enemy of the gods,” and recalled by Jovian. Now for a time the strife of the Christians among themselves was silenced in their common warfare against paganism revived. The Arian controversy took its own natural course. The truth regained free play, and the Nicene spirit was permitted to assert its intrinsic power. It gradually achieved the victory; first in the Latin church, which held several orthodox synods in Rome, Milan, and Gaul; then in Egypt and the East, through the wise and energetic administration of Athanasius, and through the eloquence and the writings of the three great Cappadocian bishops Basil, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Gregory of Nyssa.

After the death of Athanasius in 373, Arianism regained dominion for a time in Alexandria, and practised all kinds of violence upon the orthodox.

In Constantinople Gregory Nazianzen labored, from 379, with great success in a small congregation, which alone remained true to the orthodox faith during the Arian rule; and he delivered in a domestic chapel, which he significantly named Anastasia (the church of the Resurrection), those renowned discourses on the deity of Christ which won him the title of the Divine, and with it many persecutions.

The raging fanaticism of the Arian emperor Valens (364–378) against both Semi-Arians and Athanasians wrought an approach of the former party to the latter. His successor, Gratian, was orthodox, and recalled the banished bishops.

Thus the heretical party was already in reality intellectually and morally broken, when the emperor Theodosius I., or the Great, a Spaniard by birth, and educated in the Nicene faith, ascended the throne, and in his long and powerful reign (379–395) externally completed the triumph of orthodoxy in the Roman empire. Soon after his accession he issued, in 380, the celebrated edict, in which he required all his subjects to confess the orthodox faith, and threatened the heretics with punishment. After his entrance into Constantinople he raised Gregory Nazianzen to the patriarchal chair in place of Demophilus (who honestly refused to renounce his heretical conviction), and drove the Arians, after their forty years’ reign, out of all the churches of the capital.

To give these forcible measures the sanction of law, and to restore unity in the church of the whole empire, Theodosius called the second ecumenical council at Constantinople in May, 381. This council, after the exit of the thirty-six Semi-Arian Macedonians or Pneumatomachi, consisted of only a hundred and fifty bishops. The Latin church was not represented at all.13461346   In the earliest Latin translation of the canons of this council, indeed, three Roman legates, Paschasinus, Lucentius, and Bonifacius, are recorded among the signers (in Mansi, t. vi. p. 1176), but from an evident confusion of this council with the fourth ecumenical of 451, which these delegates attended. Comp. Hefele, ii. p. 3 and 393. The assertion of Baronius that in reality pope Damasus summoned the council, rests likewise on a mistake of the first council of Constantinople for the second in 382. Meletius (who died soon after the opening), Gregory Nazianzen, and after his resignation Nectarius of Constantinople, successively presided. This preferment of the patriarch of Constantinople before the patriarch of Alexandria is explained by the third canon of the council, which assigns to the bishop of new Rome the first rank after the bishop of old Rome. The emperor attended the opening of the sessions, and showed the bishops all honor.

At this council no new symbol was framed, but the Nicene Creed, with some unessential changes and an important addition respecting the deity of the Holy Ghost against Macedonianism or Pneumatoinachism, was adopted.13471347   This modification and enlargement of the Nicene Creed seems not to have originated with the second ecumenical council, but to have been current in substance about ten years earlier. For Epiphanius, in his Ancoratus, which was composed in 374, gives two similar creeds, which were then already in use in the East; the shorter one literally agrees with that of Constantinople (c. 119, ed. Migne, tom. iii. p. 231); the longer one (c. 120) is more lengthy on the Holy Ghost; both have the anathema. Hefele, ii. 10, overlooks the shorter and more important form. In this improved form the Nicene Creed has been received, though in the Greek church without the later Latin addition: filioque.

In the seven genuine canons of this council the heresies of the Eunomians or Anomoeans, of the Arians or Eudoxians, of the Semi-Arians or Pneumatomachi, of the Sabellians, Marcellians, and Apollinarians, were condemned, and questions of discipline adjusted.

The emperor ratified the decrees of the council, and as early as July, 381, enacted the law that all churches should be given up to bishops who believed in the equal divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and who stood in church fellowship with certain designated orthodox bishops. The public worship of heretics was forbidden.

Thus Arianism and the kindred errors were forever destroyed in the Roman empire, though kindred opinions continually reappear as isolated cases and in other connections.13481348   John Milton and Isaac Newton cannot properly be termed Arians. Their view of the relation of the Son to the Father was akin to that of Arius, but their spirit and their system of ideas were totally different. Bishop Bull’sgreat work, Defensio fidei Nicaenae, first published 1685, was directed against Socinian and Arian views which obtained in England, but purely with historical arguments drawn from the ante-Nicene fathers. Shortly afterwards the high Arian view was revived and ably defended with exegetical, patristic, and philosophical arguments by Whiston, Whitby, and especially by Dr. Samuel Clarke(died 1729), in his treatise on the “Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity” (1712), which gave rise to a protracted controversy, and to the strongest dialectical defence (though broken and irregular in method) of the Nicene doctrine in the English language by Dr. Waterland. This trinitarian controversy, one of the ablest and most important in the history of English theology, is very briefly and superficially touched in the great works of Dr. Baur (vol. iii. p. 685 ff.) and Dorner (vol. ii. p. 903 ff.); but the defect has been supplied by Prof. Patrick Fairbairnin an Appendix to the English translation of Dorner’s History of Christology, Divis. Secd. vol. iii. p. 337 ff.

But among the different barbarian peoples of the West, especially in Gaul and Spain, who had received Christianity from the Roman empire during the ascendency of Arianism, this doctrine was perpetuated two centuries longer: among the Goths till 587; among the Suevi in Spain till 560; among the Vandals who conquered North Africa in 429 and cruelly persecuted the Catholics, till their expulsion by Belisarius in 530; among the Burgundians till their incorporation in the Frank empire in 534, and among the Longobards till the close of the sixth century. These barbarians, however, held Arianism rather through accident than from conviction, and scarcely knew the difference between it and the orthodox doctrine. Alaric, the first conqueror of Rome; Genseric, the conqueror of North Africa; Theodoric the Great, king of Italy and hero of the Niebelungen Lied, were Arians. The first Teutonic translation of the Bible came from the Arian missionary Ulfilas.



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