aA
aA
aA
NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine
« Prev The Outbreak of the Arian Controversy. The… Next »

§5. The Outbreak of the Arian Controversy. The Attitude of Eusebius.

About the year 318, while Alexander was bishop of Alexandria, the Arian controversy broke out in that city, and the whole Eastern Church was soon involved in the strife. We cannot enter here into a discussion of Arius’ views; but in order to understand the rapidity with which the Arian party grew, and the strong hold which it possessed from the very start in Syria and Asia Minor, we must remember that Arius was not himself the author of that system which we know as Arianism, but that he learned the essentials of it from his instructor Lucian. The latter was one of the most learned men of his age in the Oriental Church, and founded an exegetico-theological school in Antioch, which for a number of years stood outside of the communion of the orthodox Church in that city, but shortly before the martyrdom of Lucian himself (which took place in 311 or 312) made its peace with the Church, and was recognized by it. He was held in the highest reverence by his disciples, and exerted a great influence over them even after his death. Among them were such men as Arius, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Asterius, and others who were afterward known as staunch Arianists. According to Harnack the chief points in the system of Lucian and his disciples were the creation of the Son, the denial of his co-eternity with the Father, and his immutability acquired by persistent progress and steadfastness. His doctrine, which differed from that of Paul of Samosata chiefly in the fact that it was not a man but a created heavenly being who became “Lord,” was evidently the result of a combination of the teaching of Paul and of Origen. It will be seen that we have here, at least in germ, all the essential elements of Arianism proper: the creation of the Son out of nothing, and consequently the conclusion that there was a time when he was not; the distinction of his essence from that of the Father, but at the same time the emphasis upon the fact that he “was not created as the other creatures,” and is therefore to be sharply distinguished from them. There was little for Arius to do but to combine the elements given by Lucian in a more complete and well-ordered system, and then to bring that system forward clearly and publicly, and endeavor to make it the faith of the Church at large. His christology was essentially opposed to the Alexandrian, and it was natural that he should soon come into conflict with that church, of which he was a presbyter (upon Lucian’s teaching and its relation to Arianism, see Harnack’s Dogmengeschichte, II. p. 183 sq.).

Socrates (H. E. I. 5 sq.), Sozomen (H. E. I. 15) and Theodoret (H. E. I. 2 sq.), all of whom give accounts of the rise of Arianism, differ as to the immediate occasion of the controversy, but agree that Arius was excommunicated by a council convened at Alexandria, and that both he and the bishop Alexander sent letters to other churches, the latter defending his own course, the former complaining of his harsh treatment, and endeavoring to secure adherents to his doctrine. Eusebius of Nicomedia at once became his firm supporter, and was one of the leading figures on the Arian side throughout the entire controversy. His influential position as bishop of Nicomedia, the imperial residence, and later of Constantinople, was of great advantage to the Arian cause, especially toward the close of Constantine’s reign. From a letter addressed by this Eusebius to Paulinus of Tyre (Theodoret, H. E. I. 6) we learn that Eusebius of Cæsarea was quite zealous in behalf of the Arian cause. The exact date of the letter we do not know, but it must have been written at an early stage of the controversy. Arius himself, in an epistle addressed to Eusebius of Nicomedia (Theodoret, H. E. I. 5), claims Eusebius of Cæsarea among others as accepting at least one of his fundamental doctrines (“And since Eusebius, your brother in Cæsarea, and Theodotus, and Paulinus, and Athanasius, and Gregory, and Ætius, and all the bishops of the East say that God existed before the Son, they have been condemned,” etc.). More than this, Sozomen (H. E. I. 15) informs us that Eusebius of Cæsarea and two other bishops, having been appealed to by Arius for “permission for himself and his adherents, as he had already attained the rank of presbyter, to form the people who were with them into a church,” concurred with others “who were assembled in Palestine,” in granting the petition of Arius, and permitting him to assemble the people as before; but they “enjoined submission to Alexander, and commanded Arius to strive incessantly to be restored to peace and communion with him.” The addition of the last sentence is noticeable, as showing that they did not care to support a presbyter in open and persistent rebellion against his bishop. A fragment of a letter written by our Eusebius to Alexander is still extant, and is preserved in the proceedings of the Second Council of Nicæa, Act. VI. Tom. V. (Labbei et Cossartii Conc. VII. col. 497). In this epistle Eusebius strongly remonstrates with Alexander for having misrepresented the views of Arius. Still further, in his epistle to Alexander of Constantinople, Alexander of Alexandria (Theodoret, H. E. I. 4) complains of three Syrian bishops “who side with them [i.e. the Arians] and excite them to plunge deeper and deeper into iniquity.” The reference here is commonly supposed to be to Eusebius of Cæsarea, and his two friends Paulinus of Tyre and Theodotus of Laodicea, who are known to have shown favor to Arius. It is probable, though not certain, that our Eusebius is one of the persons meant. Finally, many of the Fathers (above all Jerome and Photius), and in addition to them the Second Council of Nicæa, directly accuse Eusebius of holding the Arian heresy, as may be seen by examining the testimonies quoted below on p. 67 sq. In agreement with these early Fathers, many modern historians have attacked Eusebius with great severity, and have endeavored to show that the opinion that he was an Arian is supported by his own writings. Among those who have judged him most harshly are Baronius (ad ann. 340, c. 38 sq.), Petavius (Dogm. Theol. de Trin. I. c. 11 sq.), Scaliger (In Elencho Trihæresii, c. 27, and De emendatione temporum, Bk. VI. c. 1), Mosheim (Ecclesiastical History, Murdock’s translation, I. p. 287 sq.), Montfaucon (Prælim. in Comment. ad Psalm. c. VI.), and Tillemont (H. E. VII. p. 67 sq. 2d ed.).

On the other hand, as may be seen from the testimonies in Eusebius’ favor, quoted below on p. 57 sq., many of the Fathers, who were themselves orthodox, looked upon Eusebius as likewise sound on the subject of the Trinity. He has been defended in modern times against the charge of Arianism by a great many prominent scholars; among others by Valesius in his Life of Eusebius, by Bull (Def. Fid. Nic. II. 9. 20, III. 9. 3, 11), Cave (Lives of the Fathers, II. p. 135 sq.), Fabricius (Bibl. Græc. VI. p. 32 sq.), Dupin (Bibl. Eccles. II. p. 7 sq.), and most fully and carefully by Lee in his prolegomena to his edition of Eusebius’ Theophania, p. xxiv. sq. Lightfoot also defends him against the charge of heresy, as do a great many other writers whom it is not necessary to mention here. Confronted with such diversity of opinion, both ancient and modern, what are we to conclude? It is useless to endeavor, as Lee does, to clear Eusebius of all sympathy with and leaning toward Arianism. It is impossible to explain such widespread and continued condemnation of him by acknowledging only that there are many expressions in his works which are in themselves perfectly orthodox but capable of being wrested in such a way as to produce a suspicion of possible Arianistic tendencies, for there are such expressions in the works of multitudes of ancient writers whose orthodoxy has never been questioned. Nor can the widespread belief that he was an Arian be explained by admitting that he was for a time the personal friend of Arius, but denying that he accepted, or in any way sympathized with his views (cf. Newman’s Arians, p. 262). There are in fact certain fragments of epistles extant, which are, to say the least, decidedly Arianistic in their modes of expression, and these must be reckoned with in forming an opinion of Eusebius’ views; for there is no reason to deny, as Lee does, that they are from Eusebius’ own hand. On the other hand, to maintain, with some of the Fathers and many of the moderns, that Eusebius was and continued through life a genuine Arian, will not do in the face of the facts that contemporary and later Fathers were divided as to his orthodoxy, that he was honored highly by the Church of subsequent centuries, except at certain periods, and was even canonized (see Lightfoot’s article, p. 348), that he solemnly signed the Nicene Creed, which contained an express condemnation of the distinctive doctrines of Arius, and finally that at least in his later works he is thoroughly orthodox in his expressions, and is explicit in his rejection of the two main theses of the Arians,—that there was a time when the Son of God was not, and that he was produced out of nothing. It is impossible to enter here into a detailed discussion of such passages in Eusebius’ works as bear upon the subject under dispute. Lee has considered many of them at great length, and the reader may be referred to him for further information.

A careful examination of them will, I believe, serve to convince the candid student that there is a distinction to be drawn between those works written before the rise of Arius, those written between that time and the Council of Nicæa, and those written after the latter. It has been very common to draw a distinction between those works written before and those written after the Council, but no one, so far as I know, has distinguished those productions of Eusebius’ pen which appeared between 318 and 325, and which were caused by the controversy itself, from all his other writings. And yet such a distinction seems to furnish the key to the problem. Eusebius’ opponents have drawn their strongest arguments from the epistles which Eusebius wrote to Alexander and to Euphration; his defenders have drawn their arguments chiefly from the works which he produced subsequent to the year 325; while the exact bearing of the expressions used in his works produced before the controversy broke out has always been a matter of sharp dispute. Lee has abundantly shown his Contra Marcel., his De Eccl. Theol., his Thephania (which was written after the Council of Nicæa, and not, as Lee supposes, before it), and other later works, to be thoroughly orthodox and to contain nothing which a trinitarian might not have written. In his Hist. Eccl., Præparatio Evang., Demonstratio Evang., and other earlier works, although we find some expressions employed which it would not have been possible for an orthodox trinitarian to use after the Council of Nicæa, at least without careful limitation to guard against misapprehension, there is nothing even in these works which requires us to believe that he accepted the doctrines of Arius’ predecessor, Lucian of Antioch; that is, there is nothing distinctly and positively Arianistic about them, although there are occasional expressions which might lead the reader to expect that the writer would become an Arian if he ever learned of Arius’ doctrines. But if there is seen to be a lack of emphasis upon the divinity of the Son, or rather a lack of clearness in the conception of the nature of that divinity, it must be remembered that there was at this time no especial reason for emphasizing and defining it, but there was on the contrary very good reason for laying particular stress upon the subordination of the Son over against Sabellianism, which was so widely prevalent during the third century, and which was exerting an influence even over many orthodox theologians who did not consciously accept Sabellianistic tenets. That Eusebius was a decided subordinationist must be plain to every one that reads his works with care, especially his earlier ones. It would be surprising if he had not been, for he was born at a time when Sabellianism (monarchianism) was felt to be the greatest danger to which orthodox christology was exposed, and he was trained under the influence of the followers of Origen, who had made it one of his chief aims to emphasize the subordination of the Son over against that very monarchianism.11    It is interesting to notice that the creed of the Cæsarean church which Eusebius presented at the Council of Nice contains a clause which certainly looks as if it had been composed in opposition to the familiar formula of the Sabellians: “The same one is the Father, the same one the Son, the same one the Holy Spirit” (τὸν αὐτὸν εἶναι πατέρα, τὸν αὐτὸν εἶναι υἱ& 232·ν, τὸν αὐτὸν εἶναι ἅγιον πνεῦμα; see Epiphan. Hær. LXII. 1; and compare the statement made in the same section, that the Sabellians taught that God acts in three forms: in the form of the Father, as creator and lawgiver; in the form of the Son, as redeemer; and in the form of the Spirit, as life-giver, etc.). The clause of the Cæsarean creed referred to runs as follows: “That the Father is truly Father, the Son truly Son, and the Holy Spirit truly Holy Spirit” (πατέρα ἀληθῶς πατέρα, καὶ υἱ& 232·ν ἀληθῶς υἱ& 232·ν, καὶ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἀληθῶς ἅγιον). It is significant that in the revised creed adopted by the Council these words are omitted, evidently because the occasion for them no longer existed, since not Sabellianism but Arianism was the heresy combated; and because, more than that, the use of them would but weaken the emphasis which the Council wished to put upon the essential divinity of all three persons. The same subordinationism may be clearly seen in the writings of Dionysius of Alexandria and of Gregory Thaumaturgus, two of Origen’s greatest disciples. It must not be forgotten that at the beginning of the fourth century the problem of how to preserve the Godhood of Christ and at the same time his subordination to the Father (in opposition to the monarchianists) had not been solved. Eusebius in his earlier writings shows that he holds both (he cannot be convicted of denying Christ’s divinity), but that he is as far from a solution of the problem, and is just as uncertain in regard to the exact relation of Father and Son, as Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Dionysius, and Gregory Thaumaturgus were; is just as inconsistent in his modes of expression as they, and yet no more so (see Harnack’s Dogmengeschichte, I. pp. 628 sq. and 634 sq., for an exposition of the opinions of these other Fathers on the subject). Eusebius, with the same immature and undeveloped views which were held all through the third century, wrote those earlier works which have given rise to so much dispute between those who accuse him of Arianism and those who defend him against the charge. When he wrote them he was neither Arian nor Athanasian, and for that reason passages may be found in them which if written after the Council of Nicæa might prove him an Arian, and other passages which might as truly prove him an Athanasian, just as in the writings of Origen were found by both parties passages to support their views, and in Gregory Thaumaturgus passages apparently teaching Arianism, and others teaching its opposite, Sabellianism (see Harnack, ib. p. 646).

Let us suppose now that Eusebius, holding fast to the divinity of Christ, and yet convinced just as firmly of his subordination to the Father, becomes acquainted through Arius, or other like-minded disciples of Lucian of Antioch, with a doctrine which seems to preserve the Godhood, while at the same time emphasizing strongly the subordination of the Son, and which formulates the relation of Father and Son in a clear and rational manner. That he should accept such a doctrine eagerly is just what we should expect, and just what we find him doing. In his epistles to Alexander and Euphration, he shows himself an Arian, and Arius and his followers were quite right in claiming him as a supporter. There is that in the epistles which is to be found nowhere in his previous writings, and which distinctly separates him from the orthodox party. How then are we to explain the fact that a few years later he signed the Nicene creed and anathematized the doctrines of Arius? Before we can understand his conduct, it is necessary to examine carefully the two epistles in question. Such an examination will show us that what Eusebius is defending in them is not genuine Arianism. He evidently thinks that it is, evidently supposes that he and Arius are in complete agreement upon the subjects under discussion; but he is mistaken. The extant fragments of the two epistles are given below on p. 70. It will be seen that Eusebius in them defends the Arian doctrine that there was a time when the Son of God was not. It will be seen also that he finds fault with Alexander for representing the Arians as teaching that the “Son of God was made out of nothing, like all creatures,” and contends that Arius teaches that the Son of God was begotten, and that he was not produced like all creatures. We know that the Arians very commonly applied the word “begotten” to Christ, using it in such cases as synonymous with “created,” and thus not implying, as the Athanasians did when they used the word, that he was of one substance with the Father (compare, for instance, the explanation of the meaning of the term given by Eusebius of Nicomedia in his epistle to Paulinus; Theod. H. E. I. 6). It is evident that the use of this word had deceived our Eusebius, and that he was led by it to think that they taught that the Son was of the Father in a peculiar sense, and did in reality partake in some way of essential Godhood. And indeed it is not at all surprising that the words of Arius, in his epistle to Alexander of Alexandria (see Athan. Ep. de conc. Arim. et Seleuc., chap. II. §3; Oxford edition of Athanasius’ Tracts against Arianism, p. 97), quoted by Eusebius in his epistle to the same Alexander, should give Eusebius that impression. The words are as follows: “The God of the law, and of the prophets, and of the New Testament before eternal ages begat an only-begotten Son, through whom also He made the ages and the universe. And He begat him not in appearance, but in truth, and subjected him to his own will, unchangeable and immutable, a perfect creature of God, but not as one of the creatures.” Arius’ use here of the word “begat,” and his qualification of the word “creature” by the adjective “perfect,” and by the statement that he was “not as one of the creatures” naturally tended to make Eusebius think that Arius acknowledged a real divinity of the Son, and that appeared to him to be all that was necessary. Meanwhile Alexander in his epistle to Alexander of Constantinople (Theod. H. E. I. 4) had, as Eusebius says, misstated Arius’ opinion, or at least had attributed to him the belief that Christ was “made like all other men that have ever been born,” whereas Arius expressly disclaims such a belief. Alexander undoubtedly thought that that was the legitimate result to which the other views of Arius must lead; but Eusebius did not think so, and felt himself called upon to remonstrate with Alexander for what seemed to him the latter’s unfairness in the matter.

When we examine the Cæsarean creed22    For a translation of the creed see below, p. 16, where it is given as a part of Eusebius’ epistle to the Church of Cæsarea. which Eusebius presented to the Council as a fair statement of his belief, we find nothing in it inconsistent with the acceptance of the kind of Arianism which he defends in his epistle to Alexander, and which he evidently supposed to be practically the Arianism of Arius himself. In his epistle to Euphration, however, Eusebius seems at first glance to go further and to give up the real divinity of the Son. His words are, “Since the Son is himself God, but not true God.” But we have no right to interpret these words, torn as they are from the context which might make their meaning perfectly plain, without due regard to Eusebius’ belief expressed elsewhere in this epistle, and in his epistle to Alexander which was evidently written about the same time. In the epistle to Alexander he clearly reveals a belief in the real divinity of the Son, while in the other fragment of his epistle to Euphration he dwells upon the subordination of the Son and approves the Arian opinion, which he had defended also in the other epistle, that the “Father was before the Son.” The expression, “not true God” (a very common Arian expression; see Athan. Orat. c. Arian. I. 6) seems therefore to have been used by Eusebius to express a belief, not that the Son did not possess real divinity (as the genuine Arians used it), but that he was not equal to the Father, who, to Eusebius’ thought, was “true God.” He indeed expressly calls the Son θεός, which shows—when the sense in which he elsewhere uses the word is considered—that he certainly did believe him to partake of Godhood, though, in some mysterious way, in a smaller degree, or in a less complete manner than the Father. That Eusebius misunderstood Arius, and did not perceive that he actually denied all real deity to the Son, was due doubtless in part to his lack of theological insight (Eusebius was never a great theologian), in part to his habitual dread of Sabellianism (of which Arius had accused Alexander, and toward which Eusebius evidently thought that the latter was tending), which led him to look with great favor upon the pronounced subordinationism of Arius, and thus to overlook the dangerous extreme to which Arius carried that subordinationism.

We are now, the writer hopes, prepared to admit that Eusebius, after the breaking out of the Arian controversy, became an Arian, as he understood Arianism, and supported that party with considerable vigor; and that not as a result of mere personal friendship, but of theological conviction. At the same time, he was then, as always, a peace-loving man, and while lending Arius his approval and support, he united with other Palestinian bishops in enjoining upon him submission to his bishop (Sozomen, H. E. I. 15). As an Arian, then, and yet possessed with the desire of securing, if it were possible, peace and harmony between the two factions, Eusebius appeared at the Council of Nicæa, and there signed a creed containing Athanasian doctrine and anathematizing the chief tenets of Arius. How are we to explain his conduct? We shall, perhaps, do best to let him explain his own conduct. In his letter to the church of Cæsarea (preserved by Socrates, H. E. I. 8, as well as by other authors), he writes as follows:—

“What was transacted concerning ecclesiastical faith at the Great Council assembled at Nicæa you have probably learned, Beloved, from other sources, rumour being wont to precede the accurate account of what is doing. But lest in such reports the circumstances of the case have been misrepresented, we have been obliged to transmit to you, first, the formula of faith presented by ourselves; and next, the second, which the Fathers put forth with some additions to our words. Our own paper, then, which was read in the presence of our most pious Emperor, and declared to be good and unexceptionable, ran thus:—

“‘As we have received from the Bishops who preceded us, and in our first catechisings, and when we received the Holy Laver, and as we have learned from the divine Scriptures, and as we believed and taught in the presbytery, and in the Episcopate itself, so believing also at the time present, we report to you our faith, and it is this:—

“‘We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God from God, Light from Light, Life from Life, Son Only-begotten, first-born of every creature, before all the ages, begotten from the Father, by whom also all things were made; who for our salvation was made flesh, and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again the third day, and ascended to the Father, and will come again in glory to judge quick and dead. And we believe also in One Holy Ghost; believing each of These to be and to exist, the Father truly Father, and the Son truly Son, and the Holy Ghost truly Holy Ghost, as also our Lord, sending forth His disciples for the preaching, said, Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Concerning whom we confidently affirm that so we hold, and so we think, and so we have held aforetime, and we maintain this faith unto the death, anathematizing every godless heresy. That this we have ever thought from our heart and soul, from the time we recollect ourselves, and now think and say in truth, before God Almighty and our Lord Jesus Christ do we witness, being able by proofs to show and to convince you, that, even in times past, such has been our belief and preaching.’

“On this faith being publicly put forth by us, no room for contradiction appeared; but our most pious Emperor, before any one else, testified that it comprised most orthodox statements. He confessed, moreover, that such were his own sentiments; and he advised all present to agree to it, and to subscribe its articles and to assent to them, with the insertion of the single word, ‘One in substance’ (ὁμοούσιος), which, moreover, he interpreted as not in the sense of the affections of bodies, nor as if the Son subsisted from the Father, in the way of division, or any severance; for that the immaterial and intellectual and incorporeal nature could not be the subject of any corporeal affection, but that it became us to conceive of such things in a divine and ineffable manner. And such were the theological remarks of our most wise and most religious Emperor; but they, with a view to the addition of ‘One in substance,’ drew up the following formula:—

“‘We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:— And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Only-begotten, that is, from the Substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God, begotten, not made, One in substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things in earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, was made man, suffered, and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and cometh to judge quick and dead.

“‘And in the Holy Ghost. But those who say, “Once He was not,” and “Before His generation He was not,” and “He came to be from nothing,” or those who pretend that the Son of God is “Of other subsistence or substance,” or “created,” or “alterable,” or “mutable,” the Catholic Church anathematizes.’

“On their dictating this formula, we did not let it pass without inquiry in what sense they introduced ‘of the substance of the Father,’ and ‘one in substance with the Father.’ Accordingly questions and explanations took place, and the meaning of the words underwent the scrutiny of reason. And they professed that the phrase ‘of the substance’ was indicative of the Son’s being indeed from the Father, yet without being as if a part of Him. And with this understanding we thought good to assent to the sense of such religious doctrine, teaching, as it did, that the Son was from the Father, not, however, a part of His substance. On this account we assented to the sense ourselves, without declining even the term ‘One in substance,’ peace being the object which we set before us, and steadfastness in the orthodox view. In the same way we also admitted ‘begotten, not made’; since the Council alleged that ‘made’ was an appellative common to the other creatures which came to be through the Son, to whom the Son had no likeness. Wherefore, said they, He was not a work resembling the things which through Him came to be, but was of a substance which is too high for the level of any work, and which the Divine oracles teach to have been generated from the Father, the mode of generation being inscrutable and incalculable to every generated nature. And so, too, on examination there are grounds for saying that the Son is ‘one in substance’ with the Father; not in the way of bodies, nor like mortal beings, for He is not such by division of substance, or by severance; no, nor by any affection, or alteration, or changing of the Father’s substance and power (since from all such the ingenerate nature of the Father is alien), but because ‘one in substance with the Father’ suggests that the Son of God bears no resemblance to the generated creatures, but that to His Father alone who begat Him is He in every way assimilated, and that He is not of any other subsistence and substance, but from the Father.

“To which term also, thus interpreted, it appeared well to assent; since we were aware that, even among the ancients, some learned and illustrious Bishops and writers have used the term ‘one in substance’ in their theological teaching concerning the Father and Son. So much, then, be said concerning the faith which was published; to which all of us assented, not without inquiry, but according to the specified senses, mentioned before the most religious Emperor himself, and justified by the fore-mentioned considerations. And as to the anathematism published by them at the end of the Faith, it did not pain us, because it forbade to use words not in Scripture, from which almost all the confusion and disorder of the Church have come. Since, then, no divinely inspired Scripture has used the phrases, ‘out of nothing’ and ‘once He was not,’ and the rest which follow, there appeared no ground for using or teaching them; to which also we assented as a good decision, since it had not been our custom hitherto to use these terms. Moreover, to anathematize ‘Before His generation He was not’ did not seem preposterous, in that it is confessed by all that the Son of God was before the generation according to the flesh. Nay, our most religious Emperor did at the time prove, in a speech, that He was in being even according to His divine generation which is before all ages, since even before he was generated in energy, He was in virtue with the Father ingenerately, the Father being always Father, as King always and Saviour always, having all things in virtue, and being always in the same respects and in the same way. This we have been forced to transmit to you, Beloved, as making clear to you the deliberation of our inquiry and assent, and how reasonably we resisted even to the last minute, as long as we were offended at statements which differed from our own, but received without contention what no longer pained us, as soon as, on a candid examination of the sense of the words, they appeared to us to coincide with what we ourselves have professed in the faith which we have already published.”33    The translation is that of Newman, as given in the Oxford edition of Athanasius’ Select Treatises against Arianism, p. 59 sq.

It will be seen that while the expressions “of the substance of the Father,” “begotten not made,” and “One in substance,” or “consubstantial with the Father,” are all explicitly anti-Arianistic, yet none of them contradicts the doctrines held by Eusebius before the Council, so far as we can learn them from his epistles to Alexander and Euphration and from the Cæsarean creed. His own explanation of those expressions, which it is to be observed was the explanation given by the Council itself, and which therefore he was fully warranted in accepting,—even though it may not have been so rigid as to satisfy an Athanasius,—shows us how this is. He had believed before that the Son partook of the Godhood in very truth, that He was “begotten,” and therefore “not made,” if “made” implied something different from “begotten,” as the Nicene Fathers held that it did; and he had believed before that the “Son of God has no resemblance to created’ things, but is in every respect like the Father only who begat him, and that He is of no other substance or essence than the Father,” and therefore if that was what the word “Consubstantial” (ὁμοούσιος) meant he could not do otherwise than accept that too.

It is clear that the dread of Sabellianism was still before the eyes of Eusebius, and was the cause of his hesitation in assenting to the various changes, especially to the use of the word ὁμοούσιος, which had been a Sabellian word and had been rejected on that account by the Synod of Antioch, at which Paul of Samosata had been condemned some sixty years before.

It still remains to explain Eusebius’ sanction of the anathemas attached to the creed which expressly condemn at least one of the beliefs which he had himself formerly held, viz.: that the “Father was before the Son,” or as he puts it elsewhere, that “He who is begat him who was not.” The knot might of course be simply cut by supposing an act of hypocrisy on his part, but the writer is convinced that such a conclusion does violence to all that we know of Eusebius and of his subsequent treatment of the questions involved in this discussion. It is quite possible to suppose that a real change of opinion on his part took place during the sessions of the Council. Indeed when we realize how imperfect and incorrect a conception of Arianism he had before the Council began, and how clearly its true bearing was there brought out by its enemies, we can see that he could not do otherwise than change; that he must have become either an out-and-out Arian, or an opponent of Arianism as he did. When he learned, and learned for the first time, that Arianism meant the denial of all essential divinity to Christ, and when he saw that it involved the ascription of mutability and of other finite attributes to him, he must either change entirely his views on those points or he must leave the Arian party. To him who with all his subordinationism had laid in all his writings so much stress on the divinity of the Word (even though he had not realized exactly what that divinity involved) it would have been a revolution in his Christian life and faith to have admitted what he now learned that Arianism involved. Sabellianism had been his dread, but now this new fear, which had aroused so large a portion of the Church, seized him too, and he felt that stand must be made against this too great separation of Father and Son, which was leading to dangerous results. Under the pressure of this fear it is not surprising that he should become convinced that the Arian formula—“there was a time when the Son was not”—involved serious consequences, and that Alexander and his followers should have succeeded in pointing out to him its untruth, because it led necessarily to a false conclusion. It is not surprising, moreover, that they should have succeeded in explaining to him at least partially their belief, which, as his epistle to Alexander shows, had before been absolutely incomprehensible, that the Son was generated from all eternity, and that therefore the Father did not exist before him in a temporal sense.

He says toward the close of his epistle to the Cæsarean church that he had not been accustomed to use such expressions as “There was a time when he was not,” “He came to be from nothing,” etc. And there is no reason to doubt that he speaks the truth. Even in his epistles to Alexander and Euphration he does not use those phrases (though he does defend the doctrine taught by the first of them), nor does Arius himself, in the epistle to Alexander upon which Eusebius apparently based his knowledge of the system, use those expressions, although he too teaches the same doctrine. The fact is that in that epistle Arius studiously avoids such favorite Arian phrases as might emphasize the differences between himself and Alexander, and Eusebius seems to have avoided them for the same reason. We conclude then that Eusebius was not an Arian (nor an adherent of Lucian) before 318, that soon after that date he became an Arian in the sense in which he understood Arianism, but that during the Council of Nicæa he ceased to be one in any sense. His writings in later years confirm the course of doctrinal development which we have supposed went on in his mind. He never again defends Arian doctrines in his works, and yet he never becomes an Athanasian in his emphasis upon the ὁμοούσιον. In fact he represents a mild orthodoxy, which is always orthodox—when measured by the Nicene creed as interpreted by the Nicene Council—and yet is always mild. Moreover, he never acquired an affection for the word ὁμοούσιος, which to his mind was bound up with too many evil associations ever to have a pleasant sound to him. He therefore studiously avoided it in his own writings, although clearly showing that he believed fully in what the Nicene Council had explained it to mean. It must be remembered that during many years of his later life he was engaged in controversy with Marcellus, a thorough-going Sabellian, who had been at the time of the Council one of the strongest of Athanasius’ colleagues. In his contest with him it was again anti-Sabellianistic polemics which absorbed him and increased his distaste for ὁμοούσιον and minimized his emphasis upon the distinctively anti-Arianistic doctrines formulated at Nicæa. For any except the very wisest minds it was a matter of enormous difficulty to steer between the two extremes in those times of strife; and while combating Sabellianism not to fall into Arianism, and while combating the latter not to be engulfed in the former. That Eusebius under the constant pressure of the one fell into the other at one time, and was in occasional danger of falling into it again in later years, can hardly be cited as an evidence either of wrong heart or of weak head. An Athanasius he was not, but neither was he an unsteady weather-cock, or an hypocritical time-server.


« Prev The Outbreak of the Arian Controversy. The… Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |