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NPNF2-02. Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories
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Chapter XXXV.—Of Aëtius the Syrian, Teacher of Eunomius.

At Antioch in Syria another heresiarch sprang up, Aëtius, surnamed Atheus. He agreed in doctrine with Arius, and maintained the same opinions: but separated himself from the Arian party because they had admitted Arius into communion. For Arius, as I have before related,386386    I. 26. entertaining one opinion in his heart, professed another with his lips; having hypocritically assented to and subscribed the form of faith set forth at the council of Nicæa, in order to deceive the reigning emperor. On this account, therefore, Aëtius separated himself from the Arians. He had, however, previously been a heretic, and a zealous advocate of Arian views. After receiving some very scanty instruction at Alexandria, he departed thence, and arrived at Antioch in Syria, which was his native place, was ordained deacon by Leontius, who was then bishop of that city. Upon this he began to astonish those who conversed with him by the singularity of his discourses. And this he did in dependence on the precepts of Aristotle’s Categories; there is a book of that name, the scope of which he neither himself perceived, nor had been enlightened on by intercourse with learned persons: so that he was little aware that he was framing fallacious arguments to perplex and deceive himself. For Aristotle had composed this work to exercise the ingenuity of his young disciples, and to confound by subtle arguments the sophists who affected to deride philosophy. Wherefore the Ephectic academicians,387387    Diogenes Laertius, Proem. XI (16), says: ‘Philosophers were generally divided into two classes,—the dogmatics, who spoke of things as they might be comprehended; and the ephectics, who refused to define anything, and disputed so as to make the understanding of them impossible.’ The word ‘ephectic’ is derived from the verb ἐπέχω, ‘to hold back,’ and was used by the philosophers to whom it is applied as a title because they claimed to hold back their judgment, being unable to reach a conclusion. Cf. also the name ‘skeptic,’ from σκέπτομαι . See Zeller, Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics, p. 525. who expound the writings of Plato and Plotinus, censure the vain subtlety which Aristotle has displayed in that book: but Aëtius, who never had the advantage of an academical preceptor, adhered to the sophisms of the Categories. For this reason he was unable to comprehend how there could be generation without a beginning, and how that which was begotten can be co-eternal with him who begat. In fact, Aëtius was a man of so superficial attainments, and so little acquainted with the sacred Scriptures, and so extremely fond of caviling, a thing which any clown might do, that he had never carefully studied those ancient writers who have interpreted the Christian oracles; wholly rejecting Clemens and Africanus and Origen, men eminent for their information in every department of literature and science. But he composed epistles both to the emperor Constantius, and to some other persons, wherein he interwove tedious disputes for the purpose of displaying his sophisms. He has therefore been surnamed Atheus. But although his doctrinal statements were similar to those of the Arians, yet from the abstruse nature of his syllogisms, which they were unable to comprehend, his associates in Arianism pronounced him a heretic. Being for that reason expelled from their church, he pretended to have separated himself from their communion. Even in the present day there are to be found some who from him were formerly named Aëtians, but now Eunomians. For some time later Eunomius, who had been his amanuensis, having been instructed by his master in this heretical mode of reasoning, afterwards became the head of that sect. But of Eunomius we shall speak more fully in the proper place.388388    IV. 7.


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