Chapter VI.—Division begins in the Church from this Controversy; and Alexander Bishop of Alexandria excommunicates Arius and his Adherents.
Having drawn this inference from his novel train of reasoning, he excited many to a consideration of the question; and thus from a little spark a large fire was kindled: for the evil which began in the Church at Alexandria, ran throughout all Egypt, Libya, and the upper Thebes, and at length diffused itself over the rest of the provinces and cities. Many others also adopted the opinion of Arius; but Eusebius in particular was a zealous defender of it: not he of Cæsarea, but the one who had before been bishop of the church at Berytus, and was then somehow in possession of the bishopric of Nicomedia in Bithynia. When Alexander became conscious of these things, both from his own observation and from report, being exasperated to the highest degree, he convened a council of many prelates; and excommunicated Arius and the abettors of his heresy; at the same time he wrote as follows to the bishops constituted in the several cities:—
The Epistle of Alexander Bishop of Alexandria.
To our beloved and most honored fellow-Ministers of the Catholic Church everywhere, Alexander sends greeting in the Lord.
Inasmuch as the Catholic Church is one body, and we are commanded in the holy Scriptures to maintain the bond of unity and peace, 121 it becomes us to write, and mutually acquaint one another with the condition of things among each of us, in order that if one member suffers or rejoices, we may either sympathize with each other, or rejoice together. 122 Know therefore that there have recently arisen in our diocese lawless and anti-christian men, teaching apostasy such as one may justly consider and denominate the forerunner of Antichrist. I wished indeed to consign this disorder to silence, that if possible the evil might be confined to the apostates alone, and not go forth into other districts and contaminate the ears of some of the simple. But since Eusebius, now in Nicomedia, thinks that the affairs of the Church are under his control because, forsooth, he deserted his charge at Berytus and assumed authority over the Church at Nicomedia with impunity, and has put himself at the head of these apostates, daring even to send commendatory letters in all directions concerning them, if by any means he might inveigle some of the ignorant into this most impious and anti-christian heresy, I felt imperatively called p. 4 on to be silent no longer, knowing what is written in the law, but to inform you of all of these things, that ye might understand both who the apostates are, and also the contemptible character of their heresy, and pay no attention to anything that Eusebius should write to you. For now wishing to renew his former malevolence, which seemed to have been buried in oblivion by time, he affects to write in their behalf; while the fact itself plainly shows that he does this for the promotion of his own purposes. These then are those who have become apostates: Arius, Achillas, Aithales, and Carpones, another Arius, Sarmates, Euzoïus, Lucius, Julian, Menas, Helladis, and Gaius; with these also must be reckoned Secundus and Theonas, who once were called bishops. The dogmas they have invented and assert, contrary to the Scriptures, are these: That God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father; that the Word of God was not from eternity, but was made out of nothing; 123 for that the ever-existing God (the I AM—the eternal One) made him who did not previously exist, out of nothing; wherefore there was a time when he did not exist, inasmuch as the Son is a creature and a work. That he is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Fathers true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures, being erroneously called Word and Wisdom, since he was himself made of Gods own Word and the Wisdom which is in God, whereby God both made all things and him also. Wherefore he is as to his nature mutable and susceptible of change, as all other rational creatures are: hence the Word is alien to and other than the essence of God; and the Father is inexplicable by the Son, and invisible to him, for neither does the Word perfectly and accurately know the Father, neither can he distinctly see him. The Son knows not the nature of his own essence: for he was made on our account, in order that God might create us by him, as by an instrument; nor would he ever have existed, unless God had wished to create us.
Some one accordingly asked them whether the Word of God could be changed, as the devil has been? and they feared not to say, Yes, he could; for being begotten, he is susceptible of change. We then, with the bishops of Egypt and Libya, being assembled together to the number of nearly a hundred, have anathematized Arius for his shameless avowal of these heresies, together with all such as have countenanced them. Yet the partisans of Eusebius have received them; endeavoring to blend falsehood with truth, and that which is impious with what is sacred. But they shall not prevail, for the truth must triumph; and light has no fellowship with darkness, nor has Christ any concord with Belial. 124 Who ever heard such blasphemies? or what man of any piety is there now hearing them that is not horror-struck, and stops his ears, lest the filth of these expressions should pollute his sense of hearing? Who that hears John saying, In the beginning was the Word, 125 does not condemn those that say, There was a period when the Word was not? or who, hearing in the Gospel of the only-begotten Son, and that all things were made by him, will not abhor those that pronounce the Son to be one of the things made? How can he be one of the things which were made by himself? Or how can he be the only-begotten, if he is reckoned among created things? And how could he have had his existence from nonentities, since the Father has said, My heart has indited a good matter; 126 and I begat thee out of my bosom before the dawn? 127 Or how is he unlike the Fathers essence, who is his perfect image, 128 and the brightness of his glory 129 and says: He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father? Again how if the Son is the Word and Wisdom of God, was there a period when he did not exist? for that is equivalent to their saying that God was once destitute both of Word and Wisdom. How can he be mutable and susceptible of change, who says of himself, I am in the Father, and the Father in me; 130 and I and the Father are one; 131 and again by the Prophet, 132 Behold me because I am, and have not changed? But if any one may also apply the expression to the Father himself, yet would it now be even more fitly said of the Word; because he was not changed by having become man, but as the Apostle says, 133 Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. But what could persuade them to say that he was made on our account, when Paul has expressly declared 134 that all things are for him, and by him? One need not wonder indeed at their blasphemous assertion that the Son does not perfectly know the Father; for having once determined to fight against Christ, they reject even the words of the Lord himself, when he says, 135 As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father. If therefore the Father but partially knows the Son, it is manifest that the Son also knows the Father but in part. But if it would be improper to affirm this, and it be admitted that the Father perfectly knows the p. 5 Son, it is evident that as the Father knows his own Word, so also does the Word know his own Father, whose Word he is. And we, by stating these things, and unfolding the divine Scriptures, have often confuted them: but again as chameleons they were changed, striving to apply to themselves that which is written, When the ungodly has reached the depths of iniquity, he becomes contemptuous. 136 Many heresies have arisen before these, which exceeding all bounds in daring, have lapsed into complete infatuation: but these persons, by attempting in all their discourses to subvert the Divinity of The Word, as having made a nearer approach to Antichrist, have comparatively lessened the odium of former ones. Wherefore they have been publicly repudiated by the Church, and anathematized. We are indeed grieved on account of the perdition of these persons, and especially so because, after having been previously instructed in the doctrines of the Church, they have now apostatized from them. Nevertheless we are not greatly surprised at this, for Hymenæus and Philetus 137 fell in like manner; and before them Judas, who had been a follower of the Saviour, but afterwards deserted him and became his betrayer. Nor were we without forewarning respecting these very persons: for the Lord himself said: Take heed that no man deceive you: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ: and shall many deceive many; 138 and the time is at hand; Go ye not therefore after them. 139 And Paul, having learned these things from the Saviour, wrote, That in the latter times some should apostatize from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits, and doctrines of devils, 140 who pervert the truth. Seeing then that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has himself enjoined this, and has also by the apostle given us intimation respecting such men, we having ourselves heard their impiety have in consequence anathematized them, as we before said, and declared them to be alienated from the Catholic Church and faith. Moreover we have intimated this to your piety, beloved and most honored fellow-ministers, in order that ye might neither receive any of them, if they should presume to come to you, nor be induced to put confidence in Eusebius, or any other who may write to you about them. For it is incumbent on us who are Christians, to turn away from all those who speak or entertain a thought against Christ, as from those who are resisting God, and are destroyers of the souls of men: neither does it become us even to salute such men, 141 as the blessed John has prohibited, lest we should at any time be made partakers of their sins. Greet the brethren which are with you; those who are with me salute you.
Upon Alexanders thus addressing the bishops in every city, the evil only became worse, inasmuch as those to whom he made this communication were thereby excited to contention. And some indeed fully concurred in and subscribed to the sentiments expressed in this letter, while others did the reverse. But Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, was beyond all others moved to controversy, inasmuch as Alexander in his letter had made a personal and censorious allusion to him. Now at this juncture Eusebius possessed great influence, because the emperor resided at Nicomedia. For in fact Diocletian had a short time previously built a palace there. On this account therefore many of the bishops paid their court to Eusebius. And he repeatedly wrote both to Alexander, that he might set aside the discussion which had been excited, and again receive Arius and his adherents into communion; and also to the bishops in each city, that they might not concur in the proceedings of Alexander. By these means confusion everywhere prevailed: for one saw not only the prelates of the churches engaged in disputing, but the people also divided, some siding with one party, and some with the other. To so disgraceful an extent was this affair carried, that Christianity became a subject of popular ridicule, even in the very theatres. Those who were at Alexandria sharply disputed about the highest points of doctrine, and sent deputations to the bishops of the several dioceses; while those who were of the opposite faction created a similar disturbance.
With the Arians the Melitians mingled themselves, who a little while before had been separated from the Church: but who these [Melitians] are must now be stated.
By Peter, bishop of Alexandria, who in the reign of Diocletian suffered martyrdom, a certain Melitius, bishop of one of the cities in Egypt, in consequence of many other charges, and more especially because during the persecution he had denied the faith and sacrificed, was deposed. This person, being stripped of his dignity, and having nevertheless many followers, became the leader of the heresy of those who are to this day called from him Melitians throughout Egypt. And as he had no rational excuse for his separation from the Church, he pretended that he had simply been wronged and loaded Peter with calumnious reproaches. Now Peter died the death of a martyr during the persecution, and so Melitius transferred his abuse first to Achillas, who succeeded Peter in the bishopric, and afterwards again to Alexanp. 6 der, the successor of Achillas. In this state of things among them, the discussion in relation to Arius arose; and Melitius with his adherents took part with Arius, 142 entering into a conspiracy with him against the bishop. But as many as regarded the opinion of Arius as untenable, justified Alexanders decision against him, and thought that those who favored his views were justly condemned. Meanwhile Eusebius of Nicomedia and his partisans, with such as favored the sentiments of Arius, demanded by letter that the sentence of excommunication which had been pronounced against him should be rescinded; and that those who had been excluded should be readmitted into the Church, as they held no unsound doctrine. Thus letters from the opposite parties were sent to the bishop of Alexandria; and Arius made a collection of those which were favorable to himself while Alexander did the same with those which were adverse. This therefore afforded a plausible opportunity of defense to the sects, which are now prevalent, of the Arians, Eunomians, and such as receive their name from Macedonius; for these severally make use of these epistles in vindication of their heresies.
Eph. iv. 3.3:122
1 Cor. xii. 26.4:123
ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων γέγονεν, lit. came into existence from nothing.4:124
2 Cor. vi. 14.4:125
John 1:1, 18.4:126
Psa. 45.1, according to the LXX.4:127
῾Εωσφόρον, the morning-star; taken from Psa. 110.3. Cf. the LXX, quoted from Ps. lxxii.4:128
Col. i. 15.4:129
Heb. i. 3.4:130
John xiv. 10.4:131
John x. 30.4:132
Mal. iii. 6.4:133
Heb. xiii. 8.4:134
Heb. ii. 10.4:135
John x. 15.5:136
Prov. xviii. 3, according to the LXX.5:137
2 Tim. 2:17, 18.5:138
Matt. xxiv. 4.5:139
Luke xxi. 8.5:140
1 Tim. 4:1, Titus 1:14.5:141
2 John. 1:10, 11.6:142
Valesius makes the assertion that Socrates is mistaken here, that the Melitians joined themselves to the Arians after the council of Nicæa, and were induced by Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, to cast slanderous aspersion upon Athanasius, as he himself testifies in his second apology against the Arians. It appears unlikely that the Fathers of the Nicene Council would have treated the Melitians as leniently as they did had they sided with Arius before the council.