Chapter XXXII.—Constantine enacts a Law against all Heresies, and prohibits the People from holding Church in any place but the Catholic Church, and thus the Greater Number of Heresies disappear. The Arians who sided with Eusebius of Nicomedia, artfully attempted to obliterate the Term “Consubstantial.”
Although the doctrine of Arius was zealously supported by many persons in disputations, 1203 a party had not as yet been formed to whom the name of Arians could be applied as a distinctive appellation; for all assembled together as a church and held communion with each other, with the exception of the Novatians, those called Phrygians, the Valentinians, the Marcionites, the Paulianians, and some few others who adhered to already invented heresies. The emperor, however, enacted a law that their own p. 281 houses of prayer should be abolished; and that they should meet in the churches, and not hold church in private houses, or in public places. He deemed it better to hold fellowship in the Catholic Church, and he advised them to assemble in her walls. By means of this law, almost all the heresies, I believe, disappeared. During the reign of preceding emperors, all who worshiped Christ, however they might have differed from each other in opinion, received the same treatment from the pagans, and were persecuted with equal cruelty. These common calamities, to which they were all equally liable, prevented them from prosecuting any close inquiries as to the differences of opinion which existed among themselves; it was therefore easy for the members of each party to hold church by themselves, and by continually conferring with one another, however few they might have been in number, they were not disrupted. But after this law was passed they could not assemble in public, because it was forbidden; nor could they hold their assemblies in secret, for they were watched by the bishops and clergy of their city. Hence the greater number of these sectarians were led, by fear of consequences, to join themselves to the Catholic Church. Those who adhered to their original sentiments did not, at their death, leave any disciples to propagate their heresy, for they could neither come together into the same place, nor were they able to teach in security those of the same opinions. On account either of the absurdity of the heretical dogmas, or of the utter ignorance of those who devised and taught them, the respective followers of each heresy were, from the beginning, very few in number. The Novatians alone, 1204 who had obtained good leaders, and who entertained the same opinions respecting the Divinity as the Catholic Church, were numerous, from the beginning, and remained so, not being much injured by this law; the emperor, I believe, willingly relaxed in their favor the rigor of the enactment, for he only desired to strike terror into the minds of his subjects, and had no intention of persecuting them. Acesius, who was then the bishop of this heresy in Constantinople, was much esteemed by the emperor on account of his virtuous life; and it is probable that it was for his sake that the church which he governed met with protection. The Phrygians suffered the same treatment as the other heretics in all the Roman provinces except Phrygia and the neighboring regions, for here they had, since the time of Montanus, existed in great numbers and do so to the present day.
About this time the partisans of Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, and of Theognis, bishop of Nicæa, began to make innovations in writing upon the confession set forth by the Nicæan Council. They did not venture to reject openly the assertion that the Son is consubstantial with the Father, because this assertion was maintained by the emperor; but they propounded another document, and signified to the Eastern bishops that they received the terms of the Nicæan doctrine with verbal interpretations. From this declaration and reflection, the former dispute lapsed into fresh discussion, and what seemed to have been put at rest was again set in motion.
This chapter, outside of the law of Constantine against the heretics (Eus. V. C. iii. 64), consists of Soz.s reflections on the state of the heresies.281:1204
Sozomen speaks with favor of the Novatians, though not with the earnestness of Socrates.