The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. II
Edward Gibbon

Part 8 out of 16

[Footnote 118: Synesius had previously represented his own
disqualifications. He loved profane studies and profane sports;
he was incapable of supporting a life of celibacy; he disbelieved
the resurrection; and he refused to preach fables to the people
unless he might be permitted to philosophize at home. Theophilus
primate of Egypt, who knew his merit, accepted this extraordinary

[Footnote 119: The promotion of Andronicus was illegal; since he
was a native of Berenice, in the same province. The instruments
of torture are curiously specified; the press that variously
pressed on distended the fingers, the feet, the nose, the ears,
and the lips of the victims.]

[Footnote 120: The sentence of excommunication is expressed in a
rhetorical style. (Synesius, Epist. lviii. p. 201-203.) The
method of involving whole families, though somewhat unjust, was
improved into national interdicts.]
[Footnote 121: See Synesius, Epist. xlvii. p. 186, 187. Epist.
lxxii. p. 218, 219 Epist. lxxxix. p. 230, 231.]

VI. Every popular government has experienced the effects of
rude or artificial eloquence. The coldest nature is animated,
the firmest reason is moved, by the rapid communication of the
prevailing impulse; and each hearer is affected by his own
passions, and by those of the surrounding multitude. The ruin of
civil liberty had silenced the demagogues of Athens, and the
tribunes of Rome; the custom of preaching which seems to
constitute a considerable part of Christian devotion, had not
been introduced into the temples of antiquity; and the ears of
monarchs were never invaded by the harsh sound of popular
eloquence, till the pulpits of the empire were filled with sacred
orators, who possessed some advantages unknown to their profane
predecessors. ^122 The arguments and rhetoric of the tribune were
instantly opposed with equal arms, by skilful and resolute
antagonists; and the cause of truth and reason might derive an
accidental support from the conflict of hostile passions. The
bishop, or some distinguished presbyter, to whom he cautiously
delegated the powers of preaching, harangued, without the danger
of interruption or reply, a submissive multitude, whose minds had
been prepared and subdued by the awful ceremonies of religion.
Such was the strict subordination of the Catholic church, that
the same concerted sounds might issue at once from a hundred
pulpits of Italy or Egypt, if they were tuned ^123 by the master
hand of the Roman or Alexandrian primate. The design of this
institution was laudable, but the fruits were not always
salutary. The preachers recommended the practice of the social
duties; but they exalted the perfection of monastic virtue, which
is painful to the individual, and useless to mankind. Their
charitable exhortations betrayed a secret wish that the clergy
might be permitted to manage the wealth of the faithful, for the
benefit of the poor. The most sublime representations of the
attributes and laws of the Deity were sullied by an idle mixture
of metaphysical subleties, puerile rites, and fictitious
miracles: and they expatiated, with the most fervent zeal, on the
religious merit of hating the adversaries, and obeying the
ministers of the church. When the public peace was distracted by
heresy and schism, the sacred orators sounded the trumpet of
discord, and, perhaps, of sedition. The understandings of their
congregations were perplexed by mystery, their passions were
inflamed by invectives; and they rushed from the Christian
temples of Antioch or Alexandria, prepared either to suffer or to
inflict martyrdom. The corruption of taste and language is
strongly marked in the vehement declamations of the Latin
bishops; but the compositions of Gregory and Chrysostom have been
compared with the most splendid models of Attic, or at least of
Asiatic, eloquence. ^124

[Footnote 122: See Thomassin (Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. ii. l.
iii. c. 83, p. 1761-1770,) and Bingham, (Antiquities, vol. i. l.
xiv. c. 4, p. 688- 717.) Preaching was considered as the most
important office of the bishop but this function was sometimes
intrusted to such presbyters as Chrysoetom and Augustin.]

[Footnote 123: Queen Elizabeth used this expression, and
practised this art whenever she wished to prepossess the minds of
her people in favor of any extraordinary measure of government.
The hostile effects of this music were apprehended by her
successor, and severely felt by his son. "When pulpit, drum
ecclesiastic," &c. See Heylin's Life of Archbishop Laud, p.
[Footnote 124: Those modest orators acknowledged, that, as they
were destitute of the gift of miracles, they endeavored to
acquire the arts of eloquence.]
VII. The representatives of the Christian republic were
regularly assembled in the spring and autumn of each year; and
these synods diffused the spirit of ecclesiastical discipline and
legislation through the hundred and twenty provinces of the Roman
world. ^125 The archbishop or metropolitan was empowered, by the
laws, to summon the suffragan bishops of his province; to revise
their conduct, to vindicate their rights, to declare their faith,
and to examine the merits of the candidates who were elected by
the clergy and people to supply the vacancies of the episcopal
college. The primates of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage,
and afterwards Constantinople, who exercised a more ample
jurisdiction, convened the numerous assembly of their dependent
bishops. But the convocation of great and extraordinary synods
was the prerogative of the emperor alone. Whenever the
emergencies of the church required this decisive measure, he
despatched a peremptory summons to the bishops, or the deputies
of each province, with an order for the use of post-horses, and a
competent allowance for the expenses of their journey. At an
early period, when Constantine was the protector, rather than the
proselyte, of Christianity, he referred the African controversy
to the council of Arles; in which the bishops of York of Treves,
of Milan, and of Carthage, met as friends and brethren, to debate
in their native tongue on the common interest of the Latin or
Western church. ^126 Eleven years afterwards, a more numerous and
celebrated assembly was convened at Nice in Bithynia, to
extinguish, by their final sentence, the subtle disputes which
had arisen in Egypt on the subject of the Trinity. Three hundred
and eighteen bishops obeyed the summons of their indulgent
master; the ecclesiastics of every rank, and sect, and
denomination, have been computed at two thousand and forty-eight
persons; ^127 the Greeks appeared in person; and the consent of
the Latins was expressed by the legates of the Roman pontiff.
The session, which lasted about two months, was frequently
honored by the presence of the emperor. Leaving his guards at the
door, he seated himself (with the permission of the council) on a
low stool in the midst of the hall. Constantine listened with
patience, and spoke with modesty: and while he influenced the
debates, he humbly professed that he was the minister, not the
judge, of the successors of the apostles, who had been
established as priests and as gods upon earth. ^128 Such profound
reverence of an absolute monarch towards a feeble and unarmed
assembly of his own subjects, can only be compared to the respect
with which the senate had been treated by the Roman princes who
adopted the policy of Augustus. Within the space of fifty years,
a philosophic spectator of the vicissitudes of human affairs
might have contemplated Tacitus in the senate of Rome, and
Constantine in the council of Nice. The fathers of the Capitol
and those of the church had alike degenerated from the virtues of
their founders; but as the bishops were more deeply rooted in the
public opinion, they sustained their dignity with more decent
pride, and sometimes opposed with a manly spirit the wishes of
their sovereign. The progress of time and superstition erased
the memory of the weakness, the passion, the ignorance, which
disgraced these ecclesiastical synods; and the Catholic world has
unanimously submitted ^129 to the infallible decrees of the
general councils. ^130

[Footnote 125: The council of Nice, in the fourth, fifth, sixth,
and seventh canons, has made some fundamental regulations
concerning synods, metropolitan, and primates. The Nicene canons
have been variously tortured, abused, interpolated, or forged,
according to the interest of the clergy. The Suburbicarian
churches, assigned (by Rufinus) to the bishop of Rome, have been
made the subject of vehement controversy (See Sirmond, Opera,
tom. iv. p. 1-238.)]

[Footnote 126: We have only thirty-three or forty-seven episcopal
subscriptions: but Addo, a writer indeed of small account,
reckons six hundred bishops in the council of Arles. Tillemont,
Mem. Eccles. tom. vi. p. 422.]
[Footnote 127: See Tillemont, tom. vi. p. 915, and Beausobre,
Hist. du Mani cheisme, tom i p. 529. The name of bishop, which
is given by Eusychius to the 2048 ecclesiastics, (Annal. tom. i.
p. 440, vers. Pocock,) must be extended far beyond the limits of
an orthodox or even episcopal ordination.]
[Footnote 128: See Euseb. in Vit. Constantin. l. iii. c. 6-21.
Tillemont, Mem. Ecclesiastiques, tom. vi. p. 669-759.]

[Footnote 129: Sancimus igitur vicem legum obtinere, quae a
quatuor Sanctis Coueiliis . . . . expositae sunt act firmatae.
Praedictarum enim quat uor synodorum dogmata sicut sanctas
Scripturas et regulas sicut leges observamus. Justinian. Novell.
cxxxi. Beveridge (ad Pandect. proleg. p. 2) remarks, that the
emperors never made new laws in ecclesiastical matters; and
Giannone observes, in a very different spirit, that they gave a
legal sanction to the canons of councils. Istoria Civile di
Napoli, tom. i. p. 136.]
[Footnote 130: See the article Concile in the Eucyclopedie, tom.
iii. p. 668-879, edition de Lucques. The author, M. de docteur
Bouchaud, has discussed, according to the principles of the
Gallican church, the principal questions which relate to the form
and constitution of general, national, and provincial councils.
The editors (see Preface, p. xvi.) have reason to be proud of
this article. Those who consult their immense compilation,
seldom depart so well satisfied.]

Chapter XXI: Persecution Of Heresy, State Of The Church.

Part I.

Persecution Of Heresy. - The Schism Of The Donatists. - The
Arian Controversy. - Athanasius. - Distracted State Of The Church
And Empire Under Constantine And His Sons. - Toleration Of

The grateful applause of the clergy has consecrated the
memory of a prince who indulged their passions and promoted their
interest. Constantine gave them security, wealth, honors, and
revenge; and the support of the orthodox faith was considered as
the most sacred and important duty of the civil magistrate. The
edict of Milan, the great charter of toleration, had confirmed to
each individual of the Roman world the privilege of choosing and
professing his own religion. But this inestimable privilege was
soon violated; with the knowledge of truth, the emperor imbibed
the maxims of persecution; and the sects which dissented from the
Catholic church were afflicted and oppressed by the triumph of
Christianity. Constantine easily believed that the Heretics, who
presumed to dispute his opinions, or to oppose his commands, were
guilty of the most absurd and criminal obstinacy; and that a
seasonable application of moderate severities might save those
unhappy men from the danger of an everlasting condemnation. Not
a moment was lost in excluding the ministers and teachers of the
separated congregations from any share of the rewards and
immunities which the emperor had so liberally bestowed on the
orthodox clergy. But as the sectaries might still exist under
the cloud of royal disgrace, the conquest of the East was
immediately followed by an edict which announced their total
destruction. ^1 After a preamble filled with passion and
reproach, Constantine absolutely prohibits the assemblies of the
Heretics, and confiscates their public property to the use either
of the revenue or of the Catholic church. The sects against whom
the Imperial severity was directed, appear to have been the
adherents of Paul of Samosata; the Montanists of Phrygia, who
maintained an enthusiastic succession of prophecy; the Novatians,
who sternly rejected the temporal efficacy of repentance; the
Marcionites and Valentinians, under whose leading banners the
various Gnostics of Asia and Egypt had insensibly rallied; and
perhaps the Manichaeans, who had recently imported from Persia a
more artful composition of Oriental and Christian theology. ^2
The design of extirpating the name, or at least of restraining
the progress, of these odious Heretics, was prosecuted with vigor
and effect. Some of the penal regulations were copied from the
edicts of Diocletian; and this method of conversion was applauded
by the same bishops who had felt the hand of oppression, and
pleaded for the rights of humanity. Two immaterial circumstances
may serve, however, to prove that the mind of Constantine was not
entirely corrupted by the spirit of zeal and bigotry. Before he
condemned the Manichaeans and their kindred sects, he resolved to
make an accurate inquiry into the nature of their religious
principles. As if he distrusted the impartiality of his
ecclesiastical counsellors, this delicate commission was
intrusted to a civil magistrate, whose learning and moderation he
justly esteemed, and of whose venal character he was probably
ignorant. ^3 The emperor was soon convinced, that he had too
hastily proscribed the orthodox faith and the exemplary morals of
the Novatians, who had dissented from the church in some articles
of discipline which were not perhaps essential to salvation. By
a particular edict, he exempted them from the general penalties
of the law; ^4 allowed them to build a church at Constantinople,
respected the miracles of their saints, invited their bishop
Acesius to the council of Nice; and gently ridiculed the narrow
tenets of his sect by a familiar jest; which, from the mouth of a
sovereign, must have been received with applause and gratitude.

[Footnote 1: Eusebius in Vit. Constantin. l. iii. c. 63, 64, 65,
[Footnote 2: After some examination of the various opinions of
Tillemont, Beausobre, Lardner, &c., I am convinced that Manes did
not propagate his sect, even in Persia, before the year 270. It
is strange, that a philosophic and foreign heresy should have
penetrated so rapidly into the African provinces; yet I cannot
easily reject the edict of Diocletian against the Manichaeans,
which may be found in Baronius. (Annal Eccl. A. D. 287.)]
[Footnote 3: Constantinus enim, cum limatius superstitionum
quaeroret sectas, Manichaeorum et similium, &c. Ammian. xv. 15.
Strategius, who from this commission obtained the surname of
Musonianus, was a Christian of the Arian sect. He acted as one
of the counts at the council of Sardica. Libanius praises his
mildness and prudence. Vales. ad locum Ammian.]
[Footnote 4: Cod. Theod. l. xvi. tit. 5, leg. 2. As the general
law is not inserted in the Theodosian Code, it probable that, in
the year 438, the sects which it had condemned were already

[Footnote 5: Sozomen, l. i. c. 22. Socrates, l. i. c. 10. These
historians have been suspected, but I think without reason, of an
attachment to the Novatian doctrine. The emperor said to the
bishop, "Acesius, take a ladder, and get up to heaven by
yourself." Most of the Christian sects have, by turns, borrowed
the ladder of Acesius.]

The complaints and mutual accusations which assailed the
throne of Constantine, as soon as the death of Maxentius had
submitted Africa to his victorious arms, were ill adapted to
edify an imperfect proselyte. He learned, with surprise, that
the provinces of that great country, from the confines of Cyrene
to the columns of Hercules, were distracted with religious
discord. ^6 The source of the division was derived from a double
election in the church of Carthage; the second, in rank and
opulence, of the ecclesiastical thrones of the West. Caecilian
and Majorinus were the two rival prelates of Africa; and the
death of the latter soon made room for Donatus, who, by his
superior abilities and apparent virtues, was the firmest support
of his party. The advantage which Caecilian might claim from the
priority of his ordination, was destroyed by the illegal, or at
least indecent, haste, with which it had been performed, without
expecting the arrival of the bishops of Numidia. The authority
of these bishops, who, to the number of seventy, condemned
Caecilian, and consecrated Majorinus, is again weakened by the
infamy of some of their personal characters; and by the female
intrigues, sacrilegious bargains, and tumultuous proceedings,
which are imputed to this Numidian council. ^7 The bishops of the
contending factions maintained, with equal ardor and obstinacy,
that their adversaries were degraded, or at least dishonored, by
the odious crime of delivering the Holy Scriptures to the
officers of Diocletian. From their mutual reproaches, as well as
from the story of this dark transaction, it may justly be
inferred, that the late persecution had imbittered the zeal,
without reforming the manners, of the African Christians. That
divided church was incapable of affording an impartial
judicature; the controversy was solemnly tried in five successive
tribunals, which were appointed by the emperor; and the whole
proceeding, from the first appeal to the final sentence, lasted
above three years. A severe inquisition, which was taken by the
Praetorian vicar, and the proconsul of Africa, the report of two
episcopal visitors who had been sent to Carthage, the decrees of
the councils of Rome and of Arles, and the supreme judgment of
Constantine himself in his sacred consistory, were all favorable
to the cause of Caecilian; and he was unanimously acknowledged by
the civil and ecclesiastical powers, as the true and lawful
primate of Africa. The honors and estates of the church were
attributed to his suffragan bishops, and it was not without
difficulty, that Constantine was satisfied with inflicting the
punishment of exile on the principal leaders of the Donatist
faction. As their cause was examined with attention, perhaps it
was determined with justice. Perhaps their complaint was not
without foundation, that the credulity of the emperor had been
abused by the insidious arts of his favorite Osius. The
influence of falsehood and corruption might procure the
condemnation of the innocent, or aggravate the sentence of the
guilty. Such an act, however, of injustice, if it concluded an
importunate dispute, might be numbered among the transient evils
of a despotic administration, which are neither felt nor
remembered by posterity.

[Footnote 6: The best materials for this part of ecclesiastical
history may be found in the edition of Optatus Milevitanus,
published (Paris, 1700) by M. Dupin, who has enriched it with
critical notes, geographical discussions, original records, and
an accurate abridgment of the whole controversy. M. de Tillemont
has bestowed on the Donatists the greatest part of a volume,
(tom. vi. part i.;) and I am indebted to him for an ample
collection of all the passages of his favorite St. Augustin,
which relate to those heretics.]
[Footnote 7: Schisma igitur illo tempore confusae mulieris
iracundia peperit; ambitus nutrivit; avaritia roboravit.
Optatus, l. i. c. 19. The language of Purpurius is that of a
furious madman. Dicitur te necasse lilios sororis tuae duos.
Purpurius respondit: Putas me terreri a te . . occidi; et occido
eos qui contra me faciunt. Acta Concil. Cirtenais, ad calc.
Optat. p. 274. When Caecilian was invited to an assembly of
bishops, Purpurius said to his brethren, or rather to his
accomplices, "Let him come hither to receive our imposition of
hands, and we will break his head by way of penance." Optat. l.
i. c. 19.]

But this incident, so inconsiderable that it scarcely
deserves a place in history, was productive of a memorable schism
which afflicted the provinces of Africa above three hundred
years, and was extinguished only with Christianity itself. The
inflexible zeal of freedom and fanaticism animated the Donatists
to refuse obedience to the usurpers, whose election they
disputed, and whose spiritual powers they denied. Excluded from
the civil and religious communion of mankind, they boldly
excommunicated the rest of mankind, who had embraced the impious
party of Caecilian, and of the Traditors, from which he derived
his pretended ordination. They asserted with confidence, and
almost with exultation, that the Apostolical succession was
interrupted; that all the bishops of Europe and Asia were
infected by the contagion of guilt and schism; and that the
prerogatives of the Catholic church were confined to the chosen
portion of the African believers, who alone had preserved
inviolate the integrity of their faith and discipline. This
rigid theory was supported by the most uncharitable conduct.
Whenever they acquired a proselyte, even from the distant
provinces of the East, they carefully repeated the sacred rites
of baptism ^8 and ordination; as they rejected the validity of
those which he had already received from the hands of heretics or
schismatics. Bishops, virgins, and even spotless infants, were
subjected to the disgrace of a public penance, before they could
be admitted to the communion of the Donatists. If they obtained
possession of a church which had been used by their Catholic
adversaries, they purified the unhallowed building with the same
zealous care which a temple of idols might have required. They
washed the pavement, scraped the walls, burnt the altar, which
was commonly of wood, melted the consecrated plate, and cast the
Holy Eucharist to the dogs, with every circumstance of ignominy
which could provoke and perpetuate the animosity of religious
factions. ^9 Notwithstanding this irreconcilable aversion, the
two parties, who were mixed and separated in all the cities of
Africa, had the same language and manners, the same zeal and
learning, the same faith and worship. Proscribed by the civil
and ecclesiastical powers of the empire, the Donatists still
maintained in some provinces, particularly in Numidia, their
superior numbers; and four hundred bishops acknowledged the
jurisdiction of their primate. But the invincible spirit of the
sect sometimes preyed on its own vitals: and the bosom of their
schismatical church was torn by intestine divisions. A fourth
part of the Donatist bishops followed the independent standard of
the Maximianists. The narrow and solitary path which their first
leaders had marked out, continued to deviate from the great
society of mankind. Even the imperceptible sect of the Rogatians
could affirm, without a blush, that when Christ should descend to
judge the earth, he would find his true religion preserved only
in a few nameless villages of the Caesarean Mauritania. ^10

[Footnote 8: The councils of Arles, of Nice, and of Trent,
confirmed the wise and moderate practice of the church of Rome.
The Donatists, however, had the advantage of maintaining the
sentiment of Cyprian, and of a considerable part of the primitive
church. Vincentius Lirinesis (p. 532, ap. Tillemont, Mem.
Eccles. tom. vi. p. 138) has explained why the Donatists are
eternally burning with the Devil, while St. Cyprian reigns in
heaven with Jesus Christ.]
[Footnote 9: See the sixth book of Optatus Milevitanus, p.
[Footnote 10: Tillemont, Mem. Ecclesiastiques, tom. vi. part i.
p. 253. He laughs at their partial credulity. He revered
Augustin, the great doctor of the system of predestination.]

The schism of the Donatists was confined to Africa: the more
diffusive mischief of the Trinitarian controversy successively
penetrated into every part of the Christian world. The former
was an accidental quarrel, occasioned by the abuse of freedom;
the latter was a high and mysterious argument, derived from the
abuse of philosophy. From the age of Constantine to that of
Clovis and Theodoric, the temporal interests both of the Romans
and Barbarians were deeply involved in the theological disputes
of Arianism. The historian may therefore be permitted
respectfully to withdraw the veil of the sanctuary; and to deduce
the progress of reason and faith, of error and passion from the
school of Plato, to the decline and fall of the empire.

The genius of Plato, informed by his own meditation, or by
the traditional knowledge of the priests of Egypt, ^11 had
ventured to explore the mysterious nature of the Deity. When he
had elevated his mind to the sublime contemplation of the first
self-existent, necessary cause of the universe, the Athenian sage
was incapable of conceiving how the simple unity of his essence
could admit the infinite variety of distinct and successive ideas
which compose the model of the intellectual world; how a Being
purely incorporeal could execute that perfect model, and mould
with a plastic hand the rude and independent chaos. The vain
hope of extricating himself from these difficulties, which must
ever oppress the feeble powers of the human mind, might induce
Plato to consider the divine nature under the threefold
modification - of the first cause, the reason, or Logos, and the
soul or spirit of the universe. His poetical imagination
sometimes fixed and animated these metaphysical abstractions; the
three archical on original principles were represented in the
Platonic system as three Gods, united with each other by a
mysterious and ineffable generation; and the Logos was
particularly considered under the more accessible character of
the Son of an Eternal Father, and the Creator and Governor of the
world. Such appear to have been the secret doctrines which were
cautiously whispered in the gardens of the academy; and which,
according to the more recent disciples of Plato, ^* could not be
perfectly understood, till after an assiduous study of thirty
years. ^12

[Footnote 11: Plato Aegyptum peragravit ut a sacerdotibus
Barbaris numeros et coelestia acciperet. Cicero de Finibus, v.
25. The Egyptians might still preserve the traditional creed of
the Patriarchs. Josephus has persuaded many of the Christian
fathers, that Plato derived a part of his knowledge from the
Jews; but this vain opinion cannot be reconciled with the obscure
state and unsocial manners of the Jewish people, whose scriptures
were not accessible to Greek curiosity till more than one hundred
years after the death of Plato. See Marsham Canon. Chron. p. 144
Le Clerc, Epistol. Critic. vii. p. 177-194.]
[Footnote *: This exposition of the doctrine of Plato appears to
me contrary to the true sense of that philosopher's writings.
The brilliant imagination which he carried into metaphysical
inquiries, his style, full of allegories and figures, have misled
those interpreters who did not seek, from the whole tenor of his
works and beyond the images which the writer employs, the system
of this philosopher. In my opinion, there is no Trinity in
Plato; he has established no mysterious generation between the
three pretended principles which he is made to distinguish.
Finally, he conceives only as attributes of the Deity, or of
matter, those ideas, of which it is supposed that he made
substances, real beings.

According to Plato, God and matter existed from all
eternity. Before the creation of the world, matter had in itself
a principle of motion, but without end or laws: it is this
principle which Plato calls the irrational soul of the world,
because, according to his doctrine, every spontaneous and
original principle of motion is called soul. God wished to
impress form upon matter, that is to say, 1. To mould matter, and
make it into a body; 2. To regulate its motion, and subject it to
some end and to certain laws. The Deity, in this operation,
could not act but according to the ideas existing in his
intelligence: their union filled this, and formed the ideal type
of the world. It is this ideal world, this divine intelligence,
existing with God from all eternity, and called by Plato which he
is supposed to personify, to substantialize; while an attentive
examination is sufficient to convince us that he has never
assigned it an existence external to the Deity, (hors de la
Divinite,) and that he considered the as the aggregate of the
ideas of God, the divine understanding in its relation to the
world. The contrary opinion is irreconcilable with all his
philosophy: thus he says that to the idea of the Deity is
essentially united that of intelligence, of a logos. He would
thus have admitted a double logos; one inherent in the Deity as
an attribute, the other independently existing as a substance.
He affirms that the intelligence, the principle of order cannot
exist but as an attribute of a soul, the principle of motion and
of life, of which the nature is unknown to us. How, then,
according to this, could he consider the logos as a substance
endowed with an independent existence? In other places, he
explains it by these two words, knowledge, science, which signify
the attributes of the Deity. When Plato separates God, the ideal
archetype of the world and matter, it is to explain how,
according to his system, God has proceeded, at the creation, to
unite the principle of order which he had within himself, his
proper intelligence, the principle of motion, to the principle of
motion, the irrational soul which was in matter. When he speaks
of the place occupied by the ideal world, it is to designate the
divine intelligence, which is its cause. Finally, in no part of
his writings do we find a true personification of the pretended
beings of which he is said to have formed a trinity: and if this
personification existed, it would equally apply to many other
notions, of which might be formed many different trinities.

This error, into which many ancient as well as modern
interpreters of Plato have fallen, was very natural. Besides the
snares which were concealed in his figurative style; besides the
necessity of comprehending as a whole the system of his ideas,
and not to explain isolated passages, the nature of his doctrine
itself would conduce to this error. When Plato appeared, the
uncertainty of human knowledge, and the continual illusions of
the senses, were acknowledged, and had given rise to a general
scepticism. Socrates had aimed at raising morality above the
influence of this scepticism: Plato endeavored to save
metaphysics, by seeking in the human intellect a source of
certainty which the senses could not furnish. He invented the
system of innate ideas, of which the aggregate formed, according
to him, the ideal world, and affirmed that these ideas were real
attributes, not only attached to our conceptions of objects, but
to the nature of the objects themselves; a nature of which from
them we might obtain a knowledge. He gave, then, to these ideas
a positive existence as attributes; his commentators could easily
give them a real existence as substances; especially as the terms
which he used to designate them, essential beauty, essential
goodness, lent themselves to this substantialization,
(hypostasis.) - G.

We have retained this view of the original philosophy of
Plato, in which there is probably much truth. The genius of
Plato was rather metaphysical than impersonative: his poetry was
in his language, rather than, like that of the Orientals, in his
conceptions. - M.]

[Footnote 12: The modern guides who lead me to the knowledge of
the Platonic system are Cudworth, Basnage, Le Clerc, and Brucker.

As the learning of these writers was equal, and their intention
different, an inquisitive observer may derive instruction from
their disputes, and certainty from their agreement.]
The arms of the Macedonians diffused over Asia and Egypt the
language and learning of Greece; and the theological system of
Plato was taught, with less reserve, and perhaps with some
improvements, in the celebrated school of Alexandria. ^13 A
numerous colony of Jews had been invited, by the favor of the
Ptolemies, to settle in their new capital. ^14 While the bulk of
the nation practised the legal ceremonies, and pursued the
lucrative occupations of commerce, a few Hebrews, of a more
liberal spirit, devoted their lives to religious and
philosophical contemplation. ^15 They cultivated with diligence,
and embraced with ardor, the theological system of the Athenian
sage. But their national pride would have been mortified by a
fair confession of their former poverty: and they boldly marked,
as the sacred inheritance of their ancestors, the gold and jewels
which they had so lately stolen from their Egyptian masters. One
hundred years before the birth of Christ, a philosophical
treatise, which manifestly betrays the style and sentiments of
the school of Plato, was produced by the Alexandrian Jews, and
unanimously received as a genuine and valuable relic of the
inspired Wisdom of Solomon. ^16 A similar union of the Mosaic
faith and the Grecian philosophy, distinguishes the works of
Philo, which were composed, for the most part, under the reign of
Augustus. ^17 The material soul of the universe ^18 might offend
the piety of the Hebrews: but they applied the character of the
Logos to the Jehovah of Moses and the patriarchs; and the Son of
God was introduced upon earth under a visible, and even human
appearance, to perform those familiar offices which seem
incompatible with the nature and attributes of the Universal
Cause. ^19

[Footnote 13: Brucker, Hist. Philosoph. tom. i. p. 1349-1357.
The Alexandrian school is celebrated by Strabo (l. xvii.) and
Ammianus, (xxii. 6.)
Note: The philosophy of Plato was not the only source of
that professed in the school of Alexandria. That city, in which
Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian men of letters were assembled, was
the scene of a strange fusion of the system of these three
people. The Greeks brought a Platonism, already much changed;
the Jews, who had acquired at Babylon a great number of Oriental
notions, and whose theological opinions had undergone great
changes by this intercourse, endeavored to reconcile Platonism
with their new doctrine, and disfigured it entirely: lastly, the
Egyptians, who were not willing to abandon notions for which the
Greeks themselves entertained respect, endeavored on their side
to reconcile their own with those of their neighbors. It is in
Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon that we trace the
influence of Oriental philosophy rather than that of Platonism.
We find in these books, and in those of the later prophets, as in
Ezekiel, notions unknown to the Jews before the Babylonian
captivity, of which we do not discover the germ in Plato, but
which are manifestly derived from the Orientals. Thus God
represented under the image of light, and the principle of evil
under that of darkness; the history of the good and bad angels;
paradise and hell, &c., are doctrines of which the origin, or at
least the positive determination, can only be referred to the
Oriental philosophy. Plato supposed matter eternal; the
Orientals and the Jews considered it as a creation of God, who
alone was eternal. It is impossible to explain the philosophy of
the Alexandrian school solely by the blending of the Jewish
theology with the Greek philosophy. The Oriental philosophy,
however little it may be known, is recognized at every instant.
Thus, according to the Zend Avesta, it is by the Word (honover)
more ancient than the world, that Ormuzd created the universe.
This word is the logos of Philo, consequently very different from
that of Plato. I have shown that Plato never personified the
logos as the ideal archetype of the world: Philo ventured this
personification. The Deity, according to him, has a double
logos; the first is the ideal archetype of the world, the ideal
world, the first-born of the Deity; the second is the word itself
of God, personified under the image of a being acting to create
the sensible world, and to make it like to the ideal world: it is
the second-born of God. Following out his imaginations, Philo
went so far as to personify anew the ideal world, under the image
of a celestial man, the primitive type of man, and the sensible
world under the image of another man less perfect than the
celestial man. Certain notions of the Oriental philosophy may
have given rise to this strange abuse of allegory, which it is
sufficient to relate, to show what alterations Platonism had
already undergone, and what was their source. Philo, moreover, of
all the Jews of Alexandria, is the one whose Platonism is the
most pure. It is from this mixture of Orientalism, Platonism, and
Judaism, that Gnosticism arose, which had produced so many
theological and philosophical extravagancies, and in which
Oriental notions evidently predominate. - G.]
[Footnote 14: Joseph. Antiquitat, l. xii. c. 1, 3. Basnage,
Hist. des Juifs, l. vii. c. 7.]

[Footnote 15: For the origin of the Jewish philosophy, see
Eusebius, Praeparat. Evangel. viii. 9, 10. According to Philo,
the Therapeutae studied philosophy; and Brucker has proved (Hist.
Philosoph. tom. ii. p. 787) that they gave the preference to that
of Plato.]

[Footnote 16: See Calmet, Dissertations sur la Bible, tom. ii. p.
277. The book of the Wisdom of Solomon was received by many of
the fathers as the work of that monarch: and although rejected by
the Protestants for want of a Hebrew original, it has obtained,
with the rest of the Vulgate, the sanction of the council of

[Footnote 17: The Platonism of Philo, which was famous to a
proverb, is proved beyond a doubt by Le Clerc, (Epist. Crit.
viii. p. 211-228.) Basnage (Hist. des Juifs, l. iv. c. 5) has
clearly ascertained, that the theological works of Philo were
composed before the death, and most probably before the birth, of
Christ. In such a time of darkness, the knowledge of Philo is
more astonishing than his errors. Bull, Defens. Fid. Nicen. s.
i. c. i. p. 12.]
[Footnote 18: Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.
Besides this material soul, Cudworth has discovered (p. 562)
in Amelius, Porphyry, Plotinus, and, as he thinks, in Plato
himself, a superior, spiritual upercosmian soul of the universe.
But this double soul is exploded by Brucker, Basnage, and Le
Clerc, as an idle fancy of the latter Platonists.]
[Footnote 19: Petav. Dogmata Theologica, tom. ii. l. viii. c. 2,
p. 791. Bull, Defens. Fid. Nicen. s. i. c. l. p. 8, 13. This
notion, till it was abused by the Arians, was freely adopted in
the Christian theology. Tertullian (adv. Praxeam, c. 16) has a
remarkable and dangerous passage. After contrasting, with
indiscreet wit, the nature of God, and the actions of Jehovah, he
concludes: Scilicet ut haec de filio Dei non credenda fuisse, si
non scripta essent; fortasse non credenda de l'atre licet

Note: Tertullian is here arguing against the Patripassians;
those who asserted that the Father was born of the Virgin, died
and was buried. - M.]

Chapter XXI: Persecution Of Heresy, State Of The Church.

Part II.

The eloquence of Plato, the name of Solomon, the authority
of the school of Alexandria, and the consent of the Jews and
Greeks, were insufficient to establish the truth of a mysterious
doctrine, which might please, but could not satisfy, a rational
mind. A prophet, or apostle, inspired by the Deity, can alone
exercise a lawful dominion over the faith of mankind: and the
theology of Plato might have been forever confounded with the
philosophical visions of the Academy, the Porch, and the Lycaeum,
if the name and divine attributes of the Logos had not been
confirmed by the celestial pen of the last and most sublime of
the Evangelists. ^20 The Christian Revelation, which was
consummated under the reign of Nerva, disclosed to the world the
amazing secret, that the Logos, who was with God from the
beginning, and was God, who had made all things, and for whom all
things had been made, was incarnate in the person of Jesus of
Nazareth; who had been born of a virgin, and suffered death on
the cross. Besides the genera design of fixing on a perpetual
basis the divine honors of Christ, the most ancient and
respectable of the ecclesiastical writers have ascribed to the
evangelic theologian a particular intention to confute two
opposite heresies, which disturbed the peace of the primitive
church. ^21 I. The faith of the Ebionites, ^22 perhaps of the
Nazarenes, ^23 was gross and imperfect. They revered Jesus as
the greatest of the prophets, endowed with supernatural virtue
and power. They ascribed to his person and to his future reign
all the predictions of the Hebrew oracles which relate to the
spiritual and everlasting kingdom of the promised Messiah. ^24
Some of them might confess that he was born of a virgin; but they
obstinately rejected the preceding existence and divine
perfections of the Logos, or Son of God, which are so clearly
defined in the Gospel of St. John. About fifty years afterwards,
the Ebionites, whose errors are mentioned by Justin Martyr with
less severity than they seem to deserve, ^25 formed a very
inconsiderable portion of the Christian name. II. The Gnostics,
who were distinguished by the epithet of Docetes, deviated into
the contrary extreme; and betrayed the human, while they asserted
the divine, nature of Christ. Educated in the school of Plato,
accustomed to the sublime idea of the Logos, they readily
conceived that the brightest Aeon, or Emanation of the Deity,
might assume the outward shape and visible appearances of a
mortal; ^26 but they vainly pretended, that the imperfections of
matter are incompatible with the purity of a celestial substance.

While the blood of Christ yet smoked on Mount Calvary, the
Docetes invented the impious and extravagant hypothesis, that,
instead of issuing from the womb of the Virgin, ^27 he had
descended on the banks of the Jordan in the form of perfect
manhood; that he had imposed on the senses of his enemies, and of
his disciples; and that the ministers of Pilate had wasted their
impotent rage on an ury phantom, who seemed to expire on the
cross, and, after three days, to rise from the dead. ^28
[Footnote 20: The Platonists admired the beginning of the Gospel
of St. John as containing an exact transcript of their own
principles. Augustin de Civitat. Dei, x. 29. Amelius apud
Cyril. advers. Julian. l. viii. p. 283. But in the third and
fourth centuries, the Platonists of Alexandria might improve
their Trinity by the secret study of the Christian theology.
Note: A short discussion on the sense in which St. John has
used the word Logos, will prove that he has not borrowed it from
the philosophy of Plato. The evangelist adopts this word without
previous explanation, as a term with which his contemporaries
were already familiar, and which they could at once comprehend.
To know the sense which he gave to it, we must inquire that which
it generally bore in his time. We find two: the one attached to
the word logos by the Jews of Palestine, the other by the school
of Alexandria, particularly by Philo. The Jews had feared at all
times to pronounce the name of Jehovah; they had formed a habit
of designating God by one of his attributes; they called him
sometimes Wisdom, sometimes the Word. By the word of the Lord
were the heavens made. (Psalm xxxiii. 6.) Accustomed to
allegories, they often addressed themselves to this attribute of
the Deity as a real being. Solomon makes Wisdom say "The Lord
possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of
old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever
the earth was." (Prov. viii. 22, 23.) Their residence in Persia
only increased this inclination to sustained allegories. In the
Ecclesiasticus of the son of Sirach, and the Book of Wisdom, we
find allegorical descriptions of Wisdom like the following: "I
came out of the mouth of the Most High; I covered the earth as a
cloud; . . . I alone compassed the circuit of heaven, and walked
in the bottom of the deep . . . The Creator created me from the
beginning, before the world, and I shall never fail." (Eccles.
xxiv. 35- 39.) See also the Wisdom of Solomon, c. vii. v. 9. [The
latter book is clearly Alexandrian. - M.] We see from this that
the Jews understood from the Hebrew and Chaldaic words which
signify Wisdom, the Word, and which were translated into Greek, a
simple attribute of the Deity, allegorically personified, but of
which they did not make a real particular being separate from the

The school of Alexandria, on the contrary, and Philo among
the rest, mingling Greek with Jewish and Oriental notions, and
abandoning himself to his inclination to mysticism, personified
the logos, and represented it a distinct being, created by God,
and intermediate between God and man. This is the second logos
of Philo, that which acts from the beginning of the world, alone
in its kind, creator of the sensible world, formed by God
according to the ideal world which he had in himself, and which
was the first logos, the first-born of the Deity. The logos
taken in this sense, then, was a created being, but, anterior to
the creation of the world, near to God, and charged with his
revelations to mankind.

Which of these two senses is that which St. John intended to
assign to the word logos in the first chapter of his Gospel, and
in all his writings?
St. John was a Jew, born and educated in Palestine; he had
no knowledge, at least very little, of the philosophy of the
Greeks, and that of the Grecizing Jews: he would naturally, then,
attach to the word logos the sense attached to it by the Jews of
Palestine. If, in fact, we compare the attributes which he
assigns to the logos with those which are assigned to it in
Proverbs, in the Wisdom of Solomon, in Ecclesiasticus, we shall
see that they are the same. The Word was in the world, and the
world was made by him; in him was life, and the life was the
light of men, (c. i. v. 10-14.) It is impossible not to trace in
this chapter the ideas which the Jews had formed of the
allegorized logos. The evangelist afterwards really personifies
that which his predecessors have personified only poetically; for
he affirms "that the Word became flesh," (v. 14.) It was to prove
this that he wrote. Closely examined, the ideas which he gives
of the logos cannot agree with those of Philo and the school of
Alexandria; they correspond, on the contrary, with those of the
Jews of Palestine. Perhaps St. John, employing a well-known term
to explain a doctrine which was yet unknown, has slightly altered
the sense; it is this alteration which we appear to discover on
comparing different passages of his writings.

It is worthy of remark, that the Jews of Palestine, who did
not perceive this alteration, could find nothing extraordinary in
what St. John said of the Logos; at least they comprehended it
without difficulty, while the Greeks and Grecizing Jews, on their
part, brought to it prejudices and preconceptions easily
reconciled with those of the evangelist, who did not expressly
contradict them. This circumstance must have much favored the
progress of Christianity. Thus the fathers of the church in the
two first centuries and later, formed almost all in the school of
Alexandria, gave to the Logos of St. John a sense nearly similar
to that which it received from Philo. Their doctrine approached
very near to that which in the fourth century the council of Nice
condemned in the person of Arius. - G.

M. Guizot has forgotten the long residence of St. John at
Ephesus, the centre of the mingling opinions of the East and
West, which were gradually growing up into Gnosticism. (See
Matter. Hist. du Gnosticisme, vol. i. p. 154.) St. John's sense
of the Logos seems as far removed from the simple allegory
ascribed to the Palestinian Jews as from the Oriental
impersonation of the Alexandrian. The simple truth may be that
St. John took the familiar term, and, as it were infused into it
the peculiar and Christian sense in which it is used in his
writings. - M.]

[Footnote 21: See Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Manicheisme, tom.
i. p. 377. The Gospel according to St. John is supposed to have
been published about seventy years after the death of Christ.]

[Footnote 22: The sentiments of the Ebionites are fairly stated
by Mosheim (p. 331) and Le Clerc, (Hist. Eccles. p. 535.) The
Clementines, published among the apostolical fathers, are
attributed by the critics to one of these sectaries.]

[Footnote 23: Stanch polemics, like a Bull, (Judicium Eccles.
Cathol. c. 2,) insist on the orthodoxy of the Nazarenes; which
appears less pure and certain in the eyes of Mosheim, (p. 330.)]

[Footnote 24: The humble condition and sufferings of Jesus have
always been a stumbling-block to the Jews. "Deus . . .
contrariis coloribus Messiam depinxerat: futurus erat Rex, Judex,
Pastor," &c. See Limborch et Orobio Amica Collat. p. 8, 19,
53-76, 192-234. But this objection has obliged the believing
Christians to lift up their eyes to a spiritual and everlasting

[Footnote 25: Justin Martyr, Dialog. cum Tryphonte, p. 143, 144.
See Le Clerc, Hist. Eccles. p. 615. Bull and his editor Grabe
(Judicium Eccles. Cathol. c. 7, and Appendix) attempt to distort
either the sentiments or the words of Justin; but their violent
correction of the text is rejected even by the Benedictine

[Footnote 26: The Arians reproached the orthodox party with
borrowing their Trinity from the Valentinians and Marcionites.
See Beausobre, Hist. de Manicheisme, l. iii. c. 5, 7.]

[Footnote 27: Non dignum est ex utero credere Deum, et Deum
Christum .... non dignum est ut tanta majestas per sordes et
squalores muli eris transire credatur. The Gnostics asserted the
impurity of matter, and of marriage; and they were scandalized by
the gross interpretations of the fathers, and even of Augustin
himself. See Beausobre, tom. ii. p. 523,

Note: The greater part of the Docetae rejected the true
divinity of Jesus Christ, as well as his human nature. They
belonged to the Gnostics, whom some philosophers, in whose party
Gibbon has enlisted, make to derive their opinions from those of
Plato. These philosophers did not consider that Platonism had
undergone continual alterations, and that those who gave it some
analogy with the notions of the Gnostics were later in their
origin than most of the sects comprehended under this name
Mosheim has proved (in his Instit. Histor. Eccles. Major. s. i.
p. 136, sqq and p. 339, sqq.) that the Oriental philosophy,
combined with the cabalistical philosophy of the Jews, had given
birth to Gnosticism. The relations which exist between this
doctrine and the records which remain to us of that of the
Orientals, the Chaldean and Persian, have been the source of the
errors of the Gnostic Christians, who wished to reconcile their
ancient notions with their new belief. It is on this account
that, denying the human nature of Christ, they also denied his
intimate union with God, and took him for one of the substances
(aeons) created by God. As they believed in the eternity of
matter, and considered it to be the principle of evil, in
opposition to the Deity, the first cause and principle of good,
they were unwilling to admit that one of the pure substances, one
of the aeons which came forth from God, had, by partaking in the
material nature, allied himself to the principle of evil; and
this was their motive for rejecting the real humanity of Jesus
Christ. See Ch. G. F. Walch, Hist. of Heresies in Germ. t. i. p.
217, sqq. Brucker, Hist. Crit. Phil. ii. p 639. - G.]
[Footnote 28: Apostolis adhuc in saeculo superstitibus apud
Judaeam Christi sanguine recente, et phanlasma corpus Domini
asserebatur. Cotelerius thinks (Patres Apostol. tom. ii. p. 24)
that those who will not allow the Docetes to have arisen in the
time of the Apostles, may with equal reason deny that the sun
shines at noonday. These Docetes, who formed the most
considerable party among the Gnostics, were so called, because
they granted only a seeming body to Christ.

Note: The name of Docetae was given to these sectaries only
in the course of the second century: this name did not designate
a sect, properly so called; it applied to all the sects who
taught the non- reality of the material body of Christ; of this
number were the Valentinians, the Basilidians, the Ophites, the
Marcionites, (against whom Tertullian wrote his book, De Carne
Christi,) and other Gnostics. In truth, Clement of Alexandria
(l. iii. Strom. c. 13, p. 552) makes express mention of a sect of
Docetae, and even names as one of its heads a certain Cassianus;
but every thing leads us to believe that it was not a distinct
sect. Philastrius (de Haeres, c. 31) reproaches Saturninus with
being a Docete. Irenaeus (adv. Haer. c. 23) makes the same
reproach against Basilides. Epiphanius and Philastrius, who have
treated in detail on each particular heresy, do not specially
name that of the Docetae. Serapion, bishop of Antioch, (Euseb.
Hist. Eccles. l. vi. c. 12,) and Clement of Alexandria, (l. vii.
Strom. p. 900,) appear to be the first who have used the generic
name. It is not found in any earlier record, though the error
which it points out existed even in the time of the Apostles.
See Ch. G. F. Walch, Hist. of Her. v. i. p. 283. Tillemont,
Mempour servir a la Hist Eccles. ii. p. 50. Buddaeus de Eccles.
Apost. c. 5 & 7 - G.]

The divine sanction, which the Apostle had bestowed on the
fundamental principle of the theology of Plato, encouraged the
learned proselytes of the second and third centuries to admire
and study the writings of the Athenian sage, who had thus
marvellously anticipated one of the most surprising discoveries
of the Christian revelation. The respectable name of Plato was
used by the orthodox, ^29 and abused by the heretics, ^30 as the
common support of truth and error: the authority of his skilful
commentators, and the science of dialectics, were employed to
justify the remote consequences of his opinions and to supply the
discreet silence of the inspired writers. The same subtle and
profound questions concerning the nature, the generation, the
distinction, and the equality of the three divine persons of the
mysterious Triad, or Trinity, ^31 were agitated in the
philosophical and in the Christian schools of Alexandria. An
eager spirit of curiosity urged them to explore the secrets of
the abyss; and the pride of the professors, and of their
disciples, was satisfied with the sciences of words. But the
most sagacious of the Christian theologians, the great Athanasius
himself, has candidly confessed, ^32 that whenever he forced his
understanding to meditate on the divinity of the Logos, his
toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves; that the
more he thought, the less he comprehended; and the more he wrote,
the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts. In every
step of the inquiry, we are compelled to feel and acknowledge the
immeasurable disproportion between the size of the object and the
capacity of the human mind. We may strive to abstract the
notions of time, of space, and of matter, which so closely adhere
to all the perceptions of our experimental knowledge. But as
soon as we presume to reason of infinite substance, of spiritual
generation; as often as we deduce any positive conclusions from a
negative idea, we are involved in darkness, perplexity, and
inevitable contradiction. As these difficulties arise from the
nature of the subject, they oppress, with the same insuperable
weight, the philosophic and the theological disputant; but we may
observe two essential and peculiar circumstances, which
discriminated the doctrines of the Catholic church from the
opinions of the Platonic school.

[Footnote 29: Some proofs of the respect which the Christians
entertained for the person and doctrine of Plato may be found in
De la Mothe le Vayer, tom. v. p. 135, &c., edit. 1757; and
Basnage, Hist. des Juifs tom. iv. p. 29, 79, &c.]
[Footnote 30: Doleo bona fide, Platonem omnium heraeticorum
condimentarium factum. Tertullian. de Anima, c. 23. Petavius
(Dogm. Theolog. tom. iii. proleg. 2) shows that this was a
general complaint. Beausobre (tom. i. l. iii. c. 9, 10) has
deduced the Gnostic errors from Platonic principles; and as, in
the school of Alexandria, those principles were blended with the
Oriental philosophy, (Brucker, tom. i. p. 1356,) the sentiment of
Beausobre may be reconciled with the opinion of Mosheim, (General
History of the Church, vol. i. p. 37.)]

[Footnote 31: If Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, (see Dupin,
Bibliotheque Ecclesiastique, tom. i. p. 66,) was the first who
employed the word Triad, Trinity, that abstract term, which was
already familiar to the schools of philosophy, must have been
introduced into the theology of the Christians after the middle
of the second century.]

[Footnote 32: Athanasius, tom. i. p. 808. His expressions have
an uncommon energy; and as he was writing to monks, there could
not be any occasion for him to affect a rational language.]

I. A chosen society of philosophers, men of a liberal
education and curious disposition, might silently meditate, and
temperately discuss in the gardens of Athens or the library of
Alexandria, the abstruse questions of metaphysical science. The
lofty speculations, which neither convinced the understanding,
nor agitated the passions, of the Platonists themselves, were
carelessly overlooked by the idle, the busy, and even the
studious part of mankind. ^33 But after the Logos had been
revealed as the sacred object of the faith, the hope, and the
religious worship of the Christians, the mysterious system was
embraced by a numerous and increasing multitude in every province
of the Roman world. Those persons who, from their age, or sex,
or occupations, were the least qualified to judge, who were the
least exercised in the habits of abstract reasoning, aspired to
contemplate the economy of the Divine Nature: and it is the boast
of Tertullian, ^34 that a Christian mechanic could readily answer
such questions as had perplexed the wisest of the Grecian sages.
Where the subject lies so far beyond our reach, the difference
between the highest and the lowest of human understandings may
indeed be calculated as infinitely small; yet the degree of
weakness may perhaps be measured by the degree of obstinacy and
dogmatic confidence. These speculations, instead of being
treated as the amusement of a vacant hour, became the most
serious business of the present, and the most useful preparation
for a future, life. A theology, which it was incumbent to
believe, which it was impious to doubt, and which it might be
dangerous, and even fatal, to mistake, became the familiar topic
of private meditation and popular discourse. The cold
indifference of philosophy was inflamed by the fervent spirit of
devotion; and even the metaphors of common language suggested the
fallacious prejudices of sense and experience. The Christians,
who abhorred the gross and impure generation of the Greek
mythology, ^35 were tempted to argue from the familiar analogy of
the filial and paternal relations. The character of Son seemed
to imply a perpetual subordination to the voluntary author of his
existence; ^36 but as the act of generation, in the most
spiritual and abstracted sense, must be supposed to transmit the
properties of a common nature, ^37 they durst not presume to
circumscribe the powers or the duration of the Son of an eternal
and omnipotent Father. Fourscore years after the death of Christ,
the Christians of Bithynia, declared before the tribunal of
Pliny, that they invoked him as a god: and his divine honors have
been perpetuated in every age and country, by the various sects
who assume the name of his disciples. ^38 Their tender reverence
for the memory of Christ, and their horror for the profane
worship of any created being, would have engaged them to assert
the equal and absolute divinity of the Logos, if their rapid
ascent towards the throne of heaven had not been imperceptibly
checked by the apprehension of violating the unity and sole
supremacy of the great Father of Christ and of the Universe. The
suspense and fluctuation produced in the minds of the Christians
by these opposite tendencies, may be observed in the writings of
the theologians who flourished after the end of the apostolic
age, and before the origin of the Arian controversy. Their
suffrage is claimed, with equal confidence, by the orthodox and
by the heretical parties; and the most inquisitive critics have
fairly allowed, that if they had the good fortune of possessing
the Catholic verity, they have delivered their conceptions in
loose, inaccurate, and sometimes contradictory language. ^39

[Footnote 33: In a treatise, which professed to explain the
opinions of the ancient philosophers concerning the nature of the
gods we might expect to discover the theological Trinity of
Plato. But Cicero very honestly confessed, that although he had
translated the Timaeus, he could never understand that mysterious
dialogue. See Hieronym. praef. ad l. xii. in Isaiam, tom. v. p.

[Footnote 34: Tertullian. in Apolog. c. 46. See Bayle,
Dictionnaire, au mot Simonide. His remarks on the presumption of
Tertullian are profound and interesting.]

[Footnote 35: Lactantius, iv. 8. Yet the Probole, or Prolatio,
which the most orthodox divines borrowed without scruple from the
Valentinians, and illustrated by the comparisons of a fountain
and stream, the sun and its rays, &c., either meant nothing, or
favored a material idea of the divine generation. See Beausobre,
tom. i. l. iii. c. 7, p. 548.]
[Footnote 36: Many of the primitive writers have frankly
confessed, that the Son owed his being to the will of the Father.

See Clarke's Scripture Trinity, p. 280-287. On the other hand,
Athanasius and his followers seem unwilling to grant what they
are afraid to deny. The schoolmen extricate themselves from this
difficulty by the distinction of a preceding and a concomitant
will. Petav. Dogm. Theolog. tom. ii. l. vi. c. 8, p. 587-603.]

[Footnote 37: See Petav. Dogm. Theolog. tom. ii. l. ii. c. 10, p.
[Footnote 38: Carmenque Christo quasi Deo dicere secum invicem.
Plin. Epist. x. 97. The sense of Deus, Elohim, in the ancient
languages, is critically examined by Le Clerc, (Ars Critica, p.
150-156,) and the propriety of worshipping a very excellent
creature is ably defended by the Socinian Emlyn, (Tracts, p.
29-36, 51-145.)]

[Footnote 39: See Daille de Usu Patrum, and Le Clerc,
Bibliotheque Universelle, tom. x. p. 409. To arraign the faith
of the Ante-Nicene fathers, was the object, or at least has been
the effect, of the stupendous work of Petavius on the Trinity,
(Dogm. Theolog. tom. ii.;) nor has the deep impression been
erased by the learned defence of Bishop Bull.
Note: Dr. Burton's work on the doctrine of the Ante-Nicene
fathers must be consulted by those who wish to obtain clear
notions on this subject. - M.]

Chapter XXI: Persecution Of Heresy, State Of The Church.

Part III.

II. The devotion of individuals was the first circumstance
which distinguished the Christians from the Platonists: the
second was the authority of the church. The disciples of
philosophy asserted the rights of intellectual freedom, and their
respect for the sentiments of their teachers was a liberal and
voluntary tribute, which they offered to superior reason. But the
Christians formed a numerous and disciplined society; and the
jurisdiction of their laws and magistrates was strictly exercised
over the minds of the faithful. The loose wanderings of the
imagination were gradually confined by creeds and confessions;
^40 the freedom of private judgment submitted to the public
wisdom of synods; the authority of a theologian was determined by
his ecclesiastical rank; and the episcopal successors of the
apostles inflicted the censures of the church on those who
deviated from the orthodox belief. But in an age of religious
controversy, every act of oppression adds new force to the
elastic vigor of the mind; and the zeal or obstinacy of a
spiritual rebel was sometimes stimulated by secret motives of
ambition or avarice. A metaphysical argument became the cause or
pretence of political contests; the subtleties of the Platonic
school were used as the badges of popular factions, and the
distance which separated their respective tenets were enlarged or
magnified by the acrimony of dispute. As long as the dark
heresies of Praxeas and Sabellius labored to confound the Father
with the Son, ^41 the orthodox party might be excused if they
adhered more strictly and more earnestly to the distinction, than
to the equality, of the divine persons. But as soon as the heat
of controversy had subsided, and the progress of the Sabellians
was no longer an object of terror to the churches of Rome, of
Africa, or of Egypt, the tide of theological opinion began to
flow with a gentle but steady motion towards the contrary
extreme; and the most orthodox doctors allowed themselves the use
of the terms and definitions which had been censured in the mouth
of the sectaries. ^42 After the edict of toleration had restored
peace and leisure to the Christians, the Trinitarian controversy
was revived in the ancient seat of Platonism, the learned, the
opulent, the tumultuous city of Alexandria; and the flame of
religious discord was rapidly communicated from the schools to
the clergy, the people, the province, and the East. The abstruse
question of the eternity of the Logos was agitated in
ecclesiastic conferences and popular sermons; and the heterodox
opinions of Arius ^43 were soon made public by his own zeal, and
by that of his adversaries. His most implacable adversaries have
acknowledged the learning and blameless life of that eminent
presbyter, who, in a former election, had declared, and perhaps
generously declined, his pretensions to the episcopal throne. ^44
His competitor Alexander assumed the office of his judge. The
important cause was argued before him; and if at first he seemed
to hesitate, he at length pronounced his final sentence, as an
absolute rule of faith. ^45 The undaunted presbyter, who presumed
to resist the authority of his angry bishop, was separated from
the community of the church. But the pride of Arius was
supported by the applause of a numerous party. He reckoned among
his immediate followers two bishops of Egypt, seven presbyters,
twelve deacons, and (what may appear almost incredible) seven
hundred virgins. A large majority of the bishops of Asia
appeared to support or favor his cause; and their measures were
conducted by Eusebius of Caesarea, the most learned of the
Christian prelates; and by Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had
acquired the reputation of a statesman without forfeiting that of
a saint. Synods in Palestine and Bithynia were opposed to the
synods of Egypt. The attention of the prince and people was
attracted by this theological dispute; and the decision, at the
end of six years, ^46 was referred to the supreme authority of
the general council of Nice.

[Footnote 40: The most ancient creeds were drawn up with the
greatest latitude. See Bull, (Judicium Eccles. Cathol.,) who
tries to prevent Episcopius from deriving any advantage from this
[Footnote 41: The heresies of Praxeas, Sabellius, &c., are
accurately explained by Mosheim (p. 425, 680-714.) Praxeas, who
came to Rome about the end of the second century, deceived, for
some time, the simplicity of the bishop, and was confuted by the
pen of the angry Tertullian.]
[Footnote 42: Socrates acknowledges, that the heresy of Arius
proceeded from his strong desire to embrace an opinion the most
diametrically opposite to that of Sabellius.]

[Footnote 43: The figure and manners of Arius, the character and
numbers of his first proselytes, are painted in very lively
colors by Epiphanius, (tom. i. Haeres. lxix. 3, p. 729,) and we
cannot but regret that he should soon forget the historian, to
assume the task of controversy.]

[Footnote 44: See Philostorgius (l. i. c. 3,) and Godefroy's
ample Commentary. Yet the credibility of Philostorgius is
lessened, in the eyes of the orthodox, by his Arianism; and in
those of rational critics, by his passion, his prejudice, and his

[Footnote 45: Sozomen (l. i. c. 15) represents Alexander as
indifferent, and even ignorant, in the beginning of the
controversy; while Socrates (l. i. c. 5) ascribes the origin of
the dispute to the vain curiosity of his theological
speculations. Dr. Jortin (Remarks on Ecclesiastical History,
vol. ii. p. 178) has censured, with his usual freedom, the
conduct of Alexander.]
[Footnote 46: The flames of Arianism might burn for some time in
secret; but there is reason to believe that they burst out with
violence as early as the year 319. Tillemont, Mem. Eccles. tom.
vi. p. 774-780.]

When the mysteries of the Christian faith were dangerously
exposed to public debate, it might be observed, that the human
understanding was capable of forming three district, though
imperfect systems, concerning the nature of the Divine Trinity;
and it was pronounced, that none of these systems, in a pure and
absolute sense, were exempt from heresy and error. ^47 I.
According to the first hypothesis, which was maintained by Arius
and his disciples, the Logos was a dependent and spontaneous
production, created from nothing by the will of the father. The
Son, by whom all things were made, ^48 had been begotten before
all worlds, and the longest of the astronomical periods could be
compared only as a fleeting moment to the extent of his duration;
yet this duration was not infinite, ^49 and there had been a time
which preceded the ineffable generation of the Logos. On this
only-begotten Son, the Almighty Father had transfused his ample
spirit, and impressed the effulgence of his glory. Visible image
of invisible perfection, he saw, at an immeasurable distance
beneath his feet, the thrones of the brightest archangels; yet he
shone only with a reflected light, and, like the sons of the
Romans emperors, who were invested with the titles of Caesar or
Augustus, ^50 he governed the universe in obedience to the will
of his Father and Monarch. II. In the second hypothesis, the
Logos possessed all the inherent, incommunicable perfections,
which religion and philosophy appropriate to the Supreme God.
Three distinct and infinite minds or substances, three coequal
and coeternal beings, composed the Divine Essence; ^51 and it
would have implied contradiction, that any of them should not
have existed, or that they should ever cease to exist. ^52 The
advocates of a system which seemed to establish three independent
Deities, attempted to preserve the unity of the First Cause, so
conspicuous in the design and order of the world, by the
perpetual concord of their administration, and the essential
agreement of their will. A faint resemblance of this unity of
action may be discovered in the societies of men, and even of
animals. The causes which disturb their harmony, proceed only
from the imperfection and inequality of their faculties; but the
omnipotence which is guided by infinite wisdom and goodness,
cannot fail of choosing the same means for the accomplishment of
the same ends. III. Three beings, who, by the self-derived
necessity of their existence, possess all the divine attributes
in the most perfect degree; who are eternal in duration, infinite
in space, and intimately present to each other, and to the whole
universe; irresistibly force themselves on the astonished mind,
as one and the same being, ^53 who, in the economy of grace, as
well as in that of nature, may manifest himself under different
forms, and be considered under different aspects. By this
hypothesis, a real substantial trinity is refined into a trinity
of names, and abstract modifications, that subsist only in the
mind which conceives them. The Logos is no longer a person, but
an attribute; and it is only in a figurative sense that the
epithet of Son can be applied to the eternal reason, which was
with God from the beginning, and by which, not by whom, all
things were made. The incarnation of the Logos is reduced to a
mere inspiration of the Divine Wisdom, which filled the soul, and
directed all the actions, of the man Jesus. Thus, after
revolving around the theological circle, we are surprised to find
that the Sabellian ends where the Ebionite had begun; and that
the incomprehensible mystery which excites our adoration, eludes
our inquiry. ^54

[Footnote 47: Quid credidit? Certe, aut tria nomina audiens tres
Deos esse credidit, et idololatra effectus est; aut in tribus
vocabulis trinominem credens Deum, in Sabellii haeresim incurrit;
aut edoctus ab Arianis unum esse verum Deum Patrem, filium et
spiritum sanctum credidit creaturas. Aut extra haec quid credere
potuerit nescio. Hieronym adv. Luciferianos. Jerom reserves for
the last the orthodox system, which is more complicated and
[Footnote 48: As the doctrine of absolute creation from nothing
was gradually introduced among the Christians, (Beausobre, tom.
ii. p. 165- 215,) the dignity of the workman very naturally rose
with that of the work.]
[Footnote 49: The metaphysics of Dr. Clarke (Scripture Trinity,
p. 276-280) could digest an eternal generation from an infinite
[Footnote 50: This profane and absurd simile is employed by
several of the primitive fathers, particularly by Athenagoras, in
his Apology to the emperor Marcus and his son; and it is alleged,
without censure, by Bull himself. See Defens. Fid. Nicen. sect.
iii. c. 5, No. 4.]

[Footnote 51: See Cudworth's Intellectual System, p. 559, 579.
This dangerous hypothesis was countenanced by the two Gregories,
of Nyssa and Nazianzen, by Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus,
&c. See Cudworth, p. 603. Le Clerc, Bibliotheque Universelle,
tom xviii. p. 97-105.]

[Footnote 52: Augustin seems to envy the freedom of the
Philosophers. Liberis verbis loquuntur philosophi . . . . Nos
autem non dicimus duo vel tria principia, duos vel tres Deos. De
Civitat. Dei, x. 23.]

[Footnote 53: Boetius, who was deeply versed in the philosophy of
Plato and Aristotle, explains the unity of the Trinity by the
indifference of the three persons. See the judicious remarks of
Le Clerc, Bibliotheque Choisie, tom. xvi. p. 225, &c.]

[Footnote 54: If the Sabellians were startled at this conclusion,
they were driven another precipice into the confession, that the
Father was born of a virgin, that he had suffered on the cross;
and thus deserved the epithet of Patripassians, with which they
were branded by their adversaries. See the invectives of
Tertullian against Praxeas, and the temperate reflections of
Mosheim, (p. 423, 681;) and Beausobre, tom. i. l. iii. c. 6, p.
If the bishops of the council of Nice ^55 had been permitted
to follow the unbiased dictates of their conscience, Arius and
his associates could scarcely have flattered themselves with the
hopes of obtaining a majority of votes, in favor of an hypothesis
so directly averse to the two most popular opinions of the
Catholic world. The Arians soon perceived the danger of their
situation, and prudently assumed those modest virtues, which, in
the fury of civil and religious dissensions, are seldom
practised, or even praised, except by the weaker party. They
recommended the exercise of Christian charity and moderation;
urged the incomprehensible nature of the controversy, disclaimed
the use of any terms or definitions which could not be found in
the Scriptures; and offered, by very liberal concessions, to
satisfy their adversaries without renouncing the integrity of
their own principles. The victorious faction received all their
proposals with haughty suspicion; and anxiously sought for some
irreconcilable mark of distinction, the rejection of which might
involve the Arians in the guilt and consequences of heresy. A
letter was publicly read, and ignominiously torn, in which their
patron, Eusebius of Nicomedia, ingenuously confessed, that the
admission of the Homoousion, or Consubstantial, a word already
familiar to the Platonists, was incompatible with the principles
of their theological system. The fortunate opportunity was
eagerly embraced by the bishops, who governed the resolutions of
the synod; and, according to the lively expression of Ambrose,
^56 they used the sword, which heresy itself had drawn from the
scabbard, to cut off the head of the hated monster. The
consubstantiality of the Father and the Son was established by
the council of Nice, and has been unanimously received as a
fundamental article of the Christian faith, by the consent of the
Greek, the Latin, the Oriental, and the Protestant churches. But
if the same word had not served to stigmatize the heretics, and
to unite the Catholics, it would have been inadequate to the
purpose of the majority, by whom it was introduced into the
orthodox creed. This majority was divided into two parties,
distinguished by a contrary tendency to the sentiments of the
Tritheists and of the Sabellians. But as those opposite extremes
seemed to overthrow the foundations either of natural or revealed
religion, they mutually agreed to qualify the rigor of their
principles; and to disavow the just, but invidious, consequences,
which might be urged by their antagonists. The interest of the
common cause inclined them to join their numbers, and to conceal
their differences; their animosity was softened by the healing
counsels of toleration, and their disputes were suspended by the
use of the mysterious Homoousion, which either party was free to
interpret according to their peculiar tenets. The Sabellian
sense, which, about fifty years before, had obliged the council
of Antioch ^57 to prohibit this celebrated term, had endeared it
to those theologians who entertained a secret but partial
affection for a nominal Trinity. But the more fashionable saints
of the Arian times, the intrepid Athanasius, the learned Gregory
Nazianzen, and the other pillars of the church, who supported
with ability and success the Nicene doctrine, appeared to
consider the expression of substance as if it had been synonymous
with that of nature; and they ventured to illustrate their
meaning, by affirming that three men, as they belong to the same
common species, are consubstantial, or homoousian to each other.
^58 This pure and distinct equality was tempered, on the one
hand, by the internal connection, and spiritual penetration which
indissolubly unites the divine persons; ^59 and, on the other, by
the preeminence of the Father, which was acknowledged as far as
it is compatible with the independence of the Son. ^60 Within
these limits, the almost invisible and tremulous ball of
orthodoxy was allowed securely to vibrate. On either side,
beyond this consecrated ground, the heretics and the daemons
lurked in ambush to surprise and devour the unhappy wanderer.
But as the degrees of theological hatred depend on the spirit of
the war, rather than on the importance of the controversy, the
heretics who degraded, were treated with more severity than those
who annihilated, the person of the Son. The life of Athanasius
was consumed in irreconcilable opposition to the impious madness
of the Arians; ^61 but he defended above twenty years the
Sabellianism of Marcellus of Ancyra; and when at last he was
compelled to withdraw himself from his communion, he continued to
mention, with an ambiguous smile, the venial errors of his
respectable friend. ^62

[Footnote 55: The transactions of the council of Nice are related
by the ancients, not only in a partial, but in a very imperfect
manner. Such a picture as Fra Paolo would have drawn, can never
be recovered; but such rude sketches as have been traced by the
pencil of bigotry, and that of reason, may be seen in Tillemont,
(Mem. Eccles. tom. v. p. 669-759,) and in Le Clerc, (Bibliotheque
Universelle, tom. x p. 435-454.)]

[Footnote 56: We are indebted to Ambrose (De Fide, l. iii.
knowledge of this curious anecdote. Hoc verbum quod viderunt
adversariis esse formidini; ut ipsis gladio, ipsum nefandae caput

[Footnote 57: See Bull, Defens. Fid. Nicen. sect. ii. c. i. p.
25-36. He thinks it his duty to reconcile two orthodox synods.]

[Footnote 58: According to Aristotle, the stars were homoousian
to each other. "That Homoousios means of one substance in kind,
hath been shown by Petavius, Curcellaeus, Cudworth, Le Clerc,
&c., and to prove it would be actum agere." This is the just
remark of Dr. Jortin, (vol. ii p. 212,) who examines the Arian
controversy with learning, candor, and ingenuity.]

[Footnote 59: See Petavius, (Dogm. Theolog. tom. ii. l. iv. c.
16, p. 453, &c.,) Cudworth, (p. 559,) Bull, (sect. iv. p.
285-290, edit. Grab.) The circumincessio, is perhaps the deepest
and darkest he whole theological abyss.]

[Footnote 60: The third section of Bull's Defence of the Nicene
Faith, which some of his antagonists have called nonsense, and
others heresy, is consecrated to the supremacy of the Father.]

[Footnote 61: The ordinary appellation with which Athanasius and
his followers chose to compliment the Arians, was that of

[Footnote 62: Epiphanius, tom i. Haeres. lxxii. 4, p. 837. See
the adventures of Marcellus, in Tillemont, (Mem. Eccles. tom. v.
i. p. 880- 899.) His work, in one book, of the unity of God, was
answered in the three books, which are still extant, of Eusebius.

After a long and careful examination, Petavius (tom. ii. l. i. c.
14, p. 78) has reluctantly pronounced the condemnation of

The authority of a general council, to which the Arians
themselves had been compelled to submit, inscribed on the banners
of the orthodox party the mysterious characters of the word
Homoousion, which essentially contributed, notwithstanding some
obscure disputes, some nocturnal combats, to maintain and
perpetuate the uniformity of faith, or at least of language. The
consubstantialists, who by their success have deserved and
obtained the title of Catholics, gloried in the simplicity and
steadiness of their own creed, and insulted the repeated
variations of their adversaries, who were destitute of any
certain rule of faith. The sincerity or the cunning of the Arian
chiefs, the fear of the laws or of the people, their reverence
for Christ, their hatred of Athanasius, all the causes, human and
divine, that influence and disturb the counsels of a theological
faction, introduced among the sectaries a spirit of discord and
inconstancy, which, in the course of a few years, erected
eighteen different models of religion, ^63 and avenged the
violated dignity of the church. The zealous Hilary, ^64 who,
from the peculiar hardships of his situation, was inclined to
extenuate rather than to aggravate the errors of the Oriental
clergy, declares, that in the wide extent of the ten provinces of
Asia, to which he had been banished, there could be found very
few prelates who had preserved the knowledge of the true God. ^65
The oppression which he had felt, the disorders of which he was
the spectator and the victim, appeased, during a short interval,
the angry passions of his soul; and in the following passage, of
which I shall transcribe a few lines, the bishop of Poitiers
unwarily deviates into the style of a Christian philosopher. "It
is a thing," says Hilary, "equally deplorable and dangerous, that
there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines
as inclinations, and as many sources of blasphemy as there are
faults among us; because we make creeds arbitrarily, and explain
them as arbitrarily. The Homoousion is rejected, and received,
and explained away by successive synods. The partial or total
resemblance of the Father and of the Son is a subject of dispute
for these unhappy times. Every year, nay, every moon, we make
new creeds to describe invisible mysteries. We repent of what we
have done, we defend those who repent, we anathematize those whom
we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in
ourselves, or our own in that of others; and reciprocally tearing
one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other's
ruin." ^66

[Footnote 63: Athanasius, in his epistle concerning the Synods of
Seleucia and Rimini, (tom. i. p. 886-905,) has given an ample
list of Arian creeds, which has been enlarged and improved by the
labors of the indefatigable Tillemont, (Mem. Eccles. tom. vi. p.

[Footnote 64: Erasmus, with admirable sense and freedom, has
delineated the just character of Hilary. To revise his text, to
compose the annals of his life, and to justify his sentiments and
conduct, is the province of the Benedictine editors.]

[Footnote 65: Absque episcopo Eleusio et paucis cum eo, ex majore
parte Asianae decem provinciae, inter quas consisto, vere Deum
nesciunt. Atque utinam penitus nescirent! cum procliviore enim
venia ignorarent quam obtrectarent. Hilar. de Synodis, sive de
Fide Orientalium, c. 63, p. 1186, edit. Benedict. In the
celebrated parallel between atheism and superstition, the bishop
of Poitiers would have been surprised in the philosophic society
of Bayle and Plutarch.]

[Footnote 66: Hilarius ad Constantium, l. i. c. 4, 5, p. 1227,
1228. This remarkable passage deserved the attention of Mr.
Locke, who has transcribed it (vol. iii. p. 470) into the model
of his new common-place book.]
It will not be expected, it would not perhaps be endured,
that I should swell this theological digression, by a minute
examination of the eighteen creeds, the authors of which, for the
most part, disclaimed the odious name of their parent Arius. It
is amusing enough to delineate the form, and to trace the
vegetation, of a singular plant; but the tedious detail of leaves
without flowers, and of branches without fruit, would soon
exhaust the patience, and disappoint the curiosity, of the
laborious student. One question, which gradually arose from the
Arian controversy, may, however, be noticed, as it served to
produce and discriminate the three sects, who were united only by
their common aversion to the Homoousion of the Nicene synod. 1.
If they were asked whether the Son was like unto the Father, the
question was resolutely answered in the negative, by the heretics
who adhered to the principles of Arius, or indeed to those of
philosophy; which seem to establish an infinite difference
between the Creator and the most excellent of his creatures.
This obvious consequence was maintained by Aetius, ^67 on whom
the zeal of his adversaries bestowed the surname of the Atheist.
His restless and aspiring spirit urged him to try almost every
profession of human life. He was successively a slave, or at
least a husbandman, a travelling tinker, a goldsmith, a
physician, a schoolmaster, a theologian, and at last the apostle
of a new church, which was propagated by the abilities of his
disciple Eunomius. ^68 Armed with texts of Scripture, and with
captious syllogisms from the logic of Aristotle, the subtle
Aetius had acquired the fame of an invincible disputant, whom it
was impossible either to silence or to convince. Such talents
engaged the friendship of the Arian bishops, till they were
forced to renounce, and even to persecute, a dangerous ally, who,
by the accuracy of his reasoning, had prejudiced their cause in
the popular opinion, and offended the piety of their most devoted
followers. 2. The omnipotence of the Creator suggested a
specious and respectful solution of the likeness of the Father
and the Son; and faith might humbly receive what reason could not
presume to deny, that the Supreme God might communicate his
infinite perfections, and create a being similar only to himself.
^69 These Arians were powerfully supported by the weight and
abilities of their leaders, who had succeeded to the management
of the Eusebian interest, and who occupied the principal thrones
of the East. They detested, perhaps with some affectation, the
impiety of Aetius; they professed to believe, either without
reserve, or according to the Scriptures, that the Son was
different from all other creatures, and similar only to the
Father. But they denied, the he was either of the same, or of a
similar substance; sometimes boldly justifying their dissent, and
sometimes objecting to the use of the word substance, which seems
to imply an adequate, or at least, a distinct, notion of the
nature of the Deity. 3. The sect which deserted the doctrine of
a similar substance, was the most numerous, at least in the
provinces of Asia; and when the leaders of both parties were
assembled in the council of Seleucia, ^70 their opinion would
have prevailed by a majority of one hundred and five to
forty-three bishops. The Greek word, which was chosen to express
this mysterious resemblance, bears so close an affinity to the
orthodox symbol, that the profane of every age have derided the
furious contests which the difference of a single diphthong
excited between the Homoousians and the Homoiousians. As it
frequently happens, that the sounds and characters which approach
the nearest to each other accidentally represent the most
opposite ideas, the observation would be itself ridiculous, if it
were possible to mark any real and sensible distinction between
the doctrine of the Semi-Arians, as they were improperly styled,
and that of the Catholics themselves. The bishop of Poitiers,
who in his Phrygian exile very wisely aimed at a coalition of
parties, endeavors to prove that by a pious and faithful
interpretation, ^71 the Homoiousion may be reduced to a
consubstantial sense. Yet he confesses that the word has a dark
and suspicious aspect; and, as if darkness were congenial to
theological disputes, the Semi-Arians, who advanced to the doors
of the church, assailed them with the most unrelenting fury.
[Footnote 67: In Philostorgius (l. iii. c. 15) the character and
adventures of Aetius appear singular enough, though they are
carefully softened by the hand of a friend. The editor,
Godefroy, (p. 153,) who was more attached to his principles than
to his author, has collected the odious circumstances which his
various adversaries have preserved or invented.]

[Footnote 68: According to the judgment of a man who respected
both these sectaries, Aetius had been endowed with a stronger
understanding and Eunomius had acquired more art and learning.
(Philostorgius l. viii. c. 18.) The confession and apology of
Eunomius (Fabricius, Bibliot. Graec. tom. viii. p. 258-305) is
one of the few heretical pieces which have escaped.]
[Footnote 69: Yet, according to the opinion of Estius and Bull,
(p. 297,) there is one power - that of creation - which God
cannot communicate to a creature. Estius, who so accurately
defined the limits of Omnipotence was a Dutchman by birth, and by
trade a scholastic divine. Dupin Bibliot. Eccles. tom. xvii. p.

[Footnote 70: Sabinus ap. Socrat. (l. ii. c. 39) had copied the
acts: Athanasius and Hilary have explained the divisions of this
Arian synod; the other circumstances which are relative to it are
carefully collected by Baro and Tillemont]

[Footnote 71: Fideli et pia intelligentia. . . De Synod. c. 77,
p. 1193. In his his short apologetical notes (first published by
the Benedictines from a MS. of Chartres) he observes, that he
used this cautious expression, qui intelligerum et impiam, p.
1206. See p. 1146. Philostorgius, who saw those objects through
a different medium, is inclined to forget the difference of the
important diphthong. See in particular viii. 17, and Godefroy,
p. 352.]
The provinces of Egypt and Asia, which cultivated the
language and manners of the Greeks, had deeply imbibed the venom
of the Arian controversy. The familiar study of the Platonic
system, a vain and argumentative disposition, a copious and
flexible idiom, supplied the clergy and people of the East with
an inexhaustible flow of words and distinctions; and, in the
midst of their fierce contentions, they easily forgot the doubt
which is recommended by philosophy, and the submission which is
enjoined by religion. The inhabitants of the West were of a less
inquisitive spirit; their passions were not so forcibly moved by
invisible objects, their minds were less frequently exercised by
the habits of dispute; and such was the happy ignorance of the
Gallican church, that Hilary himself, above thirty years after
the first general council, was still a stranger to the Nicene
creed. ^72 The Latins had received the rays of divine knowledge
through the dark and doubtful medium of a translation. The
poverty and stubbornness of their native tongue was not always
capable of affording just equivalents for the Greek terms, for
the technical words of the Platonic philosophy, ^73 which had
been consecrated, by the gospel or by the church, to express the
mysteries of the Christian faith; and a verbal defect might
introduce into the Latin theology a long train of error or
perplexity. ^74 But as the western provincials had the good
fortune of deriving their religion from an orthodox source, they
preserved with steadiness the doctrine which they had accepted
with docility; and when the Arian pestilence approached their
frontiers, they were supplied with the seasonable preservative of
the Homoousion, by the paternal care of the Roman pontiff. Their
sentiments and their temper were displayed in the memorable synod
of Rimini, which surpassed in numbers the council of Nice, since
it was composed of above four hundred bishops of Italy, Africa,
Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Illyricum. From the first debates it
appeared, that only fourscore prelates adhered to the party,
though they affected to anathematize the name and memory, of
Arius. But this inferiority was compensated by the advantages of
skill, of experience, and of discipline; and the minority was
conducted by Valens and Ursacius, two bishops of Illyricum, who
had spent their lives in the intrigues of courts and councils,
and who had been trained under the Eusebian banner in the
religious wars of the East. By their arguments and negotiations,
they embarrassed, they confounded, they at last deceived, the
honest simplicity of the Latin bishops; who suffered the
palladium of the faith to be extorted from their hand by fraud
and importunity, rather than by open violence. The council of
Rimini was not allowed to separate, till the members had
imprudently subscribed a captious creed, in which some
expressions, susceptible of an heretical sense, were inserted in
the room of the Homoousion. It was on this occasion, that,
according to Jerom, the world was surprised to find itself Arian.
^75 But the bishops of the Latin provinces had no sooner reached
their respective dioceses, than they discovered their mistake,
and repented of their weakness. The ignominious capitulation was
rejected with disdain and abhorrence; and the Homoousian
standard, which had been shaken but not overthrown, was more
firmly replanted in all the churches of the West. ^76

[Footnote 72: Testor Deumcoeli atque terrae me cum neutrum
audissem, semper tamen utrumque sensisse. . . . Regeneratus
pridem et in episcopatu aliquantisper manens fidem Nicenam
nunquam nisi exsulaturus audivi. Hilar. de Synodis, c. xci. p.
1205. The Benedictines are persuaded that he governed the
diocese of Poitiers several years before his exile.]

[Footnote 73: Seneca (Epist. lviii.) complains that even the of
the Platonists (the ens of the bolder schoolmen) could not be
expressed by a Latin noun.]
[Footnote 74: The preference which the fourth council of the
Lateran at length gave to a numerical rather than a generical
unity (See Petav. tom. ii. l. v. c. 13, p. 424) was favored by
the Latin language: seems to excite the idea of substance,
trinitas of qualities.]

[Footnote 75: Ingemuit totus orbis, et Arianum se esse miratus
est. Hieronym. adv. Lucifer. tom. i. p. 145.]

[Footnote 76: The story of the council of Rimini is very
elegantly told by Sulpicius Severus, (Hist. Sacra, l. ii. p.
419-430, edit. Lugd. Bat. 1647,) and by Jerom, in his dialogue
against the Luciferians. The design of the latter is to
apologize for the conduct of the Latin bishops, who were
deceived, and who repented.]

Chapter XXI: Persecution Of Heresy, State Of The Church.

Part IV.

Such was the rise and progress, and such were the natural
revolutions of those theological disputes, which disturbed the
peace of Christianity under the reigns of Constantine and of his
sons. But as those princes presumed to extend their despotism
over the faith, as well as over the lives and fortunes, of their
subjects, the weight of their suffrage sometimes inclined the
ecclesiastical balance: and the prerogatives of the King of
Heaven were settled, or changed, or modified, in the cabinet of
an earthly monarch.
The unhappy spirit of discord which pervaded the provinces
of the East, interrupted the triumph of Constantine; but the
emperor continued for some time to view, with cool and careless
indifference, the object of the dispute. As he was yet ignorant
of the difficulty of appeasing the quarrels of theologians, he
addressed to the contending parties, to Alexander and to Arius, a
moderating epistle; ^77 which may be ascribed, with far greater
reason, to the untutored sense of a soldier and statesman, than
to the dictates of any of his episcopal counsellors. He
attributes the origin of the whole controversy to a trifling and
subtle question, concerning an incomprehensible point of law,
which was foolishly asked by the bishop, and imprudently resolved
by the presbyter. He laments that the Christian people, who had
the same God, the same religion, and the same worship, should be
divided by such inconsiderable distinctions; and he seriously
recommend to the clergy of Alexandria the example of the Greek
philosophers; who could maintain their arguments without losing
their temper, and assert their freedom without violating their
friendship. The indifference and contempt of the sovereign would
have been, perhaps, the most effectual method of silencing the
dispute, if the popular current had been less rapid and
impetuous, and if Constantine himself, in the midst of faction
and fanaticism, could have preserved the calm possession of his
own mind. But his ecclesiastical ministers soon contrived to
seduce the impartiality of the magistrate, and to awaken the zeal
of the proselyte. He was provoked by the insults which had been
offered to his statues; he was alarmed by the real, as well as
the imaginary magnitude of the spreading mischief; and he
extinguished the hope of peace and toleration, from the moment
that he assembled three hundred bishops within the walls of the
same palace. The presence of the monarch swelled the importance
of the debate; his attention multiplied the arguments; and he
exposed his person with a patient intrepidity, which animated the
valor of the combatants. Notwithstanding the applause which has
been bestowed on the eloquence and sagacity of Constantine, ^78 a
Roman general, whose religion might be still a subject of doubt,
and whose mind had not been enlightened either by study or by
inspiration, was indifferently qualified to discuss, in the Greek
language, a metaphysical question, or an article of faith. But
the credit of his favorite Osius, who appears to have presided in
the council of Nice, might dispose the emperor in favor of the
orthodox party; and a well-timed insinuation, that the same
Eusebius of Nicomedia, who now protected the heretic, had lately
assisted the tyrant, ^79 might exasperate him against their
adversaries. The Nicene creed was ratified by Constantine; and
his firm declaration, that those who resisted the divine judgment
of the synod, must prepare themselves for an immediate exile,
annihilated the murmurs of a feeble opposition; which, from
seventeen, was almost instantly reduced to two, protesting
bishops. Eusebius of Caesarea yielded a reluctant and ambiguous
consent to the Homoousion; ^80 and the wavering conduct of the
Nicomedian Eusebius served only to delay, about three months, his
disgrace and exile. ^81 The impious Arius was banished into one
of the remote provinces of Illyricum; his person and disciples
were branded by law with the odious name of Porphyrians; his
writings were condemned to the flames, and a capital punishment
was denounced against those in whose possession they should be
found. The emperor had now imbibed the spirit of controversy,
and the angry, sarcastic style of his edicts was designed to
inspire his subjects with the hatred which he had conceived
against the enemies of Christ. ^82
[Footnote 77: Eusebius, in Vit. Constant. l. ii. c. 64-72. The
principles of toleration and religious indifference, contained in
this epistle, have given great offence to Baronius, Tillemont,
&c., who suppose that the emperor had some evil counsellor,
either Satan or Eusebius, at his elbow. See Cortin's Remarks,
tom. ii. p. 183.

Note: Heinichen (Excursus xi.) quotes with approbation the
term "golden words," applied by Ziegler to this moderate and
tolerant letter of Constantine. May an English clergyman venture
to express his regret that "the fine gold soon became dim" in the
Christian church? - M.]

[Footnote 78: Eusebius in Vit. Constantin. l. iii. c. 13.]
[Footnote 79: Theodoret has preserved (l. i. c. 20) an epistle
from Constantine to the people of Nicomedia, in which the monarch
declares himself the public accuser of one of his subjects; he
styles Eusebius and complains of his hostile behavior during the
civil war.]

[Footnote 80: See in Socrates, (l. i. c. 8,) or rather in
Theodoret, (l. i. c. 12,) an original letter of Eusebius of
Caesarea, in which he attempts to justify his subscribing the
Homoousion. The character of Eusebius has always been a problem;
but those who have read the second critical epistle of Le Clerc,
(Ars Critica, tom. iii. p. 30-69,) must entertain a very
unfavorable opinion of the orthodoxy and sincerity of the bishop
of Caesarea.]
[Footnote 81: Athanasius, tom. i. p. 727. Philostorgius, l. i.
c. 10, and Godefroy's Commentary, p. 41.]

[Footnote 82: Socrates, l. i. c. 9. In his circular letters,
which were addressed to the several cities, Constantine employed
against the heretics the arms of ridicule and comic raillery.]

But, as if the conduct of the emperor had been guided by
passion instead of principle, three years from the council of
Nice were scarcely elapsed before he discovered some symptoms of
mercy, and even of indulgence, towards the proscribed sect, which
was secretly protected by his favorite sister. The exiles were
recalled, and Eusebius, who gradually resumed his influence over
the mind of Constantine, was restored to the episcopal throne,
from which he had been ignominiously degraded. Arius himself was
treated by the whole court with the respect which would have been
due to an innocent and oppressed man. His faith was approved by
the synod of Jerusalem; and the emperor seemed impatient to
repair his injustice, by issuing an absolute command, that he
should be solemnly admitted to the communion in the cathedral of
Constantinople. On the same day, which had been fixed for the
triumph of Arius, he expired; and the strange and horrid
circumstances of his death might excite a suspicion, that the
orthodox saints had contributed more efficaciously than by their
prayers, to deliver the church from the most formidable of her
enemies. ^83 The three principal leaders of the Catholics,
Athanasius of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Paul of
Constantinople were deposed on various f accusations, by the
sentence of numerous councils; and were afterwards banished into
distant provinces by the first of the Christian emperors, who, in
the last moments of his life, received the rites of baptism from
the Arian bishop of Nicomedia. The ecclesiastical government of
Constantine cannot be justified from the reproach of levity and
weakness. But the credulous monarch, unskilled in the stratagems
of theological warfare, might be deceived by the modest and
specious professions of the heretics, whose sentiments he never
perfectly understood; and while he protected Arius, and
persecuted Athanasius, he still considered the council of Nice as
the bulwark of the Christian faith, and the peculiar glory of his
own reign. ^84
[Footnote 83: We derive the original story from Athanasius, (tom.
i. p. 670,) who expresses some reluctance to stigmatize the
memory of the dead. He might exaggerate; but the perpetual
commerce of Alexandria and Constantinople would have rendered it
dangerous to invent. Those who press the literal narrative of
the death of Arius (his bowels suddenly burst out in a privy)
must make their option between poison and miracle.]

[Footnote 84: The change in the sentiments, or at least in the
conduct, of Constantine, may be traced in Eusebius, (in Vit.
Constant. l. iii. c. 23, l. iv. c. 41,) Socrates, (l. i. c.
23-39,) Sozomen, (l. ii. c. 16-34,) Theodoret, (l. i. c. 14-34,)
and Philostorgius, (l. ii. c. 1-17.) But the first of these
writers was too near the scene of action, and the others were too
remote from it. It is singular enough, that the important task
of continuing the history of the church should have been left for
two laymen and a heretic.]
The sons of Constantine must have been admitted from their
childhood into the rank of catechumens; but they imitated, in the
delay of their baptism, the example of their father. Like him
they presumed to pronounce their judgment on mysteries into which
they had never been regularly initiated; ^85 and the fate of the
Trinitarian controversy depended, in a great measure, on the
sentiments of Constantius; who inherited the provinces of the
East, and acquired the possession of the whole empire. The Arian
presbyter or bishop, who had secreted for his use the testament
of the deceased emperor, improved the fortunate occasion which
had introduced him to the familiarity of a prince, whose public
counsels were always swayed by his domestic favorites. The
eunuchs and slaves diffused the spiritual poison through the
palace, and the dangerous infection was communicated by the
female attendants to the guards, and by the empress to her
unsuspicious husband. ^86 The partiality which Constantius always
expressed towards the Eusebian faction, was insensibly fortified
by the dexterous management of their leaders; and his victory
over the tyrant Magnentius increased his inclination, as well as
ability, to employ the arms of power in the cause of Arianism.
While the two armies were engaged in the plains of Mursa, and the
fate of the two rivals depended on the chance of war, the son of
Constantine passed the anxious moments in a church of the martyrs
under the walls of the city. His spiritual comforter, Valens,
the Arian bishop of the diocese, employed the most artful
precautions to obtain such early intelligence as might secure
either his favor or his escape. A secret chain of swift and
trusty messengers informed him of the vicissitudes of the battle;
and while the courtiers stood trembling round their affrighted
master, Valens assured him that the Gallic legions gave way; and
insinuated with some presence of mind, that the glorious event
had been revealed to him by an angel. The grateful emperor
ascribed his success to the merits and intercession of the bishop
of Mursa, whose faith had deserved the public and miraculous
approbation of Heaven. ^87 The Arians, who considered as their
own the victory of Constantius, preferred his glory to that of
his father. ^88 Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, immediately composed
the description of a celestial cross, encircled with a splendid
rainbow; which during the festival of Pentecost, about the third
hour of the day, had appeared over the Mount of Olives, to the
edification of the devout pilgrims, and the people of the holy
city. ^89 The size of the meteor was gradually magnified; and the
Arian historian has ventured to affirm, that it was conspicuous
to the two armies in the plains of Pannonia; and that the tyrant,
who is purposely represented as an idolater, fled before the
auspicious sign of orthodox Christianity. ^90

[Footnote 85: Quia etiam tum catechumenus sacramentum fidei
merito videretiu potuisse nescire. Sulp. Sever. Hist. Sacra, l.
ii. p. 410.]
[Footnote 86: Socrates, l. ii. c. 2. Sozomen, l. iii. c. 18.
Athanas. tom. i. p. 813, 834. He observes that the eunuchs are
the natural enemies of the Son. Compare Dr. Jortin's Remarks on
Ecclesiastical History, vol. iv. p. 3 with a certain genealogy in
Candide, (ch. iv.,) which ends with one of the first companions
of Christopher Columbus.]

[Footnote 87: Sulpicius Severus in Hist. Sacra, l. ii. p. 405,
[Footnote 88: Cyril (apud Baron. A. D. 353, No. 26) expressly
observes that in the reign of Constantine, the cross had been
found in the bowels of the earth; but that it had appeared, in
the reign of Constantius, in the midst of the heavens. This
opposition evidently proves, that Cyril was ignorant of the
stupendous miracle to which the conversion of Constantine is
attributed; and this ignorance is the more surprising, since it
was no more than twelve years after his death that Cyril was
consecrated bishop of Jerusalem, by the immediate successor of
Eusebius of Caesarea. See Tillemont, Mem. Eccles. tom. viii. p.

[Footnote 89: It is not easy to determine how far the ingenuity
of Cyril might be assisted by some natural appearances of a solar

[Footnote 90: Philostorgius, l. iii. c. 26. He is followed by
the author of the Alexandrian Chronicle, by Cedrenus, and by
Nicephorus. See Gothofred. Dissert. p. 188.) They could not
refuse a miracle, even from the hand of an enemy.]

The sentiments of a judicious stranger, who has impartially
considered the progress of civil or ecclesiastical discord, are
always entitled to our notice; and a short passage of Ammianus,
who served in the armies, and studied the character of
Constantius, is perhaps of more value than many pages of
theological invectives. "The Christian religion, which, in
itself," says that moderate historian, "is plain and simple, he
confounded by the dotage of superstition. Instead of reconciling
the parties by the weight of his authority, he cherished and
promulgated, by verbal disputes, the differences which his vain
curiosity had excited. The highways were covered with troops of
bishops galloping from every side to the assemblies, which they
call synods; and while they labored to reduce the whole sect to
their own particular opinions, the public establishment of the
posts was almost ruined by their hasty and repeated journeys."
^91 Our more intimate knowledge of the ecclesiastical
transactions of the reign of Constantius would furnish an ample
commentary on this remarkable passage, which justifies the
rational apprehensions of Athanasius, that the restless activity
of the clergy, who wandered round the empire in search of the
true faith, would excite the contempt and laughter of the
unbelieving world. ^92 As soon as the emperor was relieved from
the terrors of the civil war, he devoted the leisure of his
winter quarters at Arles, Milan, Sirmium, and Constantinople, to
the amusement or toils of controversy: the sword of the
magistrate, and even of the tyrant, was unsheathed, to enforce
the reasons of the theologian; and as he opposed the orthodox
faith of Nice, it is readily confessed that his incapacity and
ignorance were equal to his presumption. ^93 The eunuchs, the
women, and the bishops, who governed the vain and feeble mind of
the emperor, had inspired him with an insuperable dislike to the
Homoousion; but his timid conscience was alarmed by the impiety
of Aetius. The guilt of that atheist was aggravated by the
suspicious favor of the unfortunate Gallus; and even the death of
the Imperial ministers, who had been massacred at Antioch, were
imputed to the suggestions of that dangerous sophist. The mind
of Constantius, which could neither be moderated by reason, nor
fixed by faith, was blindly impelled to either side of the dark
and empty abyss, by his horror of the opposite extreme; he
alternately embraced and condemned the sentiments, he
successively banished and recalled the leaders, of the Arian and
Semi-Arian factions. ^94 During the season of public business or
festivity, he employed whole days, and even nights, in selecting
the words, and weighing the syllables, which composed his
fluctuating creeds. The subject of his meditations still pursued
and occupied his slumbers: the incoherent dreams of the emperor
were received as celestial visions, and he accepted with
complacency the lofty title of bishop of bishops, from those
ecclesiastics who forgot the interest of their order for the
gratification of their passions. The design of establishing a
uniformity of doctrine, which had engaged him to convene so many
synods in Gaul, Italy, Illyricum, and Asia, was repeatedly
baffled by his own levity, by the divisions of the Arians, and by
the resistance of the Catholics; and he resolved, as the last and
decisive effort, imperiously to dictate the decrees of a general
council. The destructive earthquake of Nicomedia, the difficulty
of finding a convenient place, and perhaps some secret motives of
policy, produced an alteration in the summons. The bishops of the
East were directed to meet at Seleucia, in Isauria; while those
of the West held their deliberations at Rimini, on the coast of
the Hadriatic; and instead of two or three deputies from each
province, the whole episcopal body was ordered to march. The
Eastern council, after consuming four days in fierce and
unavailing debate, separated without any definitive conclusion.
The council of the West was protracted till the seventh month.
Taurus, the Praetorian praefect was instructed not to dismiss the


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