Introduction to early church history of Catholic Church 11

Introduction to early church history 11
 Jean Paul

The period from 325 to 337 (the death of Constantine) sees various attempts to reconcile Arians to the orthodox church.  This includes Arius - Constantine seems to have set up a reconciliation for him but Arius dies on his way there and so dies excommunicate.

Essentially Constantine is behaving as a politician and attempting to bring two sides together to find a compromise.

During this period there is a gradual backing away from the Nicene teaching by the traditionalist Origenists and the Conservative (central) group.  This is known as the Eusebian reaction, Eusebius had very similar views to Arian.

The two sides (Arian and Nicene) start to attack each other at the local level.  Synods of bishops meet and condemn which ever side they do not support.

Athanasius Archbishop of Alexandria was a major figure in all of this controversy.  He had been at Nicea as advisor to Alexander of Alexandria, and on Alexander’s death is made Archbishop, in 328AD.

A synod meeting at Tyre condemns Athanasius and when he appeals to Constantine he is exiled to Tiree in the West, where there was more acceptance of Nicea.  In consequence of this his Egyptian monastic background starts to influence developments in the West, on figures such as St Jerome.

After the death of Constantine (337) Athanasius returns.

On his death-bed Constantine is baptised by Eusebius who was semi-Arian in his beliefs.  This is sometimes taken to show that Constantine was Arian, but it only happened because Eusebius was bishop of the city and the bishops usually baptised and does not reflect anything of the views of Constantine.

After Constantine there is a mess.  The empire is divided between his three sons: Constantine II (Gaul, Spain, Briton, basically the West), Constans (Italy, North Africa) and Constantius (the East including Egypt).

This arrangement leads to civil war.

The initial conflict is between Constans and Constantine II - this ends with the death of Constantine II in 340 after the battle of Aquileia.

Constans controls the whole of the West and Constantius the East.

Constans now starts to fight his brother Constantius, it is really a series of skirmishes rather than all out war.  Constans is killed in 350.

Constantius is now sole ruler - he dies peacefully in 361AD.

His cousin Julian becomes emperor, but is killed in a battle with the Persians on 26th June 363.

Back to Constantine’s sons:
Constantius was a very convinced Arian, Constantine II supported Nicene and Constans inconsistently supported different groups.  This situation leads to a whole series of opposing synods.  Essentially in the East the synods supported Arian and in the West they were anti-Arian.  This led to various bishops in the wrong camp being deposed and exiled.

At a council in Antioch (339) Athanasius is again deposed and exiled.

Athanasius appeals to Pope Julius - who vindicates him.  Athanasius is able to spend his exile peacefully in the West, as most in the West were pro-Nicene.

In the East the synods produce a series of creeds that are designed to replace Nicene.  In particular they want to remove the references to homoousias.

The ecclesiastical scene was seeing battles on two fronts - through the deposition of bishops and the profusion of new creeds.

In 341 4 new creeds are formulated all are again designed to replace Nicea, the most famous creed is that written for the dedication of the so-called ‘Gold’ Church of Antioch.

Constans and Constantius attempt to find a compromise between them.  The bishops of both sides are called to Sardica, which is on the Danube and accessible to both Eastern and Western bishops.  The two sides met separately and sent communications to each other.  These meetings lead to no agreement, and the Eastern bishops issue another creed.

In 350 Constantius becomes sole ruler.  He is an Arian and persecutes those that disagree with him.

Athanasius returns from exile but in 356 he is causing so much trouble that he is again exiled this time into the Egyptian desert.

Out of all of these creeds there are two that are more significant:

In 357 at Sirmium a creed is produced that becomes known as the Blasphemy of Sirmium.  Its tone is Arian or semi-Arian and condemned the use of the homoousias non-Biblical (the Bible makes no mention of essence or substance).

In 359 the Dated creed is produced - so called as we know the exact date it was produced which was 22nd May 359.  This was also at Sirmium, and Emperor Constantius was behind its creation.  The creed is again designed to remove any mention of ousia or homoousias.  This creed becomes the official declaration of faith in the empire under Constantius.

The Dated creed will have a big impact - as about this time the Goths and Vandals were settling in the Roman Empire and they were evangelised by Arians, and they accepted the teaching of Araianism.  As they spread further West they took Arianism with them, they weren’t tolerant of the Nicene faith and this led to the ruling class attempting to impose Arianism in the West.

In response to the Dated creed St Jerome wrote: The whole world groaned and was astonished it had beome Arian.  A sarcastic comment as Jerome was opposed to Arianism.

The Arians seemed to be completely victorious but now started to splinter and battle amongst themselves.  The bond that had held them together, in that they were all anti-Nicene was not able to hold them after there seeming triumph over Nicene.

We can divide the reign of Constantius into two parts: 350-356 during which Arianism was established and 357-361 which saw the disintegration of Arianism.

Across the empire there are now various groups:

Radical Arians - more radical even than Arian, they said that the Son is unlike the Father, anomousius.

Semi-Arians - the Son is ‘like’ the Father, this likeness is vague and not defined - homoios.

Moderate group - the Son is like the Father in all things, which included His essence, homoiousious.

Pro-Nicene - the Son is of one substance with the Father, homoousios.  This group were led by Athanasius.

Sabellian - the Father and the Son are all one and the same thing, they are different modes of the same thing.  This group were modalists and denied the Trinity.

Constantius’ supported the semi-Arians he never supported the radical Arians.  This group seem to be triumphant in 359/360 and represent a triumph for the use of vague theological language.

Although the moderates were not favoured by the emperor the events over the next few years would see their triumph.

Constantius dies in 361 and is succeeded by his pagan cousin Julian. 

Julian allows the exiled bishops, including Athanasius, to return.  This led to rival Christian groups in the major cities, a situation that pleased Julian who was attempting to revive paganism in the form of a monotheistic religion based around Hercules.

Again the Church is split, splintered and battling.  Athanasius causes so much trouble that Julian exiles him in 362.

This is the final stage of the Arian controversy it runs from 361 to 381 when the issue is resolved by an Ecumenical Council.

During this period a new set of theologians come to the fore.  They are moderate and are attracted to the homoiousia.  There moderate tone means that they were able to draw in the semi-Arians and the pro-Nicaeans.  The movement marks a slight backing off from Nicaea to use biblical language.  Basil the Great and Cyril of Jerusalem were included in this group.  This movement leads to the 2nd Ecumenical Council held at Constantinople under the authority of the Emperor.  The Bishops meet and agree to resolve this controversy and also settle other problems that had arisen.

There are two other controversies that will be discussed at the Council and will colour the Church and the future.
The first centres around Apolinaris (310-390), he became Bishop of Laodicea in 360.  He was a friend of Athanasius.  In his own mind Apolinaris was a convinced follower of Nicaea.  He was completely convinced of the divinity of Christ his problem was that he could not accept the humanity of Christ.  He could not accept that Christ was fully human, for him the idea of one Person and two natures was impossible.  His solution was to base his theology on the Logos - the concepts around this were discussed in an earlier lecture.  Apolinaris thought that Christ did not have a human soul.  Christ is the Word of God Incarnate but the animating principle in Him is the divine logos so His rational element was divine.  This meant that Christ could only wish and think as the Father wished and thought.  The idea was to preserve Christ from any possibility of change and therefore of sin.

Without naming Apolinaris a synod at Alexandria, under Athanasius condemns his ideas.  This synod affirmed the humanity of Jesus but was not able to explain it, this was around 371.  The Cappadocian Fathers also attacked this teaching.  In response Apolinaris modifies his ideas slightly to give Christ a basic ‘animal’ human soul - the divine Logos is in control of his intellect. 

When his teachings continue to be condemned Apolinaris propagates them by putting them under the names of orthodox teachers, for example Pope Julius and Athanasius.  This causes problems as later generations of theologians accept them as the teachings of orthodox figures and that leads to Apolinaris penetrating the Antiochene school of theology which will cause problems that continue to this day.

Apolinaris wrote several documents from one of them the banner that was used by the movement came: One Incarnate nature of God the Word.  So there was only one nature which was divine.

This terminology was taken up by Cyril of Alexandria and would lead to the schism with the monophysites.

These ideas were condemned at the Council of 381 - which also dealt with the more extreme forms of Arianism.

The other issue that was around at that time was the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  Arians wouldn’t accept the divinity of Christ so wouldn’t accept the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Correspondence between Seapion of Thmius (in Egypt) and Athanasius written around 370 still survives.  Serapion draws the logical conclusion that the Holy Spirit is God.

In Asia-Minor Basil the Great (of Caesarea) also around 370 writes a lengthy tome on the Holy Spirit.  Basil uses the early doxologies as proof of the divinity of the Holy Spirit - they have the form Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit rather than Praise the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit - a level structure rather than a hierarchy.  He was the first to base his argument that the way we pray shows the way we believe.

As the dates indicate this controversy didn’t raise its head until the end of the Arian controversy.

Two of the groups that did not accept the divinity of the Holy Spirit were condemned at Constantinople I.  To enforce this teaching the Fathers changed the Nicene Creed to include reference to the divinity of the Holy Spirit - the Nicene Creed had stopped at We believe in the Holy Spirit.  This creed is essentially the one that we use today, and avoids controversial vocabulary to do with ousia and homoousias.

It was Basil and the two Gregories that came up with the classical Trinitarian theology: One essence (or nature) three Persons.  This teaching from the Cappadocian fathers is still used today.  The two Councils up to this period had basically been dealing with the Trinity.

Christianisation of the Empire

At the same time as the Arian controversy was raging the Empire was becoming more Christian.  The process begins in 356 with Constantius who closed all temples and ordered that the pagan sacrifices should be stopped.  This was an important moment as previously the state had funded both the temples and the sacrifices.

The title Pontius Maximus (high priest in the pagan sense) would continue to be used until 383.  These titles were used to shore up support and support the state and show the developing tension between the pagan and Christian influences.

Julian attempts to revive paganism, ie he is attempting to revive the old culture.  He prohibits Christians from various activities including teaching, a commission is set up to ensure that all teachers were pagan.  He also removes Constantine’s Sunday observance under which markets were closed, but this was reinstated.

After his death there is civil war for the next year.

In 364 Valentian I becomes Emperor in the West and Valens (his brother) is Emperor in the East.
Valentian is pro-Nicene and gives the bishops a free hand, Valens on the other hand is Arian and persecutes anybody not supporting the Dated creed.

Valentian dies in 375.  He is succeeded by his nephew Gratian and Valentian II who is also pro-Nicene.

In the East Valens dies and is succeeded by the orthodox Theodosius.  Theodosius and Gratian issue an edict instructing all to subscribe to the orthodox teaching of the Church in 380.  This edict allows the calling of the Council in 381.

The council is called by Theodosius and made the decisions discussed above.  A synod in Rome in 377 had made similar decisions but was not under the influence of the Emperor so it did not have the same impact.

This triumvirate ruled the empire after the Council.

In 392 Christianity becomes the official religion of the Empire.

In the west the Empire declines with the barbarian invasions.

In the East the Emperors continue to supervise closely the Church.  An early reaction to this is seen in the letter of a Nicene Father (Hossius) to Constantius - Constantius had ordered the elderly prelate to communicate with the Arians Hossius replied that the Emperor had no right to intervene ecclesiastical affairs.  This is the first expression of the Two Powers - secular and ecclesiastical - that were to be kept separate which would have a big impact in Medieval times.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Attention please, all spam comments will be deleted promptly. Please respect each others views and opinions. Do not post Web links..