Bishops contra Athanasius
On the one hand, then, I say, that there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the "Ecclesia docens." The body of Bishops failed in their confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicaea, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years. There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful Bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination, endless, hopeless, extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church. The comparatively few who remained faithful were discredited and driven into exile; the rest were either deceivers or were deceived.
1. A.D. 325. The great council of Nicaea, of 318 Bishops, chiefly from the eastern provinces of Christendom, under the presidency of Hosius of Cordova, as the Pope's Legate. It was convoked against Arianism, which it once for all anathematized; and it inserted the formula of the "Consubstantial" into the Creed, with the view of establishing the fundamental dogma which Arianism impugned. It is the first Oecumenical Council, and recognised at the time its own authority as the voice of the infallible Church. It is so received by the orbis terrarum at this day. A.D. 326. St. Athanasius, the great champion of the Homoilison, was elected Bishop of Alexandria.
2. A.D. 334, 335. The synods of Caesarea and Tyre (sixty Bishops) against Athanasius, who was therein accused and formally condemned of rebellion, sedition, and ecclesiastical tyranny; of murder, sacrilege, and magic; deposed from his see, forbidden to set foot in Alexandria for life, and banished to Gaul. Also, they received Arius into communion.
3. A.D. 341. Council of Rome of fifty Bishops, attended by the exiles from Thrace, Syria, &c., by Athanasius, &c., in which Athanasius was pronounced innocent.
4. A.D. 341. Great Council of the Dedication at Antioch, attended by ninety or a hundred Bishops. The council ratified the proceedings of the councils of Caesarea and Tyre, and placed an Arian in the see of Athanasius. Then it proceeded to pass a dogmatic decree in reversal of the formula of the "Consubstantial." Four or five creeds, instead of the Nicene, were successively adopted by the assembled fathers. Three of these were circulated in the neighbourhood; but, as they wished to send one to Rome, they directed a fourth to be drawn up. This, too, apparently failed.
5. A.D. 345. Council of the creed called Macrostich. This creed suppresses, as did the third, the word "substance." The eastern Bishops sent this to the Bishops of France, who rejected it.
6. A.D. 347. The great council of Sardica, attended by more than 300 Bishops. Before it commenced, the division between its members broke out on the question whether or not Athanasius should have a seat in it. In consequence, seventy-six retired to Philippopolis, on the Thracian side of Mount Haemus, and there excommunicated the Pope and the Sardican fathers. These seceders published a sixth confession of faith. The synod of Sardica, including Bishops from Italy, Gaul, Africa, Egypt, Cyprus, and Palestine, confirmed the act of the Roman council, and restored Athanasius and the other exiles to their sees. The synod of Philippopolis, on the contrary, sent letters to the civil magistrates of those cities, forbidding them to admit the exiles into them. The imperial power took part with the Sardican fathers, and Athanasius went back to Alexandria.
7. A.D. 351. The Bishops of the East met at Sirmium. The semi-Arian Bishops began to detach themselves from the Arians, and to form a separate party.
Under pretence of putting down a kind of Sabellianism, they drew up a new creed, into which they introduced the language of some of the ante-Nicene writers, on the subject of our Lord's divinity, and dropped the word -substance."
[8. There is considerable confusion of dates here. Anyhow, there was a second Sirmian creed, in which the eastern party first came to a division among themselves. St. Hilary at length gives up these creeds as indefensible, and calls this one a "blasphemy." It is the first creed which criticises the words "substance," &c., as unscriptural. Some years afterwards this "blasphemia" seems to have been interpolated, and sent into the East in the name of Hosius. At a later date, there was a third Sirmian creed; and a second edition of it, with alterations, was published at Nice in Thrace.]
9. A.D. 353. The council of Arles.The Pope sent to it several Bishops as legates. The Father of the Council, including the Pope's legate, Vincent, subscribed the condemnation of Athanasius. Paulinus, Bishop of Trêves, was nearly the only one who stood up for the Nicene faith and for Athanasius. He was accordingly banished into Phrygia, where he died.
10. A.D. 355. The council of Milan, of more than 300 Bishops of the West. Nearly all of them, subscribed the condemnation of Athanasius; whether they generally subscribed the heretical creed, which was brought forward, does not appear. The Pope's four legates remained firm, and St. Dionysius of Milan, who died an exile in Asia Minor. An Arian was put into his see. Saturninus, the Bishop of Arles, proceeded to hold a council at Beziers; and its fathers banished St. Hilary to Phrygia.
A.D. 357-9. The Arians and Semi-Arians successively drew up fresh creeds at Sirmium.
11. A.D. 357 - 8. Hosius falls. "Constantius used such violence towards the old man, and confined him so straitly, that at last, broken by suffering, he was brought, though hardly, to hold communion with Valens and Ursacius (the Arian leaders), though he would not subscribe against Athanasius." Athan. Arian. Hist. 45.
12. And Liberius. A.D. 357 - 8 "The tragedy was not ended in the lapse of Hosius, but in the evil which befell Liberius, the Roman Pontiff, it became far more dreadful and mournful, considering that he was Bishop of so great a city, and of the whole Catholic Church, and that he had so bravely resisted Constantius two years previously. There is nothing, whether in the historians and holy fathers, or in his own letters, to prevent our coming to the conclusion, that Liberius communicated with the Arians, and confirmed the sentence passed against Athanasius; but he is not at all on that account to be called a heretic." Baron. Ann. 357, 38-45. Athanasius says: "Liberius, after he had been in banishment for two years, gave way, and from fear of threatened death was induced to subscribe." Arian. Hist. S41. St. Jerome says: "Liberius, taedio victus exilii, in haereticam pravitatern subscribens, Roman quasi victor intraverat [Liberius, worn out by the tedium of exile and subscribing to the heretical error, had entered Rome almost as a conqueror.]." Chron.
13. A.D. 359. The great councils of Seleucia and Ariminum, being one bi-partite council, representing the East and West respectively. At Seleucia there were 150 Bishops, of which only the twelve or thirteen from Egypt were champions of the Nicene "Consubstantial." At Ariminum there were as many as 400 Bishops, who, worn out by the artifice of long delay on the part of the Arians, abandoned the "Consubstantial," and subscribed the ambiguous formula which the heretics had substituted for it.
[14. A.D. 361. The death of Constantius; the Catholic Bishops breathe again, and begin at once to remedy the miseries of the Church, though troubles were soon to break out anew.]
15. A.D. 362. State of the Church of Antioch at this time. There were four Bishops or communions of Antioch; first, the old succession and communion, which had possession before the Arian troubles; secondly, the Arian succession, which had lately conformed to orthodoxy in the person of Meletius; thirdly, the new Latin succession, lately created by Lucifer, whom some have thought the Pope's legate there; and, fourthly, the new Arian succession, which was started upon the recantation of Meletius. At length, as Arianism was brought under, the evil reduced itself to two Episcopal successions, that of Meletius and the Latin, which went on for many years, the West and Egypt holding communion with the latter, and the East with the former.
[16. A.D. 370-379. St. Basil was Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia through these years. The judgments formed about this great doctor in his lifetime show us vividly the extreme confusion which prevailed. He was accused by one party of being a follower of Apollinaris, and lost in consequence some of the sees over which he was metropolitan. He was accused by the monks in his friend Gregory's diocese of favouring the semi-Arians. He was accused by the Neocaesareans of inclining towards Arianism. And he was treated with suspicion and coldness by Pope Damasus].
17. About A.D. 360, St. Hilary says: "I am not speaking of things foreign to my knowledge; I am not writing about what I am ignorant of; I have heard and I have seen the shortcomings of persons who are round about me, not of laymen merely, but of Bishops. For, excepting the Bishop Eleusius and a few with him, for the most part the ten Asian provinces, within whose boundaries I am situate, are truly ignorant of God." De Syn. 63. It is observable, that even Eleusius, who is here spoken of as somewhat better than the rest, was a semi-Arian, according to Socrates, and even a persecutor of Catholics at Constantinople; and, according to Sozomen, one of those who were active in causing Pope Liberius to give up the Nicene formula of the "Consubstantial." By the ten Asian provinces is meant the east and south provinces of Asia Minor, pretty nearly as cut off by a line passing from Cyzicus to Seleucia through Synnada.
18. A.D. 360. St. Gregory Nazianzen says, about this date: "Surely the pastors have done foolishly; for, excepting a very few, who, either on account of their insignificance were passed over, or who by reason of their virtue resisted, and who were to be left as a seed and root for the springing up again and revival of Israel by the influences of the Spirit, all temporised, only differing from each other in this, that some succumbed earlier, and others later; some were foremost champions and leaders in the impiety, and others joined the second rank of the battle, being overcome by fear, or by interest, or by flattery, or, what was the most excusable, by their own ignorance." Orat. xxi. 24.
19. A.D. 363. About this time, St. Jerome says: "Nearly all the churches in the whole world, under the pretence of peace and the emperor, are polluted with the communion of the Arians." Chron. Of the same date, that is, upon the council of Ariminum, are his famous words, "Ingernuit totus orbis et se esse Arianum miratus est [The whole world groaned, and marveled to see itself Arian.]." In Lucif. 19. The Catholics of Christendom were surprised indeed to find that the Council had made Arians of them.
[20. A.D. 364. And St. Hilary: "Up to this date, the only cause why Christ's people is not murdered by the priests of Anti-christ, with this deceit of impiety, is, that they take the words which the heretics use, to denote the faith which they themselves hold. Sanctiores aures plebis quàm corda sunt sacerdotum [There is more holiness in the ears of the people than in the hearts of the priests.] ." In Aux. 6.]
21. St. Hilary speaks of the series of ecclesiastical councils of that time in the following well-known passage: "Since the Nicene council, we have done nothing but write the creed. While we fight about words, inquire about novelties, take advantage of ambiguities, criticise authors, fight on party questions, have difficulties in agreeing, and prepare to anathernatise each other, there is scarce a man who belongs to Christ. Take, for instance, last year's creed, what alteration is there not in it already? First, we have the creed, which bids us not to use the Nicene 'consubstantial;' then comes another, which decrees and preaches it; next, the third, excuses the word 'substance,' as adopted by the fathers in their simplicity; lastly, the fourth, which instead of excusing, condemns. We determine creeds by the year or by the month, we change our own determinations, we prohibit our changes, we anathernatise our prohibitions. Thus, we either condemn others in our own persons, or ourselves in the instance of others, and while we bite and devour one another, are like to be consumed one of another."
22. A.D. 382. St. Gregory writes: "If I must speak the truth, I feel disposed to shun every conference of Bishops; for never saw I synod brought to a happy issue, and remedying, and not rather aggravating, existing evils. For rivalry and ambition are stronger than reason, -- do not think me extravagant for saying so, -- and a mediator is more likely to incur some imputation himself than to clear up the imputations which others lie under." Ep. 129.
Newman, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine,  1871. Compare text in Modern History Sourcebook: John Henry Newman (1801-1890): On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, July 1859.
Continued in The Fidelity of the Laity.