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a very large modification of the conditions under which they had to be fulfilled. Christianity not only brought religion into closer union with life and morals than had ever been the case in heathenism, but, while heathenism tolerated all forms of religious faith, Christianity would admit only one. The very earnestness of Christianity, the intense spiritual force which enabled it to demolish old priesthoods and reduce the world to its sway, rendered it, at that critical turning-point of the world's history, inevitably and in self-defence, exclusive. Two elements, moreover, were compounded in it, which made it no easy task to reconcile its claims with the traditions of a policy that had been accustomed to deal with submissive and quiescent faiths—the exclusiveness of the Jew, and the disputatiousness of the Greek. True belief was essential to salvation; and a thousand tongues were disputing what was the true belief. This intolerance was the grand quarrel of Christianity with the later philosophy of heathenism. Neo-Platonism would willingly have conceded Christianity an honoured place among other religions; its syncretism recognised Christ as one of the animæ sanctiores of our race, and set up his bust without hesitation beside those of Orpheus and Pythagoras. But Christianity would rule alone, or fight out its cause to the death. If, however, it were to become ascendant, under what form must it become so? It had now effectually suppressed the old heresies, whether Ebionitish or Gnostic, and had taken to itself the name of Catholic; and yet, within the bosom of Catholicism itself, dissensions had sprung up so deep-rooted and vehement, as threatened not only to rend asunder the Church, but to conyulse the State. Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome were already the centres of different intellectual movements, sometimes in open antagonism, sometimes one of them mediating with worldly policy between the other two. The love of splendour and domination had perverted the aims of ecclesiastical leaders from the simplicity and godly sincerity of the primitive Gospel; and the Bishops of Alexandria and Rome especially had begun to affect the airs and assume the state of secular magistrates. Only a few years after the death of Constantine, there was a sanguinary fray in the streets of Rome between the adherents of rival candidates for the episcopal chair. Such was the state of affairs when Constantine found himself master of the Roman world, and saw in Christianity the firmest support of his future reign. He was still half a pagan when he had to fix the relations of the new religion to his government; and in conducting this great revolution he naturally inclined to the policy which for three centuries had secured the religious peace of the Roman empire. The syncretistic principles in which he had been reared disposed him to a universal tolera
tion, of which the Edict of Milan, issued jointly by himself and Licinius in A.D. 313, had been a distinct legal enforcement. Religious peace was a necessity of his position; and the established maxims of Roman administration would not permit him to recognise any power above or independent of the State. When the disputes between Arius and his diocesan Alexander threatened social disturbance and disruption, Constantine addressed them in a letter, preserved by Eusebius, in which he exhorted them to abstain from unprofitable controversies, and to rest satisfied with their common acknowledgment of a divine providence.*
There can be no doubt that Constantine would gladly have established his ecclesiastical system on these tolerant principles; but the new spirit with which he had to deal was too powerful for him. A rule of some kind was indispensable, against which neither resistance nor remonstrance should any longer be admitted. The Council of Nice furnishes the most striking example on record of the triumph of one resolute will over the vacillation and compromise of feebler minds. No one acquainted with its history will dispute the fact, that its issue was at variance with the wishes of the emperor and the convictions of the majority. Constantine had previously despatched his favourite bishop, Hosius of Cordova, to Alexandria, to mitigate the hostility of Alexander and his young deacon Athanasius towards Arius. But the purpose of his mission was completely reversed. Instead of his converting them, they converted him. In the course of the debates in the council, Eusebius of Cæsarea, the historian, attempted to heal the breach by the introduction of a formula asserting the deity of Christ in general terms, such as had been hitherto in current use; but Athanasius was inflexible. By insisting on the word ouoouo lov, which involved the very question at issue, he carried the day, and determined the final conclusion. The majority yielded, from the fear of disgusting the emperor by their incurable dissensions, and driving him back into paganism, from which he was only partially weaned; and Constantine, glad of peace at any price, established the ouoouo lov by his imperial mandate, and punished the recusant bishops with exile. Of the two or three hundred bishops assembled on this occasion, only two had the courage in the first instance to abide by their convictions. The two Eusebiuses of Nicomedia and Cæsarea accepted the symbol, after our modern fashion, in their own sense, simply protesting against the absolute condemnation of Arius. Subsequently the Bishop of Nicomedia, with
Theognis of Nicæa, withdrew his adhesion; and the two friends were banished into Gaul.
Such we believe to be a faithful account of the origin and issue of this celebrated council. We regard it very much as an inevitable result of the political necessities of the times, adroitly converted to the triumph of a particular theological theory by the energy and decision of Athanasius. It was a matter of little moment to freedom of thought (had mankind been then capable of exercising it) and to the influence of pure and spiritual Christianity, as we now conceive it, whether the Athanasian or the Arian system gained the victory. The immediate practical result would probably have been the same in either case. Of the two, we are inclined to think that the Homoüsian doctrine involved a larger element of fundamental truth, and fewer liabilities to hurtful error, monstrous as the form undoubtedly was which it ultimately assumed, than the Homorusian. The real distinction was more than the retention or the omission of a single letter.
The former asserted an identity of essence between the Father and the Son, and the possibility of a perfect union between this divine essence and humanity. It was at bottom, therefore, Unitarian, and contained the germ of the idea which a later theology has so fruitfully developed, that all mind throughout the universe is of one nature, and that in the spiritual sympathy which unites it, all faith, all worship, all love, all aspirations after the good, the beautiful, and the true, have their root. The Arian hypothesis, on the other hand, while affirming Christ to be God, and of similar nature to the Father, contended that, as a creation out of nothing, he was of distinct essence or substance, and so placed an impassable chasm between the Father and the Son. In its very principle, therefore, this theory was dualistic, and brought with it innumerable opportunities for a new development and more specious vindication of the polytheism and the hero-worship which still ex. ercise so powerful a sway over the human mind. It was possibly some dim consciousness of this affinity which predisposed Constantine and other converted heathens to the adoption of Arianism. In the preceding century the subtle intellect of Origen had attempted to remove the difficulty, and bridge over the chasm between the two natures of God and Christ, by his doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son ; but the distinction was far too refined for the grasp of the popular understanding, and, in spite of the decision of the council, Arianism kept its hold on the mind of the East for more than a century. Violating his own decree, Constantine himself lapsed into it before his death. Two of his successors in the East, Constantius and Valens, were fa
tical and persecuting Arians; and the Gothic tribes, converted u the fourth century, all embraced this form of Christianity.
But the short experience of Arian rule gives no warrant to the supposition, that it would have benefited the world by finally excluding Athanasianism. We get a clear view of the reign of Constantius in the contemporary pages of Ammianus Marcellinus; and for a picture of a suspicious, cruel, and cowardly tyrant, his narrative, though inferior in execution, might almost be hung as a companion to Tacitus’s masterly delineation of Tiberius.*
On the subject of this first council, another question will sometimes force itself into the mind. At Nicæa the foundationstone was laid of that vast edifice of sacerdotal sway which overshadowed Europe for centuries, and held in durance within its impregnable walls not only the feeble survivors of the old civilisation, but the fierce and warlike peoples who subjugated them. Would a perfectly free Christianity (had that been possible, and Constantine never allied himself with the hierarchy) have more effectually accomplished its object, and yielded a better result? The question is a difficult one, as Providence has itself anticipated the means of fully replying to it. The hierarchy prevailed, and we can measure its work. What might have been the consequence of the other alternative, we can only conjecture. We know, indeed, that free missionaries had preached a simple gospel in Gaul, in Britain, in Ireland, and in Germany, as early as the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, before their labours were appropriated, and their exertions checked and put down by the emissaries of Rome. That they had gained the respect and confidence of the natives in our own island, we learn from the impartial testimony of Bede; and that the same was the case in Ireland, may be inferred from the dim traditions that float round the name of Patrick, and the early renown of that mysterious land for learning and piety, and missionary enterprise. Possibly a latesurviving growth of seed thus early sown, protected by forests and ice-bound rocks from the encroachments of Rome, may be seen to this day among the Vaudois of the Alps. Less plentifully furnished with the outward agencies of civilisation, there was some danger, no doubt, lest the labours of these faithful and devoted men should, in process of time, unaided by support from some strong central authority, be absorbed in the superstitions and manners of the fierce and barbarous tribes among whom they had penetrated. We possess faint legendary indications of the character of this early ante-Roman Christianity in the far West, which imply a concession to religious ideas and usages already existing, similar to what Dr. Stanley describes as still conspicuous in the degraded Church of Abyssinia. Even the agents of Rome, with all their advantages and the great influence at their back, could
• Possibly the imitation was intended: that would be quite in harmony with the genius of Ammianus and his age.
not escape the frequent necessity of such a compromise. But Rome, with the temporal power to help her, could always in the long-run enforce her system, and present it in definite forms and under a fixed dogmatic aspect, which the barbarian mind could lay hold of and superstitiously cling to. Her process of conversion, therefore, was more rapid and more complete; but she enthralled the minds which she won; and it has yet to be seen, how Europe will be able finally to disengage herself from the mental fetters which were laid on her as the conditional possibility of entering at an earlier date into the circle of a compact, secure, and organised civilisation. There is a seed of vital power in Christianity which, as we believe, will survive the most disastrous influences, and come out finally with greater beauty and strength from the very freedom with which it has been permitted to grow. But had it been left entirely to itself in that age of overthrow and convulsion, its growth must have been tardier and more precarious. It would have been exposed to more crushing dangers. There might have been seasons when it would have seemed altogether to perish; and when at length it emerged into life, it would have come probably unattended by many adjuncts which are now almost identified with Christianity itself. There are crises in human history where two perfectly distinct courses seem to lie open before humanity, but where God prevents man and leaves him only one. It is not the least interesting reflection in relation to the Council of Nicæa, that it was the first and decisive term in a series of influences, which determined the direction of human thought and human action for hundreds of years, and of which we have yet to see the issue.
Of the course of proceedings at this first council of Christendom, and of the persons who prominently figured in it, Dr. Stanley has given a very animated and graphic account. The original minutes, if there ever were such, have perished; but we get our information at first hand from two contemporary sources, which, as representing opposite interests in the council, can be advantageously balanced against each other,—Athanasius and Eusebius of Cæsarea. The later authorities, Philostorgius, Epiphanius, and Theodoret, also belong to different parties; and the lay historians, Socrates and Sozomen, who lived in the next century, probably derived many facts from aged persons, whose early memories almost went back to the time of the council itself. There is no want, therefore, of authentic materials. Dr. Stanley, in the true spirit of historical research, has gone direct to the original sources, and, weaving together with remarkable felicity the picturesque and characteristic features suggested by them, has given an interest and reality to his narrative, which a general abstract, though implying more thought, could never