The Threatened Series - 6
At the Council of Nicæa, the term 'homoousios' was used to define the
consubstantiality of Father and Son; Arius and the bishops who
supported him, including Eusebius of Nicomedia, were banished. This,
however, did not end the matter. The Emperor Constantine began to have
second thoughts. Eusebius of Nicomedia and other banished bishops were
allowed to return, and began to intrigue against the Nicene party.
Eustathius of Antioch and Athanasius himself had to go into exile; we
saw in the last posting some of the vicissitudes which Athanasius had
to suffer. Arius was to be recognised as orthodox; his death in 336
prevented his being received back into the Church.
Athanasius's orthodoxy was upheld by a Council held in Rome in 341. In
the same year a Council held in Antioch produced no less than four
statements of faith. While repudiating the teaching of Arius, they
avoided the word 'homoousios'. The text of these creeds can be found
in J. Stevenson, "Creeds, Councils and Controversies: Documents
illustrative of the history of the Church, A.D. 337-461" pp. 11-14.
Three groups with Arian tendencies emerged:
1. One party was known as the 'Anomoeans' from Gk. anomoios,
'dissimilar'. They stressed the difference between Father and Son.
They are sometimes referred to as 'Neo-Arians'.
2. A second party was known as the 'Homoeans' from Gk. homoios,
'similar'. They affirmed that the Son 'is similar to the Father'.
3. A third group, known as the 'Semi-Arians' favoured the term
'homoiousios' 'of similar substance' - only one letter different from
the orthodox 'homoousios', but actually a world apart.
A highly unorthodox creed was drawn up at Sirmium in 357; this is
sometimes known as the 'Blasphemy' of Sirmium. One can easily see why
(text in Stevenson, "Creeds, Councils and Controversies" p. 35):
"But since some or many persons were disturbed by questions concerning
substance, called in Greek 'ousia', that is, to make it understood more
exactly, 'homoousion', or what is called 'homoiousion', there ought to
be no mention of this at all . . .
"There is no question that the Father is greater. No one can doubt
that the Father is greater than the Son in honour, dignity, splendour,
majesty . . . that the Father is greater, and that the Son is
subordinated . . ."
Oh dear, Oh dear. But this travesty of the faith was accepted by a
double council of eastern and western bishops who met at Seleucia and
Ariminum in 359. It was of this year that St Jerome wrote his famous
comment: "The whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian."
However, it was for the Arians a creed too far. The Semi-Arians took
fright and returned to the ranks of the Orthodox. The Emperor
Constantius, chief supporter of the Arians, died in 361. Athanasius
returned to Alexandria in 362 and held a council to reconcile the
various factions. He died in 373, and the baton of the Nicene faith
was picked up by the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of
Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa.
We shall begin to look at these three in our next issue.
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