The Fourth Century
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301 Early in this century, an 84-year paschal (Easter) cycle emerged in the West. This method was employed by many in the West, though Rome itself generally followed the calculations made in Alexandria until 457, when it adopted the paschal tables of Victor of Aquitaine.
301 Diocletian set the stage for the Middle Ages with an edict which forced tradesmen to remain in their trades and their descendants to follow in their footsteps. Tenants were compelled to remain on their land for life.
303 9th Persecution of the Church, under Diocletian. When augurs could no longer find the usual signs on the livers of sacrificed animals, Diocletian consulted the oracle of Apollo at Miletus. The god blamed the Christians. On 23 Feb 303, the Christian cathedral in Nicomedia was torn down. The next day, an edict declared all churches were to be destroyed, all Bibles and liturgical books surrendered, sacred vessels confiscated, and all meetings for (Christian) worship forbidden. A few months later, an edict limited to the East required the arrest of all clergy who refused to sacrifice to the gods.
303 Two Roman army officers serving on the Syrian frontier, Sts. Sergios and Bacchus, both Christians, refused to sacrifice to Jupiter. Maximian demoted them, then shamed them by marching them through the streets dressed as women. Next, they were scourged in Risafe, Syria, where Bacchus died from his wounds. Boards were nailed to Sergios’ feet, and he was forced to walk on them. Afterwards, he was beheaded. (See 431 below.)
303 The council of Elvira (Illiberis, near Granada). Nineteen bishops and 24 priests met at this first council of the Church in Spain. The council adopted 81 canons, 34 of them dealing with marriage and sexual misconduct. No reconciliation with the Church was permitted for those who committed the sins of idolatry, divorce, incest, or repeated adultery. Punishment for lesser sins was exclusion from the eucharist, for periods as long as 10 years. “[B]ishops, priests, deacons and all members of the clergy connected with the liturgy must abstain from their wives and must not beget sons” (see Siricius, 385-6). Canon 43 emphasizes the importance of celebrating the day of Pentecost, and it seems to be directed against those who would close Pentecost on the fortieth day after Pascha. At any rate, this canon is the first Christain use of ‘Pentecost’ as referring to a specific day and not to the full fifty-day period. The exact date of the council is not known. The range 300-303 and the year 309 have scholarly support.
304 All citizens of the empire required to sacrifice to the gods under pain of death. In practice, this was limited to the East.
304 Marcellinus, bishop of Rome (296-304), fell away into apostasy during this persecution. He gave up copies of the Scriptures and offered a sacrifice to the pagan gods.
Martyred this year was St. George. A native of Cappadocia and child of Christian parents, George became a tribune in Roman army regiment. Diocletian honored him with the rank of “trophy-bearer” for his bravery. When the persecution began, George voluntarily confessed his Christian faith to the emperor. Diolcetian commanded him to sacrifice to the gods. When George refused, he was stretched out supine with a heavy stone on his chest. The next day, George again refused to sacrifice, and Diocletian had him attached to a great wheel which tore at his flesh with an assortment of barbs. When George again refused to abjure Christ, Diocletian had him beheaded.
Another martyr during this persecution was Pelagia of Tarsus. One of Diocletian’s sons fell in love with her, but she had dedicated herself to God instead. Diocletian’s son killed himself when he realized he couldn’t have her. Diocletian then had Pelagia burned.
305 St. Panteleimon, a physician of Nicomedia, martyred. Panteleimon had given his services freely. His relics were later moved to Constantinople and a church was built there and dedicated to him. This church was rebuilt by Justinian in 532.
305 On May 1, Diocletian, and his co-emperor Maximian, abdicated.
306 Flavius Constantius, Caesar in the West, died at York (Eburacum, in Britain). (Constantius had been Maximian’s subordinate caesar in the West, becoming caesar augustus in the West upon Maximian’s abdcation.) The army proclaimed his son Constantine Emperor.
306 A dispute arose between Peter, bishop of Alexandria, and Meletius, bishop of Lycopolis. Peter had Meletius deposed for fomenting discord: Meletius was critical of the light penances Peter imposed on those who lapsed during Diocletian’s persecution. Persecution began again in 308, and Meletius was exiled to the mines in Palestine. He returned in 311, and led a schism after being excommunicated by Peter. The Meletians were to become allies of the Arians against Athanasius.
311 The Emperor Galerius issued an edict allowing Christianity the right to exist and Christians to form assemblies.
of Methodius, once bishop of Olympus and Patara in
A theologian in the Asiatic tradition of Irenaeus, he attacked Origen’s
of the preexistence of souls, matter as a prison for the spirit, and
non-physical nature of the resurrected body. Methodius became
of Tyre before his martyrdom at Chalcis in Syria (southwest of
(Some, however, think he died at Chalcis in Greece.)
311 Caecelian elected bishop of Carthage. Because one of the bishops who consecrated him had turned over copies of the Scriptures during Diocletian’s persecution (those who did so were known as traditors), Caecelian was immediately opposed. By tradition, the primates of Numidia had the right to consecrate the bishop of Carthage. Secundus of Tigisi, primate of Numidia, came to Carthage with 70 other bishops, declared the bishopric of Carthage vacant, and elected the lector Majorinus in Caecelian’s place.
312 An exegetical school founded at Antioch by Lucian. Lucian was also martyred in 312. His edition of the New Testament is thought by some to be the ancestor of the Majority Text. Lucian was born at Samosata, and was under suspicion for a period of sharing Paul of Samosata’s heretical views.
Lucian opposed the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, popular at Alexandria, with a literal methodology. Lucian’s Christology is suspect: he apparently held that the Word was a creature through whom all other creatures were formed. Many major leaders of the Arian movement – Arius, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Maris and Theognis – were trained by Lucian.
312 Constantine defeated his rival Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian bridge outside Rome. The legend is, on the way to this battle, he saw a cross in the sky one afternoon with the words Hoc vince (by this conquer), and he adopted the cross as his standard. He was emperor in the West. The following year, Licinius consolidated power in the East. The Lateran palace was turned over to the bishop of Rome, Miltiades, as an episcopal residence.
312 This was the initial year for a 15-year cycle of property taxes, known as the indiction. The Indiction of Constantinople was used as a dating system in the East. The year between 1 Sep 312 and 31 Aug 313 was the first year of the indiction, as was the year from 1 Sep 327 to 31 Aug 328. The Imperial, Caesarean, or Western Indiction is similar, but begins each year with 24 September. Apparently this is due to an error made by the Venerable Bede (see 731), who mistook 24 Sep for the autumnal equinox.
313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan: Christianity was given a legal status equal to paganism.
313 Constantine ordered the bishop of Rome, Miltiades, to investigate the controversy in Carthage. On October 2, a group of Italian and Gaulic bishops under Miltiades found Caecelian innocent of all charges and excommunicated Donatus (who had succeeded Majorinus). Constantine had been prompted to act by a letter from the Donatist bishops of Africa, who had asked him to appoint bishops from Gaul to determine the rightful bishop of Carthage.
313 Alexander became bishop of Alexandria. Served through 328. Opponent of Arius, one of his presbyters. From this time, the bishop of Alexandria was “the Pope,” emphatically beyond all others, and he retains that title to this day. The bishops of Rome began to use the title around the year 400 – see Siricius below, year 384.
314 On 1 August, Constantine, Emperor of the West, called the Council of Arles (Arelate), a general council of the Western church, presided over by the bishops of Arles and Syracuse. Caecilian, the compromising bishop of Carthage, had been challenged by the election of a rival bishop, Majorinus, who held to the Cyprianic theology. Majorinus was succeeded by Donatus. Donatus’s followers appealed to Constantine for a decision in their favor, and Constantine responded by calling this council. The council decided the quarrel in favor of Caecilian. Since these latter only remain in communion with the churches outside Africa, they were henceforth known as Catholics. Donatus’ followers were termed Donatists, and this sect persevered until the Arab invasion. Donatism was proscribed in 412 (see below). Three British bishops are reported to have attended the Council of Arles. Showing deference to Sylvester, bishop of Rome (314-35), the council asked him to circulate its decisions.
An Egyptian named Pachomius left the Roman Army this year and
the hermit Palemon near Tabennisi on the east bank of the Nile, near
He built the first monastic enclosure and formulated a rule for daily
and prayer. By the time of his death in 346, St. Pachomius had
11 monasteries with more than 7000 monks and nuns. Pachomius is
to have destroyed a book by Origen, whom he considered a heretic, by
it into the Nile. He would have burned the book had it not
the name of the Lord.
314 St. Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III (298-330) of Armenia to the Christian faith. Armenia thus became a Christian nation. During the following century, the liturgy was translated into and conducted in Armenian.
315 The forty holy martyrs of Sebastea. The emperor Licinius (307-324) ordered all Christians in the army to sacrifice to idols. Forty soldiers serving in Sebastea, Armenia, refused. During winter, they were made to stand in the extremely cold Lake Sebastea with their hands tied behind their backs. After some time, one of the forty left the lake, but fell dead when he was placed in a warm bath. One of the guards then had a vision of forty crowns descending over the lake. He understood the vision to mean that he was to become the fortieth martyr, and he rushed into the lake with the remaining thirty-nine. (Sebastea, now known as Sivas, is in central Turkey.)
called upon Lactantius (260-330) to educate his son
Lactantius is the author of the Divine Institutes, a
apology for Christianity and exposition of the faith.
coins began to carry the Chi Rho symbol (a Greek monogram for Christ).
316 In November, Constantine made the decision in favor of Caecelian as bishop of Carthage final. See 314 above.
318 Arius, a presbyter of the Alexandrian church, began to teach the heresy that goes by his name. He did not believe that the incarnate Son is one with the transcendent first cause of creation. “The Son who is tempted, suffers, and dies, however exalted he may be, is not to be equal to the immutable Father beyond pain and death; if he is other than the Father, he is inferior.” The Logos, therefore, is inferior to the Father. Arius had powerful supporters in Eusebius bishop of Palestinian Caesarea and in Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia (the imperial residence in Bithynia).
320 Constantine bridged the Danube above its confluence with the river Olt.
Constantine required all subjects of the Roman Empire to
Lord’s day as a day of rest and also to honor Friday, the day of
death. He allowed Christian soldiers leave to attend church on
and even enjoined pagan soldiers to pray on Sunday. (Note that
in no way implies that Constantine invented Christian worship
Prior to this time, the seven day week had not been officially observed
the Roman Empire. Instead, the days of the month were denoted by
down toward the Kalends, the Nones, and the Ides of each month.
In May, Constantine granted toleration to the Donatists.
323 Constantine won the battle of Chrysopolis. Defeated Licinius, and became sole Roman emperor.
323 In September, a synod in Alexandria condemned Arius. Eusebius of Nicomedia held a synod at Bithynia in October which cancelled Arius’s excommunication.
325 Birth of St. Gregory Nazianzus.
In January, a synod held in Antioch provisionally excommunicated Eusebius of Caesarea, Theodotus of Laodicea, and Narcissus of Naronias in Cilicia for adherence to the Arian heresy.
325 First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicaea (Nicea). Called by Constantine to settle the dispute over Arius’ doctrines on the person of Christ. Hosius, bishop of Cordova, presided. The legates from Rome were given the position fourth in honor. 218 of 220 bishops present agreed to a creed the council drew up, though there was diversity in interpretation.
The creed of the council of Nicaea:
"We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible;
"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead;
"And in the Holy Spirit.
"But for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, or is subject to alteration or change - these the Catholic Church anathematizes."
The statement in the creed that the Son is of the same substance (homoousios) with the Father caused the greatest controversy in the subsequent battle with the Arians. At Nicaea, the Arians were able to agree to just about every other formula that indicated the divinity of the Son. They simply interpreted these formulae in an Arian manner. But the homoousios was unacceptable to them. In De Decretis, Athanasius wrote: “The Council wishing to do away with the irreligious phrases of the Arians, and to use instead the acknowledged words of the Scriptures, that the Son is not from nothing but `from God,' and is `Word' and `Wisdom,' and not creature or work, but a proper offspring from the Father, Eusebius [of Nicomedia] and his fellows, led by their inveterate heterodoxy, understood the phrase `from God' as belonging to us, as if in respect to it the Word of God differed nothing from us, and that because it is written, `There is one God, from whom, all things (1 Cor 8.6);' and again, `Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new, and all things are from God (2 Cor 5.17).' But the Fathers, perceiving their craft and the cunning of their irreligion, were forced to express more distinctly the sense of the words `from God.' Accordingly, they wrote `from the essence of God,' in order that `from God' might not be considered common and equal in the Son and in things originate, but that all others might be acknowledged as creatures, and the Word alone as from the Father.”
“Again, when the Bishops said that the Word must be described as the True Power and Image of the Father, in all things exact and like the Father, and as unalterable, and as always, and as in Him without division (for never was the Word not, but He was always, existing everlastingly with the Father, as the radiance of light), Eusebius and his fellows endured indeed, as not daring to contradict, being put to shame by the arguments which were urged against them; but withal they were caught whispering to each other and winking with their eyes, that `like,' and `always,' and `power,' and `in Him,' were, as before, common to us and the Son, and that it was no difficulty to agree to these. As to `like,' they said that it is written of us, `Man is the image and glory of God (1 Cor 11.7):' `always,' that it was written, `For we which live are alway (2 Cor 4.11):' `in Him,' `In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17.18):'`unalterable,' that it is written, `Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8.35):' as to `power,' that the caterpillar and the locust are called `power' and `great power (Joel 2.25),' and that it is often said of the people, for instance, `All the power of the Lord came out of the land of Egypt (Ex 12.41):' and there are others also, heavenly ones, for Scripture says, `The Lord of powers is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge (Psalm 96.7).' ... But the Bishops discerning in this too their dissimulation, and whereas it is written, `Deceit is in the heart of the irreligious that imagine evil (Prov 12.20),' were again compelled on their part to collect the sense of the Scriptures, and to re-say and re-write what they had said before, more distinctly still, namely, that the Son is `one in essence' with the Father: by way of signifying, that the Son was from the Father, and not merely like, but the same in likeness, and of shewing that the Son's likeness and unalterableness was different from such copy of the same as is ascribed to us, which we acquire from virtue on the ground of observance of the commandments. For bodies which are like each other may be separated and become at distances from each other, as are human sons relatively to their parents (as it is written concerning Adam and Seth, who was begotten of him that he was like him after his own pattern (Gen 5.3)); but since the generation of the Son from the Father is not according to the nature of men, and not only like, but also inseparable from the essence of the Father, and He and the Father are one, as He has said Himself, and the Word is ever in the Father and the Father in the Word, as the radiance stands towards the light (for this the phrase itself indicates), therefore the Council, as understanding this, suitably wrote `one in essence,' that they might both defeat the perverseness of the heretics, and shew that the Word was other than originated things. For, after thus writing, they at once added, `But they who say that the Son of God is from nothing, or created, or alterable, or a work, or from other essence, these the Holy Catholic Church anathematizes.'”
Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch had traditionally exercised jurisdiction outside of their respective cities: Rome over southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia, for instance; and Alexandria over Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis. (The sphere of Antioch appears to have been Coele-Syria and Cyprus.) These churches, with special privileges outside their provinces, exercising direct control to the exclusion of the ordinary power of the metropolitans bishops, came to be termed patriarchates. The council also gave special honor to Jerusalem, without prejudicing the privileges of Caesarea. This was the first step toward the creation of a patriarchate of Jerusalem in the next century, at Ephesus (431).
The bishop of Alexandria was given the privilege of announcing the date of Easter. This to guard against disagreement over the date. Announced in the annual “festal letter.” The date was to be calculated according to the custom in Egypt, Palestine and the West. The churches in Asia Minor, prior to this decision, had held Easter on Passover. Alexandria may have been selected because of its superior astronomers.
5 decreed that synods be held in each province twice yearly, once
Lent, and once in the autumn. The length of Lent (whether as a
period or otherwise) was not mentioned. Canon 20 forbade kneeling
Sundays or during Pentecost, since these are times of joy.
There is no sound historical evidence that the council established a canon of scripture. The legend that the council placed a collection of books near the altar, prayed, and found the approved works atop the altar, with the rejected works beneath, has no support prior to the ninth century. See 877 below, Vetus Synodicon.
first St. Peter’s Basilica was
in Rome. It was finished roughly 30 years later. The church
demolished early in the sixteenth century and a new church was erected
327 Eusebius of Caesarea, in response to a letter from the emperor’s sister Constantia asking for a picture of Christ, took it for granted that only pagan artists would make such a representation. However, in his Ecclesiastical History (Book 7, Ch 18), he reported the existence of a miracle-working statue, thought to be of Christ, in Caesarea Philippi. That was the home city of the woman healed of an issue of blood (Matt 9.20 and following). The statue depicted this woman (known to tradition as St. Berenice) stretching out her hand to Jesus. Eusebius also stated, without condemnation, that the painted likenesses of Peter, Paul, and Christ had also been made, "according to the habit of the Gentiles."
Also of note: Eusebius saw the conversion of Constantine as an act of God to further the spread of the good news.
In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius listed the New Testament books. The genuine books: the four gospels, the epistles of Paul, 1 John, 1 Peter, and Revelation. Disputed: James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, and 2 Peter. He also mentioned Hebrews as a book “with which those of the Hebrews who have received Christ are particularly delighted.”
Eusebius’ theology was influenced by Origen. This was somewhat typical of the Conservatives or Semi-Arians in the East during the Arian conflict. Although defended as orthodox by Socrates in the fifth century, Eusebius’ theological views are questionable. In De Synodis, Athanasius wrote, “Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine, in a letter to Euphration the bishop, did not scruple to say plainly that Christ was not true God.” He had been condemned by the synod of Antioch in 325, initially supported the Arians, and then, though firmly adhering to orthodoxy after Nicaea, he was willing to facilitate Constantine's wish to tolerate the return of the Arians to communion with little evidence their position had changed. Eusebius was eventually condemned at the second council of Nicae in 787, being described as double-minded.
Using the same basic methodology as Julius Africanus had employed (see 222 above), Eusebius arrived at the date 5232 anno mundi (year of the world, 33A.D.) for the crucifixion. Adam was born in 1 A.M. (5199 B.C.), the flood occurred in 2242 A.M. (2958 B.C.), the Exodus in 3689 A.M. (1511 B.C.) and the nativity of the Lord in 5199 A.M. (1 B.C.). Eusebius’s Chronikoi Kanones was popularized in the West through Jerome’s Latin translation, known to the Venerable Bede.
328 Athanasius succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria. He served initially through 335, when he was dislodged by the maneuverings of Eusebius of Nicomedia on behalf of Arius.
Athanasius interpreted the effect of the incarnation using a Platonic view of human nature: it is an ideal each of us participates in as a human being. By his incarnation, Christ infuses fallen human nature with his divinity. Although it might seem natural, therefore, that all men would be saved, Athanasius did not draw this conclusion, but instead held that only those who are in union with the Holy Spirit participate in the divine nature.
In his Statement of Faith, Athanasius wrote: “But the Holy Spirit, being that which proceeds from the Father, is ever in the hands of the Father Who sends and of the Son Who conveys Him, by Whose means he filled all things. The Father, possessing His existence from Himself, begat the Son ... as a river from a well and as a branch from a root, and as brightness from a light ... and did not create Him.”
It has been stated that the “essential difference between Athanasius and the ‘Conservatives’ [also called Semiarians – the Easterners who were largely orthodox but wished to replace the Nicene formula] ... [was that Athanasius understood] the insufficiency of the formulae of the third century to meet the problem of the fourth. (Introduction to Athanasius’ De Sententia Dionysii)”
328 (331?) Eustathius, recently elected bishop of Antioch, was deposed by an Arian council which met in that city. The Arians hired a woman to say Eustathius had sired her child. Eustathius had been an able defender of orthodoxy. But he had reportedly spoken disrespectfully of the emperor’s mother, Helena, in 326 when she was on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Eustathius was a noted critic of Origen.
328 Eusebius of Nicomedia presented a confession of faith and was allowed to return from exile.
329 Birth of St. Basil the Great.
330 Founding of the city of Constantinople. The University of Constantinople was founded at about the same time and educated students until 1453.
Also about this year, Arius returned from exile, after Eusebius of Nicomedia interceded for him with the emperor. Eusebius then wrote to Athanasius asking him to restore Arius to communion, but Athanasius refused.
Old Saint Peter’s Basilica was dedicated by Constantine. It was located over the traditional burial site of Saint Peter the Apostle in Rome on Vatican Hill.
Death of Iamblichus (250-330) founder of the Syrian school of Neoplatonism. Iamblichus' modified Ploninus' philosophy in the direction of a syncretic religion, which may have provided the framework for Justinian's religious views.
332 The Tervingi, a Gothic tribe, were defeated in battle and became clients to the Romans.
335 A mosaic image of Christ, depicted without a beard, was set in a floor in Hinton St. Mary in Dorset, England.
335 The Despositio Martyrum, a calendar of Roman martyrs, had been written by this year.
335 According to Eusebius of Caesarea in his biography of Constantine, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was dedicated in this year. On the way to the dedication, about 150 bishops met in council in Tyre. Eusebius of Caesarea presided. Among the charges against Athanasius was that he had had Arsenius, the Meletian bishop of Hypsele, murdered, then procured one of his hands for magical purposes. Athanasius produced Arsenius at the council and refuted this charge, Arsenius being alive with two hands intact. The party of Eusebius of Nicomedia prevailed, however, and Athanasius fled to Constantinople. The council passed a resolution deposing Athanasius.
At the dedication in Jerusalem, Arius was received into communion on the strength of a confession of faith he had presented to Constantine previously. Word arrived that the emperor wanted to discuss the events at Tyre, and Eusebius of Caesarea accompanied the Arian bishops to make a further charge against Athanasius. He was accused of threatening to starve Constantinople by stopping the grain shipments from Egypt. Athanasius was banished to Treveri, starting his journey around February of 336.
That same winter there was a council at Constantinople which deposed Marcellus of Ancyra for heresy and nominated a Basil to the see of Ancyra. Marcellus had been a critic of the theological tradition of Origen, which had emphasized the independence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Marcellus was accused of teaching that the distinction between the Father and the Son was only temporary - the Logos will eventually merge with the Father. The excuse for deposing Marcellus was his failure to attend the ceremonies reconciling Arius at the dedication ceremony in Jerusalem the previous year.
335 A Palestinian named Epiphanios (see 375) founded a monastery at Eleutheropolis in Judea.
336 The first notice of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) occurred in a Roman almanac (the Chronographer of 354, or Philocalian Calendar), which indicates that the festival was observed by the church in Rome by the year 336. In one of his letters, John Chrysostom mentioned that Julius I (337-52), bishop of Rome, had the Imperial records of the Roman census examined and confirmed the observance of Christ’s birthday on December 25. See Hippolytus, year 198. (It is interesting that in the East Jesus’ birth, the adoration of the Magi, and baptism were all observed on January 6. It is possible that Julius’ records review was conducted to bring the East into conformity with Rome.) Some historians suggest that Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, was introduced (and gained popularity) as a liturgical strike at Arianism.
Death of Arius. He died suddenly on the day before he was to be received back into communion with the church. The aged bishop Alexander of Constantinople had prayed that God would take either him or Arius away before such an outrage to the faith could be perpetrated. He died attending to a call of nature, apparently of heart failure. There is the possibility that he was poisoned.
During this year, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote two works accusing Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra, of Sabellianism.
337 Constantine was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and died, May 22. Constantine delayed baptism until the point of death as was common in the fourth century, but considered himself a Christian from 313. Upon Constantine’s death, he was succeeded by his three sons: Constantine II in the West, Constans in Italy, Illyricum, and North Africa, and Constantius in the East. In 340, Constantine II was killed during a war against Constans. Constantius tended to be guided by Eusebius of Nicomedia in religious matters, while Constans supported the Western bishops, who were largely orthodox.
On June 17, 337, Constantine II sent a letter to the people and clergy of Alexandria, announcing that Athanasius was being restored as their bishop. He stated that this had been Constantine’s intention, and that Athanasius had been removed to Treveri for his protection.
337 Constantius became emperor in the East. Served through 361. Athananius returned from exile in November, and stayed for 1 year and 4 to 5 months. Eusebius of Nicomedia was translated to Constantinople at about this time. Alexander, the orthodox bishop of Constantinople, had died (336?), and he was succeeded by his secretary Paul, a native of Thessalonica. According to Sozomen (3.4), “The adherents of Arius desired the ordination of Macedonius, while those who maintained that the Son is consubstantial with the Father wished to have Paul as their bishop. This latter party prevailed. After the ordination of Paul, the emperor, who chanced to be away from home, returned to Constantinople, and manifested much displeasure at what had taken place as though the bishopric had been conferred upon an unworthy man. Through the machinations of the enemies of Paul, a synod was convened, and he was expelled from the church. It handed over the church of Constantinople to Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia.”
Eusebius of Constantinople presented the case to Constantius that Athanasius and other orthodox bishops, (and Marcellus of Ancyra) had been restored to their sees uncanonically. Eusebius’ position was not unpopular with Eastern conservatives who had begun to see a danger in state determination of ecclesiastical affairs.
337 Soon after Constantine’s death, the Persians under Shapur II (325-79) crossed the Tigrus and attacked the Roman Empire in an attempt to regain Mesopotamia and Armenia. From this year until about 350, Rome and Persia were at war. Viewing Christians as a fifth column, Shapur began persecuting them. This persecution continued for about 50 years. In about 342, St. Aphraat (290-370) fled the Persians to Edessa. Aphraat later preached the Orthodox faith to the Arian emperor Valens.
338 In order to test the Western reaction, Eusebius of Constantinople sent two deacons to Julius, bishop of Rome, to lay charges against the deposed bishops (Athanasius, Marcellus, etc.). They also argued that Pistus, whom the Eusebians had sent to Alexandria, should be recognized as bishop there.
338/9 Athanasius composed a letter dealing with the charges against him and sent it with two presbyters to Rome. The Eusebian deacons then asked Julius to call a council to settle the issue. Julius agreed to this. He in turn sent two presbyters to Antioch to invite the Eusebians to a council.
339 In January, the Eusebians met in council in Antioch, where Constantius, the eastern emperor, was spending the winter. They repeated their deposition of Athanasius and appointed Gregory the Cappadocian, not Pistus, to succeed him. The Roman presbyters arrived after this council, and were detained until 340.
339 In March, Athanasius fled Alexandria, the Eusebian party having again succeeded in having his deposed. Athanasius visited Rome, accompanied by Egyptian monks. Thus monasticism began in the West.
340 Death of Constantine II. He had laid claim to Constans’ territories of Italy and North Africa, and had invaded Italy. He was killed by Constans’ forces near Aquileia.
340 Julius, bishop of Rome (337-352) welcomed Athanasius and Marcellus to communion: The presbyters whom Julius had sent to Antioch returned in the spring with an acrimonious note from the Eusebians. Julius convoked a council of Italian bishops. The council pronounced Athanasius innocent of all charges. All other exiles were restored by this synod, including Marcellus, who was simply required to affirm the Roman baptismal creed. Julius then sent a letter to the Eusebians in the name of the synod. Julius pointed out that, without his consent, no decision could be considered universal. He based his claim to be consulted on matters dealing with the see of Alexandria on the precedent of Dionysius (see 259).
As the exiles had been excommunicated by Greek synods, the East was miffed.
340 Death of Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius was succeeded by Acacius, who was to become the leader of the Arians in the East. In fact, the Arians were sometimes called Acacians.
340 Birth of St. Ambrose.
341 Eusebius of Constantinople, an Arian (see year 318, above) consecrated Ulfila as bishop to the Goths. Ulfila held to the Nicene creed until the council of Rimini (Arminum) in 359.
341 In the summer, Eastern bishops met in synod at the occasion of a cathedral (Constantine’s Golden Church) dedication in Antioch. Julius’ letter from the recent council at Rome was considered. The Eastern bishops denied that Rome had a right to judge decisions reached in the East.
The assembled Eastern bishops drew up three creeds. The first had a preface denying that they were followers of Arius. This creed does not seem to have been widely favored.
The second creed is referred to as the “Creed of the Dedication” or the “Lucianic” creed, alleged to have been written by Lucian the Martyr (see 312). The Lucianic creed omitted the homoousion, but maintained the exact likeness of the Son to the Father’s essence. Its anathemas permitted an Arian interpretation. Against Marcellus, it insisted on the generation of the Son before time. The Lucianic creed (as given by Athanasius in his de Synodis):
“We believe, conformably to the evangelical and apostolical tradition, in One God, the Father Almighty, the Framer, and Maker, and Provider of the Universe, from whom are all things.
“And in One Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, Only-begotten God (John 1.18), by whom are all things, who was begotten before all ages from the Father, God from God, whole from whole, sole from sole, perfect from perfect, King from King, Lord from Lord, Living Word, Living Wisdom, true Light, Way, Truth, Resurrection, Shepherd, Door, both unalterable and unchangeable; exact Image of the Godhead, Essence, Will, Power and Glory of the Father; the first born of every creature, who was in the beginning with God, God the Word, as it is written in the Gospel, `and the Word was God' (John 1.1); by whom all things were made, and in whom all things consist; who in the last days descended from above, and was born of a Virgin according to the Scriptures, and was made Man, Mediator between God and man, and Apostle of our faith, and Prince of life, as He says, `I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me' (John 6.38); who suffered for us and rose again on the third day, and ascended into heaven, and sat down on the right hand of the Father, and is coming again with glory and power, to judge quick and dead.
“And in the Holy Ghost, who is given to those who believe for comfort, and sanctification, and initiation, as also our Lord Jesus Christ enjoined His disciples, saying, `Go ye, teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost' (Matt. 28.19); namely of a Father who is truly Father, and a Son who is truly Son, and of the Holy Ghost who is truly Holy Ghost, the names not being given without meaning or effect, but denoting accurately the peculiar subsistence, rank, and glory of each that is named, so that they are three in subsistence, and in agreement one.
“Holding then this faith, and holding it in the presence of God and Christ, from beginning to end, we anathematize every heretical heterodoxy. And if any teaches, beside the sound and right faith of the Scriptures, that time, or season, or age, either is or has been before the generation of the Son, be he anathema. Or if any one says, that the Son is a creature as one of the creatures, or an offspring as one of the offsprings, or a work as one of the works, and not the aforesaid articles one after another, as the divine Scriptures have delivered, or if he teaches or preaches beside what we received, be he anathema. For all that has been delivered in the divine Scriptures, whether by Prophets or Apostles, do we truly and reverentially both believe and follow.”
The third creed, that of Theophronius of Tyana, added to the second creed’s insistence on the Son’s pretemporal generation, his hypostatic pre-existence and eternal kingdom. It had an anathema against Marcellus and all who communicated with him or his supporters (directed at the Italians).
A fourth creed was drawn up several months after the council had closed, in the autumn of 341. Julius had referred Athanasius’ case to Constans, who requested Constantius send oriental bishops to state their case against Athanasius. A few bishops therefore reassembled to send a deputation to Constans. The creed they drew up became the basis for subsequent Arian confessions. Marcellus was not mentioned, but the eternal reign of Christ was affirmed. The Nicene anathemas were modified to attack Marcellian and admit Arian interpretations of the divine Sonship. The fourth creed, as given by Athanasius in de Synodis:
“We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Creator and Maker of all things; from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named. (Eph. 3.15.)
“And in His Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, by whom all things were made in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, being Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and Life, and True Light; who in the last days was made man for us, and was born of the Holy Virgin; who was crucified, and dead, and buried, and rose again from the dead the third day, and was taken up into heaven, and sat down on the right hand of the Father; and is coming at the consummation of the age, to judge quick and dead, and to render to every one according to his works; whose Kingdom endures indissolubly into the infinite ages; for He shall be seated on the right hand of the Father, not only in this age but in that which is to come.
the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete; which, having promised to the
He sent forth after His ascension into heaven, to teach them and to
of all things; through whom also shall be sanctified the souls of those
sincerely believe in Him.
In the short run, the Arians made use of the fourth creed (see Sirmium, 351). The Semi-Arians, or Eastern Conservatives, increasingly relied on the Lucianic creed.
One might have thought that the phrase ‘before all ages was begotten’ would militate against the Arian position that the Son was created. Yet, Eusebius of Nicomedia was able to hold that the Son was begotten before time, yet not co-eternal with the Father. These creeds admitted of an orthodox interpretation, as Hilary noted in his De Synodis, but were an insufficient filter against Arianism.
342 The Eastern bishops from the dedication council of Antioch were refused an audience with Constans, emperor in the West. Apparently, Constans had already decided that the way to deal with the situation was with a council, to meet in Sardica.
342 A council at Gangra in Asia Minor disapproved of monks who abandoned church attendance.
342 Eusebius of Constantinople died. The Eusebian party was temporarily leaderless. Two rivals, Paul and Macedonius (see 337 on Eusebius’s translation to Constantinople), vied for his see. With Eusebius’s death, Paul was re-introduced to the city as its rightful bishop. However, a group of Arians (Theognis, bishop of Nicaea, Maris of Chalcedon, Theodore of Heraclea in Thrace, Ursacius of Singidunum, and Valens of Mursa) ordained Macedonius. A riot ensued in which the general Hermogenes was killed. Constantius banished Paul, and allowed Macedonius to continue as bishop.
342/3 The council of Sardica. The Easterners were outnumbered by the Westerners. A dispute arose immediately over the admission of the deposed bishops. The Eastern bishops withdrew to Philippopolis, then condemned Hosius, Julius, Athanasius, etc., and re-issued the fourth creed from Antioch (341) with additional anathemas against Marcellus.
The Western bishops asserted the right of Julius of Rome to hear appeals from bishops under censure in their own provinces. They also published (to Athanasius’ regret) a naive theological tract to cover their admission of Marcellus. All charges against the exiles were dismissed, and they also denounced Valens of Mursa and Ursacius of Singidunum (among others), who were attending the Eastern synod, and who had been companions to Arius during his exile.
In the wake of Sardica, Constantius (emperor in the East) harshly persecuted the Nicene bishops in the East.
343 Photinus, bishop of Sirmium in Pannonia, began teaching his heresy. He denied the existence of the Son prior to the incarnation, claiming that the Son and the Logos are distinct. He viewed Christ's divinity as something he attained through moral growth, similar to the view of Paul of Samosata.
344 Constans, emperor in the West, sent two bishops from the Sardican majority to Constantius to urge him to restore the deposed bishops. Stephen, bishop of Antioch, attempted to discredit the envoys, but his deception was found out. (He had a naked prostitute introduced into one of the envoys’ rooms, but she, seeing a bishop asleep, refused to attempt to seduce him, and accused Stephen.) A council was summoned, which deposed Stephen.
The council then sent an enlarged version of the fourth creed from the dedication council of 341 to Italy by way of a deputation. This is sometimes referred to as the “Lengthy Creed.” The council also mildly condemned certain Arian phrases, but condemned Marcellus and Photinus, and criticized the Nicene creed for giving support to their heresies. Photinus was condemned by the council of Sirmium in 351. The fourth (revised) article of the creed, from Athanasius’ de Synodis:
“But those who say, (1) that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God; (2) and that there was a time or age when He was not, the Catholic and Holy Church regards as aliens. Likewise those who say, (3) that there are three Gods: (4) or that Christ is not God; (5) or that before the ages He was neither Christ nor Son of God; (6) or that Father and Son, or Holy Ghost, are the same; (7) or that the Son is Ingenerate; or that the Father begat the Son, not by choice or will; the Holy and Catholic Church anathematizes.”
Understanding that his brother considered it a cause for war, Constantius discontinued his persecution of the Nicene bishops.
345 Delegates from the last council of Antioch attended a council held in Milan. The Milanese synod agreed to condemn Photinus, but not Marcellus. On being asked to condemn Arianism outright, the Eastern delegates retired in anger. Valens and Ursacius, in danger of having their Sardican depositions enforced, submitted. They admitted that the charges against Athanasius had been invented.
346 Under strong pressure from Constans, Constantius readmitted Athanasius to his see in Alexandria, while the West dropped the cause of Marcellus. (According to Sozomen, Marcellus was also restored to the bishopric in Ancyra, and Basil was deposed.)
Paul, bishop of Constantinople, was allowed to return from exile (see 337, 342). He remained in the city until 351. According to Sozomen (3.24), “Immediately after the return of Paul to Constantinople, Macedonius retired, and held church in private.”
Socrates (2.22) gives the text of Constans’ letter to his brother Constantius: “Athanasius and Paul are here with me; and I am quite satisfied after investigation that they are persecuted for the sake of piety. If, therefore, you will pledge yourself to reinstate them in their sees, and to punish those who have so unjustly injured them, I will send them to you; but should you refuse to do this, be assured, that I will myself come thither, and restore them to their won sees, in spite of your opposition.”
347 Birth of St. John Chrysostom.
monks living in Antioch, Flavian and Diodore, promoted the
of singing the Psalms with short responsory choruses: the first
litanies. Diodore later became bishop of Tarsus (378), while
became bishop of Antioch (381).
347 In August, the Western emperor Constans exiled Donatus and other Donatist leaders to Gaul. Donatus died there in 355. The emperor Julian allowed the Donatists to return to Africa in 361.
347/8 Ulfila, the translator of the Bible into Gothic (this was the first time Christians translated the Scriptures for a people living outside the Roman empire), left the Gothic lands when the ruler of the Tervingi, a Gothic tribe, began a persecution of Christians. Ulfila brought a large body of Christians into the empire with him, settling near Nicopolis (Moesia/Bulgaria) on land donated by the emperor Constantius.
350 Frumentius became bishop of Axum in Ethiopia. He was ordained by Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria. Frumentius was the author of the Life of St. Anthony. Christianity also spread eastward, as is attested by the fact that Theophilus of Soccotra in the Gulf of Adem became bishop to the Christians of southern Arabia in about this year.
350 At around this time Codex Sinaiticus (S, or Aleph) was written. It consists of the Septuagint (without 2-3 Maccabees, the Psalms of Solomon, or Psalm 151) plus the 27 New Testament books, plus Barnabas and Hermas (though it is missing Hermas 31:7 to the end of the book). Sinaiticus is of the Alexandrian family, but is regarded as transmitting a Western text.
Codex Vaticanus (B) also dates from this era. It includes the LXX without 1-4 Maccabees, Psalm 151, or the Psalms of Solomon. Gen 1-46:28 and Psalm 105:27-137:6 are missing. It also includes the 27 New Testament books, except for 1 Timothy through Philemon, and Hebrews 9:14 through the end. As with Sinaiticus, it is an Alexandrian document.
Before 300, most books were in the form of scrolls. Scrolls had severe limitations. For instance, a book the size of Matthew’s gospel would fit on a scroll. A codex, formed by folding sheets of papyrus or vellumin the middle and sewing them together at the spine, could contain much larger works. Codices also eased the task of locating a given passage.
The earliest extant Old Latin manuscript - designated as "a" - dates from this period also.
350 Constans, emperor in the West, murdered by the usurper Magnus Magnentius. Constantius was sole emperor by the fall of 351.
350 Around this time (348-50) Cyril of Jerusalem (elected bishop in 350) produced the Mystagogical Catecheses for new believers. He described the church service as follows:
“Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual hymns, we call upon the merciful God to send forth his Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before him: that he may make the bread the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ, for whatever the Holy Spirit has touched is sanctified and changed. Then after the spiritual sacrifice is perfected, the bloodless service upon that sacrifice of propitiation, we entreat God for the common peace of the Church, for the tranquility of the world, for kings, for soldiers and allies, for the sick, for the afflicted; and in a word for all who stand in need of succour we all supplicate and offer this sacrifice. Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that at their prayers and intervention God would receive our petition. Afterwards, also on behalf of the holy fathers and bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great advantage to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is presented.”
Cyril’s Old Testament canon was the Hebrew Old Testament plus Baruch and “the Epistle” – now included as the last chapter of Baruch. However, he also quoted from Wisdom and Sirach as though he considered them Scripture. His New Testament list omits only Revelation, and includes no books not now accepted.
Cyril was Orthodox, as is clear from his teachings on
Trinity in the Mystagogical Catecheses. He was
through the intrigues of Acacius (the Arian bishop of Caesarea) around
year 357, but seems to have been reinstated by the council of Seleucia
359. Cyril attended the Council of Constantinople in 381,
as one of the leaders of the orthodox.