NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 19.3
In this conclusion to Chapter 19 of his manuscript Tom Lee brings us an outline of the major events in the life of Emperor Constantine and the Church after the Council of Nicea and up until the time of Constantine's baptism and death. It's an interesting commentary bringing us interesting detail from that period albeit a time of less controversy than we found in the last two excerpts.
Heretical Challenge and Imperial Solution– Part 19.3
Systemetising the written record...
Eusebius' banishment was brief, the emperor liked him, and very soon he was readmitted to his see and began to undermine the positions of the chief supporters of the Nicene Creed. One of the first victims was the blabbermouth Eustathius of Antioch, who liked to remind the world that the emperor's mother had been an innkeeper's daughter. Constantine banished him to Thrace and the see of Antioch fell to a friend of Arius.
Eusebius of Caesarea had begun his clerical career as a scribe and librarian for his predecessor Pamphili, who had acquired Origen's library and then built around it the finest and largest Christian collection of books at that time. Eusebius also devised a system of cross-references, known as "canon tables", that enabled readers to find parallel passages in the four Gospels. Not surprising then that Eusebius became the most knowledgeable and erudite cleric regarding Christian antiquities. A deft impresario, he mobilized a team of secretaries and scribes to produce Bibles featuring his new aid; in the 330s, Constantine placed an order with Eusebius for fifty parchment codex Bibles for the churches of his new city, Constantinople, and commissioned an imperial biography. Eusebius wrote a Universal History in which he arranged sacred and secular history in parallel columns with synchronizing dates, trying to establish the time of every important event and personage from Abraham to Constantine. Almost till the twentieth century, later historian's chronologies depended on his lists. But he is best known for his Ecclesiastical History issued in 325. In it he describes the development of the Church from its beginnings to the Council of Nicaea.
His quotations from many ancient works are the only record we now have of their existence. But much as historians are grateful for what he included, they gnash their teeth over what was probably excluded. Eusebius admitted that he was very selective, excluding matter that he didn't consider edifying, or which didn't fall in with his philosophic views. He managed to describe the whole proceedings of the Council of Nicaea without once mentioning either Arius or Athanasius. His biography of the emperor is more hagiography than truthful portrayal.
A new capital of the Empire: Byzantium...
Before the Council of Nicaea was convened, Constantine had chosen a sight on the Bosporus as the new capital of his empire, the small Greek city of Byzantium. The site possessed the magnificent harbor of the Golden Horn and it was defensible both by land and sea. It was the point at which the road from Europe to the River Euphrates was crossed by the narrow maritime passage of the Bosporus linking the Aegean and the Black Sea. Moreover it was near where Constantine had won his final victory over Licinius at Scutari.
Construction was inaugurated in 326, coinciding with Constantine's last visit to the city of Rome. He was welcomed at the ancient capital by neither pagans nor Christians, both groups resenting his decision to reside permanently in the East. The reason for the visit may have been to attend the dedication of various churches Constantine had endowed and constructed, including a basilica in the Sessorian palace, which he had given to his mother.
Known now as Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, it still houses the largest relic of the cross that Helena recovered in Jerusalem. Over the centuries many jibes were made about the quantity of relics of the True Cross spread throughout the reliquaries of churches world wide, but a recent scientific investigation revealed that if they were all gathered together they would make a very modestly proportioned cross and may at least mirror what Christ's cross was like if it is not the real thing. Helena died in her son's arms, at Constantinople in 330 and her corpse was transported to Rome for burial.
The same year the emperor's new city was dedicated and named, with characteristic modesty, Constantinopolis. It was strategically placed for quick deployment of troops on the troublesome borders with Persia and the encroaching German tribes. It was accessible to the grain supplies from Egypt that were needed in order to feed the large population that it was expected the city would soon attract. From 332, Egypt's grain exports were reserved for Constantinople, with the rest of North Africa required to supply the city of Rome.
Pagan religions suppressed...
It was emphasized that no pagan worship or sacrifice would ever be permitted in the new city. At first cautious in his handling of non-Christians, the emperor steadily imposed restrictions, and gradually removed pagan imagery from his coinage and inscriptions.
Needing gold for currency he stripped the Temples of their precious metals, melting down many ancient and venerated images. Some temples in the Eastern part of the empire, noted for what were regarded by the Christians as sexual irregularities, were demolished. All civil authorities were forbidden to perform the traditional pagan rites. By the end of Constantine's reign no official pagan ceremonies existed. No one was permitted to consult the ancient oracles, and the anti-Christian writings of Porphyry were ordered burnt. The emperor's treaties with the encroaching German and Sarmatian tribes stipulated as a major condition, conversion to Christianity.
Athanasius succeeds Alexander and persecution of Arius continues...
Athanasius succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria in 328 and became the most forthright opponent of Arian views, which, despite the Council, still bedeviled the church, high and low. Soon after Athanasius' election he received a letter from Constantine informing him that Arius had at last signed the Nicene Creed, with a few personal reservations, and should be restored to communion at Alexandria. Athanasius refused to comply and was summoned to meet with the emperor. His asceticism and zeal had sharpened his features and his tongue. He lucidly plead his case and the emperor, impressed with his qualities, dropped his demands on behalf of Arius.
However, Athanasius had trivial local problems to deal with in Egypt that led to his downfall. The schismatic Melitians had been temporarily reconciled by the decisions of Nicaea, but were still mettlesome and demanding. Athanasius' shining honesty was tarnished by a fatal dogmatism. Soon brutality presented itself as sincerity. Recently discovered papyrus letters confirm that violent methods were used in an attempt to silence his tormentors. Sectarian differences previously assuaged by conciliation were handed to the secular authorities to enforce religious conformity with the sword.
The Melitians complained of their rough treatment; protests quickly exploited by Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had the ear of the emperor. A synod was convened at Tyre in August 335 at which the pro-Arians carried the day and Athanasius was excommunicated and deposed. Athanasius wrote to the emperor, but Eusebius produced evidence that Athanasius had threatened to call a dock strike in Alexandria, halting the vital grain supply to Constantinople. The emperor angrily exiled him to Trier in Gaul.
Constantine at the same time instructed all the Eastern bishops to attend the dedication of his new church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. It was part of the celebration of his thirtieth anniversary as emperor, and the ceremonies were to include a public reconciliation with all those Arians who had agreed to submit since the Council of Nicaea.
Marcellus, the bishop of Ankara, a man with no political clout, was dedicated to belief in a Unitarian God, and refused to attend. Accused of heresy as well as disrespect to the emperor he was deposed by a council at Constantinople and exiled in the now familiar fashion.
The re-admission of Arius...
A council at Jerusalem formally readmitted Arius to communion, probably as an act of charity for a ravaged and dying man. Worn out by the demands to abandon his own judgment and the sheer effort of trying to steer safely between the rocks of rationalism and the shoals of an orthodoxy that lacked provenance, he was a ragged skeleton long before he was laid in the grave. Abandoned by former friends and foes, he is said to have died in a toilet a few months later. His orthodox enemies with gloating and self-assured sanctimoniousness claimed that the manner of his death was a divine judgment.
Constantine, as part of his thirtieth anniversary celebrations, prepared for the future, dividing the empire into four parts. Constantine junior (II) was given the western provinces; Constans was given Italy, Pannonia and North Africa. Constantius junior (II) was to have the east, although Constantine's nephew Dalmatius was to rule as another Caesar in Thrace, Macedonia and Achaea. Each was given a semi-imperial court to manage and a senior praetorian prefect to train them in government.
The easternmost provinces, strictly speaking vassal states, were to be supervised by Dalmatius' brother Hannibalianus. The nephews were the sons of Dalmatius the elder, the emperor's half-brother, son of Constantius and his legal wife Theodora. They had lived in relative seclusion while Helena was alive, fearing her saintly animosity, but were welcomed at court after her death.
In December 335 bishop Sylvester died at Rome. Pleading age and infirmity he had happily avoided involvement in the theological controversies, content to reside in the Lateran palace and count his blessings. Later Western Christian writers tried to build him into an heroic and important figure, confidant and advisor to the emperor. They even claimed that it was he who baptized Constantine. But it is extremely unlikely that they met more than a handful of times, when the main matters of conversation would have been the progress with the various church building projects initiated by the emperor in the old imperial capital.
Sylvester was succeeded almost immediately by Mark, an apparently able cleric, but he died less than eight months after his election. It took another four months to elect his successor Julius. He was consecrated as bishop on February 6, 337.
The baptism and death of Constantine...
Shortly afterward, on Whitsunday 22 May, the emperor Constantine passed away at Achyrion near Nicomedia. Feeling unwell he had gone there to bathe in the hot springs. Realizing that his illness was worsening and that he was probably dying he stripped off the imperial purple robe and naked, as was then the custom, had himself baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia. He then donned the white gown which Christian converts wore for a week following baptism, and took to his deathbed, happy in the belief that the sacrament had restored his soul to its original purity, entitling him to the promise of eternal salvation.
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