NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 20.1
As we move further forward in time in Tom Lee's exploration of the origins of Christianity it should not be surprising that the detail increases. In Chapter 20, which we begin today Tom is looking at the period immediately following the death of Constantine. Despite the decrees issued earlier at Nicaea, Arianism experienced a resurgence.
Arian Resurgence as the Sons Inherit. Part 20.1
The succession to Constantine...
Laid in a golden coffin and covered with purple draperies the body of Constantine was transported, amid universal lamentation, to lie in state in the central hall of his palace at Constantinople. Secular and military officers poured in from all over the empire to pay their respects. When the emperor's second son the twenty-year-old Constantius II arrived in Constantinople he immediately took charge and had the final rites enacted before any of his fellow Caesars could reach the capital. Led by Constantius the funeral procession wended its way through the streets to the Church of the Holy Apostles.
For the first time in history, the civic and military authorities surrendered the body of an emperor to the Christian clergy. Burial prayers were intoned and the corpse was interred in the magnificent mausoleum that Constantine had, with terminal vanity, ordered built for himself. It was flanked by monuments of the twelve apostles. The Emperor had immodestly declared himself the thirteenth apostle.
Constantius II immediately began to undermine the authority of his co-rulers. Government was, for a time, paralyzed, no one being quite sure how to proceed with the unwieldy division of the State that Constantine had bequeathed. The first victims were the vulnerable cousins Dalmatius and Hannibalianus, along with their father and other relatives and state officials, swiftly dispatched by the well-bribed army, leaving the three sons of Fausta as joint-rulers.
Their only surviving male relatives were two small boys, Gallus and Julian, sons of Constantine's half-brother. In less than three years the twenty-four-year-old Constantine II was killed at Aquileia by his seventeen-year-old brother Constans, leaving the latter as sole ruler of the West.
Persecution of Pagans and Jews...
Violent edicts were issued against paganism. To offer the ancient sacrifices was made a crime, and even to visit the temples; though exceptions had to be made for Rome and Alexandria, where many of the old aristocratic families still wielded considerable influence. Elsewhere many of the temples were devastated, Christians being the principal desecrators. Complacent Church historians left approving records of the vandalism.
The pro-Arian Constantius II, emperor of the East and based at the new imperial capital Constantinople, issued anti-Jewish edicts, forbidding them to have Christian slaves, and a little later Christian servants. Intermarriage with Christian women became a capital offense, but a Christian man could marry a Jewess, as she might then convert. No Jew was allowed to be the superior of any Christian, and later still they were prohibited from owning pagan slaves, because many slaves had converted to Judaism because of the lenient treatment they received from the Jews. In accordance with Mosaic Law, they set slaves free after seven years' servitude.
The Council of Nicaea had not brought peace...
Within the Church, the Council of Nicaea had not brought peace. The anti-Arian Bishop Hilary of Poitiers lamented: "It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous that there are as many creeds and opinions among men, as many doctrines as inclinations, and as many sources of blasphemy as there are faults among us; because we make creeds arbitrarily, and explain them as arbitrarily... Reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other's ruin."
In the summer of 337 the exiled bishops Athanasius, Marcellus and others, tried to return to their sees. But Eusebius of Nicomedia had been appointed by Constantius II to the see of Constantinople, which had replaced Nicomedia as the Eastern capital. The exiles had a hostile reception and were lucky to escape to the west. In 340 Athanasius and Marcellus, as persecuted refugees, were admitted to communion at Rome by Pope Julius, in direct breach of the canons of Nicaea.
It was at about this time that a soldier known to history as Martin of Tours, requested discharge from the army. Born in what is now Hungary he was brought up at Pavia in Italy. As a young officer at Amiens he is said to have given half his cloak to a naked beggar, in whom he was led to recognize Christ, and soon afterwards was baptized. In asking for release from the army he declared, "I am Christ's soldier; I am not allowed to fight". Accused of cowardice he offered to stand unarmed between the Roman and Gothic lines. Given his discharge he returned for a time to Italy and Dalmatia, before settling on an island off the Ligurian coast.
On January 6, 341, ninety-seven Greek bishops gathered with the emperor Constantius II at Antioch for the dedication of the new cathedral begun by Constantine. Sitting in synod they deplored the accusation that they were Arians "for how can bishops be followers of a presbyter?" They concluded that their only quibble with the Nicene Creed was that it didn't go far enough to exclude Unitarian heretics like Marcellus. They reprimanded Bishop Julius of Rome for presuming to interfere with the decisions of another church. The enemies of Athanasius wrote to Rome requesting Julius to convene a council. He complied but the eastern bishops then refused to attend and wrote a disrespectful letter to the Roman pope. A Council of fifty western bishops met and confirmed Athanasius' and Marcellus' acceptability, whereupon Julius sent a letter announcing the decision to all the bishops he assumed to be Arians, despite their protestations to the contrary. Julius made it clear that he was far from attempting to judge personally by right of any divinely given authority. He emphasized repeatedly the authority of councils.
Some of the Germans, at least along the Danube, accepted Christianity. In the time of Constantine there were already shadowy beginnings of a church among the Visigoths. Theophilus, bishop of Gothland, was one of those at the Council of Nicaea. The apostle to the Goths was Ulfilas, who was converted at Constantinople and was consecrated bishop of the Visigoths in 341 by Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia.
Ulfilas's translation of the Bible into Gothic was the beginning of German literature. His theological opinions, in so far as he understood them, were pro-Arian. Ernest Renan, who produced a controversial Life of Christ in the nineteenth century, remarked that Arianism, "which had the uncommon merit of converting the Germans before they came into the Empire, could have given the world a form of Christianity susceptible of becoming rational".
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 20.1
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