Believing, not Reading

Theodoret’s Church History is far from objective about the council of Nicea. For him, the devil and his slaves to ambition and vainglory, the Arians, were beaten back by the Orthodox, the great … champion(s) of the truth. Luckily for us, his account is dominated by the letters written before and after the conference by the protagonists themselves, quoted in full so that the authenticity of my history may not be suspected. What story do they tell?

The dispute on the nature of God started in Alexandria and so does Theodoret …

Letter of Alexander of Alexandria to his namesake in Byzantium: here is officialdom’s ire, anger at minions including Arius who attack the religion of the Church because they are maddened by the devil. The bishop of Alexandria tells his Byzantine peer to guard against them and their specious letters, calculated to delude one who has devoted himself to the simple and undefiled faith.

Here is frustration. To establish this insane doctrine they insult the Scriptures. Unfortunately, he’s wrong when he claims a godly clearness of the ancient scriptures. He does try to back his position from them, tries to show that only begotten son means co-eternity for father and son but always falls back on personal attack or that old saw, a call to accept established views, the unanimous piety of all our fellow-ministers. Reject the new! Reject thought that never entered the mind of any other individuals.

Finally, he’s reduced to the ineffable personality of the only-begotten God is beyond the keenest conception of the evangelists and perhaps even of angels, to I do not think men ought to be considered pious who presume to investigate this subject. Don’t seek. You won’t find. Alexander of Byzantium, please don’t talk to these people.

And Arius is sending specious letters to other churchmen. One to Eusebius of Nicomedia …

Letter of Arius to Eusebius: complains of persecution by Alexander on account of that all-conquering truth of which you also are a champion. Here’s the grammarian: before He was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, He was not. Begotten just means created. It isn’t special, isn’t beyond the keenest conception of anyone. You can picture an angry Alexander hearing this.

Eusebius is called my fellow-Lucianist which some say means they both studied under Lucian but elsewhere Arius isn’t put into that group. This likely means in approach, in outlook. And what is this outlook? A doctrine? Or is it an approach to scripture? To study?

Now for Eusebius’ letter. Theodoret’s comment on it - When Eusebius received the epistle, he too vomited forth his own impiety - is very Alexandrian!

Eusebius to Paulinus of Tyre: this asks Paulinus to consent to write in accordance with Scripture, and tread in the tracks of its words and willThese opinions we advance not as having derived them from our own imagination, but as having deduced them from Scripture. Here are the opinions and scriptural ballast of the Eusebians or Lucianists or Arians (pick your label). The words that would be debated in Nicea are picked apart. Begotten, Substance. Again Begotten isn’t special - think of Who begat the drops of dew. It just means created. This uses scripture to counter the Alexandrian’s special place for the word in only begotten son of god.

These three letters show scripture in play, open to interpretation, that the Eusebians were good grammarians, but their position was novel, not the Church’s consensus. The only way to counter their insanity was with vitriol - or was it? A creed would make an official reading, disallow others. The Nicean creed would drop in consubstantial to back up only begotten.

Here’s the recollection of Nicea by Athanasius in his letter to the Africans.

Athanasius to the Africans: the followers of Eusebius/the Arians (he uses both) complain of having been condemned by expressions … not actually in Scripture. Athanasius’ only counter - groundless by their own practice, for their own impious assertions are not taken from Scripture. In other words, we’re right because you are as bad as us! No, no. The Eusebians found their words on a dunghill but the bishops received their testimony from the fathers. Ah! Dead bishops read this way. So should we. Here is Alexander’s call to reject novelties that never entered the mind of any other individuals.

Here is the novelty of grammarians (Arius, Eusebius) pitted against frustrated authority and long held opinion. Only a creed establishing how to read could save the widely believed. Historians like Theodoret tried to put a gloss on this and it’s telling that they adopted much of Alexander’s tone when they did so.

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