The Council Of Serdica

constans first wrote to constantius requesting a council in the spring or early summer of 342.1 When the Council of Serdica met in the late summer of 343, virtually eighteen months had passed—a period which corresponds closely to the one year and six months which Socrates reports as intervening between the summoning and the meeting of the council.2 The council confronted a controversial agenda, and East and West regarded the problems it was to discuss from totally different perspectives. The western bishops (as they later declared) saw three central tasks before them: to rescue holy faith and pure truth from those who had violated them; to decide whether the bishops deposed in the East since 337 had been justly or unjustly condemned; and to enquire into charges that in the East churches had been desecrated and clergy maltreated, tortured, even killed for supporting the cause of right.3 The eastern bishops predictably took a different view—and showed extreme reluctance to attend a council which they were well aware was taking place at the insistence of the western emperor.

Constans had summoned Athanasius, who was still in Italy, to come to Gaul, so that he and Ossius might travel together to Serdica.4 In the summer of 343 Athanasius duly came to the imperial court at Trier, then set out with Ossius for Serdica with the emperor's blessing (ApoL ad Const. 4.4). The bishop of Alexandria and the bishop of Corduba were accompanied by their allies and other exiled eastern bishops, including Paul of Constantinople. Further despite Athanasius' assertion to the contrary on a later occasion {Hist. Ar. 15.3), it should probably be assumed that both a general and a high civilian official accompanied them,5 if only to secure supplies and safe transport for the western bishops. However, any officials who may have escorted the bishops faded discreetly into the background before they reached Serdica. For it was clearly intended that the western bishops should present themselves, in contrast to the eastern contingent, as independent of the secular authority, and their choice of dispersed lodgings in Serdica appears to have reflected this difference.6

The eastern bishops came slowly and reluctantly. Their leaders, Theodorus of Heraclea, Narcissus of Neronias, Stephanus of Antioch, Acacius of Caesarea, Menophantus of Ephesus, Ursacius of Singidunum, and Valens of Mursa (George of Laodicea did not come), made sure that their party had an agreed position. They assembled in the East, even though Ursacius and Valens occupied sees in provinces belonging to Constans, and they held preliminary synods in several cities to concert policy.7 Finally, the eastern bishops reached Philippopolis, the most westerly large city in Constantius' domains along the great highway which led from Constantinople to northern Italy. Here they assembled in the autumn of 343 under the watchful eyes of three trusted servants of Constantius: the military comes Strategius Musonianus, the castrensis Hesychius, and the comes Philagrius, who, as prefect of Egypt in 339, had installed Gregory as bishop of Alexandria {Hist. Ar. 15.3; index 15). Philagrius (it is plausibly alleged) laid down the tactics which the eastern bishops should adopt: they were to insist that the bishops whose cases were to be reviewed should not sit as members of the council until their status was resolved.8

Neither group of bishops constituted a completely solid bloc. Despite the close supervision of Philagrius, two eastern bishops, Arius from Palestine and Asterius from Arabia, bolted from the palace in Serdica, where the eastern bishops were housed, allegedly under close supervision, in order to discuss matters with their western colleagues.9 Moreover the easterners suffered from numerical inferiority. In all, approximately one hundred and seventy bishops attended the council [Hist. Ar. 15.3), but out of this total the eastern contingent accounted for only scvcnty-six,10 whereas there were more than ninety western bishops present at Serdica, not including the exiles (some of whom subscribed the western syn-odical letter):11 at any church council, where the minority was expected to assent to the will of the majority or face excommunication, that was a fatal weakness, unless waverers could be detached from the party of Athanasius. The eastern bishops knew of trouble enough in certain western churches, for after the council they included among the addressees of their synodical letter Donatus, the Donatist bishop of Carthage; the schismatic bishop of Salonae in Dalmatia (whose name is not known); three Campanian bishops, Fortunatus in Naples, Desiderius, and Eutychius; and the clergy of the church of Ariminum.12 At Serdica itself, however, neither schism in Africa nor dissidence in Italy dented the unanimity of the western bishops. And they possessed an inestimable moral and political advantage: humble adherents of Paul and Athanasius (and perhaps of Marcellus) had made their way to Serdica, a reminder and threat of violence. 3 The council ran its stormy and predictable course.

The eastern bishops took their stand on the principle invoked in their letter from Philippopolis, and steadfastly refused to sit as members of a council which included Athanasius and the other exiles.14 The western bishops had already written to reject this argument: they could not now break off communion with bishops whom they recognised and who were both present and ready to submit to an investigation of the charges against them, which they were confident of being able to disprove.15 Ossius, who was to preside at the council, either by virtue of seniority (he had been a bishop for nearly fifty years) or because the emperors had named him (or both), craftily proposed an apparent compromise. He invited the enemies of Athanasius to come to the church where he was lodging in order to present their complaints to him privately. If they did so, they could be confident that he would render a just decision on the merits of the case: if Athanasius was shown to be guilty, he would be expelled from communion by Ossius; if he was found innocent, and his enemies still refused to accept him, then Ossius would urge him to return to Spain with him (Hist. Ar. 44.2/3). The eastern bishops were not taken in. The verdict of Ossius deliberating alone and privately was just as predictable as that of the western bishops sitting in formal conclave. The eastern bishops made a counter-proposal (if they had not made it already). Five of the six members of the commission which went to the Mareotis in 335 were still alive and present: they proposed that they and an equal number of western bishops go again to the scene of Athanasius' alleged crimes to establish the truth definitively. Ossius, Protogenes, and the rest in turn declined this offer.16

The two parties at Serdica never met together as a single council. Many days passed, and the ecclesiastical wrangling continued.17 Suddenly the political situation changed. A letter arrived from Constantius announcing a victory over the Persians. It provided both motivation and an excuse for the eastern bishops. They abruptly left Serdica and returned to Philippopolis, sending a lame apology through Eustathius, a priest of the Serdican church (Hist. Ar. 16.2/3). Before they departed, however, they excommunicated their principal opponents and addressed a long synodical letter, duly subscribed by more than seventy bishops, to Gregory of Alexandria, Amphion of Nicomedia, named dissidents in the West, and 'all our fellow priests throughout the world, priests, deacons, and all who are bishops under heaven in the holy catholic church.'18

The bulk of the letter consists of explicit and abusive denunciations of Marcellus of Ancyra, Athanasius of Alexandria, Paul of Constantinople (this section, unfortunately, is almost entirely lost in a lacuna), Asclepas of Gaza, Lucius of Adrianople, and their western friends Ossius, Protogenes of Serdica, Maximinus of Trier, Gaudentius of Naissus, and their ringleader Julius of Rome, who first (they complain) opened the door of communion to the eastern criminals and boldly defended Athanasius without listening to his accusers and the witnesses against him. The letter is a well stocked and irreplaceable repository of allusions to episodes and alliances about which writers favorable to those denounced chose to remain silent.

Before he welcomed them into communion, Protogenes had attended and accepted the decisions of councils of bishops which condemned Marcellus and

Paul—the former on no fewer than four occasions.19 The majority at Serdica included the bishops Dionysius of Elis and Bassus of Diocletiana, the former despite an earlier condemnation by many of the same bishops, the latter despite a criminal record for which he had been deported from Syria. Among them too was Aetius of Thessalonica, whom Protogenes had often accused of many offenses, refusing to communicate with a bishop who had maintained and continued to maintain concubines.20 And Asclepas of Gaza had gone to Constantinople to support Paul: hence he shared part of the blame for the perpetration of a thousand murders which stained altars with human blood.21

The letter waxes eloquent on the heresy of Marceilus, 'a pest more damnable than all heretics,' who combines the falsehoods of Sabellius with the wickedness of Paul of Samosata and the blasphemy of Montanus. It reviews the career of Athanasius from the assault on Ischyras to the time of writing, with frequent descriptions of the violence which he had ordered or caused. And it levels specific charges against the other bishops exiled from the East and their western allies: Paul, Asclepas, and Lucius were guilty of sacrilege and incitement to murder, and Maximinus was 'himself the cause of so many murders' because he was the first to communicate with Paul and encouraged him to return to Constantinople from exile. Nor does the letter confine itself to recent events. Not only is Paul derided for inconsistency in subscribing to the deposition of Athanasius in 335,22 but Athanasius is similarly ridiculed for accepting the deposition of Asclepas many years before,23 and Ossius is reprehended for attacking a certain Marcus, now deceased (who seems to be otherwise unknown); for protecting condemned criminals; for being an inseparable friend of Paulinus, formerly a bishop in Dacia, who was convicted of writing magical books and now lives openly with concubines and prostitutes; and for associating with Eustathius of Antioch and Cymatius of Paltus before their deposition in 327.24 The eastern bishops profess a tender concern for the unity and orthodoxy of the holy catholic church and for ecclesiastical tradition. Accordingly, because of the conduct of those who disrupt the unity and peace of the church, the council has considered it proper and necessary to take disciplinary action:

We openly charge you, most dearly beloved brothers, that none of you, misled by anyone, at any time communicate with those expelled from the holy church, that is, Ossius, Protogenes, Athanasius, Marceilus, Asclepas, Paul, Julius, or any of those condemned, or their allies who communicate with them either in person or by letter. Hence you must neither ever write to them nor receive letters from them. It remains, dearest brothers, to ask you to take thought for the unity and perpetual peace of the church, and to choose holy bishops of unsullied faith and holy life, rejecting those who, because of their crimes, have been stripped of the episcopate and wish to recover again the place which they deservedly lost for their misdeeds.25

Moreover, since Ossius and his friends endanger the catholic and apostolic faith, the eastern bishops deemed it necessary to attach to their letter, whose recipients they invited to subscribe their own names, a definition of that imperiled orthodoxy. The creed which they enounce is identical with that of the Council of Antioch in 342 taken to Constans by Narcissus, Maris, Theodorus, and Marcus, with a few additional anathemas." These two creeds have an old-fashioned aiz; for they simply ignore the theological issues which the new term howoousios had raised.27 They were highly suited, and hence presumably designed, to be the basis of a theological compromise. Moreover, the anathemas of 343, the new as well as those taken over from the creed of 342, set out to allay western fears of heretical tendencies:

Those who say that the Son is from 'that which was not,' or is from another hypostasis and not from God, or that there was a time or period when he was not, the holy catholic church condemns as heretics. Similarly also, those who say that there are three Gods, or that Christ is not God, or that before the ages he was neither Christ nor Son of God, or that the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are the same, or that the Son is unbegotten, or that the Father did not beget the Son by his choice or will, the holy and catholic church anathematises.28

The repudiation of Arius from 342 is here complemented by anathemas which condemn Marcellus and rebut any suspicion that the eastern bishops hanker after the Origenist doctrine of three hypostaseis in the divine triad.29 On the theological front at least, the eastern bishops adopted a moderate stance permitting the possibility of compromise.

The western bishops acted aggressively on both the personal and the theological fronts. The main section of their synodical letter opens with a partisan denunciation:

The Arian heretics have often committed many rash acts against the servants of God who preserve the true catholic faith. Pushing their bastard doctrines, they have tried to persecute the orthodox. And now they have attacked the faith so violently that it does not escape the religious piety of the most clement emperors.30

The letter then reviews the course which the Council of Serdica has taken: in the past the Eusebians had made false charges against Athanasius and Marcellus, but were unwilling to substantiate them before Julius, the bishop of Rome; now their persistent refusal to attend meetings of the council at Serdica, to which they had been invited not once or twice, but many times, followed by their flight, has broadcast to the world their malice and mendacity. They came with accusations of violence enhanced by theatrical devices—exiles carrying their iron and chains, relatives and friends of those still in exile or who had died in exile, bishops with fetters on their necks on behalf of others. In fact, it was they who used force: they would have killed certain bishops had they not escaped, while Theodulus, the bishop of Traianopolis, has actually perished in a vain attempt to elude their hostility. The victims of the Arians could exhibit real wounds and scars. Orthodox bishops, who deserved credence, had produced reliable evidence of the use of armed soldiers and gangs with clubs, the threats of magistrates, the stripping of virgins, the burning of churches, the imprisonment of God's servants. The Arians themselves, however, made false accusations: Theognis of Nicaea had tried to inflame the emperor against Athanasius, Marcellus, and Asclepas, but his former deacons had produced Theognis' letters, which were read out for the whole council to hear The heretics, therefore, came to Serdica with guilty consciences and fled in fear that the truth would come out.31

The letter next addresses the substantive questions which the council was convened to consider. The western bishops review the charges against Athanasius, Marcellus, and Asclepas: they ridicule Ischyras as an unreliable witness; they defend Marcellus on the grounds that he did not assert the heretical views attributed to him, but only proposed them as hypotheses for discussion; and they claim that the acts of the Council of Antioch which deposed Asclepas (in 327) prove him irreprehensible. The verdict which they render is clear-cut. Athanasius, Marcellus, Asclepas, and 'those who minister to God with them' are innocent and pure, and should be received back by their congregations as bishops instead of Gregory, Basil, and Quintianus. Theodorus, Narcissus, Acacius, Stephanus, Urscacius and Valens, Menophantus and George, however are all deposed from their sees and expelled altogether from fellowship with the faithful. Let them be anathema, let no one communicate with them! For light cannot communicate with darkness, nor Christ with Belial.32 The western bishops then appealed to the recipients of the letter to show their approval of the decisions made at Serdica by subscribing their names33—a piea which was heeded, so that some versions of the letter soon had the names of almost three hundred signatories attached.34

Two of the four versions of the synodical letter which survive conclude with a rambling, outspoken, and incautious statement of how western bishops viewed the theological problems at issue.35 This statement has justly been characterised as a 'polemical broadside.'36 It begins by excommunicating any who doubt that Christ is God or that he is Son in the fullest sense of each word, as do those two vipers begotten of the Arian asp, Ursacius and Valens, who, while professing themselves Christians, assert that both the Son and the Holy Spirit were crucified and killed, died, and rose again, and that the hypostaseis of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different and separate. In contrast, the western bishops assert that 'there is only one hypostasis, which the heretics themselves call ousia, of Father; Son, and Holy Spirit,' and they go on to argue, in a manner which sometimes betrays the influence of Marcellus, against the eastern supposition that the Son had some sort of personal existence independent of the Father.

As a result, by stressing the oneness of Father; Son, and Holy Spirit sharing a single hypostasis, the western bishops fail to make clear how the persons of the Trinity can be regarded as separate in any comprehensible sense.37

Despite all its statements of what 'we believe,* this theological manifesto was not intended as a formal creed to be circulated separately, nor is it plausible to argue that it was composed later as a 'separate polemical guide to clergy' to counter a lost document submitted after the council by Ursacius and Valens.38 Both internal criteria and external evidence indicate rather that it was drafted as part of the synodical letter, but that the western bishops decided to omit this section of the draft from the final form of the letter which they officially adopted and endorsed.39 For Athanasius, who was in a position to know, claimed in 362:

The council made no such definition. Some people argued that, since [the creed of] the Council of Nicaea was insufficient, we should write about a creed, and made a rash attempt to do so. But the holy council gathered at Serdica was enraged: it decided that nothing more should be written about a creed, that it was satisfied with the creed acknowledged by the fathers at Nicaea, because it lacks nothing, but is full of piety, and that a second creed should not be issued, lest the creed written at Nicaea be considered invalid, and a pretext be given to those who wish to compose credal formulas frequently.40

The theological statement, even though discarded, soon began to embarrass its proposers. Ossius and Protogenes wrote to Julius in Rome protesting that it had been designed to elucidate obscurities in the Nicene creed, not to replace it.41

In the context of 343, one feature of the letter deserves special emphasis. Athanasius, Marccllus, and Asclepas were not the only exiled bishops exculpated by their western colleagues. Others were there too, to whom this long document alludes, but whom it does not name.42 One was Lucius of Adrianople, who appears among the sixty or so original signatories to the council's decisions.43 A more important omission was Paul of Constantinople, one of the main targets of the eastern bishops in their letter, who pointedly and accurately denounce him as a former bishop of Constantinople.44 The silence of the western synodical letter about Paul does not prove his absence from Serdica, still less that the western bishops in 343 did not restore him together with Athanasius and Marcellus.45 It indicates, rather, that even his supporters could not- produce a plausible defense of his actions, especially of his uncanonical return to Constantinople in the winter of 341/2, which had provoked riots, the lynching of a general, and imperial punishment for the city.46 The silence of the western bishops was a prudent tactical one, which has misled many ecclesiastical historians over the centuries into omitting Paul from their accounts of the Council of Serdica and denying that the council discussed his status. Socrates, however, states explicitly, presumably taking the information from Sabinus of Heraclea, that the council restored Paul together with Athanasius and Marcellus.47

The genera) letter addressed to churches everywhere was supplemented by letters to specific recipients. The western bishops acknowledged the moral leadership of the bishop of Rome. They wrote to Julius, therefore, requesting him to make their decisions known throughout Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia. A full report of the council was unnecessary, since Julius could read the accompanying documents and question the representatives whom he had sent to Serdica, the priests Archidamus and Philoxenus, and the deacon Leo. The bishops at Serdica, however, considered it necessary not only to summarise their findings briefly, but also to subjoin the names of the seven bishops whom they had formally deposed lest any western bishop communicate with any of them unawares. They also allude to an episode not mentioned elsewhere. Valens (they allege) abandoned his own church of Mursa and attempted to take over the church of Aquileia: in the riot which his attempt provoked, the bishop Viator was knocked down and so badly trampled underfoot that he died two days later.48

Athanasius' supporters in Egypt had contrived to convey letters to the western bishops, which were brought by Alexandrian clergy.49 The bishops replied with almost identical letters to the church of Alexandria and to the churches throughout Egypt and Libya.50 These letters naturally concerned themselves almost exclusively with Athanasius, whose proven innocence (they proclaim) ought soon to produce his restoration to Alexandria. But the western bishops at Serdica could also announce that they had received the exiled priests Aphthonius, Athanasius the son of Capito, Paul, and Plution into communion and acquitted them of the charges made by the Eusebians. In addition, they wrote to the churches of the Mareotis, who had complained of intolerable repression. They urged them not to be saddened, but to rejoice at persecution. Since the holy and great council has pronounced Athanasius completely guiltless and deposed his enemies, their tribulations must soon come to an end.51

The western bishops considered other problems besides doctrine, the status of exiled bishops, and the oppression of their adherents in the East. They devised a formula for ensuring that East and West celebrated Easter on the same day. Previously the computations used at Rome and Alexandria had sometimes produced different dates, even though both churches adhered to the rules laid down atNicaea. That had happened in 343 precisely, when Rome celebrated Easter on 3 April, Athanasius and the Alexandrian church on 1 Pharmouthi (27 March)." At Serdica, a table of Paschal dates for the next fifty years was adopted, which the bishops of Rome and Alexandria were to announce to the churches in their jurisdictions (Index 15).53

The western bishops also debated a variety of disciplinary problems of pressing practical concern. These debates are known from the so-called canons of the Council of Serdica, which passed into early collections of canon law and hence acquired enormous authority in later centuries.54 Their immediate effect is less easy to estimate: even though Gratus, the bishop of Carthage, appealed to their authority at an African council probably held in 345,55 the canons appear to have been otherwise unknown in the West, except at Rome, until their sudden rediscovery and employment toward 420.56

The Serdican canons pose extremely serious textual problems, since the Greek and Latin canons that survive appear to constitute two divergent recensions of a document which did not collect and reproduce the formally ratified, subscribed, and promulgated decisions of the council, but rather summarised the minutes of the original discussions. The 'canons' of the Council of Serdica are thus radically different in nature from the canons which survive from the Council of Nicaea in 325 or the Councils of Aries (314), Ancyra (314), Antioch (probably 328), and Laodicea (probably c. 340), or even the canons of the Council of Gangra (probably c. 355), which merely reproduce and divide into sections the synodical letter of the Paphlagonian bishops.57 The Serdican 'canons' have the form of proposals, mostly by Ossius, who presided and presented motions for approval: these proposals are sometimes followed by amendments by a second speaker; and the formula whereby the council signified its assent is not entirely uniform.58

Four principal problems worried the western bishops and recur throughout the canons: the translation of bishops and clergy from one city to another; the appointment of bishops, appeals against ecclesiastical decisions, and episcopal visits to the imperial court.59 In addition, two canons which have dropped out of most of the Latin manuscript tradition address themselves to the problems of the church of Thessalonica, where the bishop Aetius, present at the council, confronted a difficult situation, since a certain Musaeus and Eutychianus claimed to be bishops and were ordaining priests. Presumably, both Musaeus and Eutychianus had been elected in opposition to Aetius: the council laid down that they should be received into communion as laymen, but that the priests whom they had ordained could retain their status.60 It should be suspected that similar local problems lie behind many of the decisions of general applicability made at Serdica. In particular, the canons which provide that disputes between bishops of a province should be decided either within the province or by appeal to the bishop of Rome may have been motivated by disputes in Africa.61 For Ossius and Alypius, the bishop of Megara, betray the motivation of the canons which prohibit bishops from going to court and compel them to intercede with the emperor by sending a deacon whom the bishop of Rome and bishops on the main roads shall have the power to intercept. Too many bishops (they complain) have been going to court, especially African bishops who spurn the salutary counsels of Gratus, the bishop of Carthage: in future, appeal by bishops to the emperor should be allowed only in cases of real oppression, such as of beggars, widows, and orphans.62 It is relevant that one of the recipients of the eastern syn-odical letter was Donatus, who claimed the metropolitan see of Carthage. The church named after him had attained dominance in Numidia under

Constantine, who attempted repression systematically between 317 and 321, tolerated virtually open schism when he went to war against Licinius, and then reintroduced repressive measures at the end of his reign.63 No disturbances are known for a decade after Constantine died, but Constans commenced another attempt to stamp out the Donatist church within a few years of the Council of Serdica/4 The canons of the council, which are firmly dated to the period of apparent peace, reveal that the silence of the surviving sources is misleading. There was no real peace in the African church under Constans, merely a lull in hostilities.

Ossius and his allies had not forgotten the political and diplomatic context of the Council of Serdica. The emperors Constantius and Constans had summoned the bishops of East and West to assemble together. Since the single council envisaged by the emperors had never convened, each emperor was now free to accept the decisions of the bishops from his own territories. It was necessary, therefore, for both parties to report to both emperors. No record survives of any such report which the eastern bishops made: their leaders presumably went to congratulate Constantius on his Persian victory in person, and reported orally—and the predominantly pro-Athanasian sources that survive had no motive to preserve any letter they may have written to Constans. In their letters to Julius, to Alexandria, and to the Mareotis, the western bishops allude to a report 'to the most blessed Augusti* which was given wide currency (Julius was sent a copy).65 If an identical report was sent to both emperors, it must have been a formal and factual account of the council. The western bishops also wrote a letter specifically designed to be read by Constantius alone, whose tenor differed greatly from their letters to sympathetic clerics.66

Constantius' piety and propensity to do good (the western bishops protest) will ensure that he grants their reasonable request to stop the persecution of the catholic church:

Let your clemency provide and decree that all magistrates everywhere, who have been entrusted with the governing of provinces, whose sole care and concern should be for public business, refrain from surveillance of religion, and in future cease to presume, encroach, claim to decide the cases of clerics, and to vex and harry innocent men with various harass-ments, threats, violence, or acts of intimidation.67

The emperor has a duty to allow his subjects to enjoy liberty, to live as they please, to be catholics and Christians rather than heretics and Arians, to have the bishops and priests whom they choose to teach them, and to celebrate with them the divine mysteries. The writers proclaim their loyalty: all is quiet and modest, there will be no suspicion of rioting, of muttered opposition. They beseech Constantius to restore to their places the distinguished clergymen who are in exile or confinement. Arianism is 'a novel and terrible plague/ a recent invention of Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius of Caesarea, of Narcissus, Theodorus, Stephanus, Acacius, and Menophantus, and of the two ignorant and improper youths Ursacius and Valens. Anyone who communicates with them becomes a partner in their crime and will suffer eternal punishment when the day of judgement comes.

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