The Homoean Creed

Neither constantius nor the bishops at his court intended the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia to enjoy untrammeled freedom of debate.1 Imperial commissioners were to supervise the councils closely and to influence their proceedings. In 359, as at Aries and at Milan some years before, the bishops assembled in conclave were expected to ratify a document presented to them, not to excogitate a new one (Syw. 8.2). The document to be presented was prepared by Marcus of Arethusa and endorsed by a small committee of bishops, comprising Ursacius, Valens, Basil of Ancyra, Germinius of Sirmium, the Egyptian bishops George of Alexandria and Pancratius of Pelusium, and possibly Hypatianus of Heraclea. During the vigil before Pentecost, late in the evening of 22 May 359, in the presence of Constantius, this statement of 'the catholic creed* was set forth and subscribed (Sy«. 8.3-7).2

The text of the creed shows the hand of the drafter in apparent similarities to the local creed of Antioch, and it is the first creed to include the dead Christ's descent into hell. But its main feature is an attempt to mediate, to devise a formula which all might accept.3 In language perhaps first employed by Acacius of Caesarea,4 it avoided technical terms and propounded a homoean Christology:

Since the term 'essence* (ousia) was adopted by the fathers [sc. at Nicaea in 325J without proper reflection and, not being known by the people, causes offense because the scriptures do not contain it, it has been resolved that it should be removed and that in future there should be no mention whatever of essence in regard to God, since the divine scriptures nowhere refer to essence [when speaking] about Father and Son. But we declare that the Son is like the Father in all things, as the holy scriptures indeed declare and teach. [Syn. 8.7)

This compromise did not satisfy even the original signatories. Valens attempted to omit the phrase 'in all things' in his subscription until Constantius compelled him to include it, while Basil added a gloss explaining that 'in all things' meant not merely in will, but 'in hypostasis and in existence and in being.'3

The emperor then wrote to the councils to set the agenda for each. The eastern council was instructed first to settle doctrinal issues; then to consider the cases of individual bishops such as Cyril of Jerusalem, who were challenging their deposition or exile, and complaints against bishops in office, such as Egyptian accusations of violence and peculation against George of Alexandria; and finally to send ten envoys to court to report the decisions made.6 The western council seems, through a bureaucratic oversight, to have been sent exactly the same letter. For Constantius wrote a second letter, on 28 May, in which he bade the Council of Ariminum to concentrate on what concerned it, namely, faith and unity, and to send ten envoys to him to report on the proceedings, but to make no decisions in matters concerning eastern bishops.7

Flavius Taurus, praetorian prefect in Italy and Africa since 355, was charged with conducting the western council, and it was rumored that an ordinary consulate would be his reward for success (he became consul in 361 ).* Taurus secured a large attendance. He sent officials throughout Italy, Africa, Spain, and Gaul with warrants for free transport and supplies, and pressing invitations. The bishops came, more than four hundred in number, though those from the Gallic prefecture (except for three impoverished bishops from Britain) are said to have insisted on coming at their own expense, in order to avoid compromising their freedom of action.

The council assembled in July. As soon as the creed of 22 May was read, the bishops split into two camps. The large majority of western bishops denied that any new creed was needed after Nicaea. Accordingly, they reaffirmed the Nicenc creed, declared that nothing should be added to it or taken from it, and proceeded to draw up a formal condemnation of Arius and his heretical views.9 Moreover, they condemned Ursacius, Valens, Germinius, and Gaius (another Illyrian bishop) for disturbing the churches and attempting to subvert the creed of Nicaea.10 These decisions, of which the last is dated to 21 July 359, they communicated to Constantius in a letter of polite defiance which also contained a request that they be allowed to depart from Ariminum.11 The letter was taken by a delegation, which presumably left Ariminum in late July. Taurus had instructions to detain the bishops in the city until the business of the council was concluded in a manner satisfactory to the emperor.12

Ursacius, Valens, and Germinius had come to Ariminum. Together with their western allies and presumably several dozen other bishops from Illyricum, they formed a sizeable minority of almost eighty. Seeing the majority recalcitrant, they withdrew from the large church where the council was meeting to a nearby building which was unoccupied and took counter-measures.13 They wrote an effusive letter to Constantius asking that they as defenders of pure doctrine and catholic truth, who had renounced all talk of 'essence' on his orders, be permit ted to return home.14 They wrote too to the eastern bishops, and most of their leaders went as envoys to Constantius—skilful pleaders and practised politicians who proved able to outwit the rival delegation.15

Constantius had left Sirmium in June, and he was to spend the winter of 359/60 in Constantinople.16 It is not known where or when the two delegations from Ariminum met him, but they were received very differently. Constantius welcomed the delegates of the minority, but refused to grant an audience to the others. Coercion was then applied. Constantius departed on a military expedition and ordered the envoys to await his return at Adrianople.

Delay and threats produced the desired result.17 On 10 October, at the town of Nike in Thrace, Restitutus of Carthage and the other envoys of the majority disowned their decisions at Ariminum, disavowed their excommunication of Ursacius, Valens, Germinius, and Gaius, and subscribed the creed which the other delegation had brought from Ariminum.'8 The formulary which they now accepted was a revision of the creed of 22 May by the Illyrian bishops: it omitted the phrase 'in all things' after 'like the Father' and it prohibited the use of the phrase 'one hypostasis' as well as 'one ousia.'19 The place of this capitulation had been craftily chosen. The new creed expressing the new homoean orthodoxy was subscribed at Nike: hence it could be represented as a 'Nicene' creed, and it is reported that the similarity of name proved capable of deceiving some bishops.20

Meanwhile, the Council of Seleucia took an even stormier course.21 Personalities and grievances were at issue as well as ideas. One hundred and sixty bishops attended,22 with the comes Leonas and Bassidius Lauricius, the dux of the province of Isauria, ordered to attend the sessions. The council opened on 27 September 359, and Leonas invited the bishops to declare their views. Dispute began at once. First, there was a request that the proceedings be stayed until all the bishops whose presence was expected should arrive. The absentees included Basil of Ancyra, Macedonius of Constantinople, and Patrophilus of Scythopolis: the latter pair pleaded illness and were perhaps reluctant to face the accusations against them. When Leonas refused to countenance any postponement or delay, some of those present refused to discuss anything until the charges against individual bishops such as Cyril of Jerusalem and Eustathius of Sebasteia were settled,23 while others contended that doctrinal questions must be debated first. Both sides appealed to imperial letters. When the council began its business, it at once split into two factions. Acacius of Caesarea led the one, with George of Alexandria, Uranius of Tyre, Eudoxius of Antioch, and another forty bishops.24 The majority were led by George of Laodicea, Sophronius of Pompeiopolis in Paphlagonia, and Eleusius of Cyzicus. The latter group wished to accept the Nicene creed with as little alteration as possible (merely removing the term homoousios)y while the former proposed to draft a new creed to replace the Nicene definition. Debate dragged on till evening, when Silvanus of Tarsus declared that no new creed was needed, that the creed of the 'Dedication Council'

would suffice. The party of Acacius withdrew. The majority then brought forward the creed of 341, read it, and adjourned. The next day, they met in the main church of Seleucia behind closed doors and subscribed the creed.

Acacius and his sympathisers objected that the procedure was technically improper, because the majority had acted in secret conclave. Acacius had his own creed prepared, which he read to Leonas and Lauricius. On 29 September Leonas attempted to convene the whole council again. Macedonius and Basil had now arrived. The party of Acacius refused to sit down with them, arguing that both previously deposed and currently accused bishops should be excluded. The argument was conceded, and those bishops withdrew against whom a formal accusation had been laid. Acacius and his party then entered, and Leonas declared that he had a petition from Acacius. When the assembly fell silent, Leonas read what turned out to be a credal statement.23 After a preface which combined flattery of Leonas and Lauricius with complaints against their opponents, the Acacians denied that they rejected the creed of the 'Dedication Council.' But since the terms homoousios and homoiousios had troubled many, while the term anomoios had only recently been introduced, they repudiated the terms homoousios and homoiousios as contrary to the scriptures and anathematised anomoios. Instead, they professed that the Son is like the Father, enounced a creed almost identical to the one drafted at Sirmium in May, and excommunicated all who ventured to disagree with it. Acacius and his supporters subscribed the document, but Sophronius objected, and after much inconclusive discussion the third day's session ended.

Debate continued on the fourth day. Eleusius of Cyzicus reiterated that the creed of 341 should suffice,26 and Acacius was pressed to specify exactly how the Son was like the Father. When he contended that it was in will alone, not in essence, it became clear that the majority disagreed. As the questions continued to provoke heated discussion, Leonas rose and terminated the session. On the following day, he refused to join the bishops. Acacius was satisfied with the outcome. The majority were not. They took up the case of Cyril of Jerusalem, which Constantius' original letter to the council had instructed it to consider. Cyril was in Seleucia and expected to be heard. The bishops of the majority summoned both Acacius, who had presided at the council which deposed Cyril, and the associates of the bishop of Caesarca, who included men under accusation for non-theological offenses. When they failed to appear despite repeated requests, the bishops of the majority deposed Acacius himself, George of Alexandria, Uranius of Tyre, Theodulus of Chaeretapa in Phrygia, Theodosius of Philadelphia in Lydia, Evagrius of Mytilene, Leontius of Tripolis, Eudoxius of Antioch, and Patrophilus of Scythopolis, and suspended a further nine bishops from communion until they should acquit themselves of the charges outstanding against them.27 They then nominated Anianus to replace Eudoxius as bishop of Antioch. The Acacians retaliated by arresting him and handing him over to Leonas and Lauricius, who exiled him. After a protest to the two officials failed to persuade them to rescind the sentence of exile against Anianus, the majority finally sent the required ten envoys to Constantinople to inform the emperor of the decisions of the council and left Seleucia to return to their cities.28

The rival delegation of Acacius reached the emperor first. Constantius showed no less annoyance at the eastern refusal to accept the homoean creed and canceled the exemptions from curial duties and other civic liturgies which some of the offending bishops enjoyed.29 But he detained the delegates in anticipation that the western bishops at Ariminum would soon capitulate. The envoys who had accepted the creed of Nike returned to Italy and were at first refused communion. But the prefect Taurus and the bishops Ursacius and Valens applied steady pressure: western resolve faltered, then collapsed, and finally Valens (allegedly by dishonesty and outright fraud) induced the last twenty bishops who maintained resistance to accept the new creed. A second delegation left to announce that the western bishops were now united in their acceptance of the new creed.30 They arrived in Constantinople toward the very end of the year.31 Similar pressure on the envoys from Seleucia brought similar results. It was argued that only adoption of the homoean creed could provide a bulwark against the obvious heresy of Aetius.32 When the envoys arrived from Ariminum, the Acacians presented themselves as the legates of the whole Council of Seleucia and warned the westerners of the dangers which Aetius posed.33 The classic manoeuvre of telling both sets of recalcitrant envoys separately that the other had accepted the homoean creed succeeded. On 31 December 359, representatives of both councils subscribed the creed which established the new imperial homoean orthodoxy.34

It now merely remained to ratify the creed before a single council and to expel obdurate dissentients. In January 360 a council which perhaps numbered as many as seventy-two bishops met in Constantinople. Venerable figures such as Maris of Chalcedon and the Gothic bishop Ulfila attended. The majority present were Bithynian bishops, but the dominant influence was that of Acacius.35 The council promulgated a creed, based on that of Nike, which rejected all earlier creeds and forbade any new ones:

As for the term 'essence' (ousia), which was adopted by the fathers without proper reflection, and being unknown to the people caused offense, because the scriptures do not contain it, it was resolved that it should be removed and that in future no mention should be made of it at all, since the holy scriptures have nowhere made mention of the essence of Father and Son. Nor should the term 'hypostasis' be used concerning Father Son, and Holy Spirit. We declare that the Son is like the Father as the divine scriptures declare and teach. But let all heresies, contrary to this document now promulgated, both those which have been condemned previously and any new ones which may arise, be anathema. (Syw. 30.8-10)36

The council then turned to the pleasing task of condemning the enemies of Acacius.37 In almost every case, disciplinary infractions were alleged and accepted as proven: they included the offense of a bishop transferring to another see—-which the council not only excused in its own members but even committed by replacing Macedonius of Constantinople with Eudoxius of Antioch. Nor did the council show much greater consistency when it deposed Eleusius of Cyzicus and replaced him with Eunomius, while at the same time condemning the latter's teacher Aetius for heresy.38 The council deposed Basil of Ancyra, who (it was alleged) had tried to turn the clergy of Sirmium against their bishop Germinius and had written to Africa to seek support among the bishops there.39 It deposed Neonas of Seleucia, Sophronius of Pompeiopolis, Cyril of Jerusalem, and many more.

This purge was conducted by a small council in Constantinople with the approbation of the emperor.40 Some of its results were unforeseen. Although the bishops in Constantinople appointed Meletius bishop of Sebasteia to replace Eustathius,41 Meletius was elected by popular acclaim in Antioch to fill the see which the council had left vacant when it transferred Eudoxius to Constantinople. After his election, Meletius rapidly showed himself to be in reality an upholder of the Nicene creed.42 He was unceremoniously deposed, less than a month after his election,43 and replaced by Euzoius, who long before had been a close associate of Arius. In consequence, the existing schism at Antioch became still more complicated. There were now three rival and competing 'churches of Antioch.* The officially recognised bishop was the newly appointed Euzoius, who attempted to introduce the anomoean ideas of Aetius. Eustathius had been deposed in the reign of Constantine and died in exile before 337 (Hist. Ar. 4.1), but his followers maintained a separate organisation and rejected Meletius as an Arian appointee, even when he defended the term homoousios. Meletius, however, could plausibly claim to be the true successor of Leontius, and the Meletians (it is reliably reported) formed the most numerous of the three groups.44

Constantius crossed Asia Minor in the early spring of 360 and passed through Antioch on his way to Mesopotamia, where Amida had fallen to the Persians after a long siege in the previous summer. The war against Persia demanded his urgent attention, and the unanimity of doctrine within the church, which his prolonged efforts appeared to have secured, proved fragile. Although the homoean creed promulgated at Constantinople in January 360 (which in fact asserted none of Arius' original tenets) was to have a long life as the 'Arian' creed of the northern barbarians even after they invaded the Roman Empire in the fifth century,45 within the western empire its fate was linked to the political fortunes of its imperial sponsor. Constantius detained four hundred western bishops at Arirninum for half a year until they subscribed the creed he wished to impose upon them. But the craven acquiescence he extorted was short-lived. In the spring of 360, Gaul and Britain (and probably Spain too) passed out of the political and military control of Constantius, and Hilary of Poitiers soon arrived in the West determined to undo the new eastern orthodoxy.

Hilary played an important (if often obscure) part in the theological debates of these years, but he is still more important as a barometer of changes in the theological atmosphere and the attitude of educated Christians toward Constantius. Writing in 358, Hilary had defended and even praised the creeds of the 'Dedication Council' of 341, of the eastern bishops at Serdica in 343, and of the Council of Sirmu.m of 351.46 The fact that all three councils had condemned Athanasius will help to explain why the bishop of Alexandria never names Hilary among the western bishops who were exiled on his behalf. But by 360 Hilary and Athanasius were allies.

Hilary attended the Council of Seleucia, compelled to be present, Sulpicius Severus states, by the vicarius and governor who gave him use of the cursus publicus.47 He may have played some part in strengthening the resolve of the majority to resist the imposition of the new creed, though his presence and activities leave no trace at all in eastern accounts of the council.48 After the council, Hilary went to Constantinople on his own initiative, not as a member of the official delegation.49 There, apparently in January 360, he composed a brief request for an imperial audience in a desperate attempt to persuade the emperor at the eleventh hour to remain true to the creed of Nicaea.50

Hilary's To the Emperor Constantius adopts the assumption that Constantius is good, pious, religious—and therefore orthodox.51 He protests that he himself had been wrongly condemned and exiled, though he waives his right to summon the man responsible, Saturninus of Aries, who was then in the city, and appeals instead, for proof of his innocence, to the absent Caesar Julian and to a letter of Constantius, which was (he says) available.52 Hilary sets out briefly, respectfully, and with urgency all that conduces to the peace of East and West. Immediate action is needed, for a new creed is about to be written. Hilary beseeches the emperor to allow him to address the council which is now arguing about the creed: he will produce scriptural texts and the words of Jesus himself. In this plea, Hilary is careful never to refer to the Council of Nicaea by name, but he defends the 'council of our fathers' as the key to preserving the church's 'heavenly patrimony.'51

Hilary failed to obtain an audience with Constantius. Instead he watched the emperor secure compliance with the creed of Nike and the Council of Constantinople condemn and banish his ecclesiastical allies. Shortly afterward Hilary composed a violent diatribe against the eastern emperor. His To the Em-peror Constantius contained an implicit threat: after voicing a wish that the emperor's breast should be full of the awareness of divine sayings, Hilary remarks that a ruler who refuses to act as a Christian is an Antichrist.54 His Against Constantius draws the inference which the earlier work had adumbrated. It denounces Constantius as a tyrant who does not deserve to rule be cause he attacks God and persecutes the Christian church just as much as Nero, Decius, and Galerius ever had, but more craftily: 'we are fighting against a deceitful persecutor, against an enemy who uses flattery, against Constantius the Antichrist.' The East is full of terror or war; Constantius is attacking the faith of the West, he has unleashed his armies on Christ's flock, his tribunes have defiled the holy of holies in Milan, he has brought war to Rome and Toulouse. He is attacking not living mortals, but the fathers who have gone to their eternal rest, the bishops- at Nicaea, and even his own father; he is a foe of divine religion; though an heir to his father's piety, he rebels against it.55

Hilary's argument, like the rabid denunciations of Lucifer of Caralis and the historical case developed by Athanasius in the History of the Arians,56 had political implications, even if they were only potential when the work was composed: if the eastern emperor was a persecutor, he was a tyrannus, and a tyrannus, by definition, was unworthy to rule the Roman Empire, whether it was Christian or not. Shortly after Hilary wrote his Against Constantius, that corollary ceased to be merely theoretical. Within a few weeks, when the Caesar Julian was proclaimed Augustus in Gaul, the attitude of bishops like Hilary suddenly acquired a very sharp political relevance.57

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  • Pirkko
    What is the homoean creed?
    7 years ago

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