Schism and the emergence of Nicene orthodoxy

When Constantine died in 337, he left his sons to rule: Constantine II in the Western prefecture (Britain, Gaul, Spain); Constans in Italy, Africa, Illyricum and Moesia; Constantius II in the East and the diocese of Thrace. Constantine II granted amnesty to some Eastern bishops whom his father had exiled from their sees, among them Athanasius of Alexandria and Marcellus of Ancyra. But their return raised difficulties and soon they were expelled again. Athanasius and Marcellus headed for Rome and appealed to Pope Julius to overturn their condemnations by Eastern councils. After a Roman synod had absolved both of them, Athanasius involved Constans. The Western emperor proposed to his brother Constantius II that they assemble Eastern and Western bishops in a council.

Nearly ninety Western and about eighty Eastern bishops arrived in Serdica (modern Sofia) for that purpose in 342 or 343, but the two parties never met in one council and the Eastern bishops - who rejected any revision of their synodical decrees - eventually withdrew.7 The Western council continued under the presidency of Hosius of Cordova and eventually issued twenty-one canons. Two diverging creeds were formulated: the Western delegates signed one they viewed as a valid interpretation of the Nicene faith and defended Marcellus of Ancyra's theology; the Eastern bishops circulated one which rejected that position (the so-called fourth Antiochene formula).8 The failure at Serdica exacerbated an existing rivalry between the emperors. Constans eventually threatened Constantius II with military aggression if he did not allow Athanasius to return to Alexandria. The Eastern emperor, whose army was fighting Persia, yielded.9 But when he became sole ruler in350, Constantius

6 The issues involved are complex. For some illumination, see C. Pietri, 'La géographie de l'Illyricum ecclésiastique'. Pietri cautions against attempts to describe the interactions between local churches in late antiquity in terms more attuned to the analysis of the foreign policies of modern states.

7 T. D. Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 71-81.

8 See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian creeds, 274-9; J. Ulrich, Die Anfange, 26-109.

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