St. Athanasius, Arianism, and the Holy See

"...what we have received from Blessed Peter the Apostle, that I declare to you..."
(Pope Julius I to the Eusebians, Athanasius Apol 35, c. 340 AD)

"...to the head , that is to the See of Peter the Apostle, the bishops of the Lord shall refer from all provinces..."
(orthodox Catholic bishops to Pope Julius I, Council of Sardica, c. 343 AD)
[Latin: Hoc enim optimum et valde congruentissimum esse videbitur, si ad caput, id est ad Petri apostoli sedem, de singulis quibusque provinciis Domini referant sacerdotes, Edward Giles Documents page 105, In Hilary Frag 2, PL 10:639]


From John Chapman's Studies on the Early Papacy and originally from the "Dublin Review" (July 1905).

See also Rome has Spoken; the Case is Closed -- St. Augustine, Pelagianism, and the Holy See

part II is Pope Zosimus and Pelagianism

also St. Cyprian on the Church and the Papacy

also St. John Chrysostom on the Apostle Peter

also St. Jerome and Rome


St. Athanasius and Pope Julius I

It is quite common to find well-read Englishmen speaking as though the history of Arianism was a difficulty in the way of the defenders of the Roman Primacy. They talk as if Rome had but an unimportant share in the troubles of the fourth century, and as if no testimony to the authority of the Papacy could be drawn from the relations between the East and West during the controversy.

This curious notion has its root, of course, in the Anglican manuals of history, in which the action of the Papacy is either ignored, or where this is impossible, minimized. In the following paper it will not be possible to go through the whole period of the Arian distress. I shall confine myself, therefore, to the time which elapsed between the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Sardica in 343 or 344. During these years the West was at peace, and all the troubles were caused by the Arianizing court party in the East.

The Arian Heretics After the Council of Nicaea (325 AD)

The first Ecumenical Council seems to have been Constantine's own idea, and he expected peace to follow the condemnation of Arius by so large a body of bishops as that which met at Nicaea. The heresiarch himself was exiled, as were also the two bishops who alone had refused to sign at the Council. Soon afterwards the famous bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis, bishop of Nicaea, who repented the signature they had made through feat of the Emperor, were also exiled. In 328 St. Athanasius became Bishop of Alexandria.

It was not long, however, before the exiles were recalled, through the influence, it is said, of Constantine's sister Constantia, the widow of the Emperor Licinius. In 330 the party of Eusebius was able to procure the deposition, on false charges, of the orthodox St. Eustathius of Antioch by a Council held in that city. Various attempts were made to discredit Athanasius, whose See was yet more powerful and who was also bishop of the Alexandrian priest Arius, whom he steadfastly refused to receive back to communion. At length Constantine was persuaded that peace should precede the solemn opening of the great church he was building at Jerusalem, and he consented to the summoning of a council at Tyre in 335, at which the accusations against the Patriarch of Alexandria were heard. Athanasius attended, accompanied by forty-nine of his suffragans, but when he saw he could expect no justice, he retired with them and was condemned in his absence.

At a synod of the same bishops at Jerusalem immediately afterwards, Marcellus of Ancyra, whose views may have been really heretical, was deposed also, while Arius and his followers were received back into communion. Athanasius went to Constantinople and appealed to the Emperor for protection from his enemies. Constantine ordered the bishops who had been at Tyre to come to Constantinople. The more orthodox bishops were kept away by intimidation, and the Eusebians alone answered the summons. Athanasius was exiled to Treves, where he was well received by the Emperor's son, afterwards Constantine II. Arius was to have been solemnly received back into the Church at Constantinople, but this was prevented by his sudden death, which was looked upon as a miracle. The aged bishops of that city having died, his orthodox successor, Paul, was banished, by the intrigues of Eusebius of Nicomedia. It was apparently Eusebius who baptized Constantine on his death-bed at Nicomedia in 337.

Thus the work of the Council of Nicaea was being insidiously destroyed in the East. Eusebius and his followers were not professed Arians, though they showed no horror at his doctrines and tried to steer a middle course between Arianism and orthodoxy. It must be remembered that up to this time they were in full Catholic communion, and were accused of heresy only by the victims of their unscrupulous intrigues. To Athanasius, conscious of their determined enmity, it was clear that the Eusebian party was aiming at the subversion of the Nicene faith by gradually depriving it of its main supports. By absurd and incredible charges they had emptied the most powerful sees of the East -- Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople, and had exiled the champions of the truth. Probably the vast number of Eastern bishops held the doctrine which was taught at Nicaea. But they understood as little as Constantine the real views and intentions of Eusebius and his friends. They did not know the truth concerning the accusations brought against Athanasius, Eustathius and Paul, or against Asclepas of Gaza or Marcellus of Ancyra.

Plenty of mud was thrown and some of it stuck. Besides, the Council of Nicaea was not to the men of those days, as it is to us, the first and most venerable of a long series of Ecumenical Councils received by the whole Church. It was to them simply a particularly large and representative assembly recently held at the Emperor's wish in order to pacify the Church by the condemnation of Arius. The Council might well have been imprudent, some thought, in employing the word homoousias, for this expression was said to have been disapproved by the Council of Antioch which condemned Paul of Samosata in 269. The Arianizing faction was thus able to pose as orthodox, and it was said that Arius himself had made a sufficient recantation.

After the death of Constantine all the banished Bishops were permitted to return; yet this was the beginning of a worse period for the East. The sons of Constantine divided the empire, the semi-Arian Constantius became Emperor of the East, while the West was at peace under Constantine II and Constans. Bishop Paul of Constantinople was soon sent again into exile, and Eusebius of Nicomedia obtained possession of the See of the imperial city. In 339 his party was bold enough to set up an excommunicated priest, one of tghe original followers of Arius, called Pistus, as Bishop of Alexandria, on the ground that Athanasius had been deposed at Tyre; and they sent an embassy to Rome to Pope Julius to give an account o the accusations against Athanasius and to ask that the communion of Rome should be given to Pistus.

Up to this point the troubles had been only in the East. It is to be noticed that no ecclesiastical law yet existed with regard to the trial of Bishops. A synod like that of Tyre had no jurisdiction over a Patriarch of Alexandria; it was, from the Church's point of view, a purely moral force. But the Emperor had looked upon synods as ecclesiastical juries, and had punished with the secular arm the secular offences of which the deposed Bishops were unrighteously convicted. The Eusebian party further use the imperial power to thrust Arian Bishops into the Sees which they had made vacant. But they were well aware they were no en regle. It is for this reason that we find them the first to appeal to the Pope. If they could persuade Julius and the Western Church to believe the charges brought against the victims of their slanders they would have right as well as might on their side.

"But they could not deceive that See," as St. Augustine said on another occasion. Pope Julius acted with a due sense of justice. To the disgust of the Eusebians, he at once sent to St. Athanasius the alleged proofs of his guilt, which had been forwarded to Rome, and which the accused himself had not been allowed to see.

St. Athanasius Assembles a Council to Address Pope Julius

Athanasius assembled in consequence a great Council at Alexandria of more than eighty Bishops, which addressed to Julius and to all Bishops a lengthy defense. [1] This letter was taken to Rome by the envoys of Athanasius. When their arrival became known to Macarius (the priest who had brought the letter to Eusebius) he left hurriedly in the night. His companions, two deacons, were unable to reply to the statements of the Egyptians, so they demanded a synod, and requested the Pope himself to be judge.

Commentary on Pope Julius as Judge (Socrates, Sozomen, others)

It is best to give the words of the authorities: (Athanasius, Apol c. Arian 20):

"The Eusebians (or Eusebius) also wrote to [Pope] Julius, and thinking to frighten us, they asked for a Council to be called, and that Julius himself, if he wished, should be judge."

Socrates, (H.E. ii, II):

"Eusebius having accomplished what he desired, sent an embassy to Julius, Bishop of Rome, calling upon him to be the judge of the charges against Athanasius, and to summon the case to Himself."

Sozomen, (H.E. iii, 7):

"Eusebius...wrote to Julius that he should be judge of what had been decreed at Tyre."

Here Sozomen copies Socrates, who has himself misunderstood the passage of Athanasius. This last must be interpreted by another passage of the same Saint. (Hist Arian, ad mon. 9):

"The priests sent by them also asked for the same thing (viz. a synod) when they saw that they were refuted."

So the letter of Pope St. Julius (Ap Athan Apol c. Arian 22):

"Those who were sent by you Eusebians with letters (I mean thte priest Macarius, and the deacons Martyrius and Hesychius) when they were here, not being able to reply to the priests of Athanasius who had come, but being confuted and convicted in all points, thereupon asked us that a synod might be convoked, and to write to Alexandria to bishop Athanasius and to the Eusebians that the just judgment might be arrived at in the presence of all."

From this it is clear that the letter of Eusebius had not asked for a synod or for the Pope as judge. This was only an insincere pretext of the envoys used to avoid an immediate condemnation.

Julius made no objection to this, and at once wrote both to the Bishop of Alexandria and to his accusers summoning them to a synod, the time and place of which they themselves could decide.

Meanwhile the Emperor Constantius had intruded another Bishop at Alexandria, Gregory the Cappadocian, with the greatest violence. Athanasius escaped and obeyed the summons of the Pope, arriving at Rome just after Easter, 399.[2]

Athan Apol c. Arian 20 and Hist. Arian ii; Pope St. Julius (Ap Athan Apol c. Arian 29):

"For he did not come of himself, but was summoned by letters from us, as we wrote to you."

Theodoret, (H.E. ii, 3):

"Athanasius, knowing their plot, retired, and betook himself to the West. For to the Bishop of Rome (Julius was then the Shepherd of that Church) the Eusebians had sent the false accusations which they had put together against Athanasius. And he, following the laws of the Church, both ordered them to repair to Rome, and also summoned the divine Athanasius to judgment. And he, for his part, started at once on receiving the call; but they who had made up the story did not go to Rome, knowing that it would be easy to see through their falsehood."

Sozomen, (iii, 10):

"Julius learning that it was not safe for Athanasius to remain in Egypt then, sent for him to Rome."

Pope Julius Summons the Eusebians

The accused having presented himself, but his accusers, whose representatives had demanded the Council, not having put in an appearance, Pope St. Julius sent them another summons, fixing the end of the year as the limit of patience. The Eusebians retained the legates until the term was passed and only allowed them to return in the January following (340), bearing a letter from their meeting at Antioch, the tenor of which has been preserved by Sozomen (iii, 8):

"Having assembled at Antioch, they wrote to Julius an answer elaborately worded and rhetorically composed, full of irony and containing terrible threats. For in their letter they admitted that Rome was always honored as the school of the Apostles and the metropolis of the Faith from the beginning, although the teachers had settled in it from the East. [3] But they did not think they ought to take a secondary place because they had less great and populous Churches, since they were superior in virtue and intention. They reproached Julius with having communicated with Athanasius, and complained that their synod was 'insulted and their contrary decision made null,' and they accused this as unjust and contrary to ecclesiastical law. Having thus reproached Julius and complained of his ill-usage, they promised, if he would accept the deposition of those whom they had deposed and the appointment of those whom they had ordained, to give him peace and communion; but if he withstood their decrees, they would refuse this. For they stated that the earlier Eastern Bishops had made no objection when Novatian was driven out of the Roman Church. But they wrote nothing to Julius concerning their acts contrary to the decisions of the Nicene Council, saying that they had many necessary reasons to give in excuse, but that it was superfluous to make any defense against a vague and general suspicion of wrong-doings."

Socrates merely has:

"They complain with great acerbity to Julius, declaring that he must make no decrees if they wished to expel some from their Churches, for they did not contradict him when (the Romans) drove Novatus from the Church," (ii, 15).

Both historians mistakenly place this letter after an imaginary restoration of Athanasius and others to their Sees by the Pope.

Eusebius of Nicomedia seems to have been dead when this letter was written. In the autumn of 340 the Council was at length assembled at Rome, and met in the church of the priest Vito, who had been Papal Legate at Nicaea. Not only Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, and Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, were present, but also many bishops from Thrace, Coelesyria, Phoenicia and Palestine, who had taken refuge in Rome. Besides, deputies came from Alexandria and elsewhere, complaining of the continued acts of violence and barbarity perpetrated in the name of the Eusebian party. Priests from Egypt and Alexandria deplored that many Bishops were prevented from coming, and some, even confessors, were beaten and imprisoned, while the Catholic people were oppressed and persecuted. Bishops had been exiled for not communicating with the Arians. Similar outrages had occurred at Ancyra in Galatia.

Pope Julius Responds to the Eusebians

The council gave peace and communion to Athanasius and Marcellus, the orthodoxy of the latter being warmly upheld by Athanasius and Julius. At the instance of the bishops, the Pope at length replied, in the name of all to the unseemly letter of the Eusebians. His lengthy and important epistle is preserved complete in St. Athanasius apology.

The letter from the Easterns, says Pope St. Julius, was improper and proud, in answer to his own letter, which was full of love; even their apparent flattery was ironical. Out of charity Julius had not published their letter for a long time, until he was forced to give up all hope that any of them would attend the Council. Their studied eloquence was of no value. They ought to have been glad of a synod, even had it not been attended by their own envoys. The Council of Nicaea had set the example of revising the decision of former synods.

"If you say that every Council is unalterable, who is it, pray, who sets Councils at naught? The Arians were expelled by that of Nicaea, and yet they are said to be received by you. They are condemned by all, while Athanasius and Marcellus have many defenders. In fact, Athanasius was not convicted of anything at Tyre, and the acts in the Mareotis were invalid, being draw up by one party only."

The Pope then speaks of affairs at Alexandria, of envoys sent to Rome by the usurping Gregory, and of the intruded bishop Pistus. The Eusebians asserted that the Western condemnation of Novatian, and the Eastern condemnation of Paul of Samosata, had been respected by all, and subject to no revision. Why, then, did they not similarly respect the Council of Nicaea? They had violated that Council also by frequent translations of Bishops from See to See. Bishops, they said, were not measured by the greatness of their cities; why, then, were the Eastern bishops not content with a small city? (This refers, above all, to Eusebius, who from being bishop of Berytus had changed to the city of Nicomedia, where the Court frequently was [4], and then had usurped the see of Constantinople, newly-founded capital.)

They complained that the time appointed was too short, but they kept the legates till January. This letter, like the former one, was in the name of all; but the former was addressed only to those who had written to Rome.

"Our admission of Athanasius and Marcellus to communion was not rash. We had the former letter of Eusebius, and now this letter of yours, and the letter of the bishops of Egypt and of others in favor of Athanasius. Your first and second letters did not agree; the Egyptian bishops were on the spot. Arsenius is still alive, and the evidence from the Mareotis, is a mere party statement. Athanasius waited here a year and a half, and his mere presence puts his accusers to shame, since he showed his confidence by obeying our summons. Is it we or you who act against the canons, when you ordained a bishops at Antioch, thirty-six stages distant, and sent him with soldiers to Alexandria? If Athanasius had been really convicted at Tyre, you should have made another bishop years ago, when he was exiled in Gaul.

"When we had sent to summon a Council you could not prejudge the matter. The violence exercised at Alexandria is terrible, and you call it peace! As for Marcellus, he denied your charges; his confession was approved by the priests Vito and Vincentius (the Papal representatives at Nicaea); Eastern as well as Western bishops were at the Council, and deputies from the East, complaining of violence and that bishops were prevented from coming by force or banishment. We hear that only a few are the causes of this schism. If you really believe that anything can be proved against Marcellus and Athanasius, let any come to accuse who wish to do so, and we will have a fresh trial."

The next sentence I will give in full:

"For if really, as you say, they did some wrong, the judgment ought to have been given according to the ecclesiastical canon and not thus. You should have written to all of us, so that justice might have been decreed by all. For it was Bishops who were the sufferers; and it was not obscure Churches which have suffered, but Churches which Apostles in person ruled. With regard to the Church of Alexandria in particular, why were we not consulted? Do you now know that this has been the custom, first to write to us, and thus for what is just to be defined from hence? If, therefore, a suspicion of this sort fell upon the bishop of that place, it was necessary to write to the Church here [Rome]. But now, though you gave us no information, but have done as you pleased, you ask us to give our agreement, though we have not ourselves condemned. These are not the statutes of Paul, these are not the traditions of the Fathers; this is another rule, a new custom. I beseech you to bear willingly what I say, for I write for the common welfare, and what we have received from Blessed Peter the Apostle, that I declare to you."

[ Edward Giles has: "And why were we not written to especially about the church of the Alexandrians? Are you ignorant that the custom was first to write to us, and then for justice to be determined from here? If then the bishop there was at all suspect, it should have been reported in writing to the church here. As it is they failed to inform us, but acted as they pleased, and now want to obtain our concurrence, though we have not condemned him. Not so the statutes of Paul [1 Tim 5:19,20], not so have the fathers handed down; this is another model, and a new procedure. I beseech you, readily bear with me: what I write is for the common good. For what we have received from the blessed apostle Peter, that I point out to you; and as I believe these things to be obvious to all, I should not have written if the events had not distracted us...." ] [5]

This famous passage plainly declares that "the Church here" (not the Church of the West, but obviously, the Church of Rome), and no other, was able to judge the bishop of Alexandria, who ranked in order next after the Pope.

Pope St. Julius solemnly states that he is giving the tradition handed down from Peter, as the successor of whom he speaks. But the first part of the quotation is more general; it says that, "according to the ecclesiastical canon," in a case of deposition shops on such a large scale, the whole West -- "all of us" -- should have been consulted.

Commentary from Eastern Historians (Socrates and Sozomen)

It is extremely interesting to see how this sentence was understood a century later by two Eastern historians. Socrates thus commences his summary of this famous letter:

"Julius, writing back to those who were assembled at Antioch, reproved them, first, for the bitterness of their letter, then for acting contrary to the canons, because they had not invited him to the synod, since the ecclesiastical canon orders that the Churches shall not make canons against the judgment of the bishop of Rome." (ii, 17)

Sozomen has evidently copied him:

"He wrote blaming them for making stealthy innovations in the Nicene dogma, and for not inviting him to the synod, contrary to the laws of the Church, saying that it was a sacerdotal law that what was done against the will of the Roman bishop was null and void." (iii, 10).

The statement that Julius complained of not being invited to their Council is a mistake. The famous assertions that the ecclesiastical law invalidated any canons disapproved by the bishops of Rome is doubtless implied in his letter, but it is not stated. It is remarkable that the two Greek historians of the following century read into the letter of the Pope the claim which they thought it natural he should make. They also state that Julius, by letter, restored other Eastern bishops to their Sees, "by reason of the prerogative possessed by the Roman Church," on the ground that the care of all belonged to him, on account of the dignity of his See," but these letters are lost [Chapman gives the original Greek in a footnote], and there may be some confusion of date.

Meanwhile the famous synod in Encaeniis met at Antioch. It consisted of a large number of Bishops (Prof Gwatkin thinks about ninety) who were for the most part conservative and orthodox. They drew up twenty-five canons, and anathematized Marcellus and anyone who should hold with him, and had no idea that the condemnation of Athanasius at Tyre could have been unjust. They also signed three creeds: the first a vague one, evidently proposed by the Eusebian party, and considered insufficient by the rest; the other two being in parts perfectly explicit, but in other parts less satisfactory, and of course avoiding the Nicene homoousias, which many of the most orthodox believed to be ambiguous and unserviceable.

It seemed to the Eastern that Arianism had been condemned once for all at Nicaea, while Arius himself was said to have submitted and to have been reconciled. The Eusebians did not teach the doctrines of Arius, but promoted a moderate and undefined medium between the Nicene dogma and pure Arianism. The Eastern bishops seem to have had a very uncertain grasp of the theological question. While Alexandria and Rome possessed a perfectly definite tradition with regard to the Three Persons and one God, the Easterns seem to have had no such knowledge. They appear to have inherited a theological position similar to that of some of the second century apologists, or of the author of the Philosophumena, and many others, which made the Word of God His image and divine, and yet not one with Him, while their doctrine of the Holy Spirit was quite undefined.

The Monarchian Heresy

The Monarchian controversies of the third century had been caused by a revulsion from this attitude of many within the Church. The Philosophumena describes Pope Callistus as a kind of Monarchian, evidently because in condemning Monarchianism he had asserted the unity of the Father and Son as one God. Similarly the Eusebians denounced the chief upholders of the Nicene doctrine as followers of the Monarchianism of Sabellius, who made no real distinction between the Divine Persons for feat of injury to the perfection of the unity of God. The large number of Eastern bishops who were deceived by this are called "conservatives" by Professor Gwatkin, but it was a conservatism based upon ignorance, and scarcely consistent with Monotheism.

At Alexandria the predecessors of Athanasius, Alexander and Peter, had taught as he did, and he has proved the same of the great Dionysius in the middle of the third century, and of his namesake at Rome. The teaching of the Nicene faith was clearly conservatism in the West and in Egypt. Arianism was the exaggerated expression of tendencies which had long been latent in the Antiochian provinces and Asia Minor, and the revulsion against it in those provinces was but slight, except when presented in the blasphemous form given to it by Arius before Nicaea, and later by the Anomoeans. With these the bulk of the Eastern bishops never communicated; but the Eusebians, the original court party, and their successors in court favor, the Homoeans, found these well-meaning prelates an easy prey. They were assured that the real danger was not Arius, who had repented, but the criminal Athanasius, and the Sabellian Marcellus. The doctrine of the latter was possibly incorrect; it was not Sabellian.

Thus, though the great synod in Encaeniis was dominated by the Eusebians, and though its creeds fall short of the Nicene standard, yet the Bishops who composed it were not heretics in intention, and St. Hilary calls it an assembly of Saints.

In spite of the statements of Socrates and Sozomen, it seems most unlikely that any of the dispossessed bishops could have been actually resotred to their Sees after the Roman Council, for Constantius was wholly given over to the Arianizing party; though the historians may be right in stating that the Pope gave them letters which authorised their restoration. St. Athanasius, at all events, remained in Rome for more than three years altogether, and he apparently superintended there the writing of a Bible for the Emperor Constans. Some modern scholars have suggested that this book is to be identified with the most famous of all biblical manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus B. [6]

In the fourth year of his exile he was summoned to the Emperor at Milan, who had decided to follow the suggestion of Pope Julius, Hosius of Cordova, and other Bishops, and write to his brother Constantius the Emperor of the East, in order to arrange for the meeting of a great synod of East and West, in which all difficulties could be smoothed away. Constantius agreed, and Sardica, on the borders of the two empires, was appointed for the place of meeting.

The Council of Sardica (343 AD)

The Council apparently met in the summer of 343. [7] Sardica was just within the dominions of Constans, though only some fifty miles from Constantinople. This was disastrous for the Eusebians, the Courty party, who could no nothing without a "Count," St. Athanasius says, to control the proceedings in their favor. The Easterns, who numbered seventy-six, shut themselves up in a palace and demanded that the deposition of Athanasius and Marcellus should be received without discussion, repeating their complaint that one Council had no right to revise the acts of another. This amounted to a denial of the right of the Pope and his Roman Council to try the case once decided at Tyre. It did not admit the right of a bishop to any appeal from his first condemnation, and left St. Athanasius at the mercy of his shameless accusers. The majority of bishops, probably about ninety-four or ninety-six, refused to agree, and the Easterns retired in a body on the plea that the development of the Persian war of Constantius rendered it impossible for them to be away from their flocks. They stopped, however, just within the border of the Eastern Empire at Philippopolis and composed an encyclical letter, which was written after the Western decisions [8], so that their haste was evidently a mere pretence. This letter informs us that the Council was summoned by the wish of Julius of Rome, Maximus of Treves, and Hosius of Cordova. These the heretical assembly proposed to condemn, and especially Julius as the princeps et dux malorum. [9]

Meanwhile the orthodox Bishops had acquitted Athanasius and Marcellus, judging that the latter had been misrepresented. They wrote to the Church of Alexandria informing them of the acquittal of their bishop, and to the bishops of Egypt and Libya and to all bishops of the world, and also a special letter to St. Julius. The contrast with the heretics is striking. These had excommunicated the Pope, and addressed their conciliar epistle to the pseudo-Bishop Gregory of Alexandria, who had been intruded by the secular power, and actually to the Donatist bishop of Carthage -- so far had they receded from all decency.

Orthodox Catholic Bishops write to Pope Julius I

The orthodox bishops, on the other hand, in communion with the great Athanasius, and presided over by the venerable Hosius, together with two priests as papal legates, wrote a special report of their proceedings to the Pope. They excommunicated eight of the chiefs of the Eusebian party, and the intruded bishops of Alexandria, Gaza and Ancyra, and invited all bishops to sign their encyclical. To the Pope they wrote:

"What we have always believed, that we now experience; for experience proves and confirms what each has heard; true is that which the most blessed teacher of the Gentiles, Paul the Apostle, said of himself: 'Do you seek a proof of Christ who speaketh in me?' Though of a surety, since the Lord Christ dwelt in him it cannot be doubted but that the Holy Spirit spoke by his mouth, and was heard through the instrumentality of his body. And you likewise, beloved brother, though separated in body, were separated in body, were present in mind and agreement and will, and your excuse for absence was good and unavoidable, that the schismatic wolves might not steal and rob by stealth, nor the heretic dogs bark madly in the excitement of their wild fury, or even the crawling devil pour forth the poison of blasphemy. For this will seem to be most good and very proper, if to the head, that is to the See of Peter the Apostle, the bishops of the Lord shall refer from all provinces. Since therefore all that has been transacted and decided is contained in the documents, and can be truly and faithfully explained by word of mouth by our beloved brothers and fellow-priests, Archidamus and Philoxenus, and our dear son, the deacon Leo, it seems almost superfluous to write it here."

[ Edward Giles has: "...for this will appear best and fittest, that the priests of the Lord from all the provinces should report to the head, that is to the see of Peter the apostle." ] [10]

It has been suggested by several writers that this clause should be omitted as an interruption of the sense, and therefore an interpolation! This, however arbitrary, would be convenient for some people's views. But the connection is not difficult to see: Julius was right to be unwilling to leave Rome, for there would have been no head there who could keep in order from thence the schismatic wolves and heretic dogs and hear appeals. But it should be noted how the authority of the Roman See is connected here as always with St. Peter.

Then follows an account of the doings of the Council somewhat shorter than in the other letters. The Pope is asked to publish the decrees in Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia. In each letter the refusal of the Eusebians to obey the summons to Rome is emphasized [Chapman gives the Latin and Greek in a footnote].

A number of canons were drawn up concerning discipline, the most important of which are those which deal with the question of appeals of bishops. Apart from the Council of Arles there was practically no canon law in the West, except those decrees of custom vaguely referred to as "the ecclesiastical canon." In practice it is probable that all the more serious matters came before the Pope, and the evolution of a system of Metropolitans was only just beginning in the Western Church. In the East several Councils had published canons, and the Council of the Dedication at Antioch had just drawn up twenty-five, one of which appeared to be aimed at Athanasius. It had attributed considerable power to the Metropolitans, and had allowed to a bishop an appeal to the neighboring bishops from a condemnation by his comprovincials, if their verdict was not unanimous; but if unanimious, it was irreversible.

It was natural that a larger right of appeal should be desired by the orthodox at Sardica, and that they should keep in view the present situation. The hope of orthodoxy was in the West, where the bishops, almost without exception, adhered to the Nicene settlement, where the Emperor supported them, and where the admittedly indefectible faith of the Roman Church formed a rallying point. Every heresy had beaten against that Church, but in vain. And now its bishop had exercised his prerogative in annulling the decisions of the Council of Tyre, in summoning both the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Eusebians to Rome, and in restoring the ejected bishops to their sees, even though he could not, owing to the Emperor's opposition, give effect to this latter decision. The Council had met at his desire, and it is highly probable that the canons proposed to the Council by Hosius had been previously drawn up in Rome, under the direction of Pope Julius.

The first canon of all has verbal reminiscences of his letter to the Eusebians. It re-asserts the fifteenth canon of Nicaea, which forbade the translation of bishops, and Hosius adds, like Julius, that such translations always come from the desire to be bishop of a greater city. At Nicaea such translations were simply declared null; at Sardica even lay communion is refused to a bishop who has been translated. There can be no doubt that the canon was aimed directly at the late leader of the Court party, Eusebius. The canon may be presumed to have been contemplated and drafted before the death of Eusebius, more than a year previously, and it was founded upon the letter of Julius himself.

The laws for appeals have been much discussed, but the meaning is undoubtedly as follows:

Canon III. -- If a bishop has been condemned, and he thinks he has a good cause, let his judges, or (if they will not) the bishops of the neighboring province, write to the Roman bishop, who will either confirm the first decision or order a new trial, appointing the judges himself. (On the motion of Gaudentius, bishop of Naissus in Dacia, it was added that when any bishop had appealed to Rome, no successor should be appointed until the matter had been determined by the bishop of Rome.)

Canon VII (V). -- Further, if, after condemnation by the bishops of the region, a bishop should himself appeal and take refuge with the bishop of Rome, let the later deign to write to the bishops of the neighboring province to examine and decide the matter. And if the condemned bishop desires the Pope to send a priest a latere, this may be done. And if the Pope shall decide to send judges to sit with the bishops, having authority from him who sent them, it shall be as he wills [Chapman gives original Latin in a footnote]. But if he thinks the bishops alone suffice, it shall be as his wisdom shall think fit.

Answer to an Anglican Argument 

Fr. Puller's comment is:

"It seems most strange that Roman Catholics should refer with any pleasure to these canons of Sardica."

The reasons given are not new. They were repeated ad nauseam by the obsolete Gallican school, and have been retailed by Anglicans, e.g. the late Dr. Bright, and Bishop Gore. Fr. Puller quotes (p. 4, note 2):

"The words of the canon prove that the institution of this right was new. 'If it please you' says Hosius of Cordova, the President of the Council, 'let us honor the memory of Peter the Apostle,'" as from "Archbishop de Marca of Paris."

This is unfair, for the famous "Concordia" was written by De Marca when a layman. Before obtaining the bulls for his first bishopric he was obliged to disown the Erastianism of his lawyer days.

To begin with, Fr. Puller misunderstands the Catholic view. He says:

"According to the view laid down by the Vatican Council, the supremacy of the Pope belongs to him jure divino, and as a consequence of that supremacy every member of the Church, whether he belongs to the clergy or to the laity, has an inherent right of appealing to his judgment in any matter appertaining to the jurisdiction of the Church" (p. 143).

The logic of this is deplorable. How can the fact that the Pope's supremacy belongs to him jure divino give to every member of the Church an inherent right of appeal to him? The conclusion of Fr. Puller could have drawn was that the Pope must have an inherent right to hear appeals if he chooses. The manner in which he exercises this right and the classes of persons whose appeal he will consent to hear are questions to be settled by canon law. In the present case Pope Julius left it to the Council; though I believe the form of the canons had been previously prepared by himself, no doubt in consultation with neighboring bishops and with St. Athanasius and the other exiles who were so nearly concerned. Fr. Puller continues:

"But here we have the Fathers of the Council of Sardica carrying a resolution, so to speak, in favor of the Roman See, and determining that, in honor of the memory of St. Peter, they will in certain rare cases give the Pope a very restricted right of determining whether there shall be a re-hearing, and of appointing bishops who shall form the court of appeal, and of deputing one or more legates to sit with them in that court. And all this is proposed by Bishop Hosius tentatively -- 'si vobis placet' 'if it please you.' On the papalist theory, the whole proceeding must appear insufferably impertinent."

There are two points here to be answered. The first is that the right granted is a "very restricted right."; the second is that even this right is granted as a favor.

A "very restricted right" it seems to Fr. Puller, because there was no thought of giving to the Pope any right of evoking the case to Rome, for which statement he produced the authority of Hefele. It is certainly true that the Council had no intention of doing anything so "impertinent." They did not mention this right in the canon, but they assumed it in other documents, and their whole case against their opponents depended upon it. It is a pity that Fr. Puller has not better understood the position of affairs.

The Easterns had claimed the Councils of Tyre and of Jerusalem to have been plenary Councils, well able to depose the Patriarch of Alexandria St. Athanasius. They had tried to get their decisions recognized in the West by getting the Pope to grant his communion to the intruded bishop of that city. The Pope, on the other hand, had declared, as we have seen, that the decisions of a Council in which he had no share could not be final. He summoned St. Athanasius to Rome, and that Saint obeyed him. The envoys of Eusebius, however insincerely, even asked the Pope to be judge. Julius offered the Easterns a new Council, at which he would be represented. But they replied that their Council could not be revised by another. They implied -- though they did not venture to say it -- that the Pope himself could not revise it. Julius then, to avoid all tergiversation, decided upon the date of the Council, and ordered that it should meet in Rome. It does not appear that they absolutely refused to obey the summons; but they made excuses, and none of them appeared.

No Doubt: The Pope was the Supreme Bishop 

There was no doubt, therefore, in the minds of the orthodox party at Sardica that the Pope could summon a Patriarch of Alexandria to Rome, could order a Council to be held, could restore bishops by the prerogatives of his See, and could quash the proceedings of any Council, however large, if he had sufficient reason. But the canons are intended to go further. It was easy for the Easterns to avoid coming to Rome when summoned. It was a long journey, communication was slow, and delays and excuses were not hard to make. On the other hand, it meant voluntary exile to an orthodox bishops who undertook the journey, for his see would be filled up in his absence, and the Emperor would not permit his return.

At Sardica a new system was devised. After a bishop had been condemned, and had complained of injustice, it was to be allowed for his judges, or the bishops of a neighboring province, or the accused himself, to appeal to the bishop of Rome to order a fresh trial by neighboring bishops, with or without the assistance of a papal envoy or plenipotentiary. The enquiry would thus be held on the spot, or nearly so, and there would be no possibility of evasion. The new judges need not be more numerous than the former, and there would be no reason to demand an impossible general Council, or to apply to the Emperor for protection. It was an attempt to make the Pope's influence more felt in the East, now that the two greatest sees, Alexandria and Antioch, were filled by Arians of the worst reputation.

It was well planned, but the court party would hardly have accepted the innovation. As it happened, the breathing space for the orthodox marked by the Council of Sardica did not last. The death of Constans in 351 brought the violence of imperial semi-Arianism upon the West. When the death of Valens at length brought permanent peace, the canons of Sardica were no longer wanted; though in the fifth century the Popes appealed occasionally to the principles contained in the canons, under the mistaken belief that they were Nicene.

The "restricted right" is thus seen to be a proposal for the attribution to the Pope of most extraordinary powers (leaving the choice among them to him) over and above his admitted right of hearing appeals at Rome in a Council called by himself. The Pope is to decide whether he chooses to confirm the first decision or to appoint a commission to try the case again, and he is left absolutely free to appoint judges, or the bishops or a neighboring province to sit, with or without a legate, "at his own most wise discretion." It seems to me perfectly inconceivable that such immense and undefined authority could have been given to a mere honorary primate, in whom no superior jurisdiction was recognized. On the other hand, when we remember that the Council already admitted the Pope's right to summon the case to his own court, if he thought justice was not being done, the extension of this principle by the new canons is comprehensible and natural. It is quite clear that the Pope was looked upon as having a duty of general guardianship over the whole Church. But in the very lowest view, we must conclude nobody to have been surprised that the Pope should intervene where justice needed to be enacted, and it was for the most part considered to be his duty.

The very highest view, on the other hand, would not be so ridiculous as to suppose the Pope to be infallible in any act of jurisdiction; it might be right to disagree with him, or even to avoid his judgment when it seemed to be prejudiced. This was the view taken by the not unorthodox bishops at the Council of the Dedication of Antioch. They believed the Pope and the Westerns to have been circumvented by Athanasius and Marcellus; they ignored the former, and excommunicated the latter with all his adherents, among whom they did not, of course, count all the bishops of the Roman Council.

If the Pope is Not the Supreme Bishop...

In this fashion the whole history is clear. On Fr. Puller's supposition that the Pope was a dignitary of great influence but no real superiority, the whole becomes incomprehensible. On what ground, if we admit this, could Julius summon the Patriarch of Alexandria to Rome? On what ground could he summon Eusebius and his friends? How had he the right to insist upon a Council, and then upon a particular time and place for that Council? What right had he to review the decisions of Tyre and Jerusalem? Why did nobody protest against his claim to restore bishops? If St. Athanasius did not believe the Pope to be a general overseer of the Church, was it not unworthy of him to utilize the pretensions of Julius for his own purposes? If Hosius and the leaders of orthodoxy at Sardica, the men to whom Christendom owed the preservation of the Nicene faith, thought Julius' claim preposterous, is it conceivable that they would have given him the enormous powers he was intended to wield under the new canons?

Such questions might be multiplied. Let us turn to the second point we had to answer: the "very restricted right" was granted to Julius as a favor. Part of the third canon runs thus:

"Hosius, the bishop, said....If any bishop shall have been condemned in any matter, and thinks that he has right on his side, so that a new trial should be made, if it please you, let us honor the memory of St. Peter the Apostle, and let the Bishops who had judged the case, or those who dwell in the neighboring province, write to [Julius] the Roman Bishop; and if he shall determine in favor of a new trial," etc.

[ Edward Giles has: "...But if a bishop has had sentence pronounced against him in some action, and thinks he has good cause for the judgment to be reconsidered, let us, if you agree [Latin: si vobis placet], do honor to the memory of the holy apostle Peter: let letters be written to the bishop of Rome, either by those who have conducted the examination or by the bishops living in the nearest province; if he decides that the sentence must be reconsidered, let it be reconsidered and let him appoint judges; but if he concludes that the case is such that it is inexpedient to reopen old wounds by raking up the past, his own decision shall stand confirmed. Are all agreed?" The council answered: "Agreed." ] [11]

In former times it has been argued that the grant was to Julius personally, not to the Bishop of Rome. But the word "Julius" is absent from all manuscripts, except those representing the collection of Dionysius Exiguus. It is therefore a mere explanatory addition, of which we need take no account. Si uobis placet implies that the Council is asked to approve, modify or reject the proposal. Why not? Even in the extreme case of rejection there could be no "impertinence." As for the famous words sanctissimi Petri Apostoli memoriam honoremus, "let us honor the memory of St. Peter the Apostle," I have no objection whatever to their being taken to imply that the right is new, and the brothers Ballerini admitted this interpretation. But I cannot see that they do naturally imply that a new right is given, and not a new way of putting an old right in practice.

The wording of the canons seems to me to imply that the bishops are speaking of the action of a superior: "Let the Pope deign"; "If the Pope shall decide to...it shall be as he wills"; "But if he thinks...it shall be as his wisdom shall think fit." The bishops do not prescribe an invariable procedure, but suggest various methods, which the Pope can choose from, according to circumstances. Surely this is because they cannot legislate for the Pope, but only for the appealing bishops.

Anyhow, they mean one thing which Fr. Puller must not pass over so lightly -- that the powers given to the Pope in the canons are not given to the bishop of the imperial city, but to the successor of the Prince of the Apostles, who was the Foundation of the Church and the Shepherd of all Christ's sheep. Fr. Puller has no right to blink the plain meaning of the words, by which a duty is laid upon the successor of St. Peter of exerting a superiority which is acknowledged in the coryphaeus (headship) of the apostolic choir.

It seems most strange that Fr. Puller should "refer with any pleasure to the canons of Sardica."

The Council was not Ecumenical, for it was not concerned with the Faith. The retirement of the Eusebian party had left it with less than a hundred members, mainly Western. But it was of a broadly representative character. The most eminent Bishop of the day, Hosius of Cordova, was its president. St. Julius was represented. St. Athanasius voted in it, and stood for the united voice of the ninety Bishops of Egypt who were his suffragans, and held his views. In the letter of the Council to Alexandria, preserved by the Saint, it describes itself as composed of Bishops from Rome, Spain, Gaul, Italy, Africa, Sardinia, Pannonia, Mysia, Dacia, Noricum, Tuscany, Dardania, the second Dacia, Macedonia, Thessaly, Achaia, Epirus, Thrace, Rhodope, Palestine, Arabia, Crete and Egypt.


ENDNOTES

(some of the longer technical notes have been included above or edited below for brevity)

[1] Athanasius, Apol 3-19. [2] So Gwatkin, Studies in Arianism, 116. Hefele (Eng tr ii, 88) gives 340, and shifts all the events in the same way up to the Council of Sardica. [3] viz. Peter and Paul. Compare the inscription of St. Damasus ad Catacumbas: "Discipulos Oriens misit, quod sponte fatemur." [4] Libanius tells us that Nicomedia yielded to no city in beauty and to four only of the world in size. [5] Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority, 98, citing Pope Julius to the Eusebians, Athan Apol 35. [6] Athanasius, Apol ad Const 4. [7] So Gwatkin, 124. Hefele shifts it to the following year. [8] Hefele thinks not. [9] Mansi iii, 126. Hilary, Frag 3. [10] Giles, 105, citing In Hilary, Frag 2, PL 10:639 [11] Giles, 100, citing canon 3 of Sardica.

See also Rome has Spoken; the Case is Closed by Dom John Chapman

also St. Cyprian on the Church and the Papacy by Dom John Chapman

also St. John Chrysostom on the Apostle Peter by Dom John Chapman

also St. Jerome and Rome by Dom John Chapman


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