On The Faith

That They All May Be One:

Councils and Ecumenical Councils


Father John F. Bockman


That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me,

and I in Thee. That they also may be one in Us;

that the world may believe that Thou

hast sent Me. (John 17:21)


The mystery of Pentecost is perpetuated in the Church through the ministry which Orthodox bishops share in continuity with the Holy Apostles. Of course, no one can fathom the mystery of the Holy Spirit’s operation in councils, but the appropriate action of hierarchs in councils is quite well understood from Scripture and Tradition. Bishops in council should act very much as the Apostles did at the first Pentecost before them.

Scripture tells us that for ten days before Pentecost, the Apostles and disciples continued in prayer and supplications, having one and the same mind, while secluding themselves in the upper room (Acts 2:2;12;14). Then when the day of Pentecost had fully come, a sound as of a mighty rushing wind suddenly filled the whole house. Divided tongues as of fire appeared to them, one sitting upon each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak with other tongues. And they continued thereafter steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).

The purpose of this paper is to examine the function and type of councils, and to summarize the experience of the Church in the numerous councils held between the First and the Second Ecumenical Councils, A.D. 325 to 381. This examination will focus on the doctrine stated by the term homoousios (of one essence with the Father), an excellent example of what it means to speak in another tongue under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in clarification of the Gospel (concept of Father John Romanides). The meaning of this term became the most controversial issue then afflicting the Church. Following this course through councils will show us how a difficult issue was worked through successfully by the Church acting in its two aspects: as teacher, and as the faithful being taught, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The prime operating goal of every true council of the Church is adherence to and maintenance of collegial and conciliar interaction based in Scripture. At the acme of such an endeavor, superbly fulfilling the goal, stand the Seven Ecumenical Councils. To be judged ecumenical, a council must fulfill certain rigorous criteria:

*It must be convoked by command of an emperor or king.

*It must set forth a dogmatic definition concerning faith, and ordain or prescribe things which are pious and orthodox and agreeable to the Holy Scriptures and to previous ecumenical councils.

*All the patriarchs and prelates of the catholic Church must agree to accept its ordinances and prescriptions either by their personal presence or by proxy, or, in the absence of these, by means of their letters and signatures.

Every ecumenical council that possesses these characteristics is in fact the very Church itself, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, which we profess to believe in when we recite the Symbol of Faith. Furthermore, it is ever- living and imperishable; for “He will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever.[1] And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (John 14:16; Matt. 28:20; cf. also John 14:26); it is infallible and sinless; it has the supreme and highest office, not only as proposing what is right and just and true by way of advice and compelling those opposed thereto to yield submission, by inflicting upon them proper ecclesiastical penances, and examining and judging them all, including Popes and Patriarchs and all prelates, clergymen, and laymen in any part of the world whatsoever; and it sets a limit and termination to every question and matter of any kind that may arise or grow up, whether it relate to an individual or have a common effect, and settles every quarrel and dispute of heretics and schismatics (SS. Nicodemus and Agapius, 156–7). A council which does not entirely meet the above requirements is a local council. What begins as an anticipated ecumenical council may become in the end and in its effect merely a local council.[2]

Over the centuries numerous councils have been controlled, not by pious and orthodox hierarchs, as we would expect, but by men weak in the faith, with no consistent alternative to the Apostolic faith, misguided, arrogant, and self-serving, who have subverted this holy process and tried to put it to their own self-serving use. Despite that, it will be found that the Holy Spirit, guiding the Holy Church, has ultimately turned the disruptive efforts of such men around to bring concord out of discord. All ecclesiastical assemblies, even when misperceived by men as representing the Church,[3] hhave historically been called Church councils. The most notorious of false councils are called cabals.  Eight classes of Church councils throughout history have been identified (Hefele II, 2–5), of which the most important for modern consideration are these:

*ecumenical councils, of which there have been only seven

*general councils or synods which were never finally recognized as ecumenical

*national, patriarchal, or primatial councils, which are sometimes called universal or plenary councils and involve the bishops of one nation, patriarchate, or primacy

*provincial councils held by a metropolitan of a province with his suffragan bishops

*councils of several dioceses in which the bishops of several contiguous provinces meet

*diocesan councils which a single bishop holds with his own clergy.

Since Priestmonk Justin has written in The True Vine on councils before the First Ecumenical Council and creeds before the Nicene Creed (The True Vine, 15:3 (1992), 14-29), we will not dwell at length on the historical councils before Nicaea.Excluding the Apostolic Council of ca. 52 A.D., the written history of Church Councils begins in the second century with the series of councils against “the strange and impious doctrines” of Montanus and his followers, a schism of Phrygia which spread to the West and captured the great Tertullian; and with a series of councils regarding the celebration of Pascha. The precise dates of these sets of early councils are uncertain. Given the Church’s mandate for assembly, however, we must assume that conciliar interaction has been an integral part of Church life since the earliest Apostolic times and has occurred with unfailing regularity.[4]

The Council of Nicaea (325) and Its Creed

We learn with some surprise that the great Western champion of orthodoxy against Arianism, St. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, born 300 A.D., confesses that until well into adult life he was ignorant of the very existence of the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.). He acknowledges that he had not even seen the text of the Nicene Creed until the eve of his exile in 356 A.D., thirty-one years after the Council had taken place and when he was fifty-six years old (St. Hilary, De Synodis, 91). In orthodox Gaul the truths that were being enunciated at far-away Nicaea were so obvious to believers that there was little reason to note or pay strict attention to its creed.

St. Hilary writes that without knowledge of the Nicene Creed, he had learned what was behind the new terms generated at Nicaea, that is, their true meaning, not from the technical terms, but from the Gospels and Epistles. The Scriptures had been quite sufficient to support the integrity of his faith. This is an important observation — namely, that a perfect orthodox understanding of the identity of the Son of God is and always has been possible without the technical terminology through which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has found it advisable, even necessary, to preserve for the ages the orthodox truth regarding the relationship of the Father and the Son.

Yet when the Fathers of Nicaea actually sought to avoid all nonscriptural language and limit their use of terminology in their decisions to that which was scriptural, they found their opponents “whispering to each other and winking with their eyes, that ‘like,’ and ‘always,’ and ‘power,’ and ‘in Him’ (all scriptural terms) were common to both men and the Son of God, so that heretics found no difficulty in agreeing to such terms (St. Athanasius, NPNF, 4, 163). Thus it ultimately proved necessary for the Fathers to adopt specific terminology which was not scriptural in order to achieve the exactness and precision of language required by the problems challenging them.

This nonscriptural language could come only out of some context known at the time, even if it were that of pagan philosophy. The source, pagan or not, was immaterial as compared to the criterion: terminology that could finally be fixed with an absolutely unmistakable denotation safeguarding the integrity of the doctrine in question. As St. Athanasius put it, the Fathers “were compelled on their part to collect the sense of the Scriptures, and to resay and rewrite what they had said before, more distinctly still” (St. Athanasius, NPNF, 4, 163).

The challenge met at Nicaea arose from a misapplication of Aristotelian logic by the brilliant Presbyter Arius of Alexandria to the old theological question: “Who do men say that I, the Son of God, am?” After the rationalistic logician had made his opening statements at the Council in the presence of the Emperor and later Saint Constantine, the so-called Eusebian party undertook his defense. It was immediately evident that the weight of sentiment was against Arius, and the number of his supporters gradually dwindled to a very few. A letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia (leader of the Eusebian party), together with a formal confession of the Arian faith, were then laid before the Council. These were also read and rejected by the Council. It remained only to learn how the Arians and their cause could escape complete condemnation, and how far they could accept the action of the Council and remain within the Church.

At this point, the learned Eusebius of Caesarea (not to be confused with Eusebius of Nicomedia) and what has been called the “conservative party of compromise” stepped forward with a creed which they thought would unite all parties, even the Arians, who would have been able to sign it. It employed only scriptural language and appeared to be well in accord with all prior traditions and creeds used in the Church. In fact it was the very creed used in the orthodox diocese of Caesarea.

The Creed of Caesarea had going for it that it was traditional; the language was scriptural. But as clear heads recognized, the issue would be not what the Scriptures and Tradition said, but what they meant. It was disagreement about meaning which had occasioned the Council in the first place.

The truly orthodox party now came forward to take up the true business of the Council. The controlling spirit and genius of the Council, though not its nominal head, was revealed to be a simple deacon of Alexandria, Athanasius by name, who had accompanied his bishop, Alexander, to Nicaea. The orthodox proceeded to allow Arius and the Arians all the time and exposure they needed to destroy themselves. As good teachers, the orthodox also listened to the words of the compromisers, and made it clear that they had no issue with them except in the matter of the clear expression of the common truth. As Jerome wrote later in reference to another Council: “The bishops were not anxious about a word if the meaning were secure.”

The critical term turned out to be: homoousios to patri, “of the same essence with the Father.” This, the only addition to the Creed brought forward by Eusebius of Caesarea, was proposed by the Emperor Constantine himself, perhaps coached by his friend, the great Hosius of Cordova. It may be that without the Emperor’s support, the homoousios to patri could not have passed through the Council. It passed, and it is certain that no other definition would have succeeded then or thereafter.

Not surprisingly, however, the term homoousios presented serious difficulties, and wrestling with them filled the period between the First and Second Ecumenical Councils. Homoousios, it was said, is a word “coined by Gnostic heretics, dictated by an unbaptized emperor, jeopardized by naive defenders of Orthodoxy, but eventually vindicated by its orthodox opponents” (Pelican I, 210). Its vindication was achieved finally in the third quarter of the fourth century through the formulation of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit by the Second Ecumenical Council.

At the beginning of the turbulent fourth century, the Church was faced with two great heretical threats, Sabellianism and Arianism, which stand at opposite poles from the orthodox faith concerning the relationship of the Father and the Son. From the very beginning the Church has been conscious of two divinely revealed principles concerning this relationship: the Son’s very real divinity and equality with the Father, and His personal distinction from the Father. These principles are clear from the gospels, and have always been believed by the faithful. Many of the early Fathers both understood and expounded the meaning of these principles correctly.

Other Fathers, however, who understood them perfectly well, employed less successful ways of expressing them, even sometimes using uncertain and indefinite terms and expressions that might have led others eventually to heresy. Thus St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, and St. Methodius, among others, “did not always choose their expressions carefully” (Hefele I, 232). The Apologists especially, to make themselves understandable to the pagans, often brought the Christian concept of the Logos close to that of Plato and Philo (Hefele I, 231–239).

Sabellianism, an early aberration which grew out of linguistic imprecision and carelessness of expression, taught the Son and the Holy Spirit “as aspects and modes of, or as emanations from, the one Person of the Father” (Bright, 85). It argued for the unity of the divine principle by denying any distinction in it, making Father, Son, and Holy Spirit one person as well as one nature.

Arianism, on the other hand, extended the distinction of persons into one of nature, attributing real divinity only to the Father. The Age of Constantine was favorable for “the rise and rapid propagation of the doctrine subordinating the Son, Who is begotten, to the Father, Who is unbegotten, thus making Christ more or less one of the creatures, because after the Edict of Milan many learned pagans became Christians without complete conversion, tending to retain their pre-baptismal understandings that often militated against correct insights into the faith.

The task of the Church throughout the fourth century was to steer between these two antithetical heresies, to define and preserve precisely what it was that had been handed down as truth from the Holy Apostles, and to teach this truth to the universal Church. In effect, the Church was forced to become a competent linguist and language teacher. This proved difficult, as we note in the case of St. Athanasius. Although his name is certainly identified with the Nicene faith, even he was reproached by some for “holding views which made too little distinction between the Persons of the Trinity, thus reviving Sabellianism” (Hefele II, 75).

Sharp minds among the bishops soon came to realize that errors of expression often arose, not from an unsoundness of faith, but from “personal inaccuracy and natural ambiguity of language” (DuBose, 92). It is understandable that such misstatements were often seized upon as evidence of heretical faith when there was nothing wrong with the faith, but only with the language used to express it. Fortunately, a disposition arose among wiser heads to refrain from premature condemnation, and to allow reflection by those who were struggling with unclear language and ambiguous definition. This disposition to be patient and understanding played an important role in the unfolding of the six decades of councils which thrashed out the language problems introduced by the Council of Nicaea.

Once the Council of Nicaea was over, it now became the larger task of the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to teach the council’s decisions, steering them slowly to universal acceptance through the ark of the Church. This occurred against terrible odds. Within a few years, councils that contradicted Nicaea would also be favored by the Emperor’s presence and support. Such antinomy prevailed that Arian heretics were granted the power to misdirect much of the conciliar effort that took place. Furthermore, who could be immediately certain that the decision at Nicaea had not gone too far in the direction of heretical Sabellianism, as some orthodox hierarchs conscientiously believed?

The process of teaching the Nicene Creed to the Church went on for over a half century against formidable opposition, and it was only in the second Ecumenical Council that Arianism within the Church was effectively overcome. Confirming that a certain tentativeness surrounded the expression of the Nicene Creed between the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, the First Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council declares that the Holy Fathers “decided not to set aside the faith of the three hundred and eighteen Fathers who met in Nicaea, Bithynia, and let it remain sovereign.” Even the entirely orthodox St. Cyril of Jerusalem (fl. ca. 315–386), who preferred to use “like to the Father according to the Scriptures” or “in all things” — language also used by St. Athanasius, especially in his earlier works — “tacitly objected” to the expression homoousios as “of human contrivance” and containing latent Sabellianism.

Fortunately, as good, patient, and effective teachers the orthodox Fathers had a genuine desire to meet objections and to face the thoughts which the controversy had aroused. They were ready to appeal to Scripture as the document of proof, and they were disposed to choose, if possible, Scriptural language; to find in the very words of the Apostles the central point of doctrinal unity (William Bright, The Age of the Fathers).

Also, as good teachers, the Fathers would not compromise with truth, but continued to press for the use of the term homoousios as the most appropriate, perhaps the only appropriate, way to give competent expression to the full truth in the prevailing environment and one that would stand the test of all future time. It would be terribly wrong, however, to see in this an example of so-called doctrinal development and argue that the Fathers were adding a new idea to the doctrinal treasury of the Church by their choice of this word. Homoousios may have been a new term, but it did not support a new concept.[5]

Emperor Constantine, who had rendered such invaluable service to the Church, who had proposed the felicitous term homoousios to clinch what we now know to be the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed, would not permit any one party thereafter to separate from the Church and become a sect with its own distinct worship. Thus those whom the Council had anathematized as heretics were for some decades not only able, but required, to sit in council with the orthodox. There, often possessing many advantages over the orthodox, they were able to argue their heretical, anti-Nicene version of orthodoxy. As we look back upon this anomaly, we see that bishops who were heretics were found sitting on an equal and often superordinate basis with bishops who were orthodox in one Church council after the other for the fifty-six years between the First (325 A.D.) and the Second (381 A.D.) Ecumenical Councils, and even later.

Throughout those six decades, heretical bishops worked diligently to increase their numbers by illegal ordinations, and to have councils of bishops called and creeds devised to overthrow the Council and creed of the Church established at Nicaea. They used their own councils, which we may justly call cabals, to destroy, cast out, and depose both true bishops and one another (Pusey, 118). Moreover, heretical emperors Constantius and Valens used their power to corrupt bishops in order to establish competing creeds as “orthodox” substitutes for the Nicene. They repeatedly called councils, packed or divided councils, deposed and exiled orthodox bishops through cabals, and replaced such bishops with heretical bishops who did their bidding. The teaching authority of the Church became seriously fractionalized.

Yet through all this the Holy Spirit protected the doctrine of the Church. Emperors and bishops, orthodox and heterodox, did whatever they did with an eye toward the canons and outward forms of the Church. Even when willy-nilly devastating the Church, they felt constrained to submit to its canons and forms (Pusey, 118). Their every act of doctrine or Church order was ascribed to the power and decision of men called bishops. Councils, heretical or orthodox, were always composed of men called bishops. What was done in them was done by men called bishops. And what they did they did with an assumed complete authority, looking no farther for confirmation of their actions than to men called bishops.

As a result, the Emperor simply wouldn’t allow the Arians in St. Athanasius’s Alexandria and elsewhere, despite their defeat at Nicaea, to withdraw outwardly from the Church. Furthermore, St. Constantine expressly demanded of Arius and his followers that they submit to Nicaea and confess their assent to the Nicene Creed. Their agreement, genuine or fraudulent, would either restore or give the appearance of restoring them to the ranks of the orthodox. But only through falsehood and equivocation was Arius able to submit and assent, deceiving the emperor as to the nature of the doctrines he continued to espouse.

Later, while Arius and his heresy were being publicly rehabilitated, the enemies of St. Athanasius, the unquestioned champion of the Nicene faith and its theological solutions, were now able to represent him to the emperor as a disturber of the peace. He was calumniated by his enemies (St. Athanasius, “Defense Against the Arians,” NPNF2, 4, 105), and even his orthodoxy came to be called more and more into question, for the suspicion was growing that his views did not make sufficient distinctions between the Persons of the Trinity. Thus he was reproached for reviving Sabellianism, and could conceivably have ended up classified with the Sabellian heretics.

With the exile of Arius and others, and the burning of Arius’s books — even the attempted obliteration of the very name, Arians — the heresy did not come to an end. Some eighty councils ensued in which Arianism, while for a time growing stronger, attempted in its various contradictory forms to nullify the Nicene decisions only to fall eventually of its own inconsistencies. Yet despite the errors of Arian principles and objectives, the fact that so many of these councils were convened by heretics or their sympathizers and under pressure from the civil authorities illustrates the truly complex and subtle nature of the conciliar instrumentality that the Holy Spirit made use of to safeguard truth.

St. Hilary of Poitiers, speaking from the viewpoint of his own participation in some of these councils, characterizes the vacillation and abuse of the collegial function, and the manic nature of the anti-Nicene councils in this fashion:

            We determine yearly and monthly creeds concerning God; we repent of our determinations; we defend those who repent; we anathematize those whom we have defended; we condemn our own doings in those of others, or others in us; and gnawing each other, we are well nigh devoured one of another.[7]

A handful of influential bishops superintended this vacillating and contradictory behavior. Without being out-and-out Arians themselves, they held views subordinating the Son to the Father that were incompatible with the faith established at Nicaea.[8] They were skilled, crafty, and often unscrupulous politicians who misunderstood the doctrine of the Son’s consubstantiality with the Father, suspecting it to be damaging to the personality of Christ. As the leaders of the Eusebian party, these bishops had not joined in the anathema pronounced against Arius, but accepted the Nicene Creed without admitting that Arius had taught error. They continued to attempt to rehabilitate him as a faithful member of the Church. As a party of compromise, they desired a creed that both orthodox and Arian could accept. Their leaders, including Eusebius of Nicomedia, came openly to regret having signed the Nicene creed and were temporarily banished.

The Eusebians hoped that Constantine could be persuaded to accept a creed in place of the Nicene, paving the way for the victory of Subordinationism in the Church, and forcing the supporters of the strict homoousios to withdraw. Seeing that St. Athanasius worked to keep the Nicene faith even stronger, the Eusebians objected to his election as Pope of Alexandria in 328, and sought to poison the Emperor against him by accusing him of great crimes and of the heresy of Sabellianism.

This cause was greatly strengthened by another influential Eusebius (Pamphili),[9] bishop of Caesarea, the historian and confident of the Emperor. He thought he recognized Sabellian views in a Bishop Eustathius,[10] who had played a distinguished role at Nicaea, and he also thought St. Athanasius bordered on Sabellianism. The dispute between Eustathius and Eusebius of Caesarea occasioned the convocation of a Council at Antioch in 330 where Eustathius was deposed and sent by Constantine into exile. This and other machinations strengthened the hand of the other Eusebius (of Nicomedia), who believed that the time had come to repudiate the doctrine of the Son’s consubstantiality with the Father and to restore Arius to the communion of the Church.

Not without difficulty, St. Athanasius succeeded in persuading the Emperor that it was impossible for the Church to receive heretics into communion, and the plan for the reinstatement of Arius was delayed at least for a time. The Emperor, however, would not decide the matter concerning Arius’s orthodoxy, leaving that up to the council. Thus St. Athanasius stood in the way of the Eusebians’ plots, and they brought fresh charges against him.

In one year alone, 335 A.D., St. Constantine called in succession three councils: Tyre, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, all of them controlled by the Eusebians and highly favorable to Arius. The eventual thrust of all three was to counteract Nicaea and to admit Arius back into the fold. All three councils assembled bishops representing Egypt, Libya, Asia, and Europe. The council at Tyre deposed St. Athanasius. That at Jerusalem decreed that Arius’s profession of faith to the Emperor was satisfactorily orthodox. And at the Council of Constantinople Constantine exiled St. Athanasius. St. Athanasius and his strong supporter Marcellus of Ancyra came under increasing attack.

The preeminence of St. Constantine and his willingness to force dissidents to remain nominally within the Church so long as they were willing to give some appearance of assent to the Nicene Creed set a pattern which tended to stabilize an increasingly unstable situation throughout the remainder of Constantine’s life and through the reigns of his successors up to Theodosius the Great. This gave the orthodox time to consolidate and teach their position which was identical with that of the Apostles, and for many Semi-Arians to learn to understand that the homoousios was completely orthodox, being a way of making the Apostles’ position clear to the fourth century, and bearing no taint whatsoever of Sabellianism. It also gave the Arians time to teach the full implications of their theory that the Son of God had not existed from eternity, and that He differed from other creatures in degree, and not in kind, though they continued to worship Him as God, and baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Without this time for sorting out, the several competing “orthodoxies” might immediately have gone their separate ways. The imperial tactic required that all parties participate in discussion and be allowed to present and argue their cases vigorously. The result was that patiently and persistently true orthodoxy converted the largest part of Christendom to the Nicene creed, while Arianism gradually receded from its dominance in the East and finally dissipated among the Goths.

As we have seen, Arianism was at first very strong, but its strength lay mostly in its Subordinationist allies, usually called Semi-Arians. Around 339, St. Constantine’s son and successor in the East, Constantius, who supported Arius, called a council at Constantinople. This Eusebian- dominated council with Arians in control gave the Arian party in Alexandria their own bishop, a deposed priest named Pistus, who had been deposed at Nicaea on account of Arianism. The installation of an Arian bishop in Alexandria was, of course, a direct attack upon St. Athanasius. But the Eusebian councils did not teach with a single voice. Although they did not themselves hold extreme Arian views, the Eusebians’ usual habit of protecting the interests of the Arians resulted in vacillation and indecisiveness among them when an extreme Arian group became strong and active while splitting off from opposing Arian groups. In opposition to the extreme Arians, the moderate Eusebians began to appear under the common name of Semi-Arians or Homoiousians — the latter because they chose to replace the Nicaean homoousios (of the same substance) for the like-sounding homoiousios (of like substance), a term, however, that the orthodox could not but reject.

Meanwhile, in 339 St. Athanasius, armed with the Mareotic Acts provided him by Pope Julius of Rome and contradicting charges against him, called a council of one hundred bishops of Libya, Egypt, Thebes, and Pentapolis, in which the orthodox were in control. And two years later, in 341, Julius called an orthodox council at Rome that included St. Athanasius, Marcellus of Ancyra, many bishops from Thrace, Cloelesyria, Phoenicia, and Palestine, as well as envoys of the orthodox party in Egypt. These councils strengthened the voice of a united Nicene orthodoxy.

In 341, the Anti-Nicene forces took advantage of the Arian leanings of the Emperor Constantius and had a council convened at Antioch, which came to be called in Encaenis (i.e., at the dedication of the “Golden” Church). This was principally a council of the Patriarchate of Antioch with representatives from Cappadocia and Thrace. None came from the West. This council sought to supplant the Nicene Creed with new forms, and confirmed the deposition of St. Athanasius.

To impress the orthodox, the Semi-Arians at the beginning of this council submitted a creed which appeared to be quite orthodox, but avoided the term homoousios. They argued that the term homoousios was a disguise for Sabellianism and was capable of being understood as dividing the divine essence into three parts (Hefele II, 77). In all, this council proposed four different creeds, all of which approached the Nicene Creed as closely as the competing groups allowed without accepting the homoousios. While not strictly Arian, neither were they strictly orthodox. However, orthodox bishops were able to receive them as containing nothing heretical, and as directly refuting the main points of Arianism. St. Hilary of Poitiers judged the second of these creeds favorably. St. Athanasius did not call them heretical, but he did not judge them as favorably as did St. Hilary.

By about 335, the orthodox had further strengthened their position to the point of functioning with greater focus and energy at the Council of Sardica, which was called jointly by Constans and Constantius, emperors of the Western Roman Empire. According to St. Athanasius, ninety-four orthodox and seventy-six Eusebian bishops attended. Its goals came to be to remove dissensions, especially concerning St. Athanasius and other orthodox bishops under suspicion; to root out all false doctrine; and to create universal acceptance of the true faith. Dissension over St. Athanasius and the machinations of the Eusebians particularly threatened the peace of both Church and State. Drawing up four distinct creeds within a few months was seen as destroying security and stability.

The Council of Sardica is especially known for its canons restoring Church order. Because of the decisiveness of the orthodox, the division with the Eusebians became greater than before. With the aim of forcing universal recognition of Semi-Arianism, the Eusebians went into open opposition to the Church and removed themselves from the Council of Sardica, betaking themselves to a cabal at Philippopolis. Since the Eastern bishops stood in greater numbers on the Eusebian and Arian side than on the Nicene and Sardican, the Council of Sardica was not able to attain the ecumenical status that was hoped for. Sardica came close, however, to providing the basis whereby the Holy Spirit might unite bishops in declaring the true faith unambiguously.

In 351 a Eusebian council assembled at Sirmium at the desire of Emperor Constantius. This council published a sixth ambiguous creed together with twenty-seven anathemas, called the first formula of Sirmium, ostensibly directed against the heretic Photinus. It also published two additional creeds, one distinctly Arian (Pusey, 164). The stability of orthodox adherence to the Nicene creed and the instability of their adversaries who were unable to make up their minds about a single creed ultimately strengthened the orthodox while weakening the dissident Eusebians.

Two years later when Constantius became sole Roman Emperor, he called a council at Arles in 353 to convince the bishops of the West to agree with those who thought it orthodox to refer to the Son as homoiousios (of like substance). Condemnation of St. Athanasius was thought to be critical to securing this agreement. By a strange twist, presumably in order to expose the heresy of the Arians, the Westerners offered to condemn Athanasius if the Arians would condemn the heresy of Arius. The Arians, of course, did not agree to this, but urged that the Westerners at least deprive Athanasius of communion, in keeping with the prior judgment of Eastern bishops (Pusey, 156). A persistent Constantius was able to extort signatures from all the orthodox bishops for the condemnation of Athanasius (Hefele II, 204).

The Arians were also successful in securing their ends at a Council of Milan, called in 355. In calling this council, Constantius intended to exhaust the Western bishops, and “through deceit to compel them to consent to the Arian heresy, promising the condemnation of Athanasius as a most mighty obstacle” (Pusey, 158). The upshot was that the whole of the West was forced by imperial manipulation to hold communion with the Arians. Pope Liberius and the famous Spanish bishop Josius “after noble resistance” were banished. St. Athanasius fled into the desert, and his see was occupied by an Arian.

By 355, through the vigorous efforts of the emperor, the Semi-Arians,  and the Arians, the homoousios was, humanly speaking, almost completely suppressed. To get the upper hand, the Arians kept themselves hidden behind the Eusebian front. Yet by this time the original virulent version of Arianism appeared to be gone, and no influential person any longer openly supported it. On the other hand, the Eusebians had increased in number and strength, embracing all who had any reason whatsoever for opposing St. Athanasius and the Nicene faith. Even some completely orthodox bishops must be included among them, for they continued to accept the misrepresentations of the Eusebians, namely that Sabellianism had crept into the Nicene party with the homoousios. Many critical terms had not yet been adequately defined for the suspicious. The distinction between hypostasis (person) and ousia (essence) had not yet been duly determined, and the term  homoousios could easily be misunderstood as Sabellian and therefore anti- trinitarian (Hefele II, 217).

The second great Council of Sirmium was held in 357 with only Western bishops attending. Its formula, the Second Sirmium, which St. Hilary termed blasphemous, reads in part:

            As the [terms] homoousios and the homoiousios have raised scruples in the minds of some, no more mention [of the point involving these terms] shall be made, and no one shall teach [this point] any more, because it is not contained in the Holy Scriptures, and it is beyond human knowledge; and no one, as says Isaiah (liii.8), can declare the generation of the Son. There is no doubt that the Father is greater than the Son, and surpasses Him in honor, dignity, dominion, majesty, and even by the name of Father, as the Son Himself confesses in St. John xiv.28: “He who sent me is greater than I.” And all know that the Catholic doctrine is this; there are two Persons, the Father and the Son, the Father greater, the Son subject to Him, with all that the Father has made subject to the Son. But the Holy Ghost is through the Son, and came according to promise, to teach and sanctify the apostles and all the faithful (Hefele II, 227).

The great Hosius, approaching one hundred years of age, after being worn down by the emperor’s violence and a year’s imprisonment into signing the Arian creed (Pusey, 173), soon thereafter again anathematized the Arian heresy. Yet the creed of this second Council of Sirmium was seconded by a Council of Antioch in 358, after being rejected in Gaul immediately upon its appearance.

Meanwhile, the Semi-Arian bishops of Asia organized a council at Ancyra in 348. This council took pains to draw up stricter and more accurate declarations concerning the Trinity, for example:

            The very expression “Father” shows that He is the Cause of a Substance like Himself; the idea of creature is thereby excluded, for the relation of Father and Son is quite different from that of Creator and creature, and if the likeness of the Son to the Father is abandoned, the idea and expression “Son” must also be given up. For if from the idea of Son all finite characteristics are removed, there remains only the characteristic of likeness, as alone applicable to the incorporeal Son. That other beings, in no way like God, are called in the Holy Scriptures sons of God, forms no objection, for this was spoken figuratively; but the Logos is Son of God in the proper sense (Hefele II, 229).

Constantius called Pope Liberius to this council to persuade him to renounce the homoousios. With a collection of decisions against the leading acknowledged heretics of the day, Paul of Samosata and Photinus of Sirmium, and the symbol of the Antiochian Council of 341, he persuaded Liberius that the homoousios was just a cloak for heretical views, and at last brought Liberius to assent to the document. In doing so, however, Liberius attempted to defend his orthodoxy, declaring that one who did not allow that the Son was like the Father in all things including substance should be shut out from the Church (Hefele II, 235).

The declaration of the Council of Ancyra was followed by eighteen anathemas, mostly placed two-by-two, so that one anathematizes the extreme Arian separation of Father and Son, and the other the Sabellian identification of the Father and the Son.

In 359, the Double Council of Seleucia and Ariminum (Rimini) was called as an effort of Constantius to restore peace among the Arian parties. Two great orthodox protagonists coming to the defense of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in works titled De Synodis (Concerning Councils), recorded in detail their reactions to this double Church council which followed the Nicene Council by a generation. St. Athanasius, now Bishop of Alexandria, writing in 359 A.D., represented the Eastern half of the Church; and St. Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop of Poitiers, represented the Western half.

As reported by St. Athanasius in his De Synodis (written in 359 and added to in 361), letters from the pro-Arian emperor Constantius and the prefects were circulated far and wide in 359 A.D. for the convocation of a Church council. This was at first set to take place at Nicaea. Before the council could be held, however, a second edict went out, splitting the proposed council into a doublet, one in the east and one in the west, to occur simultaneously. Therefore, as it turned out, the bishops of the Western Roman Empire were convened at Ariminum in Italy and those of the Eastern Empire at Seleucia in Isauria. As alleged by a group of bishops of the Arian party who had the ear of Constantius, the professed reason for such a meeting was “to treat of the faith pertaining to our Lord Jesus Christ.” The aim of the Arian participants, however, was to discredit the First Council of Nicaea and establish Arian theology throughout Christendom.

The heretical Constantius, of course, had his own reasons for calling a council and then doubling it according to the the principle of “divide and conquer.” He was guided by a desire for religious compromise in the interest of peace in the realm. By isolating the predominantly orthodox bishops of the West, he gave the Arians almost completely free rein in the East.

The activity most characteristic of these councils was the continuous writing and rewriting of confessions of faith, largely because the Semi-Arian party, fearful of the lurking extreme Arianism that proclaimed the Son unlike the Father, yet also suspicious of the Nicene term homoousios, wished a final doctrinal settlement.

At the council at Seleucia, an Arian bishop had dared to assert that since the Nicaean Creed had been altered once and “many times since,” there was no reason why the bishops assembled at Seleucia should not dictate “another faith.” However, a Semi-Arian bishop protested that this council had been called, not to learn what it did not know, and not to receive a faith which it did not possess, but to “walk in the faith of the Fathers,”meaning the decisions of the Council of  the Dedication in 341 A.D. A growing part of the Semi-Arian party wished to safeguard the orthodoxy of Nicaea by finding a substitute for the hated term homoousios, while the Arian party still wished to overthrow Nicaea completely.

In 361 in a deeply influential council at Alexandria called by St. Athanasius, who had dared to return to Alexandria without imperial authorization, twenty-one bishops decided on the matter of the reentry of former heretics to communion with the orthodox: those who without being Arians had sided with the Arians for strategic reasons should receive pardon and return to their clerical offices upon repentance. Those who had espoused the heresy, if repentant, should also be received back but excluded from office. Both groups, however, were required to anathematize Arianism, accept the Nicene faith, and acknowledge the Nicene Council as being of the highest authority. This decision was communicated to churches in both east and west. Meanwhile the churches in Gaul, Spain, and Greece passed the same decree.

This orthodox council also succeeded in determining the precise meaning of confusing terms in the controversy: ousia and hypostasis. Many, both Latins and Greeks, believed that the two terms were synonymous, and that whoever taught the three hypostases was an out-and-out Arian. On the other hand, those who spoke of only one hypostasis were suspected of the heresy of Monarchianism. Some assumed that the Latin term persona was synonymous with the Sabellian prosopon. As a result of this confusion, many regarded those as heretics who differed only in their mode of expression. St. Athanasius, who knew both Latin and Greek, conferred “in his gentle and sympathetic way with both parties,” and brought both to declare their orthodox faith in such a way as to satisfy all and put an end to misunderstanding. According to St. Gregory of Nazianzen, from thenceforth both sides were free to keep their own form of expression without being accused of heresy (Hefele II, 278; St. Gregory of Nazianzen, “On the Great Athanasius,” NPNF, 7, 279).

The tremendous advantage of this council under the supervision of the superb orthodox teacher Athanasius was that hundreds of bishops who were not and never had been Arian, but who by their own weakness or the mendacity of the heretics had been driven to the Arian side, now returned to the Church, declaring that due to linguistic confusion they had been ignorant of the heretical meaning of the creed of Ariminum that they had signed. Arianism now almost completely disappeared in the West, and strongholds of Arians remained only in the East, supported, not surprisingly, by the Emperor Julian the Apostate.

St. Athanasius, after being officially restored to his see under the Emperor Jovian called another council at Alexandria in 363. By its direction and under its name, St. Athanasius composed a Synodal Letter to the Emperor, commending to him the Nicene creed as the true faith that had always been preached in the Church from the time of the Apostles, and was still accepted all but universally. The small number of opponents could be no argument against it. Appended to the letter was a statement of the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Spirit, declaring that the Holy Spirit must not be separated from the Father and the Son, but should be glorified together with them for there is only one Godhead in the Holy Trinity. The new emperor was receptive and acted upon this letter.

One Arian bishop, Acacius of Caesarea, who had always tried to be on the winning side, joined twenty-five other fellow Arian bishops in responding to the new emperor’s preference by gathering in Antioch formally to sign and acknowledge the Nicene creed. However, they inserted a clause explaining that they understood that “the Son is born of the substance of the Father, and is in respect of substance similar to Him.” By this they intended to Semi-Arianize the homoousios (Hefele II, 283).

Upon the premature death of Jovian in 364, Valens became emperor and rekindled the persecution of the orthodox in the East. Among his most cruel acts of repression was his banishment of eighty orthodox ecclesiastics who had appealed to him for a milder policy, sequestering them in two boats on the Black Sea. He then ordered the boats burned on the open sea, thinking to destroy evidence of his crime. The boats were indeed set afire, but strong wind carried them to Bythinia where the imperial crime soon became known (Hefele II, 284).

Valens’s repression awoke the Semi-Arians to the danger to the Church of their own stubbornness and caused them to hold various councils throughout the East where they decided to contact the orthodox emperor Valentinian and Pope Liberius in the West, offering to unite in faith with the orthodox. At Rome, both orally and in writing, they made a solemn anathematization of the Arian and other heresies raging in the East. Received back into communion with the orthodox, they returned to the East and assembled in 367 at Tyana in Cappadocia. Received there with joy by the people, they intended to meet in a great Eastern council at Tarsus in Cilicia to cause the Nicene faith to be universally accepted, but Valens forbade the holding of such a council (Hefele II, 287).

St. Athanasius reposed on May 2, 373, and the Arians again took possession of the See of Alexandria and visited terrible persecution upon the orthodox. In 375 in a special letter to the bishops of Asia, Valentinian commanded that the term consubstantial with the Father should be taught universally, but his death in the same year prevented implementation of his order, and the Arians, supported by Valens, held a council at Ancyra which deposed several orthodox bishops, including St. Gregory of Nyssa. However, a series of councils in Rome from 374 to 380 worked to strengthen the orthodox position against all current heresies.

Finally, with the elevation of Theodosius the Great as Emperor of the East in 379, the thirty-year Arian hold on Constantinople was broken by imperial decree. Churches were returned to the small but faithful remnant of orthodox of the city, and all heretics were forbidden to hold divine services. Arrangements were made immediately for the Second Ecumenical Council which met after Pascha in 381 A.D.




Herein we have examined a fifty-six year segment of Church council history between the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, 325 to 381 A.D. The Arian and Subordinationist heresies most often appear triumphant over orthodoxy in the thirty or so councils which have captured the attention of secular history and are briefly considered here. At least fifty others met in the same period of time, very likely many more than that, if we recall that the canons and Tradition require each bishop to be diligent in teaching his flock every year.

On the human level at least, this essential, diligent, regular recourse to teaching by bishops at the local level could be, I think, the factor that slowly turned the tide against Arianism and finally overcame the resistance to the homoousios of the more orthodox among the Semi-Arians. We can only speculate about these unknown local councils, but without them it would be difficult to account for the rather sudden turn of events favoring the Nicene faith after it had seemed almost completely suppressed by 355 A.D. as a result of the machinations of the Eusebeans.

I have suggested in this paper that by introducing such terms as homoousios, ousia, and hypostasis into the language of the Church, the orthodox bishops were in some sense prophesying and speaking in tongues under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We do not read in the Acts of the Apostles of fabricated, non-meaningful speech as the Gift of Tongues. It is reported that every man heard the Apostles speak in his own tongue the wonderful works of God. St. Peter immediately linked this linguistic phenomenon with that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel: “I will pour out in those days of my spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

Speaking in tongues and prophesying have not died out in the Church, because the Holy Spirit has not departed from it. Whoever is guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret successfully the deep meaning of the Scriptures has spoken in tongues and has prophesied, that is, spoken for God in the tongue peculiar to the listener. Some critical differences may prevail from person to person among those who hear the message — differences in the time required for them to hear it, in the time required for them to understand what they have heard, and in the time required for them to accept what they have understood.

In the fourth century, as the Church emerged from severe persecution and vigorously entered the public life of the Roman Empire, embracing countless of erstwhile pagans in another Pentecost, it became necessary to speak not only in the language of the Scriptures, but also in the meaning of the Scriptures. That was the purpose of the homoousios: To tell the world that the Son of God Who said, “I and the Father are one,” is of one essence with the Father. Which Evangelist could have foreseen that homoousios, a word composed of elements of the Greek tongue, would some day express most clearly to denizens of the philosophically sophisticated Greek world what was expressed so well and clearly in Hebrew to the Jews of their world?

Could St. Athanasius have possibly had an inkling that some day the term homoousios would be rendered in tongues which did not even exist in his day — for example, in English, the Son is of one essence with the Father? The language is different, but the underlying meaning has remained precisely the same from Apostolic times, and that is all that matters, as the orthodox endeavors throughout this historical period show.

There can be no doubt that time is required for hearing, and time is also required for comprehending. In the modern understanding of education, the time required for learning is measured by the term aptitude. Every individual and perhaps every society has a different aptitude for certain tasks, that is, requires a different amount of time to achieve mastery. Whether time is also required for believing is a good question. I would not be surprised if it is, but I don’t think it would be proper to speak of it in that way, since God, acting outside time, gives the grace.

I have an inclination to see parallels between this confused fourth- century history and the religious environment of our time, where the real linguistic problems are much more complex and confused. In the fourth century, as far as I know, participants in councils did not question that the Gospels contained the very words spoken by the Saviour. Today there are those, such as members of the Jesus Seminar, who deny that the Saviour spoke any but a small fraction of the words that are attributed to Him. They read the words reported in the New Testament as those of a self-serving Church. Others today do not just paraphrase the Scriptures. They metaphrase the Saviour’s words to distort their meaning to accord with their own modernist ideologies. In such an environment, the very words lose relevance and the concept of meaning loses integrity.

The genius of the Church in the Constantinian era, which to a large extent reflects the genius of St. Constantine himself, was its unlimited patience with those who needed an almost unlimited amount of time to come to believe correctly. While orthodoxy’s patience was unlimited, its insistence upon truth was absolute and uncompromising. This great patience and great resolve was finally rewarded in the triumph of the Nicene Creed. The combination of unlimited patience and uncompromising resolve for truth was truly a mark of great love, whereby all Christendom became one in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. No doubt the same qualities of long- suffering patience and uncompromising demand for truth will again need to mark the great love of the Church for man at the end of the age.



NPNF2 = Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series

ANF = Ante-Nicene Fathers

Athanasius, St. “De Decretis.” NPNF2, 4: 150-172.

Athanasius, St. “Apologia Contra Arianos.” NPNF2, 4: 100-147.

Auxentios, Archbishop. “Encyclical from Archbishop Auxentios on the Reception of the Faithful in Tennessee.” The True Vine, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1992: 18-24.

Azkoul, Michael, Fr. Anti-Christianity: The New Atheism. Montreal: Monastery Press, 1981.

Bright, William. The Age of the Fathers. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1903.

Bright, William. Notes on the Canons of the First Four General Councils. Oxford at the  Clarendon Press, 1882.

Clement of Rome, St. “The Clementine Homilies.” ANF, 8: 251.

DuBose, William P. The Ecumenical Councils. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1909.

Ephraim, Bishop. “An Encyclical to the Clergy Regarding the Holy Eucharist and the Mystery of Baptism.” The True Vine, Summer 1989: 2-7.

Ephraim, Bishop. “The Form of Holy Baptism.” The True Vine, Summer 1989: 8-29.

Gelsinger, Michael G.H., Rt. Rev.  “The Creed.” The True Vine, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1992: 43-64.

Gregory Nazianzen, St. “On the Great Athanasius,” NPNF2, 7: 269-280.

Gregory Nazianzen, St. “On the Holy Spirit.” NPNF2, 7: 316-328.

Hefele, Charles Joseph. A History of the Councils of the Church, Volume 1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896. Volume 2.

Hilary of Poitiers, St. “De Synodis.” NPNF2, 9: 4-29.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery, compiler, “The First Ecumenical Council . . . compiled from the Books of Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Theodoret, and Socrates.” The True Vine, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1992: 30-41.

John XXIII, Pope. Journal of a Soul. New York: McGraw Hill, 1965.

Justin, Priestmonk. “The Historical Setting for the Creed.” The True Vine, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1992: 14-29.

Metallinos, George D. I Confess One Baptism. Holy Mountain: St. Paul’s Monastery, 1994.

Nicodemus and Agapius, Saints. The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church. Chicago: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, Reprinted 1953.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971.

Pusey, E. B. The Councils of the Church. London: John Henry Parker.

Thiede, Carsten Peter, and Matthew D’Ancona. Eyewitness to Jesus. New York: Doubleday, 1996.


Lecture given at the 1996 Toronto Orthodox Conference, “By This Conquer: The Constantinian Era”

July 25–27, 1996

1 [1]We note the abiding conviction that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church, guiding and protecting Her from error. Yet prior to the Second Ecumenical Council, the Church had not yet pronounced definitively on the deity of the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory of Nazianzen, accounting for the fact that the Scriptures are relatively silent about the precise identity of the Holy Spirit, proposed that the Holy Spirit since becoming resident in the Church “provides us with a clearer demonstration of Himself.” It is only in and through the Church that the Holy Spirit identifies Himself, an identity formulated in the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 A.D., using a creed already in use at least ten years before the Second Ecumenical Council.

2 [2]This occurred, for example, at Sardica in 334 (or 337) A.D., and again at Ferrara- Florence in 1438–45 A.D. In the latter, about 700 Orthodox delegates joined Roman Catholic delegates in an effort to reach agreement on doctrinal differences between the two groups and to reunite East and West. The Church subsequently rejected the decision of this council.

3 [3]One of the most flagrant examples of a false council, the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church, occurred not centuries ago but thirty years ago (1962–65). It was convoked unilaterally in 1959 at an apparent whim, so to speak, of Pope John XXIII, who had just been elected to the monarchical papacy in 1958 at age seventy-seven. His announced purpose was “to bring the church up to date.” In this we recognize an inappropriate goal for a church council. While the Orthodox cannot recognize it as a true Church council by the criteria specified above, the world mistakenly regards it and proclaims it in that light.

4     From 1925 to 1941, the then-Cardinal Angelo Roncalli had served the Roman Catholic Church as a diplomat in countries off the beaten path of Roman Catholicism, where he came into close contact with Eastern Orthodoxy — Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. He met officially with the Patriarch of Constantinople, with the Metropolitan of Bulgaria, and with Archbishop Chrysostom Papadopoulos of Greece who had yielded to State pressure in 1924 to approve the new calendar for Greece.

5     The new pope’s precipitous decision shocked the Roman Curia whose members saw absolutely no reason for an “ecumenical council,” only risk and danger in implementing one. They sought unsuccessfully to delay the council until Pope John’s anticipated early demise. John, however, envisioned the times as favorable for a reunion of churches, especially the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. He caused the Vatican II “fathers” to pledge to be consistently positive in all their deliberations, to abandon all anathemas and condemnations, and to ignore all political hostilities. While old doctrines and dogmas were to be re- examined, no new dogmas were to be pronounced. John insisted he was seeking a “New Pentecost,” a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

6     Except for the Russian Patriarchate, the Orthodox Churches simply ignored the Pope’s invitation to participate. The Russian Metropolitan Nikodim came, assumed an embarrassingly active role in ecumenical activities in Rome, and expired one day in the very arms of Pope Paul VI, Pope John’s successor.

7     Vatican II was pledged to avoid the very functions which an Orthodox Church Council would have been expected to discharge. Instead of teaching the world the faith that had been handed down unchanged from the Apostles, Pope John XXIII intimated that the modern world had something critically important to teach the Church. That, at least, is what millions upon millions of Roman Catholics heard him say. As a result, Roman Catholic bishops and their flocks in many countries are seeking closer and closer accommodations with the world and are in virtual schism from the Papacy. To all appearances, Vatican II has been a great disaster for the Roman Catholic Church from which, it has been predicted, it may never recover, and one no longer hears of a move to “canonize” Pope John XXIII.

8 [4]Despite absence of historical evidence, there was plenty of good cause for councils between the Apostolic period and the middle of the second century. Heretical gnosticism seriously threatened the unity of the Church, a threat well appreciated by such writers as St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Hippolytus of Rome, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. According to the anonymous author of a document called Praedestinatus, which Hefele discounts as of doubtful validity, three councils did take place between 125 and 160 A.D. against gnostic sects. In homilies attributed to St. Clement of Rome (ca. 96 A.D.) we read of the Christian duty to assemble frequently, even hourly: “Before all else, . . . come together frequently, if it were every hour, especially on the appointed days of meeting. For if you do this you are within the wall of safety. For disorderliness is the beginning of perdition. Let no one therefore forsake the assembly on the grounds of envy toward a brother. For if any one of you forsake the assembly, he shall be regarded as of those who scatter the Church of Christ, and shall be cast out with the adulterers” (ANF 8:251). Furthermore, early Christians were not as isolated from each other as one might suppose. Communication techniques in the first century were quite remarkable, even by modern standards. Imperial mail moved messages from Corinth to Puteoli in Italy in five days. A letter from Rome could reach Alexandria in three days under favorable weather conditions.

9 [5]Homoousios was adopted as expressing neither more nor less than this, that the Son of God was God’s true Son, and Himself strictly and properly God, “literally in and of the essence,” and not outside that essence, i.e., not a creature.

10[6]As late as 404, for example, St. John Chrysostom was pronounced deposed by a majority of the Council of Constantinople which met in that year, a council whose authority he challenged because it was an Arian one (Hefele II, 438–9).

11[7]S. Hil. ad Const.ii.5; Pusey, 116. St. Athanasius confirms this observation: “Every year, as if they were going to draw up a contract, they meet together and pretend to write about the faith, whereby they expose themselves the more to ridicule and disgrace, because their expositions are rejected, not by others, but by themselves” (Letter to Eg. Lib., p. 6; Hist. Tr., p. 131; O.T., cited by Pusey, 117).

12   “They dissent from each other, and, whereas they have revolted from their Fathers, are not of one and the same mind, but float about with various and discordant changes. And as quarreling with the Council of Nicaea, they have held many councils themselves and have published a faith in each of them, and have stood to nine; may, they will never do otherwise; for perversely seeking, they will never find a wisdom which they hate” (Compunc. Arim. & Seleuc. 14, p. 92, 3; O.T., cited by Pusey, 24), Ibid.

13[8]Subordinationism is the theory, which endeavors to preserve the personal distinction between the Father and the Son by subordinating in glory and in dignity Him Who is begotten (the Son) to Him Who is unbegotten (the Father), thus making the Son like one of the creatures.

14[9]In his own day, some held Eusebius of Caesarea to be completely Orthodox. Others considered him an Arian, and this dispute about him has persisted to the present. His true position may have been to seek a middle way between Arianism and Orthodoxy. His suspicions concerning the heretical leanings of Eustathius and St. Athanasius were shared by the Eusebians.

15[10]Bishop of Antioch who had played a distinguished role at Nicaea. Eustathius had broken off all communion with the Arians and had combated the Arianizing views of Eusebius (Pamphili) of Caesarea as well as every deviation from the strict definition of the homoousios.