Alexandros

The Council of Nikaia, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus. My photo.

Re-post from 2008.

Alexandros (the one nearest Konstantinos in the left-hand cluster) had presented his case before the gathering of overseers, explaining why Arios’ answer to his question was not acceptable. It had been long years since that fateful moment when the repercussions of Arios’ thoughts had come forth.

It all came out at the regular gathering of Alexandros and his elders. Alexandros took his role as overseer seriously. He knew that in earlier days the overseer would have been able to meet with the faithful individually. Now, though, the numbers of believers were too great, and that was the job of the elders under Alexandros’ charge. Nonetheless, he had had hands laid on him, and it was his threefold appointment to guide that flock, to uphold right teaching and theology, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.[1] The elders did the last two things on a regular basis with most people for him. The Lord’s Supper was the normative occasion for worship, and at worship would the elders teach the people.

Thus, it was the responsibility of Alexandros to ensure that those into whose hands he had placed the spiritual health of his flock were teaching them the truth of the Anointed Jesus. It was also, he believed, part of the task of the overseer to pray with the elders and encourage them on their own spiritual journey. Alexandros took his spiritual authority and responsibility very seriously, for these were the matters of the greatest importance, never to be taken lightly.

And so they had gathered those long years before. After they had eaten the Lord’s Supper together, they sat down in a circle in the nave of the new basilica-style house of worship, serving the original congregation that Holy Markos had founded when he brought the Good News to Aigyptos. All eyes were upon Alexandros as he looked down at them.

“We believe in one God, and Jesus is the Word of that God, my brothers. As Holy Iohannes tells us, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him, all things were made; nothing that has been made was made without Him.’[2] Many who read the book of Proverbs see in the person of Wisdom this same Word of God. If this is the case, how can it be that Wisdom says, ‘The Lord created me a beginning of his ways, for his works’?”[3]

Konstantinos had told Alexandros in a letter that this was where he went wrong; that asking such questions was itself impious — and Arios had been wrong to answer. They ought, Konstantinos had told them, simply to make peace with one another.[4] Konstantinos was a politician and a warrior, just barely redeemed from darkest superstition and still minting coins with the Unconquered Sun on them.[5] He did not realise the deep import of these questions as the theologians pondered God and meditated on His great glory. Furthermore, the Assembly’s beliefs rested upon Scripture. Coming to an understanding of difficult passages of Scripture helped believers remain strong in the faith; if one could not trust the Scriptures, one could very well turn back to the worship of the Unconquered Sun.[6]

Furthermore, the young elder Arios was present; Arios had formerly been mixed up with Meletios,[7] and some Meletians who had an axe to grind had told Alexandros that Arios was teaching some unusual things regarding Jesus’ divinity.[8] Alexandros wanted to be sure his preachers would preach the faith handed down; he wanted to be sure that the rumours about Arios were untrue. Arios had a reputation for being a good preacher and expounder of the Scriptures at the Baukalis,[9] the house of God where he tended the flock.

Then Arios opened his mouth and formed words about the Word. He was determined at any cost to keep Jesus the Word subordinate to the Father and to do it all in a combination of Neo-Platonism and Aristotelian divisions. The accusations of the Meletians were true.

“The verse from Proverbs means that there was when he was not, Father. The Word is the Wisdom of God, and this passage clearly states that the Wisdom of God is a created being. This makes sense, for as Origen taught, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit each have a separate hypostasis.[10] If they each have a separate hypostasis, then they are distinct beings. If they are distinct beings, then only one of them can be God. God the Father is that one God, and He will never share his glory with another, as it says in Isaiah. The Word and the Spirit are, thus, creations; they are like God the Father’s hands, active in the creation and preservation of the universe. But they are not God Himself.”

“If they are not God himself, why does Holy Iohannes say that the Word is God?” the blessed servant Athanasios[11] had asked.

“This is a good question. Holy Iohannes is being rhetorical here, my brothers. He is not being literal. The Word is given the word God as a title only; he is not literally God. Being a creature, he is capable of change, as are we all, but of his own free will He continues good so long as he wishes. He is capable of change even as we are, but God, foreknowing that he would remain good, gave him in anticipation the glory which as man and in consequence of his virtue he afterward possessed. God from foreknowledge of his works made him become what he afterward was.”[12]

“Could not all three of them be, um, different manifestations of God?” asked one young elder.

Many eyebrows had risen at that. Alexandros shook his head slowly.

“No,” said another, “for they are mentioned as being distinct persons by Jesus Himself in the Good News according Holy Matthaios when He tells us to plunge people into water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.[13] Therefore, since they all have distinct names, they are not simply manifestations of the one God. They are, as Arios noted, three hypostases.”

“Exactly,” said Arios. “And a difference of name means that there is a difference of substance. An apple is not a tree, is it? The Father is, thus, not the Son. If the distinction between apple and tree were false, we could give them both the same name. But if we call Father and Son by different names, they are not the same thing. And if they are not the same thing, and if the Father is God, then the Son cannot be said to be God in the same way. I do not deny that he is a divine being, but his divinity is not inherent to his being; his divinity comes from the Father and is only partial. He is not truly God in his substance and essence.”[14]

“You would dare say that the Anointed Jesus, the Word, the Son of God, whom the Scriptures themselves call God, is not eternal with the Father?” Alexandros had asked. He could say nothing more. He could not argue. He could only stare in shock at this man.

“Yes,” answered Arios. “As I said at the beginning, there was when he was not. The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. As he dwelt among us, subordinating his will — as, indeed, his own being was so subordinated — to the Father’s, he improved, he resisted temptation. This divine Word came to mediate to us the grace of God the Father, for creation itself, so weak, fallen, feeble, sinful, cannot endure direct relationship with God Himself.”[15]

“Well, we see that you do not believe that Jesus is fully God,” said Athanasios. “Now it sounds that as some semi-divine being enfleshed he is not fully human.”

“This is true,” said Arios, sitting tall.

“If He is not fully God, He cannot redeem us or save us,” said Athanasios. “If He is not fully human, He cannot live a perfect human life and serve as a ransom for many; He cannot offer us a model to live by. His perfection is useless if He is not fully man. His sacrifice is empty if He is not fully God. What you offer us cannot conquer sin. It cannot conquer death. All it can do is feebly tackle philosophers’ questions. The true Anointed One, however, can tackle the philosophers’ questions with might and strength, as well as standing astride sin and death. We eat the flesh of the real man, Jesus. We drink the blood of the real God, Jesus. He is alive, and He is eternal with the Father, true God of true God. I shall not quote the Scriptures to you, impious preacher. You have read them; you know them. Reread them and meditate upon them!”

Once Arios’ teaching became public, it spread beyond Alexandreia. Two years before Nikaia they had excommunicated him and condemned his teachings in Alexandreia. The next year, Antiokheia did likewise, also condemning Eusebios of Kaisereia as a follower of Arios pernicious teachings. And now they were at Nikaia to bring down Arios’ teachings once and for all.

Alexandros was drawn from his reverie by Alexandros of Byzantion, next to whom he was sitting.

“Alexandros,” he whispered, “what is your vote?”

“About what?” he asked, looking about at the assembled crowd.

“Do you agree that an overseer should be chosen by all the overseers of his province, with a minimum of three present if they cannot all make it, but the consent of the others being sent in by letter?”

“What?”

“The statement we’re voting on is: It is by all means proper that an overseer should be appointed by all the overseers in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent overseers also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place. But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan.”[16]

“Sure. Yeah. Otherwise we’d have Donatos or Meletios all over again or something, wouldn’t we? There are rogue overseers in Aigyptos, men consecrated by Meletios.”

“Then raise your hand,” the overseer of Byzantion said, gesturing at his own raised hand. “Did you think I was just blessing everyone with this upraised arm?”

Alexandros chuckled and raised his hand to show his assent.


[1] Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London, Peguin: 1963), p. 253.

[2] John 1:1-3.

[3] Proverbs 8:22.

[4] Eusebius, Life of Constantine. Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall trans. and commentary. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 118.

[5] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London, Penguin: 1967), pp. 126-127.

[6] Chadwick notes that a bishop of Troy had done just that but fails to mention which one, p. 127. Emperor Julian the Apostate would do so as well.

[7] Meletius of Lycopolis was a schismatic in the early fourth century who was ordaining people in Alexandria against the current bishop’s wishes. His actions were dealt with at Nicaea as well. (For more, see the Catholic Encyclopedia)

[8] Hubertus Drobner, The Fathers of the Church, trans. Siegfried S. Schatzmann (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), p. 237. W. H. C. Frend, The Early Church (Peabody, Mass.: Fortress Press, 1982), p. 136.

[9] Drobner wonders if Arius’ church got its name due to its shape, a baukalis being ‘a sturdy earthenware vessel with a narrow bottleneck’, p. 236.

[10] You try to find a good English word for hypostasis. Drobner, 236.

[11] The chances of St. Athanasius being at the event in question are very slim; if he was there at all, his participation in it would also be slim.

[12] From the words “is capable‚Ķ” onwards, quoting Athanasius quoting Arius as recorded by W. H. C. Frend, The Early Church, pp.135-136.

[13] Matthew 28:19.

[14] This development of Arius’ logic is from Gerald Bray, Creeds, Councils and Christ, (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), p. 107.

[15] Frend, 135.

[16] Canon IV of the Council of Nicaea.

Makarios

The Council of Nikaia, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus. My photo.

Re-post from 2008.

Makarios (the first on the left) stood in the midst of the gathering. He was one of the notables in the theological disputes. He and Eustathios of Antiokheia had been comparing the baptismal formulae of their cities, trying to come up with a statement to which the overseers could agree and put a stop to Arios’ destructive preaching.

However, this was a day to deal with other business. They were all in ready agreement with the condemnation of Origen’s self-mutilating solution to the problem of lust; such men as who purposefully made themselves eunuchs were by no means allowed to become or remain shepherds of Jesus’ flock. Nonetheless, those who were made so by a physician, due to illness, or by the cruelty of barbarians, ought surely to be admitted into holy orders if they so desire? There was assent all around to this.

Makarios stood up. “At the urging of various dear friends,” he began, “the following was brought to the revered Konstantinos, and thence, I, too, had private audience with his greatness. As many know, the dignity of the city I oversee, Aelia Capitolina, has much suffered in the past centuries. Thirty years after our Lord’s ascent on high, Titus and his men sacked and spoliated the city. And forty years further, the soldiers of Roma, when the people rebelled once more, destroyed it, until not one stone was left upon another, save one retaining wall, which once held the glorious Temple. But I am here, brothers, to say to you that the dignity of Mount Zion, of the city of Jerusalem, is to be restored!” He noted his arch-overseer, Eusebios of Kaisereia, sigh.

“Is it not shameful, dear friends,” he continued, “that the city within which our Lord and Saviour, the Anointed Jesus, walked is devoid of any prestige and dignity at all? This was the city in former days, in times of old, where God Himself chose to dwell. Glorious things of you are spoken, Zion city of our God! calls out the psalmist. He made it His holy habitation, where the prophets proclaimed His word to the people. In this city, the words of the Holy Scriptures were put down for generations to come. He was worshipped in Jerusalem, sacrificed to, praised in song and dance.

“From the days of King David, Jerusalem was the chief city of God’s chosen people, of the descendants of Father Abraham, the people to whom His divine Light was given, to whom He disclosed His revelation. And from the line of King David himself, overseers, came our Lord. He visited Jerusalem, walked in Jerusalem, preached in Jerusalem, died in Jerusalem. In a garden near Jerusalem, Jesus, the High King of Heaven come down, was betrayed by the kiss of a friend. In a cold sepulchre, they laid the body, the lifeless corpse of the One who was life itself.

“Yet by that death, as we all know, He trampled upon death, and slew it with the lightning flash of His Godhead!” Makarios paused, knowing he had used the much-disputed word. “And in Jerusalem, He rose from the dead. Fifty days later, our Lord the Spirit descended in Jerusalem. The apostles were sent forth from Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Stephanos, whose blood is beautiful and calls out to the Lord for justice, was the first witness to die for the cause of the Good News. In Jerusalem, as well, Jacobos was beheaded. In Jerusalem, the very first gathering of overseers, of the apostles themselves, was assembled to deal with a divisive issue. And thus, in Jerusalem, as now here in Nikaia, the true Faith was upheld and the unity of the Assembly was maintained.

“Yet — oh sorrow — this city, the place where God Himself walked, where His incarnate foot trod upon the soil, rock, and grass, where His Blood was poured out for us men and for our salvation, is not honoured, but is only a minor city. The great sites of our faith, brothers, have been sorely neglected. Yet I tell you we know where the upper room of our Lord’s last supper is. We know where his holy sepulchre is. For generations, His disciples have walked the way from Gabbatha to Golgotha, sowing tears for their sins which led their Lord there. And we have suffered in Jerusalem as in all cities. And we have died, and our blood has run in the streets of Aelia Capitolina as did His.

“Let us, therefore, reclaim this place where the glory of Lord was shown forth so perfectly unto us! Let us restore the dignity where the fullness of His revelation was made known! Let us, in honour of that His precious death and glorious resurrection, give this city of Aelia Capitolina, that is, Jerusalem, a dignity and honour becoming so important a place to our abiding faith.”

Makarios stood silent. There was perhaps, by the dripping of the water clock, a pause of three seconds. And then Eustathios stood and noted his approval of the plan. Nikolaos of Myra also seemed pleased. He saw a fellow in a hat resembling a beehive nodding his agreement. And was that Metrophanes of Byzantion applauding in the corner? No, Makarios must have been seeing things. Most important of all, Konstantinos sat smiling, resplendent.

“But,” he noted, “we must remember the dignity and honour and history of Kaisareia, the city under whose administration Aelia falls. This council has noted how to uphold respect for those assembled, and Kaisareia is the administrative centre of the province. Whatever this holy gathering decides regarding Aelia, we must not forget the dignity of Eusebios and his city.”

Makarios then sat down. Not that he felt Eusebios had that much dignity, with his tendencies towards Arios’ teachings. He just knew that being irenic rather than polemic was the course of prudence, especially when one is taking dignity from someone else.

Little did innocent Makarios realise what the results of his impassioned speech and audience with the revered Konstantinos would be — pilgrims and basilicas, gold and glory, monks and holy places; a visit from Lady Helena, resulting in the discovery of the Cross itself! His head would have swum at Nikaia had he even thought of it. But he did not; he thought only of the importance of Aelia and its role in the history of salvation.

* * *

Canon VII of the Council of Nicaea, the result of Makarios’ action, viewable on the CCEL: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.vii.vi.viii.html

The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Macarius”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09482a.htm

Eusebius of Caesarea. Life of Constantine. Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall, translators and commentators. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. pp. 132, 282.

Waugh, Evelyn. Helena. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2005. An excellent novel about the life of Helena, Constantine’s mother. The chapter “The Innocence of Bishop Macarius” was the inspiration for this telling of the tale.