over 1600 years ago is repeating itself today, but with two or
three differences: Alexandria is the whole Universal Church, the
stability of which is being shaken, and what was undertaken at
that time by means of physical force and cruelty is now being
transferred to a different level. Exile is replaced by banishment
into the silence of being ignored; killing, by assassination of
Rudolf Graber, Bishop of Regensburg,
Athanasius and the Church of Our Times, p. 23.
of this appendix is not to explain the nature of the Arian heresy
but to prove that a bishop who is faithful to tradition could be
repudiated, calumniated, persecuted, and even excommunicated by
almost the entire episcopate, the Pope included. Obviously, this
would be an abnormal situation. A Catholic can normally presume
that the majority of bishops in union with the Pope will teach sound
doctrine; he would be imprudent not to conform his belief and behavior
to their teaching. But this is not always the case as the present
situation of the Church demonstrates. There is hardly a diocese
in the English-speaking world where the bishop insures that Catholic
children are taught sound doctrine, where Catholic moral and doctrinal
teaching are not contradicted with impunity from the pulpit, where
liturgical abuses which sometimes amount to sacrilege remain unrebuked.
Writing of the time of St. Athanasius, St. Jerome made his celebrated
remark: "Ingemit totus orbis et arianum se esse miratus
est" - "The whole world groaned and was amazed to
finds itself Arian." The Catholic world in the West today finds
itself in a state of accelerating disintegration but for the most
part does not groan and certainly does not seem amazed. Indeed,
most of the bishops repeat ad nauseum that things have never
been better, that we are living in the most flourishing period of
the Church's history. A bishop like the late Mgr. R. J. Dwyer, of
Portland, Oregon, who had the courage to speak out and describe
the situation in the Church as it really is was looked upon as an
eccentric, as a crank, as a trouble-maker. The International Commission
for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) received fulsome praise from the
bishops of the U. S. A. for the liturgical translations now inflicted
upon English-speaking Catholics. Archbishop Dwyer spoke of:
puerile, semi-literate English translation which has been foisted
upon us by the ICEL - the International Commission for English
in the Liturgy - a body of men possessed of all the worst characteristics
of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, which has done an immeasurable
disservice to the entire English-speaking world. The work has
been marked by an almost complete lack of literary sense, a crass
insensitivity to the poetry of language, and even worse by a
most unscholarly freedom in the rendering of the texts, amounting
at times, to actual misrepresentation.1
These are strong
words. Archbishop Dwyer stood almost alone in denouncing ICEL -
but did this make him wrong? It is the truth that matters. Are his
criticisms correct or not? If they are then it would not have mattered
if every other English-speaking bishop had denounced him. As Appendix
II will show, Robert Grosseteste, a thirteenth-century Bishop of
Lincoln, was as solitary as Archbishop Dwyer when he made his protest
at the iniquitous practice of Pope Innocent IV appointing relations
to benefices which they would not so much as visit, simply to provide
them with a source of income. The other bishops tolerated the practice,
just as most bishops today tolerate unorthodox catechetics and ICEL
- but this did not make Bishop Grosseteste wrong.
In his celebrated
Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Cardinal
had admitted that Our Lord was both the God of the Evangelical
Covenant, and the actual Creator of the Universe; but even this
was not enough, because it did not confess Him to be the One,
Everlasting, Infinite, Supreme Being, but as one who was made
by the Supreme. It was not enough in accordance with that heresy
to proclaim Him as having an ineffable origin before all worlds;
not enough to place Him high above all creatures as the type of
all the works of God's Hands; not enough to make Him the King
of all Saints, the Intercessor for man with God, the Object of
worship, the Image of the Father; not enough because it was not
all, and between all and anything short of all, there was an infinite
interval. The highest of creatures is levelled with the lowest
in comparison of the One Creator Himself.2
of Nicea (325) defined that the Son is consubstantial (homoousion)
with the Father. This meant that, while distinct as a person, the
Son shared the same divine and eternal nature with the Father. If
the Father was eternal by nature, then the Son must also be eternal.
If the Father was eternal and the Son was not then clearly the Son
was not equal with the Father. The term homoousion thus became
the touchstone of orthodoxy. In her standard history of heresies,
M. L. Cozens writes:
word could be found to express the essential union between the
Father and the Son, for every other word the Arians accepted,
but in an equivocal sense. They would deny that the Son was a
creature as other creatures - or in the number of creatures -
or made in time, for they considered him a special creation made
before time. They would call Him "Only-begotten," meaning
"Only directly created" Son of God.3
They would call Him "Lord Creator," "First-born
of all creation"; they even accepted "God of God"
meaning thereby "made God by God." This word (homoousion)
alone they could not say without renouncing their heresy.4
of Nicea had been convoked by the Emperor Constantine, who insisted
upon acceptance of its definitions. Arius was excommunicated. But
a good number of bishops signed the Creed only as an act of submission
to the Emperor, including Eusebius of Caesarea, and Eusebius of
Nicomedia. They were, according to Cozens:
Men of worldly
character, they disliked dogmatic precision and wished for some
comprehensive formula which men of all opinions could sign while
understanding it in widely diverging senses. To these men the
precise and exact faith of an Athanasius and the obstinate heresy
of Arius and his plain-spoken followers were equally distasteful.
tolerant, broadminded" would be their ideal of religion.
They therefore brought forward, instead of the too definite, ineradicable
homoousion - of one substance - the vaguer term homoiousion,
i. e., of like substance. They sent letters far and wide
couched in seemingly orthodox and fervent language, proclaiming
their belief in Our Lord's divinity, ascribing to Him every divine
prerogative, anathematizing all who said He was created in time:5
in short, saying all the most orthodox could ask, except that
they substituted their own homoiousion for the homoousion
It is possible
to interpret the term "of like substance" in an orthodox
sense, i. e. exactly like, identical. But it can also be interpreted
as meaning like in some respects but not in others, i. e.,
as not identical. A candle is like a star in that it generates
heat and light, but it most certainly is not a star.
But a comparison
between a candle and a star could be taken as an example of almost
perfect precision of language when set beside a comparison between
a being that is created (even before time began) and a being that
A mood soon
grew up among many of the bishops and the faithful that too much
fuss was being made about the distinction between homoousion
and homoiousion. They considered that more harm than good
was done by tearing apart the unity of the Church over a single
letter, over an iota (the Greek letter "i"). They
condemned those who did this, to quote Cozens again, as:
precisians, more anxious about terminology than about fraternal
these latter, foremost among them Athanasius, at first deacon
and disciple of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and afterwards
his successor, refused to modify in any way their attitude. Steadfastly
they refused to accept any statement not containing the homoousion
or to communicate with those who rejected it.7
and his supporters were right. That one letter, that iota,
spelled the difference between Christianity as the faith
founded and guided by God incarnate, and a faith founded
by just another creature. Indeed, if Christ is not God, it would
be blasphemous to call ourselves Christians.
Athanasius: Defender of the Nicene Faith
Encyclopedia is far from exaggerating when it describes the
life of St. Athanasius as a "bewildering maze of events."
It would not be practical here to outline even the principal incidents
of his truly amazing career, the various councils which declared
for and against him, his excommunications, his expulsions from and
restorations to his see, his relations with a formidable list of
emperors, with his brother-bishops, with the Roman Pontiffs. It
can also be added that in some cases the dates affixed to events
in his life are only approximate. Those given here may not correspond
with those found in other studies.
was born around the year 296 and died in 373. He became Bishop of
Alexandria within five months of the Council of Nicea, at the age
of about thirty.
the Council Fathers dispersed when intrigues to restore the fortunes
of Arius began. Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia, was able to gain
favor with the Emperor chiefly through the influence which he exerted
upon Constantia, sister of Constantine. He eventually prevailed
upon the Emperor to recall Arius from exile. Constantine was induced
to write to Athanasius ordering him to admit Arius to communion
in his own see of Alexandria. He wrote:
informed of my pleasure, give free admission to all who are desirous
of entering into communion with the Church. For if I learn of
your standing in the way of any who were seeking it, or interdicting
them, I will send at once those who shall depose you instead,
by my authority, and banish you from your see.8
intrigues, Athanasius was eventually banished to Gaul, and Arius
returned to Alexandria but fled in the face of the wrath of the
populace. He eventually arrived in Constantinople where he was struck
dead in so dramatic a manner that no one doubted that, as Athanasius
remarked, "there was displayed somewhat more than human judgment."9
Constantine died in 337 and the Empire was shared among his three
sons. The fortunes of Athanasius are more bewildering than ever
during this period. The See of Peter was occupied by Pope St. Julius
I from 337 to 352. Pope Julius consistently and courageously upheld
the cause of Athanasius and the faith of Nicea. In 350 the entire
Empire was united under Constantius following the murder of his
brother Constans (another brother having vanished from the scene
soon after the death of Constantine). Constantius was an Arian.
Fall of Pope Liberius
On 17 May 352,
Liberius was consecrated as Pope. He immediately found himself involved
in the Arian dispute.
to Constantius to do justice to Athanasius. The imperial reply
was to summon the bishops of Gaul to a council at Arles in 353-354,
where, under threat of exile, they agreed to a condemnation of
Athanasius. Even Liberius' legate yielded. When the Pope continued
to press for a council more widely representative, it was assembled
by Constantius at Milan in 355. It was threatened by a violent
mob and the Emperor's personal intimidation: "My will,"
he exclaimed, "is canon law." He prevailed with all
save three of the bishops. Athanasius was once more condemned
and Arians admitted to communion. Once more papal legates surrendered
and Liberius himself was ordered to sign. When he refused to do
so, or even to accept the Emperor's offerings, he was seized and
carried off to the imperial presence; when he stood firm for Athanasius'
rehabilitation, he was exiled to Thrace (355) where he remained
for two years. Meanwhile, a Roman deacon, Felix, was intruded
into his see. The people refused to recognize the imperial anti-pope.
Athanasius himself was driven into hiding and his flock abandoned
to the persecution of an Arianizing intruder. When he visited
Rome in 357, Constantius was besieged by clamorous demands for
Liberius' restoration. Subservient bishops around the court at
Sirmium subscribed in turn to doctrinal formulas more or less
ambiguous or unorthodox. In 358, a formula drawn up by Basil of
Ancyra, declaring that the Son was of like substance with the
Father, homoiousion, was officially imposed.10
to the anti-pope Felix made it imperative for Constantius to restore
Liberius to his see. But it was equally imperative that the Pope
should condemn Athanasius. The Emperor used a combination of threats
and flattery to attain his objective. Then followed the tragic fall
of Liberius. It is described in the sternest of terms in Butler's
Lives of the Saints:
time Liberius began to sink under the hardships of his exile,
and his resolution was shaken by the continual solicitations of
Demophilus, the Arian Bishop of Beroea, and of Fortunatian, the
temporizing Bishop of Aquileia. He was so far softened, by listening
to flatteries and suggestions to which he ought to have stopped
his ears with horror, that he yielded to the snare laid for him,
to the great scandal of the Church. He subscribed to the condemnation
of St. Athanasius and a confession or creed which had been framed
by the Arians at Sirmium, though their heresy was not expressed
in it; and he wrote to the Arian bishops of the East that he had
received the true Catholic faith which many bishops had approved
at Sirmium. The fall of so great a prelate and so illustrious
a confessor is a terrifying example of human weakness, which no
one can call to mind without trembling for himself. St. Peter
fell by a presumptuous confidence in his own strength and resolution,
that we may learn that everyone stands only by humility.11
A Catholic Dictionary of Theology (1971), "This unjust
excommunication [of St. Athanasius] was a moral and not a doctrinal
Signing one of the "creeds" of Sirmium was far more serious
(there is some dispute as to which one Liberius signed, probably
the first). The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), describes
it as "a document reprehensible from the point of view of the
Some Catholic apologists have attempted to prove that Liberius neither
confirmed the excommunication of Athanasius nor subscribed to one
of the formulae of Sirmium. But Cardinal Newman has no doubt that
the fall of Liberius is an historical fact.14
This is also the case with the two modern works of reference just
cited and the celebrated Catholic Dictionary, edited by Addis
and Arnold. The last named points out that there is "a fourfold
cord of evidence not easily broken," i. e., the testimonies
of St. Athanasius, St. Hilary, Sozomen, and St. Jerome. It also
notes that "all the accounts are at once independent of and
consistent with each other."15
Catholic Encyclopedia concludes that:
points to the fact that he [Liberius] accepted the first formula
of Sirmium of 351...it failed gravely in deliberately avoiding
the use of the most characteristic expression of the Nicene faith
and in particular the homoousion. Thus while it cannot
be said that Liberius taught false doctrine, it seems necessary
to admit that, through weakness and fear, he did not do justice
to the full truth.16
It is quite
nonsensical for Protestant polemicists to cite the case of Liberius
as an argument against papal infallibility. The excommunication
of Athanasius (or of anyone else) is not an act involving infallibility,
and the formula he signed contained nothing directly heretical.
Nor was it an ex cathedra pronouncement intended to bind
the whole Church, and, if it had been, the fact that Liberius acted
under duress would have rendered it null and void.
the pressure to which he was submitted, Liberius' fall reveals a
weakness of character when compared with those such as Athanasius,
who did remain firm. Cardinal Newman comments:
which followed, scandalous as it is in itself, may yet be taken
to illustrate the silent firmness of those others of his fellow-sufferers,
of whom we hear less, because they bore themselves more consistently.17
This is a judgment
with which the New Catholic Encyclopedia concurs:
Upheld by the Laity
did not have the strength of character of his predecessor Julius
I, or of his successor Damasus I. The troubles that erupted upon
the latter's election indicate that the Roman Church had been
weakened from within as well as from without during the pontificate
of Liberius. His name was not inscribed in the Roman Martyrology.18
The fall of
Pope Liberius needs to be considered within the context of a failure
by the vast majority of the episcopate to be faithful to its commission;
only then can the full extent of the heroism of St. Athanasius be
appreciated (together with a few other heroic bishops such as St.
Hilary, who supported him faithfully). Cardinal Newman cites numerous
Patristic testimonies to the abysmal state of the Church at that
time. In Appendix V to the third edition of his Arians of the
Fourth Century, we read:
A. D. 360.
St. Gregory Nazianzen says, about this date: "Surely the
pastors have done foolishly; for, excepting a very few, who either
on account of their insignificance were passed over, or who by
reason of their virtue resisted, and who were to be left as a
seed and root for the springing up again and revival of Israel
by the influence of the Spirit, all temporized, only differing
from each other in this, that some succumbed earlier, and others
later; some were foremost champions and leaders in the impiety,
and others joined the second rank of the battle, being overcome
by fear, or by interest, or by flattery, or, what was the most
excusable, by their own ignorance." (Orat. xxi. 24).
St. Basil says, about the year 372: "Religious people keep
silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things
are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid
the places of worship as schools of impiety, and raise their hands
in solitude, with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven."
Ep. 92. Four years after he writes: "Matters have come
to this pass: the people have left their houses of prayer, and
assemble in deserts, - a pitiable sight; women and children, old
men, and men otherwise infirm, wretchedly faring in the open air,
amid most profuse rains and snow-storms and winds and frosts of
winter; and again in summer under a scorching sun. To this they
submit, because they will have no part in the wicked Arian leaven."
Ep. 242. Again: "Only one offense is now vigorously
punished, - an accurate observance of our fathers' traditions.
For this cause the pious are driven from their countries, and
transported into deserts." Ep. 243.
In this same
appendix, the Cardinal also included an extract from an article
he had written for the Rambler magazine in July 1859.19
The article dealt with the manner in which, during the Arian crisis,
divine tradition had been upheld by the faithful more than by the
episcopate. Three phrases in this article had been misinterpreted
when first published, and Newman now took the opportunity of clarifying
them in the appendix. The gist of these clarifications will be provided
in footnotes. Here is Newman's assessment of the manner in which
the laity, the Taught Church (Ecclesia docta), upheld the
traditional faith rather than what is known today as the Magisterium
or the Teaching Church (Ecclesia docens) - that is, the bishops
united to the Roman Pontiff:
It is not
a little remarkable, that, though historically speaking, the fourth
century is the age of doctors, illustrated, as it is, by the Saints
Athanasius, Hilary, the two Gregories, Basil, Chrysostom, Ambrose,
Jerome, and Augustine (and all those saints [were] bishops also,
except one), nevertheless in that very day the Divine tradition
committed to the infallible Church was proclaimed and maintained
far more by the faithful than by the episcopate.
course, I must explain: - in saying this then, undoubtedly I am
not denying that the great body of the Bishops were in their internal
belief orthodox; nor that there were numbers of clergy who stood
by the laity and acted as their centres and guides; nor that the
laity actually received the faith in the first instance from the
Bishops and clergy: nor that some portions of the laity were ignorant
and other portions were at length corrupted by the Arian teachers,
who got possession of the sees, and ordained an heretical clergy:
- but I mean still, that in that time of immense confusion the
divine dogma of Our Lord's divinity was proclaimed, enforced,
maintained, and (humanly speaking) preserved, far more by the
Ecclesia docta than by the Ecclesia docens ; that
the body of the Episcopate20
was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity
was faithful to its baptism; that at one time the Pope, at other
times a patriarchal, metropolitan, or other great sees, at other
times general councils21
said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and
compromised revealed truth; while, on the other hand, it was the
Christian people, who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical
strength of Athanasius, Eusebius of Vercellae, and other great
solitary confessors, who would have failed without them....
On the one
hand, then, I say, that there was a temporary suspense of the
functions of the Ecclesia docens.22
The body of bishops failed in their confession of the faith.
True Voice of Tradition
are the lessons we can learn from the fall of Liberius, the triumph
of Arianism, the witness of Athanasius, and the fortitude of the
body of the faithful? Newman provides us with the answers, recognizing
that what has happened once can happen again. In his July 1859 Rambler
article, he wrote:
I see, then,
in the Arian history, a palmary example of a state of the Church,
during which, in order to know the tradition of the Apostles,
we must have recourse to the faithful; for I fairly own, that
if I go to writers, since I must adjust the letter of Justin,
Clement, and Hippolytus with the Nicene Doctors, I get confused:
and what revives me and reinstates me, as far as history goes,
is the faith of the people. For I argue that, unless they had
been catechized, as St. Hilary says, in the orthodox faith from
the time of their baptism, they never could have had that horror,
which they show, of the heterodox Arian doctrine. Their voice,
then, is the voice of tradition....
It is also
historically and doctrinally true, as Newman stressed in Appendix
V to The Arians of the Fourth Century, "that a Pope,
as a private doctor, and much more Bishops, when not teaching formally,
may err, as we find they did err in the fourth century. Pope Liberius
might sign a Eusebian formula at Sirmium, and the mass of Bishops
at Ariminum or elsewhere, and yet they might in spite of this error,
be infallible in their ex cathedra decisions."
the history of this period proves is that, during a time of general
apostasy, Christians who remain faithful to their traditional faith
may have to worship outside the official churches, the churches
of priests in communion with their lawfully appointed diocesan bishop,
in order not to compromise that traditional faith; and that such
Christians may have to look for truly Catholic teaching, leadership,
and inspiration not to the bishops of their country as a body, not
to the bishops of the world, not even to the Roman Pontiff, but
to one heroic confessor whom the other bishops and the Roman Pontiff
might have repudiated or even excommunicated. And how would they
recognize that this solitary confessor was right and the Roman Pontiff
and the body of the episcopate (not teaching infallibly) were wrong?
The answer is that they would recognize in the teaching of this
confessor what the faithful of the fourth century recognized in
the teaching of Athanasius: the one true faith into which they had
been baptized, in which they had been catechized, and which their
confirmation gave them the obligation of upholding. In no sense
whatsoever can such fidelity to tradition be compared with the Protestant
practice of private judgment. The fourth-century Catholic traditionalists
upheld Athanasius in his defense of the faith that had been handed
down; the Protestant uses his private judgment to justify a breach
with the traditional faith.
The truth of
doctrinal teaching must be judged by its conformity to Tradition
and not by the number or authority of those propagating it. Falsehood
cannot become truth, no matter how many accept it. Writing in 371,
St. Basil lamented the fact that:
long ago disseminated by that enemy of truth, Arius, grew to a
shameless height and like a bitter root it is bearing its pernicious
fruit and already gaining the upper hand since the standard-bearers
of the true doctrine have been driven form the churches by defamation
and insult and the authority they were vested with has been handed
over to such as captivate the hearts of the simple in mind.23
But there will
never be a time when the faithful who wholeheartedly wish to remain
true to the Faith of their Fathers need have any doubt as to what
the faith is. In the year 340 St. Athanasius wrote a letter to his
brother bishops throughout the world, exhorting them to rise up
and defend the faith against those he did not hesitate to stigmatize
as "the evil-doers." What he wrote to them will apply
until the end of time when God the Son comes again in glory to judge
the living and the dead:
has not just recently been given order and statutes. They were
faithfully and soundly bestowed on it by the Fathers. Nor has
the faith only just been established, but it has come to us from
the Lord through His disciples. May what has been preserved in
the Churches from the beginning to the present day not be abandoned
in our time; may what has been entrusted into our keeping not
be embezzled by us. Brethren, as custodians of God’s mysteries,
let yourselves be roused into action on seeing all this despoiled
is available in an expanded version as a separate pamphlet published
by The Remnant. It is available from The Angelus
Press. Some of the works referred to in the notes have been
abbreviated as follows:
H. Newman, Arians of the Fourth Century (London, 1876).
CD W. Addis and T. Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary (London,
CDT J. H. Crehan, ed., A Catholic Dictionary of Theology
CE The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1913).
HH M. L. Cozens, A Handbook of Heresies (London, 1960),
available from The Angelus Press.
NCE New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1967).
PG Migne, Patrologia Graeca.
National Catholic Register, 2 March 1975.
The Development of Christian Doctrine (London, 1878), p.
Arius taught that Christ was the only being directly created by
God and that having been created, He then created the rest of the
universe on behalf of the Father. The rest of creation is, therefore,
created directly by the Son and only indirectly by the Father.
HH, p. 34.
Arius taught that Christ was created before time began.
HH, pp. 35-36
AFC, p. 267.
AFC, p. 270.
E. John, ed., The Popes (London, 1964), p. 70.
A. Butler, The Lives of the Saints (London, 1934), II, p.
CDT, III, 110, col. 2.
NCE, VIII, 715, col. 1.
AFC, p. 464.
CD, p. 522, col. 2.
NCE, VIII, 715, col. 2.
AFC, pp. 319-320.
NCE, VIII, 716, col. 2
The Rambler, Vol. I, new series, Part II, July 1859, pp.
198-230. This article had been written to refute criticisms of an
unsigned article he had contributed to the May 1859 issue of The
Rambler, of which he was editor.
Where Newman uses the term "body" he means "the great
preponderance," the majority.
Newman is not referring to any of the recognized Ecumenical ("from
the whole world") Councils of the Church, of which there were
none in the period he is describing. He is referring to gatherings
of bishops large enough to come under the classification of the
Latin word generalia.
Newman explains that by "a temporary suspense of the functions
of the Ecclesia docens" he means "that there was
no authoritative utterance of the Church’s infallible voice in matters
of fact between the Nicene Council, A. D. 325, and the Council of
Constantinople, A. D. 381."
"Des heiligen Kirchenlehrers Basilius des Grossen ausgewählte
in Bibliothek der Kirchenväter (Kosel-Pustet, Munich,
1924), I, 121.
PG XXVII, col. 219.
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