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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

Arianism and the Council of Nicaea


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Page 4

Reality did not fulfill Constantine's hopes. The Council of Nicaea, by its condemnation of Arianism, not only failed to put an end to Arian disputes, but caused many new similar movements and complications. In the attitude of Constantine himself there came to be a marked change in favor of the Arians. A few years after the council, Arius and his most fervent followers were recalled from exile. But Arius restoration was prevented by his sudden death. Their place in exile was taken by the leaders who supported the Nicene Creed. And while the Nicene creed was never officially repealed and condemned, it was purposely forgotten and partly replaced by other formulas.  

It is very difficult to explain the origin of the strong opposition to the Nicene Council and the cause of the change in Constantine's attitude. Perhaps among the many varied explanations, such as court influences, intimate family relations, and the like, attention should be called to this view: When Constantine first attempted to solve the Arian problem he was not acquainted with the religious situation in the East, where the prevailing sentiment was in favor of Arianism; the Emperor was educated in the West and influenced by his western leaders, such as Hosius, bishop of Cordova, and so he decided in favor of the Nicene Creed. This was in harmony with his views at the time but was not suitable to conditions in the East. When later Constantine realized that the Nicene decisions were contrary to the spirit of the church majority and conflicted with the desires of the masses in the East he assumed a more favorable attitude toward Arianism. During the last years of Constantine's reign Arianism penetrated even to the court and became every year more firmly established in the eastern part of the Empire. Many of the partisans of the Nicene Creed were deprived of their sees and sent into exile. The history of Arian predominance during that period is still not sufficiently clear because of the unsatisfactory condition of the sources.  

Constantine remained a pagan until the last year of his life. Only on his death bed was he baptized by Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, an Arian; but A. Spassky remarked that he died while directing that Athanasius, the famous opponent of Arius, be recalled. Constantine made his sons Christian

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