LETTERS, BOOK 2 (In Chronological
Edited By Rev. Daniel R. Jennings
(323 or 324AD) Letter of Constantine
to Alexander the Bishop and Arius the Presbyter.
Synopsis: Expresses his desire for peace, his hope that they might have helped him in the Donatist troubles, his distress at finding that they, too, were in a broil, his opinion that the matters under discussion are of little moment, and what he thinks they are. He exhorts to unanimity, repeats his opinion that the matters are of little moment, mentions his “copious and constant tears,” and finally gets through.
VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
to Alexander and Arius. "I call that God to witness, as well I may, who
is the helper of my endeavors, and the Preserver of all men, that I had
a twofold reason for undertaking that duty which I have now performed.
"MY design then was, first, to bring the diverse judgments formed by all
nations respecting the Deity to a condition, as it were, of settled uniformity;
and, secondly, to restore to health the system of the world, then suffering
under the malignant power of a grievous distemper. Keeping these objects
in view, I sought to accomplish the one by the secret eye of thought, while
the other I tried to rectify by the power of military authority. For I
was aware that, if I should succeed in establishing, according to my hopes,
a common harmony of sentiment among all the servants of God, the general
course of affairs would also experience a change correspondent to the pious
desires of them all. "Finding, then, that the whole of Africa was pervaded
by an intolerable spirit of mad folly, through the influence of those who
with heedless frivolity had presumed to rend the religion of the people
into diverse sects; I was anxious to check this disorder, and could discover
no other remedy equal to the occasion, except in sending some of yourselves
to aid in restoring mutual harmony among the disputants, after I had removed
that common enemy of mankind who had interposed his lawless sentence for
the prohibition of your holy synods. "For since the power of Divine light,
and the law of sacred worship, which, proceeding in the first instance,
through the favor of God, from the bosom, as it were, of the East, have
illumined the world, by their sacred radiance,I naturally believed that
you would be the first to promote the salvation of other nations, and resolved
with all energy of thought and diligence of enquiry to seek your aid. As
soon, therefore, as I had secured my decisive victory and unquestionable
triumph over my enemies, my first enquiry was concerning that object which
I felt to be of paramount interest and importance. "BUT, O glorious Providence
of God! how deep a wound did not my ears only, but my very heart receive
in the report that divisions existed among yourselves more grievous still
than those which continued in that country! so that you, through whose
aid I had hoped to procure a remedy for the errors of others, are in a
state which needs healing even more than theirs. And yet, having made a
careful enquiry into the origin and foundation of these differences, I
find the cause to be of a truly insignificant character, and quite unworthy
of such fierce contention. Feeling myself, therefore, compelled to address
you in this letter, and to appeal at the same time to your unanimity and
sagacity, I call on Divine Providence to assist me in the task, while I
interrupt your dissension in the character of a minister of peace. And
with reason: for if I might expect, with the help of a higher Power, to
be able without difficulty, by a judicious appeal to the pious feelings
of those who heard me, to recall them to a better spirit, even though the
occasion of the disagreement were a greater one, how can I refrain from
promising myself a far easier and more speedy adjustment of this difference,
when the cause which hinders general harmony of sentiment is intrinsically
trifling and of little moment? "I UNDERSTAND, then, that the origin of
the present controversy is this. When you, Alexander, demanded of the presbyters
what opinion they severally maintained respecting a certain passage in
the Divine law, or rather, I should say, that you asked them something
connected with an unprofitable question, then you, Arius, inconsiderately
insisted on what ought never to have been conceived at all, or if conceived,
should have been buried in profound silence. Hence it was that a dissension
arose between you, fellowship was withdrawn, and the holy people, rent
into diverse parties, no longer preserved the unity of the one body. Now,
therefore, do ye both exhibit an equal degree of forbearance, and receive
the advice which your fellow- servant righteously gives. What then is this
advice? It was wrong in the first instance to propose such questions as
these, or to reply to them when propounded. For those points of discussion
which are enjoined by the authority of no law, but rather suggested by
the contentious spirit which is fostered by misused leisure, even though
they may be intended merely as an intellectual exercise, ought certainly
to be confined to the region of our own thoughts, and not hastily produced
in the popular assemblies, nor unadvisedly intrusted to the general ear.
For how very few are there able either accurately to comprehend, or adequately
to explain subjects so sublime and abstruse in their nature? Or, granting
that one were fully competent for this, how many people will he convince?
Or, who, again, in dealing with questions of such subtle nicety as these,
can secure himself against a dangerous declension from the truth? It is
incumbent therefore on us in these cases to be sparing of our words, lest,
in case we ourselves are unable, through the feebleness of our natural
faculties, to give a clear explanation of the subject before us, or, on
the other hand, in case the slowness of our hearers' understandings disables
them from arriving at an accurate apprehension of what we say, from one
or other of these causes the people be reduced to the alternative either
of blasphemy or schism. "LET therefore both the unguarded question and
the inconsiderate answer receive your mutual forgiveness. For the cause
of your difference has not been any of the leading doctrines or precepts
of the Divine law, nor has any new heresy respecting the worship of God
arisen among you. You are in truth of one and the same judgment: you may
therefore well join in communion and fellowship. "For as long as you continue
to contend about these small and very insignificant questions, it is not
fitting that so large a portion of God's people should be under the direction
of your judgment, since you are thus divided between yourselves. I believe
it indeed to be not merely unbecoming, but positively evil, that such should
be the case. But I will refresh your minds by a little illustration, as
follows. You know that philosophers, though they all adhere to one system,
are yet frequently at issue on certain points, and differ, perhaps, in
their degree of knowledge: yet they are recalled to harmony of sentiment
by the uniting power of their common doctrines. If this be true, is it
not far more reasonable that you, who are the ministers of the Supreme
God, should be of one mind respecting the profession of the same religion?
But let us still more thoughtfully and with closer attention examine what
I have said, and see whether it be right that, on the ground of some trifling
and foolish verbal difference between ourselves, brethren should assume
towards each other the attitude of enemies, and the august meeting of the
Synod be rent by profane disunion, because of you who wrangle together
on points so trivial and altogether unessential? This is vulgar, and rather
characteristic of childish ignorance, than consistent I with the wisdom
of priests and men of sense. Let us withdraw ourselves with a good will
from these temptations of the devil. Our great God and common Saviour of
all has granted the same light to us all. Permit me, who am his servant,
to bring my task to a successful issue, under the direction of his Providence,
that I may be enabled, through my exhortations, and diligence, and earnest
admonition, to recall his people to communion and fellowship. For since
you have, as I said, but one faith, and one sentiment respecting our religion,
and since the Divine commandment in all its parts enjoins on us all the
duty of maintaining a spirit of concord, let not the circumstance which
has led to a slight difference between you, since it does not affect the
validity of the whole, cause any division or schism among you. And this
I say without in any way desiring to force you to entire unity of judgment
in regard to this truly idle question, whatever its real nature may be.
For the dignity of your synod may be preserved, and the communion of your
whole body maintained unbroken, however wide a difference may exist among
you as to unimportant matters. For we are not all of us like-minded on
every subject, nor is there such a thing as one disposition and judgment
common to all alike. As far, then, as regards the Divine Providence, let
there be one faith, and one understanding among you, one united judgment
in reference to God. But as to your subtle disputations on questions of
little or no significance, though you may be unable to harmonize in sentiment,
such differences should be consigned to the secret custody of your own
minds and thoughts. And now, let the preciousness of common affection,
let faith in the truth, let the honor due to God and to the observance
of his law continue immovably among you. Resume, then, your mutual feelings
of friendship, love, and regard: restore to the people their wonted embracings;
and do ye yourselves, having purified your souls, as it were, once more
acknowledge one another. For it often happens that when a reconciliation
is effected by the removal of the causes of enmity, friendship becomes
even sweeter than it was before. "RESTORE me then my quiet days, and untroubled
nights, that the joy of undimmed light, the delight of a tranquil life,
may henceforth be my portion. Else must I needs mourn, with constant tears,
nor shall I be able to pass the residue of my days in peace. For while
the people of God, whose fellow-servant I am, are thus divided amongst
themselves by an unreasonable and pernicious spirit of contention, how
is it possible that I shall be able to maintain tranquillity of mind? And
I will give you a proof how great my sorrow has been on this behalf. Not
long since I had visited Nicomedia, and intended forthwith to proceed from
that city to the East. It was while I was hastening towards you, and had
already accomplished the greater part of the distance, that the news of
this matter reversed my plan, that I might not be compelled to see with
my own eyes that which I felt myself scarcely able even to hear. Open then
for me henceforward by your unity of judgment that road to the regions
of the East which your dissensions have closed against me, and permit me
speedily to see yourselves and all other peoples rejoicing together, and
render due acknowledgment to God in the language of praise and thanksgiving
for the restoration of general concord and liberty to all.
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 2:64–72, Gelasius of Cyzicus, 2:4, Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:7)
(324–5AD) Letter to Porphyrius
Synopsis: This letter to Porphyrius or Optatian was on the occasion of the sending of a poem by the latter for his vicennalia. It expresses his pleasure and his disposition to encourage the cultivation of belles lettres.
NEEDED (Preserved in Migne, Patrol. Lat. 19  393–394 and in various editions of Optatian)
(325AD) Letter of Constantine
the King, summoning the bishops to Nicaea.
Synopsis: This is translated from a Syriac ms. in the British Museum, written in 501. Gives as reason for the choice of Nicæa the convenience for the European bishops and “the excellent temperature of the air.” This, if genuine, is the letter mentioned by Eusebius in his Life of Constantine but it looks suspicious.
"That there is nothing more honourable
in my sight than the fear of God, I believe is manifest to every man. Now,
because the Synod of Bishops at Ancyra, of Galatia, consented at first
that it should be, it now seems on many accounts that it would be well
for a Synod to assemble at Nicea, a city of Bithynia, both because the
Bishops of Italy and the rest of the countries of Europe are coming, and
also because of the excellent temperature of the air, and also because
I shall be present as a spectator and participator of what is done. Wherefore
I signify to you, my beloved brethren, that I earnestly wish all of yon
to assemble at this city which is named, that is at Nicea. Let every one
of you therefore, considering that which is best, as I before said, be
diligent without any delay speedily to come, that he may be present in
his own person as a spectator of what is done. God keep you, my beloved
(From B. H. Cowper’s, Syriac Miscellanies, The Council Of Nicea. Extracts From The Codex Syriacus 38 In The Imperial Library At Paris, p.249)
(325AD) Letter of Constantine
to the churches after the Council of Nicæa.
Synopsis: Dwells on the harmonious result, especially respecting the Easter controversy, and commends to the bishops to observe what the Council has decreed.
CONSTANTINUS AUGUSTUS, to the Churches.
"Having had full proof, in the general prosperity of the empire, how great the favor of God has been towards us, I have judged that it ought to be the first object of my endeavors, that unity of faith, sincerity of love, and community of feeling in regard to the worship of Almighty God, might be preserved among the highly favored multitude who compose the Catholic Church. And, inasmuch as this object could not be effectually and certainly secured, unless all, or at least the greater number of the bishops were to meet together, and a discussion of all particulars relating to oar most holy religion to take place; for this reason as numerous an assembly as possible has been convened, at which I myself was present, as one among yourselves (and far be it from me to deny that which is my greatest joy, that I am your fellow-servant), and every question received due and full examination, until that judgment which God, who sees all things, could approve, and which tended to unity and concord, was brought to light, so that no room was left for further discussion or controversy in relation to the faith. "AT this meeting the question concerning the most holy day of Easter was discussed, and it was resolved by the united judgment of all present, that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day. For what can be more becoming or honorable to us than that this feast from which we date our hopes of immortality, should be observed unfailingly by all alike, according to one ascertained order and arrangement? And first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages, by a truer order, which we have preserved from the very day of the passion until the present time. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. A course at once legitimate and honorable lies open to our most holy religion. Beloved brethren, let us with one consent adopt this course, and withdraw ourselves from all participation in their baseness.For their boast is absurd indeed, that it is not in our power without instruction from them to observe these things. For how should they be capable of forming a sound judgment, who, since their parricidal guilt in slaying their Lord, have been subject to the direction, not of reason, but of ungoverned passion, and are swayed by every impulse of the mad spirit that is in them? Hence it is that on this point as well as others they have no perception of the truth, so that, being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Easter twice in the same year. Why then should we follow those who are confessedly in grievous error? Surely we shall never consent to keep this feast a second time in the same year. But supposing these reasons were not of sufficient weight, still it would be incumbent on your Sagacities to strive and pray continually that the purity of your souls may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the customs of these most wicked men. We must consider, too, that a discordant judgment in a case of such importance, and respecting such religious festival, is wrong. For our Saviour has left us one feast in commemoration of the day of our deliverance, I mean the day of his most holy passion; and he has willed that his Catholic Church should be one, the members of which, however scattered in many and diverse places, are yet cherished by one pervading spirit, that is, by the will of God. And let your Holinesses' sagacity reflect how grievous and scandalous it is that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting, others in festive enjoyment; and again, that after the days of Easter some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fasts. It is, then, plainly the will of Divine Providence (as I suppose you all clearly see), that this usage should receive fitting correction, and be reduced to one uniform rule. "Since, therefore, it was needful that this matter should be rectified, so that we might have nothing in common with that nation of parricides who slew their Lord: and since that arrangement is consistent with propriety which is observed by all the churches of the western, southern, and northern parts of the world, and by some of the eastern also: for these reasons all are unanimous on this present occasion in thinking it worthy of adoption. And I myself have undertaken that this decision should meet with the approval of your Sagacities, in the hope that your Wisdoms will gladly admit that practice which is observed at once in the city of Rome, and in Africa; throughout Italy, and in Egypt, in Spain, the Gauls, Britain, Libya, and the whole of Greece; in the dioceses of Asia and Pontus, and in Cilicia, with entire unity of judgment. And you will consider not only that the number of churches is far greater in the regions I have enumerated than in any other, but also that it is most fitting that all should unite in desiring that which sound reason appears to demand, and in avoiding all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews. In fine, that I may express my meaning in as few words as possible, it has been determined by the common judgment of all, that the most holy feast of Easter should be kept on one and the same day. For on the one hand a discrepancy of opinion on so sacred a question is unbecoming, and on the other it is surely best to act on a decision which is free from strange folly and error. "RECEIVE, then, with all willingness this truly Divine injunction, and regard it as in truth the gift of God. For whatever is determined in the holy assemblies of the bishops is to be regarded as indicative of the Divine will. As soon, therefore, as you have communicated these proceedings to all our beloved brethren, you are bound from that time forward to adopt for yourselves, and to enjoin on others the arrangement above mentioned, and the due observance of this most sacred day; that whenever I come into the presence of your love, which I have long desired, I may have it in my power to celebrate the holy feast with you on the same day, and may rejoice with you on all accounts, when I behold the cruel power of Satan removed by Divine aid through the agency of our endeavors, while your faith, and peace, and concord everywhere flourish. God preserve you, beloved brethren.
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea's Life of Constantine 3:17–20 and Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:9)
(325AD) Letter of Constantine
to the church of Alexandria.
Synopsis: Expresses great horror of the blasphemy of Arius, and admiration for the wisdom of the more than three hundred bishops who condemned him.
Constantine Augustus, to the Catholic
church of the Alexandrians. Beloved brethren, hail! We have received from
Divine Providence the inestimable blessing of being relieved from all error,
and united in the acknowledgment of one and the same faith. The devil will
no longer have any power against us, since all that which he had malignantly
devised for our destruction has been entirely overthrown from the foundations.
The splendor of truth has dissipated at the command of God those dissensions,
schisms, tumults and so to speak, deadly poisons of discord. Wherefore
we all worship one true God, and believe that he is. But in order that
this might be done, by divine admonition I assembled at the city of Nicaea
most of the bishops; with whom I myself also, who am but one of you, and
who rejoice exceedingly in being your fellow-servant, undertook the investigation
of the truth. Accordingly, all points which seemed in consequence of ambiguity
to furnish any pretext for dissension, have been discussed and accurately
examined. And may the Divine Majesty pardon the fearful enormity of the
blasphemies which some were shamelessly uttering concerning the mighty
Saviour, our life and hope; declaring and confessing that they believe
things contrary to the divinely inspired Scriptures. While more than three
hundred bishops remarkable for their moderation and intellectual keenness,
were unanimous in their confirmation of one and the same faith, which according
to the truth and legitimate construction of the law of God can only be
the faith; Arius alone beguiled by the subtlety of the devil was discovered
to be the sole disseminator of this mischief, first among you, and afterward
with unhallowed purposes among others also. Let us therefore embrace that
doctrine which the Almighty has presented to us: let us return to our beloved
brethren from whom an irreverent servant of the devil has separated us:
let us go with all speed to the common body and our own natural members.
For this is becoming your penetration, faith and sanctity; that since the
error has been proved to be due to him who is an enemy to the truth, ye
should return to the divine favor. For that which has commended itself
to the judgment of three hundred bishops cannot be other than the doctrine
of God; seeing that the Holy Spirit dwelling in the minds of so many dignified
persons has effectually enlightened them respecting the Divine will. Wherefore
let no one vacillate or linger, but let all with alacrity return to the
undoubted path of duty; that when I shall arrive among you, which will
be as soon as possible, I may with you return due thanks to God, the inspector
of all things, for having revealed the pure faith, and restored to you
that love for which ye have prayed. May God protect you, beloved brethren.
(Preserved in Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:9)
(325AD) Letter of Constantine
to Arius and the Arians.
Synopsis: A long and rather railing address against Arius.
NEEDED (Contained in Conc. 2:269)
(325AD) Letter of Constantine
to the churches.
Synopsis: Against Arius and the Porphyrians, and threatens that any one who conceals a work of Arius shall be punished with death.
Constantine the King to the Bishops
and nations everywhere. Inasmuch as Arius imitates the evil and the wicked,
it is right that, like them, he should be rebuked and rejected. As therefore
Porphyry, who was an enemy of the fear of God, and wrote wicked and unlawful
writings against the religion of Christians, found the reward which befitted
him, that he might be a reproach to all generations after, because he fully
and insatiably used base fame; so that on this account his writings were
righteously destroyed; thus also now it seems good that Arius and the holders
of his opinion should all be called Porphyrians, that he may be named by
the name of those whose evil ways he imitates: And not only this, but also
that all the writings of Arius, wherever they be found, shall be delivered
to be burned with fire, in order that not only his wicked and evil doctrine
may be destroyed, but also that the memory of himself and of his doctrine
may be blotted out, that there may not by any means remain to him remembrance
in the world. Now this also I ordain, that if any one shall be found secreting
any writing composed by Arius, and shall not forthwith deliver up and burn
it with fire, his punishment shall be death; for as soon as he is caught
in this he shall suffer capital punishment by beheading without delay.
(Preserved in Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:9. A translation of a Syriac translation of this, written in 501, is in B. H. Cowper’s, Syriac Miscellanies, Extracts From The Syriac Ms. No. 14528 In The British Museum, Lond. 1861, p. 6– 7)
(325AD) Letter of Constantine
to the Nicomedians against Eusebius and Theognis.
Synopsis: A theological discussion partly of the relation of Father and Son, and an attack on Eusebius of Nicomedia.
NEEDED (In Gelasius of Cyzicus 3:2, Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History 1:20 and Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History 1: 21)
(325AD) Letter to Theodotus.
Synopsis: Counsels him to take warning by what has happened to Eusebius (of Nicomedia) and Theognis, i.e. banishment, and to get rid of such evil influence, if any, as they may have had on him.
NEEDED (In Gelasius of Cyzicus 3:3)
(325AD) Letter of Constantine
Synopsis: Directs the erection of a peculiarly magnificent church at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
VICTOR CONSTANTIUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
"Such is our Saviour's grace, that no power of language seems adequate to describe the wondrous circumstance to which I am about to refer. For, that the monument of his most holy Passion, so long ago buried beneath the ground, should have remained unknown for so long a series of years, until its reappearance to his servants now set free through the removal of him who was the common enemy of all, is a fact which truly surpasses all admiration. For if all who are accounted wise throughout the world were to unite in their endeavors to say somewhat worthy of this event, they would be unable to attain their object in the smallest degree. Indeed, the nature of this miracle as far transcends the capacity of human reason as heavenly things are superior to human affairs. For this cause it is ever my first, and indeed my only object, that, as the authority of the truth is evincing itself daily by fresh wonders, so our souls may all become more zealous, with all sobriety and earnest unanimity, for the honor of the Divine law. I desire, therefore, especially, that you should be persuaded of that which I suppose is evident to all beside, namely, that I have no greater care than how I may best adorn with a splendid structure that sacred spot, which, under Divine direction, I have disencumbered as it were of the heavy weight of foul idol worship; a spot which has been accounted holy from the beginning in God's judgment, but which now appears holier still, since it has brought to light a clear assurance of our Saviour's passion. "IT will be well, therefore, for your sagacity to make such arrangements and provision of all things needful for the work, that not only the church itself as a whole may surpass all others whatsoever in beauty, but that the details of the building may be of such a kind that the fairest structures in any city of the empire may be excelled by this. And with respect to the erection and decoration of the walls, this is to inform you that our friend Dracilianus, the deputy of the Praetorian Praefects, and the governor of the province, have received a charge from us. For our pious directions to them are to the effect that artificers and laborers, and whatever they shall understand from your sagacity to be needful for the advancement of the work, shall forthwith be furnished by their care. And as to the columns and marbles, whatever you shall judge, after actual inspection of the plan, to be especially precious and serviceable, be diligent to send information to us in writing, in order that whatever quantity or sort of materials we shall esteem from your letter to be needful, may be procured from every quarter, as required, for it is fitting that the most marvelous place in the world should be worthily decorated. "WITH respect to the ceiling of the church, I wish to know from you whether in your judgment it should be panel-ceiled, or finished with any other kind of workmanship. If the panel ceiling be adopted, it may also be ornamented with gold. For the rest, your Holiness will give information as early as possible to the before-mentioned magistrates how many laborers and artificers, and what expenditure of money is required. You will also be careful to send us a report without delay, not only respecting the marbles and columns, but the paneled ceiling also, should this appear to you to be the most beautiful form. God preserve you, beloved brother!"
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 3:30-33 and Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History 1:16)