LETTERS, BOOK 3 (In Chronological
Edited By Rev. Daniel R. Jennings
(330AD) Letter of Constantine
to the Numidian Bishops.
Synopsis: Concerns a church taken possession of by schismatists.
Constantine the supreme Victor and
always triumphant Emperor, to Zenuzius, Gallicus, Victorinus, Sperantius,
Januarius, Felix, Crescentius, Pontius, Victor, Babbertius, Donatus, Bishops.
Since this is certainly the Will of the Supreme God, who is the Author of this world and its Father, (through whose goodness we enjoy life, look up to heaven, and rejoice in the society of our fellow-men), that the whole human race should agree together and be joined in a certain affectionate union by, as it were, a mutual embrace, it is not doubtful that heresies and schism have come from the devil, who is the head of wickedness. Therefore, there is no room to doubt that whatever heretics do, is done through his prompting who has taken possession of their senses, minds and thoughts. For, when he has reduced men of this character beneath his power, he rules them in every sort of fashion. And what good thing can be done by a man who is insane, unbelieving, irreligious, profane, opposed to God, an enemy of the Holy Church, who (departing from God, the Holy, the True, the Just, the Supreme, and the Lord of all, from Him who has given us life and preserved us in this world----having bestowed upon us breath for the life which we enjoy, and willed us to have, that which is His own ----and has made all things perfect by His Will) runs on the downward path to the side of the devil? But, inasmuch as the soul which has once been possessed by the Evil One----for it must needs do the works of its teacher----does those things which are opposed to equity and justice, it follows that they who have been possessed by the devil yield themselves to his falsehood and wickedness. Moreover, it is not to be wondered at that the wicked depart from the good, for thus has it been rightly laid down in the proverb, 'Like flock with like together. It must needs be that those who have been stained with the evil of an impious mind should depart from our fellowship. For, as Scripture says, the wicked man brings forth wicked things from a wicked treasure, but the good man brings forth good from good. But since (as we have said) heretics and schismatics, who, deserting good and following after evil, do the things that are displeasing to God, are proved to cling to the devil, who is their father, most rightly and wisely has your Gravity acted in accordance with the holy precepts of the Faith, by abstaining from contending with their perversity, and giving them the use of that which they claim for themselves, though they have no right to it, and it does not belong to them, lest----so great is their wicked and shameless perversity----they might even break out into tumults, and stir up men like themselves at their crowded meetings, and thus a state of sedition might be produced, which could not be allayed. For their criminal purpose always requires them to do the works of the devil. Therefore, since the Bishops of God overcome them, together with their father himself, by patience, let those who are the worshippers of the Supreme God obtain glory for themselves, but these others condemnation and condign punishments. In fact, may the Judgement of the Supreme God become the more imposing and appear the more just from this, that He bears with them in calmness, and His patience condemns all the deeds which have come from them, enduring them for a while, for God indeed has declared that He is the Avenger of all. So when vengeance is reserved to God, the enemy is punished the more severely. And I have now been informed that you, the servants of God, have done this willingly, and I have rejoiced that you demand no punishment upon the impious and wicked, the sacrilegious and profane, the perfidious and irreligious, upon those who displease God and are the enemies of the Church, but rather ask that they should be pardoned. This is to know God truly and thoroughly, this is to walk in the way of His Commandments, this is to believe with happiness, this is to think with truth, this is to understand that when the enemies of the Church are spared in this world, the greater punishment is laid up against them for hereafter. I have learnt by the receipt of the letter of your Wisdom and Dignity, that the heretics or schismatics, with their accustomed wickedness, determined to seize the basilicas belonging to the Catholic Church, which I had ordered to be built in the City of Constantine, and that, though they had been often warned, both by us and by our judges at our command, to give up what was not theirs, they have refused to do so, but that you, imitating the Patience of the most high God, with a calm mind relinquish to their wickedness what is yours, and ask instead for another site for yourselves in exchange, namely the Custom House. This petition of yours I gladly welcomed, according to my custom, and straightway sent a suitable letter to the accountant, commanding him to see that our Custom House should be passed over, with all its rights, to the ownership of the Catholic Church. I have given you this with ready liberality, and have ordered it to be at once delivered to you. I have also commanded a basilica to be built on that spot at the Imperial expense, and have directed letters to be written to the Consular of Numidia, telling him to be of assistance to your Holiness in all things which concern the building of this Church. I have also decreed, in accordance with my Statute law, that the lectors and subdeacons of the Catholic Church, and any others who, by the command of the above-mentioned, have been summoned in consequence of their fitness, to public offices, or to the decurionship, should be free from all public obligations; also we have provided that those who at the instigation of heretics had been summoned, should forthwith be set free from disagreeable duties.For the rest I have also ordered that the law which I have made concerning Catholic ecclesiastics be observed. All these things have been written out at length, as this letter testifies, in order that they may be made known to your patience. And indeed, oh that the heretics or schismatics would at length provide for their own salvation, and that, having wiped away the darkness from their eyes, they would open them to the vision of true light, and that they would depart from the devil, and, however late, would flee to God, who is One and True, and the Judge of all mankind. But, since it is clear that they are remaining in their malice, and wish to die in their crimes, our warning and former careful exhortation is enough for them. For if they had been willing to obey our commands, they would have been freed from all evil. Let us, however, my Brothers, follow after the things that are ours, let us walk in the way of the Commandments, let us by good actions keep the Divine Precepts, let us free our life from errors and with the help of the mercy of God, let us direct it along the right path.
Given on February 5 at Sardica.
(Preserved in Optatus of Milevis’ Against The Donatists)
(332AD) Letter of Constantine
to the Antiochians.
Synopsis: Exhorts them not to persist in their effort to call Eusebius from Caesarea to Antioch.
VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
to the people of Antioch.
"How pleasing to the wise and intelligent portion of mankind is the concord which exists among you! And I myself, brethren, am disposed to love you with an enduring affection, inspired both by religion, and by your own manner of life and zeal on my behalf. It is by the exercise of right understanding and sound discretion, that we are enabled really to enjoy our blessings. And what can become you so well as I this discretion? No wonder, then, if I affirm that your maintenance of the truth has tended rather to promote your security than to draw on you the hatred of others. Indeed, amongst brethren, whom the selfsame disposition to walk in the ways of truth and righteousness promises, through the favor of God, to register among his pure and holy family, what can be more honorable than gladly to acquiesce in the prosperity of all men? Especially since the precepts of the divine law prescribe a better direction to your proposed intention, and we ourselves desire that your judgment should be confirmed by proper sanction. It may be that you are surprised, and at a loss to understand the meaning of this introduction to my present address. The cause of it I will not hesitate to explain without reserve. I confess, then, that on reading your records I perceived, by the highly eulogistic testimony which they bear to Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, whom I have myself long well known and esteemed for his learning and moderation, that you are strongly attached to him, and desire to appropriate him as your own. What thoughts, then, do you suppose that I entertain on this subject, desirous as I am to seek for and act on the strict principles of right? What anxiety do you imagine this desire of yours has caused me? O holy faith, who givest us in our Saviour's words and precepts a model, as it were, of what our life should be, how hardly wouldst thou thyself resist the sins of men, were it not that thou refusest to subserve the purposes of gain! In my own judgment, he whose first object is the maintenance of peace, seems to be superior to Victory herself; and where a right and honorable course lies open to one's choice, surely no one would hesitate to adopt it. I ask then, brethren, why do we so decide as to inflict an injury on others by our choice? Why do we covet those objects which will destroy the credit of our own reputation? I myself highly esteem the individual whom ye judge worthy of your respect and affection: notwithstanding, it cannot be right that those principles should be entirely disregarded which should be authoritative and binding on all alike, so that each should not be content with his own circumstances, and all enjoy their proper privileges: nor can it be right, in considering the claims of rival candidates, to suppose but that not one only, but many, may appear worthy of comparison with this person. For as long as no violence or harshness are suffered to disturb the dignities of the church, they continue to be on an equal footing, and worthy of the same consideration everywhere. Nor is it reasonable that an inquiry into the qualifications of this one should be made to the detriment of others; since the judgment of all churches, whether reckoned of greater or less importance in themselves, is equally capable of receiving and maintaining the divine ordinances, so that one is in no way inferior to another, if we will but boldly declare the truth, in regard to that standard of practice which is common to all. If this be so, we must say that you will be chargeable, not with retaining this prelate, but with wrongfully removing him; your conduct will be characterized rather by violence than justice; and whatever may be generally thought by others, I dare clearly and boldly affirm that this measure will furnish ground of accusation against you, and will provoke factious disturbances of the most mischievous kind: for even timid flocks can show the use and power of their teeth, when the watchful care of their shepherd declines, and they find themselves bereft of his accustomed guidance. If this then be really so, if I am not deceived in my judgment, let this, brethren, be your first consideration, for many and important considerations will immediately present themselves, whether, should you persist in your intention, that mutual kindly feeling and affection which should subsist among you will suffer no diminution? In the next place, remember that he, who came among you for the purpose of offering disinterested counsel, now enjoys the reward which is due to him in the judgment of heaven; for he has received no ordinary recompense in the high testimony you have borne to his equitable conduct. Lastly, in accordance with your usual sound judgment, do ye exhibit a becoming diligence in selecting the person of whom you stand in need, carefully avoiding all factious and tumultuous clamor; for such clamor is always wrong, and from the collision of discordant elements both sparks and flame will arise. I protest, as I desire to please God and you, and to enjoy a happiness commensurate with your kind wishes, that I love you, and the quiet haven of your gentleness, now that you have cast from you that which defiled, and received in its place at once sound morality and concord, firmly planting in the vessel the sacred standard, and guided, as one may say, by a helm of iron in your course onward to the light of heaven. Receive then on board that merchandise which is incorruptible, since, as it were, all bilge water has been drained from the vessel; and be careful henceforth so to secure the enjoyment of all your present blessing, that you may not seem at any future time either to have determined any measure on the impulse of inconsiderate or ill-directed zeal, or in the first instance rashly to have entered on an inexpedient course. May God preserve you, beloved brethren!" (Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 3:60)
(332AD) Letter of Constantine
to the Synod of Tyre, Part 1.
Synopsis: Concerns the removal of Eusebius from Caesarea.
Constantine to the Bishops of Antioch
VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS, to Theodotus, Theodorus, Narcissus, Atius, Alpheus, and the rest of the bishops who are at Antioch.
"I have perused the letters written by your Prudences, and highly approve of the wise resolution of your colleague in the ministry, Eusebius. Having, moreover, been informed of the circumstances of the case, partly by your letters, partly by those of our illustrious counts, Acacius and Strategius, after sufficient investigation I have written to the people of Antioch, suggesting the course which will be at once pleasing to God and advantageous for the Church. A copy of this I have ordered to be subjoined to this present letter, in order that ye yourselves may know what I thought fit, as an advocate of the cause of justice, to write to that people: since I find in your letter this proposal, that, in consonance with the choice of the people, sanctioned by your own desire, Eusebius the holy bishop of Caesarea should preside over and take the charge of the church at Antioch. Now the letters of Eusebius himself on this subject appeared to be strictly accordant with the order prescribed by the Church. Nevertheless it is expedient that your Prudences should be made acquainted with my opinion also. For I am informed that Euphronius the presbyter, who is a citizen of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and George of Arethusa, likewise a presbyter, and appointed to that office by Alexander at Alexandria, are men of tried faith. It was right, therefore, to intimate to your Prudences, that in proposing these men and any others whom you may deem worthy the Episcopal dignity, you should decide this question in a manner conformable to the tradition of the apostles. For in that case, your Prudences will be able, according to the rule of the Church and apostolic tradition, to direct this election in the manner which true ecclesiastical discipline shall prescribe. God preserve you, beloved brethren!"
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 3:62 and Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History 1:27)
(332AD) Letter of Constantine
to the Synod of Tyre, Part 2
Synopsis: Subjoined to the letter concerning Eusebius of Caesarea being moved to Antioch.
"CONSTANTINUS AUGUSTUS to the holy
council assembled in Tyre.
"In the general prosperity which distinguishes the present time, it seems right that the Catholic Church should likewise be exempt from trouble, and that the servants of Christ should be freed from every reproach. "But certain individuals instigated by the mad desire of contention, not to say leading a life unworthy of their profession, are endeavoring to throw all into disorder. This appears to me to be the greatest of all possible calamities. I beseech you, therefore, in post haste, as the phrase goes, to assemble together, without any delay, in formal synod; so that you may support those who require your assistance. heal the brethren who are in danger, restore unanimity to the divided members, and rectify the disorders of the Church while time permits; and thus restore to those great provinces the harmony which, alas! the arrogance of a few men has destroyed. I believe every one would admit that you could not perform anything so pleasing in the sight of God, so surpassing all my prayers as well as your own, or so conducive to your own reputation, as to restore peace. "Do not ye therefore delay, but when you have come together with all that sincerity and fidelity which our Saviour demands of alI His servants, almost in words that we can hear, endeavour with redoubled eagerness to put a fitting end to these dissensions. "Nothing shall be omitted on my part to further the interests of our religion. I have done all that you recommended in your letters. I have sent to those bishops whom you specified, directing them to repair to the council for the purpose of deliberating with you upon ecclesiastical matters. I have also sent Dionysius , a man of consular rank, to counsel those who are to sit in synod with you, and to be himself an eye witness of your proceedings, and particularly of the order and regularity that is maintained. If any one should dare on the present occasion also to disobey our command, and refuse to come to the council, which, however, I do not anticipate, an officer will be dispatched immediately to send him into banishment by imperial order, that he may learn not to oppose the decrees enacted by the emperor for the support of truth. "All that now devolves upon your holinesses is to decide with unanimous judgment, without partiality or prejudice, in accordance with the ecclesiastical and apostolical rule, and to devise suitable remedies for the offences which may have resulted from error; in order that the Church may be freed from all reproach, that my anxiety may be diminished, that peace may be restored to those now at variance, and that your renown may be increased. May God preserve you, beloved brethren."
(Preserved in Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History 1:27)
(332AD) Second Letter of Constantine
Synopis: Commends Eusebius for having declined the call to Antioch.
VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
"I have most carefully perused your letter, and perceive that you have strictly conformed to the rule enjoined by the discipline of the Church. Now to abide by that which appears at the same time pleasing to God, and accordant with apostolical tradition, is a proof of true piety. You have reason to deem yourself happy on this behalf, that you are counted worthy, in the judgment, I may say, of all the world, to have the oversight of any church. For the desire which all feel to claim you for their own, undoubtedly enhances your enviable fortune in this respect. Notwithstanding, your Prudence whose resolve it is to observe the ordinances of God and the apostolic canon of the Church, has done excellently well in declining the bishopric of the church at Antioch, and desiring to continue in that church of which you first received the oversight by the will of God. I have written on this subject to the people of Antioch, and also to your colleagues in the ministry who had themselves consulted me in regard to this question; on reading which letters, your Holiness will easily discern, that, inasmuch as justice itself opposed their claims, I have written to them under divine direction. It will be necessary that your Prudence should be present at their conference, in order that this decision may be ratified in the church at Antioch. God preserve you, beloved brother!"
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 3:61)
(332AD) Second Letter of Constantine
to Macarius and the rest of the Bishops in Palestine (to Eusebius).
Synopsis: Directs the suppression of idolatrous worship at Mamre.
VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
to Macarius, and the rest of the bishops in Palestine.
"One benefit, and that of no ordinary importance, has been conferred on us by my truly pious mother-in-law, in that she has made known to us by letter that abandoned folly of impious men which has hitherto escaped detection by you: so that the criminal conduct thus overlooked may now through our means obtain fitting correction and remedy, necessary though ardy. For surely it is a grave impiety indeed, that holy places should be defiled by the stain of unhallowed impurities. What then is this, dearest brethren, which, though it has eluded your sagacity, she of whom I speak was impelled by a pious sense of duty to disclose? "SHE assures me, then, that the place which takes its name from the oak of Mambre, where we find that Abraham dwelt, is defiled by certain of the slaves of superstition in every possible way. She declares that idols which should be utterly destroyed have been erected on the site of that tree; that an altar is near the spot; and that impure sacrifices are continually performed. Now since it is evident that these practices are equally inconsistent with the character of our times, and unworthy the sanctity of the place itself, I wish your Gravities to be informed that the illustrious Count Acacius, our friend, has received instructions by letter from me, to the effect that every idol which shall be found in the place above-mentioned shall immediately be consigned to the flames; that the altar be utterly demolished; and that if any one, after this our mandate, shall be guilty of impiety of any kind in this place, he shall be visited with condign punishment. The place itself we have directed to be adorned with an unpolluted structure, I mean a church; in order that it may become a fitting place of assembly for holy men. Meantime, should any breach of these our commands occur, it should be made known to our clemency without the least delay by letters from you, that we may direct the person detected to be dealt with, as a transgressor of the law, in the severest manner. For you are not ignorant that the Supreme God first appeared to Abraham, and conversed with him, in that place. There it was that the observance of the Divine law first began; there first the Saviour himself, with the two angels, vouchsafed to Abraham a manifestation of his presence; there God first appeared to men; there he gave promise to Abraham concerning his future seed, and straightway fulfilled that promise; there he foretold that he should be the father of a multitude of nations. For these reasons, it seems to me right that this place should not only be kept pure through your diligence from all defilement, but restored also to its pristine sanctity; that nothing hereafter may be done there except the performance of fitting service to him who is the Almighty God, and our Saviour, and Lord of all. And this service it is incumbent on you to care for with due attention, if your Gravities be willing (and of this I feel confident) to gratify my wishes, which are especially interested in the worship of God. May he preserve you, beloved brethren!"
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 3:52-53)
(332AD?) Edict against the heretics.
Synopsis: Against Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulians, Cataphrygians who are forbidden to assemble and whose houses of worship are to be given to the Catholic party.
VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
to the heretics.
"Understand now, by this present statute, ye Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulians, ye who are called Cataphrygians, and all ye who devise and support heresies by means of your private assemblies, with what a tissue of falsehood and vanity, with what destructive and venomous errors, your doctrines are inseparably interwoven; so that through you the healthy soul is stricken with disease, and the living becomes the prey of everlasting death. Ye haters and enemies of truth and life, in league with destruction! All your counsels are opposed to the truth, but familiar with deeds of baseness; full of absurdities and fictions: and by these ye frame falsehoods, oppress the innocent, and withhold the light from them that believe. Ever trespassing under the mask of godliness, ye fill all things with defilement: ye pierce the pure and guileless conscience with deadly wounds, while ye withdraw, one may almost say, the very light of day from the eyes of men. But why should I particularize, when to speak of your criminality as it deserves demands more time and leisure than I can give? For so long and unmeasured is the catalogue of your offenses, so hateful and altogether atrocious are they, that a single day would not suffice to recount them all. And, indeed, it is well to turn one's ears and eyes from such a subject, lest by a description of each particular evil, the pure sincerity and freshness of one's own faith be impaired. Why then do I still bear with such abounding evil; especially since this protracted clemency is the cause that some who were sound are become tainted with this pestilent disease? Why not at once strike, as it were, at the root of so great a mischief by a public manifestation of displeasure?
"FORASMUCH, then, as it is no longer possible to bear with your pernicious errors, we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together. We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies: and our care in this respect extends so far as to forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever. Let those of you, therefore, who are desirous of embracing the true and pure religion, take the far better course of entering the catholic Church, and uniting with it in holy fellowship, whereby you will be enabled to arrive at the knowledge of the truth. In any case, the delusions of your perverted understandings must entirely cease to mingle with and mar the felicity of our present times: I mean the impious and wretched double- mindedness of heretics and schismatics. For it is an object worthy of that prosperity which we enjoy through the favor of God, to endeavor to bring back those who in time past were living in the hope of future blessing, from all irregularity and error to the right path, from darkness to light, from vanity to truth, from death to salvation. And in order that this remedy may be applied with effectual power, we have commanded, as before said, that you be positively deprived of every gathering point for your superstitious meetings, I mean all the houses of prayer, if such be worthy of the name, which belong to heretics, and that these be made over without delay to the catholic Church; that any other places be confiscated to the public service, and no facility whatever be left for any future gathering; in order that from this day forward none of your unlawful assemblies may presume to appear in any public or private place. Let this edict be made public."
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 3:64-65)
(333AD) Letter of Constantine
to Sapor, King of the Persians.
Synopsis: Is mainly a confession of faith commending the Persian Christians to the special care of their king.
CONSTANTINE AUGUSTUS TO SAPOR, KING
OF THE PERSIANS
“BY keeping the Divine faith, I am made a partaker of the light of truth: guided by the light of truth, I advance in the knowledge of the Divine faith. Hence it is that, as my actions themselves evince, I profess the most holy religion; and this worship I declare to be that which teaches me deeper acquaintance with the most holy God; aided by whose Divine power, beginning from the very borders of the ocean, I have aroused each nation of the world in succession to a well-grounded hope of security; so that those which, groaning in servitude to the most cruel tyrants and yielding to the pressure of their daily sufferings, had well nigh been utterly destroyed, have been restored through my agency to a far happier state. This God I confess that I hold in unceasing honor and remembrance; this God I delight to contemplate with pure and guileless thoughts in the height of his glory. “THIS God I invoke with bended knees, and recoil with horror from the blood of sacrifices from their foul and detestable odors, and from every earth-born magic fire: for the profane and impious superstitions which are defiled by these rites have cast down and consigned to perdition many, nay, whole nations of the Gentile world. For he who is Lord of all cannot endure that those blessings which, in his own loving-kindness and consideration of the wants of men he has revealed for the rise of all, should be perverted to serve the lusts of any. His only demand from man is purity of mind and an undefiled spirit; and by this standard he weighs the actions of virtue and godliness. For his pleasure is in works of moderation and gentleness: he loves the meek, and hates the turbulent spirit: delighting in faith, he chastises unbelief: by him all presumptuous
power is broken down, and he avenges the insolence of the proud. While the arrogant and haughty are utterly overthrown, he requires the humble and forgiving with deserved rewards: even so does he highly honor and strengthen with his special help a kingdom justly governed, and maintains a prudent king in the tranquility of peace. “I CANNOT, then, my brother believe that I err in acknowledging this one God, the author and parent of all things: whom many of my predecessors in power, led astray by the madness of error, have ventured to deny, but who were all visited with a retribution so terrible and so destructive, that all succeeding generations have held up their calamities as the most effectual warning to any who desire to follow in their stops. Of the number of these I believe him to have been, whom the lightning-stroke of Divine vengeance drove forth from hence, and banished to your dominions and whose disgrace contributed to the fame of your celebrated triumph. “AND it is surely a happy circumstance that the punishment of such persons as I have described should have been publicly manifested in our own times. For I myself have witnessed the end of those who lately harassed the worshipers of God by their impious edict. And for this abundant thanksgivings are due to God that through his excellent Providence all men who observe his holy laws are gladdened by the renewed enjoyment of peace. Hence I am fully persuaded that everything is in the best and safest posture, since God is vouchsafing, through the influence of their pure and faithful religious service, and their unity of judgment respecting his Divine character, to gather all men to himself. “IMAGINE, then, with what joy I heard tidings so accordant with my desire, that the fairest districts of Persia are filled with those men on whose behalf alone I am at present speaking, I mean the Christians. I pray, therefore, that both you and they may enjoy abundant prosperity, and that your blessings and theirs may be in equal measure; for thus you will experience the mercy and favor of that God who is the Lord and Father of all. And now, because your power is great, I commend these persons to your protection; because your piety is eminent, I commit them to your care. Cherish them with your wonted humanity and kindness; for by this proof of faith you will secure an immeasurable benefit both to yourself and us.”
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 4:9-13 and Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History 1:24)
(333AD) Letters of Constantine
to Antony, the monk, and of Antony to him are mentioned in Athanasius'
Life of Antony 81.
Synopsis: Constantine and his sons write as to a father. Antony grudgingly replies with some good advice for them to remember the day of judgment, regard Christ as the only emperor, and have a care for justice and the poor.
And the fame of Anthony came even
unto kings. For Constantine Augustus, and his sons Constantius and Constans
the Augusti wrote letters to him, as to a father, and begged an answer
from him. But he made nothing very much of the letters, nor did he rejoice
at the messages but was the same as he had been before the Emperors wrote
to him. But when they brought him the letters he called the monks and said,
'Do not be astonished if an emperor writes to us, for he is a man; but
rather wonder that God wrote the Law for men and has spoken to us through
His own Son.' And so he was unwilling to receive the letters, saying that
he did not know how to write an answer to such things. But being urged
by the monks because the emperors were Christians, and lest they should
take offence on the ground that they had been spurned, he consented that
they should be read, and wrote an answer approving them because they worshipped
Christ, and giving them counsel on things pertaining to salvation: 'not
to think much of the present, but rather to remember the judgment that
is coming, and to know that Christ alone was the true and Eternal King.'
He begged them to be merciful and to give heed to justice and the poor.
And they having received the answer rejoiced.
(Mentioned in Athanasius’ Life of Antony 81)
(333AD) Letter of Constantine
to Eusebius in praise of his discourse concerning Easter.
Synopsis: Praises the discourse and asks for more.
“VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
“It is indeed an arduous task, and beyond the power of language itself, worthily to treat of the mysteries of Christ, and to explain in a fitting manner the controversy respecting the feast of Easter, its origin as well as its precious and toilsome accomplishment. For it is not in the power even of those who are able to apprehend them, adequately to describe the things of God. I am, notwithstanding, filled with admiration of your learning and zeal, and have not only myself read your work with pleasure, but have given directions, according to your own desire, that it be communicated to many sincere followers of our holy religion. Seeing, then, with what pleasure we receive favors of this kind from your Sagacity, be pleased to gladden us more frequently with those compositions, to the practice of which, indeed, you confess yourself to have been trained from an early period, so that I am urging a willing man, as they say, in exhorting you to your customary pursuits. And certainly the high and confident judgment we entertain is a proof that the person who has translated your writings into the Latin tongue is in no respect incompetent to the task, impossible though it be that such version should fully equal the excellence of the works themselves. God preserve you, beloved brother.”
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 4:35)
(333AD) Letter of Constantine
to Eusebius on the preparation of the copies of the Scriptures.
Synopsis: Orders fifty copies with directions as to style.
“VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
“It happens, through the favoring providence of God our Savior, that great numbers have united themselves to the most holy church in the city which is called by my name. It seems, therefore, highly requisite, since that city is rapidly advancing in prosperity in all other respects, that the number of churches should also he increased. Do you, therefore, receive with all readiness my determination on this behalf. I have thought it expedient to instruct your Prudence to order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practiced in their art. The catholicus of the diocese has also received instructions by letter from our Clemency to be careful to furnish all things necessary for the preparation of such copies; and it will be for you to take special care that they be completed with as little delay as possible. You have authority also, in virtue of this letter, to use two of the public carriages for their conveyance, by which arrangement the copies when fairly written will most easily be forwarded for my personal inspection; and one of the deacons of your church may be intrusted with this service, who, on his arrival here, shall experience my liberality. God preserve you, beloved brother!”.
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 4:36, Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History 1:15, and Socrates’ Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:9)
(335AD) Fragment of the first
letter of Constantine to Athanasius.
Synopsis: The letter summoning to the Council of Tyre, but only a half-dozen lines remain. This bids him admit all who wish to enter the church.
Having therefore knowledge of my
will, grant free admission to all who wish to enter into the Church. For
if I learn that you have hindered or excluded any who claim to be admitted
into communion with the Church, I will immediately send some one who shall
depose you by my command, and shall remove you from your place.
(Preserved in Athanasius’ Apology Against The Arians 5:59 and Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:27)
(335AD) Letter of Constantine
to the people of the Alexandrian Church.
Synopsis: Is a general lamentation over the dissensions of the Church, with expression of confidence in Athanasius.
Constantine, Maximus, Augustus, to
the people of the Catholic Church at Alexandria.
Beloved brethren, I greet you well, calling upon God, Who is the chief witness of my intention, and on the Only- begotten, the Author of our Law, Who is Sovereign over the lives of all men, and Who hates dissensions. But what shall I say to you? That I am in good health? Nay, but I should be able to enjoy better health and strength, if you were possessed with mutual love one towards another, and had rid yourselves of your enmities, through which, in consequence of the storms excited by contentious men, we have left the haven of brotherly love. Alas! What perverseness is this! What evil consequences are produced every day by the tumult of envy which has been stirred up among you! Hence it is that evil reports have settled upon the people of God. Whither has the faith of righteousness departed? For we are so involved in the mists of darkness, not only through manifold errors, but through the faults of ungrateful men, that we bear with those who favour folly, and though we are aware of them, take no heed of those who set aside goodness and truth. What strange inconsistency is this! We do not convict our enemies, but we follow the example of robbery which they set us, whereby the most pernicious errors, finding no one to oppose them, easily, if I may so speak, make a way for themselves. Is there no understanding among us, for the credit of our common nature, since we are thus neglectful of the injunctions of the law? But some one will say, that love is a thing brought out by nature. But, I ask, how is it that we who have got the law of God for our guide in addition to our natural advantages, thus tolerate the disturbances and disorders raised by our enemies, who seem inflamed, as it were, with firebrands? How is it, that having eyes, we see not, neither understand, though we are surrounded by the intelligence of the law? What a stupor has seized upon our life, that we are thus neglectful of ourselves, and that although God admonishes us, Is it not an intolerable evil? and ought we not to esteem such men as our enemies, and not the household and people of God? For they are infuriated against us, abandoned as they are: they lay grievous crimes to our charge, and make attacks upon us as enemies. And I would have you yourselves to consider with what exceeding madness they do this. The foolish men carry their maliciousness at their tongues' end. They carry about with them a sort of leaden anger, so that they reciprocally smite one another, and involve us by way of increasing their own punishment. The good teacher is accounted an enemy, while he who clothes himself with the vice of envy, contrary to all justice makes his gain of the gentle temper of the people; he ravages, and consumes, he decks himself out, and recommends himself with false praises; he subverts the truth, and corrupts the faith, until he finds out a hole and hiding-place for his conscience. Thus their very perverseness makes them wretched, while they impudently prefer themselves to places of honour, however unworthy they may be. Ah! what a mischief is this! they say "Such an one is too old; such an one is a mere boy; the office belongs to me; it is due to me, since it is taken away from him. I will gain over all men to my side, and then I will endeavour with my power to ruin him." Plain indeed is this proclamation of their madness to all the world; the sight of companies, and gatherings, and rowers under command in their offensive cabals. Alas! what preposterous
conduct is ours, if I may say it! Do they make an exhibition of their folly in the Church of God? And are they not yet ashamed of themselves? Do they not yet blame themselves? Are they not smitten in their consciences, so that they now at length shew that they entertain a proper sense of their deceit and contentiousness? Theirs is the mere force of envy, supported by those baneful influences which naturally belong to it. But those wretches have no power against your Bishop. Believe me, brethren, their endeavours will have no other effect than this, after they have worn down our days, to leave to themselves no place of repentance in this life. Wherefore I beseech you, lend help to yourselves; receive kindly our love, and with all your strength drive away those who desire to obliterate from among us the grace of unanimity ; and looking unto God, love one another. I received gladly your Bishop Athanasius, and addressed him in such a manner, as being persuaded that he was a man of God. It is for you to understand these things, not for me to judge of them. I thought it becoming that the most reverend Athanasius himself should convey my salutation to you, knowing his kind care of you, which, in a manner worthy of that peaceable faith which I myself profess, is continually engaged in the good work of declaring saving knowledge, and will be able to exhort you as is suitable, May God preserve you, beloved brethren.
(Preserved in Athanasius’ Apology Against the Arians 5:61-62 with an abstract in Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History 2:31)
(335AD) Second Letter of Constantine
Synopsis: Expresses his reprobation of the false accusations of the Meletians against Athanasius.
Constantine, Victor, Maximus, Augustus,
to the pope Athanasius.
Having read the letters of your wisdom, I felt the inclination to write in return to your fortitude, and to exhort you that you would endeavour to restore the people of God to tranquillity, and to merciful feelings. For in my own mind I hold these things to be of the greatest importance, that we should cultivate truth, and ever keep righteousness in our thoughts, and have pleasure especially in those who walk in the right way of life. But as concerning those who are deserving of all execration, I mean the most perverse and ungodly Meletians, who have at last stultified themselves by their folly, and are now raising unreasonable commotions by envy, uproar, and tumult, thus making manifest their own ungodly dispositions, I will say thus much. You see that those who they pretended had been slain with the sword, are still amongst us, and in the enjoyment of life. Now what could be a stronger presumption against them, and one so manifestly and clearly tending to their condemnation, as that those whom they declared to have been murdered, are yet in the enjoyment of life, and accordingly will be able to speak for themselves ? But this further accusation was advanced by these same Meletians. They positively affirmed that you, rushing in with lawless violence, had seized upon and broken a cup, which was deposited in the most Holy Place; than which there certainly could not be a more serious charge, nor a more grievous offence, had such a crime actually been
perpetrated. But what manner of accusation is this ? What is the meaning of this change and variation and difference in the circumstances of it, insomuch that they now transfer this same accusation to another person, a fact which makes it clearer, so to speak, than the light itself, that they designed to lay a plot for your wisdom ? After this, who can be willing to follow them, men that have fabricated such charges to the injury of another, seeing too that they are hurrying themselves on to ruin, and are conscious that they are accusing you of false and reigned crimes ? Who then, as I said, will follow after them, and thus go headlong in the way of destruction; in that way in which it seems they alone suppose that they have hope of safety and of help ? But if they were willing to walk according to a pure conscience, and to be directed by the best wisdom, and to go in the way of a sound mind, they would easily perceive that no help can come to them from Divine Providence, while they are given up to such doings, and tempt their own destruction. I should not call this a harsh judgment of them, but the simple truth. And finally, I will add, that I wish this letter to be read frequently by your wisdom in public, that it may thereby come to the knowledge of all men, and especially reach the ears of those who thus act, and thus raise disturbances; for the judgment which is expressed by me according to the dictates of equity is confirmed also by real facts. Wherefore, seeing that in such conduct there is so great an offence, let them understand that I have thus judged; and that I have come to this determination, that if they excite any further commotion of this kind, I will myself in person take cognizance of the matter, and that not according to the ecclesiastical, but according to the civil laws, and so I will in future find them out, because they clearly are robbers, so to speak, not only against human kind, but against the divine doctrine itself. May God ever preserve you, beloved brother !
(Preserved in Athanasius’ Apology Against theArians 5:68-69)
(335AD) Letter of Constantine
to Joannes the Meletian.
Synopsis: Congratulates on his reconciliation with Athanasius.
Constantine, Maximus, Augustus to
The letters which I have received from your prudence were extremely pleasing to me, because I learned from them what I very much longed to hear, that you had laid aside every petty feeling, had joined the Communion of the Church as became you, and were now in perfect concord with the most reverend Bishop Athanasius. Be assured therefore that so far I entirely approve of your conduct; because, giving up all skirmishing, you have done that which is pleasing to God, and have embraced the unity of His Church. In order therefore that you may obtain the accomplishment of your wishes, I have thought it right to grant you permission to enter the public conveyance, and to come to the court of my clemency. Let it then be your care to make no delay; but as this letter gives you authority to use the public conveyance, come to me immediately, that you may have your desires fulfilled, and by appearing in my presence may enjoy that pleasure which it is fit for you to receive. May God preserve you continually, dearly beloved brother.
(Preserved in Athanasius’ Apology Against the Arians 5:70)
(335AD) Letter of Constantine
Synopsis: Invites Arius to visit him—the famous visit where he presented a confession of faith claimed to be in conformity with that of Nicaea.
Victor Constantine Maximus Augustus,
It was intimated to your reverence some time since, that you might come to my court, in order to obtain an interview with us. We are not a little surprised that you did not do this immediately. Wherefore having at once mounted a public vehicle, hasten to arrive at our court; that when you have experienced our clemency and regard for you, you may return to your own country. May God protect you, beloved. Dated the twenty-fifth of November.
(Preserved in Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:25)
(335AD) A Letter to Dalmatius
is mentioned by Athanasius but not preserved.
Synopsis: It required him to make judicial enquiry respecting the charge against Athanasius of the murder of Arsenius.
Notwithstanding this statement of
Ischyras, they again spread abroad the same charges against me everywhere,
and also reported them to the Emperor Constantine. He too had heard before
of the affair of the cup in Psammathia, when I was there, and had detected
the falsehood of my enemies. But now he wrote to Antioch to Dalmatius the
Censor requiring him to institute a judicial enquiry respecting the murder.
(Preserved in Athanasius’ Apology Against the Arians 5:65)
(335AD) Celebrated Letter of Constantine
concerning the Synod of Tyre.
Synopsis: Exhorts the bishops to give zeal to fulfilling the purpose of the synod in the restitution of peace to the Church.
VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
to the holy Council at Tyre.
“Surely it would best consist with and best become the prosperity of these our times, that the Catholic Church should be undivided, and the servants of Christ be at this present moment clear from all reproach. Since, however, there are those who, carried away by a baleful and furious spirit of contention (for I will not charge them with intentionally leading a life unworthy of their profession), are endeavoring to create that general confusion which, in my judgment, is the most pernicious of all evils; I exhort you, forward as you already are, to meet together and form a synod without delay: to defend those who need protection; to administer remedies to your brethren who are in peril; to recall the divided members to unity of judgment; to rectify errors while opportunity is yet allowed: that thus you may restore to so many provinces that due measure of concord which, strange and sad anomaly! the arrogance of a few individuals has destroyed. And I believed that all are alike persuaded that this course is at the same time pleasing to Almighty God (as well as the highest object of my own desires), and will bring no small honor to yourselves, should you be successful in restoring peace. Delay not, then, but hasten with redoubled zeal to terminate the present dissensions in a manner becoming the occasion, by assembling together in that spirit of true sincerity and faith which the Savior whom we serve especially demands from us, I may almost say with an audible voice, on all occasions. No proof of pious zeal on my part shall be wanting. Already have I done all to which my attention was directed by your letters. I have sent to those bishops whose presence you desired, that they may share your counsels. I have dispatched Dionysius, a man of consular rank, who will both remind those prelates of their duty who are bound to attend the Council with you, and will himself be there to superintend the proceedings, but especially to maintain good order. Meantime should any one, though I deem it most improbable, venture on this occasion to violate my command, and refuse his attendance, a messenger shall be despatched forthwith to banish that person in virtue of an imperial edict, and to teach him that it does not become him to resist an emperor’s decrees when issued in defense of truth. For the rest, it will be for your Holinesses, unbiased either by enmity or favor, but consistently with ecclesiastical and apostolic order, to devise a fitting remedy whether it be for positive offenses or for unpremeditated errors; in order that you may at once free the Church from all reproach, relieve my anxiety, and, by restoring the blessings of peace to those who are now divided, procure the highest honor for yourselves. God preserve you, beloved brethren!”
(Preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Life of Constantine 4:42)
(335AD) Letter to the Bishops
assembled at Tyre.
Synopsis: Summons them to come to him at Constantinople and give account of their proceedings.
VICTOR CONSTANTINE MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS,
to the bishops convened at Tyre.
I am indeed ignorant of the decisions which have been made by your Council with so much turbulence and storm: but the truth seems to have been perverted by some tumultuous and disorderly proceedings: because, that is to say, in your mutual love of contention, which you seem desirous of perpetuating, you disregard the consideration of those things which are acceptable to God. It will, however, I trust, be the work of Divine Providence to dissipate the mischiefs resulting from this jealous rivalry, as soon as they shall have been detected; and to make it apparent to us, whether ye who have been convened have had regard to truth, and whether your decisions on the subjects which
have been submitted to your judgment have been made apart from partiality or prejudice. Wherefore it is indispensable that you should all without delay attend upon my piety, that you may yourselves give a strict account of your transactions. For what reason I have deemed it proper to write thus, and to summon you before me, you will learn from what follows. As I was making my entry into the city which bears our name, in this our most flourishing home, Constantinople,--and it happened that I was riding on horseback at the time,--suddenly the Bishop Athanasius, with certain ecclesiastics whom he had around him, presented himself so unexpectedly in our path, as to produce an occasion of consternation. For the Omniscient God is my witness that at first sight I did not recognize him until some of my attendants, in answer to my enquiry, informed me, as was very natural, both who he was, and what injustice he had suffered. At that time indeed I neither conversed, nor held any communication with him. But as he repeatedly entreated an audience, and I had not only refused it, but almost ordered that he should be removed from my presence, he said with greater boldness, that he petitioned for nothing more than that you might be summoned hither, in order that in our presence, he, driven by necessity to such a course, might have a fair opportunity afforded him of complaining of his wrongs. Wherefore as this seems reasonable, and consistent with the equity of my government, I willingly gave instructions that these things should be written to you. My command therefore is, that all, as many as composed the Synod convened at Tyre, should forthwith hasten to the court of our clemency, in order that from the facts themselves you may make clear the purity and integrity of your decision in my presence, whom you cannot but own to be a true servant of God. It is in consequence of the acts of my religious service towards God that peace is everywhere reigning; and that the name of God is sincerely had in reverence even among the barbarians themselves, who until now were ignorant of the truth. Now it is evident that he who knows not the truth, does not have a true knowledge of God also: yet, as I before said even the barbarians on my account, who am a genuine servant of God, have acknowledged and learned to worship him, whom they have perceived in very deed protecting and caring for me everywhere. So that from dread of us chiefly, they have been thus brought to the knowledge of the true God whom they now worship. Nevertheless we who pretend to have a religious veneration for (I will not say who guard) the holy mysteries of his church, we, I say, do nothing but what tends to discord and animosity, and to speak plainly, to the destruction of the human race. But hasten, as I have already said, all of you to us as speedily as possible: and be assured that I shall endeavor with all my power to cause that what is contained in the Divine Law may be preserved inviolate, on which neither stigma nor reproach shall be able to fasten itself; and this will come to pass when its enemies, who under cover of the sacred profession introduce numerous and diversified blasphemies, are dispersed, broken to pieces, and altogether annihilated.
(Preserved in Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History 1:34 with a slightly abbreviated version in Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History 2:28)