Nicaea and its Documents
“Journey to the Nicene events through the available ancient sources”
Mina Fouad Tawfike
This famous Council was convened at the city of Nicaea, in the Roman province Bithynia, a country of Asia, lying between the Propontis and Black Sea, about the year 325 A.D.
The first and principle source from which we should draw our information respecting the council of Nicaea must be of course the acts of the synod (hefle p.262), unfortunately we don’t possess the acts of the council, and it’s highly supposed that these acts have never been existed. Gibbon observes very truly, that the transactions of the Council of Nicaea are related by the ancients, not only in a partial, but in a very imperfect manner.
So what we posses now are only portions of them: the creed, the twenty canons and the synod Decree plus recordings of the events of the council, its background and letters that have been exchanged between the parties involved.
Though the Pseudo-Isidore –which is a set of extensive and influential medieval forgeries from the 9th century- writes in the preface of his collection: [He had learnt from the Orientals that the acts of Nicaea were more voluminous than the four Gospels]
Most of the events, their backgrounds and the letters were recorded in the writings of ancient historians. These ancient documents are:
1) Eusebius, Life of Constantine (Vita Constantini)
2) Socrates, Ecclesiastical History (Historia Ecclesia)
3) Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History (Historia Ecclesia)
4) Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History (Historia Ecclesia)
5) Eusebius, On the Feast of Easter (De solemnitate paschalis)
6) Athanasius, De decretis synodis
7) Athanasius, Ep. ad episcopos Africae
8) Epiphanius, Haereses or Panarion, 69
9) Philostorgius, Ecclesiastical History (Historia Ecclesia)
10) Rufinus, Ecclesiastical History (Historia Ecclesia)
11) Gelasius of Cyzicus, Historia Concilii Nicaeni
12) Jerome, Biblical Preface to Judith
13) Other sources and fragments
(1) Eusebius (AD 263 – 339):
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, is one of the most prolific and important writers of the early Church. We have no precise information of his birth date, but the references in his own works enable us to fix approximately not earlier than 260 AD.
Composition of Life of Constantine
There is still much uncertainty about the composition of Eusebius’ Vita Constantini, when he collected the documents in it, when he wrote the work, to what genre the work belongs, and to what extent the work was left unfinished by Eusebius at his death. And due to the apparent number of historical inaccuracies, for some time the thesis was propounded that it was not written by Eusebius at all, only attributed to him.
The work has biographical elements; it is better described as an uneasy mixture of panegyric and narrative history. It is a clearly a work of apologetic. It was composed after the death of the emperor in 337 AD and after his three sons had been declared Augusti in 337 AD (VC 1.1). It may even be set down to the credit of Eusebius that his praises of Constantine are much loader after his death, than they ever were during his life time. This work despite of all criticism is a primary source of the highest value on Nicaea since Eusebius himself attended the council.
In VC 2.61, Eusebius opens his account of the religious disputes surrounding Arius and Melitius, which will lead to the narrative of the Council of Nicaea in bk. 3:
[He (i.e. Constantine) received tidings of a most serious disturbance which had invaded the peace of the Church… At length it reached the bishops themselves, and arrayed them in angry hostility against each other, on pretense of a jealous regard for the doctrines of Divine truth. Hence it was that a mighty fire was kindled as it were from a little spark, and which, originating in the first instance in the Alexandrian church overspread the whole of Egypt and Libya, and the further Thebaid]
Eusebius gives no indication of the development of the controversy, just as, typically, he omits to name Arius himself; more details are given by other writers that we’ll see later, i.e. Socrates and Sozomen. And nothing more is said by Eusebius of the early stages of the dispute before reciting Constantine's letter to Alexander and Arius in VC 2.63-72.
In this letter, Constantine recounted the origin of the controversy:
[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 on3217 what ought never to have been conceived at all, or if conceived, should have been buried in profound silence.] VC 2.69.
For Constantine, serious matters of doctrine are not at stake, and Christians should not be seen to quarrel over `small and quite minute points', but should be like philosophers and agree to disagree:
[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… “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] VC 2. 70-71.
The letter has no impact as Eusebius said:
[The evil, however, was greater than could be remedied by a single letter, insomuch that the acrimony of the contending parties continually increased, and the effects of the mischief extended to all the Eastern provinces] VC 2. 73.
Eusebius after few chapters mentioned another dispute that will take place in the council of Nicaea:
[Another most virulent disorder had existed, and long afflicted the Church; I mean the difference respecting the salutary feast of Easter.3234 For while one party asserted that the Jewish custom should be adhered to, the other affirmed that the exact recurrence of the period should be observed, without following the authority of those who were in error, and strangers to gospel grace] VC 3.5.
In the next chapter 3.6, Eusebius said this:
[Then as if to bring a divine array against this enemy, he convoked a general council, and invited the speedy attendance of bishops from all quarters… The place, too, selected for the synod, the city Nicæa in Bithynia] VC 3.6.
Eusebius' is the only continuous contemporary account of the Council, descriptions are also found in the later church historians, but their starting-point is the account in the VC.
Now in 3.7-8, Eusebius mentioned the places the bishops came from, and he mentioned their number: [The number of bishops exceeded two hundred and fifty] VC 3.8
This number will be later cited in Socrates in HE 1.8 as [exceeded three hundred].
The number of bishops presents is given variously as 270 (Eustathius of Antioch cited in Theodoret), 318 (Evagrius HE 3.31; Jerome, Rufinus, Athanasius Ep. To African BishopsI, Hilarius Contra Constantium). It has been conjectured that the variation came from the omission of names of the Arians, or that it varied during the two months and more. It suggested that the number 318 that of the servants of Abraham in Gen. 14: 14 was soon generally accepted because of its symbolic reference.
Eusebius described as entering of Constantine as follows:
[…at last he himself proceeded through the midst of the assembly, like some heavenly messenger of God, clothed in raiment which glittered as it were with rays of light, reflecting the glowing radiance of a purple robe, and adorned with the brilliant splendor of gold and precious stones. Such was the external appearance of his person; and with regard to his mind, it was evident that he was distinguished by piety and godly fear. This was indicated by his downcast eyes, the blush on his countenance, and his gait. For the rest of his personal excellencies, he surpassed all present in height of stature and beauty of form, as well as in majestic dignity of mien, and invincible strength and vigor. All these graces, united to a suavity of manner, and a serenity becoming his imperial station, declared the excellence of his mental qualities to be above all praise.3247 As soon as he had advanced to the upper end of the seats, at first he remained standing, and when a low chair of wrought gold had been set for him, he waited until the bishops had beckoned to him, and then sat down, and after him the whole assembly did the same] VC 3.10.
The description of the Council of Nicaea is consonant with Eusebius’ aims and purposes of the portrayal of the heroic Constantine.
From VC 3.10-14, Eusebius gives no account of the debate and omits important facts, concentrating instead on the Emperor's personal appearance (VC 3.10) and his address (VC 3.12).
In the following lines, Eusebius gave a notice that: [The bishop who occupied the chief place in the right division of the assembly then rose, and, addressing the emperor, delivered a concise speech] VC 3.11, this bishop was identified later by Sozomen that it’s Eusebius himself (HE 1.19), but it’s most likely that it was Eusebius of Nicomedia. Constantine then gives a speech; Eusebius cited the entire speech in VC 3.12. The speech itself echoes the reactions already attributed to Constantine when he heard of the division within the Church; the tone is highly conciliatory. In his speech, it’s obvious that he changed his mind concerning the controversy and that made him call for the council:
[…the news of your dissension, I judged it to be of no secondary importance, but with the earnest desire that a remedy for this evil also might be found through my means, I immediately sent to require your presence] VC 3.12
Constantine spoke in Latin, his speech being translated by an interpreter (VC 3.13). Gelasius of Cyzicus in HE 2. 7. 1-41 reports the text of another speech reputedly given by Constantine when opening the Council, but this is probably not genuine.
Eusebius mentioned nothing about the debates, the content of the dispute, or the formula arrived at, he just said:
[On this some began to accuse their neighbors, who defended themselves, and recriminated in their turn. In this manner numberless assertions were put forth by each party, and a violent controversy arose at the very commencement.] VC 3.13
Sozomen in HE 1.20 justified such omission on prudential grounds, as being unsuitable for the uninitiated:
[…since some pious friends, who understood such matters, recommended that these truths ought to be spoken of and heard by the initiated and their initiators1124 only, I agreed with their council; for it is not unlikely that some of the uninitiated may read this book. While I have concealed such of the prohibited material as I ought to keep silent about, I have not altogether left the reader ignorant of the opinions held by the synod]
The synod came to a judgment and this success –according to Eusebius- was because of Constantine wisdom and reasoning:
[…the emperor gave patient audience to all alike, and received every proposition with steadfast attention, and by occasionally assisting the argument of each party in turn, he gradually disposed even the most vehement disputants to a reconciliation. At the same time, by the affability of his address to all, and his use of the Greek language, with which he was not altogether unacquainted, he appeared in a truly attractive and amiable light, persuading some, convincing others by his reasonings, praising those who spoke well, and urging all to unity of sentiment, until at last he succeeded in bringing them to one mind and judgment respecting every disputed question] VC 3.13
The matter was resolved: [The result was that they were not only united as concerning the faith, but that the time for the celebration of the salutary feast of Easter was agreed on by all. Those points also which were sanctioned by the resolution of the whole body were committed to writing, and received the signature of each several member.] VC 3.14
Eusebius makes no mention of the canons of Nicaea, and never cited the creed. In VC 3.17-20 he cited Constantine’s Letter to the Churches respecting the Council at Nicaea, The letter thus brings to bear a variety of arguments for its acceptance: common agreement at Nicaea, theological argument directed against the Jews, the Emperor's own personal authority and that of God, through the decision of the Council.
(2) Socrates Scholasticus: ᾽Εκκλησιαστικὴ ῾Ιστορία [from Nicaea p.26] (AD 380-?)
A little is known of Socrates apart from what we can glean from his work. He was apparently a citizen of Constantinople by birth. His exact dates can’t be determined, it’s suggested that he was born around 389 AD; his ecclesiastical history ends in 439 AD.
Socrates was a layman perhaps a lawyer by profession.
Socrates in his Ecclesiastical History consciously and deliberately began where Eusebius left off:
[Now, as we propose to write the details of what has taken place in the churches since his time to our own day, we begin with the narration of the particulars which he has left out] HE 1.1
He regarded Eusebius treatment of Constantine’s reign and the rise of Arianism by in his work Life of Constantine as an adequate:
[Also in writing the life of Constantine, this same author has but slightly treated of matters regarding Arius, being more intent on the rhetorical finish of his composition and the praises of the emperor, than on an accurate statement of facts] HE 1.1
Socrates mentioned his sources in the introduction to his work:
[We shall not be solicitous to display a parade of words, but to lay before the reader what we have been able to collect from documents, and what we have heard from those who were familiar with the facts as they told them] HE 1.1
Whatever the occasion or purpose of Socrates’ history, its model was Eusebius.
In his history of the church, Socrates seems to have attempted to give a tolerant and unbiased account of the events of that stormy century. It’s a work of a great merit, surpassing in some respects (NPNF p. xiii).
Eusebius differentiated his work from classical historiography by contrasting narratives of war with peace of the church, while Socrates sees disputes in the church indeed the subject-matter of his church.
(p.27) Socrates’ attitude were very different from those of Eusebius at a number of points, the most important points are:
1. When Eusebius was anxious to camouflage disputes in the church, Socrates regards these as the material for history writing.
2. Eusebius was intolerant of heresy and schism, but Socrates praises tolerance towards heretics (5.20; 7.41-42)
3. (p.29) When Eusebius was anxious to show the workings of providence in history Socrates disclaims any attempt to analyze the mysterious reasons for the providences and judgment of God.
4. In Socrates the apologetic interest is less obvious than that in Eusebius
Though Socrates everywhere tried to reach primary sources and he criticizes some of them, it can’t be denied that there (npnf p. xiv) are a number of errors in his history, for example he confused Maximian with Maximin. The chronology of Socrates is generally accurate and his style (p. xv) is characterized by simplicity and clarity.
Socrates started the Nicene events and backgrounds in HE 1.5; he mentioned a dispute between Arius and Alexander the bishop of Alexandria. Arius imagined that Alexander was teaching the same view of Sabellius the Libyan, so Arius responded to what the Bishop said by saying:
[If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he had his substance (ὑπόστασιν) from nothing] HE 1.5
In the next chapter (HE 1.6) Socrates added that this teaching ran throughout all Egypt and that Eusebius the Bishop of Nicomedia was a zealous defender of this teaching, so Alexander convened a council and excommunicated Arius and the abettors of his heresy, then he wrote an Epistle to the bishops constituted in several cities. Here Socrates cites the whole letter (HE 1.6). In the letter we find Alexander description of this heretic teaching as follows:
[That God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father; that the Word of God was not from eternity, but came to existence out of nothing (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων γέγονεν); for that the ever-existing God (‘the I AM’-the eternal One) made him who did not previously exist, out of nothing; wherefore there was a time when he did not exist, inasmuch as the Son is a creature and a work. That he is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Father’s true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures] HE 1.6
As Socrates said- in the same chapter- Eusebius the bishop of Nicomedia possessed a great influence because the emperor resided there, and – in Socrates words- Eusebius:
[wrote both to Alexander, that he might set aside the discussion which had been excited, and again receive Arius and his adherents into communion; and also to the bishops in each city, that they might not concur in the proceedings of Alexander.] HE 1.6
This letter had no effect, and as Socrates described:
[To as disgraceful an extent was this affair carried, that Christianity became a subject of popular ridicule, even in the very theaters. Those who were at Alexandria sharply disputed about the highest points of Doctrine] HE 1.6
He continued in the next chapter:
[When the emperor was made acquainted with these disorders… sent a letter to Alexander and Arius by trustworthy person named Hosius who was the bishop of Cordova in Spain] HE 1.7
Socrates cited the whole letter as -Eusebius did- which shows that Constantine didn’t understand the importance of this dispute at least from the Theological perspective:
[…wherefore let unguarded questions, and an inconsiderate answer, on the part of each of you, procure equal forgiveness from one another. No cause of difference has been started by you bearing on any important precept contained in the Law; nor has any new heresy been introduced by you in connection with the worship of God… you thus pertinaciously contend with one another about matters of small or scarcely the least importance] HE 1.7
Then Constantine asked them to restore their friendship and turn down their disputes.
In Chapter 8, Socrates mentioned another dispute that will be later discussed in Nicaea:
[Moreover another local source of disquietude had pre-existed there, which served to trouble the churches,—the dispute namely in regard to the Passover, which was carried on in the regions of the East only] HE 1.8
The controversy was as to whether the Easter should be observed on a fixed day in every year or on the 14th of the lunar month Nisan of the Jews; on whatever day of the week that might happen to fall. Socrates added:
[This difference, however, did not interfere with their communion, although their mutual joy was necessarily hindered. When, therefore, the emperor beheld the Church agitated on account of both of these causes, he convoked a General Council (οἰκουμενικήν), summoning all the bishops by letter to meet him at Nicaea in Bithynia.] HE 1.8
In the following lines Socrates didn’t give his account on the bishops’ assembly in Nicaea, instead he cited Eusebius word for word as he himself stated:
[Accordingly the bishops assembled out of the various provinces and cities; respecting whom Eusebius Pamphilus thus writes, word for word, in his third book of the life of Constantine…]
This citation is from Eusebius’ Life of Constantine,3.7-9.
Now as cited by Socrates, Eusebius mentioned the place the bishops came from, he also mentioned some of their names, he added:
[…whereas in this assembly the number of bishops exceeded three hundred; while the number of the presbyters, deacons, and acolyths (ἀκόλουθος- young priests, followers) and others who attended them was almost incalculable.]
Actually this citation isn’t accurate, Eusebius in his Life of Constantine (3.8) said:
[…the number of bishops exceeded two hundred and fifty, while that of the presbyters and deacons in their train, and the crowd of acolytes and other attendants was altogether beyond computation.]
Socrates in 1.8, after reciting the creed said that creed was recognized and acquiesced in by three hundred and eighteen bishops.
In HE 1.8, Socrates mentioned and for the first time Athanasius as a:
[…deacon of the Alexandrian Church who was highly esteemed by Alexander his bishop, and on that account was much envied]
On the following day of the bishops’ arrivals, they were assembled together in one place, and in Socrates’ words:
[The emperor arrived soon after and on his entrance stood in their midst, and would not take his place, until the bishops by bowing intimated their desire that he should be seated: such was the respect and reverence which the emperor entertained for these men.] HE 1.8
When it came to describing the acts of the council, Socrates again cited from Eusebius’ Life of Constantine 3.13, as he stated:
[But it may be well to hear what Eusebius says on this subject, in his third book of the Life of Constantine. His words are these: A variety of topics having been introduced by each party … so that there was not only unity in the confession of faith, but also a general agreement as to the time for the celebration of the feast of Salvation.166 Moreover the doctrines which had thus the common consent, were confirmed by the signature of each individual.] HE 1.8
After this citation, Socrates mentioned how he used Eusebius works:
[Such in his own words is the testimony respecting these things which Eusebius has left us in writing; and we not unfitly have used it, but treating what he has said as an authority, have introduced it here for the fidelity of this history.] HE 1.8
Socrates mentioned other source he used and criticized him: Sabinus the Macedonian. Socrates said:
[…put no confidence in Sabinus the Macedonian. For this Sabinus, who was bishop of the Macedonians at Heraclea in Thrace, having made a collection of the decrees published by various Synods of bishops, has treated those who composed the Nicene Council in particular with contempt and derision; not perceiving that he thereby charges Eusebius himself with ignorance, who made a like confession after the closest scrutiny. And in fact some things he has willfully passed over, others he has perverted, and on all he has put a construction favorable to his own views. Yet he commends Eusebius Pamphilus as a trustworthy witness, and praises the emperor as capable in stating Christian doctrines: but he still brands the faith which was declared at Nicæa, as having been set forth by ignorant persons, and such as had no intelligence in the matter.] HE 1.8
After this, Socrates came to the creed of faith; he called it the ‘agreement of faith’:
[We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial (ομοουσιον- of the same essence) with the Father: by whom all things were made, both which are in heaven and on earth: who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, and was made man; suffered, arose again the third day, and ascended into the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. [We] also [believe] in the Holy Spirit. But the holy Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes those who say “There was a time when he was not,” and “He was not before he was begotten” and “He was made from that which did not exist,” and those who assert that he is of other substance or essence than the Father, or that he was created, or is susceptible of change.] HE 1.8
This creed is found twelve times in eleven ancient sources, two versions being given in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon. The second version of the Council of Chalcedon contains certain additions from the creed of Constantinople; all the rest substantially agree. (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I. p. 24, and Vol. II. p. 60, 91).
According to Socrates:
[This creed was recognized and acquiesced in by three hundred and eighteen [bishops]; and being, as Eusebius says, unanimous is expression and sentiment, they subscribed it. Five only would not receive it, objecting to the term homoousios, ‘of the same essence,’ or consubstantial: these were Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nice, Maris of Chalcedon, Theonas of Marmarica, and Secundus of Ptolemaïs. … Upon this the Synod anathematized Arius, and all who adhered to his opinions, prohibiting him at the same time from entering into Alexandria. At the same time an edict of the emperor sent Arius himself into exile, together with Eusebius and Theognis and their followers; Eusebius and Theognis, however, a short time after their banishment, tendered a written declaration of their change of sentiment, and concurrence in the faith of the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, as we shall show as we proceed.] HE 1.8
After this Socrates mentions the creed two more times, he called it the ‘Distinct Avowal of Our Faith’ (HE 1.8) and the ‘Lesson\Creed (τὸ μάθημα)’ (HE 1.8).
The synod after taking its decision set a letter to the churches; Socrates cited the complete letter (HE 1.9), the letter started as follows:
[To the holy, by the grace of God, and great church of the Alexandrians, and to our beloved brethren throughout Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, the bishops assembled at Nicæa, constituting the great and holy Synod, send greeting in the Lord.]
The letter mentioned its purpose:
[That you may know what subjects were brought under consideration and examined, and what was eventually determined on and decreed. In the first place, then, the impiety and guilt of Arius and his adherents were examined into, in the presence of our most religious emperor Constantine: and it was unanimously decided that his impious opinion should be anathematized … there still remained the contumacy of Melitius [to be dealt with] and those who had been ordained by him; … It was decreed, the Synod being moved to great clemency towards Melitius, … that he remain in his own city but exercise no authority either to ordain or nominate for ordination; and that he appear in no other district or city] HE 1.9
Concerning the Easter the letter said:
[…for this point also has been happily settled through your prayers; so that all the brethren in the East who have heretofore kept this festival when the Jews did, will henceforth conform to the Romans and to us, and to all who from the earliest time have observed our period of celebrating Easter.]
Socrates final comments on the subjects:
[…they readmitted the heresiarch Melitius into communion, suffering him to retain his episcopal rank, but divesting him of all authority to act as a bishop … It should be observed moreover that Arius had written a treatise on his own opinion which he entitled Thalia] HE 1.9
Some other letters were cited in Socrates’ work: Constantine letter to the Alexandrians, another epistle of him to the bishops and people, another epistle of Constantine to the churches, some epistles from Constantine to Eusebius of Caesarea, letter from Constantine to Macarius of Jerusalem (HE 1.9)
In HE 1.13, while speaking of Eutychian the Monk, Socrates mentioned the canons of Nicaea:
[The bishops who were convened at the council of Nicæa, after having drawn up and enrolled certain other ecclesiastical regulations which they are accustomed to term canons]
(3) Sozomen (c. 400 – c. 450):
Salminius Hermias Sozomenus (Σωζομενός) (c. 400 – c. 450) a lawyer originated from Palestine and seems to have traveled widely before settling in Constantinople (young p.34). Sozomen wrote that his grandfather lived at Bethelia, near Gaza, and became a Christian together with his household, probably under Constantius II:
[My grandfather was of pagan parentage; and, with his own family and that of Alaphion, had been the first to embrace Christianity in Bethelia, a populous town near Gaza] HE 5.15
Sozomen wrote two works on church history, of which only the second one is extant, and it is dedicated it to Emperor Theodosius II.
Frances Young (From Nicaea p. 33) suggests that Sozomen work sometimes gives the impression of being a gossip column rather than serious history. He has added a good deal of supplementary material but it’s full of anecdotes and biographical details.
Sozomen borrowed heavily from other sources for his work, the source for about three-fourths of his material was the writings of Socrates. But compared to Socrates he reproduced few actual texts, he claims to use collections of documents but he writes from the point of view of a largely intolerant Orthodoxy seeing its triumph as the triumph of God. His history is designed to be a demonstration of the church as from God.
(p.34) Sozomen lacks critical ability, and leaves much to be desired, he sometimes presents several different views as when he gives five different accounts of the death of Arius. He thus gives the appearance of being fair, while attempting no analysis or sifting of the evidence available.
Sozomen desired to present the truth, he stated:
[I will readily transcribe freely from any work that may tend to the elucidation of truth. If anyone who is ignorant of past events should conclude my history to be false, because he meets with conflicting statements in other writings, let him know that since the dogmas of Arius and other more recent hypotheses have been broached, the rulers of the churches, differing in opinion among themselves, have transmitted in writing their own peculiar views, for the benefit of their respective followers; and further… Still, as it is requisite, in order to maintain historical accuracy, to pay the strictest attention to the means of eliciting truth, I felt myself bound to examine all writings of this class according to my ability.] HE 1.1
In general, the work of Sozomen is interesting and valuable for many reasons. In the first place he pays more attention than any of the older historians to the missionary activity of the Christians, and to him we are indebted for much precious information about the introduction of Christianity among the Armenians, the Saracens, the Goths, and other peoples. The history is especially rich in information regarding the rise and spread of monasticism, and the labors of the early founders of monasteries and monastic communities.
In doctrinal matters he aimed constantly at being in thorough accord with the Catholic party, and was a consistent opponent of heresy in all its forms. But, while he maintained a constant attitude of hostility to Arianism, Gnosticism, Montanism, Apollinarianism, etc., he never assailed the leaders of these heresies or allowed himself to indulge in bitter personal attacks:
[Let it not be accounted strange, if I have bestowed commendations upon the leaders or enthusiasts of the above-mentioned heresies. I admire their eloquence and their impressiveness in discourse. I leave their doctrine to be judged by those whose right it is] HE 3.15
Sozomen listed most of the details that Socartes mentioned but Sozomen added more details that no one else mentioned.
In Book 1, Ch. 15, Sozomen told us the Arian heresy origin and progress, he suggested an early connection of Arius with the Melitans:
[He [Arius] was a presbyter of the church at Alexandria Egypt, and was at first a zealous thinker about the doctrine and upheld the innovations of Melitius. Eventually however he abandoned this latter opinion and was ordained deacon by Peter bishop of Alexandria who afterwards cast him out of the church, because when Peter anathematized the zealots of Melitius and rejected their baptism, Arius assailed him for these acts… after the martyrdom of Peter, Arius asked forgiveness… and he was restored to his office as deacon and after words elevated to the presbyter]
Sozomen added more unique details:
[During the debate [in Alexandria] Alexander seemed to incline first to one party and then to other, finally however he declared himself in favor of those who affirmed that the son was consubstantial and co-eternal with the father]
All other testimonies on Alexander portrayed him as stead fast and exact in his definiton, so these words of Sozomen are doubtful and unsupported.
In Ch 16, we read these words:
[After there had been many synods held in Egypt and the contest had still continued to increase in violence, the report of the dissension reached the palace… the emperor… wrote to rebuke them [Arius and Alexander] for having made a controversy public…]
Ch 17, Constantine convened a synod
[About three hundred and twenty bishops were present, accompanied by a multitude of presbyters and deacons. There were like wise men present who were skilled in dialectics and ready to assist in the discussions]… [Athanasius… seemed to have the largest share in the council concerning the subject]
[Certain of the pagan philosophers became desirous of taking part in them]
Sozomen them told the story of these two converting to faith by the simplicity of old men.
[Finally all the priests agreed with one another and conceded that the Son is consubstantial with the Father]… [There were but seventeen who praised the opinion of Arius]
[They affirmed the Son be consubstantial with Father, and that those are to be excommunicated and voted aliens to the catholic church who assert that there was a time in which the son existed not… ]… [The council excommunicated Arius and his adherents and prohibited his entrance to Alexandria… as also a work entitled “Thalia”]
[The synod enacted laws which were called canons]
(4) Philostorgius (368 – ca. 439)
Philostorgius was an Anomoean Church historian of the 4th and 5th centuries. The Anomoeans were a sect that upheld an extreme form of Arianism, which denied not only that Jesus Christ was of the same nature (consubstantial) as God the Father but even that he was of like nature (homoiousian)
Very little information about his life is available. He was born in Cappadocia. He wrote a history of the Arian controversy titled Church History. Philostorgius' original appeared between 425 and 433, in other words, slightly earlier than the History of Socrates, and was formed in twelve volumes bound in two books. The original is now lost. However, one copy was found by the ninth-century historian Photius, in his library in Constantinople, who wrote an epitome (summary) of it.
Philostorgius’ church history aim was to disclose the providential designs of God in the course of history. It’s more crudely than Eusebius with an apocalyptic and astrological flavor.
(5) Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393 – c. 457)
Theodoret was a bishop of Cyrus near Antioch. In his church history the heretics were blackened and dubbed.
Theodoret used different documents from Socrates and his wording suggests independent use of the same sources. Theodoret told us his purpose, that his attempting to record in writing events that from the time being (hitherto) omitted. His assessment of the course of the Arians controversy has no independent value. He was an apologist.
(6) Gelasius of Cyzicus (5th century)
The only testimonies concerning this writer are offered by his work’s preface, Gelasius tells us that he is the son of a presbyter of Cyzicus (Gel. Cyz. HE proem. 2.) at one point he went to Bitinia, during the usurpation of Basiliscus (A.D. 475–476). Gelasius engaged in controversies with the Monophysites, who claimed that they were faithful interpreters of the Nicaean orthodoxy. During these controversies the topics most under discussion were the facts and the thesis of the council of Nicaea (Gel. Cyz. HE proem. 9ff).
Photius who gave Gelasius’ book the title: “The Acts of the First Council in Three Books”; acknowledges his inability to determine who he was.
Gelasius decided to write three books on this topic, which are still extant and which deal with the events of Constantine’s reign. These books attribute greatest importance to the council of Nicaea. The sources of this work have been analysed and discussed with respect to Gelasius’ claims. He tells us that he used the Acta of the Nicaean council, which were retrieved by Dalmatius, bishop of Cyzicus. Gelasius read them in his father’s house when he was young. He selected parts from them, which he used later, because he couldn’t find the original (Gelas. Cyz. HE proem. 2–3; 20.).
Gelasius also records as among his sources the presbyter John, an ancient and good writer, and Eusebius and Rufinus: the latter he mistakenly thought was present at the Nicaean council (Gelas. Cyz. HE proem. 21–23).
Gelasius’ work is very different from the ecclesiastical historiographic tradition, in that he attributes very little importance to historical events, instead concentrating on the doctrinal discussions which characterized the Nicaean council: Photius considered it more as a report of the synod than as a historical writing, and also took note of his humble and modest style (Phot. Bibl. cod. 15, 4b, 23–27)
Gelasius took over the description of the participants at the council from Eusebius’ Vita Constantini (Gelas. Cyz. HE proem.. 2. 5, 2–4 = Vit. Const. 3. 7–8), but he also included another list, which he cites twice, concerning the signatures on and the distribution of the decisions of the council. The signature lists given by Gelasius include numerous inconsistencies and anachronisms; however it seems he presented the eparchies around the great church centers as they were functioning at his time in the late 5th century, rather than at the time of the synod of Nicaea.
(13) Other sources and Fragments:
a. Syriac Fragments
In the British museum catalog this MS. is ascribed to the 6th or 7th century, but a greater portion of it was written in A.D. 501. Actually this volume is made up three separate manuscripts, containing 228 folia. The volume contains writings which are related to Nicaea and other that are not related.
On fol. 14,b. is a letter from Constantine summoning the bishops from Ancyra to Nicaea. This is followed by a decree of Constantine against the Arians. Next comes the Nicene Creed, then we have a unique perfect list of subscribers to the Nicene Council, arranged in groups according to their provinces and cities and then following this are the twenty canons of Nicaea.
There nothing new or important in Constantine letter, part of it reads:
[it would be well for it to be assembled at Nice, a city of Bithynia, because the Bishops of Italy, and of the rest of the countries of Europe are coming, and because of the excellent temperature of the air, and because I shall be at hand as a spectator and participator of what is done]
In Constantine decree against the Arians we read:
[also that all the writings of Arius, wherever found, should be delivered up to be burnt with fire, in order that not only his wicked and evil doctrine may perish, but also that the memorial of himself and of his doctrine may be blotted out, that by no means there may remain to him any remembrance in the world. And this also I ordain, that if anyone should be detected secreting any writing composed by Arius, and should not straightway deliver up and bum it with fire, his punishment shall be death; for soon as he is caught in this, he shall suffer capital punishment by beheading, without delay.]
The Nicene Creed is the same as mentioned in other sources.
In the list of the subscribers to Nicene Council; the MS. mentions their names and the places they came from, the MS. commits an error, it mentioned Hosius as the Bishop of Cordova in Italy instead of saying it’s in Spain.
The numbers the manuscript mentioned is: 3 Bishops from Italy (including Hoius and two presbyters), 11 from Egypt, 3 of Thebias, 5 of Upper Libya, 19 of Palestine, 10 of Phoenicia, 22 of Coele Syria, 6 of Arabia, 5 of Mesopotamia, 11 of Cilicia, 10 of Cappadocia, 2 of Armenia Minor, 5 of Armenia Major, 3 of Pontus Polemicus, 3 of Phaphlagonia, 5 of Galatia, 6 of Asia, 1 of Hellespont, 9 of Lydia, 8 of Phrygia, 10 of Pisidia, 1 of Lycia, 7 of Pamphylia, 4 of the Islands, 5 of Caria, 17 of Isauria, 2 of Cyprus, 11 of Bithynia, 1 of Europe, 2 of Dacia, 1 of Moesia, 1 of Carthage, 1 of Macedonia, 2 of Dardania, 3 of Achaia, 1 of Thessaly, 1 of Pannonia, 1 of Gallia, 1 of Gothia and 1 of Bosphorus.
This part ends with the following words:
[The names if the Bishops and of their cities end, which are in all 220, because the names of the western Bishops were not written]
It’s unclear why the MS. stated that; the list already contains several European Bishops, and if we leave out the two presbyters of Rome, the number will be 218.
But the MS. mentioned the Canons of Nicaea; it said the following (from fol. 16):
[Ecclesiastical Canons of the great and holy synod of 318 Bishops, which was assembled at Nicaea]
It’s probably that even the Syriac translator of the manuscript believed that there were 318 Bishops even he had only 220 names.
The twenty canons:
b. Coptic Fragments:
Four fragments of a Coptic work on the history of the synod (were published in Spicilegium solesmense complectens sanctorum patrum scriptorumque ecclesiasticorum anecdota hactenus opera (1852)Author: Pitra, J. B. (Jean Baptiste), 1812-1889Volume: 1)
- The first fragment contains the first part Nicene Creed, it starts like this: [This is the faith proclaimed by our fathers against Arius and other heretics specially Sabellius, Photinus (who lived long after Nicaea)]
- The second fragment contains the second part of the Nicene Creed
- The third fragment expresses the joy which the orthodox faith gives to the author, and tells that each time the bishops rose at Nicaea they were 319 in number and they were only 318 where they took their seats. It was the Holy Spirit.
- The fourth fragment contains the Coptic translation of the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth canons of Nicaea.
c. Greek Book by anonymous author:
Entitled Τα Πράχθεντα εν Νικαια, it exists in several manuscripts and it pretends to be a contemporary of the Nicene council. It contains clear errors for instance that the council lasted three years and six months.
(Combefis, Novum Auctarium Graeco-Latinae, 1648, Vol I, p. 574 sq.) mentioned in Hefele p.267
d. Thalia (Banquet)
A famous work by Arius that was lost, it survived only in quotations made by his opponents for the purpose of refuting the views expressed (Hefele p.263).
The first is a report of Arius's teaching in Orations Against the Arians, 1:5-6. This paraphrase has negative comments interspersed throughout, so it is difficult to consider it as being completely reliable.
The second quotation is found in the document On the Councils of Arminum and Seleucia, pg. 15. This passage is entirely in irregular verse, and seems to be a direct quotation or a compilation of quotations.
 email@example.com; www.freeorthodoxmind.org
 John Kaye, Some Account of the Council of Nicaea in Connection with the Life of Athanasius, London 1853 ,p.36
 Eusebius Pamphilus: The Life of Constantine, Christian Roman Empire Series, Vol 8, Evolution Publishing, NJ 2009, p.ix
 Andrew Carriker, The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea, Brill, Leiden 2003, p.286
 Thomas C. Ferguson, The Past is Prologue: The Revolution of Nicene Historiography, Brill, Leiden 2005, p.48
 Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall, Eusebius: Life of Constantine Introduction, translation, and commentary, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1999, p.1
 Eusebius Pamphilus: The Life of Constantine, Christian Roman Empire Series, Vol 8, Evolution Publishing, NJ 2009, p.xxvii
 Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall, Eusebius: Life of Constantine Introduction, translation, and commentary, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1999, p.256
 Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall, Eusebius: Life of Constantine Introduction, translation, and commentary, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1999, p.266
 Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall, Eusebius: Life of Constantine Introduction, translation, and commentary, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1999, p.269
 Socrates English text is from: Philip Schaff and Henry Wallace, NPNF, Second Series, Volume 2: Socrates, Sozomenus Church Histories, Cosmio Classics 2007
 Sabellius said that: the Father, Resurrected Son and Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons in God Himself.
 Cited in Gabriele Marasco, Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity: Fourth to Sixth Century A.D., Brill, Leiden 2003, p. 284
 Cited in Gabriele Marasco, Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity: Fourth to Sixth Century A.D., Brill, Leiden 2003, p. 284
 Henry Wace, A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies, Grand Rapids 2000, p.383
 Gabriele Marasco, Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity: Fourth to Sixth Century A.D., Brill, Leiden 2003, p. 284
 Gabriele Marasco, Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity: Fourth to Sixth Century A.D., Brill, Leiden 2003, p. 285
 Gabriele Marasco, Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity: Fourth to Sixth Century A.D., Brill, Leiden 2003, p. 285
 Gabriele Marasco, Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity: Fourth to Sixth Century A.D., Brill, Leiden 2003, p. 287
 Dan Ruscu, Eusebius ‘ Scythian Bishop and the Ecclesiastical History of Gelasius of Cyzicus, Studia Universitatis BABEŞ-BOLYAI, THEOLOGIA CATHOLICA, LV 4, 2010, p.30
 Dan Ruscu, Eusebius ‘ Scythian Bishop and the Ecclesiastical History of Gelasius of Cyzicus, Studia Universitatis BABEŞ-BOLYAI, THEOLOGIA CATHOLICA, LV 4, 2010, p.32
 B. Harris Cowper, Fragments Relating to the Council of Nice: The Syriac Text from an Ancient MS. in the British Museum with a Translation and Notes, London, Williams and Norgate 1857, p.3