Letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia to Paulinus of Tyre

For those of you just joining us, I have discovered Fourth Century Christianity. It has more twists and turns, heros, villains, and back stabbing than any other time period of the Church. By studying the Fourth Century, I have developed a better understanding of doctrinal development, and indeed a greater respect for the men who fought it through to the end. As I read these letters, I post these letters, and my thoughts. Please feel free to contribute either comments or directions. There is the matter which some consider this as rehearsing dead battles by men of dust, but we should endeavor to learn from whence we came. Growing up, I was interested in secular history, particularly pre-1865 history; yet, I gained very little from it. Church History, however, has proved to be spiritually rewarding.

Eusebius of Nicomedia was the one who baptized the Emperor Constantine on his death bed. He was a distant relative to the Imperial Court, which helps to explain the rise of Arianism among the Imperial Family during this time period. Paulinus was the Bishop of Tyre and completed the leadership of the Eusebian Party at Nicaea. The letter below concerns the silence of Paulinus concerning the dispute caused by Arius. Eusebius of Nicomedia wants Paulinus to urge acceptance of Arius.

To my lord Paulinus, Eusebius sends his greetings in the Lord.

(1.) The zeal of my lord Eusebius in the cause of the truth, and likewise your silence concerning it, has not failed to reach our ears. Accordingly, if, on the one hand, we rejoiced on account of the zeal of my lord Eusebius; on the other we are grieved at you, because the mere silence of man like you appears like a defeat of our cause.

The cause, of course, was the vindication of Arius and his theology that Christ was a created being, a second God.

(2.) Hence, as it is not proper for a wise man to be of a different opinion from others, and to be silent concerning the truth, stir up, I exhort you, within yourself the spirit of wisdom to write, and at length begin what may be profitable to yourself and to others, especially if you consent to write in accordance with Scripture, and tread in the tracks of its words and will.

I smooth insult, to be sure, perhaps attacking Paulinus’ ego. If he was a wise man, he would be with them, fully.

(3.) We have never heard that there are two unbegotten beings, nor that one has been divided into two, nor have we learned or believed that the unbegotten has ever undergone any change of a corporeal nature.  On the contrary, we affirm that the unbegotten is one.  One also is that which exists in truth by him, yet was not made out of his substance, and does not at all participate in the nature or substance of the unbegotten, entirely distinct in nature and in power, and made after perfect likeness both of character and power to the maker. We believe that the mode of His beginning not only cannot be expressed by words but even in thought, and is incomprehensible not only to man, but also to all beings superior to man.

This gets to the heart of the Arian doctrine; yet we know from 2 centuries before, that Christ was easily called unbegotten by a certain Bishop of Antioch (I. Ephesians 7.2). Further, what they deny is that God become man (corporeal nature) which Athanasius would later assert was the key to our redemption. While they see Christ as a creation, they refuse to a dwell on the act of creation, but state that in all things, Christ is still above all other created things. This does echo Origen’s writings as well, and indeed, much of what had come from Alexandria in the previous century. It is difficult to pinpoint the development of Arius’ doctrine, as it seems a compilation of Origen, Lucian of Antioch, Paul of Samosota, and Justin.

(4.) These opinions we advance not as having derived them from our own imagination, but as having deduced them from Scripture, whence we learn that the Son was created, established, and begotten with respect to his essence and his unchanging, inexpressible nature, in the likeness of the one for whom he has been made.  The Lord himself tells us this: ‘God created me the beginning of his ways; Before the ages he established me; he begat me before all the hills”

While the first letter in this series (from Constantine to both Alexander and Arius) fails to mention the scriptural passage behind the controversy, we find it front and center here. The Arians were combining Wisdom and Christ into one, which was done long before Arius, yet they focus on the Greek ‘created’ where in Hebrew it is ‘possessed’ or perhaps ‘deed’ indicating that Wisdom was the work of God, not a creation of God.

(5.) If the Son had been from him or of him, as a portion of him, or by an emanation of his substance, it could not be said that the Son was created or established; and of this you, my lord, are certainly not ignorant.  For that which is from the unbegotten could not be said to have been created or founded, either by him or by another, since it is unbegotten from the beginning.

Except that in Hebrews 1.3, the Son is indeed called the emanation of the Father’s substance.

(6.) But if the fact of his being called “the begotten” gives any ground for the belief that, having come into being of the Father’s substance, he also has from the Father likeness of nature, we reply that it is not of the Son alone that the Scriptures have spoken as begotten, but that they also thus speak of those who are entirely dissimilar to God by nature.

Again, refer to Ignatius who called Christ first unbegotten who became begotten.

(7.) For of men it is said, ‘I have begotten and brought up sons, and they have rebelled against me;’ ; and in another place, ‘Thou hast forsaken God who begat thee” ; and again it is said, ‘Who begat the drops of dew” ?  This expression does not imply that the dew partakes of the nature of God, but simply that all things were formed according to his will. There is, indeed, nothing which shares his substance, yet every thing which exists has been called into being by his will.

(8.) For there is God on the one hand, and then there are the things towards (pros) his likeness which will be similar to the Word, and these things which have come into being by free will.  All things were made by God by means of the Word. All things are from God.  When you have received my letter, and have revised it according to the knowledge and grace given you by God, I beg you will write as soon as possible to my lord Alexander. I feel confident that if you would write to him, you would succeed in bringing him over to your opinion.  Salute all the brethren in the Lord. May you, my lord, be preserved by the grace of God, and be led to pray for us.

I cannot, for the life of me, see the logic behind the opinions of Arius, or the later semi-Arians. Christ was uniquely begotten of God, unlike Israel and the dew. He does have the substance of God and is rightly God. If move beyond the metaphorical understanding of Wisdom into an attribute of God, then we can understand that Wisdom, while not a personal being, is what God works through, just it is the Son which reveals to us the Father.

Translation from NPNF2 vol. 3, p. 42, adapted by GLT

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