The Fall of the Church: Story 2

This fall of the church series of stories are a collection of events that could not have happened before the emperor Constantine became involved in the affairs of the church at the Council of Nicea. Before Constantine, Christians were not violent.

Historical Facts and Sources

The actual story is below. This section tells you where I got it and some historical background.

Eusebius Pamphilius of Caesarea, the historianEusebius Pamphilius of Caesarea, the historian

The histories written before and after Nicea by Christians of that time are significantly different. The two that I have read are Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, written in A.D. 323, and The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, written after A.D. 439. This work, however, comes from Sozomon's Ecclesiastical History (IV:10), written somewhat earlier than Socrates'.

The story included here, like the first in this series, could never be found in Eusebius' history, written a century earlier. Whole congregations of Christians simply were not violent before Constantine. After the fall of the church, however, with most Romans professing Christianity but not really embracing it, such violence and similar evils were common.

This story concerns one of Athanasius' banishments. He was banished five separate times, as the emperors after Constantine flopped back and forth between supporting and opposing the Nicene Creed.

Notice that after the fall of the church both the Arians and the Nicene believers were quick to violence. Athanasius, glorified in Socrates' history, is above such things, but his followers are not, wanting to literally tear George apart with their bare hands.

I have updated to modern English where necessary, but basically the wording belongs to Sozomen. It took place around A.D. 355.

Solomon's Story of Athanasius and George, the Arian Bishop

The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen IV:10

After Athanasius had escaped … from those who were trying to arrest him, his clergy and people remained in possession of the churches for some time.

The context here is that Sozomen has just finished describing several miraculous escapes Athanasius had made from those who were trying to arrest him. Most of these involved the sort of prophetic knowledge of the sort that we find ascribed in Scripture only to Elisha. Such stories are probably exaggerated or invented, as he was writing nearly a hundred years after the events.

It's not that I don't believe such prophetic knowledge can occur, it's just that 5th century testimonies of such events are notoriously unreliable.

Eventually, however, the governor of Egypt and the commander of the army forcibly evicted all those who maintained the sentiments of Athanasius. This allowed them to turn the government of the churches over to those who favored George [an Arian bishop from Laodicea], who was expected to arrive soon. Not long afterwards, he reached the city, and the churches were placed under his authority.

He ruled by force rather than by priestly moderation. He worked at striking terror into the minds of the people and carried on a cruel persecution against the followers of Athanasius. In addition, he imprisoned and maimed many men and women. Everyone considered him a tyrant.

For these reasons he was soon hated by everyone. The people were so deeply incensed at his conduct that they rushed into the church, wanting to tear him to pieces. The danger was extreme, and he only escaped with much difficulty, fleeing to the emperor.

Once again, those who held the sentiments of Athanasius gained possession of the churches. But they did not hold onto them for long. The commander of the troops in Egypt came and restored the churches to those who sided with George.

Afterward, an imperial shorthand writer of the notary class was sent to punish the leaders of the uprising against George, and he tortured and scourged many citizens. Thus, when George returned shortly thereafter, he was apparently more formidable than ever. He was regarded with greater loathing than before because he was instigating the emperor to perpetrated many evil deeds.

On top of this, the monks of Egypt openly declared him to be treacherous and inflated with arrogance. The opinions of these monks were always adopted by the people, and their testimony was universally received because they were noted for their virtue and the philosophical bent of their lives.

Despite the loathing of the people and the negative opinions of the monks of Egypt, George continued as bishop for about 5 years. Finally, in 361, Julian the Apostate became emperor, and he sought to restore old Roman paganism. In the process, authorities arrested, tortured, and put George to death.

It took only a short time for Julian to give up on persecution. Soon he told all banished clergy that they could return to their city, and Alexandria was happy to welcome Athanasius home in 362.


Are you interested in studying Christian history on your own?

Church History: An Essential Guide by Justo Gonzalez

Church History: An Essential Guide

by Justo Gonzalez

I've put together a starter package for you, as well as books you need to go further.

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