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Lost Innocence : In the fourth century, Britain’s Christians acquired a taste for watering down the mystery of their message.
Lost Innocence

Translated and abridged from ‘History of the English Church and People’ Book I. For another translation, see Mediaeval Sourcebooks.

When the Roman Emperor Constantine ended decades of persecution for Christians in 314, those in Britain returned to their churches with simple joy. Yet missionaries to Anglo-Saxon Britain in 597 found a church scattered and plagued by alien beliefs. St Bede blamed a priest from Egypt, Arius, for the startling change.

WHERE the uproar of persecution subsided, Christ’s faithful, who during the crisis had buried themselves in woods and remote, lonely caves, went out in public. They renovated ruined churches, founded, built and finished off churches dedicated to the holy martyrs, unfurling them everywhere like victory banners, and celebrated feast days, doing everything with clean and holy hearts and lips.

This peace reigned among the churches of Christ right up to the Arian madness which, after corrupting the whole world, infected even this island beyond it.* With this high-road of pestilence, so to speak, cleared across the sea, all the pus of every heresy flooded the island instantly, which delighted to hear of anything new, and never held firm to anything.

It was in the time of Constantine, who had been proclaimed Emperor in Britain,* that Arius’s error surfaced, and was named and condemned at the Council of Nicaea;* yet still the deadly virus spread to the churches of the whole world, and even of these islands.*

* Arius, a clergyman from Alexandria in Egypt, watered down Christian teaching to the point where the Son or Word of God was no longer God himself, but just the first of all God’s creatures. Arius brought various Scriptural passages as evidence, but failed to grasp that as Jesus Christ is both God’s Son and also Mary’s child, the Scriptures speak of him as God and also as a creature. See: John 1:1-4, John 20:28 and 1 John 5:7; also Colossians 1:14-17 and Philippians 2:5-11. Others make the point implicitly. Compare Mark 4:36-41 with Psalm 107:25-30.

* At York in 306, on the death of his father Emperor Constantius. Constantius was one of four co-Emperors, but by 324 Constantine had cemented himself as the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

* The Council began on May 20th, 325. Whether British bishops were present is not known for certain. If they were, they did not support Arius; only two delegates, both from north Africa, did. Nicaea was chosen as it was near the Emperor’s palace a few miles from Constantinople, his brand new capital, consecrated in 330.

* Support for Arius remained strong until the Council of Constantinople in 381. The creed issued at that Council, an expansion of the creed of Nicaea, is read out at services of Holy Communion to this day, under the name of the Nicene Creed.

Translated and abridged from ‘History of the English Church and People’ Book I. For another translation, see Mediaeval Sourcebooks.

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Picture: From the Benaki Museum, Athens, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
A 13th century Byzantine aer (‘air’), a cloth used to cover the bread and wine during the Eucharist, symbolising the burial shroud of Christ. The 318 bishops of the Council of Nicaea issued a creed in defiance of Arius’s novel doctrines, which (as expanded by the Council of Constantinople in 381) is sung to this day at every communion service. While it is being chanted, the aer is held up roof-like above the chalice and paten, and gently shaken to symbolise the activity of the Holy Spirit.
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