|Reference numbers||Urk. 26
|Ancient source used||Socrates, Church History 1.9|
|Modern edition used||W. Bright, Socrates’ ecclesiastical history, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893)|
|Other ancient sources||Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3.17-18
Theodoret, Church History 1.9
Gelasius, Church History 2.37.10
Constantine Augustus, to the churches.
(1.) The great grace of God’s power has constantly been increasing, as is evident in the general prosperity of the empire. I therefore decided to make it my aim above all else that one faith, sincere love, and unvarying devotion to Almighty God be maintained among the most blessed assemblies of the catholic church. (2.) But I perceived that this could only be established firmly and permanently when all of the bishops, or at least the greatest part, were convened in the same place for a council where they could discuss every point of our most holy religion. So we assembled as many as possible, and I myself was also present as one of you; for I will not deny what I especially rejoice in, that I am your fellow-servant. All points were then minutely investigated, until a decision was brought to light which was found acceptable to him who is the inspector of all things, and brought a unified agreement, leaving nothing which could cause dissension or controversy in matters of faith.
(3.) At the council we also considered the issue of our holiest day, Easter, and it was determined by common consent that everyone, everywhere should celebrate it on one and the same day. For what can be more appropriate, or what more solemn, than that this feast from which we have received the hope of immortality, should be kept by all without variation, using the same order and a clear arrangement? And in the first place, it seemed very unworthy for us to keep this most sacred feast following the custom of the Jews, a people who have soiled their hands in a most terrible outrage, and have thus polluted their souls, and are now deservedly blind. Since we have cast aside their way of calculating the date of the festival, we can ensure that future generations can celebrate this observance at the more accurate time which we have kept from the first day of the passion until the present time. (4.) Therefore have nothing in common with that most hostile people, the Jews. We have received another way from the Savior. In our holy religion we have set before us a course which is both valid and accurate. Let us unanimously pursue this. Let us, most honored brothers, withdraw ourselves from that detestable association. (5.) It is truly most absurd for them to boast that we are incapable of rightly observing these things without their instruction. On what subject are they competent to form a correct judgment, who, after that murder of their Lord lost their senses, and are led not by any rational motive, but by an uncontrollable impulsiveness to wherever their innate fury may drive them? This is why even in this matter they do not perceive the truth, so that they constantly err in the utmost degree, and will celebrate the Feast of Passover a second time in the same year instead of making a suitable correction. (6.) Why then should we follow the example of those who are acknowledged to be infected with serious error? Surely we should never allow Easter to be kept twice in one and the same year! But even if these considerations were not laid before you, you should still be careful, both by diligence and prayer, that your pure souls should have nothing in common, or even seem to do so, with the customs of men so utterly depraved.
(7.) This should also be considered: In a matter so important and of such religious significance, the slightest disagreement is most irreverent. (8.) For our Savior left us only one day to be observed in remembrance of our deliverance, that is the day of his most holy passion. He also wished his catholic church to be one; the members of which are still cared for by one Spirit, that is by the will of God, however much they may be scattered in various places. (9.) Let the good sense consistent with your sacred character consider how grievous and inappropriate it is, that on the same days some should be observing fasts, while others are celebrating feasts; and after the days of Easter some should celebrate festivities and enjoyments, while others submit to appointed fastings. For this reason Divine Providence directed that we put into effect an appropriate correction and establish uniformity of practice, as I suppose you are all aware.
(10.) So first, it was desirable to change the situation so that we have nothing in common with that nation of father-killers who slew their Lord. Second, the order which is observed by all the churches of the western, southern, and northern parts, and by some also in the eastern is quite suitable. Therefore, at the current time, we all thought it was proper that you, intelligent as you are, would also cheerfully accept what is observed with such general unanimity of sentiment in the city of Rome, throughout Italy, Africa, all Egypt, Spain, France, Britain, Libya, the whole of Greece, and the dioceses of Asia, Pontus, and Cilicia. I pledged myself that this solution would satisfy you after you carefully examined it, especially as I considered that not only are the majority of congregations located in the places just mentioned, but also that we all have a most sacred obligation, to unite in desiring whatever common sense seems to demand, and what has no association with the perjury of the Jews. (11.) But to sum up matters briefly, it was determined by common consent that the most holy festival of Easter should be solemnized on one and the same day; for it is not at all decent that there should be in such a sacred serious matter any difference. It is quite commendable to adopt this option which has nothing to do with any strange errors, nor deviates from what is right.
(12.) Since these things are consistent, gladly receive this heavenly and truly divine command. For whatever is done in the sacred assemblies of the bishops can be traced to Divine will. Therefore, once you have demonstrated the things which have been prescribed to all our beloved brothers, it would be good for you to make public the above written statements and to accept the reasoning which has proved itself to be sound, and to establish this observance of the most holy day. In this way, when I arrive to check on your condition, which I have desired earnestly for some time, I will be able to celebrate the sacred festival with you on one and the same day, and will rejoice with you for all things, as I see that through our efforts divine power is frustrating Satan’s cruelty, and that your faith, peace, and unity are flourishing everywhere.
May God preserve you, beloved brothers.
The above translation from Socrates (NPNF2 vol. 2, p. 14-16), adapted by AJW
Other translations in Eusebius (NPNF2 vol. 1, p. 524-5) and Theodoret (NPNF2 vol. 3, p. 47-8)
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