Reference numbers Urk. 27
Doc. 31
CPG 2055
Incipit Τὸν δεσπότην θεὸν δηλαδὴ
Date Nov.-Dec. 325
Ancient source used Athanasius, Defense of the Nicene Definition 41
Modern edition used H-G. Opitz, Athanasius Werke (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1940).
Other ancient sources Gelasius, Church History 3. appendix 1
Theodoret, Church History 1.20

Constantine Augustus to the catholic church of Nicomedia.

(1.) I am quite sure, beloved brothers, that you all know well that God our Master and Christ our Savior are Father and Son. The Father, I say, without beginning and without end, the parent of this age (aiōn). As for the Son, he is the Father’s will (boulēsis), which was not apprehended through any consideration (dienthumēseōs), nor was it claimed after its nature was observed, in view of the perfection of its works. Anyone who believes this to be the case, or who will believe it, will have to untiringly endure every type of punishment. (2.) The Son of God, Christ, the maker (dēmiourgos) of all things, and the supplier (chorēgos) of immortality itself, was begotten as far as pertains to the faith which we have believed; he was begotten, or rather he who indeed always existed in the Father went forth for the orderly arrangement of the things which came into being through him; he was begotten in a going forth which involved no division (ameristō), since the will is fixed together with its own dwelling, and both does and manages the things which need different attentions, according to their different qualities. (3.) And what is there between God the Father and God the Son? Clearly nothing, since the very completion of things accepted by perception the command of the will, but he did not separate or divide the will as if taking a portion from the Father’s being. (4.) And so it follows: Who is it, who has feared the suffering of my master Christ out of shame rather than foolishness? Then does the divinity suffer, since the dwelling of the revered body seeks the knowledge of its own holiness? Or was that which was separated from the body subjected to touch? Yet was the most humble which was not distinct from the body deprived of this? Do we not continue living, even if the Glory of life should summon the body to death?

(5.) Why then is this uninjured and pure faith worthy of being attacked on all sides? Do you not see that God chose a most revered body, through which he was to show the proofs of the faith and the examples of his own virtue, to abolish the destruction which had already confused the human race by a ruinous error, and to give a new religious teaching, and to cleanse the unworthy deeds of the mind with an example of purity, and then to destroy the agony of death, and to proclaim beforehand the reward of immortality?

(6.) But you, whom the fellowship of love reasonably makes me address you still as brothers, are not unaware that I am your fellow-servant. You are not unaware of the fortress of your salvation, whose concern I have genuinely taken upon myself, and through whom we have not only subdued the weapons of our enemies, but have also bound them, leaving them alive, in order to reveal the true, compassionate faith. (7.) I rejoice over these fortunate events especially because of the great renewal they have brought to the empire. In fact it was truly worthy of awe that such nations were brought into unanimity, which shortly before were said not to know God. But why were the nations about to learn of these things, who hadn’t been at all concerned about this dispute (philoneikia)? Why do you think, beloved brothers, that I am accusing you of these things? We are Christians, yet we are divided – a lamentable condition. (8.) Is this then our faith? Is this the teaching of the most holy Law? But what is to blame for bringing on the destruction which has risen up from this present evil? Alas, the great absurdity! Alas, such an unsurpassed magnitude of vexation I feel, which goes beyond all hatred! How terrible is this band of robbers which has appeared, which denies that the son of God has come forth from an undivided essence (ousia) of the Father! Is not God everywhere, yet do we perceive that he is always present with us? Does not the entire order of the universe hold together because of this power, and yet was it not deprived of order when this separation occurred (chōrismou diastaseōs)?

(9.) Has he done something to you? Beloved brothers, I think you should now consider the fundamental feature of the present pain. Did you promise to be confessors (you deny that you are) with this man who was persuaded you of his ruinous teaching? I ask you, who is the person who taught this to an honest people? Certainly Eusebius, who participated in the tyrant’s savagery. Many circumstances clearly show us that he was a client of the constant tyranny. The killings of bishops – I mean true bishops – bears witness to this, and the most relentless persecution of Christians proclaims it explicitly. [Constantine is referring to Eusebius’ association with Licinius.] (10.) I shall now say nothing about his outrageous actions against me. At the moment when the clash of the opposing armies was at hand, he underhandedly sent “eyes” to spy on me, and stopped just short of contributing armed assistance to the tyrant. (11.) Do not imagine that I am not prepared to prove this. There is sure proof, because it is well known that I publicly arrested the priests and deacons who came with Eusebius. But I pass over these incidents, which I have introduced not because of the irritation they caused me, but in order to shame them. This is my only worry, my only concern: I see that you are considered to have participated in this offence. The leadership and crookedness of Eusebius have separated your consciences from the truth. (12.) But this can be fixed easily enough, if finally you will receive a faithful, undefiled bishop, and turn your gaze back to God. This is now up to you, and your judgment would have bound itself to this, if that man Eusebius had not come to Nicomedia and shamelessly disturbed your upright practices with a turbulent crowd of followers.

(13.) But since it is not necessary to say much to you about Eusebius himself, o loving and patient ones, you will remember that a council took place at the city of Nicaea at which I myself was present, as my conscience demanded. My sole desire was to establish complete unity, and in particular to refute and discard this question which began through the madness of Arius the Alexandrian, but swiftly gained strength through the wicked and destructive advocacy of Eusebius. (14.) But dearest and most honored friends, how insistently (for his conscience had convicted him) and how shamelessly did this man Eusebius ally himself to this utterly discredited falsehood! He secretly sent different messengers to solicit me, and he asked for my support in some degree, because he was afraid that if he was detected in such a great a sin, he would be expelled from his honorable office. God, may he continue his goodness to me and to you, is my witness of this, since Eusebius perverted my judgment and got round me in an underhanded way, as you also will come to know. At that time, everything was done as he wanted, and he concealed all his evil intentions in his own mind.

(15.) But to pass over the rest of his poor conduct, listen now, I ask you, to what he accomplished, together with Theognius, his accomplice in folly. I had ordered certain Alexandrians who had left our faith to be sent to me, because their activity was fanning into flame the fires of disunity. (16.) But these good, noble bishops not only received these men and made them welcome, but joined with them in their degenerate ways, even after the truth of the Council had ordered their repentance. So I decided to take action against these ungrateful individuals: I ordered them to be arrested and banished to the most distant region possible. (17.) Now it is your responsibility to look to God with that faith which is well known to have always existed, and rightly should exist, and take a course of action in which we may rejoice to see that you have holy, orthodox, and kind-hearted bishops. And if anyone foolishly dares to praise or even to remember fondly those corrupters, he will be restrained from his daring by the action of the servant of God, that is to say, by me.

God watch over you, beloved brothers.

Sections 1-9a: Translation by AJW
Other translation in Eusebius and Constantine, Timothy Barnes, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981, pp 242-3.

Sections 9b-17: Translation by AJW with acknowledgement to A New Eusebius, no. 294 for help with interpretation.

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