“‘This is the faith we were taught'”

“You see, everything went wrong last year at Nicaea.  It was terribly important.  I don’t exactly know why.  [Pope] Sylvester isn’t interested in that sort of thing.  He didn’t even trouble to go himself, just sent deputies, and they were of no help.  You see, none of the Western bishops have got a new idea in their heads.  They just say: ‘This is the faith we were taught.  It is what’s always been taught.  And that’s that.’  I mean they don’t realize they’ve got to move with the times.  It’s no use trying to puncture the horologium.  The church isn’t a hole and corner thing anymore.  It’s the official imperial religion.  What they were taught may have been all very well in the catacombs, but now we have to deal with a much more sophisticated type of mind altogether.  I don’t pretend to understand what it’s all about but I know the council was a great disappointment even to Gracchus [Constantine]…

He hadn’t the least idea what was going on at Nicaea.  All he wanted was a unanimous vote.  Well, half the council wouldn’t argue and wouldn’t listen.  Eusebius told me all about it.  He said the moment he saw them sitting there he realized it wasn’t worth reasoning with them.  ‘That’s the faith we’ve been taught,’ they said.  ‘But it doesn’t make sense,’ said Arius.  ‘A son must be younger than his father.’  ‘It’s a mystery,’ said the orthodox, perfectly satisfied, as if that explained everything.  And then there was the resistance group.  Of course everyone admires them tremendously.  It’s wonderful what they went through.  But, I mean, just having an eye out and a foot off doesn’t qualify one in theology, does it?  And of course Gracchus being a soldier had a sort of extra respect for the resistance.  So what with them, and the solid Middle-West and the frontier bishops–there weren’t many of them but they are the most pigheaded of the lot–the stupid old diehards won hands down and Gracchus got his unanimous vote and went off happy.  Only now he realizes that nothing has really been settled at all.  A general council was just the worst way to tackle a problem of this kind.  It ought to have been settled quietly in the palace and then announced in an imperial decree.  Then no one could have objected.  As it is we shall have all sorts of technical difficulties in putting things right.  All that invoking of the Holy Ghost put things on the wrong footing.  It was purely a question of practical convenience to be settled by Gracchus.  I mean, we must have progress.  Homoiousion is definitely dated.  Everyone who really counts is for homoousion–or is it the other way round?  If Eusebius were here he would tell us.  He always makes everything so clear.  Theology’s terribly exciting but a little muddling.  Sometimes I almost feel a little nostalgic for the old taurobolium, don’t you?”

The Empress Fausta (in Helena, Evelyn Waugh, 133-135)


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