Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Nicene-Arian Conflicts

By Daniel H. Williams | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

THE 'triumph' of the Christian Church over its enemies is a skilful construct about the nature of conflict, first erected by fifth-century historians, that has endured in its ability to influence subsequent historical opinion. Heretics, no less than Pagans, were subdued by a series of 'memorable victories'1 as chronicled for later generations. When Sozomen dedicates his ecclesiastical history to the Emperor Theodosius II, God's aid is invoked to assist the emperor and the 'holy empire' in conquering all their foes. It is fitting that, as his history draws to a close, the final gasp of Pagans and Arians is recorded as Attalus' usurpation of the Emperor Honorius fails.2

In the preceding historical reconstruction of the years 360-87, we have attempted to challenge assumptions which are a result of the 'triumphalist' model, namely, that the west had always been sympathetic to Nicene Christianity and that its complete subjugation of Homoian Arianism was accomplished soon after the loss of its political support under the Emperor Constantius. In the first place, Nicene or Homoian 'parties', that is, as conscious theological and ecclesiastical identities, did not fully crystallize until after the councils of Ariminum and Constantinople -- events which marked the beginning of the Nicene-Homoian conflict in the west. One is able to chart an 'awakening' of the west to the distinct forms of eastern theology, Homoian leadership, and potential allies, such as the Homoiousians, as western bishops began to return from their exiles in the east. Among this group, the 'confessors' Hilary of Poitiers and Eusebius of Vercelli played seminal roles among those involved in the restoration of bishops who had capitulated at the council of Ariminum.

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1
Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity, 128.
2
HE IX. 9: 'The failure which had attended the designs of Attalus was a source of deep displeasure to the pagans and Christians of the Arian heresy. The pagans had inferred from the known predilections and early education of Attalus, that he would openly maintain their superstitions, and restore their ancient temples, their festivals, and their altars. The Arians imagined that, as soon as he found his reign firmly established, Attalus would reinstate them in the supremacy over the churches which they enjoyed during the reigns of Constantius and Valens' ( NPNF ii. 424).

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