| Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages|
|by George Hodges|
| An excellent introduction to the history of the church through portraits of twenty of the most important saints and heroes of the faith from the third century A.D. to the time of the Reformation. Includes Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Greg-ory the Great, Columba, Charlemagne, Hildebrand, Anselm, Bernard, Becket, Langton, Dominic, Francis, Wycliffe, Hus, and Savonarola. Ages 11-14 |
 ONE day, in Alexandria, a bishop was standing by a window
in his house, which looked out over the sea. He had
invited some people to dinner, and they were late in
coming, and he was waiting. When they came they found
the bishop so interested in what he saw out of the window
that they looked also. On the shore of the sea a
little group of boys were "playing church." One was
the minister, the others were the congregation. The
boy who was the minister called up the others one by
one and baptized them in the sea; and this he did just
as it was done in church, saying the right words and
doing the right acts: The bishop beckoned to the boy.
"What is your name?" he said. And the boy answered,
 Some years after, when Athanasius had come to the last
year of school, the bishop took him into his own house,
and he became his secretary, and the bishop loved him
as a son. The lad desired to be a minister in earnest,
and the bishop taught him, and at last ordained him.
Now the minister of the largest church in Alexandria
was named Arius. He was a tall, pale man, careless in
his dress, and with his hair tumbling about his head,
but kind and pleasant to everybody whom he met, and a
great preacher. His church was always crowded, and he
was much admired for his goodness and his eloquence.
But Arius and the bishop did not agree. And one time,
in the presence of a large number of ministers, at a
convention, Arius said aloud and publicly that the
bishop was not a good teacher of religion. The bishop,
he said, was seriously mistaken.
Alexandria, at that time, was much like Athens when it
was visited by St. Paul.
 It was a place where the people loved to argue and
Now, there are two quite different things about which
men may argue. They may debate matters which can be
decided by weights or measures; as, for example, the
height of a house. And they may come to a speedy
decision about which there is no further doubt. Or
they may debate matters which nobody understands or can
ever understand completely; as, for example, the
question whether human beings have any existence before
they are born. Here one may say, "Yes, the soul of
each man has always been in the world, now in a tree,
now in a lion, and, at last, in the man"; while another
may say, "No, the soul and the body came into being at
the same time." And such a question they may go on
debating forever, because neither can prove his
position. The Alexandrians were fond of discussing
these hard problems. They were, therefore, greatly
interested in the
 debate between Arius and the bishop, and everybody took
part in it, on one side or on the other.
Arius said to the bishop, "You teach that Christ is
only another name for God, and that there is no
difference. How can that be, when God is the Father
and Christ is the Son? Is not the Son different from
the Father? Is He not, indeed, inferior to the Father?
There must have been a time in the far spaces of
eternity when the Son began to be, when He was created
like the rest of us. He is, of course, divine but in
an inferior position." At this the bishop was filled
with horror and declared that Arius was either making
Christ a creature like man, or at least was robbing Him
of so much of His greatness that He was not truly
divine, or was setting such a difference between Him
and God that there were two gods according to his
teaching, two distinct Gods.
This is not the place in which to discuss
 this difficult matter, as they discussed it in
Alexandria. This much, however, may be said, that
Arius in taking the names "Father" and "Son" literally,
and making such inferences from them, was putting
Christianity in danger of a pagan invasion. For if
there may be two distinct gods, the Father and the Son,
why not twenty, why not two hundred? We have to
remember that a great part of all the people of
Alexandria and everywhere else were pagans, and
believed in many gods. Out of this the Christians had
been saved. They had daily evidence of the confusion
and doubt and evil living into which that belief
brought men. Thus the doctrine of Arius, while to some
it seemed reasonable enough, to others was an attack
upon the very central meaning of religion.
The emperor of the Roman world, at that moment, was a
Christian. Constantine was the first Christian
 day, as he was crossing the Alps at the
head of an army, on his way to fight for the Roman
throne which he presently won, he saw a bright light in
the sky, like a blazing cross. And that night, in a
dream, he saw Christ coming to him and telling him to
go to battle with the cross upon his banner. Then when
he was victorious, and was made at last sole ruler of
the world, he took the side of Christianity. He
stopped the long series of bitter persecutions. He put
an end to the effort which had been made by emperor
after emperor to destroy the Church. He became, in a
way, a Christian; though not a particularly good one.
So when the debate which Arius began spread from
Alexandria to other cities and threatened to divide the
Christians into contending armies, Constantine
interfered. One of his great hopes in siding with the
Christians was thereby to bring about the unity of the
people; and here
 were the Christians themselves divided. He determined
to stop it by calling a great Christian council to
decide the question.
The appointed place was Nicæa, near to where
Constantine soon founded the city of Constantinople.
To Nicæa, then, came bishops from all parts of the
empire, from Carthage and Italy and Spain in the West,
from India and Persia in the East. Some were lame and
some were blind after the tortures of the persecutions.
The president for the eastern churches was Eusebius of
Nicomedia, the president for the western churches was
Hosius of Cordova. All Christendom was represented.
With the bishop of Alexandria came Athanasius.
The purpose of the council was to present to the world
a statement of the true belief of Christians concerning
the nature of Christ. This they did in terms which
were afterwards used in what is
 called the Nicene Creed. Arius refused to sign it, and
a few others agreed with him. They were expelled from
the Church. Then the council was disbanded, and
Constantine and everybody else thought that the trouble
was happily ended. As a matter of fact, it was only
No sooner had the bishops returned to their homes than
the contention arose anew. Some liked the Nicene
decision; others, as they considered it further, were
not satisfied. And the unsatisfied ones were
influential at the court. One was the chaplain of the
emperor. Constantine was thus persuaded that Arius was
right, after all. And what Constantine thought was the
immediate opinion of many who knew little about it but
were very anxious to stand well with Constantine.
Against these Arians was Athanasius. Old Bishop
Alexander had now died, and Athanasius had been made
bishop in his place.
 The dispute became a struggle between Alexandria and
Constantinople, between Athanasius and Constantine.
Arius himself presently died. He had been received by
the emperor, and an order was issued that he should be
restored to the communion of the Church. The old man
was actually on his way to the service when he was
seized with a bitter pain, so that he stopped in the
street and sought refuge in the nearest house. The
triumphal procession waited for him at the door. At
last a man came out and said that Arius was dead.
Constantine too came to the end of his great life, but
his sons who succeeded him were on the Arian side.
Athanasius was banished from his city, and came back
only to be banished again. Once on his return the
rejoicings were so great that in after years, when the
youth of Alexandria praised the splendor of any
festival, the old men said,
 "Yes, but you should have been here on the day when
Pope Athanasius came home."
Troops were sent to Alexandria. Athanasius was
besieged in the church where he was holding service.
It was in the night, and the great church, crowded with
worshipers, was dimly lighted with lamps. The
soldiers broke down the doors, and with drawn swords
made their way through the congregation, in the midst
of wild disorder, to the chancel. Athanasius was
rescued by his friends after being nearly torn in
pieces. He escaped to the desert.
One time he was pursued by his enemies on the Nile. As
he rounded a bend of the river, in the dusk, he ordered
his rowers to turn back. His pursuers came on with all
haste and in the dusk of the late afternoon the two
boats met. "Have you seen Athanasius?" the soldiers
called across the water. "Yes," replied the bishop,
 "he is not far away!" Thus he escaped again.
This life of hardship and danger Athanasius lived
because he was not willing to deny what he held to be
the faith. The whole Church seemed to be against him.
Council after council was called by the emperors,
attended by hundreds of bishops, making Arian creeds.
The whole empire was thrown into confusion.
Athanasius, on the other side, was preaching sermons
and writing books and letters. The one man defied the
Church. And he gained the victory! Year by year, it
became plain that the theology of Arius was filled with
confusion. People were perplexed by the long series of
different Arian statements of belief. Athanasius
maintained the divinity of Christ, in whom God dwelt
among men. People were dismayed at the energy with
which the Arian court used the swords of soldiers to
maintain its side. The Church grew
 weary of the fierce
debate. Then the last of the Arian emperors fell in
battle with the Goths, and the war was ended.
Theodosius, who followed him, was of the faith of
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