“I sensed that you were not very successful with your mission, Hosius.” Said the emperor after listening to a brief report from Hosius, the person he finally met at the conference room, after calming his nerve over his silly answer to his sister.
“You sensed correctly, my Lord,” answered Hosius, admitting his failure. There was other bishop in the room. His name was Eustathius, a bishop from Antioch, then a prosperous city in the Roman province of Syria, now the town of Antakya in the Southern Turkey. Hosius brought Eustathius as his sidekick, to strengthen his heart in front of the emperor, for his mission had not been successful. Hosius’ mission was to put a stop to a controversy sparked by a presbyter called Arius. The controversy was called the Arian Controversy, after the name of the priest who started it.
In truth, controversy had been the hallmark among the followers of Christ. They were of zealous type, and they would pursue their zeal of whatever denomination to the highest degree. What made it worse was that there was no central authority among them; hence anyone of note can challenge whoever he wished. In some towns or principalities, such as Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, and Jerusalem, there were organized congregations, later known as churches, generally under the leadership of bishops, but this leadership was purely religious. Bishops did not have temporal power at their disposal to dispel those challenging their views. Each group or denomination was pretty much on its own, which was expected, for the temporal power belonged to pagan emperor who reigned over them.
Before the Edict of Milan, the Christians were either ignored or oppressed. With the Edict of Milan, they found new freedom to profess their belief. With the new freedom, their zealousness spread like a wildfire. What used to be disagreement among them had transformed into a crisis the proportion of which could threaten the stability of the state.
Constantine of course was not interested in these doctrinal controversies, for at best he considered himself only a nominal Christian at that time, but when the proportion of the controversy appeared to be strong enough as to threaten the stability of the empire, especially in Egypt, Syria and Judea, he turned to his old reliable servant Hosius, who was only too willing to be the personal envoy of the emperor.
“A bunch of fools, you Christians,” said Constantine after his amusement with Hosius’ answer receded, “I should not have declared your religion legal at Milan,” he continued. Hosius tried to read whether there was regret in the emperor’s tone, but he found none. Obviously Constantine did not really mean what he said.
“The situation is critical my Lord, but not hopeless.” Said Hosius.
“Any suggestion as to what I should do?”
“An emperor’s act,” answered Hosius rather quickly. He obviously had thought through thoroughly before meeting the emperor. But the emperor found his answer ambiguous at best.
“Another edict?” Asked Constantine.
“No my Lord.”
“Now, if you cannot straighten out your controversy among yourselves, then perhaps my sword can.” Said Constantine. Hosius detected seriousness in the emperor’s tone of voice.
“You speak the truth my Lord. Your sword can quench the raging controversy, but it would only be temporary. I am thinking of a more permanent solution.”
“And a chance for my Lord to be remembered for eternity.”
Hosius obviously knew how to massage the emperor’s vanity. His last word struck deep into Constantine’s bone. His brief conversation with his mother a few nights ago sprang into his mind. There was something very similar between the conversation he had with his mother and what Hosius was saying. Both the mother and the bishop sensed that Constantine was destined for greatness, although the former was more concerned about the salvation of her son’s soul while the latter was more concerned about avoiding the emperor’s wrath.
“The controversy, as my Lord knows best, is about the nature of Christ. Is he very God, or only divine? We the people of truth believe that he is very God, the only begotten of the Father, uncreated. Arius the deviant said that he is perhaps divine, but he is nothing more than a creation. We believe he was with the Father even before time was created, because he and the Father were of the one and the same substance, but Arius said that before he was, he was not.”
“You can cut the crap, you tongue twister,” retorted Constantine, “I am not interested in theological nuances. If you believe that this Christ is God, or Son of God, He surely would have the power to settle this dispute. Otherwise, find other gods that can.”
“Of course he could my Lord, but that’s not the point. The Lord Jesus works in a mysterious way. He could settle this dispute easily if he wants to, but that’s not his way.” Hosius was a little taken aback and found himself a bit strained with a cynical remark by the emperor, but he composed himself and spoke in a very diplomatic manner. He knew that Constantine was at best only nominally Christian, but he didn’t quite expect the emperor would use such a coarse expression.
“And what is his way?” Constantine asked
“To work with the anointed one,” Hosius quickly answered.
“I thought Jesus Christ is the anointed one.”
“He is, my Lord, but he is also a God. By the anointed one, I mean the divinely appointed king. And that king is none other than you, my Lord.”
“Is not Jesus Christ a messiah, an anointed king?”
“He is no longer with us in person, my Lord. His task as a man had finished. He is with the Father at his rightful place now. But let’s not delve into that. Shall we instead, my Lord, focus on the issue at hand.” Said Hosius, finding himself a little awkward to answer the emperor’s inquiry.
“If another edict is not the answer, what exactly do you have in mind?” Asked the emperor.
“A conference, a universal conference, to be convoked and convened by your majesty,” said Hosius. It was obvious that had thought through the solution before meeting the great emperor. Perhaps because he believed it was the most practical of all available solutions. Or perhaps because it was expected of him to provide an alternative solution, having failed to carry out his mission entrusted by Constantine about two years earlier.
“A conference to settle the dispute among the Christians to be convoked and convened by a pagan emperor? What can be more ridiculous than that? If prominent bishops like both of you cannot solve it, what chance does a nominal Christian like me have?” Protested Constantine.
“No chance, my Lord, that is, if your majesty are just a common unbeliever. But my Lord is neither unbeliever, nor a common man. My Lord is Constantine the great, the ruler of the greatest empire.” Eustathius, a prominent bishop of Antioch who was no less articulate than Hosius, if not more, spoke for the first time.
On his way back from his mission, Hosius had asked Eustathius to accompany him to seek an audience with the great emperor. Hosius did not want to risk the chance of persuading the great emperor from convening the universal council among all prominent priests the world over. He needed a sidekick, to use a modern parlance. It was only now that his sidekick spoke, since it was Hosius who was made an envoy by the emperor, not Eustathius. It was Hosius who was called to account for his mission, not Eustathius. But now that a proposal was tabled, Eustathius felt obliged to chip in.
“As to the common man,” interjected Constantine, “I am probably not, but as to the believer in your God, I am hardly a Christian.”
“My Lord may be more Christian than my Lord thought, but that is not the point. The point is my Lord is the king, and we the Christians are your subjects.” Said Hosius.
“That can hardly be disputed. But is that a point? Or rather, the point is, how could I, whom most of you would call a pagan emperor, settle the dispute among the Christians?”
“There are times, my Lord, for verbal persuasion. But when verbal persuasion fails, it is time for imperial decree.” Eustathius interjected.
“Hosius already said that another edict is not the answer.” Constantine protested.
“And Hosius has spoken the truth,” interjected Eustathius, “for what is required now is not an edict, but as Hosius has said, a council, to be convened by my Lord.”
“Have I not shot down your ridiculous idea already? How could you the Christians accept a council to be convoked and convened by a pagan emperor?”
“Aahhh, my Lord is being too modest,” said Hosius, “Are not my Lord forgetting something?”
“When was the height of the Jewish Kingdom?” Said Hosius in the form of a question. Constantine sneered at him. The emperor apparently was not amused by Hosius’ insinuation. He being quite knowledgeable of the Jewish history, Constantine answered nevertheless.
“During the King David and his son Solomon, of couse.”
“Yes, King David and King Solomon. The Jews were at their height when there were great kings in their midst.” Said Hosius.
“But I am no Christian King,” again Constantine protested.
“All the same, my Lord,” interjected Hosius. “As I said before, what is needed is the anointed one. And that anointed one is none other than you, my Lord.” He added.
“Tongue twister,” Constantine retorted, yet again.
“On the contrary my Lord,” Eustathius interjected, “my compatriot Hosius has spoken the truth. The Lord our God works in the mysterious way. True, your majesty Lord Constantine has not been baptized, and this by consequence gives the impression that your majesty is not a believer in Christ. Your majesty also humbles your majestic self by calling yourself a pagan emperor. But who can deny the fact that your majesty has done a great service to the Christianity. With the Edict issued in Milan under your majesty’s name, Christianity has found a new lease of life. No Christian, not even great church fathers, has given this faith its vigor and vitality as your majesty has given. We bishops are prone to quarrel among ourselves. The case with Arius and Alexander is only one of many cases—only the most prominent so far. And given our proclivity to disagreement, who would be better to mediate our dispute than the one who is not taking any side. And we are not just talking any neutral man here, but we are talking about the great emperor whose edict has brought to life the faith which had hitherto either been ignored, or worst, persecuted.”
“And it should be clear my Lord,” added Hosius, “that even a god needs a king, because it is through human intervention that the God’s work is perfected. In this case, my Lord is not a mere human, but a divinely anointed emperor, even if my Lord has not realized it yet.”
Links to Earlier Chapters