Early Church Fathers
Excursus on the Other Acts of the Council.
As only the Canons have any real connexion with the Ecumenical Synods, they alone have properly a place in this volume, and yet it may not be amiss to give a brief account of the other acts of the council, so far as we know them.
(a) The Rule for Keeping Easter.-The Anglican Scholar, the Rev. William Cureton, of the British Museum, first edited the then recently discovered Preface to the Paschal Letters of St. Athanasius, together with the Letters themselves. The ms. which he then published was in Syriac and was discovered in Egypt. In the preface just referred to, it is expressly stated that "a plan was agreed upon at Sardica with regard to the feast of Easter." But this new plan, which was only expected to hold good for fifty years, failed, and although in a.d. 346 Easter should have fallen on March 23d, yet the Council (so says St. Athanasius) agreed to observe it on March 30th. Another divergence fell in a.d. 349. Easter, by the Alexandrian calculation, would have been April 23d. But by Roman count, the origin of which was attributed to St. Peter, Easter was never to be later than April 21st, and for the sake of peace the Alexandrians yielded to the Romans and kept Easter on March 26th; but in 350, 360, and 368 the Alexandrian and Roman methods again disagreed, and even the fifty years which Sardica had thought to ensure uniformity were marked by diverse usages.
(b) The Encyclical Letter.-The Council addressed a long Encyclical letter to all the bishops of the world; it is found in St. Athanasius2 in Greek, in St. Hilary of Poictiers3 in Latin, and in Theodoret's Ecclesiastical History.4 In this last there occurs at the end the so-called "Creed of Sardica," which is now considered by scholars to be undoubtedly spurious.
(c) A Letter to the Diocese of Alexandria.-St. Athanasius5 gives us the Greek text of a letter sent by the council to the diocese of Alexandria to the bishops of Egypt and Libya.
(d) A Letter to Pope Julius.-Among the Fragments of St. Hilary6 is found a letter from the synod to Pope Julius. Hefele says that the text is "considerably injured." One clause of this letter above all others has given occasion to much controversy. The passage runs as follows: "It was best and fittest that the priests [i.e., bishops] from all the provinces should make their reports to the head, that is, the chair of St. Peter." Blondell declares the passage to be an interpolation, resting his opinion upon the barbarous Latin of the expression valde congruentissimum. And even Remi Ceillier, while explaining this by the supposition, which is wholly gratuitous, that the original was Greek, yet is forced to confess that the sentence interrupts the flow of thought and looks like an insertion. Bower,7 in his History of the Popes, and Fuchs8 have urged still more strongly the spurious character of the phrase, the latter using the convenient "marginal comment" explanation.
Besides these there are three documents which Scipio Maffei discovered in ms. at Verona, which by some are supposed to belong to the Council of Sardica.
(a) A Letter to the Christians of Mareotis.
(b) A Letter of St. Athanasius to the same Mareotic Churches. This letter is signed not only by Athanasius, but also by a great number of the bishops composing the synod.
(c) A Letter from St. Athanasius to the Church of Alexandria.
On the authority to be attributed to these three documents I can do no better than quote the closing words of Hefele,9 whom I have followed in this whole excursus.
"These extracts shew, I think, quite sufficiently the spuriousness of these documents. Is it possible that the Eusebians would have said of themselves: `We are enemies of Christ?' But apart from this, the whole contents of these three letters are lame and feeble. The constant repetition of the same words is intolerable, and the whole style pointless and trivial. To this it must be added that the whole of Christian antiquity knew nothing of these three documents, which only exist in the codex at Verona, so that we cannot acknowledge them as genuine."