The Council of Milan

At the end of the year 354 A.D., Lucifer, bishop of Cagliari, and two Roman priests went before Eusebius of Vercelli at his home to deliver a message from Pope Liberius. Since the Pope knew Eusebius’ strong faith and his adhesion to the Apostolic Seat, the Pope invites Eusebius to join his delegates to go before the emperor Constantius to obtain consent to celebrate another council in order to be re-establish everything that had damaged the Catholic faith.

Constantius accepted the proposal of a new Council, but he decided it should take place in Milan, where he was living. In the year 355 A.D., around a hundred bishops were gathered, most of them from the West, with the same group of emperor’s officials.

Eusebius didn’t attend it. His absence was very serious and baffling. Pope Liberius urged him to go immediately to Milan. Lucifer, in trouble, considered his presence extremely necessary and urgent. Eusebius did not go, showing by his absence his disapproval of the council, which had been imposed by the emperor, where everything would have happened as in Arles.

Constantius sent four delegates to Eusebius, inviting him to endorse the decisions of the Council, already approved by thirty subscribers, and to condemn “the sacrilegious Athanasius.”

Eusebius replied with a brief message:

“I, O most merciful emperor, seeing that you are devoted to God and desire whatever is necessary so that a firm ecclesiastical peace might be preserved through the entire globe, have received your letter with joy. I have also received a letter from my brothers and fellow bishops in which they have deigned to inform me that I should send back to them, via those whom they had dispatched, my full reasoning [for not going to the council] and indeed I wanted to do what they wished.

But since I have not been able to give them the reason fully, and I ought to provide this for

Your Clemency, I have concluded that it is necessary for me to prepare to come to Milan. Lord Emperor, when I come into your presence, I promise that I will do whatever is seen as just and pleasing to God.

May God watch over you, most glorious Emperor.”

The Arian faction had already dominated the council. When he was asked to condemn Athanasius, Eusebius said he first had to affirm the orthodox faith of those present through the subscription to the Nicene Creed.

Dionysius, bishop of Milan, was the first who came to sign, but the pen and paper were taken out of his hands. It was an open disagreement; Constantius urged Lucifer, Eusebius and Dionysius to condemn Athanasius, but they refused to accuse an absent. As a result, the emperor sent the three of them to exile: Eusebius in Scythopolis and Palestine, Lucifer in Cappadocia and Dyonisius in Armenia, where he dies.

Pope Liberius wrote a touching letter to the exiled, regarding them as martyrs and confessors. The same Pope was also sent into exile soon after, and Athanasius took refuge among the monks of the desert.

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