Examples from Church History, confirming the words of Moses, -- Nestorius, Photinus, Apollinaris.
[29.] Here, perhaps, some one will require us to illustrate the words of holy Moses by examples from Church History. The demand is a fair one, nor shall it wait long for satisfaction.
For to take first a very recent and very plain case: what sort of trial, think we, was that which the Church had experience of the other day, when that unhappy Nestorius, all at once metamorphosed from a sheep into a wolf, began to make havoc of the flock of Christ, while as yet a large proportion of those whom he was devouring believed him to be a sheep, and consequently were the more exposed to his attacks? For who would readily suppose him to be in error, who was known to have been elected by the high choice of the Emperor, and to be held in the greatest esteem by the priesthood? who would readily suppose him to be in error, who, greatly beloved by the holy brethren, and in high favor with the populace, expounded the Scriptures in public daily, and confuted the pestilent errors both of Jews and Heathens? Who could choose but believe that his teaching was Orthodox, his preaching Orthodox, his belief Orthodox, who, that he might open the way to one heresy of his own, was zealously inveighing against the blasphemies of all heresies? But this was the very thing which Moses says: |The Lord your God doth try you that He may know whether you love Him or not.|
[30.] Leaving Nestorius, in whom there was always more that men admired than they were profited by, more of show than of reality, whom natural ability, rather than divine grace, magnified, for a time in the opinion of the common people, let us pass on to speak of those who, being persons of great attainments and of much industry, proved no small trial to Catholics. Such, for instance, was Photinus, in Pannonia, who, in the memory of our fathers, is said to have been a trial to the Church of Sirmium, where, when he had been raised to the priesthood with universal approbation, and had discharged the office for some time as a Catholic, all of a sudden, like that evil prophet or dreamer of dreams whom Moses refers to, he began to persuade the people whom God had intrusted, to his charge, to follow |strange gods,| that is, strange errors, which before they knew not. But there was nothing unusual in this: the mischief of the matter was, that for the perpetration of so great wickedness he availed himself of no ordinary helps. For he was of great natural ability and of powerful eloquence, and had a wealth of learning, disputing and writing copiously and forcibly in both languages, as his books which remain, composed partly in Greek, partly in Latin, testify. But happily the sheep of Christ committed to him, vigilant and wary for the Catholic faith, quickly turned their eyes to the premonitory words of Moses, and, though admiring the eloquence of their prophet and pastor, were not blind to the trial. For from thenceforward they began to flee from him as a wolf, whom formerly they had followed as the ram of the flock.
[31.] Nor is it only in the instance of Photinus that we learn the danger of this trial to the Church, and are admonished withal of the need of double diligence in guarding the faith. Apollinaris holds out a like warning. For he gave rise to great burning questions and sore perplexities among his disciples, the Church's authority drawing them one way, their Master's influence the opposite; so that, wavering and tossed hither and thither between the two, they were at a loss what course to take.
But perhaps he was a person of no weight of character. On the contrary, he was so eminent and so highly esteemed that his word would only too readily be taken on whatsoever subject. For what could exceed his acuteness, his adroitness, his learning? How many heresies did he, in many volumes, annihilate! How many errors, hostile to the faith, did he confute! A proof of which is that most noble and vast work, of not less than thirty books, in which, with a great mass of arguments, he repelled the insane calumnies of Porphyry. It would take a long time to enumerate all his works, which assuredly would have placed him on a level with the very chief of the Church's builders, if that profane lust of heretical curiosity had not led him to devise I know not what novelty which as though through the contagion of a sort of leprosy both defiled all his labours, and caused his teachings to be pronounced the Church's trial instead of the Church's edification.