Chapter XXXIII.—How the Goths became tainted by the Arian error.
To those ignorant of the circumstances it may be worth while to explain how the Goths got the Arian plague. After they had crossed the Danube, and made peace with Valens, the infamous Eudoxius, who was on the spot, suggested to the emperor to persuade the Goths to accept communion with him. They had indeed long since received the rays of divine knowledge and had been nurtured in the apostolic doctrines, “but now,” said Eudoxius, “community of opinion will make the peace all the firmer.” Valens approved of this counsel and proposed to the Gothic chieftains an agreement in doctrine, but they replied that they would not consent to forsake the teaching of their fathers. At the period in question their Bishop Ulphilas was implicitly obeyed by them and they received his words as laws which none might break. Partly by the fascination of his eloquence and partly by the bribes with which he baited his proposals Eudoxius succeeded in inducing him to persuade the barbarians to embrace communion with the emperor, so Ulphilas won them over on the plea that the quarrel between the different parties was really one of personal rivalry and involved no difference in doctrine. The result is that up to this day the Goths assert that the Father is greater than the Son, but they refuse to describe the Son as a creature, although they are in communion with those who do so. Yet they cannot be said to have altogether abandoned their Fathers teaching, since Ulphilas in his efforts to persuade them to join communion with Eudoxius and Valens denied that there was any difference in doctrine and that the difference had arisen from mere empty strife. 808
Christianity is first found among the Goths and some German tribes on the Rhine about a.d. 300, the Visigoths taking the lead, and being followed by the Ostrogoths. They were converted under Arian influences, and simply accepted an Arian creed. So Salvian writes of them with singular charity, in a passage partly quoted by Milman (Lat. Christ. I. p. 349.) “Hæretici sunt sed non scientes. Denique apud nos sunt hæretici, apud se non sunt. Nam in tantum se catholicos esse judicant ut nos ipsos titulo hæreticæ appellationis infament. Quod ergo illi nobis sunt, hoc nos illis. Nos eos injuriam divinæ generationis facere certi sumus quod minorem patre filium dicant. Illi nos injuriosos patri existimant, quia æquales esse credamus. Veritas apud nos est. Sed illi apud se esse prœsumunt. Honor Dei apud nos est, sed illi hoc arbitrantur honorem divinitatis esse quod credunt. Inofficiosi sunt; sed illis hoc est summum religionis officium. Impii sunt; sed hoc putant veram esse pietatem. Errant ergo, sed bono animo errant, non odio, sed affectu Dei, honorare se dominum atque amare credentes.” (Salvianus de Gub. Dei V. p. 87.) The spirit of this good Presbyter of Marseilles of the 5th century might well have been more often followed in Christian controversy.
“Of the early Arian missionaries the Arian Records, if they ever existed, have almost entirely perished. The church was either ignorant of or disdained to preserve their memory. Ulphilas alone,”—himself a semi-Arian, and accepter of the creed of Ariminum,—“the apostle of the Goths, has, as it were, forced his way into the Catholic records, in which, as in the fragments of his great work, his translation of the Scriptures into the Mœso-Gothic language, this admirable man has descended to posterity.” “While in these two great divisions, the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, the nation gathering its descendants from all quarters, spread their more or less rapid conquests over Gaul, Italy, and Spain, Ulphilas formed a peaceful and populous colony of shepherds and herdsmen on the pastures below Mt. Hæmus. He became the primate of a simple Christian nation. For them he formed an alphabet of twenty-four letters, and completed all but the fierce books of Kings”—which he omitted, as likely to whet his wild folks warlike passions,—“his translation of the Scriptures.” Milman Lat. Christ. III. Chap. ii.
The fragments of the work of Ulphilas now extant are (1) Codex Argenteus, at Upsala. (2) Codex Carolinus. (3) Ambrosian fragments published by Mai. cf. Philost. ii. 5, Soc. ii. 41 and iv. 33.
On Eudoxius, who baptized Valens, and was “the worst of the Arians,” cf. note on page 86.