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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters (Athanasius) > Letter 56

Letter 56

To the Emperor Jovian concerning the Faith

Copy of a letter of the Emperor Jovian, sent to Athanasius, the most holy Archbishop of Alexandria:

To the most religious and friend of God, Athanasius, Jovian: Admiring exceedingly the achievements of your most honourable life, and of your likeness to the God of all, and of your affection toward our Saviour Christ, we accept you, most honoured bishop. And inasmuch as you have not flinched from all labour, nor from the fear of your persecutors, and, regarding dangers and threats of the sword as dung, holding the rudder of the orthodox faith which is dear to you, are contending even until now for the truth, and continue to exhibit yourself as a pattern to all the people of the faithful, and an example of virtue:— our imperial Majesty recalls you, and desires that you should return to the office of the teaching of salvation. Return then to the holy Churches, and tend the people of God, and send up to God with zeal your prayers for our clemency. For we know that by your supplication we, and all who hold with us [the Christian faith], shall have great assistance from the supreme God.

1. A desire to learn and a yearning for heavenly things is suitable to a religious Emperor; for thus you will truly have 'your heart' also 'in the hand of God. ' Since then your Piety desired to learn from us the faith of the Catholic Church, giving thanks for these things to the Lord, we counselled above all things to remind your Piety of the faith confessed by the Fathers at Nicæa. For this certain set at nought, while plotting against us in many ways, because we would not comply with the Arian heresy, and they have become authors of heresy and schisms in the Catholic Church. For the true and pious faith in the Lord has become manifest to all, being both 'known and read ' from the Divine Scriptures. For in it both the saints were made perfect and suffered martyrdom, and now are departed in the Lord; and the faith would have abode inviolate always had not the wickedness of certain heretics presumed to tamper with it. For a certain Arius and those with him attempted to corrupt it, and to introduce impiety in its place, affirming that the Son of God was from nought, and a creature, and a thing made and changeable. But with these words they deceived many, so that even 'they that seemed to be somewhat were carried away ,' with their blasphemy. And yet our holy Fathers, as we said before, came promptly together at the Synod at Nicæa, and anathematised them, and confessed in writing the faith of the Catholic Church, so that, this being everywhere preached, the heresy kindled by the heretics might be quenched. This faith then was everywhere in every Church sincerely known and preached. But since now certain who wish to renew the Arian heresy have presumed to set at nought this faith confessed at Nicæa by the Fathers, and while pretending to confess it, do in fact deny it, explaining away the 'Coessential ,' and blaspheming of their own accord against the Holy Spirit, in affirming that It is a creature, and came into being as a thing made by the Son, we hasten as of bounden duty, in view of the injury resulting to the people from such blasphemy, to hand to your Piety the faith confessed at Nicæa; in order that your religiousness may know what has been written with all accuracy, and how far wrong they are who teach contrary to it.

2. For know, most religious Augustus, that these things have been preached from time immemorial, and this faith the Fathers who met at Nicæa confessed; and to it have assented all the Churches in every quarter, both those in Spain, and Britain, and the Gauls, and all Italy and Dalmatia, Dacia and Mœsia, Macedonia and all Greece, and in all Africa and Sardinia, and Cyprus and Crete, as well as Pamphylia, Lycia and Isauria, and those in Egypt and the Libyas, Pontus and Cappadocia, and those near at hand to us , and the Churches in the East, except a few who hold with Arius. For of all those above mentioned we have both learnt the opinion by experience, and we have letters. And you know, O most religious Augustus, that even if some few speak against this faith, they cannot create a demurrer , inasmuch as the whole world holds the Apostolic faith. For they having long been infected by the Arian heresy, now the more obstinately oppose the truth. And that your Piety may know, although you know already, yet we hasten to append the faith confessed by the Bishops at Nicæa. The faith then confessed at Nicæa by the Fathers is as follows:—

3. We believe , etc., etc.

4. By this faith, Augustus, all must needs abide, as Divine and Apostolic, and none must unsettle it by plausibilities, and contentions about words, which is what the Arian madmen have done, saying that the Son of God is from nought, and that once there was when He was not, and that He is created, and made and changeable. For for this cause, as we said before, the Synod at Nicæa anathematised such heresy, but confessed the faith of the truth. For they have not merely said that the Son is like the Father, lest He should be believed merely like God, instead of Very God from God; but they wrote 'Coessential,' which was peculiar to a genuine and true Son, truly and naturally from the Father. Nor yet did they make the Holy Spirit alien from the Father and the Son, but rather glorified Him together with the Father and the Son, in the one faith of the Holy Triad, because there is in the Holy Triad also one Godhead.

Appendix

Petition made at Antioch to Jovian the Emperor on the part of Lucius and Bernicianus, and certain other Arians against Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria.

First Petition which they made as the Emperor was departing to Camp, at the Roman Gate.

May it please your Might and your Majesty and your Piety to hear us. The Emperor: 'Who are you and where from?' The Arians: 'Christians, my Lord.' Emperor: 'Where from, and from what city?' The Arians: 'Alexandria.'— Emperor: 'What do you want?' The Arians: 'May it please your Might and your Majesty, give us a Bishop.' Emperor: 'I ordered the former one, whom you had before, Athanasius, to occupy the See.' The Arians: 'May it please your Might: he has been many years both in banishment, and under accusation.' Suddenly a soldier answered in indignation: 'May it please your Majesty, enquire of them who they are and where from, for these are the leavings and refuse of Cappadocia, the remains of that unholy George who desolated the city and the world.' The Emperor on hearing this set spurs to his horse, and departed to the Camp.

Second Petition of the Arians.

'We have accusations and clear proofs against Athanasius, in that ten and twenty years ago he was deprived by the ever memorable Constantine and Constantius, and incurred banishment under the most religious and philosophical and blessed Julian.' Emperor: 'Accusations ten, twenty, and thirty years old are now obsolete. Don't speak to me about Athanasius, for I know why he was accused, and how he was banished.'

Third Petition of the Arians.

'And now again, we have certain other accusations against Athanasius.' Emperor: 'The rights of the case will not appear by means of crowded numbers, and clamours, but choose two from yourselves, and from the party of the majority other two, for I cannot answer each one severally.' Those from the majority: 'These are the leavings from the unholy George, who desolated our province, and who would not allow a counsellor to dwell in the cities.' The Arians: 'May it please you, any one you will except Athanasius.' Emperor: 'I told you that the case of Athanasius was already settled,' (and then angrily) 'feri, feri! ' The Arians: 'May it please you, if you send Athanasius, our city is ruined, and no one assembles with him.' Emperor: 'Yet I took pains, and ascertained that he holds right opinions and is orthodox, and teaches aright.' The Arians: 'With his mouth he utters what is right, but in his soul he harbours guile.' Emperor: 'That will do, you have testified of him, that he utters what is right and teaches aright, but if he teaches and speaks aright with his tongue, but harbours evil thoughts in his soul, it concerns him before God. For we are men, and hear what is said; but what is in the heart God knows.' The Arians: 'Authorise our holding communion together.' Emperor: 'Why, who prevents you?' The Arians: 'May it please you, he proclaims us as sectarians and dogmatisers.' Emperor: 'It is his duty, and that of those who teach aright.' The Arians: 'May it please your Might; we cannot bear this man, and he has taken away the lands of the Churches.' Emperor: 'Oh then, it is on account of property you have come here, and not on account of the faith'—then he added—'go away, and keep the peace.' Once more he added to the Arians: 'Go away to the Church, tomorrow you have a Communion, and after the dismissal, there are Bishops here, and here is Nemesinus , each one of you shall sign as he believes: Athanasius is here too; whoever does not know the word of faith, let him learn from Athanasius. You have tomorrow and the day after, for I am going out to Camp.' And a certain lawyer belonging to the Cynics petitioned the Emperor: 'May it please your Majesty, on account of Bishop Athanasius, the Receiver-General seized my houses.' Emperor: 'If the Receiver-General seized your houses what has that to do with Athanasius?' Another lawyer, Patalas, said: 'I have a complaint against Athanasius.' Emperor: 'And what have you to do with Christians, being a heathen?' But certain of the majority of them of Antioch took Lucius and brought him to the Emperor, saying: 'May it please your Might and your Majesty, look whom they wanted to make a Bishop!'

Another petition made at the porch of the palace on the part of Lucius:—'May it please your Might, listen to me.' The Emperor stopped and said: 'I ask you, Lucius, how did you come here, by sea or by land?' Lucius: 'May it please you, by sea.' Emperor: 'Well, Lucius, may the God of the world, and the radiant sun, and moon, be angry with those men that made the voyage with you, for not casting you into the sea; and may that ship never again have fair winds, nor find a haven with her passengers when in a storm.' And through Euzoius the unbelieving Arians asked Probatius and his fellows, the successors of Eusebius and Bardio as eunuchs, that they might be granted an audience. The Emperor learned this, and tortured the eunuchs and said: 'If any one wants to make a petition against Christians let this be his fate.' And so the Emperor dismissed them.

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Source. Translated by Archibald Robertson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2806056.htm>.

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