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Home > Fathers of the Church > History of the Arians (Athanasius) > Part III

History of the Arians, Part III

BY ST. ATHANASIUS

15. Restoration of the Catholics on the Council of Sardica

While they were proceeding in like measures towards all, at Rome about fifty Bishops assembled , and denounced Eusebius and his fellows as persons suspected, afraid to come, and also condemned as unworthy of credit the written statement they had sent; but us they received, and gladly embraced our communion. While these things were taking place, a report of the Council held at Rome, and of the proceedings against the Churches at Alexandria, and through all the East, came to the hearing of the Emperor Constans. He writes to his brother Constantius, and immediately they both determine that a Council shall be called, and matters be brought to a settlement, so that those who had been injured may be released from further suffering, and the injurious be no longer able to perpetrate such outrages. Accordingly there assemble at the city of Sardica both from the East and West to the number of one hundred and seventy Bishops , more or less; those who came from the West were Bishops only, having Hosius for their father, but those from the East brought with them instructors of youth and advocates, Count Musonianus, and Hesychius the Castrensian; on whose account they came with great alacrity, thinking that everything would be again managed by their authority. For thus by means of these persons they have always shown themselves formidable to any whom they wished to intimidate, and have prosecuted their designs against whomsoever they chose. But when they arrived and saw that the cause was to be conducted as simply an ecclesiastical one, without the interference of the Count or of soldiers; when they saw the accusers who came from every church and city, and the evidence which was brought against them, when they saw the venerable Bishops Arius and Asterius , who came up in their company, withdrawing from them and siding with us , and giving an account of their cunning, and how suspicious their conduct was, and that they were fearing the consequences of a trial, lest they should be convicted by us of being false informers, and it should be discovered by those whom they produced in the character of accusers, that they had themselves suggested all they were to say, and were the contrivers of the plot. Perceiving this to be the case, although they had come with great zeal, as thinking that we should be afraid to meet them, yet now when they saw our alacrity, they shut themselves up in the Palace (for they had their abode there), and proceeded to confer with one another in the following manner: 'We came hither for one result; and we see another; we arrived in company with Counts, and the trial is proceeding without them. We are certainly condemned. You all know the orders that have been given. Athanasius and his fellows have the reports of the proceedings in the Mareotis , by which he is cleared, and we are covered with disgrace. Why then do we delay? Why are we so slow? Let us invent some excuse and be gone, or we shall be condemned if we remain. It is better to suffer the shame of fleeing, than the disgrace of being convicted as false accusers. If we flee, we shall find some means of defending our heresy; and even if they condemn us for our flight, still we have the Emperor as our patron, who will not suffer the people to expel us from the Churches.'

16. Secession of the Easterns at Sardica

Thus then they reasoned with themselves and Hosius and all the other Bishops repeatedly signified to them the alacrity of Athanasius and his fellows, saying, 'They are ready with their defence, and pledge themselves to prove you false accusers.' They said also, 'If you fear the trial, why did you come to meet us? Either you ought not to have come, or now that you have come, not to flee.' When they heard this, being still more alarmed, they had recourse to an excuse even more unseemly than that they pretended at Antioch, viz. that they betook themselves to flight because the Emperor had written to them the news of his victory over the Persians. And this excuse they were not ashamed to send by Eustathius a Presbyter of the Sardican Church. But even thus their flight did not succeed according to their wishes; for immediately the holy Council, of which the great Hosius was president, wrote to them plainly, saying, 'Either come forward and answer the charges which are brought against you, for the false accusations which you have made against others, or know that the Council will condemn you as guilty, and declare Athanasius and his fellows free and clear from all blame.' Whereupon they were rather impelled to flight by the alarms of conscience, than to compliance with the proposals of the letter; for when they saw those who had been injured by them, they did not even turn their faces to listen to their words, but fled with greater speed.

17. Proceedings of the Council of Sardica

Under these disgraceful and unseemly circumstances their flight took place. And the holy Council, which had been assembled out of more than five and thirty provinces, perceiving the malice of the Arians, admitted Athanasius and his fellows to answer to the charges which the others had brought against them, and to declare the sufferings which they had undergone. And when they had thus made their defence, as we said before, they approved and so highly admired their conduct that they gladly embraced their communion, and wrote letters to all quarters, to the diocese of each, and especially to Alexandria and Egypt, and the Libyas, declaring Athanasius and his friends to be innocent, and free from all blame, and their opponents to be calumniators, evil-doers, and everything rather than Christians. Accordingly they dismissed them in peace; but deposed Stephanus and Menophantus, Acacius and George of Laodicea, Ursacius and Valens, Theodorus and Narcissus. For against Gregory, who had been sent to Alexandria by the Emperor, they put forth a proclamation to the effect that he had never been made a Bishop, and that he ought not to be called a Christian. They therefore declared the ordinations which he professed to have conferred to be void, and commanded that they should not be even named in the Church, on account of their novel and illegal nature. Thus Athanasius and his friends were dismissed in peace (the letters concerning them are inserted at the end on account of their length ), and the Council was dissolved.

18. ArianPersecution after Sardica

But the deposed persons, who ought now to have remained quiet, with those who had separated after so disgraceful a flight, were guilty of such conduct, that their former proceedings appear trifling in comparison of these. For when the people of Adrianople would not have communion with them, as men who had fled from the Council, and had proved culprits, they carried their complaints to the Emperor Constantius, and succeeded in causing ten of the laity to be beheaded, belonging to the Manufactory of arms there, Philagrius, who was there again as Count, assisting their designs in this matter also. The tombs of these persons, which we have seen in passing by, are in front of the city. Then as if they had been quite successful, because they had fled lest they should be convicted of false accusation, they prevailed with the Emperor to command whatsoever they wished to be done. Thus they caused two Presbyters and three Deacons to be banished from Alexandria into Armenia. As to Arius and Asterius, the one Bishop of Petræ in Palestine, the other Bishop in Arabia, who had withdrawn from their party, they not only banished into upper Libya, but also caused them to be treated with insult.

19. Tyrannical measures against the Alexandrians

And as to Lucius , Bishop of Adrianople, when they saw that he used great boldness of speech against them, and exposed their impiety, they again, as they had done before, caused him to be bound with iron chains on the neck and hands, and so drove him into banishment, where he died, as they know. And Diodorus a Bishop they remove; but against Olympius of Æni, and Theodulus of Trajanople , both Bishops of Thrace, good and orthodox men, when they perceived their hatred of the heresy, they brought false charges. This Eusebius and his fellows had done first of all, and the Emperor Constantius wrote letters on the subject; and next these men revived the accusation. The purport of the letter was, that they should not only be expelled from their cities and churches, but should also suffer capital punishment, wherever they were discovered. However surprising this conduct may be, it is only in accordance with their principles; for as being instructed by Eusebius and his fellows in such proceedings, and as heirs of their impiety and evil principles, they wished to show themselves formidable at Alexandria, as their fathers had done in Thrace. They caused an order to be written, that the ports and gates of the cities should be watched, lest availing themselves of the permission granted by the Council, the banished persons should return to their churches. They also cause orders to be sent to the magistrates at Alexandria, respecting Athanasius and certain Presbyters, named therein, that if either the Bishop , or any of the others, should be found coming to the city or its borders, the magistrate should have power to behead those who were so discovered. Thus this new Jewish heresy does not only deny the Lord, but has also learned to commit murder.

20. Plot against the Catholic Legates at Antioch

Yet even after this they did not rest; but as the father of their heresy goes about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour, so these obtaining the use of the public posts went about, and whenever they found any that reproached them with their flight, and that hated the Arian heresy, they scourged them, cast them into chains, and caused them to be banished from their country; and they rendered themselves so formidable, as to induce many to dissemble, many to fly into the deserts, rather than willingly even to have any dealings with them. Such were the enormities which their madness prompted them to commit after their flight. Moreover they perpetrate another outrageous act, which is indeed in accordance with the character of their heresy, but is such as we never heard of before, nor is likely soon to take place again, even among the more dissolute of the Gentiles, much less among Christians. The holy Council had sent as Legates the Bishops Vincentius of Capua (this is the Metropolis of Campania), and Euphrates of Agrippina (this is the Metropolis of Upper Gaul), that they might obtain the Emperor's consent to the decision of the Council, that the Bishops should return to their Churches, inasmuch as he was the author of their expulsion. The most religious Constans had also written to his brother , and supported the cause of the Bishops. But these admirable men, who are equal to any act of audacity, when they saw the two Legates at Antioch, consulted together and formed a plot, which Stephanus undertook by himself to execute, as being a suitable instrument for such purposes. Accordingly they hire a common harlot, even at the season of the most holy Easter, and stripping her introduce her by night into the apartment of the Bishop Euphrates. The harlot who thought that it was a young man who had sent to invite her, at first willingly accompanied them; but when they thrust her in, and she saw the man asleep and unconscious of what was going on, and when presently she distinguished his features, and beheld the face of an old man, and the array of a Bishop, she immediately cried aloud, and declared that violence was used towards her. They desired her to be silent, and to lay a false charge against the Bishop; and so when it was day, the matter was noised abroad, and all the city ran together; and those who came from the Palace were in great commotion, wondering at the report which had been spread abroad, and demanding that it should not be passed by in silence. An enquiry, therefore, was made, and her master gave information concerning those who came to fetch the harlot, and these informed against Stephanus; for they were his Clergy. Stephanus, therefore, is deposed , and Leontius the eunuch appointed in his place, only that the Arian heresy may not want a supporter.

21. Constantius' change of mind

And now the Emperor Constantius, feeling some compunctions, returned to himself; and concluding from their conduct towards Euphrates, that their attacks upon the others were of the same kind, he gives orders that the Presbyters and Deacons who had been banished from Alexandria into Armenia should immediately be released. He also writes publicly to Alexandria , commanding that the clergy and laity who were friends of Athanasius should suffer no further persecution. And when Gregory died about ten months after, he sends for Athanasius with every mark of honour, writing to him no less than three times a very friendly letter in which he exhorted him to take courage and come. He sends also a Presbyter and a Deacon, that he may be still further encouraged to return; for he thought that, through alarm at what had taken place before, I did not care to return. Moreover he writes to his brother Constans, that he also would exhort me to return. And he affirmed that he had been expecting Athanasius a whole year, and that he would not permit any change to be made, or any ordination to take place, as he was preserving the Churches for Athanasius their Bishop.

22. Athanasius visits Constantius

When therefore he wrote in this strain, and encouraged him by means of many (for he caused Polemius, Datianus, Bardion, Thalassus , Taurus , and Florentius, his Counts, in whom Athanasius could best confide, to write also): Athanasius committing the whole matter to God, who had stirred the conscience of Constantius to do this, came with his friends to him; and he gave him a favourable audience , and sent him away to go to his country and his Churches, writing at the same time to the magistrates in the several places, that whereas he had before commanded the ways to be guarded, they should now grant him a free passage. Then when the Bishop complained of the sufferings he had undergone, and of the letters which the Emperor had written against him, and besought him that the false accusations against him might not be revived by his enemies after his departure, saying , 'If you please, summon these persons; for as far as we are concerned they are at liberty to stand forth, and we will expose their conduct;' he would not do this, but commanded that whatever had been before slanderously written against him should all be destroyed and obliterated, affirming that he would never again listen to any such accusations, and that his purpose was fixed and unalterable. This he did not simply say, but sealed his words with oaths, calling upon God to be witness of them. And so encouraging him with many other words, and desiring him to be of good courage, he sends the following letters to the Bishops and Magistrates.

23. Constantius Augustus, the Great, the Conqueror, to the Bishops and Clergy of the Catholic Church.

The most Reverend Athanasius has not been deserted by the grace of God , etc.

Another Letter.

From Constantius to the people of Alexandria.

Desiring as we do your welfare in all respects , etc.

Another Letter.

Constantius Augustus, the Conqueror, to Nestorius, Prefect of Egypt.

It is well known that an order was heretofore given by us, and that certain documents are to be found prejudicial to the estimation of the most reverend Bishop Athanasius; and that these exist among the Orders of your worship. Now we desire your Sobriety, of which we have good proof, to transmit to our Court, in compliance with this our order, all the letters respecting the fore-mentioned person, which are found in your Order-book.

24. The following is the letter which he wrote after the death of the blessed Constans. It was written in Latin, and is here translated into Greek.

Constantius Augustus, the Conqueror, to Athanasius.

It is not unknown to your Prudence, that it was my constant prayer, that prosperity might attend my late brother Constans in all his undertakings; and your wisdom may therefore imagine how greatly I was afflicted when I learned that he had been taken off by most unhallowed hands. Now whereas there are certain persons who at the present truly mournful time are endeavouring to alarm you, I have therefore thought it right to address this letter to your Constancy, to exhort you that, as becomes a Bishop, you would teach the people those things which pertain to the divine religion, and that, as you are accustomed to do, you would employ your time in prayers together with them, and not give credit to vain rumours, whatever they may be. For our fixed determination is, that you should continue, agreeably to our desire, to perform the office of a Bishop in your own place. May Divine Providence preserve you, most beloved parent, many years.

25. Return of Athanasius from second exile

Under these circumstances, when they had at length taken their leave, and begun their journey, those who were friendly rejoiced to see a friend; but of the other party, some were confounded at the sight of him; others not having the confidence to appear, hid themselves; and others repented of what they had written against the Bishop. Thus all the Bishops of Palestine , except some two or three, and those men of suspected character, so willingly received Athanasius, and embraced communion with him, that they wrote to excuse themselves, on the ground that in what they had formerly written, they had acted, not according to their own wishes, but by compulsion. Of the Bishops of Egypt and the Libyan provinces, of the laity both of those countries and of Alexandria, it is superfluous for me to speak. They all ran together, and were possessed with unspeakable delight, that they had not only received their friends alive contrary to their hopes; but that they were also delivered from the heretics who were as tyrants and as raging dogs towards them. Accordingly great was their joy , the people in the congregations encouraging one another in virtue. How many unmarried women, who were before ready to enter upon marriage, now remained virgins to Christ! How many young men, seeing the examples of others, embraced the monastic life! How many fathers persuaded their children, and how many were urged by their children, not to be hindered from Christian asceticism! How many wives persuaded their husbands, and how many were persuaded by their husbands, to give themselves to prayer 1 Corinthians 7:5, as the Apostle has spoken! How many widows and how many orphans, who were before hungry and naked, now through the great zeal of the people, were no longer hungry, and went forth clothed! In a word, so great was their emulation in virtue, that you would have thought every family and every house a Church, by reason of the goodness of its inmates, and the prayers which were offered to God. And in the Churches there was a profound and wonderful peace, while the Bishops wrote from all quarters, and received from Athanasius the customary letters of peace.

26. Recantation of Ursacius and Valens

Moreover Ursacius and Valens, as if suffering the scourge of conscience, came to another mind, and wrote to the Bishop himself a friendly and peaceable letter , although they had received no communication from him. And going up to Rome they repented, and confessed that all their proceedings and assertions against him were founded in falsehood and mere calumny. And they not only voluntarily did this, but also anathematized the Arian heresy, and presented a written declaration of their repentance, addressing to the Bishop Julius the following letter in Latin, which has been translated into Greek. The copy was sent to us in Latin by Paul , Bishop of Treveri.

Translation from the Latin.

Ursacius and Valens to my Lord the most blessed Pope Julius.

Whereas it is well known that we , etc.

Translation from the Latin.

The Bishops Ursacius and Valens to my Lord and Brother, the Bishop Athanasius.

Having an opportunity of sending , etc.

After writing these, they also subscribed the letters of peace which were presented to them by Peter and Irenæus, Presbyters of Athanasius, and by Ammonius a layman, who were passing that way, although Athanasius had sent no communication to them even by these persons.

27. Triumph of Athanasius

Now who was not filled with admiration at witnessing these things, and the great peace that prevailed in the Churches? Who did not rejoice to see the concord of so many Bishops? Who did not glorify the Lord, beholding the delight of the people in their assemblies? How many enemies repented! How many excused themselves who had formerly accused him falsely! How many who formerly hated him, now showed affection for him! How many of those who had written against him, recanted their assertions? Many also who had sided with the Arians, not through choice but by necessity, came by night and excused themselves. They anathematized the heresy, and besought him to pardon them, because, although through the plots and calumnies of these men they appeared bodily on their side, yet in their hearts they held communion with Athanasius, and were always with him. Believe me, this is true.

About this page

Source. Translated by M. Atkinson and 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/28153.htm>.

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