Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: Constantius, being Afraid of his Brother's Threats, recalls Athanasius by Letter, and sends him to Alexandria.Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Chapter XXIII.—Constantius, being Afraid of his Brothers Threats, recalls Athanasius by Letter, and sends him to Alexandria.
On receiving this communication the emperor of the East fell into perplexity; and immediately sending for the greater part of the Eastern bishops, he acquainted them with the choice his brother had submitted to him, and asked what ought to be done. They replied, it was better to concede the churches to Athanasius, than to undertake a civil war. Accordingly the emperor, urged by necessity, summoned Athanasius and his friends to his presence. Meanwhile the emperor of the West sent Paul to Constantinople, with two bishops and other honorable attendance, having fortified him with his own letters, together with those of the Synod. But while Athanasius was still apprehensive, and hesitated to go to him,—for he dreaded the treachery of his calumniators,—the emperor of the East not once only, but even a second and a third time, invited him to come to him; this is evident from his letters, which, translated from the Latin tongue, are as follows:
Epistle of Constantius to Athanasius. 329
Constantius Victor Augustus to Athanasius the bishop.
Our compassionate clemency cannot permit you to be any longer tossed and disquieted as it were by the boisterous waves of the sea. Our unwearied piety has not been unmindful of you driven from your native home, despoiled of your property, and wandering in pathless solitudes. And although I have too long deferred acquainting you by letter with the purpose of my mind, expecting your coming to us of your own accord to seek a remedy for your troubles; yet since fear perhaps has hindered the execution of your wishes, we therefore have sent to your reverence letters full of indulgence, in order that you may fearlessly hasten to appear in our presence, whereby after experiencing our benevolence, you may attain your desire, and be re-established in your proper position. For this reason I have requested my Lord and brother Constans Victor Augustus to grant you permission to come, to the end that by the consent of us both you may be restored to your country, having this assurance of our favor.
p. 50 Another Epistle to Athanasius.
Constantius Victor Augustus to the bishop Athanasius.
Although we have abundantly intimated in a former letter that you might confidently come to our court, 330 as we are extremely anxious to reinstate you in your proper place, yet we have again addressed this letter to your reverence. We therefore urge you, without any distrust or apprehension, to take a public vehicle and hasten to us, in order that you may be able to obtain what you desire.
Another Epistle to Athanasius.
Constantius Victor Augustus to the bishop Athanasius.
While we were residing at Edessa, where your presbyters were present, it pleased us to send one of them to you, for the purpose of hastening your arrival at our court, in order that after having been introduced to our presence, you might forthwith proceed to Alexandria. But inasmuch as a considerable time has elapsed since you received our letter, and yet have not come, we now therefore hasten to remind you to speedily present yourself before us, that so you may be able to return to your country, and obtain your desire. For the more ample assurance of our intention, we have despatched to you Achetas the deacon, from whom you will learn both our mind in regard to you, and that you will be able to secure what you wish; viz., our readiness to facilitate the objects you have in view.
When Athanasius had received these letters at Aquileia,—for there he abode after his departure from Sardica,—he immediately hastened to Rome; and having shown these communications to Julius the bishop, he caused the greatest joy in the Roman Church. For it seemed as if the emperor of the East also had recognized their faith, since he had recalled Athanasius. Julius then wrote to the clergy and laity of Alexandria on behalf of Athanasius as follows:
Epistle of Julius, Bishop of Rome, to those at Alexandria. 331
Julius, the bishop, to the presbyters, deacons, and people inhabiting Alexandria, brethren beloved, salutations in the Lord.
I also rejoice with you, beloved brethren, because you at length see before your eyes the fruit of your faith. For that this is really so, any one may perceive in reference to my brother and fellow-prelate Athanasius, whom God has restored to you, both on account of his purity of life, and in answer to your prayers. From this it is evident that your supplications to God have unceasingly been offered pure and abounding with love; for mindful of the divine promises and of the charity connected with them, which ye learned from the instruction of my brother, ye knew assuredly, and according to the sound faith which is in you clearly foresaw that your bishop would not be separated from you for ever, whom ye had in your devout hearts as though he were ever present. Wherefore it is unnecessary for me to use many words in addressing you, for your faith has already anticipated whatever I could have said; and the common prayer of you all has been fulfilled according to the grace of Christ. I therefore rejoice with you, and repeat that ye have preserved your souls invincible in the faith. And with my brother Athanasius I rejoice equally; because, while suffering many afflictions, he has never been unmindful of your love and desire; for although he seemed to be withdrawn from you in person for a season, yet was he always present with you in spirit. Moreover, I am convinced, beloved, that every trial which he has endured has not been inglorious; since both your faith and his has thus been tested and made manifest to all. But had not so many troubles happened to him, who would have believed, either that you had so great esteem and love for this eminent prelate, or that he was endowed with such distinguished virtues, on account of which also he will by no means be defrauded of his hope in the heavens? He has accordingly obtained a testimony of confession in every way glorious both in the present age and in that which is to come. For having suffered so many and diversified trials both by land and by sea, he has trampled on every machination of the Arian heresy; and though often exposed to danger in consequence of envy, he despised death, being protected by Almighty God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, ever trusting that he should not only escape the plots [of his adversaries], but also be restored for your consolation, and bring back to you at the same time greater trophies from your own conscience. By which means he has been made known even to the ends of the whole earth as glorious, his worth having been approved by the purity of his life, the firmness of his purpose, and his steadfastness in the heavenly doctrine, all being attested by your unchanging esteem and love. He therefore returns to you, more illustrious now than when he departed from you. For if the fire tries the precious metals (I speak of gold and silver) for purification, what can be said of so excellent a man p. 51 proportionate to his worth, who after having overcome the fire of so many calamities and dangers, is now restored to you, being declared innocent not only by us, but also by the whole Synod? Receive therefore with godly honor and joy, beloved brethren, your bishop Athanasius, together with those who have been his companions in tribulation. And rejoice in having attained the object of your prayers, you who have supplied with meat and drink, by your supporting letters, your pastor hungering and thirsting, so to speak, for your spiritual welfare. And in fact ye were a comfort to him while he was sojourning in a strange land; and ye cherished him in your most faithful affections when he was plotted against and persecuted. As for me, it makes me happy even to picture to myself in imagination the delight of each one of you at his return, the pious greetings of the populace, the glorious festivity of those assembled to meet him, and indeed what the entire aspect of that day will be when my brother shall be brought back to you again; when past troubles will be at an end, and his prized and longed-for return will unite all hearts in the warmest expression of joy. This feeling will in a very high degree extend to us, who regard it as a token of divine favor that we should have been privileged to become acquainted with so eminent a person. It becomes us therefore to close this epistle with prayer. May God Almighty and his Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ afford you this grace continually, thus rewarding the admirable faith which ye have manifested in reference to your bishop by an illustrious testimony: that the things most excellent which Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man; even the things which God has prepared for them that love him, 332 may await you and yours in the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom be glory to God Almighty for ever and ever, Amen. I pray that ye may be strengthened, beloved brethren.
Athanasius, relying on these letters, arrived at the East. The Emperor Constantius did not at that time receive him with hostility of feeling; nevertheless at the instigation of the Arians he endeavored to circumvent him, and addressed him in these words: You have been reinstated in your see in accordance with the decree of the Synod, and with our consent. But inasmuch as some of the people of Alexandria refuse to hold communion with you, permit them to have one church in the city. To this demand Athanasius promptly replied: You have the power, my sovereign, both to order, and to carry into effect, whatever you may please. I also, therefore, would beg you to grant me a favor. The emperor having readily promised to acquiesce, Athanasius immediately added, that he desired the same thing might be conceded to him, which the emperor had sought from him, viz.: that in every city one church should be assigned to those who might refuse to hold communion with the Arians. The Arians perceiving the purpose of Athanasius to be inimical to their interests, said that this affair might be postponed to another time: but they suffered the emperor to act as he pleased. He therefore restored to Athanasius, Paul, and Marcellus their respective sees; as also to Asclepas, bishop of Gaza, and Lucius of Adrianople. For these, too, had been received by the Council of Sardica: Asclepas, because he showed records from which it appeared that Eusebius Pamphilus, in conjunction with several others, after having investigated his case, had restored him to his former rank; and Lucius, because his accusers had fled. Hereupon the emperors edicts were despatched to their respective cities, enjoining the inhabitants to receive them readily. At Ancyra indeed, when Basil was ejected, and Marcellus was introduced in his stead, there was a considerable tumult made, which afforded his enemies an occasion of calumniating him: but the people of Gaza willingly received Asclepas. Macedonius at Constantinople, for a short time gave place to Paul, convening assemblies by himself separately, in a separate church in that city. Moreover the emperor wrote on behalf of Athanasius to the bishops, clergy, and laity, in regard to receiving him cheerfully: and at the same time he ordered by other letters, that whatever had been enacted against him in the judicial courts should be abrogated. The communications respecting both these matters were as follows:
The Epistle of Constantius in Behalf of Athanasius. 333
Victor Constantius Maximus Augustus, to the bishops and presbyters of the Catholic Church.
The most reverend bishop Athanasius has not been forsaken by the grace of God. But although he was for a short time subjected to trial according to men, yet has he obtained from an omniscient Providence the exoneration which was due to him; having been restored by the will of God, and our decision, both to his country and to the church over which by divine permission he presided. It was therefore suitable that what is in accordance with this should be duly attended to by our clemency: so that all things which have been heretofore determined against those who held communion with p. 52 him should now be rescinded; that all suspicion against him should henceforward cease; and that the immunity which those clergymen who are with him formerly enjoyed, should be, as it is meet, confirmed to them. Moreover, we thought it just to add this to our grace toward him, that the whole ecclesiastical body should understand that protection is extended to all who have adhered to him, whether bishops or other clergymen: and union with him shall be a sufficient evidence of each persons right intention. Wherefore we have ordered, according to the similitude of the previous providence, that as many as have the wisdom to enroll themselves with the sounder judgment and party and to choose his communion, shall enjoy that indulgence which we have now granted in accordance with the will of God.
Another Epistle sent to the Alexandrians. 334
Victor Constantius Maximus Augustus, to the people of the Catholic Church at Alexandria.
Setting before us as an aim your good order in all respects, and knowing that you have long since been bereft of episcopal oversight, we thought it just to send back to you again Athanasius your bishop, a man known to all by the rectitude and sanctity of his life and manners. Having received him with your usual and becoming courtesy, and constituted him the assistant of your prayers to God, exert yourselves to maintain at all times, according to the ecclesiastical canon, harmony and peace, which will be alike honorable to yourselves, and grateful to us. For it is unreasonable that any dissension or faction should be excited among you, hostile to the prosperity of our times; and we trust that such a misfortune will be wholly removed from you. We exhort you, therefore, to assiduously persevere in your accustomed devotions, by his assistance, as we before said: so that when this resolution of yours shall become generally known, entering into the prayers of all, even the pagans, who are still enslaved in the ignorance of idolatrous worship, may hasten to seek the knowledge of our sacred religion, most beloved Alexandrians. Again, therefore, we exhort you to give heed to these things: heartily welcome your bishop, as one appointed you by the will of God and our decree; and esteem him worthy of being embraced with all the affections of your souls. For this becomes you, and is consistent with our clemency. But in order to check all tendency to seditions and tumult in persons of a factious disposition, orders have been issued to our judges to give up to the severity of the laws all whom they may discover to be seditious. Having regard, therefore, to our determination and Gods, 335 as well as to the anxiety we feel to secure harmony among you, and remembering also the punishment that will be inflicted on the disorderly, make it your especial care to act agreeably to the sanctions of our sacred religion, with all reverence honoring your bishop; that so in conjunction with him you may present your supplications to the God and Father of the universe, both for yourselves, and for the orderly government of the whole human race.
An Epistle respecting the Rescinding of the Enactments against Athanasius.
Victor Constantius Augustus to Nestorius, and in the same terms to the governors of Augustamnica, Thebaïs, and Libya.
If it be found that at any time previously any enactment has been passed prejudicial and derogatory to those who hold communion with Athanasius the bishop, our pleasure is that it should now be wholly abrogated; and that his clergy should again enjoy the same immunity which was granted to them formerly. We enjoin strict obedience to this command, to the intent that since the bishop Athanasius has been restored to his church, all who hold communion with him may possess the same privileges as they had before, and such as other ecclesiastics now enjoy: that so their affairs being happily arranged, they also may share in the general prosperity.
Athan. Apol. c. Arian. 51.50:330
κομιτάτον = Lat. comitatus; by analogy of the New Test. words κῆνσος κουστωδία, σπεκουλάτωρ , &c., and frequently in Byzantine Greek κομβίνευμα σουφράγιον , &c.50:331
Athan. Apol. c. Arian. 52.51:332
1 Cor. ii. 951:333
Athan. Apol. c. Arian. 54.52:334
Athan. Apol. c. Arian. 55.52:335
τοῦ κρείτονος; cf. I. 7, and note.
Next: Athanasius, passing through Jerusalem on his Return to Alexandria, is received into Communion by Maximus: and a Synod of Bishops, convened in that City, confirms the Nicene Creed.
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