Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: The Emperor Indignant at the Murder of George, rebukes the Alexandrians by Letter.Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Chapter III.—The Emperor Indignant at the Murder of George, rebukes the Alexandrians by Letter.
The emperor being highly indignant at the assassination of George, wrote to the citizens of Alexandria, rebuking their violence in the strongest terms. A report was circulated that those who detested him because of Athanasius, perpetrated this outrage upon George: but as for me I think it is undoubtedly true that such as cherish hostile feelings against particular individuals are often found identified with popular commotions; yet the emperors letter evidently attaches the blame to the populace, rather than to any among the Christians. George, however, was at that time, and had for some time previously been, exceedingly obnoxious to all classes, which is sufficient to account for the burning indignation of the multitude against him. That the emperor charges the people with the crime may be seen from his letter which was expressed in the following terms.
Emperor Cæsar Julian Maximus Augustus to the Citizens of Alexandria. 469
Even if you have neither respect for Alexander the founder of your city, nor, what is more, for that great and most holy god Serapis; yet how is it you have made no account not only of the universal claims of humanity and social order, but also of what is due to us, to whom all the gods, and especially the mighty Serapis, have assigned the empire of the world, for whose cognizance therefore it became you to reserve all matters of public wrong? But perhaps the impulse of rage and indignation, which taking possession of the mind, too often stimulate it to the most atrocious acts, has led you astray. It seems, however, that when your fury had in some degree moderated, you aggravated your culpability by adding a most heinous offense to that which had been committed under the excitement of the moment: nor were you, although but the common people, ashamed to perpetrate those very acts on account of which you justly detested them. By Serapis I conjure you tell me, for what unjust deed were ye so indignant at George? You will perhaps answer, it was because he exasperated Constantius of blessed memory against you: because he introduced an army into the sacred city: because in consequence the governor 470 of Egypt despoiled the gods most holy temple of its images, votive offerings, and such other consecrated apparatus as it contained; who, when ye could not endure the sight of such a foul desecration, but attempted to defend the god from sacrilegious hands, or rather to hinder the pillage of what had been consecrated to his service, in contravention of all justice, law, and piety, dared to send armed bands against you. This he probably did from his dreading George more than Constantius: but he would have consulted better for his own safety had he not been guilty of this tyrannical conduct, but persevered in his former moderation toward you. Being on all these accounts enraged against George as the adversary of the gods, you have again polluted your sacred city; whereas you ought to have impeached him before the judges. For had you thus acted, neither murder, nor any other unlawful deed would have been committed; but justice being equitably dispensed, would have preserved you innocent of these disgraceful excesses, while it brought on him the punishment due to his impious crimes. Thus too, in short, the insolence of those would have been curbed who contemn the gods, and respect neither cities of such magnitude, nor so flourishing a p. 80 population; but make the barbarities they practice against them the prelude, as it were, of their exercise of power. Compare therefore this my present letter, with that which I wrote you some time since. With what high commendation did I then greet you! But now, by the immortal gods, with an equal disposition to praise you I am unable to do so on account of your heinous misdoings. The people have had the audacity to tear a man in pieces, like dogs; nor have they been subsequently ashamed of this inhuman procedure, nor desirous of purifying their hands from such pollution, that they may stretch them forth in the presence of the gods undefiled by blood. You will no doubt be ready to say that George justly merited this chastisement; and we might be disposed perhaps to admit that he deserved still more acute tortures. Should you farther affirm that on your account he was worthy of these sufferings, even this might also be granted. But should you add that it became you to inflict the vengeance due to his offenses, that I could by no means acquiesce in; for you have laws to which it is the duty of every one of you to be subject, and to evince your respect for both publicly, as well as in private. If any individual should transgress those wise and salutary regulations which were originally constituted for the well-being of the community, does that absolve the rest from obedience to them? It is fortunate for you, ye Alexandrians, that such an atrocity has been perpetrated in our reign, who, by reason of our reverence for the gods, and on account of our grandfather and uncle 471 whose name we bear, and who governed Egypt and your city, still retain a fraternal affection for you. Assuredly that power which will not suffer itself to be disrespected, and such a government as is possessed of a vigorous and healthy constitution, could not connive at such unbridled licentiousness in its subjects, without unsparingly purging out the dangerous distemper by the application of remedies sufficiently potent. We shall however in your case, for the reasons already assigned, restrict ourselves to the more mild and gentle medicine of remonstrance and exhortation; to the which mode of treatment we are persuaded ye will the more readily submit, inasmuch as we understand ye are Greeks by original descent, and also still preserve in your memory and character the traces of the glory of your ancestors. Let this be published to our citizens of Alexandria.
Such was the emperors letter.
Julian, Ep. 10.79:470
Artemius, whom the Emperor Julian afterwards beheaded for desecrating the pagan temple.80:471
Philostorgius (VII. 10) calls this Julian the governor of the East, who was the uncle on the maternal side of Julian the Apostate. Sozomen also (V. 7 and 8) and Theodoret (H. E. III. 12, 13) furnish information regarding him, as well as Ammianus Marcellius XXIII. i. Cf. also Julian, Epist. XIII. (Spanheim, p. 382).
Next: On the Death of George, Athanasius returns to Alexandria, and takes Possession of his See.
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