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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IV:
Encyclical Letter. (Epistola Encyclica.): Section 1

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 92 Circular Letter.

————————————

To his fellow-ministers in every place, beloved lords, Athanasius sends health in the Lord.

§1. The whole Church affected by what has occurred.

Our sufferings have been dreadful beyond endurance, and it is impossible to describe them in suitable terms; but in order that the dreadful nature of the events which have taken place may be more readily apprehended, I have thought it good to remind you of a history out of the Scriptures. It happened that a certain Levite 444 was injured in the person of his wife; and, when he considered the exceeding greatness of the pollution (for the woman was a Hebrew, and of the tribe of Judah), being astounded at the outrage which had been committed against him, he divided his wife’s body, as the Holy Scripture relates in the Book of Judges, and sent a part of it to every tribe in Israel, in order that it might be understood that an injury like this pertained not to himself only, but extended to all alike; and that, if the people sympathised with him in his sufferings, they might avenge him; or if they neglected to do so, might bear the disgrace of being considered thenceforth as themselves guilty of the wrong. The messengers whom he sent related what had happened; and they that heard and saw it, declared that such things had never been done from the day that the children of Israel came up out of Egypt. So every tribe of Israel was moved, and all came together against the offenders, as though they had themselves been the sufferers; and at last the perpetrators of this iniquity were destroyed in war, and became a curse in the mouths of all: for the assembled people considered not their kindred blood, but regarded only the crime they had committed. You know the history, brethren, and the particular account of the circumstances given in Scripture. I will not therefore describe them more in detail, since I write to persons acquainted with them, and as I am anxious to represent to your piety our present circumstances, which are even worse than those to which I have referred. For my object in reminding you of this history is this, that you may compare those ancient transactions with what has happened to us now, and perceiving how much these last exceed the other in cruelty, may be filled with greater indignation on account of them, than were the people of old against those offenders. For the treatment we have undergone surpasses the bitterness of any persecution; and the calamity of the Levite was but small, when compared with the enormities which have now been committed against the Church; or rather such deeds as these were never before heard of in the whole world, or the like experienced by any one. For in that case it was but a single woman that was injured, and one Levite who suffered wrong; now the whole Church is injured, the priesthood insulted, and worst of all, piety 445 is persecuted by impiety. On that occasion the tribes were astounded, each at the sight of part of the body of one woman; but now the members of the whole Church are seen divided from one another, and are sent abroad some to you, and some to others, bringing word of the insults and injustice which they have suffered. Be ye therefore also moved, I beseech you, considering that these wrongs are done unto you no less than unto us; and let every one lend his aid, as feeling that he is himself a sufferer, lest shortly ecclesiastical Canons, and the faith of the Church be corrupted. For both are in danger, unless God shall speedily by your hands amend what has been done amiss, and the Church be avenged on her enemies. For our Canons 446 and our forms were not given to the Churches at the present day, but were wisely and safely transmitted to us from our forefathers. Neither had our faith its beginning at this time, but p. 93 it came down to us from the Lord through His disciples 447 . That therefore the ordinances which have been preserved in the Churches from old time until now, may not be lost in our days, and the trust which has been committed to us required at our hands; rouse yourselves, brethren, as being stewards of the mysteries of God 448 , and seeing them now seized upon by others. Further particulars of our condition you will learn from the bearers of our letters; but I was anxious myself to write you a brief account thereof, that you may know for certain, that such things have never before been committed against the Church, from the day that our Saviour when He was taken up, gave command to His disciples, saying, ‘Go ye and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost 449 .’


Footnotes

92:444

Judg. xix. 29.

92:445

εὐσέβεια, orthodoxy, see de Decr. 1, note.

92:446

Vid. Beveridg. Cod. Can. Illustr. i. 3. §2, who comments on this passage at length. Allusion is also made to the Canons in Apol. contr. Arian. §69.

93:447

Vid. de Syn. §4. Orat. i. §8. Tertull. Præscr. Hær. §29.

93:448

1 Cor. iv. 1.

93:449

Matt. xxviii. 19.


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