Chapter X.—Divers Machinations of the Arians against Athanasius, and his Escape from Various Dangers through Divine Interposition. Evil Deeds perpetrated by George in Egypt after the Expulsion of Athanasius.
There is no doubt but that Athanasius was beloved of God, and endowed with the gift of foreseeing the future. 1306 More wonderful facts than those which we have related might be adduced to prove his intimate acquaintance with futurity. It happened that during the life of Constans, the Emperor Constantius was once determined upon ill-treating this holy man; but Athanasius fled, and concealed himself with some one of his acquaintances. He lived for a long time in a subterraneous and sunless dwelling, which p. 306 had been used as a reservoir for water. No one knew where he was concealed except a serving-woman, who seemed faithful, and who waited upon him. As the heterodox, however, were anxiously intent upon taking Athanasius alive, it appears that, by means of gifts or promises, they at length succeeded in corrupting the attendant. But Athanasius was forewarned by God of her treachery, and effected his escape from the place. The servant was punished for having made a false deposition against her masters, while they, on their part, fled the country; for it was accounted no venial crime by the heterodox to receive or to conceal Athanasius, but was, on the contrary, regarded as an act of disobedience against the express commands of the emperor, and as a crime against the empire, and was visited as such by the civil tribunals. It has come to my hearing that Athanasius was saved on another occasion in a similar manner. He was again obliged for the same reason to flee for his life; and he set sail up the Nile 1307 with the design of retreating to the further districts of Egypt, but his enemies received intelligence of his intention, and pursued him. Being forewarned of God that he would be pursued, he announced it to his fellow-passengers, and commanded them to return to Alexandria. While he sailed down the river, his plotters rowed by. He reached Alexandria in safety, and effectually concealed himself in the midst of its similar and numerous houses. His success in avoiding these and many other perils led to his being accused of sorcery by the pagan and the heterodox. It is reported, that once, as he was passing through the city, a crow was heard to caw, and that a number of pagans who happened to be on the spot, asked him in derision what the crow was saying. He replied, smiling, “It utters the sound cras, the meaning of which in the Latin language is, tomorrow and it has hereby announced to you that the morrow will not be propitious to you; for it indicates that you will be forbidden by the Roman emperor to celebrate your festival tomorrow.” Although this prediction of Athanasius appeared to be absurd, it was fulfilled; for the following day edicts were transmitted to the governors from the emperor, by which it was commanded that the pagans were not to be permitted to assemble in the temples to perform their usual ceremonies, nor to celebrate their festival; and thus was abolished the most solemn and magnificent feast which the pagans had retained. What I have said is sufficient to show that this holy man was endowed with the gift of prophecy.
After Athanasius had escaped, in the manner we have described, from those who sought to arrest him, his clergy and people remained for some time in possession of the churches; but eventually, the governor of Egypt and the commander of the army forcibly ejected all those who maintained the sentiments of Athanasius, in order to deliver up the government of the churches to those who favored George, whose arrival was then expected. Not long after he reached the city, and the churches were placed under his authority. He ruled by force rather than by priestly moderation; and as he strove to strike terror into the minds of the people, and carried on a cruel persecution against the followers of Athanasius, and, moreover, imprisoned and maimed many men and women, he was accounted a tyrant. For these reasons he fell into a universal hate; the people were so deeply incensed at his conduct, that they rushed into the church, and would have torn him to pieces; in such an extremity of danger, he escaped with difficulty, and fled to the emperor. Those who held the sentiments of Athanasius then took possession of the churches. But they did not long retain the mastery of them; for the commander of the troops in Egypt came and restored the churches to the partisans of George. An imperial shorthand writer of the notary class was afterwards sent to punish the leaders of the sedition, and he tortured and scourged many of the citizens. When George returned a little while after, he was more formidable, it appears, than ever, and was regarded with greater aversion than before, for he instigated the emperor to the perpetration of many evil deeds; and besides, the monks of Egypt openly declared him to be perfidious and inflated with arrogance. The opinions of these monks were always adopted by the people, and their testimony was universally received, because they were noted for their virtue and the philosophical tenor of their lives.