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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: Of the fourth exile and flight of the holy Athanasius.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter V.—Of the fourth exile and flight of the holy Athanasius.

At this time Athanasius, that victorious athlete of the truth, underwent another peril, p. 98 for the devils could not brook the power of his tongue and prayers, and so armed their ministers to revile him. Many voices did they utter beseeching the champion of wickedness to exile Athanasius, and adding yet this further, that if Athanasius remained, not a heathen would remain, for that he would get them all over to his side. Moved by these supplications Julian condemned Athanasius not merely to exile, 618 but to death. His people shuddered, but it is related that he foretold the rapid dispersal of the storm, for said he “It is a cloud which soon vanishes away.” He however withdrew as soon as he learnt the arrival of the bearers of the imperial message, and finding a boat on the bank of the river, started for the Thebaid. The officer who had been appointed for his execution became acquainted with his flight, and strove to pursue him at hot haste; one of his friends, however, got ahead, and told him that the officer was coming on apace. Then some of his companions besought him to take refuge in the desert, but he ordered the steersman to turn the boat’s head to Alexandria. So they rowed to meet the pursuer, and on came the bearer of the sentence of execution, and, said he, “How far off is Athanasius?” “Not far,” said Athanasius, 619 and so got rid of his foe, while he himself returned to Alexandria and there remained in concealment for the remainder of Julian’s reign. 620



The crowning outrage which moved Julian to put out the edict of exile was the baptism by the bishop of some pagan ladies. The letter of Julian (Ep. p. 187) fixed Dec. 1st, 362, as the limit of Athanasius’ permission to stay in Egypt, but it was on Oct. 23d (Fest. Ind.) that the order was communicated to him.


The story may be compared with that of Napoleon on the return from Elba in Feb. 1815, when on being hailed by some passing craft with an enquiry as to the emperor’s health, he is said to have himself taken the speaking trumpet and replied “Quite well.”


He concealed himself at Chœren, (? El Careon) near Alexandria, and went thence to Memphis, whence he wrote his Festal Letter for 363. Julian died June 26, 363.

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