Letter LIII.—Second Letter 4656 to Monks.
Athanasius, Archbishop 4657 of Alexandria, to the Solitaries.
I thank the Lord who hath given to you to believe in Him, that ye too may have with the saints eternal life. But because there are certain persons who hold with Arius and go about the monasteries with no other object save that under colour of visiting you, and returning from us they may deceive the simple; whereas there are certain who, while they affirm that they do not hold with Arius, yet compromise themselves and worship with his party; I have been compelled, at the instance of certain most sincere brethren, to write at once in order that keeping faithfully and without guile the pious faith which Gods grace works in you, you may not give occasion of scandal to the brethren. For when any sees you, the faithful in Christ, associate and communicate with such people, [or worshipping along with them], certainly they will think it a matter of indifference and will fall into the mire of irreligion. Lest, then, this should happen, be pleased, beloved, to shun those who hold the impiety [of Arius], and moreover to avoid those who, while they pretend not to hold with Arius, yet worship with the impious. And we are specially bound to fly from the communion of men whose opinions we hold in execration. [If then any come to you, and, as blessed John 4658 says, brings with him right doctrine, say to him, All hail, and receive such an one as a brother.] But if any pretend that he confesses the right faith, but appear to communicate with those others, exhort him to abstain from such communion, and if he promise to do so, treat him as a brother, but if he persist in a contentious spirit, him avoid. [I might greatly lengthen my letter, adding from the divine Scriptures the outline of this teaching. But since, being wise men, you can anticipate those who write, and rather, being intent upon self-denial, are fit to instruct others also, I have dictated a short letter, as from one loving friend to others, in the confidence] that living as you do you will preserve a pure and sincere faith, and that those persons, seeing that you do not join with them in worship, will derive benefit, fearing lest they be accounted as impious, and as those who hold with them.
This short letter, like those to Lucifer, was printed at first in Latin, evidently the almost servile rendering of a Greek original. The latter was discovered by Montfaucon after the completion of the Benedictine edition, and printed in his Nova Collectio Patrum (1706). (Migne xxvi. 1185.)
The date is fixed a parte post in an interesting manner. We read in the Life of Pachomius, §88 (the story is also found in the Coptic documents in the collection of Zoega p. 36), that when Duke Artemius came to the monastery of Pabau in search of Athanasius, the steward of the community replied, Although Athanasius is our Father under God, we have never seen his face. The Duke answered by a request for the prayers of the brethren before he left. The abbat Psarphi replied that the Father had forbidden the monks to pray with strangers who consorted with the Arians,—a clear allusion to the letter before us. Now Duke Artemius was in search of Athanasius in 359–60 (Fest. Ind.). Accordingly our letter was issued before that date.
The Greek text is evidently imperfect: the square brackets in the translation denote passages supplied from the Latin. The first part of the letter (down to the words along with…) is preserved in a contemporary inscription (Boeckh. C.I.G. iv. 8607) on the walls of an ancient Egyptian tomb at Abd-el-Kurna, which in those later days had become a monastic cell. The remainder is effaced. (See Fialon, p. 134, who has failed to notice the identity of the inscription with our present letter.)564:4657
This first heading is from the inscription mentioned above, note 1, and is important as recording a very early use of the title archbishop. See also Letter 55, note 1, supr. p. 137, note 6, and Epiph. vol. ii. p. 188 c (Migne).564:4658