Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. VIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Letters.: To Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria.
Letter LXVI. 2237
To Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria.
No one, I feel sure, is more distressed at the present condition, or, rather to speak more truly, ill condition of the Churches than your excellency; for you compare the present with the past, and take into account how great a change has come about. You are well aware that if no check is put to the swift deterioration which we are witnessing, there will soon be nothing to prevent the complete transformation of the Churches. And if the decay of the Churches seems so pitiful to me, what must—so I have often in my lonely musings reflected—be the feelings of one who has known, by experience, the old tranquillity of the Churches of the Lord, and their one mind about the faith? But as your excellency feels most deeply this distress, it seems to me only becoming that your wisdom should be more strongly moved to interest itself in the Churchs behalf. I for my part have long been aware, so far as my moderate intelligence has been able to judge of current events, that the one way of safety for the Churches of the East lies in their having the sympathy of the bishops of the West. For if only those bishops liked to show the same energy on behalf of the Christians sojourning in our part of the world 2238 which they have shewn in the case of one or two of the men convicted of breaches of orthodoxy in the West, our common interests would probably reap no small benefit, our sovereigns treating the authority of the people with respect, and the laity in all quarters unhesitatingly following them. 2239 But, to carry out these objects, who has more capacity than yourself, with your intelligence and prudence? Who is keener to see the needful course to be taken? Who has more practical experience in working a profitable policy? Who feels more deeply the troubles of the brethren? What through all the West is more honoured than your venerable gray hairs? 2240 O most honoured father, leave behind you some memorial worthy of your life and character. By this one act crown your innumerable efforts on behalf of true religion. Despatch from the holy Church placed under your care men of ability in sound doctrine to the bishops in the West. Recount to them the troubles whereby we are beset. Suggest some mode of relief. Be a Samuel to the Churches. Share the grief of the beleaguered people. Offer prayers for peace. Ask favour from p. 164 the Lord, that He will send some memorial of peace to the Churches. I know how weak letters are to move men in matters of such importance; but you yourself no more need exhortation from others than the noblest athletes need the childrens cheers. It is not as though I were instructing one in ignorance; I am only giving a new impulse to one whose energies are already roused. For the rest of the affairs of the East perhaps you may need the aid of more, and we must wait for the Westerns. But plainly the discipline of the Church of Antioch depends upon your reverences being able to control some, to reduce others to silence, and to restore strength to the Church by concord. 2241 No one knows better than you do, that, like all wise physicians, you ought to begin your treatment in the most vital parts, and what part is more vital to the Churches throughout the world than Antioch? Only let Antioch be restored to harmony, and nothing will stand in the way of her supplying, as a healthy head, soundness to all the body. Truly the diseases of that city, which has not only been cut asunder by heretics, but is torn in pieces by men who say that they are of one mind with one another, stand in need of your wisdom and evangelic sympathy. To unite the sundered parts again, and bring about the harmony of one body, belongs to Him alone Who by His ineffable power grants even to the dry bones to come back again to sinews and flesh. But the Lord always works His mighty works by means of them that are worthy of Him. Once again, in this case too, we trust that the ministry of matters so important may beseem your excellency, with the result that you will lay the tempest of the people, do away with the party superiorities, and subject all to one another in love, and give back to the Church her ancient strength.
Placed in 371. cf. Letter lxii.163:2238
ὑπὲρ τῆς παροικίας τῶν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς μερῶν. On the use of παροικία in this sense, cf. Bp. Lightfoot, Ap. Fathers I. ii. 5. So Apollon. in Eus., H.E. v. 18. ἡ ἱδία παροικία, of the Christian society. Thus the meaning passes to parochia and parish.163:2239
“Them” is referred by the Ben. Ed. not to the sovereigns (τῶν κρατούντων they understand to mean Valens) but to the Western bishops.163:2240
A various reading (“Tres mss. et secunda manu Medicœus,” Ben. Ed.) for πολιᾶς reads πολιτείας “the life and conversation of your Holiness.”—Athanasius was now about 75. His death is placed in 373.164:2241
To end the schism caused by the refusal of the Eustathian or old Catholic party to recognise Meletius as bishop of the whole orthodox body. The churches of the West and Egypt, on the whole, supported Paulinus, who had been ordained by Lucifer of Cagliari, bishop of the old Catholics. The Ben. Ed. supposes the word οἰκονομῆσαι, which I have rendered “control,” to refer to Paulinus. The East supported Meletius, and if the οἰκονομία in Basils mind does refer to Paulinus, the “management” meant may be management to get rid of him.
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