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Home > Fathers of the Church > History of the Arians (Athanasius) > Part II

History of the Arians, Part II

BY ST. ATHANASIUS

9. First Arian Persecution under Constantius

9. Eusebius and his fellows, however, seeing the declension of their heresy, wrote to Rome, as well as to the Emperors Constantine and Constans, to accuse Athanasius: but when the persons who were sent by Athanasius disproved the statements which they had written, they were put to shame by the Emperors; and Julius, Bishop of Rome, wrote to say that a Council ought to be held, wherever we should desire, in order that they might exhibit the charges which they had to make, and might also freely defend themselves concerning those things of which they too were accused. The Presbyters also who were sent by them, when they saw themselves making an exposure, requested that this might be done. Whereupon these men, whose conduct is suspicious in all that they do, when they see that they are not likely to get the better in an Ecclesiastical trial, betake themselves to Constantius alone, and thenceforth bewail themselves, as to the patron of their heresy. 'Spare,' they say, 'the heresy; you see that all men have withdrawn from us; and very few of us are now left. Begin to persecute, for we are being deserted even of those few, and are left destitute. Those persons whom we forced over to our side, when these men were banished, they now by their return have persuaded again to take part against us. Write letters therefore against them all, and send out Philagrius a second time as Prefect of Egypt, for he is able to carry on a persecution favourably for us, as he has already shown upon trial, and the more so, as he is an apostate. Send also Gregory as Bishop to Alexandria, for he too is able to strengthen our heresy.'

10. Violent Intrusion of Gregory

Accordingly Constantius at once writes letters, and commences a persecution against all, and sends Philagrius as Prefect with one Arsacius an eunuch; he sends also Gregory with a military force. And the same consequences followed as before. For gathering together a multitude of herdsmen and shepherds, and other dissolute youths belonging to the town, armed with swords and clubs, they attacked in a body the Church which is called the Church of Quirinus ; and some they slew, some they trampled under foot, others they beat with stripes and cast into prison or banished. They haled away many women also, and dragged them openly into the court, and insulted them, dragging them by the hair. Some they proscribed; from some they took away their bread for no other reason, but that they might be induced to join the Arians, and receive Gregory, who had been sent by the Emperor.

11. The Easterns decline the Council at Rome

Athanasius, however, before these things happened , at the first report of their proceedings, sailed to Rome, knowing the rage of the heretics, and for the purpose of having the Council held as had been determined. And Julius wrote letters to them, and sent the Presbyters Elpidius and Philoxenus, appointing a day , that they might either come, or consider themselves as altogether suspected persons. But as soon as Eusebius and his fellows heard that the trial was to be an Ecclesiastical one, at which no Count would be present, nor soldiers stationed before the doors, and that the proceedings would not be regulated by royal order (for they have always depended upon these things to support them against the Bishops, and without them they have no boldness even to speak); they were so alarmed that they detained the Presbyters till after the appointed time, and pretended an unseemly excuse, that they were not able to come now on account of the war which was begun by the Persians. But this was not the true cause of their delay, but the fears of their own consciences. For what have Bishops to do with war? Or if they were unable on account of the Persians to come to Rome, although it is at a distance and beyond sea, why did they like lions 1 Peter 5:8 go about the parts of the East and those which are near the Persians, seeking who was opposed to them, that they might falsely accuse and banish them?

12. At any rate, when they had dismissed the Presbyters with this improbable excuse, they said to one another, 'Since we are unable to get the advantage in an Ecclesiastical trial, let us exhibit our usual audacity.' Accordingly they write to Philagrius, and cause him after a while to go out with Gregory into Egypt. Whereupon the Bishops are severely scourged and cast into chains. Sarapammon, for instance, Bishop and Confessor, they drive into banishment; Potammon, Bishop and Confessor, who had lost an eye in the persecution, they beat with stripes on the neck so cruelly, that he appeared to be dead before they came to an end. In which condition he was cast aside, and hardly after some hours, being carefully attended and fanned, he revived, God granting him his life; but a short time after he died of the sufferings caused by the stripes, and attained in Christ to the glory of a second martyrdom. And besides these, how many monks were scourged, while Gregory sat by with Balacius the 'Duke!' how many Bishops were wounded! How many virgins were beaten!

13. Cruelties of Gregory at Alexandria

After this the wretched Gregory called upon all men to have communion with him. But if you demanded of them communion, they were not worthy of stripes: and if you scourged them as if evil persons, why did you ask it of them as if holy? But he had no other end in view, except to fulfil the designs of them that sent him, and to establish the heresy. Wherefore he became in his folly a murderer and an executioner, injurious, crafty, and profane; in one word, an enemy of Christ. He so cruelly persecuted the Bishop's aunt, that even when she died he would not suffer her to be buried. And this would have been her lot; she would have been cast away without burial, had not they who attended on the corpse carried her out as one of their own kindred. Thus even in such things he showed his profane temper. And again when the widows and other mendicants had received alms, he commanded what had been given them to be seized, and the vessels in which they carried their oil and wine to be broken, that he might not only show impiety by robbery, but in his deeds dishonour the Lord; from whom very shortly he will hear those words, 'Inasmuch as you have dishonoured these, you have dishonoured Me. '

14. Profaneness of Gregory and death of Balacius

And many other things he did, which exceed the power of language to describe, and which whoever should hear would think to be incredible. And the reason why he acted thus was, because he had not received his ordination according to ecclesiastical rule, nor had been called to be a Bishop by tradition ; but had been sent out from court with military power and pomp, as one entrusted with a secular government. Wherefore he boasted rather to be the friend of Governors, than of Bishops and Monks. Whenever, therefore, our Father Antony wrote to him from the mountains, as godliness is an abomination to a sinner, so he abhorred the letters of the holy man. But whenever the Emperor, or a General, or other magistrate, sent him a letter, he was as much overjoyed as those in the Proverbs, of whom the Word has said indignantly, 'Woe unto them who leave the path of uprightness who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked. ' And so he honoured with presents the bearers of these letters; but once when Antony wrote to him he caused Duke Balacius to spit upon the letter, and to cast it from him. But Divine Justice did not overlook this; for no long time after, when the Duke was on horseback, and on his way to the first halt , the horse turned his head, and biting him on the thigh, threw him off; and within three days he died.

About this page

Source. Translated by M. Atkinson and Archibald Robertson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/28152.htm>.

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