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

History of the Arians, Part VII

BY ST. ATHANASIUS

47. Persecution at Alexandria

'After' he had accomplished all that he desired against the Churches in Italy, and the other parts; after he had banished some, and violently oppressed others, and filled every place with fear, he at last turned his fury, as it had been some pestilential disorder, against Alexandria. This was artfully contrived by the enemies of Christ; for in order that they might have a show of the signatures of many Bishops, and that Athanasius might not have a single Bishop in his persecution to whom he could even complain, they therefore anticipated his proceedings, and filled every place with terror, which they kept up to second them in the prosecution of their designs. But herein they perceived not through their folly that they were not exhibiting the deliberate choice of the Bishops, but rather the violence which themselves had employed; and that, although his brethren should desert him, and his friends and acquaintance stand afar off, and no one be found to sympathise with him and console him, yet far above all these, a refuge with his God was sufficient for him. For Elijah also was alone in his persecution, and God was all in all to the holy man. And the Saviour has given us an example herein, who also was left alone, and exposed to the designs of His enemies, to teach us, that when we are persecuted and deserted by men, we must not faint, but place our hope in Him, and not betray the Truth. For although at first truth may seem to be afflicted, yet even they who persecute shall afterwards acknowledge it.

48. Attacks upon the Alexandrian Church

Accordingly they urge on the Emperor, who first writes a menacing letter, which he sends to the Duke and the soldiers. The Notaries Diogenius and Hilarius , and certain Palatines with them, were the bearers of it; upon whose arrival those terrible and cruel outrages were committed against the Church, which I have briefly related a little above , and which are known to all men from the protests put forth by the people, which are inserted at the end of this history, so that any one may read them. Then after these proceedings on the part of Syrianus, after these enormities had been perpetrated, and violence offered to the Virgins, as approving of such conduct and the infliction of these evils upon us, he writes again to the senate and people of Alexandria, instigating the younger men, and requiring them to assemble together, and either to persecute Athanasius, or consider themselves as his enemies. He however had withdrawn before these instructions reached them, and from the time when Syrianus broke into the Church; for he remembered that which was written, 'Hide yourself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast Isaiah 26:20.' One Heraclius, by rank a Count, was the bearer of this letter, and the precursor of a certain George that was dispatched by the Emperor as a spy, for one that was sent from him cannot be a Bishop ; God forbid. And so indeed his conduct and the circumstances which preceded his entrance sufficiently prove.

49 and 50. Hypocrisy of the pretended respect of Constantius for his brother's memory

Heraclius then published the letter, which reflected great disgrace upon the writer. For whereas, when the great Hosius wrote to Constantius, he had been unable to make out any plausible pretext for his change of conduct, he now invented an excuse much more discreditable to himself and his advisers. He said, 'From regard to the affection I entertained towards my brother of divine and pious memory, I endured for a time the coming of Athanasius among you.' This proves that he has both broken his promise, and behaved ungratefully to his brother after his death. He then declares him to be, as indeed he is, 'deserving of divine and pious remembrance;' yet as regards a command of his, or to use his own language, the 'affection' he bore him, even though he complied merely 'for the sake' of the blessed Constans, he ought to deal fairly by his brother, and make himself heir to his sentiments as well as to the Empire. But, although, when seeking to obtain his just rights, he deposed Vetranio, with the question, 'To whom does the inheritance belong after a brother's death ?' yet for the sake of the accursed heresy of the enemies of Christ, he disregards the claims of justice, and behaves undutifully towards his brethren. Nay, for the sake of this heresy, he would not consent to observe even his father's wishes without infringement; but, in what he may gratify these impious men, he pretends to adopt his intention, while in order to distress the others, he cares not to show the reverence which is due unto a father. For in consequence of the calumnies of Eusebius and his fellows, his father sent the Bishop for a time into Gaul to avoid the cruelty of his persecutors (this was shown by the blessed Constantine, the brother of the former, after their father's death, as appears by his letters ), but he would not be persuaded by Eusebius and his fellows to send the person whom they desired for a Bishop, but prevented the accomplishment of their wishes, and put a stop to their attempts with severe threats.

51. How Constantius shows his respect for his father and brother

If therefore, as he declares in his letters, he desired to observe his sire's practice, why did he first send out Gregory, and now this George, the eater of stores ? Why does he endeavour so earnestly to introduce into the Church these Arians, whom his father named Porphyrians , and banish others while he patronises them? Although his father admitted Arius to his presence, yet when Arius perjured himself and burst asunder he lost the compassion of his father; who, on learning the truth, condemned him as an heretic. Why moreover, while pretending to respect the Canon of the Church, has he ordered the whole course of his conduct in opposition to them? For where is there a Canon that a Bishop should be appointed from Court? Where is there a Canon that permits soldiers to invade Churches? What tradition is there allowing counts and ignorant eunuchs to exercise authority in Ecclesiastical matters, and to make known by their edicts the decisions of those who bear the name of Bishops? He is guilty of all manner of falsehood for the sake of this unholy heresy. At a former time he sent out Philagrius as Prefect a second time , in opposition to the opinion of his father, and we see what has taken place now. Nor 'for his brother's sake' does he speak the truth. For after his death he wrote not once nor twice, but three times to the Bishop, and repeatedly promised him that he would not change his behaviour towards him, but exhorted him to be of good courage, and not suffer any one to alarm him, but to continue to abide in his Church in perfect security. He also sent his commands by Count Asterius, and Palladius the Notary, to Felicissimus, who was then Duke, and to the Prefect Nestorius, that if either Philip the Prefect, or any other should venture to form any plot against Athanasius, they should prevent it.

52. The Emperor has no right to rule the Church

Wherefore when Diogenes came, and Syrianus laid in wait for us, both he and we and the people demanded to see the Emperor's letters, supposing that, as it is written, 'Let not a falsehood be spoken before the king ;' so when a king has made a promise, he will not lie, nor change. If then 'for his brother's sake he complied,' why did he also write those letters upon his death? And if he wrote them for 'his memory's sake,' why did he afterwards behave so very unkindly towards him, and persecute the man, and write what he did, alleging a judgment of Bishops, while in truth he acted only to please himself? Nevertheless his craft has not escaped detection, but we have the proof of it ready at hand. For if a judgment had been passed by Bishops, what concern had the Emperor with it? Or if it was only a threat of the Emperor, what need in that case was there of the so-named Bishops? When was such a thing heard of before from the beginning of the world? When did a judgment of the Church receive its validity from the Emperor? Or rather when was his decree ever recognised by the Church? There have been many Councils held heretofore; and many judgments passed by the Church; but the Fathers never sought the consent of the Emperor thereto, nor did the Emperor busy himself with the affairs of the Church. The Apostle Paul had friends among them of Cæsar's household, and in his Epistle to the Philippians he sent salutations from them; but he never took them as his associates in Ecclesiastical judgments. Now however we have witnessed a novel spectacle, which is a discovery of the Arian heresy. Heretics have assembled together with the Emperor Constantius, in order that he, alleging the authority of the Bishops, may exercise his power against whomsoever he pleases, and while he persecutes may avoid the name of persecutor; and that they, supported by the Emperor's government, may conspire the ruin of whomsoever they will and these are all such as are not as impious as themselves. One might look upon their proceedings as a comedy which they are performing on the stage, in which the pretended Bishops are actors, and Constantius the performer of their behests, who makes promises to them, as Herod did to the daughter of Herodias, and they dancing before him accomplish through false accusations the banishment and death of the true believers in the Lord.

53. Despotic interference of Constantius

Who indeed has not been injured by their calumnies? Whom have not these enemies of Christ conspired to destroy? Whom has Constantius failed to banish upon charges which they have brought against them? When did he refuse to hear them willingly? And what is most strange, when did he permit any one to speak against them, and did not more readily receive their testimony, of whatever kind it might be? Where is there a Church which now enjoys the privilege of worshipping Christ freely? If a Church be a maintainer of true piety, it is in danger; if it dissemble, it abides in fear. Every place is full of hypocrisy and impiety, so far as he is concerned; and wherever there is a pious person and a lover of Christ (and there are many such everywhere, as were the prophets and the great Elijah) they hide themselves, if so be that they can find a faithful friend like Obadiah, and either they withdraw into caves and dens of the earth, or pass their lives in wandering about in the deserts. These men in their madness prefer such calumnies against them as Jezebel invented against Naboth, and the Jews against the Saviour; while the Emperor, who is the patron of the heresy, and wishes to pervert the truth, as Ahab wished to change the vineyard into a garden of herbs, does whatever they desire him to do, for the suggestions he receives from them are agreeable to his own wishes.

54. Constantius gives up the Alexandrian Churches to the heretics

Accordingly he banished, as I said before the genuine Bishops, because they would not profess impious doctrines, to suit his own pleasure; and so he now sent Count Heraclius to proceed against Athanasius, who has publicly made known his decrees, and announced the command of the Emperor to be, that unless they complied with the instructions contained in his letters, their bread should be taken away, their idols overthrown, and the persons of many of the city-magistrates and people delivered over to certain slavery. After threatening them in this manner, he was not ashamed to declare publicly with a loud voice, 'The Emperor disclaims Athanasius, and has commanded that the Churches be given up to the Arians.' And when all wondered to hear this, and made signs to one another, exclaiming, 'What! Has Constantius become a heretic?' instead of blushing as he ought, the man all the more obliged the senators and heathen magistrates and wardens of the idol temples to subscribe to these conditions, and to agree to receive as their Bishop whomsoever the Emperor should send them. Of course Constantius was strictly upholding the Canon of the Church, when he caused this to be done; when instead of requiring letters from the Church, he demanded them of the market-place, and instead of the people he asked them of the wardens of the temples. He was conscious that he was not sending a Bishop to preside over Christians, but a certain intruder for those who subscribed to his terms.

55. Irruption into the great Church

The Gentiles accordingly, as purchasing by their compliance the safety of their idols, and certain of the trades , subscribed, though unwillingly, from fear of the threats which he had held out to them; just as if the matter had been the appointment of a general, or other magistrate. Indeed what as heathen, were they likely to do, except whatever was pleasing to the Emperor? But the people having assembled in the great Church (for it was the fourth day of the week), Count Heraclius on the following day takes with him Cataphronius the Prefect of Egypt, and Faustinus the Receiver-General , and Bithynus a heretic; and together they stir up the younger men of the common multitude who worshipped idols, to attack the Church, and stone the people, saying that such was the Emperor's command. As the time of dismissal however had arrived, the greater part had already left the Church, but there being a few women still remaining, they did as the men had charged them, whereupon a piteous spectacle ensued. The few women had just risen from prayer and had sat down when the youths suddenly came upon them naked with stones and clubs. Some of them the godless wretches stoned to death; they scourged with stripes the holy persons of the Virgins, tore off their veils and exposed their heads, and when they resisted the insult, the cowards kicked them with their feet. This was dreadful, exceedingly dreadful; but what ensued was worse, and more intolerable than any outrage. Knowing the holy character of the virgins, and that their ears were unaccustomed to pollution, and that they were better able to bear stones and swords than expressions of obscenity, they assailed them with such language. This the Arians suggested to the young men, and laughed at all they said and did; while the holy Virgins and other godly women fled from such words as they would from the bite of asps, but the enemies of Christ assisted them in the work, nay even, it may be, gave utterance to the same; for they were well-pleased with the obscenities which the youths vented upon them.

56. The great Church pillaged

After this, that they might fully execute the orders they had received (for this was what they earnestly desired, and what the Count and the Receiver-General instructed them to do), they seized upon the seats, the throne, and the table which was of wood , and the curtains of the Church, and whatever else they were able, and carrying them out burnt them before the doors in the great street, and cast frankincense upon the flame. Alas! Who will not weep to hear of these things, and, it may be, close his ears, that he may not have to endure the recital, esteeming it hurtful merely to listen to the account of such enormities? Moreover they sang the praises of their idols, and said, 'Constantius has become a heathen, and the Arians have acknowledged our customs;' for indeed they scruple not even to pretend heathenism, if only their heresy may be established. They even were ready to sacrifice a heifer which drew the water for the gardens in the Cæsareum ; and would have sacrificed it, had it not been a female ; for they said that it was unlawful for such to be offered among them.

57. Thus acted the impious Arians in conjunction with the heathens, thinking that these things tended to our dishonour. But Divine justice reproved their iniquity, and wrought a great and remarkable sign, thereby plainly showing to all men, that as in their acts of impiety they had dared to attack none other but the Lord, so in these proceedings also they were again attempting to do dishonour unto Him. This was more manifestly proved by the marvellous event which now came to pass. One of these licentious youths ran into the Church, and ventured to sit down upon the throne; and as he sat there the wretched man uttered with a nasal sound some lascivious song. Then rising up he attempted to pull away the throne, and to drag it towards him; he knew not that he was drawing down vengeance upon himself. For as of old the inhabitants of Azotus, when they ventured to touch the Ark, which it was not lawful for them even to look upon, were immediately destroyed by it, being first grievously tormented by emerods; so this unhappy person who presumed to drag the throne, drew it upon himself, and, as if Divine justice had sent the wood to punish him, he struck it into his own bowels; and instead of carrying out the throne, he brought out by his blow his own entrails; so that the throne took away his life, instead of his taking it away. For, as it is Acts 1:18 written of Judas, his bowels gushed out; and he fell down and was carried away, and the day after he died. Another also entered the Church with boughs of trees and, as in the Gentile manner he waved them in his hands and mocked, he was immediately struck with blindness, so as straightway to lose his sight, and to know no longer where he was; but as he was about to fall, he was taken by the hand and supported by his companions out of the place, and when on the following day he was with difficulty brought to his senses, he knew not either what he had done or suffered in consequence of his audacity.

58. General Persecution at Alexandria

The Gentiles, when they beheld these things, were seized with fear, and ventured on no further outrage; but the Arians were not even yet touched with shame, but, like the Jews when they saw the miracles, were faithless and would not believe, nay, like Pharaoh, they were hardened; they too having placed their hopes below, on the Emperor and his eunuchs. They permitted the Gentiles, or rather the more abandoned of the Gentiles, to act in the manner before described; for they found that Faustinus, who is the Receiver-General by style, but is a vulgar person in habits, and profligate in heart, was ready to play his part with them in these proceedings, and to stir up the heathen. Nay, they undertook to do the like themselves, that as they had modelled their heresy upon all other heresies together , so they might share their wickedness with the more depraved of mankind. What they did through the instrumentality of others I described above; the enormities they committed themselves surpass the bounds of all wickedness; and they exceed the malice of any hangman. Where is there a house which they did not ravage? Where is there a family they did not plunder on pretence of searching for their opponents? Where is there a garden they did not trample under foot? What tomb did they not open, pretending they were seeking for Athanasius, though their sole object was to plunder and spoil all that came in their way? How many men's houses were sealed up! The contents of how many persons' lodgings did they give away to the soldiers who assisted them! Who had not experience of their wickedness? Who that met them but was obliged to hide himself in the market-place? Did not many an one leave his house from fear of them, and pass the night in the desert? Did not many an one, while anxious to preserve his property from them, lose the greater part of it? And who, however inexperienced of the sea, did not choose rather to commit himself to it, and to risk all its dangers, than to witness their threatenings? Many also changed their residences, and removed from street to street, and from the city to the suburbs. And many submitted to severe fines, and when they were unable to pay, borrowed of others, merely that they might escape their machinations.

59. Violence of Sebastianus

For they made themselves formidable to all men, and treated all with great arrogance, using the name of the Emperor, and threatening them with his displeasure. They had to assist them in their wickedness the Duke Sebastianus, a Manichee, and a profligate young man; the Prefect, the Count, and the Receiver-General as a dissembler. Many Virgins who condemned their impiety, and professed the truth, they brought out from the houses; others they insulted as they walked along the streets, and caused their heads to be uncovered by their young men. They also gave permission to the females of their party to insult whom they chose; and although the holy and faithful women withdrew on one side, and gave them the way, yet they gathered round them like Bacchanals and Furies , and esteemed it a misfortune if they found no means to injure them, and spent that day sorrowfully on which they were unable to do them some mischief. In a word, so cruel and bitter were they against all, that all men called them hangmen, murderers, lawless, intruders, evil-doers, and by any other name rather than that of Christians.

60. Martyrdom of Eutychius

Moreover, imitating the savage practices of Scythians, they seized upon Eutychius a Subdeacon, a man who had served the Church honourably, and causing him to be scourged on the back with a leather whip, till he was at the point of death, they demanded that her should be sent away to the mines; and not simply to any mine, but to that of Phæno , where even a condemned murderer is hardly able to live a few days. And what was most unreasonable in their conduct, they would not permit him even a few hours to have his wounds dressed, but caused him to be sent off immediately, saying, 'If this is done, all men will be afraid, and henceforward will be on our side.' After a short interval, however, being unable to accomplish his journey to the mine on account of the pain of his stripes, he died on the way. He perished rejoicing, having obtained the glory of martyrdom. But the miscreants were not even yet ashamed, but in the words of Scripture, 'having bowels without mercy Proverbs 12:10,' they acted accordingly, and now again perpetrated a satanic deed. When the people prayed them to spare Eutychius and besought them for him, they caused four honourable and free citizens to be seized, one of whom was Hermias who washed the beggars' feet ; and after scourging them very severely, the Duke cast them into the prison. But the Arians, who are more cruel even than Scythians, when they had seen that they did not die from the stripes they had received, complained of the Duke and threatened, saying, 'We will write and tell the eunuchs , that he does not flog as we wish.' Hearing this he was afraid, and was obliged to beat the men a second time; and they being beaten, and knowing for what cause they suffered and by whom they had been accused, said only, 'We are beaten for the sake of the Truth, but we will not hold communion with the heretics: beat us now as you will; God will judge you for this.' The impious men wished to expose them to danger in the prison, that they might die there; but the people of God observing their time, besought him for them, and after seven days or more they were set at liberty.

61. Ill-treatment of the poor

But the Arians, as being grieved at this, again devised another yet more cruel and unholy deed; cruel in the eyes of all men, but well suited to their antichristian heresy. The Lord commanded that we should remember the poor; He said, 'Sell that you have, and give alms' and again 'I was a hungred, and you gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; for inasmuch as you have done it unto one of these little ones, you have done it unto Me. ' But these men, as being in truth opposed to Christ, have presumed to act contrary to His will in this respect also. For when the Duke gave up the Churches to the Arians, and the destitute persons and widows were unable to continue any longer in them, the widows sat down in places which the Clergy entrusted with the care of them appointed. And when the Arians saw that the brethren readily ministered unto them and supported them, they persecuted the widows also, beating them on the feet, and accused those who gave to them before the Duke. This was done by means of a certain soldier named Dynamius. And it was well-pleasing to Sebastian , for there is no mercy in the Manichæans; nay, it is considered a hateful thing among them to show mercy to a poor man. Here then was a novel subject of complaint; and a new kind of court now first invented by the Arians. Persons were brought to trial for acts of kindness which they had performed; he who showed mercy was accused, and he who had received a benefit was beaten; and they wished rather that a poor man should suffer hunger, than that he who was willing to show mercy should give to him. Such sentiments these modern Jews, for such they are, have learned from the Jews of old, who when they saw him who had been blind from his birth recover his sight, and him who had been a long time sick of the palsy made whole, accused the Lord who had bestowed these benefits upon them, and judged them to be transgressors who had experienced His goodness.

62. Ill-treatment of the poor

Who was not struck with astonishment at these proceedings? Who did not execrate both the heresy, and its defenders? Who failed to perceive that the Arians are indeed more cruel than wild beasts? For they had no prospect of gain from their iniquity, for the sake of which they might have acted in this manner; but they rather increased the hatred of all men against themselves. They thought by treachery and terror to force certain persons into their heresy, so that they might be brought to communicate with them; but the event turned out quite the contrary. The sufferers endured as martyrdom whatever they inflicted upon them, and neither betrayed nor denied the true faith in Christ. And those who were without and witnessed their conduct, and at last even the heathen, when they saw these things, execrated them as antichristian, as cruel executioners; for human nature is prone to pity and sympathise with the poor. But these men have lost even the common sentiments of humanity; and that kindness which they would have desired to meet with at the hands of others, had themselves been sufferers, they would not permit others to receive, but employed against them the severity and authority of the magistrates, and especially of the Duke.

63. Ill-treatment of the Presbyters and Deacons

What they have done to the Presbyters and Deacons; how they drove them into banishment under sentence passed upon them by the Duke and the magistrates, causing the soldiers to bring out their kinsfolk from the houses , and Gorgonius, the commander of the police to beat them with stripes; and how (most cruel act of all) with much insolence they plundered the loaves of these and of those who were now dead; these things it is impossible for words to describe, for their cruelty surpasses all the powers of language. What terms could one employ which might seem equal to the subject? What circumstances could one mention first, so that those next recorded would not be found more dreadful, and the next more dreadful still? All their attempts and iniquities were full of murder and impiety; and so unscrupulous and artful are they, that they endeavour to deceive by promises of protection, and by bribing with money , that so, since they cannot recommend themselves by fair means, they may thereby make some display to impose on the simple.

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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/28157.htm>.

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