« PreviousContinue »
attends conciliatory measures, unless accompanied by such a display of vigour as shows that concession is but condescension, the clemency was forgotten in the restriction, which irritated, without repressing them; and, being bent on the overthrow of the dominant Church, they made a sacrifice of their principles, which had hitherto been orthodox, and joined the Eusebians. By this intrigue, the latter gained an entrance into the Egyptian Church, as effectual as that which had already been opened to them, by means of their heresy itself, in Syria and Asia Minor
Charges against Athanasius were produced and examined in Councils successively held at Cæsarea and Tyre (A.D. 333–335); the Meletians being the accusers, and the Eusebians the judges in the trial. At an earlier date, it had been attempted to convict him of political offences; but, on examination, Constantine became satisfied of his innocence. It had been represented, that, of his own authority, he had imposed and rigorously exacted a duty upon the Egyptian linen cloth; the pretended tribute being in fact nothing beyond the offerings, which pious persons had made to the Church, in the shape of vestments for the service of the sanctuary. It had moreover been alleged, that he had sent pecuniary aid to one Philumenus, who was in rebellion against the Emperor; as at a later period they accused him of a
7 The Meletians, on the other hand, were not in the event equally advantaged by the coalition; for, after the success of their attack upon Athanasius, Constantine, true to his object of restoring tranquillity to the Church, while he banished Athanasius to Treves, banished also John, the leader of the Meletians, who had been forward in procuring his condemnation.
design of distressing Constantinople, by stopping the corn vessels of Alexandria, destined for the supply of the metropolis.
The charges brought against him before these Councils were both of a civil and of an ecclesiastical character; that he, or Macarius, one of his deacons, had broken a consecrated chalice, and the holy table itself, and had thrown the sacred books into the fire ; next, that he had killed Arsenius, a Meletian bishop, whose hand, amputated and preserved for magical purposes, had been found in Athanasius's house. The latter of these strange accusations was refuted at the Council of Cæsarea by Arsenius himself, whom Athanasius had gained, and who, on the production of a human hand at the trial, presented himself before the judges, thus destroying the circumstantial evidence by which it was to be identified as his. The former charge was refuted at Tyre by the testimony of the Egyptian bishops; who, after exposing the equivocating evidence of the accuser, went on to prove that at the place where their Metropolitan was said to have broken the chalice, there was neither church, nor altar, nor chalice, existing. These were the principal allegations brought against him; and their extraordinary absurdity, (certain as the charges are as matters of history, from evidence of various kinds,) can only be accounted for by supposing, that the Eusebians were even then too powerful and too bold, to care for much more than the bare forms of law, or to scruple at any evidence, which the unskilfulness of their Egyptian coadjutors might set before them. A charge of violence in his conduct towards certain Meletians was added to
the above; and, as some say, a still more frivolous accusation of incontinence, but whether this was ever brought, is more than doubtful.
Cæsarea and Tyre were places too public even for the audacity of the Eusebians, when the facts of the case were so plainly in favour of the accused. It was now proposed that a commission of inquiry should be sent to the Mareotis, which was in the neighbourhood, and formed part of the diocese, of Alexandria, and was the scene of the alleged profanation of the sacred chalice. The leading members of this commission were Valens and Ursacius, Theognis, Maris, and two others, all Eusebians; they took with them the chief accuser of Athanasius as their guide and host, leaving Athanasius and Macarius at Tyre, and refusing admittance into the court of inquiry to such of the clergy of the Mareotis, as were desirous of defending their Bishop's interests in his absence. The issue of such proceedings may be anticipated. On the return of the commission to Tyre, Athanasius was formally condemned of rebellion, sedition, and a tyrannical use of his episcopal power, of murder, sacrilege, and magic; was deposed from the see of Alexandria, and prohibited from ever returning to that city. Constantine confirmed the sentence of the Council, and Athanasius was banished to Gaul.
. It has often been remarked that persecutions of
Christians, as in St. Paul's case, “fall out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel 8.” The dispersion of the disciples, after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, introduced the word of truth together with themselves among the Samaritans; and in the case before us, the exile of Athanasius led to his introduction to the younger Constantine, son of the great Emperor of that name, who warmly embraced his cause, and gave him the opportunity of rousing the zeal, and gaining the personal friendship of the Catholics of the West. Constans also, another son of Constantine, declared in his favour; and thus, on the death of their father, which took place two years after the Council of Tyre, one third alone of his power, in the person of the Semi-Arian Constantius, Emperor of the East, remained with that party, which, while Constantine lived, was able to wield the whole strength of the State against the orthodox Bishops. The support of the Roman See, was a still more important advantage gained by Athanasius. Rome was the natural mediator between Alexandria and Antioch, and at that time possessed extensive influence among the Churches of the West. Accordingly, when Constantius re-commenced the persecution, to which his father had been persuaded, the exiles betook themselves to Rome; and about the year 340 or 341 we read of Bishops from Thrace, Syria, Phænicia, and Palestine, collected there, besides a multitude of Presbyters, and among the former, Athanasius himself, Marcellus, Asclepas of Gaza, and Luke of Hadrianople. The first act of the Roman See in their favour was the holding a provincial Council, in which the charges against Athanasius and Marcellus were examined, and pronounced to be untenable. And its next act was to advocate the summoning
8 Phil. i. 12.
of a Council of the whole Church with the same purpose, referring it to Athanasius to select a place of meeting, where his cause might be secure of a more impartial hearing, than it had met with at Cæsarea and Tyre.
The Eusebians, on the other hand, perceiving the danger which their interests would sustain, should a Council be held at any distance from their own peculiar territory, determined on anticipating the projected Council by one of their own, in which they might both confirm the sentence of deposition against Athanasius, and, if possible, contrive a confession of faith, to allay the suspicions which the Occidentals entertained of their orthodoxy'. This was the occasion of the Council of the Dedication, as it is called, held by them at Antioch, in the year 341, and which is one of the most celebrated Councils of the century. It was usual to solemnize the consecration of places of Worship, by an attendance of the principal prelates of the neighbouring districts; and the great Church of the Metropolis of Syria, called the Dominicum Aureum, which had just been built, afforded both the pretext and the name to their assembly. Between ninety and a hundred bishops came together on this occasion, all Arians or Arianizers, and agreed without difficulty upon the immediate object of the Council, the ratification of the Synods of Cæsarea and Tyre in condemnation of Athanasius.
So far their undertaking was in their own hands; · 9 ["After the Nicene Council, the Eusebians did not dare avow their heresy in Constantine's time, but merely attempted the banishment of Athanasius, and the restoration of Arius. Their first Council was A.D. 341, four years after Constantine's death and Constantius's accession.” -Ath. Tr. p. 30, m.]