Page images
PDF
EPUB

ing, I made my way through them, and by His protection got away unperceived; glorifying God mightily, that I had been enabled to stand by my people, and even to send them out before me, and yet had escaped in safety from the hands of those who sought me."

The formal protest of the Alexandrian Christians against this outrage, which is still extant, gives a stronger and fuller statement of the violences attending it. “While we were watching in prayer,” they say, “suddenly about midnight, the most noble Duke Syrianus came upon us with a large force of legionaries, with arms, drawn swords, and other military weapons, and their helmets on. The prayers and sacred reading were proceeding, when they assaulted the doors, and, on these being laid open by the force of numbers, he gave the word of command. Upon which, some began to let fly their arrows, and others to sound a charge ; and there was a clashing of weapons, and swords glared against the lamplight. Presently, the sacred virgins were slaughtered, numbers trampled down one over another by the rush of the soldiers, and others killed by arrows. Some of the soldiers betook themselves to pillage, and began to strip the females, to whom the very touch of strangers was more terrible than death. Meanwhile, the Bishop sat on his throne, exhorting all to pray. ... He was dragged down, and almost torn to pieces. He swooned away, and became as dead ; we do not know how he got away from them, for they were bent upon killing him ?."

2 Athan. Apol. de Fug. 24. . 3 Athan. Hist. Arian, ad Monach. 81.

The first purpose of Athanasius on his escape was at once to betake himself to Constantius; and he had begun his journey to him, when news of the fury, with which the persecution raged throughout the West, changed his intention. A price was set on his head, and every place was diligently searched in the attempt to find him. He retired into the wilderness of the Thebaid, then inhabited by the followers of Paul and Anthony, the first hermits. Driven at length thence by the activity of his persecutors, he went through a variety of strange adventures, which lasted for the space of six years, till the death of Constantius allowed him to return to Alexandria.

His suffragan bishops did not escape a persecution, which was directed, not against an individual, but against the Christian faith. Thirty of them were banished, ninety were deprived of their churches; and many of the inferior clergy suffered with them. Sickness and death were the ordinary result of such hardships as exile involved; but direct violence in good measure superseded a lingering and uncertain vengeance. George, the representative of the Arians, led the way in a course of horrors, which he carried through all ranks and professions of the Catholic people; and the Jews and heathen of Alexandria, sympathizing in his brutality, submitted themselves to his guidance, and enabled him to extend the range of his crimes in every direction. Houses were pillaged, churches were burned, or subjected to the most loathsome profanations, and cemeteries were ransacked. On the week after Whitsuntide, George himself surprised a congregation, which had refused to communicate with him. He brought out some of the consecrated virgins, and threatened them with death by burning, unless they forthwith turned Arians. On perceiving their constancy of purpose, he stripped them of their garments, and beat them so barbarously on the face, that for some time afterwards their features could not be distinguished. Of the men, forty were scourged; some died of their wounds, the rest were banished. This is one out of many notorious facts, publicly declared at the time, and uncontradicted; and which were not merely the unauthorized excesses of an uneducated Cappadocian, but recognized by the Arian body as their own acts, in a state paper from the Imperial Court, and perpetrated for the maintenance of the peace of the Church, and of a good understanding among all who agreed in the authority of the sacred Scriptures.

In the manifesto, issued for the benefit of the people of Alexandria (A.D. 356), the infatuated Emperor applauds their conduct in turning from a cheat and impostor, and siding with those who were venerable men, and above all praise. “The majority of the citizens,” he continues, “were blinded by the influence of one who rose from the abyss, darkly misleading those who seek the truth; who had at no time any fruitful exhortation to communicate, but abused the souls of his hearers with frivolous and superficial discussions. ... That noble personage has not ventureil to stand a trial, but has adjudged himself to banishment; whom it is the interest .even of the barbarians to get rid of, lest by pouring out his griefs as in a play to the first comer, he persuade some of them to be profane. So we will wish him a fair journey. But for yourselves, only the select few are your equals, or rather, none are worthy of your honours ; who are allotted excellence and sense, such as your actions proclaim, celebrated as they are almost in every place. ... You have roused yourselves from the grovelling things of earth to those of heaven, the most reverend George undertaking to be your leader, a man of all others the most accomplished in such matters; under whose care you will enjoy in days to come honourable hope, and tranquillity at the present time. May all of you hang upon his words as upon a holy anchor, that any cutting and burning may be needless on our part against men of depraved souls, whom we seriously advise to abstain from paying respect to Athanasius, and to dismiss from their minds his troublesome garrulity; or such factious men will find themselves involved in extreme peril, which perhaps no skill will be able to avert from them. For it were absurd indeed, to drive about the pestilent Athanasius from country to country, aiming at his death, though he had ten lives, and not to put a stop to the extravagances of his flatterers and juggling attendants, such as it is a disgrace to name, and whose death has long been determined by the judges. Yet there is a hope of pardon, if they will desist from their former offences. As to their profligate leader Athanasius, he distracted the harmony of the state, and laid on the most holy men impious and sacrilegious hands."

The ignorance and folly of this remarkable document

4 Athan. Apol. ad Constant. 30.

are at first sight incredible ; but to an observant mind the common experience of life brings sufficient proof, that there is nothing too audacious for party spirit to assert, nothing too gross for monarch or inflamed populace to receive.

« PreviousContinue »