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ATHANASIUS


39


ATHANASIUS


the year 340, after the failure of the Eusebian mal- contents to secure the appointment of an Arian candidate of dubious reputation named Pistus, the notorious Gregory of Cappadocia was forcibly in- truded into the Alexandrian See, and Athanasius was obliged to go into hiding. Within a very fe%v weeks he set out for Rome to lay his case before the Church at large. He had made his appeal to Pope Julius, who took up his cause with a whole-hearted- ness that never wavered down to the day of that holy pontiff's death. The pope summoned a synod of bishops to meet in Rome. After a careful and detailed examination of the entire case, the primate's innocence was proclaimed to the Christian world. Meanwhile the Eusebian party had met at Antioch and passed a series of decrees framed for the sole purpose of preventing the saint's return to his see. Three years were passed at Rome, during which time the idea of the cenobitical life, as Athanasius had seen it practised in the deserts of Egypt, was preached to the clerics of the West (St. Jerome, Epistle cxxvii, 5). Two years after the Roman synod had pub- lished its decision, Athanasius was summoned to Milan by the Emperor Constans, who laid before him the plan which Constantius had formed for a great reunion of the bishops of both the Eastern and West- ern Churches. Now began a time of extraordinary activity for the Saint. Early in the year 343 we find the undaunted exile in Gaul, whither he had gone to consult the saintly Hosius, the great champion of orthodoxy in the West. The two together set out for the Council of Sardica which had been summoned in deference to the Roman pontiff's wishes. At this great gathering of prelates the case of Athanasius was taken up once more; and once more was his innocence reaffirmed. Two conciliar letters were prepared, one to the clergy and faithful of Alexandria, the other to the bishops of Egypt and Libya, in which the will of the Council was made known. Meanwhile the Eusebian party had gone to Philip- popolis, where they issued an anathema against Athanasius and his supporters. The persecution against the orthodox party broke out with renewed vigour, and Constantius was induced to prepare drastic measures against Athanasius and the priests who were devoted to him. Orders were given that if the Saint attempted tore-enter his see, he should be put to death. Athanasius, accordingly, withdrew from Sardica to Naissus in Mysia, where he cele- brated the Easter festival of the year 344. After that he set out for Aquileia in obedience to a friendly summons from Constans, to whom Italy had fallen in the division of the empire that followed on the death of Constantine. Meanwhile an unexpected event had taken place which made the return of Athanasius to his see less difficult than it had seemed for many months. Gregory of Cappadocia had died (probably by violence) in June, 345. The embassy which had been sent by the bishops of Sardica to the Emperor Constantius, and which had at first met with the most insulting treatment, now received a favourable hearing. Constantius was induced to reconsider his decision, owing to a threatening letter from his brother Constans and the uncertain condi- tion of affairs on the Persian border, and he accord- ingly made up his mind to yield. But three separate letters were needed to overcome the natural hesita- tion of Athanasius. He passed rapidly from Aquileia to Treves, from Treves to Rome, and from Rome by the northern route to Adrianople and Antioch, where he met Constantius. He was accorded a gracious interview by the vacillating Emperor, and sent back to his see in triumph, where he began his memorable ten years' reign, which lasted down to the third exile, that of 3.56. These were full years in the life of the Bishop; but the intrigues of the Eusebian, or Court, party were soon renewed. Pope Julius had


died in the month of April, 352, and Liberius had succeeded him as Sovereign Pontiff. For two years Liberius had been favourable to the cause of Athan- asius; but driven at last into e.xile, he was induced to sign an ambiguous formula, from which the great Nicene test, the homoousion, had been studiously omitted. In 355 a council was held at Milan, where in spite of the vigorous opposition of a handful of loyal prelates among (he Western bishops, a fourth condemnation of Athanasius was announced to the world. With his friends scattered, the saintly Ho- sius in exile, the Pope Liberius denounced as acqui- escing in Arian formularies, Athanasius could hardly hope to escape. On the night of 8 February, 356, while engaged in services in the Church of St. Thomas, a band of armed men burst in to secure his arrest (Apol. de Fuga, 24). It was the beginning of his third exile.

Through the influence of the Eusebian faction at Constantinople, an Arian bishop, George of Cappa- docia, was now appointed to rule the see of Alex- andria. Athanasius, after remaining some days in the neighbourhood of the city, finally withdrew into the deserts of upper Egypt, where he remained for a period of six years, living the life of the monks and devoting himself in his enforced leisure to the com- position of that group of writings of which we have the result in the "Apology to Constantius", the "Apology for his Flight", the "Letter to the Monks", and the "History of the Arians". Legend has nat- urally been busy with this period of the Saint's ca- reer; and we may find in the "Life of Pachomius" a collection of tales brimful of incidents, and enlivened by the recital of "deathless 'scapes in the breach." But by the close of the year 360 a change was appar- ent in the complexion of the anti-Nicene party. The Arians no longer presented an unbroken front to their orthodox opponents. The Emperor Constan- tius, who had been the cause of so much trouble, died 4 November, 361, and was succeeded by Julian. The proclamation of the new prince's accession was the signal for a pagan outbreak against the still dominant Arian faction in Alexandria. George, the usurping Bishop, was flung into prison and murdered amid circumstances of great rt-uelty, 24 December (Hist. Aceph., VI). An obscure presbyter of the name of Pistus was immediately chosen by the Arians to succeed him, when fresh news arrived that filled the orthodox party with hope. An edict had been put forth by Julian (Hist. Aceph., VIII) permitting the exiled bishops of the "Galileans" to return to their "towns and provinces". Athanasius received a summons from his own flock, and he ac- cordingly re-entered his episcopal capital on 22 Feb- ruary, 362. With characteristic energy he set to work to re-establish the somewhat shattered fortunes of the orthodox party and to purge the theological atmosphere of uncertainty. To clear up the mis- understandings that had arisen in the course of the previous years, an attempt was made to determine still further the significance of the Nicene formu- laries. In the meanwhile, Julian, who seems to have become suddenly jealous of the influence that Athan- asius was exercising at Alexandria, addressed an order to Ecdicius, the Prefect of Egypt, peremptorily commanding the expulsion of the restored primate, on the ground that he had never been included in the imperial act of clemency. The edict was com- municated to the bishop by Pythicodorus Trico, who, though described in the "Chronicon Athana- sianum" (xxxv) as a "philosopher", seems to have behaved with brutal insolence. On 23 October the people gathered about the proscribed bishop to pro- test against the emperor's decree; but the saint urged them to submit, consoling them with the promise that his absence would be of short duration. The prophecy was curiously fulfilled. Julian terminated