Alexander, that admirable bishop, who had successfully withstood the blasphemies of Arius, died five months after the council of Nicæa, and was succeeded in the episcopate of the church of Alexandria by Athanasius. Trained from his youth in sacred studies, Athanasius had attracted general admiration in each ecclesiastical office that he filled. He had, at the general council, so defended the doctrines of the apostles, that while he won the approbation of all the champions of the truth, its opponents learned to look on their antagonist as a personal foe and public enemy. He had attended the council as one of the retinue of Alexander, then a very young man, although he was the principal deacon .
When those who had denied the only-begotten Son of God heard that the helm of the Church of Alexandria had been entrusted to his hands knowing as they did by experience his zeal for the truth, they thought that his rule would prove the destruction of their authority. They, therefore, resorted to the following machinations against him. In order to avert suspicion, they bribed some of the adherents of Meletius, who, although deposed by the council of Nicæa, had persevered in exciting commotions in the Thebaid and in the adjacent part of Egypt, and persuaded them to go to the emperor, and to accuse Athanasius of levying a tax upon Egypt , and giving the gold collected to a certain man who was preparing to usurp the imperial power . The emperor being deceived by this story, Athanasius was brought to Constantinople. Upon his arrival he proved that the accusation was false, and had the charge given him by God restored to him. This is shown by a letter from the emperor to the Church of Alexandria of which I shall transcribe only the concluding paragraph.
A Portion of the Letter from the Emperor Constantine to the Alexandrians.
|Believe me, my brethren, the wicked men were unable to effect anything against your bishop. They surely could have had no other design than to waste our time, and to leave themselves no place for repentance in this life. Do you, therefore, help yourselves, and love that which wins your love ; and exert all your power in the expulsion of those who wish to destroy your concord. Look unto God, and love one another. I joyfully welcomed Athanasius your bishop; and I have conversed with him as with one whom I know to be a man of God.|