SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : Section 5. The Council of Tyre and First Exile of Athanasius, 335-337.

Select Works And Letters Or Athanasius by Athanasius

Section 5. The Council of Tyre and First Exile of Athanasius, 335-337.

Many of the bishops who were making their way to the great festival met at Tyre. The Arian element was very strong. Eusebius of Nicomedia, Narcissus, Maris, Theognis, Patrophilus, George, now bishop of Laodicea, are all familiar names. Ursacius and Valens, young both in years and in mind' make their first entrance on the stage of ecclesiastical intrigue; Eusebius of Cæsarea headed a large body of conservative' malcontents: in the total number of perhaps 150, the friends of Athanasius were outnumbered by nearly two to one. (See Gwatkin's note, p.85, Hefele ii.17, Eng Tra.) Eusebius of Cæsarea took the chair (yet see D.C.B. ii.316^b). The proceedings of the Council were heated and disorderly; promiscuous accusations were flung from side to side; the president himself was charged by an excited Egyptian Confessor with having sacrificed to idols (p.104, n.2), while against Athanasius every possible charge was raked up. The principal one was that of harshness and violence. Callinicus, bishop of Pelusium, according to a later story , had taken up the cause of Ischyras, and been deposed by Athanasius in consequence. A certain Mark had been appointed to supersede him, and he had been subjected to military force. Certain Meletian bishops who had refused to communicate with Athanasius on account of his irregular election, had been beaten and imprisoned. A document from Alexandria testified that the Churches were emptied on account of the strong popular feeling against these proceedings. The number of witnesses, and the evident readiness of the majority of bishops to believe the worst against him, inspired Athanasius with profound misgivings as to his chance of obtaining justice. He had in vain objected to certain bishops as biassed judges; when it was decided to investigate the case of Ischyras on the spot, the commission of six was chosen from among the very persons challenged (p.138). Equally unsuccessful was the protest of the Egyptian bishops against the credit of the Meletian witnesses (p.140). But on one point the accusers walked into a trap. The hand of Arsenius' was produced, and naturally made a deep impression (Thdt. H. E. i.30). But Athanasius was ready. Did you know Arsenius personally?' Yes' is the eager reply from many sides. Promptly Arsenius is ushered in alive, wrapped up in a cloak. The Synod expected an explanation of the way he had lost his hand. Athanasius turned up his cloak and shewed that one hand at least was there. There was a moment of suspense, artfully managed by Athanasius. Then the other hand was exposed, and the accusers were requested to point out whence the third had been cut off (Socr. i.29). This was too much for John Arcaph, who precipitately fled (so Socr., he seems to have gone to Egypt with the couriers mentioned below, cf. p.142). But the Eusebians were made of sterner stuff: the whole affair was a piece of magic; or there had been an attempt to murder Arsenius, who had hid himself from fear. At any rate Athanasius must not be allowed to clear himself so easily. Accordingly, in order partly to gain time and partly to get up a more satisfactory case, they prevailed on Count Dionysius, in the face of strong remonstrances from Athanasius (p.138), to despatch a commission of enquiry to the Mareotis in order to ascertain the real facts about Ischyras. The nature of the commission may be inferred, firstly, from its composition, four strong Arians and two (Theodore of Heraclea, and Macedonius of Mopsuestia) reactionaries; secondly, from the fact that they took Ischyras with them, but left Macarius behind in custody; thirdly, from the fact that couriers were sent to Egypt with four days' start, and with an urgent message to the Meletians to collect at once in as large numbers as possible at Irene, so as to impress the commissioners with the importance of the Meletian community at that place. The Egyptian bishops present at Tyre handed in strongly-worded protests to the Council, and to Count Dionysius, who received also a weighty remonstrance from the respected Alexander, Bishop of Thessalonica. This drew forth from him an energetic protest to the Eusebians (p.142 sq.) against the composition of the commission. His protest was not, however, enforced in any practical way, and the Egyptians thereupon appealed to the Emperor (ib.). Athanasius himself escaped in an open boat with four of his bishops, and found his way to Constantinople, where he arrived on October 30. The Emperor was out riding when he was accosted by one of a group of pedestrians. He could scarcely credit his eyes and the assurance of his attendants that the stranger was none other than the culprit of Tyre. Much annoyed at his appearance, he refused all communication; but the persistency of Athanasius and the reasonableness of his demand prevailed. The Emperor wrote to Jerusalem to summon to his presence all who had been at the Council of Tyre (pp.105, 145).

Meanwhile the Mareotic Commission had proceeded with its task. Their report was kept secret, but eventually sent to Julius of Rome, who handed it over to Athanasius in 339 (p.143). Their enquiry was carried on with the aid of Philagrius the prefect, a strong Arian sympathiser, whose guard pricked the witnesses if they failed to respond to the hints of the commissioners and the threats of the prefect himself. The clergy of Alexandria and the Mareotis were excluded from the court, and catechumens, Jews and heathen, none of whom could properly have been present on the occasion, were examined as to the interruption of the eucharistic service by Macarius (p.119). Even with these precautions the evidence was not all that could be wished. To begin with, it had all taken place on an ordinary week-day, when there would be no Communion (pp.115, 125, 143); secondly, when Macarius came in Ischyras was in bed; thirdly, certain witnesses whom Athanasius had been accused of secreting came forward in evidence of the contrary (p.107). The prefect consoled himself by letting loose the violence of the heathen mob (p.108) against the virgins' of the Church. The catholic party were helpless; all they could do was to protest in writing to the commission, the council, and the prefect (pp.138-140. The latter protest is dated 10th of Thoth, i.e. Sep.8, 335, Diocletian leap-year).

The commission returned to Tyre, where the council passed a resolution (Soz. ii.25) deposing Athanasius. They then proceeded to Jerusalem for the Dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here Arius with certain others (probably including Euzoius) was received to communion on the strength of the confession of faith he had presented to Constantine a few years before, and the assembled bishops drew up a synodal letter announcing the fact to Egypt and the Church at large (pp.144, 460). At this juncture the summons from Constantine arrived. The terms of it shewed that the Emperor was not disposed to hear more of the broken chalice or the murdered Arsenius: but the Eusebians were not at a loss. They advised the bishops to go quietly to their homes, while five of the inner circle, accompanied by Eusebius of Cæsarea, who had a panegyric to deliver in the imperial presence, responded to the summons of royalty. They made short work of Athanasius. The whole farrago of charges examined at Tyre was thrown aside. He had threatened to starve the paneudaimon patris, the chosen capital of Constantine, by stopping the grain ships which regularly left Alexandria every autumn. It was in vain for Athanasius to protest that he had neither the means nor the power to do anything of the kind. You are a rich man,' replied Eusebius of Nicomedia, and can do whatever you like.' The Emperor was touched in a sore place . He promptly ordered the banishment of Athanasius to Treveri, whither he started, as it would seem, on Feb.5, 336 (pp.105, 146, 503, note 11). The friends of Athanasius professed to regard the banishment as an act of imperial clemency, in view of what might have been treated as a capital matter, involving as it did the charge of treason (p.105); and Constantine II., immediately after his father's death, stated (pp.146, 272, 288) in a letter (written before he became Augustus in Sept.337) that he had been sent to Treveri merely to keep him out of danger, and that Constantine had been prevented only by death from carrying out his intention of restoring him. These charitable constructions need not be rudely ignored; but in all probability the anxiety to be rid of a cause of disturbance was at least one motive with the peace-loving Emperor. At any rate the Eusebians could not obtain the imperial sanction to their proposed election of a successor (Pistus?) to Athanasius. On his return after the death of Constantine he found his see waiting for him unoccupied (Apol. c. Ar.29, p.115).

The close of the Tricennalia was made the occasion of a council at Constantinople (winter 335-336). Marcellus was deposed for heresy and Basil nominated to the see of Ancyra, Eusebius of Cæsarea undertaking to refute the new Samosatene.' Other minor depositions were apparently carried out at the same time, and several Western bishops, including Protogenes of Sardica, had reason later on to repent of their signatures to the proceedings (Hil. Fragm. iii.).

Death of Arius. From Jerusalem Arius had gone to Alexandria, but (Soz. ii.29) had not succeeded in obtaining admission to the Communion of the Church there. Accordingly he repaired to the capital about the time of the Council just mentioned. The Eusebians resolved that here at any rate he should not be repelled. Arius appeared before the Emperor and satisfied him by a sworn profession of orthodoxy, and a day was fixed for his reception to communion. The story of the distress caused to the aged bishop Alexander is well known. He was heard to pray in the church that either Arius or himself might be taken away before such an outrage to the faith should be permitted. As a matter of fact Arius died suddenly the day before his intended reception. His friends ascribed his death to magic, those of Alexander to the judgment of God, the public generally to the effect of excitement on a diseased heart (Soz. l. c.). Athanasius, while taking the second view, describes the occurrence with becoming sobriety and reserve (pp.233, 565). Alexander himself died very soon after, and Paul was elected in his place (D.C.B. art. Macedonius (2)), but was soon banished on some unknown charge, whereupon Eusebius of Nicomedia was translated to the capital see (between 336 and 340; date uncertain. Cf. D.C.B. ii.367a).

Of the sojourn of Athanasius at Treveri, the noble home of the Emperors on the banks of the Mosel, we know few details, but his presence there appeals to the historic imagination. (See D.C.B. i.186a.) He cannot have been there much above a year. He kept the Easter festival, probably of 336, certainly of 337, in the still unfinished Church (p.244: the present Cathedral is said to occupy the site of what was then an Imperial palace: but the main palace is apparently represented by the Roman baths).' He was not suffered to want (p.146): he had certain Egyptian brethren with him; and found a sympathetic friend in the good Bishop Maximinus (cf. p.239). The tenth festal letter, §1, preserves a short extract from a letter written from Trier to his clergy.

Constantine died at Nicomedia, having previously received baptism from the hands of Eusebius, on Whit-Sunday, May 22, 337. None of his sons were present, and the will is said to have been entrusted to the Arian chaplain mentioned above (p. xxxiv). Couriers carried the news to the three Cæsars, and at a very moderate rate of reckoning, it may have been known at Trier by about June 4. Constantine, as the eldest son, probably expected more from his father's will than he actually obtained. At any rate, on June 17 he wrote a letter to the people and clergy of Alexandria, announcing the restoration of their bishop in pursuance of an intention of his father's, which only death had cut short. Constantius meanwhile hastened (from the East, probably Antioch) to Constantinople (D.C.B. i.651): he too had expectations, for he was his father's favourite. The brothers met at Sirmium, and agreed upon a division of the Empire, Constantius taking the East, Constans Italy and Illyricum, and Constantine the Gauls and Africa. On Sep.9 they formally assumed the title Augustus . Athanasius had apparently accompanied Constantine to Sirmium, and on his way eastward met Constantius at Viminacium (p.240), his first interview with his future persecutor. He presently reached Constantinople (p.272), and on his way southward, at Cæsarea in Cappadocia, again met Constantius, who was hurrying to the Persian frontier. On Nov.23 he reached Alexandria amid great rejoicings (pp.104, 503, Fest. Ind. x.), the clergy especially esteeming that the happiest day of their lives.' But the happiness was marred by tumults (Soz. ii.2, 5, Hil. Fragm. iii.8, Fest. Ind. xi., next year again'), which were, however, checked by the civil power, the prefect Theodorus being, apparently, favourable to Athanasius (pp.102, 527, note 2). The festal letter for 338 would seem to have been finished at Alexandria, but the point is not absolutely clear. Here begins his second period of quiet,' of one year, four months and twenty-four days, i.e., from Athyr 27 (Nov.23), 337, to Pharmuthi 21 (April 16), 339.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy