(1). The stay of Athanasius at Alexandria was brief and troubled. The city was still disturbed by Arian malcontents, who had the sympathy of Jews and Pagans, and it was reported that the monks, and especially the famous hermit Antony, were on their side. This impression, however, was dissipated by the appearance of the great Ascetic himself, who, at the urgent request of the orthodox (pp.214 sq., 503), consented to shew himself for two days in the uncongenial atmosphere of the city. The mystery and marvellous reputation, which even then surrounded this much-talked-of character, attracted Christians and heathen alike, in large numbers, to hear and see him, and, if possible, to derive some physical benefit from his touch. He denounced Arianism as the worst of heresies, and was solemnly escorted out of town by the bishop in person. As an annalist toward the close of the century tells us, Antony, the great leader, came to Alexandria, and though he remained there only two days, shewed himself wonderful in many things, and healed many. He departed on the third of Messori' (i.e., July 27, 338).
Meanwhile the Eusebians were busy. In the new Emperor Constantius, the Nicomedian found a willing patron: probably his translation to the See of Constantinople falls at this time. It was represented to the Emperor that the restoration of the exiled Bishops in 337, and especially that of Athanasius, was against all ecclesiastical order. Men deposed by a Synod of the Church had presumed to return to their sees under the sanction of the secular authority. This was technically true, but the proceedings at Tyre were regarded by Athan. as depriving that Synod of any title to ecclesiastical authority (pp.104, 271). It is impossible to accept au pied de la lettre the protests on either side against state interference with the Church: both parties were willing to use it on their own side, and to protest against its use by their opponents. Constantine had summoned the Council of Nicæa, had (Soz. i.17) fixed the order of its proceedings, and had enforced its decisions by civil penalties. The indignant rhetoric of Hist. Ar.52 (p.289) might mutatis nominibus have been word for word the remonstrance of a Secundus or Theonas against the great Ecumenical Synod of Christendom. At Tyre, Jerusalem, and CP., the Eusebians had their turn, and again at Antioch, 338-341. The Council of Sardica relied on the protection of Constans, that of Philippopolis on Constantius. The reign of the latter was the period of Arian triumph; that of Theodosius secured authority to the Catholics. The only consistent opponents of civil intervention in Church affairs were the Donatists in the West and the Eunomians or later Arians in the East (with the obscure exception of Secundus and Theonas, the original Arians cannot claim the compliment paid by Fialon, p.115, to their independence). To the Donatists is due the classical protest against Erastianism, Quid Imperatori cum ecclesia'(D.C.B. i.652). Believing, as the present writer does, that the Donatist protest expresses a true principle, and that the subjection of religion to the State is equally mischievous with that of the State to the Church, it is impossible not to regret these consequences of the conversion of Constantine. But allowance must be made for the sanguine expectations with which the astonishing novelty of a Christian Emperor filled men's minds. It was only as men came to realise that the civil sword might be drawn in support of heresy that they began to reflect on the impropriety of allowing to even a Christian Emperor a voice in Church councils. Athanasius was the first to grasp this clearly. The voice of protest sounds in the letter of the Egyptian Synod of 338-9; throughout his exiles he steadily regarded himself, and was regarded by his flock, as the sole rightful Bishop of Alexandria, and continued to issue his Easter Letters from first to last. At the same time, it must be admitted that if he was right in returning to Alexandria in 337 without restoration by a Synod, he could not logically object to the return of Eusebius and Theognis (p.104), who had not been deposed at Nicæa, but banished by the Emperor. The technical rights of Chrestus and Amphion (l. c.) were no better than those of Gregory or George. The spiritual elevation of Athanasius over the head and shoulders of his opponents is plain to ourselves; we see clearly the moral contrast between the councils of Rome and Antioch (340-41), of Sardica and Philippopolis (343), of Alexandria (362) and Seleucia (359). But to men like the Eastern conservatives' the technical point of view necessarily presented itself with great force, and in judging of their conduct we must not assume that it was either meaningless diabolism' or deliberate sympathy with Arianism that led so many bishops of good character to see in Athanasius and the other exiles contumacious offenders against Church order. (I am quite unable to accept M. Fialon's sweeping verdict upon the majority of Oriental bishops as weak, vicious, more devoted to their own interests than to the Church,' &c., p.116. He takes as literally exact the somewhat turgid rhetorical complaints of Greg. Naz.)
But the Eusebians were not limited to technical complaints. They had stirring accounts to give of the disorders which the return of Athanasius had excited, of the ruthless severity with which they had been put down by the prefect, who was, it was probably added, a mere tool in the hands of the bishop. Accordingly in the course of 338 the subservient Theodorus was recalled, and Philagrius the Cappadocian, who had governed with immense popularity in 335-337 (Fest. Ind. and p.107 sq.), was sent to fill the office a second time. This was regarded at Alexandria as an Arian triumph (see p.527, note 2). His arrival did not tend to allay the disorders. Old charges against Athanasius were raked up, and a new one added, namely that of embezzlement of the corn appropriated to the support of widows by the imperial bounty. The Emperor appears to have sent a letter of complaint to Athanasius (p.273), but to have paid little attention to his defence. The Eusebians now ventured to send a bishop of their own to Alexandria in the person of Pistus, one of the original Arian presbyters, who was consecrated by the implacable Secundus. The date of this proceeding is obscure, probably it was conducted in an irregular manner, so as to render it possible to ignore it altogether if, as proved to be the case, a stronger candidate should be necessary. First, however, it was necessary to try the temper of the West. A deputation consisting of a presbyter Macarius and two deacons, Martyrius and Hesychius, was sent to Julius, bishop of Rome, to lay before him the enormities of Athanasius, Marcellus, Paul, Asclepas and the rest, and to urge the superior title of Pistus to the recognition of the Church. But upon hearing of this Athanasius summoned the Egyptian Episcopate together (winter 338-339), and composed a circular letter (pp.101-110) dealing fully with the charges against him, especially with regard to the manner of his election and the irregularity of his return a year before. Two presbyters carried the letter in haste to Rome, and enlightened the Church there as to the antecedents of Pistus. Next day it was announced that Macarius, in spite of a bodily ailment,' had decamped in the night. The deacons however remained, and requested Julius to call a council, undertaking that if Athanasius and the Eusebians were confronted all the charges brought by the latter should be made good. This proposal seemed unobjectionable, and Julius wrote inviting all parties to a council at Rome, or some other place to be agreed upon (p.272); his messengers to the Eusebians were the Roman presbyters Elpidius and Philoxenus , (p.111). The council was fixed for the following summer (so it would seem); but no reply was received from the Eusebians, who kept the presbyters in the East until the following January, when they at length started for Rome bearing a querulous and somewhat shifty reply (answered by Julius, p.111, sqq.). But before the invitation had reached the Eusebians they had assembled at Antioch, where Constantius was in residence for the winter (laws dated Dec.27; the court thereon January ? p.92), repeated the deposition of Athanasius, and appointed Gregory, a Cappadocian, to succeed him. It had become clear that Pistus was a bad candidate; perhaps no formal synod could be induced to commit themselves to a man excommunicated at Nicæa and consecrated by Secundus. At any rate they tried to find an unexceptionable nominee. But their first, Eusebius, afterwards bishop of Emesa, refused the post, and so they came to Gregory , a former student of Alexandria, and under personal obligations to its bishop (Greg. Naz. Or. xxi.15).
All was now ready for the blow at Athanasius. It fell in Lent (pp.94, 503). His position since the arrival of Philagrius had been one of unrest. In this year again,' says our annalist, there were many tumults. On the xxii Phamenoth (i.e. Sunday, Mar.18, 339) he was sought after by his persecutors in the night. On the next morning he fled from the Church of Theonas after he had baptized many. Then on the fourth day (Mar.22) Gregory the Cappadocian entered the city as bishop' (Fest. Ind. xi.). But Athanasius (p.95), remained quietly in the town for about four weeks more . He drew up for circulation throughout the tribes' (cf. Judges xix.29) a memorandum and appeal, describing the intrusion of Gregory and the gross outrages which had accompanied it. This letter was written on or just after Easter Day (April 15), and immediately after this he escaped from Alexandria and made his way to Rome. The data as to the duration of the periods of quiet' and exile fix the date of his departure for Easter Monday, April 16. This absence from Alexandria was his longest, lasting ninety months and three days,' i.e. from Pharmuthi 21 (April 16) 339 to Paophi 24 (October 21), 346.
(2.) The Second Exile of Athanasius falls into two sections, the first of four years (p.239), to the council of Sardica (339-343), the second of three years, to his return in Oct.346. The odd six months cannot be distributed with certainty unless we can arrive at a more exact result than at present appears attainable for the month and duration of the Sardican synod.
In May, 339, Athanasius, accompanied by a few of his clergy (story of the detachment' of his monk Ammonius in Socr. iv.23, sub fin.), arrived at Rome. He was within three months followed by Marcellus, Paul of CP., Asclepas, and other exiles who had been restored at the end of 337 but had once more been ejected. Soon after, Carpones, an original Arian of Alexandria, appeared as envoy of Gregory. He confirmed all that had been alleged against Pistus, but failed to convince Julius that his own bishop was anything but an Arian. Meanwhile time wore on, and no reply came from the Eusebians. Athanasius gave himself up to enforced leisure and to the services of the Church. Instead of his usual Easter letter for the following spring, he sent a few lines to the clergy of Alexandria and a letter to his right-hand man, bishop Serapion of Thmuis, requesting him to make the necessary announcement of the season. Gregory made his first attempt (apparently also his last) to fix the Easter Festival, but in the middle of Lent, to the amusement of the public, discovered that a mistake had been made, the correction of which involved his adherents in an extra week of Lenten austerities. We can well imagine that the spectacle of the abstracted asceticism of Ammonius aroused the curiosity and veneration of the Roman Christians, and thus gave an impulse to the ascetic life in the West (see Jerome, cited below, p.191). That is all we know of the life of Athanasius during the first eighteen months of his stay at Rome.
In the early spring of 340 the presbyters returned (see above) with a letter from a number of bishops, including the Eusebian leaders, who had assembled at Antioch in January. This letter is carefully dissected in the reply of the Roman Council, and appears to have been highly acrimonious in its tone. Julius kept it secret for a time (p.111), hoping against hope that after all some of the Orientals would come for the council; but at length he gave up all expectations of the kind, and convoked the bishops of Italy, who examined the cases of the various exiles (p.114). All the old charges against Athanasius were gone into with the aid of the Mareotic report (the ex parte character of which Julius strongly emphasises) and of the account of the proceedings at Tyre. The council had no difficulty in pronouncing Athanasius completely innocent on all points. The charge of ignoring the proceedings of a council was disposed of by pointing out the uncanonical character of Gregory's appointment (p.115), and the infraction by the complainants of the decrees of Nicæa. With regard to Marcellus, he responded to the request of the bishops by volunteering a written confession of his faith (p.116, Epiph. Hær.72), which was in fact the creed of the Roman Church itself (Caspari, Quellen iii.28, note, argues that the creed must have been tendered at an earlier visit, 336-337, but without cogent reasons). Either Julius and his bishops were (like the fathers of Sardica) very easily satisfied, or Marcellus exercised extreme reserve as to his peculiar tenets (Zahn, p.71, makes out the best case he can for his candour). The other exiles were also pronounced innocent, and the synod restored' them all. It remained to communicate the result to the Oriental bishops. This was done by Julius in a letter drawn up in the name of the council, and preserved by Athanasius in his Apology. Its subject matter has been sufficiently indicated, but its statesmanlike logic and grave severity must be appreciated by reference to the document itself. It has been truly called one of the ablest documents in the entire controversy.' It is worth observing that Julius makes no claim whatever to pass a final judgment as successor of S. Peter, although the Orientals had expressly asserted the equal authority of all bishops, however important the cities in which they ruled (p.113); on the contrary he merely claims that without his own consent, proceedings against bishops would lack the weight of universal consent (p.118). At the same time he claims to be in possession of the traditions of S. Paul and especially of S. Peter, and is careful to found upon precedent (that of Dionysius) a claim to be consulted in matters alleged against a bishop of Alexandria. This claim, by its modesty, is in striking contrast with that which Socrates (ii.17) and Sozom. (iii.8, 10) make for him, -- that owing to the greatness of his see, the care of all the churches pertained to him: and this again, which represents what the Greek Church of the early fifth century was accustomed to hear from Rome, is very different from the claim to a jurisdiction of divine right which we find formulated in Leo the Great.
The letter of Julius was considered at the famous Council of the Dedication (of Constantine's Golden' Church at Antioch, see Eus. V. C. iii.50), held in the summer of 341 (between May 22 and Sept.1, see Gwatkin, p.114, note). Eusebius of Constantinople was there (he had only a few months longer to live), and most of the Arian leaders. Cæsarea was represented by Acacius, who had succeeded Eusebius some two years before; a man of Whom we shall hear more. But of the ninety-odd bishops who attended, the majority must have been conservative in feeling, such as Dianius of Cæsarea, who possibly presided. At any rate Hilary (de Syn.32) calls it a synod of saints,' and its canons passed into the accepted body of Church Law. Their reply to Julius is not extant, but we gather from the historians that it was not conciliatory. (Socr. ii.15, 17; Soz. iii.8, 10; they are in such hopeless confusion as to dates and the order of events that it is difficult to use them here; Theodoret is more accurate but less full.)
But the council marks an epoch in a more important respect; with it begins the formal Doctrinal Reaction against the Nicene Formula. We have traces of previous confessions, such as that of Arius and Euzoius, 330-335, and an alleged creed drawn up at CP. in 336. But only now begins the long series of attempts to raise some other formula to a position of equality with the Nicene, so as to eventually depose the homoousion from its position as an ecumenical test.
The first suggestion of a new creed came from the Arian bishops, who propounded a formula (p.146, §22), with a disavowal of any intention of disparaging that of Nicæa (Socr. ii.10), but suspiciously akin to the evasive confession of Arius, and prefaced with a suicidally worded protest against being considered as followers of the latter. The fate of this creed in the council is obscure; but it would seem to have failed to commend itself to the majority, who put forward a creed alleged to have been composed by Lucian the martyr. This (see above, p. xxviii, and p.461, notes 5-9), was hardly true of the creed as it stood, but it may have been signed by Lucian as a test when he made his peace with bishop Cyril. At any rate the creed is catholic in asserting the exact Likeness of the Son to the Father's Essence (yet the Arians could admit this as de facto true, though not originally so; only the word Essence would, if honestly taken, fairly exclude their sense), but anti-Nicene in omitting the homoousion, and in the phrase te men hupostasei tria, te de sumphoni& 139; hen, an artfully chosen point of contact between Origen on the one hand, and Asterius, Lucian, and Paul of Samosata on the other. The anathemas, also, let in an Arian interpretation. This creed is usually referred to as the Creed of the Dedication' or Lucianic' Creed, and represents, on the one hand the extreme limit of concession to which Arians were willing to go, on the other the theological rallying point of the gradually forming body of reasoned conservative opinion which under the nickname of semi-Arianism' (Epiph. Hær.73; it was repudiated by Basil of Ancyra, &c.) gradually worked toward the recognition of the Nicene formula.
A third formula was presented by Theophronius, bishop of Tyana, as a personal statement of belief, and was widely signed by way of approval. It insists like the Lucianic creed on the pretemporal gennesis, against Marcellus, adding two other points (hypostatic pre-existence and eternal kingdom of the Son) in the same direction, and closing with an anathema against Marcellus, Sabellius, Paul, and all who communicate with any of their supporters. This was of course a direct defiance of Julius and the Westerns (Mr. Gwatkin, by a slip, assigns this anathema to the fourth' creed).
Lastly, a few months after the council (late autumn of 341) a few bishops reassembled in order to send a deputation to Constans (since 340 sole Western Emperor). They decided to substitute for the genuine creeds of the council a fourth formulary, which accordingly the Arians Maris and Narcissus, and the neutrals Theodore of Heraclea and Mark of Arethusa, conveyed to the West. The assertion of the eternal reign of Christ was strengthened, and the name of Marcellus omitted, but the Nicene anathemas were skilfully adapted so as to strike at the Marcellian and admit the Arian doctrine of the divine Sonship. This creed became the basis on which the subsequent Arianising confessions of 343 (Philippopolis), 344 (Macrostich), and 351 (Sirmium) were moulded by additions to and modifications of the anathemas. This series of creeds mark the stationary period of Arianism,' i.e. between the close of the first generation (Arius, Asterius, Eusebius of Nicomedia) and the beginnings of the divergence of parties under the sole reign of Constantius. At present opposition to the school of Marcellus and to the impregnable strength of the West under a Catholic Emperor kept the reactionary party united.
It has been necessary to dwell upon the work of this famous Council in view of its subsequent importance. It is easy to see how the Eastern bishops were prevailed upon to take the bold step of putting forth a Creed to rival the Nicene formula. The formal approval of Marcellus at Rome shewed, so they felt, the inadequacy of that formula to exclude Sabellianism, or rather the direct support which that heresy could find in the word homoüsion.' This being so, provided they made it clear that they were not favouring Arianism, they would be doing no more than their duty in providing a more efficient test. But here the Arian group saw their opportunity. Conservative willingness to go behind Nicæa must be made to subserve the supreme end of revoking the condemnation of Arianism. Hence the confusion of counsels reflected in the multiplicity of creeds. The result pleased no one. The Lucianic Creed, with its anti-Arian clauses, tempered by equivocal qualifications, was a feeble and indirect weapon against Marcellus, who could admit in a sense the pre-æonian gennesis and the true' sonship. On the other hand, the three creeds which only succeeded in gaining secondary ratification, while express against Marcellus, were worthless as against Arianism. On the whole, the fourth creed, in spite of its irregular sanction, was found the most useful for the time (341-351); but as their doctrinal position took definite form, the Conservative wing fell back on the Lucianic' Creed, and found in it a bridge to the Nicene (cf. pp.470, 472, Hil. de Syn.33, and Gwatkin, p.119, note).
(3.) Athanasius remained in Rome more than three years after his departure from Alexandria (April, 339-May? 342, see p.239). During the last of these years, the dispute connected with him had been referred by Julius to Constans, who had requested his brother to send some Oriental bishops with a statement of their case: this was the reason of the deputation (see above) of the winter of 341. They found Constans at Treveri, but owing to the warnings of good Bishop Maximinus , he refused to accept their assurances, and sent them ignominiously away. This probably falls in the summer of 342, the deputation on arriving in Italy having found that Constans had already left Milan for his campaign against the Franks (Gwatkin, p.122, note 3). If this be so, Constans had already made up his mind that a General Council was the only remedy, and had written to Constantius to arrange for one. Before leaving Milan he had summoned Athanasius from Rome, and announced to him what he had done. The young Prince was evidently an admirer of Athanasius, who had received from him in reply to a letter of self-defence, written from Alexandria, an order for certain puktia, or bound volumes of the Scriptures (see Montfaucon, Animadv. xv., in Migne xxv., p. clxxvi.). The volumes had been delivered before this date. Constans hurried off to Gaul, while Athanasius remained at Milan, where he afterwards received a summons to follow the Emperor to Treveri ; here he met the venerable Hosius and others, and learned that the Emperors had fixed upon Sardica (now Sophia in Bulgaria), on the frontier line of the dominions of Constans , as the venue for the great Council, which was to assemble in the ensuing summer. Athanasius must have kept the Easter of 343 at Treveri: he had written his usual Easter letter (now lost) most probably from Rome or Milan, in the previous spring. The date of assembly and duration of the Sardican synod are, unfortunately, obscure. But the proceedings must have been protracted by the negotiations which ended in the departure of the Easterns, and (p.124, note 2) by the care with which the evidence against the incriminated bishops was afterwards gone into .
We shall probably be safe in supposing that the Council occupied the whole of August and September, and that Constans sent Bishops Euphrates and Vincent to his brother at Antioch as soon as the worst weather of winter was over.
The Western bishops assembled at Sardica to the number of about 95 (see p.147). Athanasius, Marcellus, and Asclepas arrived with Hosius from Treveri. Paul of Constantinople, for some unknown reason, was absent, but was represented by Asclepas . The Orientals came in a body, and with suspicion. They had the Counts Musonianus and Hesychius, and (according to Fest. Ind., cf. p.276) the ex-Prefect Philagrius, as advisers and protectors: they were lodged in a body at the Palace of Sophia. The proceedings were blocked by a question of privilege. The Easterns demanded that the accused bishops should not be allowed to take their seats in the Council; the majority replied that, pending the present enquiry, all previous decisions against them must be in fairness considered suspended. There was something to be said on both sides (see Hefele, p.99), but on the whole, the synod being convoked expressly to re-hear both sides, the majority were perhaps justified in refusing to exclude the accused. A long interchange (p.119), of communications followed, and at last, alleging that they were summoned home by the news of the victory in the Persian war, the minority disappeared by night, sending their excuse by the Sardican Presbyter Eustathius (p.275). At Philippopolis, within the dominions of Constantius, they halted and drew up a long and extremely wild and angry statement of what had occurred, deposing and condemning all concerned, from Hosius, Julius and Athanasius downward. They added the Antiochene Confession (fourth' of 341), with the addition of some anathemas directed at the system of Marcellus. Among the signatures, which included most of the surviving Arian leaders, along with Basil of Ancyra, and other moderate men, we recognise that of Ischyras, bishop from the Mareotis,' who had enjoyed the dignity without the burdens of the Episcopate since the Council of Tyre (p.144). The document was sent far and wide, among the rest to the Donatists of Africa (Hef., p.171).
This rupture doomed the purpose of the council to failure: instead of leading to agreement it had made the difference a hopeless one. But the Westerns were still a respectable number, and might do much to forward the cause of justice and of the Nicene Faith. Two of the Easterns had joined them, Asterius of Petra and Arius, bishop of an unknown see in Palestine. The only other Oriental present, Diodorus of Tenedos, appears to have come, like Asclepas, &c., independently of the rest. The work of the council was partly judicial, partly legislative. The question was raised of issuing a supplement to, or formula explanatory of, the Nicene creed, and a draft (preserved Thdt. H. E. ii.8) was actually made, but the council declined to sanction anything which should imply that the Nicene creed was insufficient (p.484, correcting Thdt. ubi supra, and Soz. iii.12).
The charges against all the exiles were carefully examined and dismissed. This was also the case with the complaints against the orthodoxy of Marcellus, who was allowed to evade the very point which gave most offence (p.125). Probably the ocular evidence (p.124) of the violence which many present had suffered, indisposed the fathers to believe any accusations from such a quarter. The synod next proceeded to legislate. Their canons were twenty in number, the most important being canons 3-5, which permit a deposed bishop to demand the reference of his case to Julius bishop of Rome,' honouring the memory of Peter the Apostle;' the deposition to be suspended pending such reference; the Roman bishop, if the appeal seem reasonable, to request the rehearing of the case in its own province, and if at the request of the accused he sends a presbyter to represent him, such presbyter to rank as though he were his principal in person. The whole scheme appears to be novel and to have been suggested by the history of the case of the exiles. The canons are very important in their subsequent history, but need not be discussed here. (Elaborate discussions in Hefele, pp.112-129; see also D.C.A. pp.127 sq., 1658, 1671, Greenwood, Cath. Petr. i.204-208, D.C.B. iii.662 a, and especially 529-531.) The only legislation, however, to which Athanasius alludes is that establishing a period of 50 years during which Rome and Alexandria should agree as to the period for Easter (Fest. Ind. xv., infr. p.544, also Hefele pp.157 sqq.). The arrangement averted a dispute in 346, but differences occurred in spite of it in 349, 350, 360, and 368.
The synod addressed an encyclical letter to all Christendom (p.123), embodying their decisions and announcing their deposition of eight or nine Oriental bishops (including Theodore of Heraclea, Acacius, and several Arian leaders) for complicity with Arianism. They also wrote to the Church of Alexandria and to the bishops of Egypt with special reference to Athanasius and to the Alexandrian Church, to Julius announcing their decisions, and to the Mareotis (Migne xxvi.1331 sqq. printed with Letters 46, 47. Hefele ii.165 questions the genuineness of all three, but without reason; see p.554, note 1).
The effect of the Council was not at first pacific. Constantius shared the indignation of the Eastern bishops, and began severe measures against all the Nicene-minded bishops in his dominions (pp.275 sqq). Theodulus, Bishop of Trajanople, died of his injuries before the Sardican Bishops had completed their work. At Hadrianople savage cruelties were perpetrated (ib.); and a close watch was instituted in case Athanasius should attempt to return on the strength of his synodical acquittal. Accordingly, he passed the winter and spring at Naissus (now Nish, see Fest. Ind. xvi.), and during the summer, in obedience to an invitation from Constans, repaired to Aquileia, where he spent the Easter of 345.
Meanwhile, Constans had made the cause of the Sardican majority his own. At the beginning of the year 344 he sent two of its most respected members to urge upon Constantius the propriety of restoring the exiles. Either now or later he hinted that refusal would be regarded by him as a casus belli. His remonstrance gained unexpected moral support from an episode, strange even in that age of unprincipled intrigue. In rage and pain at the apparent success of the envoys, Stephen, Bishop of Antioch, sought to discredit them by a truly diabolical trick (see p.276). Its discovery, just after Easter, 344, roused the moral sense of Constantius. A Council was summoned, and met during the summer (p.462, §26, three years after' the Dedication at Midsummer, 341). Stephen was ignominiously deposed (see Gwatkin 125, note 1), and Leontius, an Arian, but a lover of quiet and a temporiser, appointed. The Council also re-issued the fourth' Antiochene Creed with a very long explanatory addition, mildly condemning certain Arian phrases, fiercely anathematising Marcellus and Photinus, and with a side-thrust at supposed implications of the Nicene formula. A deputation was sent to Italy, consisting of Eudoxius of Germanicia and three others. They reached Milan at the Synod of 345, and were able to procure a condemnation of Photinus (not Marcellus), but on being asked to anathematise Arianism refused, and retired in anger. At the same Synod of Milan, however, Valens and Ursacius, whose deposition at Sardica was in imminent danger of being enforced by Constans, followed the former example of Eusebius of Nicomedia, Maris, Theognis, and Arius himself, by making their submission, which was followed up two years later by a letter in abject terms addressed to Julius, and another in a tone of veiled insolence to Athanasius (p.131). In return, they were able to beat up a Synod at Sirmium against Photinus (Hil. Frag. ii.19), but without success in the attempt to dislodge him.
Meanwhile, Constantius had followed up the Council at Antioch by cancelling his severe measures against the Nicene party. He restored to Alexandria certain Presbyters whom he had expelled, and in the course of the summer wrote a public letter to forbid any further persecution of the Athanasians in that city. This must have been in August, 344, and about ten months later' (p.277), i.e., on June 26, 345 (F. I. xviii.), Gregory, who had been in bad health for fully four years, died . Constantius, according to his own statement (pp.127, 277), had already before the death of Gregory written twice to Athanasius (from Edessa; he was at Nisibis on May 12, 345), and had sent a Presbyter to request him urgently to come and see him with a view to his eventual restoration. As Gregory was known to be in a dying state, this is quite intelligible, but the language of Hist. Ar.21, which seems to put all three letters after Gregory's death, cannot stand if we are to accept the assurance of Constantius. Athanasius, at any rate, hesitated to obey, and stayed on at Aquileia (344 till early in 346), where he received a third and still more pressing invitation, promising him immediate restoration. He at once went to Rome to bid farewell to Julius, who wrote (p.128 sq.) a most cordial and nobly-worded letter of congratulation for Athanasius to take home to his Church. Thence he proceeded to Trier to take leave of Constans (p.239), and rapidly travelled by way of Hadrianople (p.276) to Antioch (p.240), where he was cordially received by Constantius. His visit was short but remarkable. Constantius gave him the strongest assurances (pp.277, 285) of goodwill for the future, but begged that Athanasius would allow the Arians at Alexandria the use of a single Church. He replied that he would do so if the Eustathians of Antioch (with whom alone he communicated during this visit) might have the same privilege. But this Leontius would not sanction, so the proposal came to nothing (Soc. ii.23, Soz. iii.20), and Athanasius hastened on his way. At Jerusalem he was detained by the welcome of a Council, which Bishop Maximus had summoned to greet him (p.130), but on the twenty-first of October his reception by his flock took place; the people, and those in authority, met him a hundred miles distant' (Fest. Ind. xviii.), and amid splendid rejoicings (cf. p. xlii., note 3), he entered Alexandria, to remain there in quiet' nine years, three months and nineteen days' (Hist. Aceph. iv., cf. p.496), viz., from Paophi 24 (Oct.21), 346, to Mechir 13 (Feb.8), 356. This period was his longest undisturbed residence in his see; he entered upon it in the very prime of life (he was 48 years old), and its internal happiness earns it the title of a golden decade.