81. And the fame of Antony came even unto kings. For Constantine Augustus, and his sons Constantius and Constans the Augusti wrote letters to him, as to a father, and begged an answer from him. But he made nothing very much of the letters, nor did he rejoice at the messages, but was the same as he had been before the Emperors wrote to him. But when they brought him the letters he called the monks and said, Do not be astonished if an emperor writes to us, for he is a man; but rather wonder that God wrote the Law for men and has spoken to us through His own Son.' And so he was unwilling to receive the letters, saying that he did not know how to write an answer to such things. But being urged by the monks because the emperors were Christians, and lest they should take offence on the ground that they had been spurned, he consented that they should be read, and wrote an answer approving them because they worshipped Christ, and giving them counsel on things pertaining to salvation: not to think much of the present, but rather to remember the judgment that is coming, and to know that Christ alone was the true and Eternal King.' He begged them to be merciful and to give heed to justice and the poor. And they having received the answer rejoiced. Thus he was dear to all, and all desired to consider him as a father. f Heb. i.2. c82. Being known to be so great a man, therefore, and having thus given answers to those who visited him, he returned again to the inner mountain, and maintained his wonted discipline. And often when people came to him, as he was sitting or walking, as it is written in Daniel , he became dumb, and after a season he resumed the thread of what he had been saying before to the brethren who were with him. And his companions perceived that he was seeing a vision. For often when he was on the mountains he saw what was happening in Egypt, and told it to Serapion the bishop , who was indoors with him, and who saw that Antony was wrapped in a vision. Once as he was sitting and working, he fell, as it were, into a trance, and groaned much at what he saw. Then after a time, having turned to the bystanders with groans and trembling, he prayed, and falling on his knees remained so a long time. And having arisen the old man wept. His companions, therefore, trembling and terrified, desired to learn from him what it was. And they troubled him much, until he was forced to speak. And with many groans he spake as follows: O, my children, it were better to die before what has appeared in the vision come to pass.' And when again they asked him, having burst into tears, he said, Wrath is about to seize the Church, and it is on the point of being given up to men who are like senseless beasts. For I saw the table of the Lord's House, and mules standing around it on all sides in a ring, and kicking the things therein, just like a herd kicks when it leaps in confusion. And you saw,' said he, how I groaned, for I heard a voice saying, |My altar shall be defiled.|' These things the old man saw, and after two years the present inroad of the Arians and the plunder of the churches took place, when they violently carried off the vessels, and made the heathen carry them; and when they forced the heathen from the prisons to join in their services, and in their presence did upon the Table as they would. Then we all understood that these kicks of the mules signified to Antony what the Arians, senselessly like beasts, are now doing. But when he saw this vision, he comforted those with him, saying, Be not downcast, my children; for as the Lord has been angry, so again will He heal us, and the Church shall soon again receive her own order, and shall shine forth as she is wont. And you shall behold the persecuted restored, and wickedness again withdrawn to its own hiding-place, and pious faith speaking boldly in every place with all freedom. Only defile not yourselves with the Arians, for their teaching is not that of the Apostles, but that of demons and their father the devil; yea, rather, it is barren and senseless, and without light understanding, like the senselessness of these mules.' f Dan. iv.19 (v.16 (LXX).
Of Thmuis, the friend and correspondent of Athanasius: see below, §91.
Cf. below, what the Arians are now doing.' This incidental notice of time fixes the date of the present passage. Weingarten in vain attempts to extract some other sense from the Greek, which is plainness itself. It also fixes the date of Antony's death to within two years of the troubles in question. The Benedictines refer the troubles to the intrusion of Gregory in 341' (really 339), and the apparently unprecedented character ascribed to the outrages by Antony is in favour of this, as well as the fact (Encyc.3) that in 339 the heathen are said to have offered sacrifice in the churches. But the latter is only in superficial agreement with the Greek text of the present passage, which speaks of Arian sunaxeis at which heathen were impressed to be present, apparently to make some show of a congregation. The Evagrian version, indeed, adds that the Gentiles on this occasion also carried on idolatrous rites in the Church and polluted the baptisteries; but Evagrius is in the habit of interpolating little details from his own knowledge or opinion (e.g.16, Ita exorsus,' &c., 26, qui vinctas hominum linguas solvebat,' 58, qui effosso pro Christo oculo sub Maximiano,' &c.), and in this case appears to borrow from Encycl.3. Again, the writer of the Vita was not present (the bystanders' supra; they troubled him;' they asked him;'...and infr. those with him') when the Vision took place: but when, two years later, it was interpreted by events, he was in the company of those who had been with Antony at the time (infr. then we all understood'). This (on the assumption of Athanasian authorship) excludes the year 339, when Athanasius fled to Italy, and compels us to refer the Vision to the troubles of 356 (Apol. Fug.6, 7. Hist. Ar.55, 56, Ep. ad Lucif.), after which Athanasius fled to the desert and was in the company of the monks. This conclusion is in independent agreement with (1) the fact, decisive by itself, that Antony is still alive in 345, when Nestorius became Prefect of Egypt (§86, note 3), i.e. six years after the troubles of 339; (2) the evidence that Antony was still living about 353 a.d. (Epist. Ammon. de Pachom. et Theod.20, 21, in Act. SS. Mai. tom. iii. Appendix 70 C E, Tillemont vii.123), and (3) the statement of Jerome (Chron.) that Antony died in 356. Against it Weingarten urges the prophecy of restored peace to the Church (infr.) as pointing to a time after the overthrow of Arianism. This is of little weight, for the prophecy expresses only what must have been the hope and belief of all. The prologue, which Tillemont (viii.227) thinks must have been written in a time of peace at Alexandria, is not sufficiently explicit on the point to weigh against the plain sense of the present passage.
Cf. the Second Letter to monks (Letter 53).