A council was convened at Sicily; and after the same doctrines had been confirmed as those set forth in the confession of the deputies, the assembly was dissolved.
At the same time, a council was held at Tyana; and Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, Athanasius, bishop of Ancyra, Pelagius, bishop of Laodicea, Zeno, bishop of Tyre, Paul, bishop of Emesa, Otreus, bishop of Melitene, and Gregory, bishop of Nazianzen, were present with many others, who, during the reign of Jovian, had assembled at Antioch, and determined to maintain the doctrine of the Son being consubstantial with the Father. The letters of Liberius and the Western bishops were read at this council. These letters afforded high satisfaction to the members of the council; and they wrote to all the churches, desiring them to peruse the decrees of the bishops in Asia, and the documents written by Liberius and the bishops of Italy, of Africa, of Gaul, and of Sicily, which had been intrusted to the deputies of the council of Lampsacus. They urged them to reflect on the great number of persons by whom these documents had been drawn up, and who were far more in number than the members of the council of Ariminum, and exhorted them to be of one mind, and to enter into communion with them, to signify the same by writing, and finally to assemble together at Tarsus in Cilicia before the end of the spring. On a fixed date which they prescribed, they urged one another to convene. On the approach of the appointed day, when the Synod was on the point of assembling at Tarsus, about thirty-four of the Asiatic bishops came together in Caria, in the province of Asia, commended the design of establishing uniformity of belief in the Church, but objected to the term |consubstantial,| and insisted that the formularies of faith set forth by the councils of Antioch and Seleucia, and maintained by Lucian, the martyr, and by many of their predecessors, with dangers and tensions, ought to obtain the ascendancy over all others.
The emperor, at the instigation of Eudoxius, prevented by letter the council from being convened in Cilicia, and even prohibited it under severe penalties. He also wrote to the governors of the provinces, commanding them to eject all bishops from their churches who had been banished by Constantine and who had again taken up their priesthood under the Emperor Julian. On account of this order, those who were at the head of the government of Egypt were anxious to deprive Athanasius of his bishopric and expel him from the city; for no light punishment was inserted in the imperial letters; for unless the injunctions were fulfilled, all the magistrates equally, and the soldiers under them, and counselors were condemned to the payment of much money and also threatened with bodily maltreatment.
The majority of Christians of the city, however, assembled and besought the governor not to banish Athanasius without further consideration of the terms of the imperial letter, which merely specified all bishops who had been banished by Constantius and recalled by Julian; and it was manifest that Athanasius was not of this number, inasmuch as he had been recalled by Constantius and had resumed his bishopric; but Julian, at the very time that all the other bishops had been recalled, persecuted him, and finally Jovian recalled him. The governor was by no means convinced by these arguments; nevertheless, he restrained himself and did not give way to the use of force. The people ran together from every quarter; there was much commotion and perturbation throughout the city; an insurrection was expected; he therefore advised the emperor of the facts and allowed the bishop to remain in the city. Some days afterwards, when the popular excitement had seemingly abated, Athanasius secretly quitted the city at dusk, and concealed himself somewhere. The very same night, the governor of Egypt and the military chief took possession of the church in which Athanasius generally dwelt, and sought him in every part of the edifice, and even on the roof, but in vain; for they had calculated upon seizing the moment when the popular commotion had partially subsided, and when the whole city was wrapt in sleep, to execute the mandate of the emperor, and to transport Athanasius quietly from the city.
Not to have found Athanasius naturally excited universal astonishment. Some attributed his escape to a special revelation from above; others to the advice of some of his followers; both had the same result; but more than human prudence seems to have been requisite to foresee and to avoid such a plot. Some say, that as soon as the people gave indications of being disposed to sedition, he concealed himself among the tombs of his ancestors, being apprehensive lest he should be regarded as the cause of any disturbances that might ensue; and that he afterwards retreated to some other place of concealment.
The Emperor Valens, soon after, wrote to grant permission for him to return and hold his church. It is very doubtful, whether, in making this concession, Valens acted according to his own inclination. I rather imagine that, on reflecting on the esteem in which Athanasius was universally held, he feared to excite the displeasure of the Emperor Valentinian, who was well-known to be attached to the Nicene doctrines; or perhaps he was apprehensive of a commotion on the part of the many admirers of the bishop, lest some innovation might injure the public affairs.
I also believe that the Arian presidents did not, on this occasion, plead very vehemently against Athanasius; for they considered that, if he were ejected from the city, he would probably traduce them to the emperors and then would have an occasion for conference with respect to them, and might possibly succeed in persuading Valens to adopt his own sentiments, and in arousing the anger of the like-minded Valentinian against themselves.
They were greatly troubled by the evidences of the virtue and courage of Athanasius, which had been afforded by the events which had transpired during the reign of Constantius. He had, in fact, so skilfully evaded the plots of his enemies, that they had been constrained to consent to his reinstallation in the government of the churches of Egypt; and yet he could scarcely be induced to return from Italy, although letters had been dispatched by Constantius to that effect.
I am convinced that it was solely from these reasons that Athanasius was not expelled from his church like the other bishops, who were subjected to as cruel a persecution as ever was inflicted by pagans.
Those who would not change their doctrinal tenets were banished; their houses of prayer were taken from them, and placed in the possession of those who held opposite sentiments. Egypt alone was, during the life of Athanasius, exempted from this persecution.