Select Works And Letters Or Athanasius by Athanasius
26. How Athanasius acted when this took place.
Now why did they form this plot against me, and treacherously lay an ambush to take me, when it was in their power to enforce the order by a written declaration? The command of an Emperor is wont to give great boldness to those entrusted with it; but their desire to act secretly made the suspicion stronger that they had received no command. And did I require anything so very absurd? Let your Majesty's candour decide. Will not every one say, that such a demand was reasonable for a Bishop to make? You know, for you have read the Scriptures, how great an offence it is for a Bishop to desert his Church, and to neglect the flocks of God. For the absence of the Shepherd gives the wolves an opportunity to attack the sheep. And this was what the Arians and all the other heretics desired, that during my absence they might find an opportunity to entrap the people into impiety. If then I had fled, what defence could I have made before the true Bishops? or rather before Him Who has committed to me His flock? He it is Who judges the whole earth, the true King of all, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Would not every one have rightly charged me with neglect of my people? Would not your Piety have blamed me, and have justly asked, After you had returned under the authority of our letters, why did you withdraw without such authority, and desert your people?' Would not the people themselves at the day of judgment have reasonably imputed to me this neglect of them, and have said, He that had the oversight of us fled, and we were neglected, there being no one to put us in mind of our duty?' When they said this, what could I have answered? Such a complaint was made by Ezekiel against the Pastors of old ; and the blessed Apostle Paul, knowing this, has charged every one of us through his disciple, saying, Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery .' Fearing this, I wished not to flee, but to receive your commands, if indeed such was the will of your Piety. But I never obtained what I so reasonably requested, and now I am falsely accused before you; for I resisted no commands of your Piety; nor will I now attempt to return to Alexandria, until your Grace shall desire it. This I say beforehand, lest the slanderers should again make this a pretence for accusing me.