Athanasius And Constantine History And Apologia

athanasius was to occupy the metropolitan see of alexandria for nearly forty-five years, until his death on 2 May 373. But his tenure was neither unchallenged nor uninterrupted. The Melitians elected a rival bishop of their own, and Athanasius was at once compelled to defend his position. For more than seven years he was successful, but he spent the last eighteen months of the reign of Constantine in exile in Gaul. Although Athanasius was allowed to return in 337, he was soon deposed, and the Cappadocian Gregory replaced him as bishop of Alexandria from the spring of 339 until his death in June 345. Athanasius returned again from exile in 346 and performed his episcopal functions for more than a decade. But George, another Cappadocian, was appointed to replace him in 349, and in 356 Athanasius was again removed from his see: George came to Alexandria, and until December 361 he was the officially recognised bishop of the city. After George was lynched, the theological opponents of Athanasius elected a successor who laid claim to the see of Alexandria for the last dozen years of Athanasius' life—and occupied it for several years after his death.

This checkered career, which was in fact considerably more complicated than it appears in brief summary, not only depended on political and theological alignments within the Christian church in the East, but also reflected a kaleidoscope of political changes. For, between 328 and 373, the balance of political power changed constantly as a series of emperors ruled and divided the Roman Empire.

Until 337 Constantine was sole emperor of an undivided empire. From the summer of 337 until the spring of 340, his three surviving sons divided the empire into three: Constantinus, the only emperor whom Athanasius ever knew well (from his exile in Trier in 335-337), claimed a general hegemony, but controlled only Britain, Gaul, and Spain; Constantius ruled the whole of the East in an arc from Cyrenaica to Thrace; and Constans, situated between his elder brothers, administered Italy, Africa, and most of the Balkans, including Greece. In 340 Constantinus invaded the territory of Constans, and on his defeat Constans became master of all his territory. In 350 Constans was killed and the usurper Magnentius tried to take control of all that he had ruled. In this attempt he was unsuccessful, and by the late summer of 353 Constantius had reunited the whole of the empire under a single regime. To help in governing such an expanse of territory, he appointed two Caesars, Gallus, who resided in Antioch from 351 to 354, and Julian, whom he sent to Gaul in the winter of 355/6. In 360/1, no longer content with his subordinate status, Julian asserted his equality and independence, but a civil war was averted by the death of Constantius on 3 November 361. For the next twenty months, as sole emperor; Julian set out to undo the Constantinian reformation, until he died in battle in Persia. In June 363 the Christian Jovian, elected as emperor to extricate the Roman army from danger, reversed Julian's religious policies. When Jovian soon died, the brothers Valentinian and Valens became joint emperors and, in the summer of 364, partitioned the Roman Empire between them, after agreeing that neither would interfere in the affairs of the other. Athanasius died before either Valentinian or Valens, and hence before the accession of Theodosius marked the end of the Constantinian empire, under which the whole of his long episcopal career had been played out.

Athanasius' vicissitudes between 328 and 373 were throughout closely linked to these political changes. But his dealings with Constantine, who had become ruler of the East in 324 and was thus the first emperor whom he encountered as bishop, are better attested than most parts of his career after 337, largely because his Defense against the Avians gives so full an account. Investigation of Athanasius' career, therefore, may most appropriately begin with a juxtaposition of the details of his political struggles between 328 and 337, so far as they can be ascertained, with his selective and often misleading presentation of the same events.

The new bishop wrote at once to Constantine announcing his election, which he represented as a unanimous choice by the people of Alexandria, and he quoted a decree of the city-council as proof.1 The shocked Melitians proceeded to elect a bishop of their own. From the start of his episcopate, therefore, Athanasius faced a war on two fronts—in Egypt, against the Melitians and a rival bishop of Alexandria who claimed his see, and outside Egypt, against the allies of Arius, who wished to complete his rehabilitation by securing his return to Alexandria.

The struggle was long and complicated. Athanasius, like Alexander before him, refused requests from both Eusebius of Nicomedia and Constantine himself that he receive Arius and his followers back into communion (Apol. c. Ar. 59.4-6). He also used force against the Melitians. They thereupon sent a delegation of bishops to Nicomedia to request imperial permission to meet peaceably.

Eusebius befriended the delegation at court, obtained them an audience with Constantine, and in the summer of 330 formed an alliance with them which proved powerful enough ultimately to send Athanasius into exile.2

Soon after this alliance had been made, and allegedly at the instigation of Eusebius, some Melitians accused Athanasius of demanding that they supply linen tunics to him, as if to do so formed part of their tax obligation to the state {Apol. c. Ar. 60.1/2). Probably withdrawing to the Thebaid {Index 2),3 Athanasius sent two priests to court to plead his case {Apol. c. Ar. 60.3/4). After his return to Alexandria, as he was traveling through the Mareotis, there occurred an incident which was to haunt Athanasius for two decades. His trusted henchman, the priest Macarius, smashed the chalice and overturned the altar used by one Ischyras, a priest ordained by Colluthus, whose pretensions to be a bishop the Council of Alexandria in 324 had rejected {Apol. c. Ar. 63.1-4).

In the winter of 331/2, presumably summoned by the emperor (or conceivably at his own request), Athanasius appeared before Constantine to face four charges {Festal Letter 4.5; Apol. c. Ar. 60.4; Index 3). The Melitians reiterated the charge of extortion and alleged that Macarius had broken the chalice of Ischyras on the orders of Athanasius. It was also claimed that Athanasius had been elected bishop below the canonical age and that he had bribed Philumenus, who was magister officiorum at the time of the Council of Nicaea—a charge which may be connected with the fact that one of Constantine's bodyguard was accused of plotting to assassinate the emperor.4

Constantine listened to both sides and dismissed the charges against Athanasius, who returned to Alexandria in triumph before Easter (which fell on 2 April in 332) after writing an exultant letter from court to the Christians of Egypt {Festal Letter 4; Index 3). Soon afterward he visited the Libyan Pentapolis {Index 4), probably to ensure that Arius gained no foothold there. The intervention provoked Arius into committing some act of indiscretion which was construed as schism and infuriated the emperor, who denounced him in a long and abusive letter designed for publication.3

Arius' allies continued to try to dislodge the bishop of Alexandria. The Melitians wrote to Constantine repeating the charge that Athanasius had ordered Macarius to break the chalice of Ischyras, and they now added the more serious charge that he had arranged the murder of Arsenius, the bishop of Hypsele {Apol. c. Ar. 63.4). In the spring of 334, the emperor instructed his half-brother Dalmatius, who was residing at Antioch and administering the East with the title of censor; to investigate the charge of murder {Apol. c. Ar. 65.1) and to bring the matter before a council of bishops which was to meet at Caesarea in Palestine.6 Eusebius of Nico-media traveled to Syria for the projected council {Apol. c. Ar. 65.4), and the Melitians in Egypt made preparations.7 Athanasius, however refused to attend. Instead, having traced Arsenius and discovered him alive and in hiding at Tyre, he wrote to the emperor, who canceled the Council of Caesarea and reaffirmed his confidence in Athanasius (Apol. c. Ar. 65.3/4, 68).

The enemies of Athanasius soon made yet another attempt to unseat him. Eusebius of Nicomedia persuaded the followers of Melitius, Colluthus, and Arius to write a joint letter to Constantine making several charges against Athanasius, including new allegations that he had used violence to secure compliance with his wishes and to coerce opposition within Egypt. Constantine ordered a council of bishops to meet in Tyre to put an end to the protracted dispute. The comes Flavius Dionysius, a former governor of Syria, was to supervise the conduct of the council and to keep ordej; and all interested parties were to attend, whether they wished to do so or not.8

When the council opened, probably under the presidency of Flacillus, the bishop of Antioch,9 his accusers depicted Athanasius as an overbearing prelate who systematically employed violence in the affairs of the church. Callinicus, the Melitian bishop of Pelusium, and Ischyras repeated the charge that Athanasius had ordered a chalice to be smashed and a bishop's throne destroyed. In addition, they asserted, Athanasius had wronged both their persons. He had often imprisoned Ischyras, and he had once persuaded the prefect Hyginus to imprison him with a false accusation of throwing stones at the emperor's image. He had deposed Callinicus, who was undoubtedly a bishop of the catholic church since he had been in communion with Alexander of Alexandria; had replaced him with the priest Marcus, simply because Callinicus refused to communicate with him until he could clear himself of the suspicion of breaking the chalice; and had arranged for Callinicus to be arrested by soldiers, tortured, and tried. Five other Melitian bishops (Euplus, Pachomius, Isaac, Achilleus, and Hermaeon) also complained of violence against their persons: having obtained election as bishop by trickery, Athanasius had assaulted and imprisoned them for their honest belief that his election was invalid.10 The Melitians justified their conduct concerning Arsenius on the grounds that the charge of murder, though in fact mistaken, was a reasonable deduction from the known facts that Plusianus, a bishop under Athanasius and doubtless acting on his orders, had burned Arsenius' house, beaten Arsenius himself, and kept him bound in a hut. The Melitians contended that when Arsenius then disappeared, it was reasonable to conclude that he had been murdered on Athanasius' instructions.11

Athanasius and his Egyptian supporters contested the charges. The council, therefore, decided to send a commission of enquiry to the Mareotis. Its composition inevitably produced bitter controversy. The majority chose six members, each of whom the Egyptian bishops at the council rejected as biased—Theognis of Nicaea, Maris of Chalcedon, Theodorus of Heraclea, Macedonius of Mopsuestia, and two young Pannonian bishops, Ursacius of Singidunum and Valens of Mursa, whom Athanasius later alleged to have received their first instruction in the Christian faith from Arius, presumably while he was in exile in Illyricum c. 330 (Letter to the Bishops of Egypt and Libya 7). Despite a caution from Dionysius to proceed with fairness, the majority persisted. The commis sion took Ischyras and went to Egypt. Here too written protests were registered relating to the conduct of the commission and to the facts of the case (Apol. c. Ar. 73.2-81.2).

While the commission was conducting its investigation in Egypt, the Council of Tyre adjourned to Jerusalem, where the same bishops dedicated the magnificent new Church of the Holy Sepulchre in mid-September and once again admitted Arius to communion as a holder of orthodox theological views.12 They then returned to Tyre and completed their business. The commission of enquiry produced a summary of their findings. They complained that Athanasius had removed potential witnesses, but they found the charge that Macarius had broken the chalice of Ischyras on his orders to be sustained by adequate and convincing evidence. The council accepted the report and deposed Athanasius, who had already departed from Tyre {Apol c. Ar. 82.1; Apol. ad Const. 1.3)—on a raft, secretly and under cover of darkness in order to evade the soldiers guarding the harbor.13

The grounds stated for Athanasius* deposition comprised four counts: first, his flight betrayed his guilt; second, his refusal to present himself at Caesarea in 334 showed contempt for both emperor and church councils; third, he had brought a gang of ruffians to Tyre, who disrupted the business of the council while he abused his fellow bishops; and fourth, the commission sent to Egypt had found the charge of breaking the chalice abundantly proven.14 The council received the Melitians into communion, reiterated the orthodoxy of Arius, and appointed a new bishop of Alexandria {Hist. Ar. 50.2). Unfortunately, no evidence reports his name. He might conceivably have been Pistus, who had long been associated with Arius,15 or else John Archaph, the Melitian leader since the death of Melitius and bishop of Memphis. However if either of these men had in fact been nominated by the council, Athanasius would surely somewhere have let slip some jibe about the abortive and hence discreditable nomination. It is more probable, therefore, that Athanasius was replaced by Heraiscus, whom a papyrus attests as the Melitian bishop of Alexandria in the summer of 33516— and about whose very existence Athanasius preserves a studied silence in all his writings.

Athanasius* enemies could guess his destination. Six leading bishops, therefore, took the decisions of the council to Constantinople in person—Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, Patrophilus of Scythopolis, Eusebius of Caesarea, Ursacius of Singidunum, and Valens of Mursa {Apol. c. Ar. 87.1). They arrived in the imperial capital to find that the emperor had already, in effect, annulled their carefully planned condemnation and deposition of Athanasius.17

Athanasius arrived in Constantinople on 30 October (Index 8). Constantine happened to be absent from the city. As the emperor returned on 6 November, Athanasius accosted him, informed him that his enemies were again attempting to disgrace him on false charges, and begged to be allowed to confront them in his presence. Constantine granted the request and summoned the bishops at Tyre to come to court at once so that the case of Athanasius could be decided fairly. He did not yet know (he wrote) what the council might have decreed, but he suspected that hostility had obscured the truth, and he informed the bishops that they needed to prove their impartiality (ApoL c. An 86.2-12): he thus, by implication, rendered null and void the condemnation which the Council of Tyre had pronounced against Athanasius after his departure.

Within a few hours after Athanasius had accosted Constantine and persuaded him to write this letter, Eusebius of Nicomedia and his five companions arrived from Tyre, as did five Egyptian bishops (ApoL c. Ar. 87.1/2). The enemies of Athanasius could see that there was now little point in presenting the decisions of the council to an emperor who had disallowed them in advance. A new charge was needed. Eusebius accused Athanasius of treasonably threatening to prevent the grain ships from sailing from Alexandria to Constantinople. Constantine demanded an answer to the new charge, uttering threats. Athanasius bewailed and denounced the slander: how could a private citizen who was a poor man be so powerful? Eusebius swore that the bishop of Alexandria was rich, influential, and unscrupulous (Apol. c. Ar. 9.3/4). He doubtless also reminded Constantine of Athanasius' long intransigence toward Arius, whose orthodoxy the Council of Jerusalem had recently reaffirmed. When Athanasius lost his temper and warned Constantine that God would ultimately judge between them, the emperor sent him to Trier.18 He did not, however, depose him from his see or formally try him: he merely suspended him from his duties pending further investigation.19 Athanasius left Constantinople for Trier on 7 November (Index 8) still technically bishop of Alexandria.

The exile of Athanasius in 335 was not the normal exile imposed by an emperor on a bishop who had been condemned and deposed by a church council.20 Although Constantine gave the decisions of councils of bishops legal force, forbidding provincial governors to countermand them, on the grounds that the priests of God were more trustworthy than any magistrate,21 and thereby bound himself too to accept the decisions of councils, he nevertheless reserved to himself the right to decide whether a particular gathering of bishops was a properly constituted council whose decisions were to be regarded as divinely inspired. Moreover, he both claimed and exercised the right to summon a council of bishops, to refer matters to it, and to define its agenda. Thus he felt himself empowered to acquit a bishop of any criminal charges made against him, but not to convict him: the conviction and consequent deposition of a bishop were the exclusive right and prerogative of a council of his peers. Constantine's treatment of Athanasius in 331/2 and 333/4 falls into this pattern precisely. In 331/2 he summoned Athanasius to court, heard him at Psammathia, and dismissed the charges against him. Under no circumstances, however would the emperor have pronounced him guilty and deposed him. Had he decided that there was a prima facie case against Athanasius, he would have convened a council of bishops to try him—as in fact he did in 333/4 when he first instructed the censor Dalmatius to investigate the charge that he had ordered the murder of Arsenius, then summoned a council of bishops to meet in Caesarea, but dissolved the council as soon as he was convinced of Athanasius' innocence. On 6 November 335 Constantine disallowed the verdict of the Council of Tyre, which had not reached him, on the grounds that the council had not acted in accordance with the normal canons of fairness and impartiality—and the subsequent banishment of Athanasius to Gaul did not alter that ruling at all.

Twenty years later Athanasius provided a tendentious, but not totally misleading, description of the situation during his first exile:

As a result of slander by the Eusebians,22 [Constantine] sent the bishop to Gaul temporarily on account of the savage hostility of those who were plotting against him—this the blessed Constantinus, the present emperor's brother; made clear after the death of his father, as is shown by his letters—but he was not persuaded to send the Eusebians the bishop whom they themselves wanted: on the contrary, he both prevented them though they wished [to send one] and restrained them with a terrible threat when they attempted [to do so], (ffrs*. Ar. 50.2)

Although the bishops at Tyre had named a successor to Athanasius, the emperor refused to accept the validity of this appointment or to install the designated successor in Alexandria (Apol. c. Ar. 29.3). Such actions imply that Constantine considered the deposition of Athanasius to be null and void.

The anomalous situation persisted as long as the emperor lived. Despite riots, despite a request from the monk Antony, Constantine refused to recall Athanasius. In letters to the church of Alexandria and to Antony, he justified his refusal by describing Athanasius as a troublemaker whose condemnation by a council of bishops he could not simply set aside at his own whim. At the same time, however in a show of evenhandedness, he checked the Melitians when they tried to occupy the places to which the Council of Tyre had given them title, and he exiled John Archaph.23 Until Constantine died, Athanasius' status remained highly ambiguous. The decisions of the Council of Tyre had no legal force: therefore Athanasius was still the rightful bishop of Alexandria. On the other hand, the emperor had exiled him to Gaul, where he was compelled to remain until the emperor should decree otherwise.

The account which Athanasius gives of his career as bishop from 328 to 335 in his Defense against the Arians is not, and was not intended to be, complete and straightforward. It does, however; purport to be a truthful account, and it quotes a plethora of documents to illustrate the esteem in which Constantine held Athanasius and the dishonesty of the enemies who attacked him. Although Athanasius probably composed the Defense against the Arians in approximately its present form in 349, he had compiled the dossier of documents relating to his career between 328 and 335 no later than 338, and had almost certainly drafted the extant account of these years before the summer of 341.24 Its historical value is immense, for without the Defense against the Arians the true course of Athanasius' dealings with Constantine could never be reconstructed. Nonethe- • less, it is both necessary and instructive to ask how Athanasius selected the facts and marshaled the documents in order to present himself in a favorable light.

The introduction is compressed and obscure. Athanasius passes rapidly from the origin of the Melitian schism (306) to the alliance between Eusebius of Nicomedia and the Melitians (in 330). He is at pains to conceal the fact that the Council of Nicomedia in December 327 pronounced Arius orthodox and readmitted him to communion. A covert allusion to that council has nonetheless escaped his vigilance. He complains:

Five months had not yet passed, and blessed Alexander died; but the

Melitians, who ought to have remained quiet and to have been grateful that they had been received back at all, like dogs unable to forget their vomit, began again to disturb the churches. (59.3)

What are these 'five months'? Either a lacuna must be postulated in an otherwise sound text, or the five months represent the period between the Council of Nicomedia in the winter of 327/8 and the contest over who should be elected bishop of Alexandria after the death of Alexander on 17 April 328.2SAthanasius wishes to establish the character of each of his two groups of adversaries at the outset. Melitius was a schismatic whom Peter had deposed in a council of Egyptian bishops for many misdemeanors, including sacrifice during persecution (59.1). Nevertheless, the ecumenical council at Nicaea received the followers of Melitius back into communion at the same time as it definitively branded Arius and his followers as heretics (59.3). Athanasius, therefore, claims that he had been prepared to accept the Melitians until they allied themselves to the Arians, with whom no possibility of compromise existed (59.4/5). Throughout his career Athanasius proclaimed a single simple principle when dealing with those whom he considered Arians: 'the heresy which attacks Christ has no communion with the catholic church' (60.1).

Athanasius is even briefer on the accusations against him in 330/1 and 331/2. The accusations are described merely to introduce two letters of Constantine: the first imperial letter 'condemning Ision [who was one of the accusers] and summoning me to appear before him,' has unfortunately dropped out of the text as transmitted in the manuscripts (60.3), but the second, written in 332, survives in full (61/2). Constantine wrote to the congregation of the catholic church in Alexandria urging them to love one another and to put aside all hatreds. He bitterly denounced those who were disturbing the peace of God's people (that is, the Melitians). Although the wicked have wasted the emperor's time and deserve to be expelled from the church, they have not prevailed against the bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius, so the emperor asserts as his firm conviction, is truly a man of God.

Athanasius now turns to the troubling matter of the broken chalice (63/4). The Melitians had made no headway in the Mareotis and all the churches were at peace, when a certain Ischyras, a known malefactor, tried to lead his village astray by pretending to be a priest. The properly ordained priest of the place informed Athanasius, who was visiting the area, and he sent the priest iVtacarius with him to summon Ischyras. The two of them found Ischyras lying sick and instructed his father to tell him to desist from doing what had been reported to them. When Ischyras recovered, he joined the Melitians, and they communicated with the Eusebians, who then concocted the story that Macarius had broken a sacred chalice together with the story that Arsenius, whom they themselves were hiding, had been murdered on Athanasius' orders. Ischyras, who was not a priest at all, came to Athanasius in distress at the calumnies invented by the Melitians and submitted an apology in writing. It deserves to be quoted in full:

To blessed papa Athanasius, Ischyras greets you in the Lord.

When I approached you, lord bishop, wishing to belong to the church, you reproached me for what I had said before, as if I had taken this step of my own volition: for this reason, I present to you in writing this defense, so that you can know that I did so because violence had been done to me and blows laid upon me by Isaac, Heraclides, Isaac of Letopolis, and those with them. Taking God as my witness for this, 1 humbly submit that I know full well that you did none of the things which they have alleged. For neither did any breaking of a chalice occur nor did an overturning of the holy table take place, but they, by using violence on me for this purpose, compelled me to make all these allegations. I have made this defense of myself to you and have handed it over to you in writing, choosing and claiming my right to be one of those who gather together under your authority. I pray that you flourish in the Lord. (64.1/2)

Ischyras presented his declaration to Athanasius in the presence of six priests from different villages in the Mareotis, three deacons from Alexandria, and three from the Mareotis (64.3). It is a very significant document. Given Ischyras' persistence in his accusation over many years, this retraction is much more likely to have been obtained by violence than the original complaint against Athanasius.26 One internal feature appears to stamp it as undoubtedly fraudulent. Ischyras here proclaims that no cup was smashed, no altar overturned. Now Athanasius' main line of defense against this charge of sacrilege was to argue that, since Ischyras was not a properly ordained priest, his hut cannot have contained either a consecrated chalice or an altar; that the presence of a catechumen at the time of the alleged assault proved that the eucharist was not being celebrated; and that Ischyras himself was so ill that he was confined to bed and hence unable to conduct divine service at the relevant time.27 The implica tion of this line of defense is that Ischyras was assaulted, even if the assault did not technically involve sacrilege.

Another line of reasoning also leads to the conclusion that an assault did in fact occur. Ischyras was a follower of Colluthus, who styled himself a bishop and may have been a dissident Melitian (12.1, 76.3),28 and he was acting as priest of a conventicle of Colluthians in the Mareotis close to Alexandria. Athanasius himself admits that when he heard of Ischyras as he was touring the Mareotis, he sent the priest Macarius to deal with him (63.3): it must be suspected that Macarius was not merely instructed to summon Ischyras, as Athanasius claims, but to take appropriate measures—and hence that the Melitians were in substance correct to assert that, when Macarius broke up a service conducted by Ischyras, he did so on Athanasius* orders.

Athanasius deals next with the charge that he murdered Arsenius. Constantine ordered the censor Dalmatius to investigate, but the agents of Athanasius discovered Arsenius and produced him before Paul, the bishop of Tyre. Constantine then stopped 'the court of the censor* (which must be identical with the abortive Council of Caesarea in 334, which Athanasius nowhere mentions), and ordered Eusebius and his accomplices, who were on their way to the East, to return (65.1-4). Athanasius quotes the full text of five letters:

(1) Alexander of Thessalonica to Athanasius congratulating him on the exposure of the plot of John Archaph;

(2) Pinnes, priest of the monastery of Ptemenkurkis in the Antaeopolite nome, to John warning him that the agents of Athanasius have discovered that Arsenius is alive and asking him not to accuse Athanasius;

(3) Constantine to Athanasius expressing indignation at the charges brought by the 'perverse and lawless Melitians' and urging him to publish this vindication of himself;

(4) Arsenius to Athanasius submitting to his authority and requesting to be admitted to communion with the catholic church;

(5) Constantine to John accepting his reconciliation with Athanasius and inviting him to come to court. (66-70)

The Council of Tyre receives even more lavish treatment. That was necessary because, when successive Councils of Antioch between 338 and 341 reiterated the earlier verdict, they appealed to the findings of the commission of enquiry which visited the Mareotis in September 335 as having established that Athanasius was indeed guilty of sacrilege because Macarius had broken the chalice of Ischyras on his orders.29 Athanasius needed to discredit the Council of Tyre, not because its verdict was the legal basis of his exile in either 335 or 339, but lest Christians everywhere regard the sacrilege of which the Council of Tyre found him guilty as automatically disqualifying him from discharging the functions of a bishop. Since Ischyras became a bishop in the Mareotis and in that capacity set his name to yet another condemnation of Athanasius in 343,30 bare denial of the crime would not suffice. Athanasius needed to discredit the process by which he had been found guilty.

Athanasius depicts the Council of Tyre as conducted with violence and by a secular official. The comes Dionysius was sent with a bodyguard for the Eusebians, Macarius was sent to Tyre bound and in military custody, and Athanasius was compelled to attend and dragged about by soldiers (71.1/2, 72.1, 82.1). When the council met, the comes presided, the Melitians accused, and the Arians sat in judgement: Athanasius, therefore, withdrew from them 'as from an assembly of treacherous men' (Jeremiah 9.2). To bear out his assertion that the Council of Tyre proceeded improperly, Athanasius quotes an array of documents to prove each of the central points:

(1) A list of his clergy which Melitius submitted to Alexander.31 Since this list does not contain the name of Ischyras, he cannot have been a priest: therefore Athanasius' accuser ought never to have received a hearing—as Athanasius pointed out at the time (72.6).

(2) A submission made by sixteen priests and five deacons of the church of Alexandria to the commission of enquiry (73). Since the commission brought with them Ischyras, but not Macarius or Athanasius, the clergy of Alexandria requested to be present during their investigations: by refusing this request, the commissioners have revealed their partiality, and the clergy loyal to Athanasius are entering a protest in order to contest their findings before a future 'genuine council.'

(3) A letter of the clergy of the Mareotis (fifteen priests and fifteen deacons) to the Council of Tyre (74/5). The clergy explain that Ischyras was certainly not a priest: he claimed to have been ordained by Colluthus, but a council held at Alexandria in the presence of Ossius of Corduba had declared his ordination invalid. The charges are all fraudulent, since no chalice was broken, no altar overturned either by Athanasius himself or by any of his associates, and the commissioners are proceeding improperly, obtaining evidence against Athanasius only because Philagrius, the prefect of Egypt, is threatening witnesses with violence.

(4) A submission of the same, dated 8 September 335, to Philagrius, the prefect of Egypt; Flavius Palladius, curiosus palatinus ducenarius; and Flavius Antoninus, biarchus centenarius of the praetorian prefects (76). The clergy of the Mareotis assert on oath that Ischyras is no priest, that he has no church, and that no chalice was broken, and they ask the addressees to forward their declaration to the emperor.

(5) A letter of the bishops of Egypt to the whole council (77). Athanasius' supporters claim that the council is dominated by his enemies, that their own testimony is unjustifiably rejected, and that the proposed membership of the commission of enquiry is improper.

(6) A letter of the same forty-eight bishops to Flavius Dionysius, repeating the same complaints and requesting him to intervene (78).

(7) A letter in the name of all the bishops of the catholic church present in Tyre to. Dionysius asking for the case of Athanasius to be referred to the emperor (79).

(8) A letter of Alexander of Thessalonica to Dionysius objecting to the membership of the commission of enquiry (80).

(9) A letter of Dionysius to Eusebius and his associates (81: quoted only in part). Dionysius informs the bishops of the protests by Athanasius and Alexander and reminds them of his earlier advice that members of the commission be chosen by unanimous vote.

One vital document is missing. The full minutes of the interrogations which the commissioners conducted would show how, though the commissioners prompted, though the prefect uttered threats, though soldiers brandished drawn swords, witnesses nevertheless testified that Ischyras was lying ill at the time of the alleged assault, that the charges against Athanasius were false. The enemies of Athanasius accordingly suppressed the minutes. To no avail, since Rufus, who made the record, can vouch for their contents. Extracts, however, were later sent to Julius, the bishop of Rome, and he transmitted them to Athanasius, whose enemies are now furious because he obtained and read what they wished to conceal (83).

Athanasius has mentioned his flight from Tyre. Before he continues his story, he digresses to denounce the bishops who repaired from Tyre to Jerusalem (in fact, on the emperor's pressing invitation) and readmitted Arius to communion. He quotes the beginning of their synodical letter to show how those who condemned him were prepared to overturn the decisions of the 'ecumenical council' (84). And he explains how Ischyras was set up as a bishop in the Mareotis, quoting a letter of the catholicus to the exactor ordering that a church be built for him. It was a reward for making his false accusation (85).

To conclude, Athanasius returns to himself. He quotes the letter in which Constantine angrily summoned the bishops from Tyre, summarises the interview in which the emperor exiled him to Gaul, and quotes the letter of 17 June 337 in which Constantinus Caesar commended him to the Christians of Alexandria (86/7). By a singular coincidence, the letter of 6 November 335 survives in two versions, for the text given by Athanasius not only shows minor divergences of wording from the version which Gelasius of Cyzicus reproduces, but also lacks phrases and even sections which Gelasius quotes.32 What is the explanation for the discrepancies? On general grounds, it might seem obvious that it would have been foolish and risky for Athanasius to tamper with a document which many of his contemporaries had seen, and hence that Gelasius, who was writing c. 475, must have interpolated and rewritten the genuine text preserved by Athanasius.33 That diagnosis will not account for the actual variants. Moreover, since the letter was overtaken by events very soon after its composition

(probably within twenty-four hours), it is unwise to assume that it circulated at all widely until the publication of the Defense against the Arians gave it currency.

The passages which stand in Gelasius alone contain some genuinely Constantinian phrases which recur in other speeches or letters of the emperor^4 and the minor variants in at least one passage betray clear evidence that Athanasius has tampered with the text, if only at a superficial level. Gelasius' Constantine writes:

As I was entering, after an imperial progress, our eponymous and all-fortunate Constantinople...

The corresponding passage in Athanasius reads:

As I set foot in our eponymous and all-fortunate patria of Constantinople (he happened at the time to be riding a horse)...

Despite modern editors who print the parenthesis as if it were part of Constantine's letter,35 the words 'he happened at the time to be riding a horse' clearly cannot have stood in the original document, but must be an editorial addition by Athanasius. More important, since Constantine's patria was in the Balkans, he is not likely to have called his new city of Constantinople his patria without making the metaphor or conceit obvious.36 Furthermore, the imperial processus is independently attested: Constantine was at Nicopolis on 23 October 335,37 and Athanasius had been in the capital since 30 October waiting for his return (Index 8). On technical grounds, therefore, Gelasius deserves the preference in this passage.38

The fact that Athanasius omits the concluding sentence in Gelasius need have no sinister significance: some of the documents quoted in the Defense against the Arians are curtailed, and Athanasius could have left it out without any imputation of bad faith.39 But a long section in the middle of the letter offers substantive divergences which cannot so easily be explained away. The text in Athanasius offers a brief account of the exchange which ensued after the bishop accosted the emperor:

So I neither spoke to him at that moment of time nor admitted him to conversation. But as he continued to ask to be heard, while I refused and almost ordered him to be driven away, with greater freedom he claimed that he wanted nothing else from us except your arrival, so that he could lament what he has suffered out of necessity with you present. (86.8)

Gelasius presents an Athanasius who is 'in grief and mourning' when he confronts Constantine:

We saw the man so humbled and cast down that we fell into unutterable pity for him when we realised that he was that Athanasius, the holy sight of whom is sufficient to compel even the pagans to worship the God of the universe.

The Constantine of Gelasius refers in angry but inexplicit language to his summons to Athanasius in 331 and his dismissal of the charges against him then and continues:

But now a second time, speaking more freely, he cries out that a second assault has been made on him worse than the first, requesting nothing of us except your arrival to us, which he has requested so that he can lament what he has suffered out of necessity with you present.40

The text quoted by Gelasius does not mince words when describing the bishop's pitiable condition when he accosted the emperor or the violence of his asseverations. In Athanasius' version of the letter, the sharp phrases are softened and made vaguer. It may be concluded that Athanasius has suppressed and altered phrases and clauses which he found painful to recall or impolitic to reproduce.41

'Violence begets violence.' The chance find of a papyrus undoes much of Athanasius' pleading on his own behalf. A private letter survives, never intended for publication, from the Melitian Callistus in Alexandria to two priests at a Melitian monastery in the Upper Cynopolite nome.42 On 20 May 335 (Callistus relates) the bishop of Letopolis came to dine in the camp with the bishop Heraiscus, who is attested only here, but whom the context identifies as the Melitian bishop of Alexandria.43 Supporters of Athanasius came to seize Heraiscus and his guests, but they were hidden by soldiers in their living quarters. The supporters of Athanasius, however, came across four Melitian monks, whom they beat and almost killed. They then raided the hospice where the Melitians from outside Alexandria were lodging, and kidnapped the five whom they found there until the praepositus of the carnp ordered their release. The praepositus apologised to Heraiscus for the attack, in which soldiers of the dux and of the camp had participated, but he did not allow the Melitians to see their bishop nor the bishop to leave the camp. It was Athanasius' policy to send bishops who would support him to Tyre, but to detain his opponents in Alexandria, by force if necessary. He shut one bishop in the meat-market, a priest in the prison of the camp, and a deacon in the main prison of the city. Besides these explicitly reported facts, the letter seems to assume that Heraiscus himself had for some time not been at liberty to leave the camp.

Despite his protestations of innocence, Athanasius exercised power and protected his position in Alexandria by the systematic use of violence and intimidation.44 The papyrus of 335 documents in detail one small episode in which he coerced his opponents and used violence in an attempt to prevent them from attending a church council. That was not an isolated misdemeanor; but a typical example of the means by which bishops of Alexandria maintained their power in the Christian Roman Empire. If the violence of Athanasius leaves fewer traces in the surviving sources than similar behavior by later bishops of Alexandria like Theophilus, Cyril, and Dioscorus, the reason is not that he exercised power in a different way, but that he exercised it more efficiently and that he was successful in presenting himself to posterity as an innocent in power, as an honest, sincere, and straightforward 'man of God.'

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  • mirrin
    What city was athanasius the bishop of story of Christianity?
    11 months ago

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