The Condemnation Of 349 And Its Context

During his exile, athanasius had carefully maintained con-tact with the Egyptian church and his supporters in Alexandria. He continued to notify the Christians of Egypt each spring or summer of the date of Easter in the following year, and he sent a full Festal Letter to be read in Lent whenever it was possible for him to do so.1 Clergy came to Serdica from Alexandria and the churches of the Mareoris and read out before the western bishops letters describing the sufferings of Athanasius* supporters in Egypt at the hands of Gregory and his supporters.2 When the council had finished its business, the western bishops wrote to the church of Alexandria, to the churches of the Mareotis, and to the Christians of Egypt and Libya as a whole to announce the reinstatement of their metropolitan,3 while Athanasius himself sent a letter to his own church and one to the churches of the Mareotis subscribed by some sixty other bishops.4 Moreover, it is clear both from the complaints made at Serdica and from the actions of Constantius after the council that Athanasius* supporters were active and powerful in the city—indeed, the emperor was afraid that Athanasius, like Paul in 341/2 and again in 344, might attempt to resume possession of his see without waiting for official permission.5

Athanasius' careful attention to his supporters in Egypt through the seven long years of exile brought political benefits when he returned to Alexandria in 346. Although Gregory enjoyed an opportunity to build up an opposing system of power and patronage for six of these years, there is no sign that he succeeded in weakening the power of the exiled patriarch. Athanasius complained of violence used on his supporters in the docks of Alexandria in 339 (Ep. enc. 5.5), but any success that his opponents may have attained within the city proved only temporary. In October 346 both magistrates and populace turned out to greet their returning bishop [Index 18).

It is less easy to assess the balance of power between the supporters and op ponents of Athanasius outside Alexandria. In the Egyptian countryside, the uneasy coexistence of Melitians and churches loyal to Athanasius continued. In the 320s Melitius had named a total of thirty-four Melitian bishops, including himself, in the list of his clergy which he submitted to Alexander (Apol c. Ar. 71.6). That was clearly the total number of Melitian bishops at that time. In 335 Athanasius took a phalanx of forty-eight bishops loyal to himself to the Council of Tyre—a number which happens to correspond exactly to the number of nomes in Egypt, if only by accident.6 During Athanasius* exile, Serapion of Thmuis was presumably entrusted with the task of keeping the bishops in the Egyptian chora loyal in the face of pressure and inducements to support Gregory. In 338 Athanasius had instructed Serapion to ensure that the churches throughout Egypt observe the recently introduced custom of a forty-day fast before Easter and informed him of the names of newly appointed bishops.7

During Athanasius' second exile, there were few defections, if any, and it seems that the Melitian episcopate went into a gradual but steady decline. Only a handful of bishops from Egypt attended the Council of Serdica in 343, and all those Egyptian bishops who subscribed the eastern synodical letter were known Melitians and enemies of Athanasius—Ischyras of the Mareotis, Eudaemon of Tanis, Callinicus of Pelusium, Isaac of Letopolis (probably not at Serdica, since Eudaemon seems to have subscribed for him), and Lucius of Antinoopolis.5 The festal Letter which Athanasius wrote shortly after his return in October 346 for Easter 347 closes with an appendix in which he lists sixteen recently appointed bishops in order that the recipients of the letter may know 'to whom to write and from whom to receive letters' (Festal Letter 19.10). By 348 the total number of Egyptian bishops loyal to Athanasius had almost doubled from 335: no fewer than ninety-four appended their names to a copy of the western synodical letter from Serdica (Apol c. Ar.: 49.3 Nos. 149-242).

Equally significant, the Festal Letter for 347 reveals Melitian defections to the Athanasian side—Arsenius at Hypsele, apparently Isaac at Nilopolis, Isidorus at Xois, and Paulus at Clysma. Furthermore, even though Athanasius complained bitterly that Melitians cooperated with Arians in 356 (Letter to the Bishops of Egypt and Libya 21/2), and the Festal Letters for 365,367, and 369 contain sustained attacks on the Melitians, especially for their extravagant cult of the martyrs,9 only two Melitian bishops appear to have attended the Council of Seleucia in 359.10 It seems clear that by the later 360s the Melitians of the Nile Valley were no more than a rural rump of 'old believers,' who had priests and monks but no ecclesiastical organisation, the bishops of the early days having died or defected without being systematically replaced.11

The restoration of tax privileges to the clergy loyal to Athanasius was not contingent on the removal of existing privileges from the Melitian clergy and clergy who had supported Gregory (Apol c. An 56.2/3). In places where there were rival bishops, both now enjoyed exemption from civic liturgies. Probably to the period immediately after Athanasius' return should be assigned the

Hermopolite land registers, the surviving parts of which list the citizens of one of the four wards of Hermopolis in the Thebaid with the size of their landholdings in the nome and citizens of Antinoopolis who owned land in the Hermopolite nome.12 Not only do these lists yield to sophisticated analysis to produce a picture of landholding patterns in a peasant society,13 but they include four bishops—Dios of Hermopolis, who owned more than one hundred and twenty arourae, and three bishops from Antinoopolis: Arion, whose election Athanasius confirmed in 347; Ammonianus (or Ammonius), who had previously shared the see with Tyrannus (now presumably dead); and Macarius, who, by a process of elimination, must be the successor of the Lucius who attended the Council of Serdica as the Melitian bishop of the city.14

The restoration of Athanasius probably also occasioned changes in the local administration to reflect the new constellation of power. The chance survival of the archive of papers which Flavius Abinnaeus took to Philadelphia when he retired as commander of the fort at Dionysias in the Arsinoite nome gives a glimpse of vicissitudes which may have beset many officials in Egypt in these years.15 After a long military service in the Thebaid, Abinnaeus had escorted ambassadors of the Blemmyes to Constantinople in 336, where the emperors Constantine and Constantius gave him the honorary rank of protector. Abinnaeus then escorted the Blemmyes back to their native land. Next, he brought recruits from the Thebaid to Constantius at Hierapolis in Syria (presumably in 339 or 340) and received an imperial letter of appointment as prefect of the Ala Quinta Praelectorum and commander of the fort at Dionysias.

In Egypt the bureau of the dux et comes Valacius refused to act on the letter because other men had produced similar letters. Abinnaeus thereupon submitted a petition to the emperors, to which he clearly received a favorable reply, since he had already assumed his post as praepositus at Dionysias by 29 March 342.16 During the course of the year 344 Valacius sent Abinnaeus a brusque letter of dismissal,17 which the latter prepared to contest by traveling to court: two letters of 1 and 2 February 345 promise to reimburse him for expenses in furthering the interest of others besides himself.18 Again, Abinnaeus was successful. But he may not have needed to present himself at court. Probably in 345 Valacius was thrown from his horse and died from the accident within three days:19 by 1 May 346 Abinnaeus had obtained reinstatement, and he remained at his post until at least February 351.20 Valacius had helped Gregory in Alexandria, allegedly whipping monks and assaulting bishops and virgins in order to secure cooperation with the anti-Athanasian bishops (Hist. Ar. 12.3). It is tempting to see in Abinnaeus a Christian who sympathised with Athanasius and perhaps even supported him actively in the Arsinoite nome, and to attribute a large part of his difficulties with Valacius to their different political and ecclesiastical allegiances.21

Athanasius had enjoyed the goodwill and political support of monks in rural Egypt from the very start of his episcopate.22 In 336, after he departed into exile in Trier, Antony wrote to Constantine on Athanasius' behalf, and after his return he demonstrated his support of the embattled bishop by visiting Alexandria during the summer of 33B.25 The years following 346 saw a strengthening of this alliance. When Antony died c. 355, he divided his clothing among Athanasius, Serapion of Thmuis, and his own disciples.24 Much further up the Nile from Antony's Outer Mountain, the Pachomian communities of the Thebaid exhibited equal loyalty to the restored metropolitan of Egypt, and some Pachomian monks traveled to Alexandria in 346 in order to welcome him back.25 On the other hand, the letter which Athanasius wrote some weeks before Easter 354 urging the monk Dracontius to allow himself to be consecrated as a bishop may be a sign that the monks of Egypt wished to retain a certain independence of action by remaining outside the ecclesiastical hierarchy controlled by the metropolitan of Alexandria.26

Athanasius also had considerable political support outside Egypt. He could count on the continuing goodwill of the emperor Constans and the western bishops. Moreover, two of his oldest enemies changed sides and began to confess him innocent of all the charges ever brought against him. In 347 a council of western bishops met in Rome and condemned Photinus.27 Ursacius of Singidunum and Valens of Mursa came, fearful that their frequent condemnations of Athanasius would become the cause of their own deposition, even though they had expressly repudiated 4 Arian' ideas at the Council of Milan two years earlier. They approached the bishop of Rome and submitted to him a letter written in Valens' own hand which he and Ursacius subscribed jointly in the presence of Julius: the two Ulyrian bishops declared that all the accusations which they had ever made against Athanasius were false and lacked any basis. The bishop of Rome formally accepted this declaration, and the council over which he was presiding admitted Ursacius and Valens to communion.28

As the two Pannonian bishops were returning home, they met the priest Moses, who was taking a message from Paulinus, the bishop of Trier, to Athanasius: at Aquileia they gave him a copy of their submission to Julius and a brief letter of salutation to the bishop of Alexandria expressing confidence in him.29 Moses (it appears) took the two documents with him from Aquileia to Alexandria: that at least seems to be the most suitable hypothesis to explain how Athanasius could say that copies of the two letters of Ursacius and Valens, one of which was addressed to himself, were sent to him by Paulinus of Trier (Apol. c. Ar. 58.1; Hist. Ar. 26.2). Paulinus (it may be deduced) had written to Athanasius to announce that he had just been elected bishop in place of the deceased Maximinus.30

Athanasius appeared secure. But Constantius had allowed the restoration of Paul and Athanasius to Constantinople and Alexandria only out of political weakness and necessity, presumably judging that the military situation in Mesopotamia made it impossible to resist his brother's threat to restore the two bishops by force. Paul and Athanasius were soon again in peril. The bishop of Constantinople was the more vulnerable and was therefore attacked first, probably in the early months of 349.

Paul was accused by Macedonius, who had been elected bishop of Constantinople in place of Eusebius in the winter of 341/2, but had of necessity yielded place to Paul when he and Athanasius were restored. An accusation implies a trial, and the trial of a bishop implies a council of bishops. Paul was condemned, deposed, and sent to Constantius at Singara in iron fetters: Constantius sent his praetorian prefect Flavius Philippus to arrest Paul and convey him safely to court.3' Paul was taken to Emesa (presumably accompanying the court there), and from Emesa he was sent into exile at Cucusus in Cappadocia, remote in the Taurus Mountains (Hist. Ar. 7.1, 3-6).32

The council which condemned Paul is known only from a single obscure allusion in the History of the Arians which Athanasius wrote several years later. It was probably, for reasons of prudence, not held in Constantinople itself, but in a nearby city such as Nicaea or Nicoinedia, whose bishops were firmly in the opposite camp in ecclesiastical politics.33 Some time later; probably in the autumn of 349, a council was held at Antioch which condemned and deposed Athanasius. This council stands on explicit attestation in the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomenus:

Those who rejected the creed of Nicaea very assiduously exerted themselves in the palace to expel from their churches all those who had been removed from office by them on the grounds that they were heterodox and had, while Constans was still alive, endeavored to bring the two halves of the empire into conflict with each other, because Constans had threatened his brother with war if he did not receive them back, as has been explained before. They particularly accused Athanasius: because of their excessive hatred of him, they did not refrain from open hostility even when Constans was still alive and when Constantius was pretending to be his friend, but assembled in Antioch—Narcissus the Cilician, Theodorus the Thracian, Eugenius of Nicaea, Patrophilus of Scythopolis, Menophantus of Ephesus, and others, about another thirty in all—and wrote to bishops everywhere to the effect that Athanasius had returned to Alexandria in violation of the laws of the church, without having been pronounced innocent at a council, only through the partisan activity of those who shared his opinions. They exhorted [the recipients of the letter] not to communicate with or write to Athanasius, but to George, who had been elected by them.34

The context of this notice is both mistaken and confused. Sozomenus presents the Council of Antioch which deposed Athanasius as a consequence of the death of Julius, and jumbles up a series of events in what seems almost a random or der: the death of Magnentius (353), the rebellion of Silvanus (355), the Jewish revolt (352), the execution of Gallus (354), Constantius' visit to Rome (357), and the death of Julius (352). *5 But what Sozomenus reports about the council itself points to a date before January 350—and appears to derive from the council's synodical letter, which he will have found in the collection of anti-Athanasian conciliar documents compiled by Sabinus of Heraclea in the 360s.36 Sozomenus supplies the names of the principal bishops who attended, and he can hardly be mistaken over the content of a letter whose date clearly puzzled him.37 Moreover, the existence of such a council can be confirmed from Athanasius himself. The structure of the Defense against the Arians necessitates a somewhat complicated hypothesis to explain the genesis of the work. Despite some rewriting at the end, the bipartite shape and overall argument of the Defense against the Arians indicate that it is basically a document composed between 347 and 350.3* When most of the last two chapters, which allude to events of 357, is removed, the Defense presents a coherent case which makes perfect sense in the context of 349—and at no later date. Athanasius relies heavily on the palinode of Ursacius and Valens in 347: after they withdrew their retraction of the charges against him in 350/1, that would have been an extremely lame central argument around which to construct a case. Consequently the hypothesis that Athanasius composed the Defense against the Arians in approximately its present form in 349 for submission to the Council of Antioch, which Sozomenus reports, both solves a serious literary problem and explains the motivation of the work.

Although it is certain that Athanasius did not leave Egypt to attend this council in Antioch, he may have sent trusted envoys to Syria with the Defense against the Arians to present to the assembled bishops. The work has two quite separate parts. The second is a reworking of the defense which Athanasius had elaborated for Julius at Rome nearly a decade earlier and deals with Athanasius' career under Constantine.39 The first part extends the same method of argumentation to Athanasius' career after 337. It quotes documents at length, linking them together with brief commentary in order to present Athanasius as one whose conduct has been thoroughly investigated and thoroughly vindicated. The main documents quoted are:

(1) the letter of the Council of Alexandria in the early months of 338 (3-19);

(2) the letter of Julius in 341 replying to the synodical letter of the 'Dedication Council' at Antioch (21-35);

(3) three letters of the western bishops at Serdica: the first a letter addressed specifically to the church of Alexandria (37-40), the second a letter in almost identical terms to the bishops of Egypt and Libya (41), the third the synodical letter to bishops of the catholic church everywhere—with no fewer than two hundred and eighty-three names appended as signatories (42-50);40

(4) eight letters relating to Athanasius' return to Alexandria in 346, including six written by Constantius (52-57);

(5) the letters of Ursacius and Valens to Julius and Athanasius withdrawing their charges against Athanasius (58).

The overall argument is that bishops of independent judgement, councils of bishops unswayed by petty animosities, and even the emperor Constantius himself all agree that the charges made against Athanasius in the past have all been proven baseless. The previously composed second part of the Defense complements the arguments of the first by reviewing the struggles of Athanasius against Melitians and Arians in the early years of his episcopate, from 328 until his restoration by Constantinus in 337.

Athanasius lays particular stress on the change of mind by Ursacius and Valens, who have preferred a brief embarrassment to eternal punishment for calumny (88.3). The introduction and peroration make the circumstances of composition clear. Athanasius begins by expressing surprise that he needs to defend himself once more, that his enemies, who have so often been confounded, assert that his whole case ought to be tried yet again. That is arrant nonsense: 'My cause needs no further judgment, for it has been judged, not once or twice, but many times' (1.1). Athanasius reels off a list of councils which have vindicated him: a council of almost a hundred bishops in Egypt, a council of more than fifty bishops at Rome, the great Council of Serdica convened 'at the command of the most pious emperors Constantius and Constans'—councils whose verdicts Ursacius and Valens have confirmed by repenting of their former slanders. There is, therefore, no need to rehash yet again matters which so many distinguished bishops have investigated and upon which they have often pronounced an unambiguous verdict (1/2). After this introduction, Athanasius proceeds to quote documents in extenso with relatively brief linking comments until he reaches his peroration, which proclaims that everyone who knows the facts can see that the charges are false and that so many bishops have been right to pronounce him innocent (88, 90).41

Whether or not the Defense against the Arians was in fact laid before it, the Council of Antioch condemned and deposed Athanasius. But before its verdict could be enforced or George installed as bishop of Alexandria, political conditions changed with startling suddenness.

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