Chapter 4. Imperial and Ecclesiastical Acts in consequence of the decision of the Council of Sardica

§. 51.

1. WHEN the most religious Emperor Constantius heard of these things, he sent for me, having written privately to his brother Constans of blessed memory, and to me three several times in the following terms.

2. Constantius Victor Augustus to Athanasius

Our benignant clemency will not suffer you to be any longer tempest-tossed by the wild waves of the sea; for our unwearied piety has not lost sight of you, while you have been bereft of your native home, deprived of your goods, and have been wandering in savage wildernesses. And although I have for a long time deferred expressing by letter the purpose of my mind concerning you, principally because I expected that you would appear before us of your own accord, and would seek a relief of your sufferings; yet forasmuch as fear, it may be, has prevented you from fulfilling your intentions, we have therefore addressed to your fortitude letters full of our bounty, to the end that you may use all speed and without fear present yourself in our presence, thereby to obtain the enjoyment of your wishes, and that, having experience of our grace, you may be restored again to your friends. For this purpose I have besought my Lord and brother Constans Victor Augustus in your behalf; that he would give you permission to come, in order that you may be restored to your country with the consent of us both, receiving this as a pledge of our favour.

3. The Second Letter

Although we made it very plain to you in a former letter that you may without hesitation come to our Court, because {80} we greatly wished to send you home, yet, we have further sent this present letter to your fortitude, to exhort you without any distrust or apprehension, to place yourself in the public conveyances [Note 1], and to hasten to us, that you may enjoy the fulfilment of your wishes.

4. The Third Letter

Our pleasure was, while we abode at Edessa, and your Presbyters were there, that, on one of them being sent to you, you should make haste to come to our Court, in order that you might see our face, and straightway proceed to Alexandria. But as a long period has elapsed since you received letters from us, and you have not yet come, we are therefore desirous to remind you again, that you may endeavour to present yourself before us with all speed, and so may be restored to your country, and obtain the accomplishment of your prayers. And for your fuller information we have sent Achitas the Deacon, from whom you will be able to learn our earnest desires concerning you, and that you may now secure the objects of your prayers.

5. Such was the tenour of the Emperor's letter; on receiving which I went up to Rome to bid farewell to the Church and the Bishop: for I was at Aquileia when it was written. The Church was filled with all joy, and the Bishop Julius rejoiced with me in my return and wrote to the Church [Note P]; and as I passed along, the Bishops of every place sent me on my way in peace. The letter of Julius was as follows. {81}

§. 52.

6. Julius to the Presbyters, Deacons, awl people abiding at Alexandria.

I congratulate you, beloved brethren, that you now behold the fruit of your faith before your eyes; for any one may see that such indeed is the case with respect to my brother and fellow-Bishop Athanasius, whom for the innocency of his life, and by reason of your prayers, God hath restored to you again. Wherefore it is easy to perceive, that you have continually offered up to God pure prayers and full of love. Being mindful of the heavenly promises, and of the conversation that leads to them, which you have learnt from the teaching of this my brother, you knew certainly and were persuaded by the right faith that is in you, that he, whom you always had as present in your most pious minds, would not be separated from you for ever. Wherefore there is no need that I should use many words in writing to you; for your faith has already anticipated whatever I could say to you, and has by the grace of God procured the accomplishment of the common prayers of you all. Therefore, I repeat again, I congratulate you, because you have preserved your souls unconquered in the faith; and I also congratulate no less my brother Athanasius, in that, though he has endured many afflictions, he has at no time been forgetful of your love and earnest desires towards him. For although for a season he seemed to be withdrawn from you in body, yet has he continued to live as always present with you in spirit [Note 2].

§. 53.

7. Wherefore he returns to you now more illustrious than when he went away from you. Fire tries and purifies the precious metals, gold and silver: but how can one describe the worth of such a man, who, having passed victorious through the perils of so many tribulations, is now restored to you, being pronounced innocent not by my voice only, but by the voice of the whole Council [Note 3]? Receive therefore, dearly beloved brethren, with all godly honour and rejoicing, your Bishop Athanasius, together with those who have been partners with him in so many labours. And rejoice that you have now obtained the fulfilment of your prayers, after that in your salutary writings, you have given meat and drink to your Pastor, who, so to speak, longed and thirsted after your {82} godliness. For while he sojourned in a foreign land, you were his consolation; and you refreshed him during his persecutions by your most faithful minds and spirits. And it delights me now to conceive and figure to my mind the joy of every one of you at his return, and the pious greetings of the multitude, and the glorious festivity of those that run to meet him. What a day will that be to you, when my brother comes back again, and your former sufferings terminate, and his much-prized and desired return inspires you all with an exhilaration of perfect joy! The like joy it is mine to feel in a very great degree, since it has been granted me by God, to be able to make the acquaintance of so eminent a man.

8. It is fitting therefore that I should conclude my letter with a prayer [Note 4]. May Almighty God, and His Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, afford you continual grace, giving you a reward for the admirable faith which you displayed in your noble confession in behalf of your Bishop, that He may impart unto you and unto them that are with you, both here and hereafter, those better things, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him [1 Cor. ii. 9.]; through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom to Almighty God be glory for ever and ever. Amen. I pray dearly beloved brethren, for your health and strength in the Lord.

§. 54.

9. The Emperor, when I came to him with these letters, received me kindly, and sent me forward to my country and Church, addressing the following to the Bishops, Presbyters and People.

10. Victor Constantius, Maximus, Augustus, to the Bishops and Presbyters of the Catholic Church

The most reverend Athanasius has not been deserted by the grace of God, but although for a brief season he was subjected to trials to which human nature is liable, he has obtained from the superintending Providence such an answer to his prayers as was meet, and is restored by the will of the Most High, and by our sentence, at once to his country and to the Church, over which by divine permission he presided. {83} Wherefore, in accordance with this, it is fitting that it should be provided by our clemency, that all the decrees which have heretofore been passed against those who held communion with him, be now consigned to oblivion, and that all suspicions respecting them be henceforward set at rest, and that an immunity, such as the Clergy who are associated with him formerly enjoyed, be duly confirmed to them. Moreover to our other acts of favour towards him we have thought good to add the following, that all persons of the sacred catalogue [Note 5] should understand, that an assurance of safety is given to all who adhere to him, whether Bishops, or other Clergy. And union with him will be a sufficient guarantee, in the case of any person, of an upright intention. For whoever, acting according to a better judgment and part, shall choose to hold communion with him, we order, in imitation of that Providence which has already gone before, that all such should have the advantage of the grace which by the will of the Most High is now offered to them from us. May God preserve you.

11. The Second Letter

Victor Constantius, Maximus, Augustus, to the people of the Catholic Church at Alexandria.

§. 55.

Desiring as we do your welfare in all respects, and knowing that you have for a long time been deprived of episcopal superintendence, we have thought good to send back to you your Bishop Athanasius, a man known to all men for the uprightness that is in him, and for his personal deportment. Receive him, as you are wont to receive every one, in a suitable manner, and, putting him forth as your succour in your prayers to God, endeavour to preserve continually that unanimity and peace according to the order of the Church, which is at the same time becoming in you, and most advantageous for us. For it is not becoming that any dissension or faction should be raised among you, so subversive of the prosperity of our times. We desire that this offence may be altogether removed from you, and we exhort you to continue stedfastly in your accustomed prayers, and to make him, as we said before, your advocate and helper towards God. So that, when this your determination, dearly {84} beloved, has influenced the prayers of all men, even the heathen who are still addicted to the false worship of idols may eagerly desire to come to the knowledge of our sacred worship.

12. Again therefore we exhort you to continue in these timings, and gladly to receive your Bishop, who is sent back to you by the decree of the Most High, and by our desire, and determine to greet him cordially with all your soul and with all your mind. For this is what is both becoming in you, and agreeable to our clemency. In order that all occasion of excitement and sedition may be taken away from those who are maliciously disposed, we have by letter commanded the magistrates who are among you to subject to the vengeance of the law all whom they find to be factious. Wherefore taking into consideration both these things, our desire in accordance with the will of the Most High, and our regard for you and for concord among you, and the punishment that awaits the disorderly, observe such things as are proper and suitable to the order of our sacred religion, and receiving the fore-mentioned Bishop with all reverence and honour, take care to offer up with him your prayers to God, the Father of all, in behalf of yourselves, and for the well-being of your whole lives.

§. 56.

13. Having written these letters, he also commanded that the decrees, which he had formerly sent out against me in consequence of the calumnies of the Eusebians, should be abolished, and removed from out the Orders of the Duke and the Prefect of Egypt; and Eusebius the Decurion [Note 6] was sent to withdraw them from the Order-books. His letter on this occasion was as follows.

11. Victor, Constantius, Augustus, to Nestorius [Note 7]

(And in the same terms, to the Governors of Augustamnica, the Thebais, and Libya.)

Whatever Orders are found to have been passed heretofore, tending to the injury and dishonour of those who hold communion with the Bishop Athanasius, we wish them to be now erased. For we desire that whatever immunities his Clergy possessed before, they should again possess the same. And {85} we wish this our Order to be observed, that when the Bishop Athanasius is restored to his Church, those who hold communion with him may enjoy the immunities which they have always enjoyed, and which the rest of the Clergy enjoy; so that they may have the satisfaction of being on an equal footing with others.

§. 57.

15. Being thus set forward on my journey, as I passed through Syria, I met with the Bishops of Palestine, who when they had called a Council [Note 8] at Jerusalem, received me courteously, and themselves also sent me on my way in peace, and addressed the following letter to the Church and the Bishops.

16. The Holy Council, assembled at Jerusalem, to the brethren in ministry in Egypt and Libya, and to the Presbyters, Deacons, and People at Alexandria, dearly beloved brethren, and greatly longed for, sends health in the Lord.

We cannot give worthy thanks to the God of all, dearly beloved, for the wonderful things which He has done at all times, and especially at this time with respect to your Church, in restoring to you your pastor and lord [Note 9], and our fellow-minister Athanasius. For who ever hoped that his eyes would see what you are now actually enjoying? Of a truth, your prayers have been heard by the God of all, who cares for His Church, and has looked upon your tears and groans, and has therefore heard your petitions. For ye were as sheep scattered and fainting, not having a shepherd. Wherefore the true Shepherd, who careth for His own sheep, has visited you from heaven, and has restored to you him whom you desire. Behold, we also, being ready to do all things for the peace of the Church, and being prompted by the same affection as yourselves, have saluted him before you; and communicating with you through him, we send you these greetings, and our offering of thanksgiving, that you may know that you are united in one bond of love with him and with us. You are bound to pray also for the piety of our most religious Emperors, who, when they knew your earnest longings after him, and his innocency, determined to restore him to you with all honour. Wherefore receive him with uplifted hands, and take good heed that you offer up due thanksgivings on his behalf to God who has bestowed these blessings upon you; so that you may continually rejoice {86} with God and glorify our Lord, in Christ Jesus our Lord, through whom to the Father be glory for ever. Amen.

17. I have set down here the names of those who subscribed this letter, although I have mentioned them before [Note 10]. They are these; Maximus, Aetius, Arius, Theodorus [Note 11], Germanus, Silvanus, Paulus, Patricius, Elpidius, Germanus, Eusebius, Zenobius, Paulus, Macrinus [Note 12], Petrus, Claudius.

§. 58.

18. When Ursacius and Valens witnessed these proceedings, they forthwith condemned themselves for what they had done, and going up to Rome, confessed their crime, declared themselves penitent, and sought forgiveness [Note 13], addressing the following letters to Julius Bishop of ancient Rome, and to myself. Copies of them were sent to me from Paulinus, Bishop of Tibur [Note 14].

19. A Translation from the Latin of a Letter [Note 15] to Julius, concerning the recantation of Ursacius and Valens [Note Q]

Ursacius and Valens to the most blessed Lord [Note 16], Pope Julius.

Whereas it is well known that we have heretofore in letters laid many grievous charges against the Bishop Athanasius, and whereas, when we were corrected by the letters of your Goodness [Note 17], we were unable to render an account of our conduct, by reason of the circumstance which we notified unto you; we do now confess before your Goodness, and in the presence of all the Presbyters our brethren, that all the reports which have heretofore come to your hearing respecting the case of the aforesaid Athanasius, are falsehoods and fabrications, and are utterly inconsistent with his character. Wherefore we earnestly desire communion with the aforesaid Athanasius, especially since your Piety, with your characteristic generosity, has vouchsafed to pardon our {87} error. But we also declare, that if at any time the Eastern Bishops, or Athanasius himself, with an evil intent, should wish to bring us to judgment for this offence, we will not attend contrary to your judgment and desire. And as for the heretic Arius and his supporters, who say that once the Son was not, and that the Son is made of that which was not, and who deny that Christ is God [Note 18] and the Son of God before the worlds, we anathematize them both now and for evermore, as also we set forth in our former declaration at Milan [Note 19]. We have written this with our own hands, and we profess again, that we have renounced for ever, as we said before, the Arian heresy and its authors.

I Ursacius subscribed this my confession in person; and likewise I Valens.

20. Ursacius and Valens, Bishops, to their Lord [Note 20] and Brother, the Bishop Athanasius

Having an opportunity of sending by our brother and fellow Presbyter Musæus, who is coming to your Charity, we salute you affectionately, dearly beloved brother, through him, from Aquileia, and pray you, being as we trust in health, to read our letter. You will also give us confidence, if you will return to us an answer in writing. For know that we are at peace with you, and in communion with the Church, of which the salutation prefixed to this letter is a proof. May Divine Providence preserve you, my Lord [Note 21], our dearly beloved brother!

21. Such were their letters, and such the sentence and the judgment of the Bishops in my behalf. But in order to prove that they did not act thus to ingratiate themselves, or under compulsion [Note 22], in any quarter, I desire, with your permission, to recount the whole matter from the beginning, so that you may perceive that the Bishops wrote as they did with upright and just intentions, and that Ursacius and Valens, though they were slow to do so, at last confessed the truth.

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P. "They acquainted Julius the Bishop of Rome with their case and he, according to the prerogative ([pronomia]) of the Church in Rome, fortified them with letters in which he spoke his mind, and sent them back to the East, restoring each to his own place, and remarking on those who had violently deposed them. They then set out from Rome, and on the strength ([tharrhountei]) of the letters of Bishop Julius, take possession of their Churches." Socr. ii. 15. It must be observed, that in the foregoing sentence Socrates has spoken of "imperial Rome," Sozomen says, "Whereas the care of all ([kedemonias]) pertained to him on account of the dignity of his see, he restored each to his own Church, iii. 8. "I answer," says Barrow, "the Pope did not restore them judicially, but declaratively, that is, declaring his approbation of their right and innocence, did admit them to communion ... Besides, the Pope's proceeding was taxed, and protested against, as irregular; … and, lastly, the restitution of Athanasius and the other Bishops had no complete effect, till it was confirmed by the synod of Sardica, backed by the imperial authority." Suprem. p. 360. ed. 1836.
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Q. "I have always entertained some doubts," says Gibbon, "concerning the retractation of Ursacius and Valens. Their Epistles to Julius Bishop of Rome, and to Athanasius himself, are of so different a cast from each other, that they cannot both be genuine. The one speaks the language of criminals, who confess their guilt and infamy; the other of enemies, who solicit on equal terms an honourable reconciliation." ch. xxi. note 118. Surely this is just the difference of tone in which an apology is made to a superior, and to an equal ([adelphoi]). except by very generous, or by deeply repentant, persons. Athan.'s account of it, infr. p. 239, r. 2. is quite in accordance. It will be observed too that they appear to have made their peace with Rome with the view of being defended by the Pope against Athanasius.
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Margin Notes

1. Gothof. in Cod. Theod. viii. 5. p. 507.
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2. Athan. here omits a paragraph in his own praise. vid. Socr. ii. 23.
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3. p. 56, note S. p. 80, note P.
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4. [euchen].
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5. vid. Bingh. Antiqu. i. 5. §. 10.
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6. member of the Curia or Council.
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7. Prefect of Egypt, vid. p. 5, note D.
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8. Hist. Arian. 25.
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9. [kurion], infr. p. 86.
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10. p. 78.
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11. Theodosius, supr.
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12. not supr.
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13. vid. p. 15, note F.
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14. [Tiberon], Paul infr. p. 239. Paulinus, supr. p. 78?
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15. Hist Arian. 25. 26.
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16. [kurioi], infr. p. 87.
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17. [chrestoteti].
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18. not in Latin.
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19. A.D. 346, 7, or 8.
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20. [kurioi], vid. infr. p. 95.
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21. [kurie].
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22. p. 15, note F.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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