An Apology
of our
Holy Father Athanasius,
Archbishop of Alexandria,
against the Arians

[The following Apology, or Defence of his conduct, was written by S. Athanasius between A.D. 349-352, after his return from his second exile upon the Council of Sardica. It is scarcely more than a collection of exculpatory documents, which might serve as a record of his innocence. These documents extend from A.D. 300, to A.D. 350, of which those between 340 and 350, are placed first. "This Apology," says Montfaucon, "is the most authentic source of the history of the Church in the first half of the fourth century. Athanasius is far superior to any other historians of the period, both from his bearing for the most part a personal testimony to the facts he relates, and from his great accuracy and use of actual documents. On the other hand, Ruffinus, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, must not be used without extreme caution, unless they adduce documents, which is seldom the case." He proceeds to give instances; for this reason it will not be worth while in this work, nor was it in the foregoing, to compare Athanasius's statements with those of other historians, or to use the latter except in connecting the line of the narrative. The charges which he notices are as follow:—that he had been clandestinely consecrated; that he had imposed a duty on Egyptian linen; that he had assisted Philumenus with money, when in rebellion against the Emperor; that he had sanctioned the overthrow of a Communion Table and breaking of one of the Communion Vessels; that he had killed a Meletian Bishop named Arsenius; that he had been the cause of many executions or murders after his return from Gaul; that he had sold for his own benefit the corn bestowed by Constantine on the widows of the Church, and that he had stopped the supplies of corn intended for Constantinople.]



1. I supposed that, after so many proofs of my innocence had been given, my enemies would have shrunk from further {14} enquiry, and would now have condemned themselves for their false accusations of others. But as they are not yet abashed, though they have been so clearly convicted, but, as insensible to shame, persist in their slanderous reports against me, professing to think that the whole matter ought to be tried over again, (not that they may have judgment passed on them, for that they avoid, but in order to harass me, and to disturb the minds of the simple;) I therefore thought it necessary to make my defence unto you, that you may listen to their murmurings no longer, but may denounce their wickedness and base calumnies. And it is only to you, who are men of sincere minds, that I offer a defence; as for the contentious, I appeal confidently to the decisive proofs which I have against them. For my cause needs not a second judgment; which has already been given, and not once or twice only, but many times. First of all, it was tried in my own country in an assembly of nearly one hundred of its Bishops [Note A] a second time at Rome, when, in consequence of Letters from Eusebius, both they and we were summoned, and more than fifty Bishops met [Note B]; and a third time in the great Council assembled at Sardica [Note C] by order of the most religious Emperors Constantius and Constans, when my enemies were degraded as false accusers, and the sentence that was passed in my favour received the suffrages of more than three hundred Bishops, out of the provinces of Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis, Palestine, Arabia, Isauria, Cyprus, Pamphylia, Lycia, Galatia, Dacia, Mysia, Thrace, Dardania, Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly, Achaia, Crete, Dalmatia, Siscia, Pannonia, Noricum, Italy, Picenum, Tuscany, Campania, Calabria, Apulia, Bruttia, Sicily, the whole of Africa, Sardinia, Spain, Gaul, and Britain.

2. Added to these was the testimony [Note D] of Ursacius and Valens, who had formerly calumniated me, but afterwards changed their minds, and not only gave their assent to the sentence {15} that was passed in my favour, but also confessed that they themselves and the rest of my enemies were false accusers; for men who make such a change and such a recantation of course reflect upon the Eusebians, for with them they had contrived the plot against me. Now after a matter has been examined and decided on such clear evidence by so many eminent Bishops, every one will confess that further discussion is unnecessary; else, if an investigation be instituted at this time, it may be again discussed and again investigated, and there will be no end of this trifling.

. 2.

3. Now the decision of so many Bishops was sufficient to confound those who would still fain pretend some charge against me. But when my enemies also bear testimony in my favour and against themselves, declaring that the proceedings against me were a conspiracy, who is there that would not be ashamed to doubt any longer? The law requires that in the mouth of two or three witnesses judgments shall be settled, and we have here this great multitude of witnesses in my favour, with the addition of the proofs afforded by my enemies; so much so that those who still continue opposed to me no longer attach any importance to their own arbitrary [Note E] judgment, but now have recourse to violence, and in the place of fair reasoning seek to injure [Note F] those by whom they were exposed. For this is the chief cause of vexation to them, that the measures they carried on in secret, contrived by themselves in a corner, have been brought to light and disclosed by Valens and Ursacius; for they are well aware that their recantation not only clears those whom they have injured, but condemns them.

4. Indeed this led to their degradation in the Council of Sardica, as mentioned before; and with good reason; for, as the Pharisees of old, when they undertook the defence of Paul, gave clear judgment against the conspiracy which they and the Jews had formed against him; and as the blessed David was proved to be persecuted unjustly when the {16} persecutor confessed, I have sinned, my son David [1 Sam. xxvi. 21.]; so it was with these men; being overcome by the truth they became suppliants, and addressed a letter to that effect to Julius Bishop of Rome. They wrote also to me desiring to be on terms of peace with me, though they have spread such reports concerning me; and probably even now they are covered with shame, on seeing that those whom they sought to destroy by the grace of the Lord are still alive. Consistently also with this conduct they anathematized Arius and his heresy; for knowing that the Eusebians had conspired against me in behalf of their own misbelief, and of nothing else, as soon as they had determined to confess their calumnies against me, they immediately renounced also that antichristian heresy for the sake of which they had falsely asserted them.

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A. The Council of Sardica says eighty; which is a usual number in Egyptian Councils. (vid. Tillemont, vol. 8. p. 74.) There were about ninety Bishops in Egypt, the Thebais, and Libya. The present Council was held in 339, or 340. Its Synodal Epistle is contained below, . 3. and is particularly addressed to Pope Julius, . 20.
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B. This was held in 341. Julius's Letter is found below, . 21.
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C. In A.D. 347, though Marsi, contrary to other writers, maintains its date to be 344. vid. . 44. infr.
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D. vid. infr. . 58. This was A.D. 349.
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E. [hos ethelesan]. vid. infr. . 14.de Decr. . 3. de Syn. . 13. ad Ep. Ag . 5.
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F. This implies that Valens and Ursacius were subjected to some kind of persecution, which is natural. They relapsed in 351, when Constantius on the death of Constans came into possession of his brother's dominions; and professed to have been forced to their former recantation by the latter Emperor.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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