{210}

VI.
An Epistle
of our
Holy Father Athanasius,
Archbishop of Alexandria,
to his brother Serapion,
concerning the death of Arius

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[S. Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, was a friend of St. Anthony’s; to him the Saint on his death, which took place shortly before the following Letter from Athanasius, left one of his sheepskins, leaving the other to S. Athanasius himself. His fellowship with Athanasius in persecution, has gained him the title of Confessor, and his accomplishments and talents that of Scholasticus. Jerom. de Vir. Illustr. 99. At his suggestion Athanasius about the same date wrote his work upon the divinity of the Holy Spirit, addressing it to him. He seems also to have booms a correspondent of Apollinaris. His name is found in the Roman Martyrology under March 21. It appears from the commencement of the following Letter, written A.D. 358-360, that Serapion had asked Athanasius, first for a history of his times, next for a refutation of Arianism, and thirdly for an account of the death of Arius. The death of Arius is the subject of this Letter itself; for the history of his times he refers him to his history of Arianism addressed to the Monks, which he sent him at the same time; and the refutation of Arianism, which was also addressed to the Monks, has sometimes been supposed to be the four celebrated Orations which are his principle dogmatic work. Though in strict order of time the Epistles both to Serapion and to the Monks are later than the history, and the latter Epistle, as containing scarcely an allusion to the History, might easily be detached from it, yet it seems best in a matter of this kind to follow the arrangement adopted in the Benedictine Edition.]

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1. Athanasius to Serapion a brother and fellow-minister sends health in the Lord.

. 1.

1. I HAVE read the letters of your Piety, in which you have requested roe to make known to you the events of my {211} times relating to myself, and to give an account of that most impious heresy of the Arians, in consequence of which I have endured these sufferings, and also of the manner of the death of Arius. With two out of your three demands I have readily undertaken to comply, and have sent to your Godliness the letter which I wrote to the Monks; from which you will be able to learn my own history as well as that of the heresy. But with respect to the other matter, I mean the Death, I debated with myself for a long time, fearing lest any one should suppose that I was exulting in the death of that man. But yet, since a disputation which has taken place amongst you concerning the heresy, has issued in this question, whether Arius died in communion with the Church; I therefore was necessarily desirous of giving an account of his death, as thinking that the question would thus be set at rest, considering also that by making this known I should at the same time silence those who are fond of contention. For I conceive that when the wonderful [Note 1] circumstances connected with his death become known, even those who before questioned it will no longer venture to doubt that the Arian heresy is hateful in the sight of God [Note 2].

. 2.

2. I was not at Constantinople when he died, but Macarius the Presbyter was, and I heard the account of it from him. Arius had been summoned by the Emperor Constantine, through the interest of the Eusebians; and when he entered the presence the Emperor enquired of him, whether he held the Faith of the Catholic Church? And he declared upon oath that he held the right [Note 3] Faith, and gave in an account of his Faith in writing, suppressing the points for which he had been cast out of the Church by the Bishop Alexander, and speciously [Note 4] alleging expressions out of the Scriptures. When therefore he swore that he did not profess the opinions for which Alexander had excommunicated him, the Emperor dismissed him, saying, “If thy Faith be right, thou hast done well to swear; but if thy Faith be impious, and thou hast sworn, God judge thee according to thy oath.” When he thus came forth from the presence of the Emperor, the Eusebians with their accustomed violence desired to bring him into the Church [Note 5]. But Alexander the Bishop of Constantinople {212} of blessed memory [Note 6] resisted them, saying that the inventor of the heresy ought not to be admitted to communion; whereupon the Eusebians threatened, declaring, “As we have caused him to be summoned [Note 7] by the Emperor, in opposition to your wishes, so tomorrow, though it be contrary to your desire, Arius shall have communion with us in this Church.” It was the Sabbath when they said this.

. 3.

3. When the Bishop Alexander heard this, he was greatly distressed, and entering into the Church, he stretched forth his hands unto God, and bewailed himself; and casting himself upon his face in the Chancel [Note 8], he prayed, lying upon the pavement. Macarius also was present, and prayed with him, and heard his words. And he besought these two things, saying, “If Arius is brought to communion tomorrow, let me Thy servant depart, and destroy not the pious with the impious; but if Thou wilt spare Thy Church, (and I know that Thou wilt spare,) look upon the words of the Eusebians, and give not Thine inheritance to destruction and reproach, and take off Arius [Note 9], lest if he enter into the Church, the heresy also may seem to enter with him, and henceforward impiety [Note 10] be accounted for piety.” When the Bishop had thus prayed, he retired in great anxiety; and a wonderful and extraordinary circumstance took place. While the Eusebians threatened, the Bishop prayed; but Arius, who had great confidence in the Eusebians, and talked very wildly, urged by the necessities of nature withdrew [Note 11], and suddenly, in the language of Scripture, falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst [Acts i. 18.], and immediately expired as he lay, and was deprived both of communion and of his life together.

. 4.

4. Such was the end of Arius and the Eusebians, overwhelmed with shame, buried [Note 12] their accomplice, while the blessed Alexander, amidst the rejoicings of the Church, celebrated the Communion with piety and orthodoxy, praying with all the brethren, and greatly glorifying God, not as exulting in his death, (God forbid!) for it is appointed unto all men once to die, but because this thing had been shewn forth in a manner surpassing the expectations of all men. For the Lord Himself judging between the threats of the Eusebians and the prayer of Alexander, condemned {213} the Arian heresy, shewing it to be unworthy of communion with the Church, and making manifest to all, that although it receive the support of the Emperor and of all mankind, yet it has been condemned by the Church herself.

5. Thus this antichristian workshop [Note 13] of the Arian fanatics has been shewn to be unpleasing to God and impious; and many of those who before were deceived by it have changed their opinions. For none other than the Lord Himself who was blasphemed by them has condemned the heresy which rose up against Him, and has again shewn, that howsoever the Emperor Constantius may now use violence to the Bishops in behalf of it, yet it is excluded from the communion of the Church, and alien from the kingdom of heaven [Note 14]. Wherefore also let the question which has arisen among you be henceforth set at rest; (for this is the agreement that was made among you,) and let no one join himself to the heresy, but let even those who have been deceived repent. For who shall receive a heresy which the Lord has condemned? And will not he who takes up the support of that which He has made excommunicate, be guilty of great impiety, and manifestly an enemy of Christ?

. 5.

6. Now this is sufficient to confound the contentious; read it therefore to those who before raised this question, as well as what I have briefly [Note 15] addressed to the Monks against the heresy, in order that they may be led thereby more strongly to condemn the impiety and wickedness of the Arian fanatics. Do not however consent to give a copy of these letters to any one, neither transcribe them for yourself, (I have signified the same to the Monks also [Note 16];) but as a sincere friend, if any thing is wanting in what I have written, add it, and immediately send them back to me. For you will be able to learn from the letter which I have written to the Brethren, what pains it has cost me to write it [Note 17], and also to perceive that it is not safe for the writings of an individual [Note 18] to be published, (especially if they relate to the highest and chief [Note 19] doctrines,) for this reason;—lest what is imperfectly expressed through infirmity or the obscurity of language, do hurt to the reader. For the majority of men do not consider the faith or the aim of the writer [Note 20], but either through envy or a spirit of contention, receive what is {214} written as themselves choose, according to an opinion which they have previously formed, and misinterpret it to suit their pleasure. But the Lord grant that the Truth and a sound [Note 21] faith in our Lord Jesus Christ may prevail among all, and especially among those to whom you read this. Amen.

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Margin Notes

1. [thaumatos]. vid. p. 217, r. 5.
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2. [theostuges], p. 217, r. 6.
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3. [orthos].
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4. [hypokrinomenos].
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5. p. 147, 8.
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6. p. 162, r. 3.
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7. [klethenai], vid. p. 49, r. 4. p. 70, r. 1.
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8. [heirateioi], p. 20.
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9. [aron areion].
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10. p. 29, r. 1.
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11. [eis thakas].
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12. vid. Acts v. 6. 10.
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13. [ergasterion].
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14. [allotria ton ouranon].
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15. p. 216, r. 2.
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16. p. 217, r. 7.
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17. p. 215, r. 2.
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18. [idiotou], p. 218, r. 1.
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19. [koruphaiotaton].
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20. p. 130, r. 2. p. 134, r. 4.
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21. [hygiainousan], vid. Alex. Ep. Encycl. . 5 fin.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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