Epistle
of
S. Athanasius,
Archbishop of Alexandria,
in Defence of the Nicene Definition.

Chapter 1. Introduction

The complaint of the Arians against the Nicene Council; their fickleness;
they are like Jews; their employment of force instead of reason.

. 1.

{1} 1. THOU hast done well, in signifying to me the discussion thou hast had with the advocates of Arianism, among whom were certain of the friends of Eusebius, as well as very many of the brethren who hold the doctrine of the Church. I hailed thy vigilance for the love of Christ, which excellently exposed the irreligion [Note A] of their heresy; while I marvelled at the effrontery which led the Arians, after all the past detection of unsoundness and futility in their arguments, nay, after the general conviction of their extreme perverseness, still to complain like the Jews, "Why did the Fathers at Nica use terms not in Scripture [Note B], 'Of the substance' and {2} 'One in substance?'" [Note 1] Thou then, as a man of learning, in spite of their subterfuges, didst convict them of talking to no purpose; and they in devising them were but acting suitably to their own evil disposition. For they are as variable and fickle in their sentiments, as chameleons in their colours [Note C]; and when exposed they look confused; and when questioned they hesitate, and then they lose shame, and betake themselves to evasions. And then, when detected in these, they do not rest till they invent fresh matters which are not, and, according to the Scripture, imagine a vain thing [Ps. ii. 1.]; all that they may be constant to their irreligion.

2. Now such endeavours [Note D] are nothing else than an obvious token of their defect of reason [Note E], and a copying, as I have said, of Jewish malignity. For the Jews too, when convicted by the Truth, and unable to confront it, used evasions, such as What sign doest Thou, that we may see and believe Thee? What dost Thou work? [John vi. 30.] though so many signs were given, that they said themselves, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles? [John xi. 47.] In truth, dead men were raised, lame walked, blind saw afresh, lepers were cleansed, and the water became wine, and five loaves satisfied five thousand, and all wondered and worshipped the Lord, confessing that in Him were fulfilled the prophecies, and that He was God the Son of God; all but the Pharisees, who, though the signs shone brighter than the sun, yet complained still, as ignorant men, Why dost Thou, being a man, make Thyself God? [John x. 33.] Insensate, and verily blind in understanding! they ought contrariwise to have said, "Why hast Thou, being God, become man?" for His works proved Him God, that they might both worship the {3} goodness of the Father, and admire the Son's economy for our sakes. However, this they did not say; no, nor liked to witness what He was doing; or they witnessed indeed, for this they could not help, but they changed their ground of complaint again, "Why healest Thou the paralytic, why makest Thou the born-blind to see, on the sabbath day?" But this too was an excuse, and mere murmuring; for on other days as well did the Lord heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease [Mat. iv. 23.], but they complained still according to their wont, and by calling Him Beelzebub, preferred the suspicion of Atheism [Note F], to a recantation of their own wickedness. And though in such sundry times and diverse manners the Saviour shewed His Godhead and preached the {4} Father to all men, nevertheless, as kicking against the pricks, they contradicted in the language of folly, and this they did, according to the divine proverb, that by finding occasions, they might separate themselves from the truth [Note G].

. 2.

3. As then the Jews of that day, for acting thus wickedly and denying the Lord, were with justice deprived of their laws and of the promise made to their fathers, so the Arians, Judaizing now, are, in my judgment, in circumstances like those of Caiaphas and the contemporary Pharisees. For, perceiving that their heresy is utterly unreasonable, they invent excuses, "Why was this defined, and not that?" Yet wonder not if now they practise thus; for in no long time they will turn to outrage, and next will threaten the band and the captain [Note H]. Forsooth in these their heterodoxy has such consistence as we see; for denying the Word of God, reason have they none at all, as is equitable. Aware then of this, I would have made no reply to their interrogations; but, since thy friendliness [Note I] has asked to know the transactions of the Council, I have without any delay related at once what then took place, shewing in few words, how destitute Arianism is of a religious spirit, and how its very business is to frame evasions. {5}

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Chapter 2. Conduct of the Arians towards the Nicene Council

Ignorant as well as irreligious to attempt to reverse an Ecumenical Council;
proceedings at Nica; Eusebians then signed what they now complain of;
on the unanimity of true teachers and the process of tradition; changes
of the Arians.

1. AND do thou, beloved, consider whether it be not so. If, the devil having sowed their hearts with this perverseness [Note K], they feel confidence in their bad inventions, let them defend themselves against the proofs of heresy which have been advanced, and then will be the time to find fault, if they can, with the definition framed against them [Note L]. For no one, on being convicted of murder or adultery, is at liberty after the trial to arraign the sentence of the judge, why he spoke in this way and not in that [Note M]. For this does not exculpate the convict, but rather increases the crime on the score of petulance and audacity. In like manner, let these either prove that their sentiments are religious, (for they were then accused and convicted, and their complaints are since, and {6} it is just that those who are under a charge should confine themselves to their own defence,) or if they have an unclean conscience, and are aware of their own irreligion, let them not complain of what they do not understand, or they will bring on them a double imputation, of irreligion and of ignorance. Rather let them investigate the matter in a docile spirit, and learning what hitherto they have not known, cleanse their irreligious ears with the spring of truth and the doctrines of religion [Note 2].

. 3.

2. Now it happened to the Eusebians in the Nicene Council as follows:—while they stood out in their irreligion, and attempted their fight against God [Note N], the terms they used were replete with irreligion; but the assembled Bishops who were more than three hundred, mildly and charitably required of them to explain and defend themselves on religious grounds. Scarcely, however, did they begin to speak, when they were convicted [Note O], and one differed from another; then perceiving the straits in which their heresy lay, they remained dumb, and by their silence confessed the disgrace which came upon their heterodoxy. On this the Bishops, having negatived the terms they had invented, published against them the sound and ecclesiastical faith; and, whereas all subscribed it, the Eusebians subscribed it also in those very words, of which they are now complaining, I mean, "of the substance" and "one in substance," and that "the Son of God is neither creature or work, nor in the number of things generated [Note 3], but that the Word is an offspring from the substance of the Father." And, what is strange indeed, Eusebius of Csarea in Palestine, who had denied the day before [Note 4], but afterwards subscribed, sent to his Church a letter, saying that this was the Church's faith, and the tradition of the Fathers; and made a public profession that they were before in error, and were rashly contending against the truth. For though he was ashamed at that time to {7} adopt these phrases, and excused himself to the Church in his own way, yet he certainly means to imply all this in his Epistle, by his not denying the "one in substance," and "of the substance." And in this way he got into a difficulty; for while he was excusing himself, he went on to attack the Arians, as stating that "the Son was not before His generation," and thereby hinting at a denial of His existence before His birth in the flesh. And this Acacius is aware of also, though he too through fear may pretend otherwise because of the times and deny the fact. Accordingly I have subjoined at the end of these remarks the letter of Eusebius, that thou mayest know from it the inconsiderateness towards their own doctors, shewn by Christ's enemies, and singularly by Acacius himself [Note P].

. 4.

3. Are they not then committing a crime, in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council? are they not in transgression, when they dare to confront that good definition against Arianism, acknowledged, as it is, by those who had in the first instance taught them irreligion? And supposing, even after subscription, the Eusebians did change again, and return like dogs to their own vomit of irreligion, do not the present gainsayers deserve still greater detestation, because they thus sacrifice [Note 5] their souls' liberty to others; and are willing to take these persons, as masters of their heresy, who are, as James has said [Note 6], double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming? But this, as the Shepherd has said, is "the child of the devil," [Note Q] and {8} the note of dealers rather than of doctors. For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character, are not to be called true doctors but evil. Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarrelling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of the truth agree together, not differ. For though they lived in different times, yet they one and all tend the same way, being prophets of the one God, and preaching the same Word harmoniously [Note R].

. 5.

4. And thus what Moses taught, that Abraham observed; and what Abraham observed, that Noe and Enoch acknowledged, discriminating pure for impure, and becoming acceptable to God. For Abel too in this way witnessed, having knowledge in the truths which he had learned from Adam, who himself had learned from that Lord, who said, when He came at the end of the ages for the abolishment of sin, "I give no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye have heard from the beginning." [Note 7] Wherefore also the blessed Apostle Paul, who had learned it from Him, when describing ecclesiastical functions, forbade that deacons, not to say bishops, should be double-tongued [1 Tim. iii. 8.]; and in his rebuke of the Galatians, he made a broad declaration, If any one preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema, as I have said, so say I again. If even an Angel from heaven should preach unto you any other Gospel than that ye have received, let him be anathema [Gal. i. 9, 8.]. Since then the Apostle thus speaks, let these men either anathematize the party of Eusebius, at least as changing round and professing what is contrary to their subscriptions; or, if they acknowledge that their subscriptions were good, let them not utter complaints against so great a Council. But if they do neither the one nor the other, they are themselves too plainly at the sport of every wind and surge, and are influenced by opinions, not their own, but {9} of others, and being such, are as little worthy of deference now as before, in what they allege. Rather let them cease to carp at what they understand not; lest so it be that not knowing to discriminate, they at hazard call evil good and good evil, and think that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Doubtless, they desire that doctrines which have been judged wrong and have been reprobated should gain the ascendancy, and they make violent efforts to prejudice what was rightly defined. Nor is there reason on our part for any further explanation, or answer to their excuses, or for further resistance on theirs, but for an acquiescence in what the leaders of their heresy subscribed; for though the subsequent change of those Eusebians was suspicious and immoral, their subscription, when they had the opportunity of at least some little defence of themselves, is a certain proof of the irreligion of their doctrine. For they did not subscribe without thereby condemning the heresy, nor did they condemn it, without being encompassed with difficulty and shame; so that to change back again is a proof of their contentious zeal for irreligion. There is reason then, as I have said, that the present men should keep quiet; but since from an extraordinary want of modesty, they hope perhaps to be able to advocate this diabolical [Note S] irreligion better than the others, therefore, though in my former letter written to thee, I have already argued at length against them, notwithstanding, come let us now also examine them, in each of their separate statements, as their predecessors; for now not less than then their heresy shall be shewn to have no soundness in it, but to be from evil spirits.

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Footnotes

A. [eusebeia, asebeia], &c. here translated "religion, irreligion, religious, &c. &c." are technical words throughout, being taken from St. Paul's text, "Great is the mystery of godliness," [eusebeias], i.e. orthodoxy. Such too seems to be the meaning of "godly admonitions," and "godly judgments," and "this godly and well-learned man," in our Ordination Services. The Latin translation is "pius," "pietas." It might be in some respects suitably rendered by "devout" and its derivatives. On its familiar use in the controversy depends the blasphemous jest of Eudoxius, Arian Bishop of Constantinople, which was received with loud laughter in the Cathedral, and remained in esteem down to Socrates's day, "The Father is [asebes], as being without devotion, the Son is [eusebes] devout, as paying devotion to the Father." Socr. Hist. ii. 43. Hence Arius ends his Letter to Eusebius with [alethos eusebie]. Theod. Hist. i. 4.
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B. It appears that the Arians did not venture to speak disrespectfully of the definition of the Council till the date (A.D. 350.) of this work; when Acacius headed them. Yet the plea here used, the unscriptural character of its symbol, had been suggested to Constantius on his accession, A.D. 337, by the Arian priest, the favourite of Constantia, to whom Constantine had entrusted his will, Theod. Hist. ii. 3; and Eusebius of Csarea glances at it, at the time of the Council, in the letter to his Church, which is subjoined to this Treatise.
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C. Alexander also calls them chameleons, Socr. i. 6. p. 12. Athanasius so calls the Meletians, Hist. Arian. . 79. Cyril compares them to "the leopard which cannot change his spots." Dial. ii. init. t. v. i. Aub., Naz. Or. 28. 2. On the fickleness of the Arians, vid. infra, . 4. &c. Orat. ii. 40. He says, ad Ep. g. 6. that they considered Creeds as yearly covenants; and de Synod. . 3. 4. as State Edicts. vid. also . 14. and passim. "What wonder that they fight against their fathers, when they fight against themselves?" . 37. [infra p. 135.]
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D. [epicheirema]. and so Orat. i. . 44. init. but infra, . 25. [epicheiremata] means more definitely reasonings or argumentations.
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E. [alogias]; an allusion, frequent in Athanasius, to the judicial consequence of their denying the Word of God. Thus, just below, n. 3. "Denying the "Word" or Reason "of God, reason have they none." Also Orat. i. . 35. fin. . 40. init. . 62. Orat. ii. . 7. init. Hence he so often calls the Arians "mad" and "deranged;" e. g. "not aware how mad their reason is." Orat. i. . 37.
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F. or ungodliness, [atheotetos]. Thus Aetius was called [ho atheos], the ungodly. de Synod. . 6; and Arius complains that Alexander had expelled him and his from Alexandria, [hos anthropous atheous]. Theodor. Hist. i. 4. "Atheism" and "Atheist" imply intention, system, and profession, and are so far too strong a rendering of the Greek. Since Christ was God, to deny Him was to deny God. The force of the term, however, seems to be, that, whereas the Son had revealed the "unknown God," and destroyed the reign of idols, the denial of the Son was bringing back idolatry and its attendant spiritual ignorance. Thus in the Orat. contr. Gent. . 29. fin. written before the Arian controversy, he speaks of "the Greek idolatry as full of all Atheism" or ungodliness, and contrasts with it the knowledge of "the Guide and Framer of the Universe, the Father's Word," "that through Him we may discern His Father, and the Greeks may know how far they have separated themselves from the truth." And Orat. ii. 43. [infra p. 340] he classes Arians with the Greeks, who "though they have the name of God in their mouths, incur the charge of Atheism, because they know not the real and true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (vid. also Basil in Eunom. ii. 22.) Shortly afterwards he gives a further reason for the title, observing that Arianism was worse than previous heresies, such as Manicheism, inasmuch as the latter denied the Incarnation, but it tore from God's substance His connatural Word, and, as far as its words went, infringed upon the perfections and being of the First Cause. And so ad Ep. g. . 17. fin. he says, that it alone, beyond other heresies, "has been bold against the Godhead Itself in a mad way, ([manikoteron], vid. foregoing note,) denying that there is a Word, and that the Father was always Father." [Hist. tracts p. 146 O.T.] Elsewhere, he speaks more generally, as if Arianism introduced "an Atheism or rather Judaism against the Scriptures, being next door to Heathenism, so that its disciple cannot be even named Christian; for all such tenets are contrary to the Scriptures;" and he makes this the reason why the Nicene Fathers stopped their ears and condemned it. ad Ep. g. . 13. For the same reason he calls the heathen [atheoi], atheistical or ungodly, "who are arraigned of irreligion by Divine Scripture." Orat. contr. Gent. . 14. vid. [eidolon atheoteta]. . 46. init. Moreover, he calls the Arian persecution worse than the pagan cruelties, and therefore "a Babylonian Atheism," Ep. Encycl. . 5. [Hist. tracts p. 9 O.T.] as not allowing the Catholics the use of prayer and baptism, with a reference to Dan. vi. 11, &c. Thus too he calls Constantius atheist, for his treatment of Hosius; [oute ton theon phobetheis ho atheos]. Hist. Arian. 45. [Hist. tracts p. 260 O.T.] Another reason for the title seems to have lain in the idolatrous character of Arian worship on its own shewing, viz. as worshipping One whom they yet maintained to be a creature.
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G. A reference to Prov. 18, 1. which runs in the Septuagint, "a man seeketh occasions, when desirous of separating himself from friends."
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H. Apparently an allusion to the text in the margin [John 18, 12]. Elsewhere, he speaks of "the chief captain" and "the governor," with an allusion to Acts xxiii. 22-24. &c. &c. Hist. Arian. . 66. fin. [Hist. tracts. P. 278 O.T.] vid. also . 2. Speaking of the Council of Tyre, A.D. 335. he asks, Apol. contr. Arian. . 8. [Ib. p. 25] "How venture they to call that a Council in which a Count presided, and an executioner was present, and a registrar [or jailer] introduced us instead of the deacons of the Church?" vid. also . 10. and 45. Orat. ii. . 43. Ep. Encycl. . 5. Against the use of violence in religion, vid. Hist. Arian. . 33. 67. (Hil. ad Const. i. 2.) On the other hand, he observes, that at Nica, "it was not necessity which drove the judges to" their decision, "but all vindicated the Truth from deliberate purpose." ad Ep. g. 13.
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I. [diathesis]. vid. also Hist. Arian. . 45. Orat. ii. . 4. where Parker maintains without reason that it should be translated, "external condition." vid. also Theod. Hist. i. 4. init.
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K. [epispeirantos tou diabolou], the allusion is to Matt. xiii. 25, and is very frequent in Athan. chiefly with a reference to Arianism. He draws it out at length, Orat. ii. . 34. Elsewhere, he uses the image for the evil influences introduced into the soul upon Adam's fall, contr. Apoll. i. . 15. as does S. Irenus, Hr. iv. 40. n. 3. [p. 470 O.T.], using it of such as lead to backsliding in Christians, ibid. v. 10, n. 1. Gregory Nyssen, of the natural passions and of false reason misleading them, de An. et Resurr. p. 640. vid. also Leon. Ep. 156. c. 2.
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L. The Council did two things, anathematize the Arian positions, (at the end of the Creed,) and establish the true doctrine by the insertion of the phrases, "of the substance" and "one in substance." Athan. says that the Arians must not criticise the latter before they had cleared themselves of the former. Thus he says presently, that they were at once irreligious in their faith and ignorant in their criticism; and speaks of the Council negativing their formul, and substituting those which were "sound and ecclesiastical." vid. also n. 4.
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M. And so St. Leo passim concerning the Council of Chalcedon, "Concord will be easily established, if the hearts of all concur in that faith which &c. no discussion being allowed whatever concerning any retractation," Ep. 94. He calls such an act a "magnum sacrilegium," Ep. 157. c. 3. "To be seeking for what has been disclosed, to retract what has been perfected, to tear up what has been laid down (definita), what is this but to be unthankful for what we gained?" Ep. 162. vid. the whole of it. He says that the attempt is "no mark of a peace-maker but a rebel." Ep. 164. c. 1. fin. vid. also Epp. 145, and 156, where he says, none can assail what is once determined, but "aut antichristus aut diabolus." c. 2.
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N. [theomachein, theomachoi]. vid. Acts v. 39. xxiii. 9. are of very frequent use in Athan. as is [christomachoi], in speaking of the Arians, vid. infra passim. also [antimachomenoi toi soteri] Ep. Encycl. . 5. [Hist. tracts p. 8 O.T.] And in the beginning of the controversy, Alexander ap. Socr. i. 6. p. 10. b. c. p. 12. p. 13. Theod. Hist. i. 3. p. 729. And so [theomachos glossa]. Basil. contr. Eunom. ii. 27. fin. [christomachon]. Ep. 236. init. vid. also Cyril. (Thesaurus p. 19. e. p. 24. e.) [theomachoi] is used of other heretics, e.g. the Manichees, by Greg. Naz. Orat. 45. . 8.
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O. i.e. "convicted themselves," infr. . 18. init. [heauton aei kategoroi], ad Ep. g. . 6. i.e. by their variations, vid. Tit. iii. 11. [autokatakritos].
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P. The party he is writing against is the Acacian, of whom he does not seem to have had much distinct knowledge. He contrasts them again and again in the passages which follow with the Eusebians of the Nicene Council, and says that he is sure that the ground they take when examined will be found substantially the same as the Eusebian. vid. . 6. init. et alib. . 7. init. . 9. cir. fin. . 10. cir. fin. . 13. init. [tote kai nun]. . 18. circ. fin. . 28. fin. Acacius was a pupil of Eusebius's, whom he succeeded in the see of Csarea. He attempted to defend Arianism neither under the cloak of Semiarianism, nor with the bold logic of the Anomœans, but by a pretended adherence to Scripture. His formula was the [homoion] (like), as the Semiarian was the [homoiousion], (like in substance), and the Anomœan, as the word signifies, the [anomoion], or unlike.
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Q. Hermas, Pastor. ii. 9. who is speaking immediately, as St. James, of wavering in prayer.
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R. Thus S. Basil says the same of the Grecian Sects, "We have not the task of refuting their tenets, for they suffice for the overthrow of each other." Hexaem. i. 2. vid. also Theod. Grc. Affect. i. p. 707. &c. August. Civ. Dei, xviii. 41. and Vincentius's celebrated Commonitorium passim.
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S. This is Athan.'s deliberate judgment. vid. de Sent. Dion. fin. where he says, "Who then will continue to call these men Christians, whose leader is the devil, and not rather diabolical?" and he adds, "not only Christ's foes, [christomachoi], but diabolical also." In . 24. he speaks of Arius's "hatred of the truth." Again, "though the diabolical men rave." Orat. iii. . 8. [infra p. 410] "friends of the devil, and his spirits." Ad Ep. g. 5. Another reason of his so accounting them, was their atrocious cruelty towards Catholics; this leads him elsewhere to break out. "O new heresy, that has put on the whole devil in irreligious doctrine and conduct!" Hist. Arian. . 66. [Hist. tracts p. 277 O.T.] also Alexander, "diabolical," ap. Theod. Hist. i. 3. p. 731. "satanical," ibid. p. 741. vid. also Socr. i. 9. p. 30. fin. Hilar. contr. Const. 17.
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Margin Notes

1. [homoousion]
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2. vid. Orat. iii. . 28. Socr. p. 11. c.
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3. [geneton].
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4. [pro mias].
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5. [propinontes] vid. de Syn. . 14.
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6. James i. 8.
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7. vid. 1 John ii. 7.
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