Section 6. The Death of Arius

{327} 189. CONSTANTINE, being gained over by the Arian party, called Arius to Constantinople, with the intention of obliging Alexander, the Bishop of that see, to restore him to the communion of the Church. The old man, who was at that time ninety-seven years of age, betook himself with his people to prayer and fasting. He shut himself up in the church, and continued in supplication for several days and nights. The coming Sunday was appointed for the reception of Arius, and on the preceding day Alexander was summoned before Constantine, and commanded to comply with his wish. On his refusal the Emperor grew angry, and Alexander withdrew in silence to urge the cause of Catholic truth with greater earnestness in a more suitable Presence. He fell on his face before the altar, and he conjured Christ, the Lord of all and King of kings, to deliver the Church from the danger and disgrace which threatened it. One of the persons attendant on him was Macarius, from whom St. Athanasius relates it. {328} Macarius followed his prayer as he spoke it, and it ran thus: "If Arius communicates tomorrow, then let Thy servant depart, and destroy not the righteous with the wicked. But if Thou sparest Thy Church, and I know Thou sparest it, have respect unto the words of the Eusebians, and give not Thine heritage unto ruin and reproach; and take Arius away, lest if he enter into the Church his heresy seem to enter with him, and henceforth religion be counted as irreligion." [Note 1] This prayer is said to have been offered about three p.m. on the Saturday; that same evening Arius was in the great square of Constantine when he was suddenly seized with indisposition. On retiring, he was overtaken by what is commonly considered to be the fate of Judas, as described in the Book of Acts. The building where this event took place became a record of it to future times, and, as Socrates tells us, "rendered the manner of his death ever memorable, all passers-by pointing the finger at it." [Note 2]

190. Now of this occurrence it is obvious to remark, first of all, that it is strictly of an historical character. It enters into the public transactions of the times, and is one of a chain of events which are linked together, and form a whole. It has a meaning, and gives a meaning to the course of action in which it is found. It is in no sense what Paley calls "naked history," and in this respect differs from certain other extraordinary {329} occurrences, such, for instance, as are recorded in the lives of the Monks; nay, from certain miracles of Scripture, such as St. Paul's preservation from the viper, of which nothing comes, and still more the resurrection wrought by Elisha's bones. "It has been said," says Paley, "that if the prodigies of the Jewish history had been found only in fragments of Manetho or Berosus, we should have paid no regard to them; and I am willing to admit this. If we knew nothing of the facts but from the fragment; if we possessed no proof that these accounts have been credited and acted upon from times, probably, as ancient as the accounts themselves; if we had no visible effects connected with the history, no subsequent or collateral testimony to confirm it; under these circumstances I think that it would be undeserving of credit." He goes on to say that this is not the case as regards the introduction of Christianity; nor, as we may add, as regards the history of Arius.

191. Again, it must be observed that this is more strictly a miracle of the Church than many which occur within her pale and among her members; that is, it is done by the Church as the Church. Though it bears a tentative character, it is the result of a solemn intercession, a solemn anathema, of the Church. Miracles happened in the kingdom of Israel where there was no Church; but here is a contest between an Emperor and a heresy on the one side, {330} and the Church on the other; the Church speaks through her constituted authorities, and the judgment which is inflicted on her enemy is an attestation to her divinity.

192. Further, it was done in the presence of hostile power, which was awed by it, and altered its line of action in consequence. Paley observes, when arguing for the miracles of the Gospel, "We lay out of the case those which come merely in affirmance of opinions already formed. It has long been observed that Popish miracles happen in Popish countries, that they make no converts. In the moral as in the natural world, it is change which requires a cause. Men are easily fortified in their old opinions, driven from them with great difficulty." [Note 3] Now the event in question was a Catholic miracle in an Arian city, before an Arian court, amid a prevalent Arianism extending itself all through the East.

193. "But after all, was it a miracle? for if not, we are labouring at a proof of which nothing comes." The more immediate answer to this question has already been suggested several times. When a Bishop with his flock prays night and day against a heretic, and at length begs of God to take him away, and when he is suddenly taken away almost at the moment of his triumph, and that by a death awfully significant, from its likeness to one recorded in Scripture, {331} is it not trifling to ask whether such an occurrence comes up to the definition of a miracle? The question is not whether it is formally a miracle, but whether it is an event, the like of which persons who deny that miracles continue will consent that the Church should be considered still able to perform. If they are willing to allow to the Church such extraordinary protection, it is for them to draw the line, to the satisfaction of people in general, between these and strictly miraculous events; if, on the other hand, they deny their occurrence in the times of the Church, then there is sufficient reason for our appealing here to the history of Arius in proof of the affirmative. This is what suggests itself at first sight; however, that it was really miraculous, Gibbon surely is a sufficient voucher. "Those," he says, "who press the literal narrative of the death of Arius, must make their option between poison and miracle." Now, considering that this awful occurrence took place in an Arian city and court, and in the face of powerful and quick-sighted adversaries, who had every means and every interest to detect an act of such dreadful wickedness as Gibbon insinuates, surely, putting aside all higher considerations, there are insuperable difficulties in the theory of poison; while those who do not deny the moral governance of God, and the heretical and ungodly character of Arianism, will have no difficulty in referring the catastrophe to miracle. {332}

194. One other question may be asked, though it is of a doctrinal nature, and therefore hardly needs to be considered here; whether so solemn a denunciation as that adopted by Alexander, and so positive a reference of the event which followed to that denunciation as a cause, are not modes of acting and judging uncongenial to the Christian religion. One passage there certainly is in the New Testament which at first sight seems in opposition to it. When James and John wished to be allowed to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans, as Elijah had done upon Ahaziah's messengers, Christ answered, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of: for the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." However, it is obvious to reply, first, that Elijah, in the passage in question, called down a miraculous punishment on the soldiers of Ahaziah mainly in his own defence; and it is observable that the Apostles asked leave to do the same, when the Samaritans had refused to receive their Lord and them; whereas the great rule of the Gospel is to "avenge not ourselves, but rather give place unto wrath," as our Lord exemplified when "they went to another village." But whether there be any force in this distinction or not, certain it is that in the Acts, in which we surely have the principles of the Gospel drawn out into action, two precedents occur in justification of the conduct of St. Alexander, one given us by St. Peter {333} and the other by St. Paul. St. Peter's denunciation of Ananias and Sapphira was followed by their instantaneous deaths; St. Paul's denunciation of Elymas, by his immediate blindness. These instances, moreover, suggest that our Lord's earthly ministry might probably be conducted on different laws from those which belonged to His risen power, when the Spirit had descended, and light was spread abroad; according to the text in which blasphemy against the Son of man and blasphemy against the Spirit are contrasted. Hence St. Paul calls Elymas, who was "seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith," an "enemy of all righteousness," and a "perverter of the right ways of the Lord;" and St. Peter still more expressly accuses Ananias and his wife of "lying against the Holy Ghost," and "tempting the Spirit of the Lord." It is obvious also to refer to St. Paul's imprecation on Alexander the copper-smith, that the Lord would reward him according to his works. Here St. Paul, who had the gift of inspiration, speaks of Alexander personally; but the Bishops of the Church did not venture so much as this; they did but contemplate her enemies in their opposition, as heretics or rebels, and dealt with them accordingly, without any direct reference to their real and absolute state in the sight of God.

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Notes

1. De Mort. Ar.
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2. Hist. i. 38.
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3. Evidences, Part ii. Ch. i.
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