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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

A COUNCIL was convened in Sicily; and, after the same doctrines had been confirmed as those set forth in the confession of the deputies, the assembly was dissolved. At the same time, a council was held at Tyane; and Eusebius bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, Athanasius bishop of Ancyra, Pelagius bishop of Laodicea, Zeno bishop of Tyre, Paul bishop of Emesa, Otreius bishop of Melitine, and Gregory bishop of Nazianzen, were present, with many other prelates who, during the reign of Jovian, had assembled at Antioch, and determined to maintain the doctrine of the Son being con-substantial with the Father. The letter of Liberius and that addressed to the Western bishops were read at this council. These letters afforded high satisfaction to the members of the council; and they wrote to all the churches, desiring them to peruse the decrees of the Western bishops and the documents written by Liberius and the bishops of Italy, of Africa, of Gaul, and of Sicily, which had been entrusted to the deputies of the Council of Lampsacus. They urged them to reflect on the great number of prelates by whom these documents had been drawn up, and who were far more in number than the members of the Council of Ariminum, and exhorted them to be of one mind, and to enter into communion with them, to signify the same by writing, and fianlly, to assemble together at Tarsus in Cilicia, before the end of the Spring. On the approach of the appointed day, when these bishops were accordingly on the point of repairing to Tarsus, about thirty-four of the Asiatic bishops assembled in Caria, commended the design of establishing uniformity of belief in the church, but objected to the term “con-substantial,” and insisted that the formularies of faith set forth by the councils of Antioch and Seleucia, and maintained by Lucian the martyr and by many of their predecessors, in the midst of great tribulations, ought to obtain the ascendancy over all others. The emperor, at the instigation of Eudoxius, prevented the council from being convened in Cilicia, and even prohibited it under severe penalties. He also wrote to the governors of the provinces, commanding them to eject all bishops from their churches who had been banished by Constantine and recalled by Julian. Those who were at the head of the government of Egypt were anxious to deprive Athanasius of his bishopric, and expel him from the city; for, according to the edict of the emperor, pecuniary and other punishments were to be visited upon all magistrates and officers who neglected the execution of the mandate. The Christians of the city, however, assembled, and besought the governor not to banish Athanasius without further consideration of the terms of the mandate, which merely specified all bishops who had been banished by Constantine and recalled by Julian; and it was manifest that Athanasius was not of this number, inasmuch as he had been recalled by Constantius, and banished by Julian at the very time that all the other bishops had been recalled, and had been finally recalled by Jovian. The governor was by no means convinced by these arguments; but, perceiving that Athanasius could only be conveyed away by force, as the people assembled in crowds, and as commotion and perturbation prevailed throughout the city, he began to apprehend an insurrection, and therefore wrote to the emperor, without making any attempt against the bishop. Some days afterwards, when the popular excitement had abated, Athanasius secretly quitted the city at dusk, and concealed himself. The very same night, the governor of Egypt and the military chiefs took possession of the church in which Athanasius generally dwelt, and sought him in every part of the edifice, and even on the roof, but in vain; for they had calculated upon seizing the moment when the popular commotion had partially subsided, and when the whole city was wrapt in sleep, to execute the mandate of the emperor, and to transport Athanasius quietly from the city. The disappearance of Athanasius excited universal astonishment: some attributed his escape to a special revelation from above; others to the advice of some of his followers; but more than human prudence seems to have been requisite to foresee and to avoid such imminent danger. Some say, that as soon as the people gave indications of being disposed to sedition, he concealed himself among the tombs of his ancestors, being apprehensive lest he should be regarded as the cause of any disturbances that might ensue: and that he afterwards retreated to some other place of concealment. The Emperor Valens soon after granted permission for him to return to his church. It is very doubtful whether, in making this concession, Valens acted according to his own inclination. I rather imagine that, on reflecting on the esteem in which Athanasius was universally held, he feared to excite the displeasure of the Emperor Valentinian, who was well known to be attached to the Nicene doctrines, if he proceeded to violent measures against the prelate; or, perhaps, he might have been apprehensive lest the people, who were much attached to their bishop, should be impelled to a line of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the empire. I also believe that the Arian bishops did not, on this occasion, plead very vehemently against Athanasius; for they considered that, if he were ejected from his church, he would probably repair to the emperor, and might possibly succeed in persuading Valens to adopt his own sentiments, and in arousing the anger of Valentinian against themselves. They were greatly troubled by the evidences of the virtue and courage of Athanasius, which had been afforded by the events which transpired during the reign of Constantius. He had, in fact, so skilfully evaded the plots of his enemies, that they had been constrained to consent to his re-installation in the government of the churches of Egypt; and yet he could be scarcely induced to return from Italy, although letters had been despatched by Constantius to that effect. I am convinced that it was solely from these reasons that Athanasius was not expelled from his church like the other bishops, who were subjected to as cruel a persecution as was ever inflicted by Pagans. Those who would not change their doctrinal tenets were banished; their houses of prayer were taken from them, and placed in the possession of those who held opposite sentiments. Egypt alone was, during the life of Athanasius, exempted from this persecution.








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