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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

THE Meletians, on the failure of their first attempts, devised other accusations against Athanasius. On the one hand, they charged him with breaking a sacred vase; and on the other, with having slain one Arsenius, and with having cut off his arm for the purpose of using it in sorcery. It is said that this Arsenius was one of the clergy; but that, having committed some crime, he fled to a place of concealment for fear of being convicted and punished by his bishop. The enemies of Athanasius thence devised the most odious calumny. They sought Arsenius with great diligence, and having at length discovered the place of his retreat, they showed him great kindness, assured him of their good-will towards him, and of his own safety, and conducted him secretly to Prines, a presbyter of a monastery, who was one of his friends, and of the same sentiments as themselves. After having thus carefully concealed him, they diligently spread the report in the market-places and public assemblies, that he had been slain by Athanasius. They also bribed John, a monk, to corroborate the calumny. As this evil report was universally circulated, and had even reached the ears of the emperor, Athanasius became apprehensive that it would be difficult to defend his cause before judges whose minds were prejudiced by such false rumours, and resorted to stratagems akin to those of his adversaries. He did every thing in his power to prevent truth from being obscured by calumny, but the multitude could not be convinced, on account of the non-appearance of Arsenius. Reflecting, therefore, that the suspicion which rested upon him could not be removed except by proving that Arsenius, who was said to be dead, was still alive, he sent a faithful deacon in quest of him. The deacon went to Thebes, and ascertained from some monks that the object of his search had been concealed by Prines; on repairing thither, however, he found that Arsenius was not there: for, on the first intelligence of the arrival of the deacon, he had been conveyed to Lower Egypt. The deacon arrested Prines and conducted him to Alexandria, as also Elias, one of his associates, who was said to have been the person who conveyed Arsenius elsewhere. He delivered them both to the commander of the Egyptian forces, and they confessed that Arsenius was still alive, that he had been secretly concealed in their house, and that he was then in Egypt. Athanasius took care that all these facts should be reported to Constantine. The emperor wrote back to him, desiring him to attend to the due performance of the priestly functions, and the maintenance of order and piety among the people, and not to be disquieted by the machinations of the Meletians, it being evident that envy alone was the cause of the false accusations which were circulated against him, to the disturbance of the peace of the churches. The emperor added, that, for the future, he should not permit the circulation of such reports; and that, unless the calumniators preserved the peace, he should certainly subject them to the rigour of the laws, and let justice have its course, as they had not only unjustly plotted against the innocent, but had also infringed upon the order of the church and religion. Such was the strain of the emperor’s letter to Athanasius; and he further commanded that it should be read aloud before all the people, in order that they might all be made acquainted with his intentions. The Meletians were alarmed at these menaces, and became more guarded in their conduct. The churches throughout Egypt enjoyed profound peace under the sway of this great bishop, and were daily increased in numbers by the conversion of multitudes of Pagans and heretics.








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